Sunny Skies of Siberia

The Clouds on Tea Road

A blue khadak finds temporary rest under the eternal blue sky of Mongolia.

A blue khadak finds temporary rest under the eternal blue sky of Mongolia.

The Great Tea Way begins in a stone gate in the Great Wall of China, wends across the Gobi sands, intersects the great and remote steppe of Mongolia and Siberia, Russia’s massive Boreal forests in Asia and Europe, and by way of Moscow’s shining cupolas perseveres on toward the Baltic coast and the white nights of St. Petersburg. Tea Road is the places and the people who lived and live along that route. I have spent ten years living on Tea Road, in three cities that played a major role in the tea trade, Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude (formerly Verkhneudinsk) and Ulaanbaatar (formerly Urga). Each city has it’s own flavor and group of characters that contribute to the history and culture of Tea Road. On the pages of this blog you will find many of their stories. So come to the Siberian Orient, it’s yours for the opening here.

Chopping Baikal ice for camp fire tea, always and essential in wintertide and sumertime alike.

Chopping Baikal ice for camp fire tea, always and essential in wintertide and sumertime alike.

Clouds and stars compete over the vast frozen basin of Lake Baikal in March. Yes, one of those tents is mine!

Clouds and stars compete over the vast frozen basin of Lake Baikal in March. We are sleeping on the ice.

Siberia and Mongolia’s azure skies are steeped in the myth of antiquity. Their legends and beliefs are wrapped in the vault of the sky. The first story I recall is the Buryat tale of the archer who finds a wife. Three celestial sisters decided to descend to the earth for a bath. They lit on the beautiful waters of lake Baikal as swans, and then shed their swan clothing to bathe. Seeing these lovely maidens, the archer was enchanted. He hid away the cloths of one of the sisters, and she became his wife. After bearing him many children, she tricks him into returning her swan attire and off she flies back into the heavens. Ghengis Khan himself worshipped Tengri, Eternal God of the blue sky. Blue is a holy color to the Nomads of Asia. When you go to visit, especially to people who are more traditional, you will recieve a blue khadak, a scarf of silk as a sign of honor.

Golden Buddha stands under a lovely sky in Zaisun, Ulaanbaatar.

Golden Buddha stands under a lovely sky in Zaisun, Ulaanbaatar.

There are more days of sunshine in this area than virtually any place in the world. This vast oriental blue sky is a majestic backdrop on which winnow scudding white billows, above green or fawn hills and the camps, caravans or cabins of the people, who make Tea Road place. Here are some images of clouds and the skies they sail upon over the place called Tea Road.

When I first came to Siberia, this seen from Universitetski, the region where I lived, seemed to me the edge of the earth.

When I first came to Siberia, this scene overlooking Pervomaiski from Universitetski, the region where I lived, seemed to me the edge of the earth.

Ice skaters revel in the chill, next to the historical icebreaker "Angara" on the Angara river, Irkutsk.

Ice skaters revel in the chill, next to the historical icebreaker “Angara” on the Angara river, Irkutsk.

A gloaming sky over the ancient capital Urga, now Ulaanbaatar.

A gloaming sky over the ancient capital Urga, now Ulaanbaatar.

The Angara River Embankment in Irkutsk, a place for people to stroll and chat.

The Angara River Embankment in Irkutsk, a place for people to stroll and chat.

Older than the Old West, it's the Ancient East, Terelj, Mongolia.

Older than the Old West, it’s the Ancient East, Terelj, Mongolia.

Orthodox churches bid farewell to the sun in Irktutsk. Many churches in Irkutsk were built by the fortunes of Tea Merchants.

Orthodox churches bid farewell to the sun in Irktutsk. Many churches in Irkutsk were built by the fortunes of Tea Merchants.

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Ice Garden

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A garden of ice has been cold forged in Ulan-Ude to celebrate the New Year. Several themes that figure brightly in the history of the Buryat people are represented in the shaved sculptures standing in the city center, Soviet Square. Walking toward the arched entry way you will notice two ice-women welcoming you (coldly, he, he!) onto the square. One is Buryat, the other Russian, dressed in their respective ethnic outfits. In 2011, Buryatia will celebrate becoming part of the Russian Federation 350 years ago, which explains our ice-ladies, who echo the official emblem of the upcoming year of celebration. (See emblem below.)

350 years: "Together through time!"

Stealing through crystal arches, you blunder right into the middle of Wild Kingdom! (Shout out to Marlin Perkins, who showed me the world from my television window.) The animals of the lunar calendar, stand paw to paw in ice.  Rabbit is standing in the center, for it is his year to reign the cycle. I first came to Siberia in 1998, and in December of that year rabbits showed up everywhere in the city!  On plastic shopping bags, little figurines for sale, framed pictures, on notebook covers, and stuffed animals. I remember asking someone, “Why are there rabbits everywhere?” Answer: Chinese lunar calendar.

After animal kingdom, two stories of ice samovar, crowned with a teapot, and accompanied by four faithful courtier tea cups sparkle in the sun. No matter what people say about vodka, tea is Czar in Russia. You can easily go a day without vodka, but a day without tea is like forgetting how to breathe, it just doesn’t happen.

The tea road originated in China, passed through Mongolia and on through Buryatia, the Irkutsk Oblast (territory), and west toward to Moscow. Fortunes were made, cities built, intrigues played and perils risked on dried bales of tea leaves.

Tomorrow the square will be filled with fur garbed New Year’s revelers, sliding on the ice-slides, merrily strolling together with family, greeting friends, and at midnight setting the sky ablaze with a veritable arsenal of Chinese fireworks. Happy New Year! С новым годом!

Leaving the year of the Tiger for . . .

the year of the Rabbit.

Transform Siberia Teahouse News

Dear Friends, we have developed a new e-newsletter called “Transform Siberia Tea House News”.  This newsletter will go out on a regular basis to inform people of what we are up to and how they can pray for us. If you are not receiving our newsletter, but would like to, please sign up here or drop us a line at transformsiberia@gmail.com

For the record, Irkutsk was located on what was known as the Tea Road, a road stretching from Moscow to Kalgan, China (approximately 125 miles West of Beijing). Many a tea-merchant had fabulous digs in Irkutsk prior to the Reds taking over. Incidentally, the Russian word for tea is chai, so when you order a chai tea at your local coffee shop, you are asking for tea-tea! We thought being on the Tea Road, and lovers of tea, as all good Russians and Asians in Russia are, this would be a good name for our newsletter.