Russia, June 7, 1999
The joys of finding computer parts in Russia
|Its about that time. My laptop battery is so old and so used,
that it is dying a slow and painful death. I cannot turn on my laptop without
AC power anymore, and then when I do unplug it, I only have an hour before
the battery dies. I've known for a while that the time was coming for me
to get a new battery, but I never had time until now. This past weekend,
the first weekend I've had in Moscow as an unemployed bum, I went looking
for a new battery.
Just outside of the city, near Lidia's apartment, is the Mitina electronics rinok. Like Fili Park, it is an outdoor market filled with individual traders and hordes of shoppers, all looking o make deals on the many things that come cheap in such situations. Mitina, like all the other large outdoor markets, has specialized in a certain consumer needs, with computers being the main focus.
You can find everything from ancient vacuum tubes and transistors, to the latest Intel microprocessors, at rock-bottom prices. Kiosks specialize in all the different parts and manufactures of computers, so the many Russian nerdlings can assemble computers on the cheap, themselves. Other, less technical and more socially developed users like me, can order computers with any arrangement they desire. The assembled machines are ready the next week or even the next day!
If you need software, well to Mr. Gates' dismay, CD's packed with all the latest software from Redmond, or anyone else, can be yours for $3-7 per CD. I personally only have registered programs on my laptop, of course, but I am the exception to the rule. One of my friends just installed Windows 2000 and Office 2000 for a total cost of $12. I've even heard of people flying to Moscow for the sole purpose of hauling back thousands of dollars worth of programs and other software for practically nothing (you think the dealers don't know about volume discounts?!)
So there I was, on a hot Saturday morning, wandering through the stalls, looking for an IBM laptop battery. The fist thing I discovered is that there are no laptops in Russia, only notebooks. Once that was cleared up, I had to explain the concept of a notebook battery. My computer Russia is pretty good, especially since all the technical words are English, so I was really annoyed when I would ask if they had a notebook battery and they would give me a blank look. When I showed the battery to them, some would understand while others would still be lost. One guy even tried to sell me a replacement hard drive! I may be a bit technically challenged, but I ain't that dumb!
I finally did find a guy who seemed to know what was up. He looked over the battery for a bit then told me his solution. I should open the pack up, and inside I would find a row of little batteries shaped just like the ones we use everyday. All I had to do was buy the replacements and put it al back together. Simple enough, I though. When I opened the pack, I was staring at eight little batteries, just like the vendor said, but they were welded together. After he called around and found a man who was good with a soldering gun, the fun began.
The welder took one look at the pack and started to laugh. He said that he could not do it because the batteries the first guy was trying to sell me would not work. Since it was a laptop battery pack, the batteries were a different voltage, and the pack contained fuses and switches that would be irreversible damaged if he took the pack apart. The vendor started yelling at the welder in Russian, telling him I was a foreigner, and I wouldn't even notice. If I did, they could just disavow knowledge of me and keep then cash. At that point, I jumped in with my heavily accented Russian and told the guy I wasn't as stupid as he looked. I understood Russian and I understood he was trying to rip me off. This prompted the welder to burst into to giggles and repeat what I said, in perfect Russian, to the bewildered vendor as I wandered off.
With the Mitina option gone, I decided it was time to go official, so I called IBM Moscow. Two phone calls later ("Call back after lunch," click.), I was told that they could get the battery for me in ten days for $250! Now, I considered it for a nanosecond, before laughing and asking the guy to repeat the price. He did, and I asked again, just to make sure he was talking US Dollars and not rubles. He sure was, and doing it without laughing himself silly. Highway robbery I tell you! Especially since the batteries are $55 via USA vendor's websites.
Now here comes the fun. I'm gonna ask around here, but I don't expect anyone to have a spare, new battery for sale. That means I will have to buy the battery from the USA vendor, find someone who is coming t Moscow soon (are you? then email me!), and ship it to them so they can hand-deliver it to me. The Russian postal system is not even an option for something so technical. The customs agents, not really knowing what a laptop battery is, would have a field day figuring out an import duty or bribe amount.
This country is an adventure every day!