EVER since 1980, I have wanted to travel to Siberia. Back then, it was the heady days of the Cold War and the adventure must-do of all backpackers: the Trans-Siberian Railway.
Today, the world is a different place, but Siberia still conjures vivid images of vast frozen Soviet wastelands.
Indeed, the only positive image I had of Siberia was of a dashing James Bond saving the world from the Cold War.
I hate the cold, yet here I was, in winter, boarding a plane for Siberia. This was no holidayCo after all, no one goes to Siberia for a holiday!
I was invited to Siberia to conduct a training course in the central Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk by the director of a private and well-respected English language school. The participants were all teaching English as a foreign language in private language schools, State Russian schools and Russian universities. It was a partnership between my own Australian business and a Russian school, and was the first training course of its kind to be held in Siberia.
My first impression was that Siberian Russian culture was as harsh as the weather and, trust me, the weather was harsh. The temperature never rose above zero and dropped to -19 overnight. The maximum temperatures were still minuses.
After arriving, one of the first things my Russian colleague told me was that a true Siberian does not fear bad weather, only bad clothing. C[pounds sterling]In Siberia, one must dress like a cabbage,C[yen] he said.
The snow, although beautiful, was deep and icy. Did I mention how much I hate the cold?
From the beginning of my trip, I was completely immersed in Siberian culture. I lived with a Russian family and worked with all Russian colleagues.
My colleague's elderly mother cooked traditional Russian food for us every day. Breakfast was heavy black bread with thick slices of cheese. Lunch was borscht (beetroot and cabbage soup). Dinner was a variation of cabbage dishes such as cabbage-filled pastries, cabbage pie, salted cabbage, and cabbage salad.
I was reminded every day that cabbage is good for you and full of vitamin C. I didn't know you could do so much with cabbage.
On first meeting, Russians are abrupt and negative. They speak directly, with a brisk tone and stern manner. They are constantly complaining and rarely speak positively about anyone or any situation.
Everyday life has a rapid pace.
They walk extremely fast, eat quickly, and give short, sharp answers to a question. …