The Other Side of Russia: A Slice of Life in Siberia and the Russian Far East

The Other Side of Russia: A Slice of Life in Siberia and the Russian Far East

The Other Side of Russia: A Slice of Life in Siberia and the Russian Far East

The Other Side of Russia: A Slice of Life in Siberia and the Russian Far East


Travel to post Soviet Siberia and the Russian Far East with author Sharon Hudgins as she takes readers on a personal adventure through the Asian side of Russia-an area closed to most Westerners and many Russians prior to the 1990s. Even today, few people from the West have ridden the Trans-Siberian railroad in winter, stood on the frozen surface of Lake Baikal, feasted with the Siberian Buryats, or lived in the "highrise villages" of Vladivostok and Irkutsk.

One of the few American women who has lived and worked in this part of the world, Hudgins debunks many of the myths and misconceptions that surround this "other side of Russia." She artfully depicts the details of everyday life, set within their cultural and historical context-local customs, foods, and festivals, as well as urban life, the education system, and the developing market economy in post-Soviet Siberia and the Russian Far East.

Hudgin's prose shines in her colorful descriptions of multicourse meals washed down with champagne and vodka, often eaten by candlelight when the electricity failed. The author's accounts of hors d'oeuvres made of sea slugs and roulades of raw horse liver will fascinate those with adventuresome tastes, while her stories of hosting Spanish, French, and TexMex feasts will come as a surprise to anyone who thinks of Russia as a gastronomic wasteland.

Readers of The Other Side of Russia: A Slice of Life in Siberia and the Russian Far East will find themselves among the guests at Christmas parties, New Year's banquets, Easter dinners, and birthday celebrations. They will experience the challenges of living in highrise apartment buildings often lacking water, heat, and electricity. Above all, Asian Russia's natural beauty, thriving cities, and proud people shine from the pages, proving it is not only a land of harsh winters and vast uninhabited spaces, but also home to millions of Russian citizens who live and work in modern metropolises and enjoy a rich cultural and social life.


In 1993 my husband and I went to Russia to teach in a new education program established by University of Maryland University College in Siberia and the Russian Far East. During the early period of political, economic, and social change after the breakup of the Soviet Union, we were among the first Americans to live and work in the Asian part of Russia, the “other side of Russia” that extends across eight time zones from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

Prior to going to Russia, I had worked abroad for many years as a university professor and as a food and travel writer. Realizing that I was one of the few American women working in Asian Russia in the mid-1990s, I decided to take advantage of that opportunity to record my impressions of everyday life in the “new” Russia—from the difficulties of living in high-rise apartment buildings that often had no electricity or running water, to the cultural differences I encountered almost every day at work, to the friendships I made with Russians from many walks of life.

The result is this personal narrative of a specific place and time: southern Siberia and the Russian Far East, in the early post-Soviet period between 1993 and 1995, when a market economy was emerging, when some of the country’s long-established institutions were no longer powerful or relevant (and, in some cases, no longer in existence), and when many of the old, familiar ways of thinking and acting were being challenged by the new social, political, and economic environment. It was an exciting time to live in Russia, to observe those changes as they occurred, and to participate, even if only in small measure, in helping educate some of the next generation who will inevitably make Russia of the twenty-first century very different from the country in which they were born.

My job was to teach Russian undergraduate students in the new degree programs offered by University of Maryland University College at two Russian state universities, in Irkutsk and in Vladivostok. As the American program . . .

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