Our landlord’s son, Ulan, has been running around town trying to get things fixed up in the house we are renting. He has not lived in Karakol in a long time, so he does not know a lot of people here and has been doing a lot of the work himself. The house has been empty for six years, so there is a lot to test: power, outlets, water, toilet, and so on.
One adventure has been to test the heating system. Mercifully, it is October (it even snowed this morning), so testing the heating system is a blessing, not a hot, sweaty chore. In different circumstances, I can just picture myself yelling up from a 120-degree basement in July, “Yep, I think the heater is hot enough!” Anyway, the heating system is the typical Soviet fare: hot water is pumped through pipes throughout the house. Those pipes provide some heat, and each room typically has one or two radiators (“batteries” in Russian), which provide a nice, radiant heat. (I call this a typical “Soviet” heating system, but I’ve also seen it in Germany, and it is reported to me that they exist in England as well; in any case, I have never seen one in Washington State!) In our basement is an old coal/wood-burning stove (complete with a burner on top for heating a cauldron of water) and also a new, electric stove. Both are connected to the piping system, and if the power goes out (which it does frequently) for a long enough period of time that the house starts getting cold (which is less frequent, I think), we can switch the system over to burn some coal (yes, raw coal) and avoid freezing to death.
As we were running around the house checking the radiators for leaks or other problems as the pipes were filled with water, Ulan commented, “I’ve never done this before. It isn’t very hard and I know how to do it, but it takes a lot of work and seems hard when it is the first time!”
It was nice to see Ulan doing something about which he was a little unsure. Living in a foreign country, we often get to do things we have not done before (including all kinds of random maintenance, bleeding radiators in apartments, trying to fix local toilets, etc). How reassuring that this is actually an “authentic” part of living here, rather than the curse of being foreign and not knowing who to ask for help (or having family nearby to help you!).