after spending several days on the train we arrived in Ulan-Ude, a small town in siberia. we had gone there in search of the ellusive asian russian. ok, let me explain that. a few years back, when i had gone to russia before and spent 10 days there w/ my brother and father, my brother had been totally shocked to see asian people speaking russian. yeah, when you think about it, just as there are asian americans, there of course should be asian russians as well. especially given the fact that most of russia is actually *in* asia. but still, i guess it’s just that i’ve seen so few russian speaking people in my lifetime, that it’s a shock to be seeing anyone speak russian that doesnt look like the average russian. so anyways, everytime my brother and i would see an asian looking person speak russian, we’d get all excited.

the town of ulan-ude is located in the buryatia district of russia, which is the portion of siberia closest to the mongolian border. buddhism is one of the predominant religions here. the population here is about half people native to buryatia and half ethnic russians. and the town is a really nice and mellow place to explore in siberia. we had only one full day to spend there, but that short time there was really enjoyable. we didnt really do much. mostly just strolled about the town and checked it out. lots of the buildings in town were the really old quaint wooden log-cabin type buildings that caryn calls “gingerbread houses”. some of these were in poor condition, but others were really well kept up and had freshly painted shutters in all sorts of various gleaming colors that made a great contrast w/ the dark brown wood of the rest of the building. there were random stands set up around town selling siberian berries (similar to blue berries but oval in shape) and other stuff for sale. basically, the town was a great place to just take in the atmosphere and we really enjoyed it.

other than just strolling, we went to go check out the history museum which had an incredible display of traditional buddhist artwork etc from the region. we saw several cool onion-domed russian churches. we checked out the main square that has the biggest statue of a Lenin head that i had ever seen in my life! also, by some random freak chance, we happened to arrive in town on a holiday! it was the anniversary of the town being founded, as we found out from a very drunk but very friendly man who started talking to us. he was the first person so far who seemed genuinely excited that we were here and was eager for us to have a good time in his country. sure it may have been the alcohol talking, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt!

so, we had been searching for the elusive asian russians, and in ulan-ude, we definitely found them. as promised, about half of the town’s poulation was asian. and what i thought was super cool was that it seemed like the towns population was totally integrated. back home, in the “melting pot” of the bayarea, although we have tons of different people of different ethnicities, usually most groups you see will all be predominantly of one ethnicity. not the case here. it looked like almost half the couples i saw in town had one asian and one russian, and pretty much every group of people wandering around town was mixed.

after the all to brief day in ulan-ude, we got back on the train and continued on westward to the town of irkutsk. irkutsk is a town near Lake baikal, the deepest lake in the world. this lake is so huge that it actually contains one fifth of all the world’s fresh water! low on time, we didnt have tons of time to explore irkutsk. it’s known as the “paris of siberia” and is a pretty large town. once again, we saw lots of onion-domed churches, and a bunch of the gingerbread houses. it was so hot while we were there! at one point we were walking near this small pond andthere were all these people hanging out, eating icecream, renting paddleboats, and in general doing fun summertime activities, and i just thought to myself.. how weird!! who would expect this from *siberia*??!!

one of the days there, we took the hydrofoil out to listvyanka, a tiny village right on the lakeside. at the dock, there were a bunch of people smoking Omul, a type of fish from the lake. umm.. well, by “smoking” i dont mean they were using them as cigarettes, i mean they were making smoked fish. this is one of the things this region is famous for, se we bought some smoked Omul, bread, and beer and had a picninc by the lake. the smoked fish was great!! after the picninc, we wandered about by the lake and checked out the quaint houses in town. after walking for two hours though, it got too hot, so we decided to head back to irkustsk.

in town we had ended up sharing a room with two dutch people and so we went out to dinner w/ them. after spending a while not really talking to anyone, it was fun to just hang out w/ some people. we spent a bunch of time sharing our experiences i russia. they too had experienced a lot of difficulties interacting w/ people here. but, i think that after leaving vladivostok, we have had a much easier time of it. part of me thinks it’s because maybe i’ve just gotten used to the way russians interact. or maybe we have just been runing into friendlier russians. sure, people still havent been smiling or anyting, but at least no one has been super rude to us. heh, customer service still hasnt been any good though!! it’s funny though, because of all this, the few times when we actually do have an interaction where a russian smiles, or acts even the tiniest bit friendly, we get all excited about it!

oh, one thing that i completely forgot to mention about irkutsk, was this crazy weird fluffy stuff that was everywhere. i’m not sure what it was. probably some kind of parasite. but, you would see it all over covering different trees and bushes. there was so much of it, that it would blow off the trees and then fly around and it would almost look like it was snowing at times! there was fluff all over the streets, the gutter, everywhere. so weird!

after just a few days in irkutsk, we flew out of there. next stop… st petersburg!!


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