Russia 2002

Russia 2002

Russia 2002

I was thrilled this morning to wake up and find the rain had cleared and we had a fine, clear, sunny morning.  The sun rises and sets very late here; although Vladivostok is roughly north of Adelaide, it is one and a half hours ahead in time, which is like having permanent daylight saving.  The sun rises at about 7:45am and sets at about 7:15pm (I am guessing the sunset time, as I haven’t seen one yet due to heavy cloud cover).  So it was still quite dark when I had breakfast at 7am, and the sun was still very low in the sky when we set off to walk to the site of the expo at a little before 9:00am.

The expo was organised (if ‘organised’ is the right word) by a fellow whose first name is Vladimir.  He is AusTrade’s representative for Vladivostok and Khabarovsk, and he is a great look-alike of Boris Yeltsin.  In fact, his official title is Honorary Consul for Australia.  The expo is being held in a small, old building which is an art gallery that forms a branch of the City Museum with two cannons at the front to ‘welcome’ visitors.  It is situated about 10 minutes’ walk from the hotel, mercifully downhill in this very hilly city, quite close to the waterfront.

The walk in the fresh air was very pleasant, being my first time on the streets of Vladivostok, and the low early morning light gave even the dilapidated buildings a beautiful golden glow.  The footpaths were also extremely broken, with even more potholes than the airport runway, cracked collapsing steps, and deep open holes without any covering (perhaps someone stole the metal grilles for scrap metal???).  Actually, the air was not all that fresh either, at least beside the roads, where that characteristic Russian smell of unburnt petrol lingers everywhere.  As a related aside to this, apparently Vladivostok’s seas freeze right up the sand every year and the port is only kept open with ice breakers, except that the harbour in the military area does not freeze because there is so much oil in the water from (unintended) leads of oil.

Vladimir had arranged for our boxes of brochures, display stands and so on to be brought to the expo site in a minibus.  Unfortunately, the driver didn’t know about Vladimir’s excellent organisation, and we were kept waiting about an hour for everything to arrive.  Actually, I didn’t mind, as we were in a very interesting part of town, just near the waterfront, so I was as happy as the others to go for a short walk, camera in hand, to enjoy the morning sunshine.

Almost next to the Museum is a large Soviet submarine mounted beside the street as a war memorial and museum, and across the road in the water is the Soviet Navy’s first ship, now a floating museum.  Just along the road from there was a large open square with a militaristic monument known as the Monument to the Fighters for Soviet Power in the Far East - I am sure that monument must be due for re-naming soon!  Next to that is a large white character-less high rise block still adorned with gleaming gold Soviet crests and symbols - this is the White House, and serves as the centre of the regional administration.  And between these sights are lots of mostly run-down Russian-style (of course) buildings housing shops, offices and residences.  Overall, Vladivostok is a bit run-down, and in places a bit seedy, but the steep hills on which the city is built makes it visually quite appealing.

At about 10am, everything arrived in the minibus, and we set up our displays, taking a break at about 10:30am for a briefing session for local recruiting agents at which we each introduced ourselves and said a little about our institutions.  After that, a group of about 20 university students arrived to act as interpreters - we were asked to chat to them and make a selection, a potentially very embarrassing process with the potential to create significant international incidents.  All the students were studying courses in international management and interpreting, and were in 3rd or 4th year of the program at the University of Vladivostok.  Having said we should select our interpreters, Vladimir then proceeded to allocate them, and I got two girls who were okay, but without much initiative.  This was one of the rare times where the best interpreters, both linguistically and in their manner, were the boys.

Having set up, Vladimir announced to us that he had decided to cancel Monday morning’s open sessions with prospective parents and students because the Russian tradition is to ignore work on Monday mornings - apparently most schools and offices are very underpopulated on Monday mornings as people either sleep off a drunken weekend, or simply sleep in.  The young interpreters confirmed Vladimir’s wisdom in this, saying that no-one would come on a Monday morning and that they were a bit surprised at having been asked to come at that time.  Welcome to the local culture!

So at 12:30, the appointed lunch time, we set off for the 150 metre walk to the waterfront to have lunch at a floating restaurant (i.e. a boat that an enterprising person had turned into a casino) called Hocus Pocus.  We had to be back again by 2:00pm, when the prospective parents and students were expected, which was a significant challenge given the Russian tradition of rotten service.  Having searched for and found someone to take our order at 1:15pm, we were advised just to have a small entree or salad because anything else would take too long.  Given that my salad didn’t arrive until 1:45, that was probably good advice.  At least I (and one other person) made it back by 2:10pm - the others dribbled in over the subsequent 15-20 minutes, having made the mistake of ordering a cup of coffee.

As it turned out, we hadn’t needed to worry much, as the first prospective parents and students didn’t arrive until a little after 2:30pm (I guess Russians have a broad definition of ‘Monday morning’).  All the exhibitors (me included) were very disappointed with the low numbers of people that came during the afternoon - I had more than some with two agents plus one potential student.  Actually, the potential student was a very serious enquiry, and we spent well over an hour talking.  The lady I spoke to was the boy’s older sister.  The boy is only 6, but the sister is planning well ahead and was very very impressed with what she saw and heard.  She loved the PowerPoint presentation I had produced in Russian, and really enjoyed the two movie clips on the laptop.  She has given me her name and address, and would like to be put on our mailing list.  If she is followed through, we are highly likely to get this student.  His name is Sergey (other detailed redacted here).

Things were a bit slow again by 5:15pm, and although the event was scheduled to continue until 6:00pm if necessary, Vladimir decided to call it a day at 5:30pm.  Five minutes later we found ourselves sitting in the minibus being driven back to the hotel, having had to grab anything we needed in lightning quick speed.

As it was still light and sunny, I decided to take the opportunity to visit the lookout hill about a kilometre uphill from the hotel.  It was good to be out walking again (the smell of unburnt petrol mixed with water becomes mildly pleasant after a while - perhaps the first stage of addiction???), and the views over the port and harbour were excellent, even though by the time I reached the peak the clouds had covered the sky once again.  My walk was completed just in time, as it was raining once again by dark, though fortunately not as heavily as when we arrived yesterday afternoon.

Day 6


Monday 7 October 2002