Khabarovsk - A Spotless City
We spent most of the day trying to find Larisa, or her parents, to no avail. Yulia found a database of Khabarovsk phone numbers (city-wide printed phone directories don't exist here), but there were more than a hundred "Fedotovs" and "Fedotova"s listed -- too many to call randomly.
My hopes rose when I got an email from an American named Jeff Wheeler, who knew Larisa in 1995 and has apparently stayed in touch with her. He sent six phone numbers -- all in either Moscow or St. Petersburg -- and I excitedly began dialing. Four yielded terse responses along the lines of "No one here by that name!" and the other two just rang and rang. Argh. Jeff also sent an email address for her, so I sent a short message as my hopes began to dwindle.
At the end of a frustrating day, David, Yulia and I took a stroll around Khabarovsk. I'm absolutely astonished at how much this city has changed -- and at how different it is from any other place I've been in Russia. It's spotlessly clean. The buildings downtown are beautifully renovated. There are numerous streetlights, and they all work. There are brand new churches, monuments, playgrounds and parks. It's like Disneyland for adults -- Main Street, Russia.
It's hard to express just how weird this is. In every Russian city or town I've ever been in, you have to watch for gaping potholes in sidewalks, or risk breaking an ankle. But here, the sidewalks downtown are not only perfectly smooth, they're made with lovely interlocking bricks. There's not a piece of trash anywhere. And on Lenin Square, a beautiful fountain gushes in the center of a perfectly manicured plaza, surrounded on all sides by bright neon signs.
Everyone we ask tells us the same thing: Khabarovsk is clean, pretty and functional because Governor Victor Ishaev keeps it that way. His main focus in governing, apparently, is making sure the water runs, the roads are smooth, and the electrical grid never fails. It's impossible for us not to contrast Khabarovsk with Vladivostok, where the city's vibrant beauty was offset by the fact that we had no hot water in the apartment, the road into town had potholes the size of watermelons, and empty beer bottles dotted the waterfront.
We strolled until 11 p.m. or so, then took a taxi back to the apartment Yulia shares with her parents in the outskirts of the city. Just before going to sleep, I checked my email one more time -- and what do you know? There was an email from Larisa!
"Hey, Lisa, how are you! That was a real great surprise to get an email from you! I remember you guys very well! I moved to Moscow in 1998 with my family... At the moment I'm settled in St. Pete, Russia and own a little advertising company in Moscow...."
Hurrah! I can't wait to see Larisa when we reach St. Petersburg in November -- and we'll wait and do our Road Story update on her then. For now, we're on to our next stop: Birobidzhan.
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