The spring of 2014 saw an unprecedented sister city travel exchange between the Portland Khabarovsk Sister City Association and the Khabarovsk City Administration. In the 26 years of Portland’s sister city partnership with Khabarovsk there had never been a back-to-back goodwill exchange like the one that happened in June 2014. As Portland's delegation returned from Khabarovsk’s Day of the City Festival - literally on the same flight - Khabarovsk's delegation arrived for Portland's Rose Festival. The whirlwind nature of the exchange notwithstanding, it was an exemplary display of sister city cordiality and friendship amidst a backdrop of international acrimony (over Ukraine)—in short, a prime example of what sister city partnerships should be all about.
Pictured left to right, are: President Alan Ellis, Head of the Khabarovsk Office of International Protocol Tatyana Ivanova, PKSCA Member Pam Hall, PKSCA Board Member Scott Rook and PKSCA Member Robbie Steeves.
Over the years, PKSCA has sent a number of delegations to Khabarovsk to represent Portland (and the U.S.) during the Day of the City (Founder’s Day) celebration, but never before had an official delegation from Russia been in Portland for Rose Festival Week. One of the main reasons is scheduling: The first day of Rose Festival Week (June 2nd) begins just as the last day of Day of the City (June 1st) concludes, presenting a challenge for Khabarovsk officials to pack up and leave, literally overnight, for the long trip to Portland. Another reason is logistics: Khabarovsk delegates must travel by overnight train to Vladivostok to secure their visas well in advance of entering the U.S., making it less likely that a high level Administration official can justify spending the time required to obtain a visa when it is never certain whether he or she can be away from Khabarovsk when the trip is scheduled. Nonetheless, given the opportunity to contribute positively to relations between our two countries, the Khabarovsk City Administration made it happen.
For those who haven’t flown to the Russian Far East in a while, or ever, it’s now an even lengthier, but thoroughly fascinating experience. The preferred itinerary from Portland to Khabarovsk and back (because it’s hundreds of dollars less expensive than existing alternative routes) is through Seattle and Beijing: It’s Alaska Airlines to Seattle, Delta to Beijing, and Siberian (“S-7”) to Khabarovsk. (Note: Flying S-7 is light years improved over the old Aeroflot adventures.) Total flying time is around 14 hrs., but airport transfer and sitting time add considerably to the journey. In the process, however, there’s an opportunity to get a feel for today’s China, not only from observations within the airport (which is gigantic in size and replete with cultural exhibits), but on the outside as well during the 10-15-minute shuttle ride between terminals.
Each delegation spent a week in their respective sister cities. Representing Portland in Khabarovsk were PKSCA President Alan Ellis, Board member Scott Rook, and PKSCA members Robbie Steeves and Pam Hall. Representing Khabarovsk in Portland were First Deputy Mayor in Charge of Municipal Services Sergei Cheryshov, Director of Solid Waste Management Alexei Izotov, and International Relations Department English interpreter (and primary e-mail contact between Portland’s Mayor Hales, PKSCA, and Khabarovsk’s Mayor Sokolov) Andrey Khmara.
The Portland delegation landed in Khabarovsk on Tuesday, May 27th, and were obliged to hit the ground running with a full day of activities from the get-go. The same held true for the Khabarovsk delegation when they arrived in Portland on Tuesday, June 3rd.
Both the Day of the City Festival and Rose Festival are occasions to showcase sister city delegations and provide the ultimate in hospitality to visiting delegates. All lodging, meals, transportation, and admittance to festival events are paid for by the hosts (i.e., the Khabarovsk City Administration and PKSCA, respectively). Portland delegates were lodged in one of Khabarovsk’s most venerated and picturesque venues, Hotel Parus (meaning “sail”), just down the street from the main cathedral on Komsomol Square and overlooking the mighty Amur River. Khabarovsk delegates were lodged in the beautifully-spacious estate of PKSCA member and Royal Rosarian Lydia Lundberg and her husband Bill. Transportation for Portland delegates was provided by rented van and for Khabarovsk delegates by rented vehicles or PKSCA members’ cars. Dining experiences ran the gamut. The Khabarovsk culinary experience included smorgasbord breakfast (plus champagne) at the hotel restaurant, a variety of ethnic restaurants, a banquet hall, a boat on the Amur River, and barbecued fresh fish dinner at Deputy Mayor Chernyshov’s extraordinary dacha (summer house), with three family generations on hand to do the hosting. In Portland, it was homemade breakfast each morning at Lydia and Bill’s, a variety of American-style restaurants including The Portland Grill, located on the 30th Floor of the US Bancorp Tower (with honored guest PKSCA Past President Dr. Earl Molander), Bridgeport Brewpub (pizza and beer), an eclectic international buffet at City Hall (with wonderful pastries provided by Natalia Verdi), Jimmy Mak's Jazz Club, Pirate's Cove seafood restaurant in Garibaldi (where oysters on the half shell were a big hit), and a farewell barbecue potluck dinner party at Lydia and Bill’s where the Khabarovsk delegation was served grass-fed Buffalo steaks by Lydia.
Official ceremonies, festival events, friendship meetings, and tailor-made excursions were daily and numerous for both delegations. The PKSCA delegation attended a patriotic, star-studded Day of the City concert followed by a banquet with Mayor Sokolov (along with dozens of other city officials and sister city dignitaries), a “We Love Khabarovsk” parade celebrating the 156th anniversary of the city, fireworks over the Amur (seen up close on a VIP boat), friendship meetings with members of the Khabarovsk-Portland Sister City Association (both at a “Friendship Society” in town and at an outdoor Russian heritage exhibit in the countryside), visits to a variety of historical and cultural museums (ranging from one located on the native Nanai reservation to one inside the regional Balitica beer plant in the heart of Khabarovsk), a spectacular international children’s art exhibit (including 20 paintings by 7-year-old students from Portland’s Tucker-Maxon School), two “invigorating” banya (Russian sauna) experiences, and a heartfelt visit with old and new friends at Gymnasium #5, the English language specialty school that participated in a decade of academic-homestay exchanges with students from Alan Ellis’ Russian language program at Portland’s Lincoln High School during the 1990s. The Khabarovsk delegation’s experiences included a private audience with Mayor Hales, formal introduction to City Commissioners, the Royal Rosarian “knighting” of Deputy Mayor Chernyshov by the Queen of Rosaria, VIP seating for the Grand Floral Parade, a tour of the Oregon Historical Museum, meetings with Solid Waste Management and Portland Street Car experts, a visit to a new eldercare facility, sightseeing in the Columbia Gorge, Wine Country, and Oregon Coast, and even the opportunity to test drive a $125,000 Tesla electric car.