Ulan-Ude, Republic of Buryatia; Siberia, Russia

Last night I visited an Irish pub creatively named Irish Pub, and there was no Guinness, but I did befriend two Buryats and a Bashkir. Buryats are native to Ulan-Ude (and small sections of China and Mongolia) and Bashkirs are Turkic people indigenous to Bashkortostan, Russia. Kamil, the Bashkir, worked in oil in gas; his wife, whose name I could not understand, was a doctoral candidate in psychology, and their friend is a customs inspector who spent nearly a decade working the border of Russia and Mongolia before returning to her hometown, Ulan-Ude.

I spent today with the customs inspector, Elena (pronounced Yell-ena), whose family is entirely Buryat. Some of them still live in remote villages here in Siberia. With her as my guide I made a return trip to the outdoor Siberian architecture museum, and it was pretty awesome to have a Buryatka (indicates one Buryat woman, considered demeaning by some but not by her) show me around the huts and explain more than I could have learned on my own. Many Russians are cold and unwelcoming, but those who are not are often eager to befriend Westerners, especially since some of them have never seen an American except on TV, or so I'm told.

Afterward she treated me to a local delicacy of Buuza (Buuz, if you are Mongolian, or Pozy, if you are Russian; Buryats have their own language). It is a dumpling filled with minced meat: either pig, cow, sheep or horse, and often a combination of the above. I am not sure what meat I ate today but it tasted better than the salted raw liver I ate. When I asked her from what animal the liver came, she did not know, and after I tried it, I did not want more. I tried to say no before even the first bite, but when someone goes out of their way to be your guide for the day, you can really only say no once; even so, I tried to say no three times.

The outdoor museum also featured a zoo with at least two Siberian tigers, two East Siberian brown bears (one very very large) and many other animals, including yak, lynx, wolves, sheep, and deer not quite as exotic as the vampire deer I spotted in North Korea, but still more exotic than your typical North American backyard type. There was very little oversight in the zoo portion of the museum. The cages were shockingly weak-looking, especially for the tigers and bears. Also, it is common and de facto acceptable, if not outright allowed, to feed human food to the animals, even the tigers and bears. I think it is ignorant and dangerous to allow such behavior, and part of me (~100%) was hoping somebody would lose a few fingers.

Tonight I take an overnight train to Irkutsk, and tomorrow I will visit Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world, and the oldest and deepest lake of any kind.