Home > Cities traveled > Day 13: Buryatia

Day 13: Buryatia

April 30th, 2011

I can’t make up my mind on what I think about Ulan Ude. Like much of Russia, it left me feeling the stark contrast between ethnically different people who are all very proud of their heritage and their country. It surprises me that everyone speaks the same Russian. There is a slight difference in accent but it is the same language. In the Philippines, for example, the people from one island to another speak completely different dialects that bare little resemblance to each other and not everyone speaks the national Filipino language (no, it’s not Tagalog). I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because the U.S. is the same with English being the common language that everyone is taught.

The contrast from the urban cities in eastern Russia really struck me. I felt thrown back about 20 years to when I visited some of my relatives in Iran who lived in smaller towns (villages at the time) and everyone had an outhouse and lived off of dirt roads within minutes of the center of town with all the usual shops and restaurants. Similarly, I remembered living in the Philippines when electricity and water were intermittent and I’d have to go get water from a well pump and use transformers, battery packs, and generators to keep a constant supply of energy available.

The largest contrast, was in the very home of my couchsurf hosts, Vladimir and Irina, who have an unassuming small wooden house, a large yard, an outhouse, a banya, and a cat. And yet they have a small array of laptops and computer hardware running in the house. Vladimir teaches computer science at a local school by day and is a self-made hacker by night. He showed me a virus he’d written to send to his university professor as a joke. He said, “Russian programmers…” and trailed off into a laugh.

I spent a day walking around town with Irina and enjoying not being a tourist (other than taking pictures). We took the quick bus ride into the central square, Sovetov Plaza, where I saw the largest head of Lenin in all of Russia. I think I could have crawled into his ear. We visited Vladimir’s school and made it just in time for the recess bell (sounds typical to U.S. school bells, I think). The school halls had pictures of students, English writers, and fairy tale drawings (Sherlock Holmes, Gulliver’s Travels, Robin Hood). There was a random chimney in one hallway that reminded me of something out of Hogwartz.

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From there, we walked past the opera house that was closed for remodeling, went to the Merchant’s Quarters where I taped this street performer singing.

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I like the elaborate window carvings and colors on most of the wooden houses around town.

The opera house was closed but I tried to get close to the backstage entrance where some workers were sitting and talking.

You put money into the little slot at the top of the bronze horn statue at one end of the merchant’s quarter walkway.

We ate in a local buryat restaurant that took up two yurts down an alley off the main walkway. We shared pozy (looked like a steamed bun but was filled completely with ground meat of some sort) and sharbin which reminded me of an El Salvadorean pupusa (a flat bread filled with meat and deep fried).

As we walked around town, our group grew from 2, to 3, to 4, to 5 people, at one point, as we ran into family members along the way. Vladimir said, “Russian village” and laughed.

We spent two evenings peacefully by the Selenga River watching the sun set. On the day before I left, we had bought hot dogs at a local hot dog stand. It was in a french roll type of bread (bigger than an American hot dog bun) and, to my surprise, it contained 2 hot dogs (and cabbage, ketchup, and mayonnaise)!

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  1. jason
    April 30th, 2011 at 17:40 | #1

    Why are opera houses always closed? I can’t tell you how often I’ve wanted to look inside and they’re always closed. It’s frustrating. Churches are always open, opera always closed. bummer.

    I’m always amazed at what culture, stories, icons, etc, travel well and which don’t. Food seems to travel really well but it never tastes as good at home. Architecture, less so. Stories travel well and you can change the names for your own culture, if you like. Technology has always traveled well. Best examples perhaps being warfare and cell phones. If you can, tell your hosts there’s a lot of respect for Russian programmers. :)

  2. from SD
    May 1st, 2011 at 05:11 | #2

    Yey! Sponge Bob! I love him!
    The pozy looks like a Chinese Bao.
    Through your pictures, now, I can see how our cultures are influenced and migrated.
    It’s very interesting. The world has become much smaller than I thought.

  3. Liz
    May 2nd, 2011 at 19:08 | #3

    Your description of all the food is very informative, but you’re missing the key point: how did they taste?

    • xg
      May 4th, 2011 at 14:35 | #4

      TOO MUCH MEAT (for my taste). I can’t wait to eat some fruits and vegetables. I can’t say I liked how it tasted but I also don’t like the taste of meat so…

  4. Artemix
    May 4th, 2011 at 23:42 | #5

    Hey, I see you took a picture of “Mentovoz”, the police suv-like vehicle. :) How are “Menty” (police) anyways? Did anybody check for your “documenty” and “registratsija” yet?

    BTW, Russian diet is (was) considered good when it has a lot of meat and fat. Vegetable salads or, scared to say, fruit salads were never too popular, especially with men.

    • xg
      May 6th, 2011 at 12:59 | #6

      Hey Art – I realized it was a polizei vehicle just after I took the picture and I put away my camera quickly hoping they didn’t come over to ask me for “documenty”. :) Thankfully, I have not yet been stopped at all.

  5. Artemix
    May 4th, 2011 at 23:48 | #7

    Regarding language, Russia and USSR always was very centralized. Obviously, the state language is Russian, school education is in Russian, university education is in Russian (with minor exception), etc. So, all of the multiple ethnic groups (150 or so) speak the same language

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