Smolny in 1995, Part 2. How I Didn’t Meet Putin

Boris’ part in this Smolny project was installing the software Dr. Conrad was trying to sell. And my part was, as usual, writing the user’s manual. In this case, it was more like a persuasive essay. I had to present a use case and show how this software will make the life of the City clerks easier.

I remember how I was inventing the names and ages of people and their addresses. But the most memorable were the letters I was scanning. Scanning was a very new thing then, at least in Russia, even the copying machines were rare. And I was given a whole bunch of real people’s paper letters to Smolny. And I read them while scanning. I can’t recall any particular case or any particular problem from these letters, but the overall impression was desperate. You could hear people crying, searching for words that would be convincing enough, pleading for help, from necessary surgery to pensions being delayed, to broken heating pipes. I could not help but think how the City clerks can read such letters and put them aside. I knew that all these letters were not processed yet, and some of them were dated two-three months before the day I was reading them.

Continue reading “Smolny in 1995, Part 2. How I Didn’t Meet Putin”

Smolny in 1995

The last gig I wrote about was the project in Bank Saint-Petersburg, which earned me money for our trip to Poland. 

Later in 1995, my employment situation continued to be the same as I described in the above post. I was a full-time researcher at the university, working in the Operations Research Laboratory, and Boris was my boss, which was wrong on all possible accounts. The university jobs were still paying very little for both of us, but the way we thought about it back then, it was unimaginable to leave a university position. It was academia; we were researches, and even if we aren’t paid anything, we could not drop these badges of honor. 

And still, we needed money. Maybe, some people can be happy being poor together with their loved ones, but it was never our case. We were on a hunting trail all the time. 

The next gig came one more time from Dr. Conrad, and that was my last encounter with him. The gig was huge – working with the city government. Dr. Conrad, as usual, wanted to sell something to somebody. That time, this “something” was a document flow system that would allow all the city government departments to process the letters from the public more efficiently. My job would be to interview the city government employees from all departments, analyze their needs, the existing processes bottleneck, and produce a report explaining why the proposed system was the best possible solution. Then I had to make a presentation to the whole bunch of officials. 

Continue reading “Smolny in 1995”

A Girl With a Monkey

I’ve scanned lots of photographs from 1995, and now I can continue with our family story. Here I want to show just one picture to illustrate “how things were” back then.

I am coming to daycare to pick up Vlad and Anna, and their teacher tells me that there was a photographer with a monkey (?!) and that he took a picture of Anna with a monkey – see below.

I do not even know why and how, and why anybody would find this idea appealing. Anyway, I didn’t know anything about that. Anna said she wanted a picture with the monkey, but then she got scared, which is also visible on the picture, and then she didn’t want to back out of that!

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

The Fall of 1995. Anna’s Ballet Classes

Since now Anna is wondering where her older daughter got the idea of wanting to be a ballerina, I have to remind her about her ballet classes.

Here is the story. My cousin Anna is a musician, and one of her side jobs in 1996 was playing piano for ballet classes in one of the nearby schools. For my life, I can’t remember whether the lady who ran these classes was affiliated with the school, had an independent “circle,” or whatever. But she ran these ballet classes for children of different ages, and the youngest dancers were six. As an exception, she would admit children who were five and a half and were exceptionally gifted.

Let me tell you that there was some rationale behind that age limitation.

For smaller children, coordination of the movements of different parts of their bodies is challenging. Anna just turned four, and she wanted to be a ballerina :). I was trying to teach her that when asked, she has to tell that she was five and a half, but I didn’t hold much hope. My cousin suggested that we will pretend we were a little bit late and that I should push Anna into the audition room when all the children already start to repeat to movements. Then, my cousin was hoping the instructor will already like Anna and will be more willing to make an exception. She showed Anna the moves which she most likely would have to repeat during the audition, and Anna was practicing on her own, tirelessly. It was unbelievable.

Continue reading “The Fall of 1995. Anna’s Ballet Classes”

The Story Of My Ph.D.

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t go to the postgraduate school for my Ph.D. First, I could not afford to go for several years on the postgrad stipend instead of salary, and second, it wasn’t easy to get in. I do not even remember whether it was Boris or I who first came up with the idea that I should go for a Ph.D., in some sense, both wanted it to happen.  

I registered with the Department of Mathematics and Mechanics and became “an aspirant.” For the benefit of the Russian-speakers, the Russian word aspirant means “a postgraduate student,” and a Russian word “soiskatel” means “an aspirant.” Super-confusing, I know 🙂

So, I became an aspirant, and then my timeline was entirely up to me. I didn’t have to attend any classes, except for if I felt I need it to pass the qualification exams. I had to pass four of them: English, Philosophy, Speciality One (which was Computer Science for me), and Speciality Two (which was Data Management).

I registered in 1989, and the only exam I passed before Vlad and Anna were born was English. For our English exam, we had to “submit thousands.” If you do not know what it is about, you will never guess. We had to take any book, or books, or journal articles related to our specialty, computer science, in my case. There was an official estimate of how many characters are there on each page, and we had to be ready with something like fifty pages. The examiner could open the book on any page and ask us to read a paragraph and to translate it. Also, we had to prepare several newspaper pages, and they had to be actual US or British newspapers, not Moscow News. Only the Communist Party newspapers were available, so in my case, usually, it would be “The Morning Star.”

Continue reading “The Story Of My Ph.D.”

Pictures From Summer 1995

For the benefit of my older granddaughter, I am skipping right to the summer of 1995, so that I could show some pictures. The first two where taken in June 1995.

Anna, Ania, Igor and Vlad in the Summer Gardens (Letniy Sad)

My friend Olga had a daughter Ania, who was just several months younger than Vlad and Anna. We lived in the same building and knew each other since our children were babies. When they grew a little bit older, we started to plan our adventures together. On that day, we took subway (Metro) to the city center to the Summer Gardens, the oldest park in Saint Petersburg

On our way back home, with the Church on Blood on the background. Guess, how I know that it’s on the way back, not on the way there?

The next picture was taken later the same summer, when we were staying in the University boarding house. Here we are visiting the Peterhoff park with the fountains. We met Inna and her daughter Kira when staying in the boarding house a year earlier, and once again, now the kids were old enough to take longer trips.

Igor, Vlad, Kira and Anna in the Lower Park of Peterhoff

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

1995: Gigs and Odd Jobs

Since I was fired from Urbansoft, looking for some side jobs, which would put bread on the table, became a part of my life. Most of the time, these jobs were very loosely related to my skills. However, by 1990’s standards, I had decent written English, which was a way to make money.

After the HighDoc project, there was one more, which I consider an epic fail on my part.

Boris was a part of the group, which was contracted by Nortel to write a reporting system – I want to say, for their first cellular data, but I need to double-check with Boris. (Correction: Nortel thing was later, what we did in 1994 was a project for GTE Labs, and it happened because of Boris’ connections to Micheal Brodie – more shame on me! ) He incorporated me to write a user manual for that system. As usual, the pay was verbally negotiated. And I failed it unimaginably.
Although I was full-time employed by the University, the attendance was optional, and there was no real research work. I would come to the office twice a week and spend time meeting with people and talking about random stuff. On the days at home, I often started my day going to the city center and checking “what’s new” in the stores. I was still not accustomed to the fact that there were consumer goods available, and I could buy things that I liked. Shopping for produce was another adventure, with multiple food stands on every corner, different prices and different quality.

There were always emails to answer and some cooking to be done at home, and then there was time to go and pick up the kids from the daycare. When I would sit to write my technical documentation, I didn’t progress much and was still thinking that I have enough time to finish. After some time, I realized that there is no way I could finish on time. Boris was sending me the parts of the reporting system, which were already done, and I had almost no documentation. I told him that I failed just four days before the stuff was due. He managed to write up something and had us covered, but that’s the shame I had to carry for many years.

I do not remember how we got involved with Bank Saint Petersburg, there were some connections involved, but I do not recall the details. Somebody somehow talked them into trying to use Oracle. It was Oracle 6, and the installation process was a journey with an unpredictable outcome. The group consisted of Boris, Yuri, and myself. I have a vague recollection that there was somebody else, maybe a person from the bank. We were supposed to install and teach others to use Oracle, and that was the first experience for all of us. I do not know how we managed to present it as if we were competent, but the task was completed, and we got some insane money. I used my portion to take the kids to Poland in summer (I will tell this story later).

The Bank gig happened in spring 1995, when I was finalizing my Ph.D. Thesis, which will be a topic of some future post.

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

Reflecting on The Rest of 1994, and Welcoming 1995

Once again, there is a gap of several months when I have no pictures of the kids. The daycare picture was taken at the end of September, and the one below – on January 1, 1995.

During fall 1994, I was still working at the Operations Research Lab of the University. That job still paid close to nothing, and I was still in constant search of gigs. Also, I resumed my postgraduate studies and was slowly but surely getting through all of the required exams.

That fall, Anna first developed her chronic bronchitis, which she had for many years after. Nobody could tell me what the reason for that condition was, but one of the hypotheses was that she had an underdeveloped lung because she was a premie. As a result, any slight cold would develop into the obstruction bronchitis within several hours from onset. Most of the time, a pediatrician won’t recognize that bronchitis is coming, and I had to learn how to diagnose it.

It was scary, and it was not something you could get used to. Roughly every six weeks, it looked like your child is dying. There were no children’s versions of the regular medicine for that condition (and no inhalers, if you are curious about it). I would buy the pills, which helped with the spasms and crushed them into powder. I always had these pills both in my purse and on the nightstand. And when Anna would start coughing non-stop and wheezing: “Mom, open my mouth!” I had to manage to get that power in her mouth, along with some water. I knew that it would help, but it was scary each and single time.

I learned how to listen to her breath and catch an onset of yet another bronchitis. I learned to perform a special massage, which would help to get mucus out of her airways.

As a side effect, it would often happen that I could not send her to the daycare, and then I would take her with me to my postgraduate classes. One of the classes was philosophy, and I had to take an exam at the end. Fortunately, that class taught by the same professor Alexeev, whom I had during my undergrad studies, and who secretly taught us about existentialism :). Anna was sitting there very quietly, and I was always allowed to take her to my class. Could that trigger her future interest in social studies?!

Back to the picture below.

Our family tradition continued: everybody celebrated the New Year’s Eve with their immediate families or elsewhere, but on January 1, everybody would gather at the Aunt’s Kima house to celebrate her birthday with the extended family.

I know that I had several pictures from that particular gathering, but now I can only find that one. I have no idea why Igor is not on that picture because he was most definitely present.

Vlad and Anna wear animal costumes because, as I’ve already mentioned, costumes for the New Year go back to the old tradition Sviatki – the time between Christmas and New Year. Anna is in a squirrel mask, and Vlad wears a hood with bunny ears, and both of their faces are painted with animal features.

In the back row from left to right: my cousin Dodik (David), Kima’s son, with his wife Alla, then Aunt Maya, Uncle Slava’s wife. In the middle row – I, Aunt Kima, and my mom.
My shoulders were not intended to be bare to that extent, it’s just my dress pulled down, and I was still very skinny back then. I made that dress myself. I got the garment as a fee for teaching English to the son of one of “a friend of a friend.” It required only minimal work to fit my small body, and it looked spectacular, or at least I thought so back then.

Here was the start of 1995, and many things were going to happen that year.

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My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

Daycare Pictures

Two pictures taken at Vlad’s and Anna’s daycare (aka Kindergarten)

Anna and Vlad are first from the left in the first row, and their later best friend Kolya is a second from right in the upper row. Vlad and Anna just turned three, Kolya is almost a year older. Interestingly, I remember all of the kids, their characters, but I do not remember any other names.

Vlad and Anna are dressed in “humanitarian aid,” and Anna wears shorts which was not common for the girls at that time. Almost everybody else wear the clothes from the stores, as nice as their parents could get. The boys wear button-downs and dark shorts, which was a standard, and most of the girls wear dresses and tights.

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

Soviet Special Ed Schools: What was Wrong

After I posted about Igor’s school, I kept thinking about what I considered wrong about that school. As in every other school, there were some good teachers and some bad teachers. The classes were small; the kid’s needs were addressed. Still, there was something fundamentally wrong in how we, the parents, the children, and the teachers were thinking about it. 

On the one hand, it was considered shameful to admit that your child is attending a school “for special needs, whatever these needs would be. A parent would be reluctant to say what kind of school is their child attending. On the other hand, the staff was constantly promoting the idea that these kids are so lucky because “in a regular school,” nobody would take care of them, and they won’t be able to learn. I remember teachers disciplining students saying that if they don’t behave, they will be sent to “a regular school.”

The students felt simultaneously deprived and lucky, being continually reminding them that “the government provides,” pumping up the sense of entitlement. Also, they had limited contact with the outer world, which would be a case in any boarding school, multiplied by their vision disabilities. 

And back then, I didn’t know how wrong it was, and I acted, and though, and felt like all other parents of children with disabilities (except some brave souls, but I was not one of them). I am just happy that the world started to open for me, and that little by little, I started to realize that things could be different. 

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.