…Well, that’s how Tech describes it. A reputation that preceded him has led here, via the convoluted route of contracts, word of mouth and the handshakes of international business. The domestic Muscovite expertise couldn’t cut the ice. Even if it could, the paperwork said otherwise, and outside expertise was required. Sealing a bond across two cultures, dried ink has propelled this small Western team into a 9-month Moscow-bound commission to fix, cajole and curse at food-packing machinery installed to ease the flow of outgoing units. By extension, it should increase the flow of incoming wealth –if only it was working correctly. All this for an expectant oligarch, host and employer. Tech’s incoming team had best deliver, then.
Well, at least they are located “in town”. Tech says that time regresses at the rate of one year per mile as you head out of Moscow and into the sticks, where stereotypical extremes differentiating “us” from “them” are turned-up, as if by the contrast control on a monochrome TV set. Here, Geiger-counters will be brought out, just to determine whether or not the metal parts in the machinery that Tech has been working on are in fact radioactive after all (a courteous afterthought). Also, a pricing dispute has led to staff carrying firearms as a cautionary precursor to an escalation that Tech, on the shop-floor’s shooting range, prays will never occur. The act of choosing a weapon could be the first step towards an unthinkable self-fulfilling prophecy. Words are playing in his head: “Do I really want to be here?”.
In Moscow’s cruel traffic lanes, polished Ferraris idle alongside 3-wheel tractors, those mechanised living-dead of the old system; 20 years in its grave and counting. A traffic cop stops for a smoke: there’s time, the flow is frozen. He curiously regards an MPV’s spilled occupant, crawling away numbed and torn as patient engines wait in rumbling lines. At last, a mechanical digger brushes aside the crawler’s upturned, now-forgotten vehicle and its other immobile, glass-pressed passenger. The flow must continue, come what may.
Not so different then, this town and country? Perhaps there is the feeling that here too, under the veil of civilised modernity, the worst of us still crouches, waiting to be revealed with a tarry grin: You knew I was here all along… Really, it’s all down to market forces. Let’s say you have a million pounds; losing one or two wouldn’t matter. Likewise people. Ubiquity deflates value, eroding relative worth. Ask any economist. This seems to be the unspoken yet assumed credo of the culture in which Tech now finds himself.
It pays to have the ear and phone number of the oligarch, though, who’ll grease the wheels and remotely push the right buttons should things start to drift ever so slightly off course, and whose address book spans all stations of society: the good, the bad, the high, the low. All bases covered then. A name for every deed and occasion.
This oligarch’s own name and standing is such that employees would almost sacrifice themselves before him, out of a combination of fear, respect and the prospect of reward. Picture the imported hand of Eastern European origin, pacing around a broken Maypole of oversized electrical windings, whilst unraveling the scavenged copper thread a step at a time, all at the oligarch’s command. Just another herculean task in a three month contract that will ultimately see a worker return home, able to support his family for the rest of the year. This short-term arrangement means that Tech’s endeavours towards staff training have to be repeated from zero, per employee, per three month interval. He regularly watches in frustration as his instilled knowledge disappears, back over the border -often only to reappear next season, in the name of self-betterment; at a higher station in another company. Thanks for the info, Tech.
Meanwhile, Tech stays on, with months still to go, and with Moscow’s zebra-stripes of contrast on prominent display, side by side.
Next time: Business in the City of Extremes #2: The service industry
Tech talks about Moscow’s alternative service industry.
[Photo by Dieter Karner]