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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Eventually You'll Find It All

VLADIVOSTOK, Far East — A few weeks before I first moved here four years ago, I ran into an American woman (let's call her Sissy) who was enduring a traumatized life in this city and wanted to suggest some things I should take with me.

Make sure you bring antibiotics, Sissy said. They don't have them in Russia. Also a good frying pan: Russian ones have this crosshatch pattern that breaks up eggs when you flip them. And pack some brown sugar, because you'll want to bake cookies. (I hate cookies, I said. Sissy insisted: In Russia, you will want cookies on those nights you spend crying from homesickness.) Also, find room for a jar of peanut butter. Some salsa. A bag of coffee beans.

Shocked at the depravation I would be facing, I raced around stocking up from her list. I bought a two-year supply of a medication I take for seizure control. Antibiotics. A down coat. I hadn't eaten peanut butter in years, but suddenly it seemed impossible to get by without Skippy.

I refused to take a frying pan on an intercontinental plane flight, but I loaded up on four kilos of coffee. The only other thing I didn't buy was brown sugar.

Four years later, I have learned a great deal. You can buy antibiotics at any pharmacy. Coffee beans, though expensive, can be found here. Peanut butter comes and goes on store shelves. Serviceable frying pans sizzle on every stove. The sheepskin coats that men wear are warmer than down. Even my medication turns out to be available — a generic Russian variety — and the hallucinations it induces are small potatoes compared to the convenience and cut-rate price.

The notion that the foreign state in which one is sojourning is a wasteland that must be stocked with caravans from home is not limited to visitors to Russia.

My sister-in-law is Swiss, and she used to stuff her suitcase with goods from home whenever she returned to Seattle, where she and my brother live. Eventually, she decided it wasn't worth the hassle.

Yet the Far East seems to inspire a particular dread.

When a church group visited from Sacramento last year, members believed that Russia's benighted orphanage employees would hold babies more often if they were sitting comfortably.

Convinced that rocking chairs do not exist here, they brought their own. Customs agents detected an opportunity: They demanded $350 to send the chair through, and the poor churchmen forked over the loot. Too bad: I would have sold them the rocker in my apartment for $340. Or they could buy a cheap one in a store for $50.

Some foreign products suddenly show up in the strangest places.

In the remote Kuril Islands, I found spinach pasta for lasagna in 1998. I bought several boxes. Within six months, it appeared in stores all over Vladivostok.

When I used to visit the United States, Japan or Korea, I would bring back powdered Parmesan cheese — real stuff wouldn't last. I did find locally made Parmesan in a store here. The clerk said it was dehydrated cheese: Mix it with water and spread it on your sandwich. Its bitter taste gagged me, and I threw away the packages I had bought. But not long ago, I found a store that sells wedges of fresh Parmesan at its cheese counter.

I have been known to tuck bottles of red wines into my carry-on bag when leaving my parents' place in California for Vladivostok, but that seems extravagant now that the return trip requires an overnight stop in Seoul.

By the time I lug my bags to an airport bus, head into the city and take the metro to a fleabag hotel that always puts me up in the room with no windows, I think: So what exactly was it about a robust Moldovan Kagor that I can't stand?

I open a bottle of Ravenswood cabernet under the flickering phosphorescent lights and sip from a hotel water glass while watching the U.S. Army channel's rebroadcasts of NFL games.

In the end, it pays to remember the ancient words about the lilies of the field. They toil not and neither do they spin; yet they find cheap cigars in the kiosks and if there are no coffee beans this week, they get by on instant Nescaf_.

Sometimes they even find salsa.

Russell Working is a freelance journalist based in Vladivostok.