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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

LETTER FROM VLADIVOSTOK: Getting Paid in Far East Is Often an Adventure




This week at a staff meeting of the Russian daily that publishes the biweekly newspaper where I work, our publisher announced the news. A recent court case held that taxes must be paid before worker salaries, and so our salaries will be delayed in March.


Furthermore, we have moved to a new brick building with a banya on the ground floor and toilets that flush when the water is turned on every day for an hour or so. This is a vast improvement over our former location, where the cleaning lady draped a carpet over the dysfunctional toilets after the third week in an autumn without water.


But registering our new building will require 56 documents from various regional and city agencies, said our publisher, an iron-haired man who offers a look of profound pity whenever I address him in Russian. Little inducements may be offered to civil servants to encourage them to quickly locate the needed documents. That may add to our periodic financial troubles until May or so.


When I moved from the Seattle area to Vladivostok last year, I had no idea how close to the edge a Far Eastern company operates. True, my salary dropped from $36,000 to $6,000 a year. But I was far better off than my Russian colleagues, because the company also provides me with an apartment. (Even in domestic companies you see glimpses of that economic apartheid so common in foreign firms.) In a region where the average annual income is $2,400, I knew I could survive, despite the occasional month without pay.


But working for a Russian company gives you a roller-coaster ride through the cash-and-barter economy that has developed here.


Russian provincial newspapers are inclined to trade advertisements for, say, cell phone service, or airplane tickets to Thailand. Thus if you're lucky, the boss might reward you with a ferry trip to Korea, but that doesn't mean you will get your salary on time.


When you are paid, it's akin to robbing a Latin American bank. You line up at the cashier's window a day or two after the computer geeks get their salaries -- for some reason they always go first. The cashier shoves out bundles of cash, often packets of the old 500-ruble notes (I'm hoping redenomination won't mean we'll get paid in 50-kopek coins).


You stuff your trouser and coat pockets, and hope nobody pickpockets you on the tram home.


Strangely, the system actually encourages me. Somehow, newspapers and their advertisers are exchanging services. Workers are getting paid, if occasionally a little late. If only there was enough trust to make the transition to paychecks and bank transfers. But then I'd have to stop lobbying for that trip to Thailand.


Russell Working is editor of the Vladivostok News.