In June 1995 we were working on a radio project in Khabarovsk in the Russian Far East for a month. Our friends from Vladivostok were able to visit us in Khabarovsk and we were able to return a visit to them. This is the part of the weekly letter from June 20 that deals with that visit.
June 20, 1995
Russian Far East
Over the weekend we went to Vladivostok to visit friends and see the city after almost four years. We rode from Khabarovsk to Vladivostok on the final leg of the Trans-Siberian Railroad train, “The Russia.” The scenery along the line looks like Northern Minnesota except that the buildings are very Russian.
In some ways the place has changed a great deal. For instance the “Pioneer’s Palace” the showplace of socialism where little kids were always king is now, apparently, a furniture store. There are lots of sofas and lounge chairs on the main level with a fine selection of carpets on the lower lever. There are still bunny rabbit paintings on the wall to show that kids recently were in residence. I saw no selection of juvenile furniture.
The plaques commemorating the Bering and Cherikov expeditions that we Sitkans so proudly laid in October 1991 are gone. According to our friend Olga they were stolen for their bronze content. The bolts are still on the wall of the geographic society.
The Guks, the family with whom Brian stayed, are fine. Olga is still constantly moving and talking and trying to feed us. Sasha is getting married August 5 to another medical student, and Anna is a stunning young lady. We went to the Guk’s dacha and took the tour of town. Tayna, the daughter in the family where Kevin stayed, came over and we spent a few hours with her.
More things in Vladivostok seem to be working these days, like the funicular railroad. Several buildings are being remodeled but times are hard. To all appearances the Guks are thriving economically. They have a bigger apartment (4 room) Sasha has a car, they have a dacha and a second apartment they rent out. Their home has a CD player, and lots of new things (like a clothes dryer) but Olga still thinks things may have been better before. Health care costs and crime weigh on her mind. Tanya’s family seems worse off. Yuri does not have a job, and Tanya cannot get a job as a teacher after graduating from college. She is afraid of crime, even inside her building.
When we got on the train to return to Khabarovsk Sasa was worried that, as foreigners, we would become targets for crime. He told me to speak only Russian. Since we had been speaking English in Vladivostok he didn’t realize how much of my Russian I had lost. He drilled me. “No Richard, you must use the Objectionable Case.” He paused, “On second thought, don’t speak Russian, don’t say anything.”
As we left one of our Russian friends said “We used to have safety. We could send our kids to camp in the summer for free. We had health care. We have traded those things for a VCR.”