05 September 2006

Все хорошо, что хорошо кончается

Vladivostok sits on a collection of hills that slope down to the bay. The main part of the city is on the mainland, but is surrounded by water on two sides because of the shape of the piece of land it's on. There are also two regions of the city that are on peninsulas that stick out at odd angles, forming smaller bays and inlets (including Golden Horn Bay – бухта золотой рог – which for some reason you hear about more than the others, even though I can't see anything special about it). I really like coastal cities, and Vladivostok seems especially nice because with all the hills you can find yourself in the middle of the city and turn around and find that you have a beautiful view of the bay and the mountains that lie on the other side.

The hills are otherwise not that great, since it means a lot of uphill climbing (which I can now attest – from personal experience – is actually easier than going downhill if you're wearing high heels and the hill is steep). I've done a lot of walking so far, including a two-hour jaunt yesterday in search of the American Corner that was eerily reminiscent of my attempt to find the Center for International Mail in Moscow. (I never did find it, at least not before I gave up and came home.) An acquaintance who was here last semester mentioned that, like most Russian cities, Vlad seems a lot smaller than an American counterpart of a similar size would (600 to 700 thousand people). In a way, he was right, because the downtown area takes up maybe 6 to 9 city blocks – so, not much bigger than New Haven's. But unlike other Russian cities I've seen, Vladivostok has a huge, massive, sprawling collection of "bedroom districts" (as they're called in Russian); that is, places where people actually live, with fewer stores (although there certainly are stores), more markets, and lower prices than the center. Maybe I just haven't noticed how extensive the "bedroom districts" are in other Russian cities, since I've only really been through as a tourist (except Moscow and Petersburg, which are in a class by themselves anyway). But man. I could have an hour-long commute to the university every morning if I wanted to. And if the university would permit me to live that far out (but that's another story).

As for the feel of the city, I've decided that at least economically, "Little Moscow" would be an apt name for Vladivostok. The two cities both seem to be showing the same pattern of economic growth (Russia is on a big economic upswing right now): lots of shiny new buildings downtown, construction of luxury high-rises and an explosion of new upscale stores (Vlad has a Bang and Olafsson – isn't that ridiculously expensive???) that the general populace can't even begin to afford yet. So in general, a lot of high-end growth and not much improvement for the middle (aka poor) class. I guess this is what one might expect if the country's economic growth is coming from oil or, in Vlad's case, probably a lot of black market smuggling money. (That's just a guess; I'm no economist and I don't really know what goes on here on that front, beyond what I've heard from other Americans.)

I wouldn't call Vladivostok flashy by any means, although there are several of the aforementioned clean and shiny new buildings downtown, and new brick sidewalks (with mosaics of fish, anchors and sailboats in them – how cute is that?). I was worried that the city would be ugly, since it was only founded a hundred and twenty years ago as an outpost town – not the kind of ancient, monastery-ridden Russian town I'm used to. But there are a bunch of lovely turn-of-the-century buildings around, and I've hardly missed all the onion domes! In general the city feels very open – nice wide streets winding around all the hills, plus the constant views of the sea, and we've been having sunny, breezy weather that makes it nice to be outdoors. Of course there's also the obligatory ugly, crumbling Soviet architecture, especially in the huge apartment buildings in the bedroom districts, but hey, it wouldn't be a Russian city without a lot of dirty gray concrete!

So in case you're wondering what I've been doing, the answer is, "not much." Both L (the other Fulbrighter) and I have been sort of sitting around waiting for people to get around to helping us during the flurry of beginning-of-term busyness. I have a meeting tomorrow with teachers from the Institute for Foreign Languages and my first class is on Friday! I'll be teaching English conversation to fourth-year students (translators, teachers of English, and general philologists). That should be exciting. I also learned at the consulate today that I'll be able to do some work at the American Corner – in fact, L and I are going to do a guest lecture there at the end of September! – and the English Language Fellow (an Embassy program) who's here wants me to help her set up an English Writing Center. Sounds like I'll have plenty on my plate in a little while!

Also, today I bought a hot pot, two carrots and a pepper, and some cashews at the market. I almost bought galoshes, too, but decided I didn't want to carry them home.


Anonymous said...

OK, what do you do with two carrots and a pepper? Will this be the Russian version of stone soup?
Really, the layout of the city and the architecture sound fascinating from your report; the bedroom districts are about what I expected would be the case.
Anxiously awaiting reports on what it's like to teach English to Russian university students ... sounds like fun. Also, let us know if your two boxes of teaching materials turn up soon!
love you,

Anonymous said...

so, are you calling her "L" because you're trying to protect her identity? is she under witness protection?

good luck with the teaching! you will be a star.