Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Remembering Siberia

Nine years ago I was braving the cold and darkness of Siberia.
Odin (yes, the reindeer herder!) and I had traveled to Yakutsk, the capital of the Sakha Republic and one of the largest cities in the world built on top of permafrost, on the traditional student pilgrimage of studying abroad.
a 2 PM sunset

Many of my memories of this time have already vanished. The blog I kept was rather sporadic and I don't recall having a digital camera or even Facebook at that time. The pictures I did take were relegated mainly to an online storage site which as of yesterday booted me off for inactivity, meaning a frantic late-night transfer of loads of pictures took place last night.

During that all that frantic downloading, I stumbled across these pictures of Yakutsk's "old city", an area noted for its historical and architectural value. In 2005 this meant it was an upscale part of town, complete with an astronomically-priced adidas shop and the only candle store in town.

It was probably late September or early October in these photos, before the Time of Mud that was early winter. This may have been an outing with other exchange students or perhaps even an event organized by one of the Yakut language and culture teachers that were assigned to us. Odin, that incredible adventurer who really should start his own blog [hint, hint], took these pictures on (what we think was) Sakha republic day.

These women were singing in front of a shop called (more or less) "Rows of Meat" . In the winter I remember coming here with our teacher to buy horse meat. We then went to her apartment, where she cooked it for us in the microwave, wanting us to try this traditional food before we left town.

Looking back at these pictures now, I'm amazed at the beauty and color in them, something I didn't pay enough attention to at that time.

This lady had 'the look' down. If you've ever traveled in Russia or Ukraine, you know this look well ; ) It usually appears when you make an unreasonable request, like asking for an item on a tall shelf in a grocery store or giving a cashier a bill that requires small change in return.
And can you spot the accordion?

Horses are big in Yakut culture. You can ride them. You can eat them. You can milk them and make a fermented, mildly-alcoholic drink called kumis. Much more practical than a car, don't you think?
And oh, those hats...

These dancers are holding chorons, special three-legged cups used for kumis that are a really, really big deal in museums.

Likely lots has changed in Yakutsk in the past decade.

For starters, the university changed its name from Yakutsk State University to North-Eastern Federal University

They've got a fancy website these days; you can choose from Yakut, Russian, Korean, Chinese, and English when viewing the site. 

There's a page with info for new exchange students (whereas before even getting a response to an email to the International Office was considered a major victory). 

There's even a (no, I can't believe it either!!) "International Winter School in Siberia" program! Hmmm... where should I go this winter? Hawaii? Or Siberia? Hmmm... (although it appears the school knows that most of us are wimps- the "winter school" takes place at the end of March.)

September 2005. The university before its name change.

I doubt I'll ever get back there to see what else has changed. It's a wide, wide world and I'm not super-compelled to spend so much time travelling across Russia to Yakutsk again when so much else of the world remains unseen. These few memories will have to do. And D, while amenable to the idea of Ukraine, would probably immediately start searching for a new girl if I said anything that started with "Hey, I have a great idea!" and ended with "Let's move to Siberia!".

PS: The temperature in Yakutsk today? - 44 F (-42 C)! Brr!
"Old city" during the winter

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