Russia 2002

Russia 2002

Russia 2002

Today’s work has been – interesting.

I woke to my alarm at 6:00am and had breakfast from 7:00 to 7:30.  As there is no time in the schedule to see much of Vladivostok, I was keen to use the opportunity of a later start (meeting in the hotel foyer at 9:30) to go for a morning walk; I was missing my daily morning walks in Adelaide and my bi-daily walks around the school.  I think I must have got the time of sunrise wrong in the message I wrote yesterday, because at 8:15 it was still totally dark, with barely a glow in the sky and all the car lights on (there aren’t many street lights to be found either).  It was also heavily overcast, which made everything darker.  So I set off at 8:30, in the expectation that things would brighten up by the time I reached the city centre – an optimistic hope as the walk to the city centre is only 10 minutes.

In fact, my optimism was rewarded, and by 8:45 the clouds were parting and a low orange sun was illuminating the lovely old buildings in the city centre.  The main area I was interested in exploring was the area around the railway station, which is the eastern end of the Trans-Siberian Railway line.  The railway terminus is a gorgeous old building, recently renovated, and a delight to see.  Across the road remains a huge statue of Lenin, perhaps prophetically pointing across the water in the direction of Japan, which is the source of most of the foreign investment coming into Vladivostok at the moment.

I returned to the hotel by 9:25am – perfect timing.  Unfortunately, the key to my hotel room (a swipe card) didn’t work, and the hotel maid nearby suggested (using sign language and broken English) that I get a replacement card from Reception.  This process took a little while, because the waits for lifts in this hotel are rather long.  I was back by 9:35, but the new key didn’t work either.  So the maid tried her key, which also didn’t work.  So she called the chief housekeeper, whose key didn’t work.  So she called the Floor Manager, whose key followed the precedent that had been set – it didn’t work.  So he called the Duty Manager, who finally arrived to try his key.  It didn’t work, so he phoned for an engineer, who arrived with an emergency conventional key, that DID work, solemnly pronouncing that the battery in the door needed replacement.  I didn’t wait for this process, but hurried down to the others who were still patiently ‘doing the Russian thing’, i.e. waiting, even though by now it was 10 to 10, and we were due to start at the Art Museum at 10am.  The best that can be said is that at least my room was very secure, which turned out to be important, because one of the other participants who had deposited his laptop, mobile phone and traveller’s cheques with the security room of the hotel last night was bluntly told they were not there this morning.  The hotel is offering some compensation if he does not file a police report!

We arrived at the Art Museum at 10am, not that we needed to hurry because no-one seemed to be waiting.  The first thing on the agenda this morning was known as the ‘generic presentation’, which involved each of us talking to an assembled group in a ‘theatrette’ about our own sector of education in Australia in general terms, i.e. promoting Australian education rather than our institution, although we could use our own institution as an illustrative example.

We assembled our laptops, connected each to the data projector for testing, and were ready to start when Vladimir announced that, unfortunately, no-one had come to listen to us.  He couldn’t understand it, as he said his advertising had been identical to last year when about 40 people turned up.  The only change had been the venue - last year the presentation had been held at the hotel, but as it was so expensive he had moved to the Art Museum this year.  To say the Australian participants were somewhat underwhelmed would be an understatement.  (Later note: it emerged that a rival agent had organised an opposition seminar, and this had attracted the potential attendees away from the AusTrade expo).

A little later, however, several agents arrived, and we spoke to them on an individual basis.  On balance, it was probably more effective for each of our institutions than a generic presentation would have been, and certainly gave us more time to answer questions and talk in detail.

Vladimir was clearly embarrassed (as he should have been) that he had failed to deliver an audience to us.  He was determined to make amends, and for me he pursued the line that as we are a school with a Christian tradition perhaps it would be good to make contact with the leaders of the local Christian church organisation.  I was happy to do so, so after lunch I went with one of the agents (the best one) to meet the pastor.

This was a great meeting, very productive and helpful.  The pastor is a Korean, who speaks very little Russian.  So he spoke to his interpreter in Korean, who spoke to the agent in Russian, who spoke to me in English.  Fortunately I had my PowerPoint presentation in Russian, so this reduced the translating time significantly.  The pastor, who is in charge of the umbrella organisation of all the Protestant Christian churches in Vladivostok, began by trying to sort out which denomination our school was – the term ‘Uniting Church’ would obviously mean nothing to him, so I said our school was in the tradition of John Wesley.  As soon as I mentioned Wesley’s name, their faces lit up, and they said “Methodist, same as us” with big smiles on their faces; they represented the Ugeolnaya Methodist Church.  I spent an hour and a quarter with them, and they were clearly impressed and sympathetic (with everything except perhaps our price).  They have undertaken to publicise our school through their churches, which have about 40 pastors (mainly Korean), mostly with children who many want to study in a Christian environment overseas, and also among their congregations that include many business people.  They will work with the agent who did the translating, who has promised to follow up.  They have also asked to be placed on a mailing list of our glossy term newsletters so they can continue to promote our school. 

I am bringing the cards for the three agents.  Agent #1 (Tatyana) seems excellent and acted as interpreter with the church.  Agent #2 (Anna) was also excellent, very go-ahead, and already represents a large school in Sydney very successfully as it currently has about a dozen students from Russia.  Agent #3 (Iolanta) was much more lacklustre in my view, and I would be surprised if we saw many if any students from her, but one never knows. 

But that was most of the activity for the day – the church and several agents.  None of the exhibitors had a single prospective parent come today, which is quite pathetic.  Vladimir confided at the end of the day that these two days have been the hardest of his life (and this is a person who lived for 40 days in North Korea at one stage!) because of the lack of people coming.  He is very flat and down.  However, I feel much better having made the contact with the Methodist Church here, as they were SO positive, and two of the agents have considerable potential.

We will have a somewhat early start tomorrow to fly to Novosibirsk.  We will leave the hotel at about 8:15am for the one hour drive to the airport.  The time difference is 4 hours, so after a flight departure at 10:40am we can still arrive by 12:10pm, even though the flying distance is about 3700 km, about 100 km further than Brisbane to Perth.

Day 7


Tuesday 8 October 2002