Ulan Ude

Trip Start Sep 20, 2007
Trip End Nov 13, 2007

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Flag of Russia  ,
Saturday, October 13, 2007

Expectations of Ulan Ude were not high, particularly after the spendour of Lake Baikal, and the place did not disappoint.  Famous for having the largest (only?) statue solely of Lenin's head, it at least gave my language skills some much needed  exercise.  Unfortunately it was French rather than Russian.  Again not a language I've worked on for 20 odd years, but it was still the best way to communicate with our host, a very chatty old lady called Olga, who like most people in the city considered herself Buryiat, rather than Russian.  Not Borat, as I embarrassingly thought the first time we came across one.
While there, we visited a very spurious outdoor Museum of Ethnography, which was a hodge-podge of old style buildings, some "reconstructed" rock formations and a very squalid, sad looking zoo, with cages far too small for their nervous, unhappy captives.  There is something deeply unedifying about gawping at bored brown bears being forced to beg for biscuits thrown at them by small children.  The treatment of animals in Russia has been questionable at best.  Along the main drag in Moscow we saw pavements lined with boxes of cats, kittens, puppies and rabbits that didn't seem to be on sale, but there were bowls next to them, as if for "donations".  Also in Moscow we saw a dancing bear wandering down the road - I thought they were last seen in Medieval times.  In Olkhon we came across a dog set upon by a couple of others, and no-one seemed to care too much about the injuries sustained, not even the owners.  Perhaps I was looking with overly-sensitive western eyes, but it didn't sit very well none the less.
Ulan Ude did throw up a couple of unexpected surprises.  Firstly we were finally able to watch a World Cup game - SA v Argentina in the semi final, on at 4 AM local time, and on our last night, the last night in Russia, we stumbled into a Chinese restaurant-cum-disco (?), where we saw some of the most bizarre dance floor action since the infamous double-ankle breaking episode of 2002. Just as we were tucking into our dinner, a trigger tune came on that sparked a frenzy.  Think Ian Curtis, mix in Bez from the Happy Mondays, add a dash of John Travolta and the worst elements of circa 1981 Soul Train (including the threads), then garnish with a sprinkling of Steven Hawking.  Drown the whole lot in a sea of vodka and you'll have some idea of the scene.
It's possible that I am grossly misrepresenting Russian disco dancing, or maybe Steven Hawing, but that display was certainly a great way to finish off the Russian leg of the Trans-Siberian epic.
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