You should know that I have never written a love letter before, but since you Vladivostok, gave me many of my firsts, it seems fitting that my first letter be addressed to you. Was it fate or coincidence that we met?
Your existence at the edge of the world seems to some, incomplete and insufficient, but you always knew yourself well. I sat a lifetime away in a nondescript Albertan town, dreaming of being anywhere else and everywhere else, when I saw you defined in those grainy Kodaks from the 90’s. Those years when you first opened up. Do you remember them? You met my father and probably saw him more than I did. Those Kodaks and postcards spoke of Soviet landscapes intertwined with the bluest seas and skies, sojourns on Russkiy Ostrov with ‘93 Ladas, and men with dreams (and guns).
Vladivostok. You gave me those first Russian words that remain indelibly ours. You walked me through my first Russian tongue-twister – Sportivnaya Naberezhnaya. I unconsciously carried a photo of Sportivnaya in my heart for decades, somehow to end up at the same spot with the same photo, 24 years later. It was somebody else’s memory that became my reality.
You feign as if you are a sleepy, provincial, seaside town but all your potential and hidden possibilities are felt; they are felt through your youth, who know how to exist in this world. You introduced us to strong-minded devushkas exuding the tenacity of a woman. You introduced us to sailors and students, molodoy cheloveks who could talk you into an adoring stupor, while sober (because Russians don’t drink).
At quarter-life’s implacable stage, you showed me more than what’s been prescribed to us in our neon city of superficial necessities. You exude gritty vitality and worldliness, yet allow us to be still while the world stumbles on. Incessant news cycles and business cycles didn’t matter anymore – the war on truth was not real – when you are learning your own truths in Vladivostok. Chilly evenings disrupted by warm apartments, ploshchad dancing, ostrov sunsets, cigarettes and tea, and talking, just talking. You helped me unlearn all the counterfeit speech and to speak from the soul; you said it must be that mysterious dusha. It’s like we could feel again, only with more clarity and perhaps more burden to appreciate feelings. Could that happen anywhere in the world? Perhaps, but it was only Vladivostok for me.
I would recognize you anywhere. Just last week, I saw you and Svetlanskaya hanging out in Seoul. You are one that is hard to forget, as I keep running into you in Seoul, Hong Kong, Beijing. I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to know each other better, but to be honest, I’ve been thinking of Khabarovsk and Kiev, too. I do hope you know you’re different from all the rest though – I’d like to believe that I’m one of the few that see you as you really are. As much as I want the best for you, do you really dream of being like all the others? Is it selfish for me to say that I hope you stay as you are?