Notes From Hairenik
September 11, 2007
There are several things in this wonderful land that I cannot stop talking about. I don't necessarily know why--probably because there is a world of absurdity related to each of them.

Take the traffic situation for example. The obscene number of cars on the road going up each passing week never ceases to baffle me. There are too many cars for the city to handle. The streets are fully congested now, whereas this time last year it was still manageable to drive around town, albeit with around 300,000 registered vehicles on the roads. According to my observations there are several reasons for the insanity and phenomenon of the aspiring motorist.

  1. A blatant disregard for the rules of the road. Most drivers cruising the streets of Yerevan have no regard for traffic laws, or they no better but drive to endanger anyway. Usually drivers of fairly new SUVs are the ones who are most cocky, and the second in line are apero whippersnappers cruising in their Lada model of choice, weaving in and out of traffic like cockroaches on the run from being stomped.
  2. Too many driver's licenses being issued. Apparently, although legally people have to take driving tests to receive their license, many people are able to bypass that formality by slipping a bribe to the official responsible for allocating them in the first place. Thus you have a bunch of clueless people on the road whose sole purpose for driving is to exhibit their new European luxury sedan.
  3. Too many "shitboxes" on the road. Used car importers realized that not everyone can spend a minimum of $4000 on a newly used car. And I am talking about cars like a 1991 Opel Vectra, which should be worth at the most $1000 when factoring in the number of miles/kilometers the things have been driven. So now you see all sorts of bizarre cars on the road that should have been crushed and sold as scrap metal years ago. All sorts of Japanese, European, and even American clunkers can been noticed now rolling down the boulevards of Yerevan. Of course, many of the drivers seem to be pensioners just judging from appearances, so they drive extremely slow and like to unexpectedly pull over to the curb without signalling. The obvious solution would be to ban all further imports of such jalopies and send the ones on the roads now, especially the old Volgas to the junkyard. Then again, they would only be replaced by slightly newer jalopies.
  4. Traffic police are few in numbers. When the traffic cops were soliciting bribes in all areas of the city there were plenty of them out there. Now that they actually required to do their jobs, like to direct traffic when roads are congested and pull drivers over for breaking the law, there aren't enough of them out there. I am of course glad they are working hard now, but if only there were more than a dozen patrolling Yerevan....
  5. Tunnels! The city's mayor decided a few months ago that the way to solve Yerevan's traffic problem was to start doing extensive, complex road work in the most vital intersections, especially in areas where there is no other viable road to use as a bypass. Instead of focusing on repairing or replacing faulty traffic light systems and banning parallel parking along all major streets downtown, he determined that the best solution would be to build tunnels! Soon we will all benefit from traveling though underpasses across the city. Apparently bridges are being built in areas where tunnels cannot, such as Paregamutiun (Friendship) Square, arguably the busiest intersection as it links the Arabkir district to the city's center. Trouble is they are all being constructed at the same time and manpower not to mention financial resources are limited. No one can tell how much skimming off the top is going on, and there is no telling when they will be completed. Seems like we can refer to these projects combined as the Big Dig 2, with the city placing second to Boston.
  6. Too many minibuses. I estimate that least 80 percent of Yerevan's inhabitants use minibuses for transport. There are hundreds of them on the roads. The routes that they travel along are countless, yet many of the minibuses, which are essentially vans, travel along the same route but make a left instead of a right turn for instance close to the end of the journey. More importantly, many of these vans, especially the Soviet RAF which is the equivalent to the 1980s Chrysler minivans, are completely unsafe for travel, yet manage to hold 12 or more passengers anyway, some of them stooping in the aisle or blocking the sliding door. Full-size replacement buses are now on the roads but they are few and far between
  7. Jaywalkers are out of control. Pedestrians cross the street wherever they like, and the situation is getting worse with the passing day. I noticed that at intersections where obvious underground pedestrian passageways are present, walkers still prefer to cross the street, although it is extremely dangerous and probably in retrospect takes longer to do so as many people are left stranded on the line separating traffic. So cars have to either slow down and swerve around people brave enough to actually stand between two lanes of north or south bound traffic--a common sight--or come to a complete stop, thereby risking being hit in a rear-end collision since the concept of pedestrian right of way doesn't exist.
Anyway, driving in Armenia is a huge challenge. It is both horrifyingly dangerous and thrilling at the same time, there is no question about it.

***

I seem to never stop wondering what a good number of Armenian men are thinking regarding their fashion sense. The summer fad has been for as long as I can remember for men to wear a tank-top A-cut white jersey underneath a short-sleeved shirt that is sheer. I am guessing that sheer shirts that are found in markets are actually of poor quality, not because they are meant to be sheer. I gather this because I have noticed that the style of the shirt has nothing to do with whether you can see through it to obviously find a tank-top being worn underneath. Thing is, you can find shirts that are better in quality for the same price. The look, combined with the pointy high-heeled shoes, is very odd and perceptively tasteless. But that's just my opinion I suppose.

***

I should add that although there are noticeable flaws seemingly everywhere in society and pop culture, Armenia is still a fabulous place to be. There never seems to be a dull moment here (although the working stiff routine is left to be desired). I can genuinely say that I am thrilled to be living here, and at this point in my life I can't imagine being anywhere else.

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