Russia

Siberia Pt. 4: Hitchhiking to Omsk, and hooray! finally getting bribed (not while hitchhiking, though)

Written by Tyler Cole | 28 April 2011

 

omskhitchStill with an afterglow from visiting the domesticated foxes in Novosibirsk, I set off hitchhiking to my next stop, Omsk. The only reason I was going to Omsk was to obtain a Kazakh visa, and it was the only place in Siberia that had a Kazakh consulate (that I could find).

Only about 600 km away from Novosibirsk, I decided to hitch to Omsk due to the short distance and to save the $25-30 it was going to cost for a train ticket. On the advice of my Couchsurfing host, who said hitching in Russia is no problem even for people with minimal Russian, I took an electrishka in the morning to the outskirts of town near the road to Omsk and flagged cars for about 20 minutes until a car stopped. I couldn’t figure out where he was going, so I eventually just wrote Omsk and Novosibirsk on some paper and drew a line to imply the road and asked, “Where?”. He only ended up going about 20 km out of town before he turned to the south, so I just got out there and started flagging cars again.

 

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Siberia Pt. 3: From wild to domesticated in 50 years, the incredible fox farm experiment in Novosibirsk

Written by Tyler Cole | 20 April 2011

 

The incredible fox domestication experiment in Novosibirsk, Russia from Tyler Cole on Vimeo.

 

I never expected that one of the coolest places I would ever visit in my life would be a muddy, shit-covered collection of animal cages, but there I was, standing in front of five decades of artificial evolution.

How I ended up here starts in the United States, listening to a podcast that I religiously follow called Radiolab from NPR/WNYC. On the shows, they find incredible stories and apply the most recent scientific research to create astoundingly captivating narratives (if you are science-oriented or just curious about the world around you and want to get your mind blown for an hour, I highly recommend you check them out).

fox

They had a show called “New Normal” in which they discussed reframing ideas of normalcy. One of the stories was about a fox farm in Novosibirsk which had been working to domesticate the foxes for over 50 years. It was started by a researcher at the Novosibirsk Institute of Biology named Dr. Belyaev in the Soviet days, during which he had to keep it disguised as a fur farm since the Soviet administration perceived genetic studies like his as a sort of pseudoscience and did not permit it. Starting with a few hundred foxes obtained from Estonia, he selected the ones that were most friendly and most hostile toward humans for continued breeding. This wasn’t just capturing wild animals and trying to tame them, it was an attempt to artificially re-create the evolutionary process of domestication in few generations, a process which took thousands of years for other animals like that from wolves to dogs.

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Siberia Pt. 2: Re-purposed Soviet rocket production, granite pillars, and slowing down in Krasnoyarsk

Written by Tyler Cole | 20 April 2011

liquidnitrogen

 

By coincidence my Couchsurfing host from Krasnoyarsk was in Irkutsk for a scientific conference, so I met with him at his friend’s place in Irkutsk before we hopped an overnight train to Krasnoyarsk. It was a nice change of pace to get in a sprawling discussion with him and his friend covering everything from comparative immigration policies to management styles in the United States and Russia.

My host, Vasilii (same name as my host in Irkutsk), worked doing physics research as a post-grad in the Krasnoyarsk Technical University and was bubbling with enthusiasm about his work investigating antiferromagnetic properties of various compounds. He actually took me to his lab and showed me around since I was curious.

The large cities in Siberia have separate areas a good distance from the center called akademgorodok, or academic city, which serve as dedicated university teaching and research areas. This is presumably to allow academics the tranquility of living in a more rural setting but still within reach of urban resources. The physics institute that held Vasilii’s lab was in the Krasnoyarsk akademgorodok, and was filled with assorted Soviet-era devices and contraptions with functions I couldn’t begin to guess at, and a few newer pieces of equipment they had bought from the United States and Germany including a container for super-cooled helium.

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Siberia Pt. 1: Irkutsk and Lake Baikal

Written by Tyler Cole | 15 April 2011

baikal

 

Absent a river, canyon, or some other natural geographical boundary, crossing a border is usually an experience that raises the question, “Why did they decide to put the imaginary line there of all places?” The border between Mongolia and Russia appeared, at first, like it fit into that category.

Little wasn’t depressing about the rest stop before the border that was dripping in Soviet bleakness, called a “Business Center”. Considering the alternative places to stop, I would question an explanation of why the bus stopped there if it didn’t include sexual or financial favors to the bus owners in exchange for access to the wallets of their captive passengers.

But, as the bus lurched out of customs down the road toward Ulan-Ude, it was clear the Russians got the better end of the fake line drawing. While the Mongolian side only had dry, barren hills, the Russian side had dense pine forest. Staring into the vast Mongolian distance is simultaneously alienating and captivating, whereas the Russian pines were a bit more soothing and seemed to be like crutches in what would otherwise be a fairly intimidating landscape.

On the bus, I met another American who was married to

 

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