The printed word. The river was rising. It's no good asking a question like that.
The city had only been open to the west for a year or two. English speakers were hard to find,
and those willing to work as tour guides, even harder. Irina fitted the bill though. She was
a little older than some other women, yet still very beautiful and she had a wicked sense of
humour. Smart and caustic.
Each day she'd get her allocated group of tourists and take them around that strange city.
Most of the tourists were brought over by the printed word and that river was rising.
In those days though, they were sequestered in a hotel, or were maybe afraid to come out.
The locals were leery of them too and had no experience of tourists. They weren't used to
speaking anything but their own language. Anyone who spoke English must be a spy. They were
used to the closed way of life preached in that closed city. It was the insular peninsula.
Tawdry, businessy, noisy, smoky, warm but with a sea breeze. The San Francisco of the Far East.
Irina took each tour about. They saw the wonderful railway station, based on the one 9500 km to the
west. They looked at the ocean liners standing just nearby, and down by the fair ground, the building
where Olympians were once trained. They saw the naval ships of the Pacific fleet anchored in the
harbour and the building which held their headquarters. They saw the 20 million names on the memorial
wall and the little Orthodox chapel. The latex submarines which used to be there, on the dock with the
other grey ships, were gone though. American spy planes would regularly fly over the city, at high level,
and these plastic submarines were once used to make the fleet look bigger. Irina showed the tourists the
statue of the Siberian tiger, real ones still roamed to the north. She showed them the FESCO ice breakers,
hired by Arctic travellers, which were docked in the bay. She showed them the strait, out towards Japan,
and towards Russkiy island, where there was talk of one day building a bridge.
She showed them the statues, on tall plinths in the square. One of the tourists asked her:
"That building, that really large building, in the centre there. What's that?" Irina told him the truth.
"It's our local government building" She said. "It took us 10 years to build".
When she got back to the office the boss admonished her. "It took us 10 years to build it?"
"You can't say that" "That's embarrassing". The feisty Irina was chastened.
The next day she was on tour again. The harbour again, Yul Brynner, the cars, the Republic bistro,
Saint Cyril and his brother, authors of Cyrillic. Bar 21, the mountains, the diesel submarine
along the dock. She showed them it all, but would not mention the large enamel coloured building.
One tourist eventually couldn't ignore it any longer: "What about that huge building, that one right
in the centre there?" He said. Feigning shock Irina just replied "Oh!" "There's a building there."
"Funny, that wasn't there yesterday!"