What an exciting time to be in Irkutsk, Russia! Regardless of the political tension between the U.S. and Russia, it is an opportunity of a lifetime to be living among the Russian people of Irkutsk. Irkutsk is a very friendly and interesting city with approximately half a million inhabitants lying near the world’s deepest lake, Lake Baikal. Irkutsk lies in eastern Siberia on the Angara River a tributary of the river Yenisei and takes its name from the river, Irkut. It takes almost 3.5 days to reach the city of Irkutsk by train from Moscow, which is 5,185 km away.
I have only been studying the Russian language for two semesters and with my limited ability to communicate it will be a welcomed challenge to navigate this beautiful city.
I can walk from my building to the market in the first picture, hop on the bus and head downtown and get to my classes. It only costs $15rub (Rubles) to ride the bus. That’s $0.27 cents! The only problem I encountered while taking the bus was learning the stops. It did not take long, but at first it was very challenging because many of the stop names are different than current maps (even the ones on the bus) and many of the street side labels are also missing. I have been able to ask for basic directions, however, I do not always understand the directions being given to me, seeing as I have no mental picture of what I am actually looking for. So, I would get lost and just learn the landmarks and was able to figure it out. I enjoyed getting lost and walking around, it is a great way to meet random people and discover new and interesting things.
While being lost I saw many different statues attributed to different individuals and creatures such as Babr.
When the coat of arms was devised in 1690, the animal was described as a tiger with a sable in his mouth. It has its origin in a seal of the Siberia Khanate (a political entity ruled by a Khan or Khagan) representing a sable and showcasing the fact that Siberia was the main source of sable fur throughout the Middle Ages. (Actually, the English word “sable” is derived from the Russian “sobol” (соболь)). By the mid-19th century, the word “babr” had fallen out of common usage, but it was still recorded in the Armorial of the Russian Empire. Furthermore, the tigers became extinct in this part of Siberia. Babr has a tail like that of a Beaver because in the 1870s, a high-placed French heraldist with a limited command of Russian assumed that “babr”(Бабр) was a misspelling of “bobr”, (Бобр) the Russian word for “beaver”, and changed the wording accordingly. This modification engendered a long dispute between the local authorities, who were so confused by the revised description that they started to depict the “babr” as a fabulous animal, half-tiger and half-beaver.
Buryats are an indigenous group in Siberia and share many customs with other Mongols, including nomadic herding, and erecting gers for shelter. Today, the Buryat language is classified as severely endangered.
While wandering aimlessly, I also discovered certain events going on. A group of young women in uniform were honoring a Russian war hero of WWII or as the Russians call it, The Great Patriotic War.
Russians are a proud people and it is important to learn about their history and important historical figures. In doing so I will be able to integrate myself more fully into their culture. I find that by knowing even just a little bit about their culture, individuals are more open with me. Although I can walk pretty much everywhere around the main center of town, I do use the bus from time to time, however, it has not always worked out.
What I have learned is that the bus driver may yell out if anyone wants to stop at the next stop which at first I did not understand. If no one says anything, then he continues driving past the stop. So, I have missed certain stops a few times. It turned out to be better that I missed stops, because I got to see more of the city this way. But now I can just respond and let him know that I need to get off at the next stop before we arrive there.
After a long day of walking around, I am usually thirsty and in need of something to drink. Luckily, there is the perfect place right across from my home.
I have already met so many people in my first week here and they are all so loving and caring. I will be introducing the people I have had the opportunity to get to know in my first week here on my next post.