Russia 2002

Russia 2002

Russia 2002

It has been a l-o-n-g day, but I am now in Khabarovsk, back in the Russian Far East, and once again an hour and a half ahead of Adelaide in time.  Having not been able to connect to the internet in Novosibirsk, I was looking forward to connecting upon arrival here.  I tried three times to connect via Tokyo, all of which failed, so I tried Singapore and got through first time – only to find 47 messages waiting for me, one of them a 3 MB circular from AHISA and another a 1 MB junk message from Business SA - it’s very frustrating to consume my precious, scarce bandwidth with messages like those.  I have tried to re-connect many times again since but have been unable to do so.  I’ll try again later tonight when, hopefully, the lines are a little clearer.

The pace at which we have been pushed has been fairly punishing.  Yesterday in Novosibirsk there was no time for lunch or dinner, although I did manage to go to a nearby supermarket and get some dry biscuits, a banana, some yogurt etc for dinner.  Then it was impossible to get any sleep on the flight because of the cramped conditions, so now (late Friday) I am feeling more than a little tired!  We did get breakfast at the hotel on arrival (at about 12:30pm), and we will have a planning meeting over dinner tonight, which as a gesture to our tiredness will start ‘early’ at 7pm at a nearby restaurant.  Our hotel in Khabarovsk is the Intourist Hotel at 2 Amursky Boulevard.

Even leaving aside the time of the flight (scheduled for 00:25 to 09:10, but 40 minutes late), it was a much poorer experience than the flight a few days ago with Vladivostok Air.  This flight was with Dalavia, which is the Khabarovsk-based former division of Aeroflot.

The experience began at Novosibirsk Airport (another dim steel shed with bare concrete floor Soviet-style building) with check-in.  In Russia, they weigh hand luggage as well as check-in luggage to calculate whether you are within the baggage allowance.  Because of the exhibition materials we all have to carry, we are all overweight on this basis to some extent (I less than most because I gave away so much in Novosibirsk).  The check-in clerk was a lady of about 60 years of age, and clearly was trying to pursue her presumed former career as a heavy weight wrestler.  She was loud and aggressive, slamming tickets on the desk in front of her, shouting at passengers, ignoring demands for service, etc.  It would certainly have been comical if she had been wearing (say) a Singapore Airlines Singapore-girl uniform, but in the ill-fitting semi-military attire she was draped in, and in the gloom of the 1940s-style hanger that was serving as an air terminal, it all seemed strangely appropriate.

The plane was a much older Tupolev 154 than we had on the last flight, with open overhead luggage shelves, flickering fluorescent tubes behind metal screens with punched holes in arrow shapes, side panels in shades of deep green with silver foil ivy leaves and fake wood panels closer to the floor, and worn out Uzbek-style carpet with intricate designs on the floor.  The seats, although reasonably padded, had exposed metal frames on the tops, sides and backs, hand painted in grey.  The mood was very retro-1970s.  More to the point, it was impossible to do anything other than sit in a fairly upright position - hence no sleep last night.  To be more specific, our plane was a 22 year old Tupolev Tu-154B-2 (registration RA-85443).

We arrived at Khabarovsk a little before 10am, and drove into the city, which is only about 15 km from the airport.  Although the day was very dark with heavy overcast clouds, the city was delightful to look at.  The main street begins at a huge square (called Lenin Square) with a massive fountain in the middle, a statue of Lenin to one side and the tall, somewhat featureless concrete high rise building that serves at the City Government Building.  At the other end of the main street, about one and a half kilometres away, is a park with a long flight of steps leading down to the spectacularly wide Amur River.  In between these ends is a wonderful array of well preserved (and well renovated) European-Russian style buildings on either side of a wide tree-lined boulevard.  At the western end, nearest the river, is a beautiful Russian Orthodox church that looks newly built, bizarrely situated right beside a huge Soviet war memorial with stars, hammers and sickles etc.

Following unpacking, a late “breakfast” was arranged for us, after which we had to grab out things very quickly for a school visit.  By this time it had started raining quite heavily, and it was teeming by the time we reached the school.  I was somewhat disappointed with this school visit, as it was a fairly blatant tertiary-level recruiting exercise, and therefore had appeal only to the university members of the delegation.  It was really just designed to raise awareness of the expo tomorrow and encourage people to come along.

Some members of the delegation then went to a Higher Education Academy, but those of us from schools were given some free time because it was not relevant for us.  I was pleased about this, because I needed to do some walking to get some air into my lungs.  Unfortunately it was teeming with rain, so I went to a department store, bought an umbrella, and did some sightseeing on foot – windswept, cold, wet, dark and grey though it was.  By the time I had been walking for about an hour, the rain began easing and the sky brightened, so I re-did my walk in the brighter conditions.  It was like experiencing a different city, as people re-emerged to the footpaths, parks and squares of the city.  In the main square where Lenin’s statue is found, there were no less than half a dozen wedding couples having photos taken with the fountain and gardens.  It was good to experience the two sides of this very beautiful city.


Day 10


Friday 11 October 2002