Time zones. A brilliant idea, helpful to all concerned, saving hours and increasing productivity. Perfectly innocuous. Until you actually have to travel from one to the other.
Let me explain. Yesterday I flew from Moscow to Ekaterinburg; a distance of approximately 1,800km, a two-hour flight. On landing, we had to push our clocks forward by two hours, so we are now half an hour behind IST. That's okay. So my watch remained on Moscow time, my phone adjusted itself to local time and my laptop hasn't figured out what to do.
Still okay so far. I am woke enough to be able to deal with this at normal times. It's when I'm not in my usual woke state (for example, when freshly woken), that things get tricky. So I slept with the phone next to me and at some point in the morning -- very groggy, having slept late -- I saw it was 7am. Confusion set in, and then panic -- it's 9am, what time does breakfast end. And other similarly important issues. It was only later, after I was awake, that I realized what had happened.
But that's still a personal and possibly trivial issue. This country has 11 time zones. It's currently 8am in Ekaterinburg, where I am; it's 5am in Kaliningrad, 6am in Moscow, 7am in Samara, 11am in Irkutsk, 1pm in Vladivostok. And it goes on until 3pm in Kamchatka. Now imagine you're a train traveller in Russia. Ideally a first-time traveller. Russian train times are always set to Moscow time -- that's what's printed on your ticket. So imagine you're taking the train, as I will, from Ekaterinburg to Irkutsk. What time do you board, and what time do you set your body clock to? When is lunch and when dinner? Don't even ask me how I'm going to figure it out. I think I need a post-it note to self, stuck somewhere on my person.
It's not just the trains. Those World Cup timings you see in India are all standardized relative to Moscow time. So tomorrow's Egypt v Uruguay match here is 3pm Moscow, 5pm Ekaterinburg, 530 pm India. Saturday's Croatia v Nigeria match is at 9pm in Kaliningrad, 10pm in Moscow and midnight in Ekaterinburg (though I will be in Sochi, and back on Moscow time). It could have been worse with Daylight Saving Time, but mercifully they abandoned it in 2014.
There is a growing movement in India for different time zones, and it makes sense. After all, Mumbai-Kolkata, similarly due east, is the same distance as Moscow-Ekaterinburg. And that's before we hop over to the north-east, where they set their clocks to "garden" time to spare themselves the tyranny of Delhi. Great idea, it will increase productivity, lots of people will get more sleep and obviously someone will score a lot of brownie points. But just remember what time it is on your bedside table.
The Russians have been making huge efforts to incorporate the English language into their public spaces, for the convenience of World Cup travellers. This is a bigger deal than it sounds because it involves a completely different script to their Cyrillic. The last three World Cups didn't have this problem; in fact Japan and Korea is (from my rough calculation) the only other instance of a World Cup being hosted in a country that doesn't follow the Roman script. And so the signs here have English/Roman versions; that's great in the case of place names, because those are easily done. Other words and phrases might need a bit of imagination to understand.
For example, the hotel I'm staying at in Ekaterinburg. Small but clean, perfectly functional room and loo, and great use of limited space. There are signs fixed everywhere denoting what that space is for. So a hook for your coat, a shelf for your cap and a hanger for your "suite". The bedside switches tell me which is for the night lamp, which for the hallway and which for "Make Up Room". Wait a minute -- is there a make-up room behind the mirror? Nope, it's just a mirror. And then it dawns -- it's the light outside for housekeeping to make up my room.
The shower has god's gift to frequent travellers -- instructions for which is the water pressure tap and which for temperature. Except it doesn't tell you howto control the temperature, so I used half the water supply of western Siberia before I could find something that wasn't scalding or freezing. And there are three types of towels (all the same size, though) -- Towel, Hands Towel and Legs Towel. I thought it was because each was so small that you needed a separate towel for each body part, but it was less complicated -- it was simply a bath mat.
The most exciting moment, though, came at breakfast today. There was something called "Horns Boiled" and I thought, 'Great, this is something I'd never find at Burger King.' But when I took off the dish cover, it was simply macaroni (boiled). Not sure how they made the connection, the only explanation I can find is that "corna" is the sign for the devil's horns. But perhaps yet again I'm overthinking.
In Argentina, I was "Hazadeechya". That's how they pronounced my name in the local phonetics. In Russia, where similarly they don't have the "J" sound, I'm "Dzhayaditya", I guess Dzhoy for short. I'm used to it -- there aren't too many in India, either, who can pronounce my name correctly. Hint: each "a" is different.