I will always love the nation of Romania but now my journeys have taken me to the Republic of Moldova.
This country is often given short shrift, especially by Romanians, as a smaller, more “inferior” nation. My natural spirit is to look on the positive side, so what follows are another 10 reasons why I am enjoying my new home.
11) The ties that bind
I live in the capital, which is also the largest city, and so you’d expect to see at lot of people dressed in business attire. I go pass the parliament all the time, not to mention the City Hall (Ro: primaria) and two national courthouses and I’ve seen also seen a lot of office buildings.
And yet, oddly, I’ve almost never seen anyone wearing a suit and tie (or women dressed in that super formal style of businesswear). Even all the politicians appearing on billboards and in the media (ahead of the November elections) aren’t wearing ties. How can this be?
Wearing ties (sometimes still called “cravats” in English) is a bizarre clothing fashion inherited from an elite band of soldiers that once guarded the Emperor Napoleon. Yet somehow this became adopted as the mandatory dress code for “serious business” all over the Western world and millions of people are literally forced to wear them. I once worked at a call center (in America) and was required to wear one. Lunacy.
Here in Moldova it’s great that you can be a banker, a lawyer, an architect or an engineer (or a call center employee) and go about your business without a colored piece of rope throttling your neck. I like it!
12) Better public transportation
Romania’s urban transportation networks are, to put it mildly, a disgrace. The system “works” by relying on passengers to buy tickets from a vendor before boarding. Then “controllers” clandestinely board the bus and do spot checks in order to enforce compliance. As a result, many people ride the bus for free, depriving the local government of a lot of revenue.
During my brief sojourn through the rest of Europe this summer, I saw that even in Germany the system works pretty much the same. Perhaps Germans are more culturally conditioned to be obedient, but there is still a lot of loss from non-paying riders hoping to evade the “controllers”.
Here in Moldova, you board the bus and there is a person already on board who sells you the ticket on the spot. They are often quite aggressive and will pursue you so there’s almost no chance of evading them (and thus riding for free). I’m assuming this system is inherited from the Soviet Union because in Ukraine the buses operated the same way.
In Romania (and Germany, Poland, Hungary, etc) there is tremendous wastage because an army of ticket sellers (and kiosks/machines, etc) exist to sell the tickets and then the system allows for a certain number of scofflaws to ride for free. In Moldova there are no idle ticket sellers and everyone on board has paid for their ride. It’s a system with nearly no losses.
And in Chisinau (at least), the public transportation system is extremely comprehensive, meaning you can easily (and quickly) get from almost anywhere to anywhere. I’ve never waited more than 10 minutes for a bus, and usually the wait time is about two minutes.
Public transportation here is also way cheaper. In Cluj, before I left, a person had to buy a ticket consisting of two rides (which is ridiculous) that cost 4 Romanian lei or about 90 euro cents, so one trip costs 2 lei or about 45 eurocents. Here in Chisinau one ride is 2 Moldovan lei, or 50 Romanian bani (0,50 RON) or about 11 eurocents.
I realize that Romanian salaries and the economy are different, but does a bus ride in Cluj or Bucharest really need to be four times as expensive as in Chisinau?
And in case you’re thinking that buses in Moldova are run-down old Soviet wrecks, nothing could be further from the truth. I regularly ride in brand-new modern buses with onboard digital signage and computerized voices announcing the stops.
13) Get thee behind me, horseless carriage!
The plague of most Romanian cities is the sheer amount of cars that get parked on the sidewalks and the streets to the point where a pedestrian can sometimes barely get around. Here in Moldova, the sidewalks are *gasp* actually free to be used by pedestrians.
It’s amazing how much nicer a city is when cars are parked in their own spots and people can maneuver around freely without having to deal with them.
Gasoline/petrol is expensive (as it should be) and so there is a limit on the number of cars and trucks driving around. There are a few bottleneck spots near the city center, but otherwise the roads are open and traffic flows nicely. The vast majority of people use public transportation and life is pretty good here.
14) A government in the digital age
Romania’s government is still living in the stone age, while Moldova’s is far more technologically advanced, as I have written about before. It’s really cool to see the e-pay system advertised on billboards after writing that post back in April, when I had no idea I’d ever be living here.
Here in Moldova, it’s also pretty cool that I can walk to the corner shop and pay for a lot of basic government things (including traffic tickets/fines) with an automatic kiosk. Or I can use my “dumb” phone to send an SMS to take care of it, including digitally signing documents. It’s almost like living in a science fiction novel!
15) Smaller government
Here in Moldova, they literally have a small government. All the members of parliament could fit on a single city bus. They all know each other’s names and there are enormous benefits from having a national power structure smaller than Dunbar’s number.
Meanwhile, back in Romania, the country is bloated by more politicians than almost anywhere else on Earth.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that a small, swift body is going to be a lot more responsive and maneuverable than a bloated supertanker of corruption and idiocy that can’t even balance its own budget.
I’m a vegetarian but here in Moldova I’ve noticed that people eat a heck of a lot of fish, which is a bit unusual considering it is a landlocked country. The fish is preserved in the traditional style (dating back to Roman days and earlier) of smoking and/or salting it, and it is immensely popular both as a meal as well as for snacks to accompany drinking alcohol.
I have no statistics to confirm it but I suspect that Moldovans eating so much fish means they’re consuming large amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids, an essential nutrient for human health.
For vegetarians such as myself, Moldova is also blessed with a lot of walnuts (Ro: nuci). These trees exist everywhere, including on public land, and this autumn I’ve enjoyed “hunting” for them on my daily walks. The climate here is perfect for these trees to grow.
Walnuts have a ton of Omega-3, far higher than any other plant-based food.
17) Free from the European Union
I’ve lived in Romania both before and after it entered the EU, and I’ve yet to see any real tangible benefit from EU membership. Joining the EU was supposed to bring enlightenment, justice and “civilization” but all I’ve ever seen was a lot of expensive regulations and tariffs that drive up the cost of everything from alcohol to food to gasoline and electricity.
As a Westerner and a Romanian-speaker, I’m “supposed” to be all in favor of Moldova joining the EU. I certainly have no love of the thugs in the Kremlin or the Russian-speaking gangsters masquerading as politicians in Moldova, but I definitely don’t see any benefits in Moldova joining the EU.
The above picture came from a pro-Russian political party “newspaper” that I was given, and although I don’t agree with their politics, I have to admit that in this case they are right. I don’t need the EU to “regulate” food here and impose their standards. Somehow people buy and sell “unregulated” and un-inspected food here every single day without ever becoming sick.
A lot of food on sale here is from small-time producers, many of them from rural villages, and that seems to me to be a far healthier (economically as well as environmentally) system than the giant megafarms that are taking over the European Union.
18) Piata Centrala in Chisinau
Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of barely regulated commerce!
Good lord, I love the Central Market in Chisinau. I truly literally every single product you could ever carry with two hands can be found for sale there. It is a warren, a den, a labyrinth, a covered and open-air bazaar, a maze of vendors of every sort selling everything under the sun.
Some sellers are ensconced in permanent installations but other people are squatting on the sidewalk, elbowing out their neighbors for a spare centimeter to sell their goods. Even if I did have something to sell, I have no idea how I’d ever penetrate that thicket to squeeze in a slot for myself.
Some of the things on sale are mysterious, such as the crudely labeled bottles of spirt (grain alcohol) while others are downright scary. I saw a guy selling crates of enormous fish from the back of his van. No refrigeration and no ice, just giant dead fish that are bigger than cats. Who is eating this stuff? And who is buying it?
Knock off this, unlicensed that, counterfeit purses, bottles of scent, drill bits, shower heads, tampons, ancient video cameras, fruits, injection-mold plastic shower sandals, leather belts, fur coats, unripened (green) walnuts, Russian-made mobile phones, cotton candy, greasy snacks, cheap Chinese-made children’s toys, gold jewelry, farming equipment, veterinary pharmaceuticals, you name it, it’s on sale somewhere in Chisinau’s enormous Central Market.
I used my video camera to film five minutes of this lovely chaos but unfortunately right now my computer is too old (and too slow) to upload it properly. One day I’ll be able to post a slice of this insanity for all of you to enjoy :)
19) Ice cream in a tube
I don’t eat much ice cream myself and I haven’t purchased this particular product (photo is from an advertising circular from NR. 1 supermarket) but still I love the idea.
An interesting thing about much of Europe (particularly eastern Europe) is that they use less packaging for a lot of things. I think just about every American goggles in amazement the first time they see milk in a bag.
Around here, a lot of things comes in a bag, including ketchup, mustard, sour cream, milk, yogurt and mayonnaise. Why not? A thin “skin” of plastic is far better than a rigid container when they all eventually get tossed in the dump anyway.
Commercial brands of ice cream are pumping out the stuff from gigantic vats, so what’s wrong with filling a sausage-like wrapper with it? I’m sure the taste is the same. And with no “permanent” receptacle, now you’re forced to eat the whole thing in one sitting :)
20) Calling all cars!
I’ve written before about just how incompetent Romanian cops are. I didn’t get much of a chance to inspect how German polizei or Hungarian rendorsag conduct their operations, but the little I saw didn’t impress me – just endless zooming around safely ensconced inside patrol cars.
Here in Moldova, things are different. You actually see foot patrols. I’ve even seen some cops riding the bus. They also all have radios (Motorola, for those who are interested) and use them. I haven’t seen them apprehend a subject yet, but it’s nice to know some actual policing is going on in this country.
Another thing I like about Moldovan cops is just how young many of them are. Romanian cops tend to be older, Communist-era dinosaurs who become simply flabbergasted that “weird” languages like French or English are spoken in their town. Their concept of “training” is learning how to properly administer a beating to homeless Gypsies.
The vast majority of Moldovan cops, on the other hand, are members of the post-Soviet era generation, which means they’ve had a modicum of professional training and are far less invested in the kind of hierarchical, institutional bullshit that led to the Romanian authorities allowing doctors to freeze to death back in January of this year.
Also, an additional factor in the Moldovan law enforcement community’s favor is that they now employ a significant number of women. I’m not saying all women are superior (the dirtiest cop I ever met in my life was a woman) but I am saying that it’s good to have a balance.
Women often preserve the law and order in their own homes so it’s good to see a few of them out there on the streets (using their radios!) to preserve law and order in the public sphere.