It could be Anytown, Russia
Easy as a walk in the park!
Same people, same produce
|This week I am in Krasnayarsk, Siberia and I’ve noticed something
so familiar that I find it odd.
It didn’t strike me when I was changing the time zone on my computer and
I found that at four hours ahead of Moscow, I’m in the same zone as Bangkok,
Jakarta, and Hanoi. It didn’t strike me when I read in the Lonely Planet
Russia Guide that I’d traveled over 4000 km in the last two weeks on several different
Trans-Siberian trains. It hit me when a friend asked me what the buildings
in Siberia looked like. They look just like the buildings in European Russia!
Today, after I read his email, I walked around Krasnayarsk looking for Siberian
buildings that he would not recognize from his European Russia travels, and
I couldn’t find a single one! Currently Europe is employing an army of
bureaucrats to attempt to do what a few Russian and Soviet leaders (most
notably Tzar Alexander III in constructing the Trans-Siberian and Stalin
in sending most of the country into exile there) achieved in less than 100
years: complete homogeneity across a very diverse and distant land mass.
To start with, my hotel is no different that the hotels in Ulyanovsk or even
Kyiv. The same wood furniture, the same single beds, and the same terminally
bored dezhorniya moving the dirt around. Outside, gray Soviet concrete apartment
blocks are interspersed between earlier brick apartment buildings. The occasional
wood home, ala Dr Zhivago, is the only evidence that any of these Siberian
cities were settled before the revolution.
More surprising, even though everyone else at this longitude (or is it latitude?)
is eating with chopsticks, I am still surrounded by Russians who’d rather
fry potatoes than rice. Only rarely do I see any “Oriental” (for Russians
on this side of the Urals are Asians too!) faces in the crowds that pass
me as I relax in one of the many outdoor shashlik cafes. I do see all the
usual shapes and colors. The majority of Russians have a base European genealogy,
with two thousand years of immigrants, two hundred years of Mongol fatherhood,
and too many decades of forced relocation that gives ’em a very unique look.
I’ve even gotten to the point that I can pick Russians out of photographs
even when everyone is dressed alike!
This same look is here in Siberia, as much as in European Russia, which shows
the absolute power of the Tzar and Soviet regimes. Both would ship anyone
who even made a peep in protest, to one of the many villages along the
Trans-Siberian for re-education. The Tzar would allow petty criminals to
go free once they reached their destination, forbidding their return to the
other side of the Urals, with hard criminals and political offenders sent
a different route. Those who didn’t agree with the Tzar’s (or Stalin’s) rule
were sent to one of the many “camps” along the railroad, or even several
days march beyond, to extract the amazing mineral wealth that Siberia holds.
The exiles that were allowed to go free (or the handful that survived the
camps) formed the base of Siberian culture, which even today is definitely
Russian. Unfortunately, this homogeneity occurred at the expense of the local
peoples. With rare exceptions, the overwhelming numbers of Russians have
assimilated the indigenous peoples.
The only difference I note, is the increasing number of right-hand drive
Japanese cars. In Moscow, there are plenty of Hondas, Toyotas, and Nissans,
along with the obligatory fleets of black Mercedes, but out here, there is
a subtle difference. Instead of being Japanese cars swiped from the homes
and streets of Europe and smuggled into Russia, Siberian imports are usually
swiped from the homes and streets of Japan.
The first time I rode in a right-hand car, while still driving on the right-hand
side of the road, I was too scared to open my eyes. I’m not used to being
so near oncoming traffic without a steering wheel to defend myself!