Saturday, December 29, 2007

Final countdown

I am sitting here at our hotel room, trying to come up with a few more notes to mark our move. It's 11pm at night, and we are once again repacking our bags, because a few more things were left out. Mike's sneakers have to stay behind. So do our sheets. Who needs sheets anyway? We're totally maxing out all of our allowances, and will be showing up at the airport with four more bags than we have arms to carry them - five to be checked in, my carry-on, Mike's carry-on, my camera and Mike's guitar. We've gotten all the airlines to communicate to the airport and to send us several confirmations that all of our baggage can indeed weigh 32 kilos per every item, so the check-in should be smooth, minus the emotional turmoil.

I think i have to climb to bed now, the Uniquestay uber-bed looks too comfy to be true. We are so drained from running around all day that I think we might just skip out on the travel fever part this time.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


The last couple of days have been an emotional roller coaster, with feelings ranging from technology-driven frustrations to massage-induced orgasmic bliss. On Christmas Eve, we formatted my parents' hardrive, reinstalled windows, lost a bunch of data, recovered the files, reinstalled windows, realized that we had installed the wrong version, and then proceeded to reinstall windows one more time. Yeah, I know, perfect timing. Everything worked out though, thanks to our awesomeness and intelligence.

We finished packing today! We also checked in with all the airlines to make sure that there won't be any problems once we get to the airport. It turns out that because we are taking two different airlines, there may be a problem with the weight of our luggage. Both airlines allow a 32 kilo maximum limit, but for some reason, 32 turns into 23 when one uses a combination of flights from both airlines. We could really use the 5 x 9 extra kilos, so we decided to get the airlines to talk to each other and to communicate the whole deal to the dudes at the check-in-counter at the airport. So far, we've managed to get one airline to tag our booking to allow the 32 kg limit, so that the other one can add their confirmation, so that the guy at the check-in counter won't have anything to say. Other than that, the airport is pretty much prepared to have us show up with a bunch of extra stuff, so everything else should go smoothly.

I am blown away by Mike's ability to funnel his stress/adrenaline into researching his gear. I spent my day freaking out while he found peace in drooling over the vintage Allen&Heath Quasi mixer that he's been thinking about getting as soon as he gets off the plane. And yet he managed to get everything done, and kept me sane in the process! Is this like a man/woman thing or am I missing something?

One more day in Kuressaare! Coincidentally, it is also the day of a pretty big "underground" event here in Kuressaare, so we'll get to say bye to all of our hip friends in a cool setting. After that, we're off to one more final night in Tallinn, after which we're only two short and one long plane ride away from our final destination - Vancouver!!!!!


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Strange daze

The transitory period between moving out of our apartment and traveling to Canada has been magical, to say the least. We signed up for the ridiculously cheap spa package at the local "sanatorium", and I spent a solid chunk of the time at the water center tripping out on the sun reflecting off the water fountains. The jacuzzi was otherworldly, with the view of the glittering sea in the background. Everything seemed crisp, sharp, and dreamlike. I could literally feel my brain calming down, cortisol levels drop, and all the happy chemicals swirling around in my body. Ahh, the ultimate serotonin-allopregnanolone-oxytocin-etc smoothie.

Our new Canadian landlord sent us pictures of the view from the apartment's balcony. Needless to say, they were absolutely amazing. I can't wait to see them with my own eyes, and post some pictures of them during sunset.

I've had all sorts of weird dreams about different movie characters and newspaper celebrities interacting with me in my dreams. Last night I had to edit a movie for the Vancouver serial killer Robert Pickton. I told my boss not to take the job, but he responded that he's like any other customer and we couldn't possibly say no to him. The story later evolved into Pickton threatening to kill everybody at the studio if we charged him for the audio mastering and special effects.
Talk about work-induced PTSD...

Friday, December 21, 2007

Now officially homeless and unemployed!

We're finally done with moving from Tallinn to our temporary residence in Kuressaare!
It's 8:30 in the morning and I am sitting here in my parents' house. Everything is dark gray except for the glowing lcd screen, and I have to pinch myself to believe that the worst part of this cross-continental move is already over. Things really sped up in the end and I'm really proud of us for managing everything, so here's a short recap.

Our last workday on Tuesday happened to also be our boss' 40th birthday, so the day was spent drinking copious amounts of wine and doing very little to get any actual work done. We arrived late because we were busy redesigning Mike's demo DVD cover and sending it off to the factory. I had to leave our apartment before Mike, and was greeted by all of my coworkers already in party hats and foggy eyed, jumping on me to hug me. Mind you, Mike and I were far from hug mode that morning, as we had spent the night packing and stressing out. After everything was done, our apartment's door also managed to be slammed shut so that the surrounding plaster cracked from floor to ceiling, and was threatening to fall off and leave an extremely nasty sight. That, of course, added the worry about the damage deposit to the list.

My coping mechanism, naturally, was to dig into the cake and pour myself a glass of wine. And then another one. And then another one. That really worked wonders. I did a few minor final tasks while Mike took care of some additional bidders and his own migration matters. We left work early for the final crunch in the evening, and had our friend George come over and pick up a bunch of crap that we didn't want to throw in the trash. We got to bed at about two or three, but were too pumped with adrenaline to sleep, so we got up uber early to take care of any extra things.

We made the mistake of going in to work after our last day, because we agreed to finishing up our contracts then. That, of course, involved tears and more hugs, and getting presents from the boss. The goodbye was extremely painful and awkward, and I barely managed to catch myself from breaking down and bawling in front of everybody. We basically ran out of there. Being comfortable and close with your coworkers definitely has its pros and cons.

We then ran off to the bank to take care of business, and proceeded to go to another bank branch as the lady at the counter didn't speak much English. There, we were greeted by a happy starry eyed girl who was really excited about our case, and fun to deal with. By the time we left the place, we were 20 minutes from meeting up with our landlord, which was spent taking the bus back, freaking out, passing another package on to a good friend, mopping the floors, and running out the trash. And oh joy, the landlord even gave us our deposit back, despite the crazy crack in the wall. I suspect that it may have had something to do with the fact that we had previously mentioned the tax agency that we were going to contact if she tried to keep our deposit with no reason. Is this blackmail? Or just self-defense? Hmm.

Anyhow, after sorting things out with the landlord, we magically arrived at the bus station ON TIME, lugged our suitcases on the bus, and plopped down in the first available seats. What a RUSH! I think we must have been quite the sight sitting there hyperventilating, expecting something else to happen, some other challenge to pop up. The thought of being DONE took at least 30 minutes to settle in, after which both of us were overcome by a wave of surreal serenity, and proceeded to pass out for the rest of our journey across the mainland.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Moving madness

We're in the midst of the ultimate moving madness, accompanied by the madness preceding Christmas in all capitalist countries.

We've put most of our furniture up on an auction and got some decent bids on it. Our bed was picked up by a nice young couple and our cubbies went to a very nice fellow, who told us that we were a godsend as he really needed the storage space and couldn't afford to buy new furniture. We're still waiting to hear back from the people who won the auctions for our computer desks, but I have a feeling that those will get picked up soon as well. (Unlike our coat rack that went up to a ridiculous 55 dollars, even though it was originally bought for 20. The guy is simply ignoring my e-mails. Not all Estonians are great bidders.)

My parents helped us move by transporting most of our things to the town of Kuressaare for storage. We sent the last batch of random and unnecessary items off today, so we're left with only our computers, some pieces of furniture, and an inflatable mattress on the floor. The computer speakers are gone as well, so we're left with no means of audible entertainment, or television (as our 20-year old mute tv set is entirely dependent on the broken VCR we rigged up to funnel the audio from our cable connection, and the vcr used to be connected to the speaker system). That's alright though, TV's not that great this season. Of course, I'm only saying this because I want to prove to myself that I can live without all the wonderful and fun seasonal entertainment that's designed to trick you into thinking that all is still well with the world.

So the plan is to work until Tuesday, party it down with the coworkers Tuesday night, and then move to Saaremaa for the holidays on Wednesday.

Our "last Saturday in Tallinn" turned out to be a blast, even though we had to cut it down on the drinking, due to the utterly ingenious 9 a.m. moving date the next morning. It's kind of sad how I don't get to see my best friends until I threaten them that I will be leaving. Great times though, complete with beer, tequila, spicy food, moaning about how we all work too much, agreeing that we will all work less and enjoy life more, dancing to top eighties hits at a raunchy artists' club, dodging old people looking for sex, hugging, and breaking down in tears of sadness and joy. I love my friends.

I should cut this short because I have to play Santa for a while, before Mike gets back from geeking out with one of the Estonian gearslut friends.

Sunday, December 9, 2007


For those of you who want to know more about Tallinn, Estonia, here's an article that my friend Micha wrote a while back:

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The grass is...

The Old Town of Tallinn is gorgeous before Christmas. On my way to the acupuncture therapist every other day, I wander through the cobblestoned streets, lit with fairytalesque lights. First there's the "Sweet-Lovin' Monk"'s wagon across McDonalds, where a medieval beauty offers me sweet almonds. Up the street, there's the traditional restaurant Olde Hansa, which has set up several stands for chocolate-covered apples, handicraft, and regularly has choirs singing songs in front of it. Then I enter the Christmas market, made up of numerous little huts selling sweaters, wooden spoons and funky hats. In the middle of it all, there's a Christmas tree, more voluptuous than any of the trees in the past. The whole square smells of sweet, spice, and glögg, and is overlooked by the buildings surrounding the main square, Raekoja Plats. There's a stage, where there's regular performances throughout the day, so I often walk past a group of schoolgirls huddled together in skimpy outfits, panicking about getting up on stage next. On my way out of the plats, I get offered sweet almonds by a girl who looks almost identical to the girl at the "Sweet-Lovin' Monk".

Mike took me out to the Chinese restaurant Golden Dragon yesterday. I must say that I was extremely impressed. This was certainly the best Chinese food that I've had in years, complete with a super-friendly waitress, who made us the yummiest orange-blossom tea. Afterwards, we went to the candlelit Weckengang cafe, voted the best cafe in town, where Mike had the world's best mocha.
It's not all about the yummy stuff that can be stuffed in one's face in Estonia. It's just that prior to our departure, I'm really beginning to understand how real and true things are out here.

Why is it that your home starts to seem more beautiful when you open the door to embark on an adventure? You're left standing in the doorway, wondering why you ever wanted to leave, and thinking about everything that you might be missing if you go. The buzz at your favorite pub at 4am in the morning, the chai in the dungeon cafe, the topless drunks at the club, your favorite bartender, the opera singer friend who is always on strike, the bluntness of the people... Am I going to miss the sense of relief when spring finally comes? Is the temperature gonna drop down to -35 this February? Is it going to be too easy where we're headed?

I'm entering the phase where I am beginning to dream about missing the plane. Last night, I had to re-schedule my flight, because I was distracted by Bruce Willis trying to seduce me. The weirdest part is that I don't like Bruce Willis in any sexual manner. Go figure, Freud.

Monday, December 3, 2007


So here's a short recap of the acupuncture experience so far.
The whole reason I went to see a doctor was basically because the GP said that my blood looks like I've either been bleeding out of my anus for a couple of weeks or like I've totally worked myself to pieces and the stress has taken its toll. Since I haven't been slipping in puddles of blood lately, I figured it must be the stress and took her advice on seeing an acupuncture therapist.

The first guy I saw works in the radio building on Gonsiori Street. The guy was old and scruffy, but seemed to know what's up. He sat me down, listened to me moan about my job, took my pulse, and got me to show my tongue. He then told me to lay down and take my socks off, and quickly inserted six needles, two in each wrist and one in each foot. So I laid there for about twenty minutes, staring into the fluorescent light bulbs in the ceiling, listening to the traffic jam outside, and the doctor's wheezing breath while he was reading "Eragon". Interestingly enough, none of it really bothered me, and the longer I laid there, the more relaxed I became. After about 20 minutes, the doc got up, took out the needles, put them in a jar and gave them to me to hang on to. I paid him 200 kroons and stumbled out of the door and made my way home.

Originally, I didn't make much of the first session. "Relaxing," I thought to myself, and decided that I would try to find a doctor with a slightly more professional-looking office. However, on my way home, I was swept over by a wave of semi-psychedelic calmness. It was so soothing that I felt like laying down in the snow. I met up with Mike to go pick up some groceries and felt like I had been injected with a bunch of horse sedatives, to the point of not being able to make a decision on which carton of juice to get. The giggly light feeling lasted all through the evening and into the next day.

On Friday morning, I went to see the president of the Estonian Acupuncture Association for the next session. Again, same deal and same effects (+ traditional Chinese music and needles made out of silver, not copper), but this time the "high" only lasted for about two or three hours. Looking back at it though, my boss may have killed my qi that day. Also, the weekend was spent packing and moving, which is always very fun.

As far as I can tell, acupuncture definitely has its benefits, even if it's only a placebo-run endorphine high following the needle insertion. Highly recommended!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

At the Beach

Walked to the Pirita beach today and took some pix of the birds there.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Yesterday, Tallinn experienced a rush among some of Estonia's Russian-speakers to sell local currency due to rumours of a devaluation. Hoards of Russians were storming the currency exchange booths, changing their kroons into euros. Upon some investigation, it turned out that it was a rumour started by the Notšnoi Dozor - an activist group of some Russophones, who also started the riots back in April. The KAPO (defense police) is currently in the process of pinpointing the person who started the rumour, as it is essentially an outside attack at Estonian economy.

From my perspective, all this incident really proves is how little Russia actually cares about the Russians in Estonia. The message from Kreml is that Estonians are bad and treating Russians poorly (no reference to the billions of integration programs and social support networks of course!), but now they are using the local Russians as pawns to screw with Estonian resources. It's not like the Estonians will be going to the "Dozor"'s website to check the daily polls and rushing to the nearest currency exchange kiosk... At this point, the repeated attempts to affect Estonian politics are just becoming more and more pathetic, creating bad press, and even hurting the Russians who the "Dozor" is set out to save. (So why even bother - do these people really have nothing better to do?)

On a slightly different note, I am going to attempt to relieve some of that nationally borne tension and stress by seeing an acupuncture therapist today. I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Estonia: the days of cheap thrills are over

Estonia is quickly shedding its image as a cheap destination.
Read more about it in the Baltic Times.

It's nice that Estonia is getting its "reputation" back in terms of no longer being known for cheap booze and cheap whores. However, it's a little tough to keep up with it when your salary isn't going to change - because your boss is suffering from (a rather justified) paranoia that all of his savings will vanish in the next twelve months.

Perfect time for us to jet really - while the kroon is still interchangeable with other world currencies...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Home sweet home

Yay! I've got some bad news, some bad news and some good news.
The first bad news is that even though our boss had made the necessary arrangements, we did NOT get into cinema Kosmos to see David Lynch speak (due to the 1000 people who had gotten there before us, d'oh!). Furthermore, we did NOT get our hands on the footage even though we were promised so. They did say that they would digitize the stuff asap, and get it online. According to a person who went, it was mostly "senile gibberish about transcendental meditation" which to me sounds amazingly interesting, so I can't wait to post the link.

The other bad news is that our Estonian landlady has turned out to be the ultimate bi*ch!!! We gave her a 1.5 month notice on leaving the apartment and will be signing an official 1 month notice with her tomorrow. The problem is that the apartment was originally empty and we had to buy all the beautifully color-coded blue and black furniture when we moved in. She now wants to keep some of the furniture, but refuses to pay anything but pennies for it. In addition, she complains about every little pattern in the wallpaper, claiming that it's damage that wasn't there before, in hopes of keeping the damage deposit (which is bullcrap!).
How about the 3 years of on-time payments and the fact that we had to deal with 1. washing up the previous tenants' vomit on the walls 2. putting up curtains 3. fixing the electrical outlets 4. various plumbing emergencies that she never showed up for 5. the COCKROACHES that appear in the summertime and were never taken care of until now.

Regarding the cockroaches btw - our landlady actually claims that the entire housing community is pissed off at us for complaining about the cockroaches, because now everybody has to pay a fee to get them taken care of. Apparently everybody is "talking about us" and thinks that "we should be living in the woods".

We're going to have a meeting with the landlady tomorrow. It's going to be very difficult. She is one of those people who talks and talks and talks and when you try to say something, she just drives over you with a bulldozer. Just looking at her makes me tremble with frustration and anger.

Man, am I looking forward to the Canadian mentality in these matters!
(And yes, I WILL sue her if she keeps our deposit, and report her to the police for the three years+ unpaid taxes that she has kept by coming in and retrieving the money in cash every month.. SO ANNOYING!)

Now to the good news.
We think that we have found an apartment in Vancouver! We spent about a month replying to various Craigslist ads and have finally found one that we think would be good.
(If any of you are ever planning on this btw, be prepared to receive a billion "I am an African king, my wife has the keys" scam replies, and report them to Craigslist immediately. Be sure to create an alternative ( -yay!) account for spam protection!)
The apartment is in what they seem to call the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, north of Broadway and Fraser. It's a very reasonable price for a very reasonable-seeming apartment, owned by a cool-seeming individual, and rather centrally located.
Should be livable and alright for a temporary option.


Monday, November 12, 2007

The Russian invasion

The New York Times released a very matter-of-fact article about Russian-Baltic relations that I thought you should read. The only comment that I would have is that this has been going on for a very long time now, as Russian influences have never really left ( - thanks to the powers in charge, and the Savisaar crew sucking up to Russia.)

Read the article here.

"Russian power is rapidly returning to the Baltics, only this time the weapons are oil and money, not tanks."
Well put. Not really news though.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

First snow

We woke up this morning to the sound of cars sloshing through the shallow river that is our street (due to the dents and canals that have formed on it through decades of neglect and poor drainage). I dragged my sorry carcass to the window expecting to see rain, but there it was - first snow. Yay. Here's the shots from our kitchen window.

Friday, November 2, 2007

BIG fish in a small pond

Today was a good day. I survived an editing session with an annoying client (not as annoying as she used to be though, she can now actually tell the difference between VHS and FTP!), got loads of Kudo's for being an efficient editor, and found out that none other than DAVID LYNCH is going to be coming to Tallinn. Not only that, but he's going to be giving a lecture on “Film, Creativity and Consciousness” and he is accompanied by the world-renowned quantum physics expert John Hagelin, who is going to be analyzing the concept of creativity from the perspective of contemporary physics. I can't wait!
The cool thing is that Lynch was invited to Estonia by Veiko Õunpuu, an amazing director whose major debut "Sügisball" received an award at the Cannes Film Festival. The guy works two floors down from our office, so if we're lucky we might get on some sort of a list for the event.
Oh, and the Estonian band Bedwetters won the "new sound" award at the MTV European Music Awards. A lot of people complain about them, but I still think they're alright for an emo band consisting of 16-17-year olds. It's the first time for Estonia to have an MTV music award, so I'm very proud of them.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Homelessness in Vancouver...

I found a few interesting pieces on Youtube, on Vancouver DTES 100 Block E. Hastings.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

3, 2, 1, expatriation

The time has come! The shiny pink seal in my passport says that I am now officially an IMMIGRANT. I was really hoping to get one of those fancy "Welcome to Canada" pamphlets I saw on another blog, but instead I only received a rather poorly designed slip for the Newcomer Information Centre. The Canadian introductory materials are in desperate need of a makeover. How about some fractals and psychedelic spirals on your "Welcome to Canada!" booklet? I went ahead and made sure at least the FennoUgrics are represented because the only white guy in the shot is obviously Slavic. Check out my freaky head shot next to all the other happy immigrants!:)

According to Expatica News 2004, Vancouver is one of the easiest cities in the world for expatriates to live in.
I never realized that I would be what is considered an expatriate. What an ugly word - sounds like an "ex-patriot". If anything I'll be a bigger patriot when I move - we haven't even left and I'm already seeing everything in blue, black and white. And it's all so beautiful and real, so why are we leaving to begin with?
I walk around eavesdropping, hoping to catch people's complaints about Estonia, the low wages, the weather, anything at all. I spend a large portion of my time at work surfing the web, in hopes of finding more evidence that Vancouver is going to be amazing. (Thanks in advance for any links you can send me! o.o )
Getting cold feet sucks.

ex·pa·tri·ate /v. ɛksˈpeɪtriˌeɪt or, especially Brit., -ˈpætri-; adj., n. ɛksˈpeɪtriɪt, -ˌeɪt or, especially Brit., -ˈpætri-/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[v. eks-pey-tree-eyt or, especially Brit., -pa-tree-; adj., n. eks-pey-tree-it, -eyt or, especially Brit., -pa-tree-] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation verb, -at·ed, -at·ing, adjective, noun
–verb (used with object)
1. to banish (a person) from his or her native country.
2. to withdraw (oneself) from residence in one's native country.
3. to withdraw (oneself) from allegiance to one's country.
–verb (used without object)
4. to become an expatriate: He expatriated from his homeland.
5. expatriated; exiled.
6. an expatriated person: Many American writers were living as expatriates in Paris.
[Origin: 1760–70; < ML expatriātus (ptp. of expatriāre to banish), equiv. to ex- ex-1 + patri(a) native land + -ātus -ate1]

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

An ideal day

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Brain food

Argh! My brain is going to explode!
A coworker of mine sent me this thing today. (Shows how busy with work we all are these days..) I've been staring at it on and off and I can't figure it out. Can somebody just tell me what this means?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Living costs in Vancouver

It's amazing to what extent the prospect of moving can change one's perspective on life. I've derived a newfound fascination with Estonian weather. It no longer bothers me to watch our street turn into a mucky river on rainy days. I've actually developed a strange sense of compassion for the car drivers who regularly splash me with water as they speed through puddles.

I haven't been procrastinating this much since I was in college. I literally don't give a **** about my current job anymore and it's giving me a sense of freedom of taking things easy and keeping my stomach ulcers at bay. And hey, I can keep track of all my procrastinating endeavors now that I have a blog, which provides me with at least some sense of accomplishment.

Here's the up-to-date housing prices for Vancouver, published by Canada Immigrants, an immigration portal.

I recently came across a forum named Discover Vancouver, featuring an overwhelming number of offensive, racist and just plain stupid posts, such as "Canada sucks" and "Extra Foreskin". Among the spam there seem to be some legitimate posts by residents-to-be, who are generally quickly put down and discouraged from moving to Vancouver because of its high standard of living. What's up with all the hate-mongering? One can only suspect that the people posting are bitter individuals signing in from little hick-villes in the bear's ass, not Vancouver. (At least I'd like to think so!:) )

Anyhow, there was one reasonable post by somebody named nobody, giving an overview of the cost of everyday items.

cable - $30 for basic
Telephone - $30 basic
Internet - $30+
hydro - $30 + - more in the winter
parking - $25+ - some places you need a permit for street parking or parking garage spot
school - public is free but there are a lot of costs - supplies, fees for things etc. a few hundred $$$ a year
medical - i think its $120 or so for a family - per month
gas - $1.10 right now per Litre
transit - $3.75 or so for a 3 zone ticket - $2.25 for a one zone ticket - monthly passes are cheaper
car insurance - $1200 + up - depends on your coverage and driving record

food is fairly cheap - but varies from store to store
4L of milk is anywhere from $3.28 - $4.58

eating out at mcdonalds - $5 - $8 each

eating out at a casual place $8 - $20 each

fancy place $15 +

beer is $20 - $30 for a 12 pack at the liquor store

beer in a club is $3.50 - $8

Vancouver does seem to be expensive, but so was San Francisco. And so is Tallinn, if you're earning average wages.
As far as I can tell from the list, the only things that are definitely cheaper in Estonia are car ownership and beer. (Mind you, beer at a club can go up to the equivalent of $6.)
Medical costs are less if you're working. (I.e. you don't need to pay for the Medicare card.) Cable+internet+phone generally come in a package so you only pay about the equivalent of $30-40 dollars for all. (One thing that the Canadians seriously fail at is cell phone costs - but that's a whole other topic.)
But all in all, things don't seem TOO unreasonable.

I refuse to believe the people bound for Vancouver are doomed. I guess hope dies last, as they say here in Estonia.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The cleaning lady's Volga

Our cleaning lady is a 74-year old lady, who loves to talk about theater and politics. Most of my coworkers think that she's a little kooky, but I generally try to keep up with her because some of the stuff she says is quite interesting. Yesterday I had a very intense conversation with her, and it got me thinking.

The topic of discussion was about the current state of Estonia and Estonian politics. She embarked on a long, bitter rant, in which she expressed her frustrations about the government in charge and the little money she is seeing despite her lifelong work and efforts. She seemed particularly passionate about the topic of kroon devaluation and inflation and drew parallels to the time when Estonia was switching over from the ruble to the kroon. Apparently, she had saved up a bunch of money, enough to afford a Volga, but then with the coming of the kroon, all of her savings were completely annihilated and she was left virtually broke.

As I asked my parents about the "devaluation", I found out that during the ruble->kroon process, people could only hand in up to 12500 rubles, to get 125 kroons (per person). It didn't matter how much money you had - after the currency exchange, you would only have 125 kroons. And for 125 kroons, you wouldn't be able to buy a Volga.

For those of you who don't know, during the last elections, the corrupt and decaying left-wing Central party was replaced by the ultra-radical, center-right Reform party. Since elections, their activity has been focused on rapid change and growth. Their first controversial move involved removing a Russian war memorial, which sparked deadly street riots in Tallinn.

Here's to give you an idea of what was going on here:

After the removal of the memorial, our prime minister's ratings were at their highest ever. In fact, the majority of Estonians seemed to approve of the Reform party's mission. They even got me - who could resist their promise of lowered taxes, longer parental leaves, higher maternal wages (100% for 1.5 years!)! Well, the retired people could.

Out of all the people here, I feel the most pity for the retired people. It hurts to think about what they are dealing with, and to see 70-80-year old people brooming the streets and doing low-end jobs. The reason for that is that the retired people have nowhere near enough money to pay for quality living and food, so they have to work. And so we have a 74-year old cleaning lady coming in every Tuesday and Thursday so that she can afford a theater visit every now and then. She does not believe that moving the statue was the right thing and wishes that the problem would have been solved more discreetly.

The economic situation in Estonia isn't looking good.
Annual inflation in Estonia reached 5.7 percent in August, with an even loftier rise coming up next year, due to a 23% increase in the cost of electricity. The price of butter recently jumped from 11 kroons to 18 kroons. Why? The local butter producers decided that they weren't making enough profit, pulled their butter products from the market and started exporting it. As consumers freaked out, they immediately brought the product back and gave it a new price tag.

In Estonia, the average retirement pension is 3769 kroons as of June 2007. That is equivalent to 240 euros. Mind you, it's a 20 % increase compared to 2006, but it's still a very small amount of money in a country where you pay over an euro for 200 grams of butter and the cheapest bachelor's apartment rents out for 300 euros.

The average monthly pension in Finland was 1094 euros in 1995. However, anybody who will take a boat from Tallinn to Helsinki will notice that the prices aren't that different. Things might be a little more expensive, but the prices of basic food items are the same. Based on what I hear, Tallinn's real estate prices have caught up as well. So how are Estonian retired people even surviving?

Some of them have subsidized housing, I guess. My parents own their own house and run a family business. The healthy ones work.

But man, this system really sucks! No wonder so many retired people are completely depressed and devastated. If I had my eye on one of those swanky Volgas and all my savings were traded in for 125 miserable kroons (the equivalent of, say, 10 beers or a kilo of meat these days)!!!??? With the current inflation rates, it doesn't look like my future is going to be any brighter either...

I'm glad we have the opportunity to step outside this society for a while, but this whole situation is quite upsetting. How about learning from others, coming to conclusions, caring for anything other than your fancy car sitting in front of the Parliament?

Final steps

I've thought about sitting down and writing about the Canadian immigration process for months, so here's me getting around to it!

Lucky for us, I am migrating to Canada on the basis of family ties (i.e. my dearest Canadian hubby .miQ), so the painful waiting part of the application process barely took four months for us. A number of people on different forums report that Americans with no family ties have to wait for up to 36 months before they are able to start their new and improved Canadian lives. It really makes you wonder what they could possibly do with the forms and family pictures for three years...

The whole process began in the beginning of May. Back then we were naive and silly, thinking that we would be able to fly through it in a matter of weeks. Looking at the online manuals, we quickly realized that it was not going to be a cheap or quick process. My case was further complicated by the fact that I had spent a significant portion of time studying in the States, which meant that I needed to get FBI clearance from the U.S. before applying for Canadian permanent residence.

Hence, the first step for me was to find out how to acquire the FBI clearance all the way from Tallinn, Estonia. I talked to a polite fellow at the U.S. embassy who didn't sound too interested in Canadian immigration matters, but sort of pointed me in the right direction. It turned out that I have to submit an FBI Identification Record Request, along with my fingerprints and a payment. Lucky for me, I possess an international credit card. Even luckier for me, the Estonian police were extremely helpful in helping me track down the Estonian fingerprinters, even though it was the first time that they had a random civilian take their fingerprints for the purposes of FBI clearance. (Apparently they had done it for a few criminal individuals, but they had always been escorted by U.S. embassy reps, etc.)

The people at the forensic police department were surprisingly understanding and told me to come in so a lab technician could take my prints. So I took the cab to the south end of Tallinn, to the CSI, Tallinn. I was greeted by a fingerprinting specialist, who led me to a classroom filled with student cops and started dabbing my fingers with ink while they continued their lecture on international crime databases. She was very thorough - after we were done with the first sheet, she got me to wash my hands and put on some moisturizer, so that the prints would come out better on the second, extra sheet (just in case). And because they had never offered this kind of service to civilians off the street, the whole process cost me nothing!
On my way back to work, I stopped at the Tallinn Crime Registry, where I dropped off my application for a copy of my Estonian criminal record (or, rather, lack thereof). The lady who greeted me was quite stern, but after looking me up in her system, she seemed to realize that I am not the usual convict and gave me an inkling of a smile.

That is the one thing I love about Estonians. They may look suicidal, but once they smile, it's the most rewarding smile on the planet and the sun comes out from behind the clouds.

The next step was to get all the official paperwork officially translated, notarized, legalized and validated at the Canadian embassy. I tracked down Luisa Tõlkebüroo, who offered the translating and notarizing service as a package, and managed the translation in a week. Cost: about 1500 kroons. We then proceeded to drop the paperwork off at the Estonian Foreign Ministry, where they charged us 5 x 230 kroons for putting their stamp on each paper. Now, that's all fine and dandy, we're talking about a professional translator doing the job and the big important Foreign Ministry giving their stamp of approval for a couple of hundred kroons.
However, we then realized that we ALSO have to get every piece of paper approved at the Canadian Embassy, for 500 kroons a document, so a total of 2500 kroons.

So, let me see if I got this straight. I've already gotten my documents translated by a professional translator and approved by a legal institution. I've passed the airport-grade security checks to score some signatures at the foreign ministry. But now I also have to pay a ton of money to have the Estonians at the Canadian embassy give me one times five more stamps?
If anyone can explain any rationale behind this requirement, I'd be utterly grateful, because to me it seems like one additional way to squeeze the applicant for his/her money.

It must be also said that the Canadian embassy in Tallinn provided us with no actual support whatsoever. They don't even seem to have any actual Canadians working at the embassy! The only response we got from them was "Contact Poland, we have no idea". Now, I do realize that on their website it says that they are only the embassy and they do not deal with immigration matters, but what do they do there then, besides functioning as a postal office (forwarding everything to Poland) and enjoying the prime view?

Having gotten all the paperwork legalized, we then spent hours and hours going over the instruction manuals provided on the CIC website. Since the manuals were partially useless, we then spent a few weeks bugging the Polish Embassy (responsible for visa and immigration matters in Eastern Europe) with all sorts of questions, until they politely told us that we would probably be fine.

I then scheduled a time with the licenced medical practicioner in Tallinn and went in for my medical checkup. I was so nervous that my blood pressure was 130/80, which is pretty high for me, but the doctor said it would be fine. Paid him a 1000 kroons for 10 minutes of his time, Xray, and a few blood tests.

We then FedExed all the paperwork to the Case Processing Center in Mississauga, ON where it arrived on the 19th of June.

In July, we got a letter from the Mississauga office, confirming that Mike's sponsorhip application had been approved, which meant that our grounds for immigration had been officially validated. Yay! The next letter said that our paperwork had been received in Poland for the rest of the processing and that we shouldn't bug the officials until a given date in October. It was quite relief to know that everything had made it across the ocean and back in one piece. (For the FBI paperwork it was the fourth time crossing the ocean!:) )

There was a major setback in August, when we were informed by the Polish office that their designated medical practicioner had failed to provide them with my HIV test results. Upon inquiring about it from the doctor, it turned out that he had simply forgotten to take my blood test for that purpose. The timing of the notice was flawless as well - we got the letter the night before leaving for our anniversary trip to Paris, France, so we got to spend our time in Paris worrying about our application being on hold... *sigh

I can deal with bureaucracy, but I can't deal with human error. This was by far the most frustrating part of the application process - knowing that you had done everything right and somebody else screwed up, postponing your entire life.
Quite the lesson in patience and human compassion. (Especially when I called the doctor and he actually thought I was immigrating to Australia - wow!)

I went in to give blood as soon as I got back from my trip to Paris. In the online instructions for medical practicioners it says that they are required to brief the patient on the meaning and the potential implications of the HIV test. The instructions also say that the patient should come in in person to get the results and be told what the results mean. In Estonia, things seem to be different. I went in, never saw the doctor, paid MORE money, gave blood, and was told that I could call for the results if I wanted. (Quite different from the procedure in the States, where they release no info whatsoever over the phone...)

Anyhow, on the 4th of October we opened our mailbox and found a yellow envelope. Opened it with shaky hands and rushed to the phone to tell my parents the good news. In the letter I was instructed to bring in my passport to the Canadian embassy in Tallinn, so that they can mail it to Poland. It also wished me a "happy and successful future life in Canada". Cute.

I got up early on the morning of October 8th and climbed all the way up to the embassy, just to find out that the Estonians at the Canadian embassy were taking a day off to celebrate Canadian thanksgiving. The English sign on the door said that they would be closed on the 8th, and the French and Estonian notes said that they would be closed on the 3rd. Go figure. (And yeah, I had to climb back up there during my lunch break on the next day.)

So here we are, five months later, about 15000 kroons poorer, excited, scared, happy. I'm supposed to receive my passport with my "stamp of approval" (and the application for my social insurance number) on October 23rd. We even bought one-way plane tickets and will be arriving in Vancouver on December 30th. Pretty cool eh?