Ulan Ude: Seeing the Farmer, Ten Years Later

Sitting in the kitchen of Buyanto Tsydpov's sister-in-law, I thought for a brief moment that we might as well just catch the next microbus back to Ulan Ude. She'd immediately mentioned the fact that Gary and I never sent the photographs we'd promised back in 1995, and I wondered if, when we saw Buyanto, he'd be angry about it.

She told us how to get to the farm, and David and I set off across a wide expanse of cow-pied pasture. The sun was high in the sky, and all around we could hear the buzzing of crickets hopping across the fields. After walking for 45 minutes, we got to a house surrounded by rusting farm machinery. When we asked for Buyanto, a young woman invited us in to wait, saying "He's not here, but he'll be back soon."

The "Five Fingers" natural rock formation sits on a hill in Buryatia's vast expanse of countryside. (David Hillegas)

An hour later Buyanto arrived. As he approached the house, I heard the woman say, "You have guests. Two Americans." I walked toward him, holding my hand out. "Do you remember me?" I asked. "I was here ten years ago, with a photographer named Gary."

At first, there was no hint of recognition in his face. But after a moment, he said, "A-ha. I remember." He paused again, then said, "So, what are you doing here?"

I wasn't sure how to answer this, so I just blurted out how sorry I was that we never sent the promised photos. "Hmmm," he said, nodding solemnly. "But I have them now!" I said, gesturing toward the house. We went inside, and I gave Buyanto his pictures. For the first time, he smiled, holding the photos and pointing out how young everyone looked. From that moment on, his manner changed. "Don't worry that you didn't send them," he told me. "They're here now. I'm glad you didn't forget us."

"I woke up early this morning," he went on, "and when I looked out the window I saw a magpie. For us, that's a sign that you'll have guests. I thought to myself, 'Who's coming to visit today?' I would never have thought it would be guests from America."

Buyanto and Tsypelma Tsydypov live in the Buryat village of Galtai, about 120 kilometers southeast of Ulan Ude. (David Hillegas)

We spent the rest of the day with Buyanto, riding around his farm and the adjoining lands in his white Volga sedan -- the same car he'd had ten years ago. He talked to us about the many changes farmers in Buryatia have faced -- changes we'll explore in depth in tomorrow's posting. He also took us to several significant local sites, including a healing spring of pure drinking water, a burial mound for fighters killed by Genghis Khan's hordes, and a natural rock formation known as "Five Fingers."

That night, we sat down to dinner with Buyanto, his wife Tyspelma, and a large bottle of vodka we'd brought as a gift. Toast followed upon toast, and soon Buyanto began singing Buryat folk songs in a loud, clear baritone.

He showed us the Buryat way of drinking -- you dip your ring finger into the liquid four times, scattering drops to the earth, sun, sky and wind as an offering -- and suffice it to say that we did it enough times that night to truly perfect it. At some point (my recollection is hazy), David and I apparently sang "We Shall Overcome" at Buyanto's request. And Buyanto declared, "Tomorrow I will cut a sheep for you! When a Buryat has an honored guest, he must kill a sheep!"

Tomorrow: The hangover, the sheep, and the future of Buyanto's farm.

By Lisa Dickey |  September 28, 2005; 10:38 AM ET
Previous: Ulan Ude: Finding Buyanto, the Gentleman Farmer | Next: Ulan Ude: The Hangover and the Sheep


Please email us to report offensive comments.

The appearance of the magpie is also a news, possibly a good news in Korea. Koreans are also Mongols like these people.
Take care

Posted by: SoongHak | September 28, 2005 07:36 PM

Tell me one thing: are Russians a happy people? Or to be more specific, are the people you met 10 years ago happier today or is the opposite true? And thanks for the wonderful diary. It feels like living the experience.

Posted by: Janan | September 28, 2005 08:47 PM

Hi, Lisa and David!

It's an interesting diary. I hold a site dedicated to Aginsk Buryat Autonomous District, which is on the the territory of Chita Region. I'm one of the Buryat nation like Buyanto. I'd like to place some parts of your diary on pages of my site. I'll make the Russian traslation.

Is it acceptable?

Posted by: Solbon Chimitdorzhiev | September 29, 2005 03:29 AM

All I can think of is...I love you guys!
How are you feeling this morning?
"We Shall Overcome" might have been wishful thinking.

Posted by: andreae | September 29, 2005 08:43 AM

hi lisa and david
tell my wishes to buyanto and his family

Posted by: santhosh kumar | September 29, 2005 10:06 AM


wish i was there (again)

greg katz

Posted by: gregory katz | October 7, 2005 11:54 AM

Janan - for the most part, people seem better off materially than they were. Not everyone is happier, though. Some are fretting about being ten years older, especially when we show them photos we took in 1995. Some have developed health problems they didn't have earlier. All in all, people's happiness depends much more on their personal circumstances rather than what's gone on in the country generally...

Posted by: Lisa Dickey | October 13, 2005 07:42 AM

Solbon - That's okay with me -- send a link when you have one!

Posted by: Lisa Dickey | October 13, 2005 07:44 AM

I'm just catching on at the very end of this long phot-journalist trip you took through Russia. Sounds like an amazing experience! I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in northeast Mongolia a few years back, and there were many Buriat families in my town -- and when I returned even just two years later people were very happy, but even in that short time had changed alot... But I knew about the pictures -- you never take Mongol/Buriat person's picture withiut sending copies! That's rule #1! My wife's mother's Buriat, too, so I guess that helped keep me on my toes.

Posted by: Ariel | November 22, 2005 08:56 AM

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