It was a splendid Easter Sunday in Buryatia, though no one here celebrates Easter on this day. I celebrated by visiting the datsan. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and it was warm enough to go out in my American winter coat—and without a scarf!
Spring is supposed to be a time of rebirth and rejuvenation—a time when Siberia comes out of hibernation and gets back to business as (un)usual. For me this means a whole bunch of scrambling to do everything while I still can. It means my social calendar has filled up with three different English clubs, as well as meetings with friends and random people (friends of friends and friends of friends of friends) who want to practice their English or just spend some time with me in all my exoticness. (However, I’m not as scarce as I once thought: last week, I spotted two Americans in a marshrutka. After a pleasant, homemade, very family-feeling dinner with my fellow Americans, I’m now aware of a small network of missionaries living in the city. Small world!).
The thaw also means there’s a renewed surge of crazy, as it spills out of caves and snowbanks and apartments and is now free to гулять about the country. So here’s just a silly taste of Siberia’s Spring Fever.
- Gone are the days when I could spend time in public in peace. Lately, especially if I’m with another foreign friend, I’ve become quite the spectacle. Everywhere we go, people approach us to ask us questions and practice their English or just to gawk. Everyone wants foreign friends. Sometimes all the attention is embarrassing and overwhelming—but sometimes, it can lead to an entire evening of translation practice, laughs, and interesting conversation with new friends.
- Most of the #56 Marshrutkas transformed into time machines overnight. What used to be your typical old-ish but sturdy vans suddenly became a seventies-esque, brightly colored submarine-shaped death-wagons. I think they are marvelous.
- My neighbors, in keeping with their dastardly ways, have found new and creative ways to wage their psychological warfare. For the most part, they’ve done away with the incessant kleptomania—with the exception of the occasional pilfering of our big knife, making me feel rather silly wielding a giant Samurai cleaver to slice my cheese and bread. After enough scolding, they’ve even stopped the incessant and raucous late-night laundering on the world’s loudest washing machine. Their new favorite pastime is leaving whole raw fish out in the kitchen for days at a time. I’m cool with four sets of googly fisheyes watching me pour my tea, but the smell of rotting fish tends to get extra-ripe and pervasive before these bad-boys finally get cooked.
- Russia must be super manly—because, lately, every time there’s a problem, they just throw some dirt on it. Icy walkways? Throw some dirt on it. Baikal-sized puddles? Throw some dirt on it. Giant potholes? Throw some dirt on it. Cataclysmic cracks opening up in the earth? Throw some dirt on it. It’s the catch-all-fix-all of spring.
- Ulan-Ude is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the world’s largest Lenin head, but I’ve discovered another Guinness-worthy quality of this fine city: most Eminem fans per capita. No joke, he’s everywhere: he’s in grocery stores, he’s in marshrutkas, he’s the third most popular ringtone, gopniks sing him on the streets—and, in an establishment with access to a jukebox, you’ll find that four out of every five songs played are performed by Eminem. You might not be aware of this, but after New York and maybe Las Vegas, Detroit is one of the coolest cities in America—because that’s where Eminem lives.
- On Friday, I was *this* close to finally getting my hands on some Mexican food. I went to this really intriguing place called Che Guevara, which is a “resto-club” featuring Mexican and Cuban cuisine and salsa-dancing and live music for revolutionary Che-loving souls (they even have a fancy website). Unfortunately, for some reason unbeknownst to me, this is also the only establishment in Russia to have a minimum age limit of 25 (either that or they just say that to deter foreigners and uncool people like me). So, sadly, I was kicked to the curb tacoless and burritoless.
For my next post (coming soon, I hope), I have something a little more serious and analytical planned. Russia is always giving me something to ponder, and I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned with you, dear readers. It’s time to put on my critical thinking cap!