Updated: May 27
If you are wondering where Vladivostok is, go to Japan and take a left. For an image of the entire Russia Far East see the bottom of this post.
For me personally, Vladivostok is the epicentre of my universe. It is where I began my life abroad and from where the core friendships I still hold dearest radiate. Sasha, of Barcelona Bunny & Family naming just one. If I am honest, I can track the entire trajectory of my adult life with Vladivostok as the core.
Today, when physical social distancing is a real thing, I am meditating 2-3 hours a day. Morning and evening, and beyond saving the world, some really cool stuff appears in meditation. Someone commented how happy they were to see something not about the virus on my blog. This is not about the virus, and it is about the positive effects of it, the opportunities it gives me to reflect, and revisit my life, my friends, and even parts of myself I had all but forgotten.
This week in particular about my time in the Russian Far East (RFE).
In this video I speak briefly about being a Peace Corps Volunteer in 1996 and consequently living and working in the Russian Far East for 8 years. This entire post, every ounce of it, came to me in one of my evening meditations. Then I invested the entire next day and parts of the days after, to creating what I had seen. This is what I do in lockdown.
Friend and colleague, Phil Goodenough, took these photos of Vladivostok when he visited in 2005.
I rarely allow myself such musings, walking down memory lane. There are times I have mentioned before how living in Switzerland there are whole parts of my life, of myself, that seem like they never happened. When I was leaving for Vladivostok, in 1996, my dear friend Keith said to me, I want you to send me your first impressions. For the first 6 weeks I was there I fastidiously filled 5 little tapes on the mini tape recorder I had brought with me. I spoke to that little recorder as if it were my friend Keith, there with me, having a chat. Carefully, I packed up these tapes and naively I sent them regular post to Keith in the United States. I was so happy to share with him these precious first impressions, ideas and thoughts I would never have again, the innocence of ignorance. I was so happy for his wish to know, and for my luck to share. Retrospectively, this may have been my first attempt at a blog, long before they existed. He never received them, and I forever remember that chance to “visit with friends” in such a way.
This visiting has been one of my “strategies” to deal with loneliness and isolation since I can remember. It took moving to the other side of the world aged 25 to become consciously aware of it as a strategy. And now at nearly 50, sparked by a global pandemic, I am bringing forth this consciousness to rediscover the most joyous core of me in surreal times.
A few images below for you to join me in my musings, and maybe to inspire you to your own.
Far right Yanna, Mama, & Katya on a boat on the Amur river when they visited me from Ussurisk while I worked in Khabarovsk; Middle in black and white, Yann with her first son, me, & Katya at a local café in Ussurisk; Far left Yanna, Katya, and I one autumn day in Ussurisk.
These lovely ladies are my host family. Soon after arriving in the RFE, we were placed in host families. I hit the jackpot. These three strong women, Katya the youngest of them was 11 when I arrived, did everything to spur me to speak Russian and feel at home. Katya often put on full theater to help me understand. Mama (Irina) had both a heart of gold and a sense of humor that still inspires me today to laugh, mostly at myself. Yana, full of spunk and curiosity. Together we spent hours in the kitchen, at the beach, in the market, and I always felt like they were my family. That was 1996 and here in 2020 I am still in contact with them (thanks technology).
Magadan nearly the end of the world where Soviet tin, gold, and uranium mines existed. For four months I lived there working on a particularly challenging project. Still fun was to be had. Left our team at the Russian American Business Center housed in the Mayor’s office in Magadan; Right shashlik at the beach – with King crab directly from the sea (we traded with some fisherman for vodka). One in from the right is my still friend Olga Vesseliaeva.
These last photos feature friends in Vladivostok. When I was there digital photos where not a thing, hence I have few and those I took pictures of pictures to get them here. My favorite photo of myself from this period, in my favorite café of the time, was stolen along with my wallet in Brussels last year. Even if I had all the photos I ever took then, they would only begin to communicate the depth of love, appreciation, and joy I have when I “visit” these people in my heart on any given day. Creating this post has been a double chance to remember, to visit, and to send positive energies to all of the amazing people I had the honor to know and interact with in this time.
In Russia, work and play are often synonymous. Left a training group shot during class; Right the group in the Russian banya for an evening ‘team builder’, I am in the middle and Olga is to my right.
This final photo is of the Vlad team. Top Natasha, Margarita (sisters), me, and Iosef (also husband of Natasha). Bottom left in Vladivostok at a Chinese tea ceremony, which we often used to ‘break the ice’ when new members joined the team or consltants arrived to assist a business; middle Iosef, Phil, & Natasha in Vladivostok; right Iosef & Natasha.
Together we opened the final Russian American business center in the RFE. This was the final project of my eight year tenure. Essentially these centers (a total of 7 at that time) offered training and coaching to small and medium sized businesses. The Vlad center under the leadership of this, small, powerful group still exists. Their mission is total consciousness. They invite business leaders and their teams to operate with heightened awareness for the benefit of themselves and all those they interact with in every aspect of their business. They are committed to providing quality leadership across all industries. They remain, to this moment, among my top five most valued mentors. I dedicate this post to them, to all the amazing people I was lucky to know, work with, and befriend during my time in the RFE.
As indicated, the red, green, and yellow areas make up what is known as the Russian Far East (RFE) which is way beyond Siberia. Magadan, Petropavlovsk, Yuzhno Sakhalin, Khabarovsk, and Vladivostok I have lived in. Komsomolsk, Yakutsk, and Lake Baikal I have been to for short projects. Not pictured, Ussurisk, where I started my time in the RFE, it is a small town very near to Vladivostok.
Bringing forth this consciousness to rediscover the most joyous core of you in surreal times.