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Russia: Notes From Irkutsk and Poronaysk

Siberia-born photographer and blogger Oleg Klimov, who has been traveling across Russia since June 23 and whose sketch about the Baikal-Amur Mainline was translated for Global Voices here, wrote this (RUS) about his native land and its people when he reached Irkutsk in early July:

([Lake Baikal]). The landscape is almost like in [Sochi], only the atmosphere is different and the water is cold. In July, the mist is making its way to the shore of the “lake-sea” in thin ribbons that resemble cigarette smoke. An incredibly “live” sight. Sometimes it feels as if Baikal is breathing.

[…]

They respectfully call all those who came from beyond [the Urals] “Rossiyane” [the term that is normally used to denote all citizens of the Russian Federation, regardless of their ethnic or other backgrounds], and all those who are from closer locations – “Sibiryaki” [Siberians]. It's not that the locals take special pride in their origin, but more likely, they treat it ironically, and they express their respectful attitude to zauraltsy [those from beyond the Urals] because deep inside, at some genetic level, they feel that Siberia is not Russia.

According to our theory, the “Siberian mentality” has been formed as a result of enormous mixing of peoples and nations, as well as repressions, exiles, historical settlements, harsh nature and just an irrevocable love for freedom. […]

[…]

People here are surprisingly open-minded. Almost everyone you run into is ready to tell you the story of his or her life… People don't turn aggressive here when you start circling around them with your camera; more often they begin to smile and only ask what the hell you're doing there… and when you explain to them, you almost always hear this in reply: “Well, come on, take pictures of me!” By that point, it is often not interesting anymore, and so I just end up chatting with them “about life in general”… The problem is that I enjoy chatting and traveling no less than I love photography ;-)

Roughly half a month after he posted this Siberian update in his travelogue, Klimov was already on the island of Sakhalin, in the town of Poronaysk. Below are some of his observations from that remote place (RUS):

- Hey, bro! Where are you from?
– From Moscow.
– Give me a cigarette, bro…
– And where are you from?
– From [Kyrgyzstan]. Came here to catch fish.
– And how is it?
– They don't give us good jobs. They say you should go fishing to [Lake Issyk-Kul in eastern Kyrgyzstan]. Here I can only cut fish. Little money, much work…

[…]

It smells like fish and caviar here. Everything smells like it. The town smells this way from the year it was founded, in 1947. Porridge, meat, bread – all smell like fish. [People] smell like fish. Along the coast, there are fish corpses, cut-up and rotten, with caviar already extracted from them, and they make the whole town smell like fish. People here are like fish themselves and if you get married here, you'll smell like fish for the rest of your life and will [sleep] with fish. There's only one prospect here – to rot on the shore or to [generate caviar] and then rot anyway.

[…]

In Poronaysk, red fish is bought from poachers (who are called fishermen here) for 3 rubles [$0.12] apiece, and red caviar for 100 rubles ($4) per liter. If a fisherman doesn't have a car, he just throws the fish away and puts caviar into a bottle. Right at the shore, you can exchange half a liter of vodka for one liter of caviar. Then you can drink it together with the fisherman and follow up with caviar. Russian business is good business.

[…]

Gastarbeiters [migrant workers] are disliked here as much as they are disliked in Moscow. They get the lowest-paying and the hardest jobs in fish processing. They are often cheated by various “agencies” – which first get the money for the tickets and the “tax”, then take them to the island [of Sakhalin] and desert them there… “the agency's representatives disappear… and after that people are forced to work for what little they are paid in order to return home.

[…]

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