Up the hill in Svetlanskaya street, there's a small park and in its garden grow frail and shy summer grasses. They are in icy soil in winter, but in summer the park is warm and sunny and natives of Vladivostok are out and about.
Svetlanskiy lane. Photo by Errol Chopping
Down the hill from the park, steps lead to a small and very beautiful Orthodox chapel and from there further down is the Naval precinct and a long memorial wall containing what seems like 20 million names. In front of this a large expanse of footpath opens onto the street, directly opposite the fleet and the harbour. The square has cannon and concrete, and the smell of the Pacific.
Steps and wedding days. Photo by Errol Chopping
Beautiful brides and impatient grooms parade there, with photographers carrying parasols capturing their day. On the street are stretch limos. One has its sunroof open and a man stands with his head and shoulders out through the top of it. He’s holding aloft a foaming bottle of champagne that was just popped. Other drivers wave and share.
Beautiful brides in Vladivostok. Photo by Errol Chopping
Climbing back up the steps and buoyed by the celebrations we regain the noisy street. We work our way through the park again and finally stand below the heavy walls of the Russian Far East Academy of Sciences building.
The Presidium is typical of buildings in Svetlanskaya, plain and foreboding. Just inside the main door, which is so heavy it takes a heave to open it, a lady supervises with entry gates. She sits in her raised office looking out and works a hidden handle under her bench. It unlocks the iron turnstile. Everyone must be seen as they pass. We are seen. We pass.
The FEBRAS Presidium. Photo by Errol Chopping
The stairs are wide and lead up to a main auditorium which is rich and velvety. Here is the location for the city’s first computing and technology international conference.
The conference. Photo by Errol Chopping
The organising team at FEBRAS were magnificent. Administrators Tatiana and Svetlana found restaurants. Academics Valeriya, Dapeng and Evgeni refereed papers. Sui and his team did banners, the program and the data disks. Remind me sometime to tell you how we got them into Russia. The website was created and hosted, the word went out. Director Yuri and President Valentine promoted.
I know Paris has a certain pull for conferences. Certainly Sydney does, and London and Manhattan would likely be popular locations too. In Vladivostok we knew we didn’t have that kind of pull, yet we had invited international guests, and lots came.
What we didn’t expect was the effect of the event on the city itself and on Russian researchers across the nation. They came from far and wide like horsemen gathering at a homestead overnight.
From Novosibirsk in the middle of Siberia, a place well known for its universities, came mad Alex. He was short and stoic and yet self assured, with eyes that noticed everything. He was delighted with being in the midst of others who shared his work.
Friedman was there from Apatity, 67 degrees north of the equator, talking about his daughters. We've seen pictures of him swimming in holes in the ice. He’s published poetry in both Russian and English and loves to free dive in clear water for stars and urchins, and scallops.
Alexander and Alexander both came from Irkutsk near Baikal. They’d spent days on the train curving through forests of birch, seeking this eastern ocean. Men with checked business shirts they wore at work, but without the tie.
Young Alexei was there from Moscow. In love with whatever world he found. Lamenting his lack of a career in Moscow and yet wide-eyed at this oasis in the East.
The effect on Vladivostok was extraordinary. Television interviews were done, in the same park frequented by the wedding couples, and because of these, dare I say it, 'the word had passed around.' The effect was that, while some conferences are known to grow smaller as their days turn over, this one grew and grew. I remember Friedman saying 'it’s set off an explosion in this city.'
The Visual Press. Photo by Errol Chopping
The PhD team from the Control Laboratory at the Far East Academy were all there too. Nicholay, Phillip, Leanna and the others. These were young researchers who'd never presented before and were inspired by mentor Kleschev to attend. For first-timers, conferences can be daunting theatres. Members of the audience often ask curly questions and sometimes also criticise speaker's findings.
Our nervous and serious young presenters always managed to get through their papers without trouble, as they'd practiced reciting them in English. They had looks of terror on their faces, though, when asked to answer questions in English. When answering, they often lapsed into Russian, and received an abrupt and reprimanding clap from Evgeni: 'All answers must be in English'.
They started to struggle and fidget, and I smile as I recall the people in the audience standing and providing help for them. The cooperation between audience and speaker consolidated their answers and their anxiety was replaced with feelings of belonging. I’d not seen that before, at any conference. Now I recognize it as The Far East Style.
The Paper Press. Photo by Errol Chopping
Most conferences have a social day when the talking is over: a meal at a restaurant or a museum tour. This was different. On a hazy morning looking out into Amur Bay we mustered at the harbour (there I go again) for a trip into the Sea of Japan.
The social day. Photo by Errol Chopping
Tatiana and Svetlana had hired an ex-police boat, big enough for all our travellers. Food for one hundred, water for one hundred, towels and swimming gear, and hats and coats and cameras. Students and academics, administrators, directors, janitors and guests. Vodka for one hundred. There’s a bridge across the water now, built for APEC, but for us it was sailing all the way to Russkiy Island.
Food for one hundred, water for one hundred, towels and swimming gear, and hats and coats... Photo by Errol Chopping
Sailing all the way to Russkiy Island. Photo by Errol Chopping
What can I say? A ship full of scientists arrive on Russkiy Island for a day of swimming (that doesn’t sound so likely). We did swim, and dived for shellfish, played volleyball and talked.
We mentioned Australia and the Far East, and Moscow. We compared our countries and matched our wits. Some spoke of their research still, the mathematics of traffic flow and self-generating user interfaces. Others spoke of family and travel, of food and hobbies, of flying and fitness, of winter fishing through a hole in the ice.
We swam some more and ate. We walked and talked about our children, and checked out decaying military emplacements.
Stars and urchins and scallops. Photo by Errol Chopping
We walked and talked about our children, and checked out decaying military emplacements... Photo by Errol Chopping
There’s a place for conferences and discussions of careers and serious stuff, but in Vladivostok, the first international conference and our day on Russkiy Island weren’t the usual. They were in the Far East style.
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