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My new life as an honorary Siberian

By Michael Oliver-Semenov
03 April 2013

As I endeavour to show the world that Siberia isn’t simply a land full of bears, spies and nuclear reactors I am also painfully aware that it has also become my duty to help my fellow Siberians understand my home country.

My new life as an honorary Siberian. Picture: Michael Oliver-Semenov

Following on from my last blog I can see from the comments left by you dear readers that there are some points I need to cover. 

Let’s begin: I am a WELSHMAN, meaning I am not English. 

This is a point of particular importance because if you travel to Wales and call a Welshman ‘English’, you will probably wish that you were back in Siberia surrounded by hungry bears. Wales is not England, but a separate country.

The confusion comes from terms such as the United Kingdom and Great Britain. All these terms mean is that Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are ruled over by the English, AGAINST THEIR WILL. You see, Britain used to be populated by Celtic people known as Britons. 

After the Romans (who had invaded in 43AD) departed in the 5th century, Britain was left vulnerable and was promptly invaded a second time by Anglo-Saxons who stole part of Britain and called it England. Since then Welsh, Scottish and Irish culture has been corrupted and violated by English folk who continue to have their wicked way. 

I am Welsh first and British against my will. It’s a bit like calling all Russian, Polish and Ukrainian people ‘Soviet’. 

Michael Oliver-Semenov, the Welshman of Krasnoyarsk

If you travel to Wales and call a Welshman ‘English’, you will probably wish that you were back in Siberia surrounded by hungry bears. Picture: Michael Oliver-Semenov

It clumps a whole group of different cultures and identities under one flag largely against their will. The identity of the Soviet ‘Union’ is something that most Siberian people that I have met wish to move away from, much in the same way that Welsh people wish to move away from the identity of the 'United' Kingdom. 

Believe me; even though Britain is a group of separate countries stuck together we as a people are about as united as Gerard Depardieu and France. 

Now the history lesson is over I’d like to continue with the recent events in my new life as an honourary Siberian.

Over the past week I have received 3 care packages from my family and friends in Wales. Mostly chocolate, OXO stock cubes and chocolate mints. This at first made my wife slightly annoyed as she couldn’t understand why I would want these things. 

Siberia is after all a chocoholic’s paradise, in most supermarkets and smaller independent stores you can normally find hundreds of varieties of chocolates and candies. There are so many in fact that I have never managed to eat the same one twice, even though I have visited Siberia 5 times and have been a resident now for 5 months. 

The fact is I simply missed the taste of home, especially chocolate mints as they for some reason are not easily available in Krasnoyarsk.

Now I am in possession of at least 8 kilos of British chocolates, I find myself being over protective of them, like a zek from Solzhenitsyn’s ‘One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich’ would covet a fish eye in his soup in. 

This kind of behaviour, although understandable as I am far from home, can be seen as offensive, especially here where Siberians have a culture of sharing. Indeed I couldn’t have survived so long without the help of my wife and her family. As I am only just beginning to find work as an English teacher I have been supported mainly by my wife, an IT engineer. 

Michael Oliver-Semenov, the Welshman of Krasnoyarsk

Siberia is a chocoholic’s paradise; in most supermarkets and smaller independent stores you can normally find hundreds of varieties of chocolates and candies. There are so many in fact that I have never managed to eat the same one twice. Picture: Michael Oliver-Semenov

When I needed a warmer coat I was provided one by my father-in-law; when my wife and I were short of food or cooking utensils, these were provided by my mother-in-law or one of our neighbours. When it came to Nastya and I moving in together, had her parents not helped us with the deposit we could never have afforded our own apartment, or the furniture inside it. 

The 3rd care package arrived yesterday. It was full of Cadbury Dairymilk bars and Crème eggs; perhaps when I am finished counting the chocolate eggs over and over I will begin to share them out amongst my Russian family. There is after all 8 kilos of the stuff.

Coming back to the subject of warm winter clothes, when I returned to Siberia in November last year, I packed mainly for winter, completely neglecting the fact that I would be spending the next 3 years in Russia and would therefore need summer clothes too. 

One of the things I brought and was very careful about choosing was my Snow boots. I spent hours in shops and on the internet trawling over very expensive boots with elaborate descriptions and specifications. 

This was all a waste of time. The boots I brought from Britain cracked and began to fall apart after only 2 months use. In hindsight I wouldn’t have wasted my time or money, because Siberia being full of snow in winter has the most fantastic and inexpensive snow boots you can imagine, plus everything else you need to survive. 

If any of you ever consider a holiday in Russia over the winter period, such as a trip on the famous Trans-Siberian railway, I would suggest ignoring all those ‘outdoor’ clothes available in your country; you know the ones, they have famous names and cost a small fortune. 

I used to buy those products because I thought the famous brand and high price was an indicator of quality and hardiness. It isn’t. 

Michael Oliver-Semenov, the Welshman of Krasnoyarsk


Michael Oliver-Semenov, the Welshman of Krasnoyarsk

Russians know more about winter clothes than anyone; my British bought snow boots cost £100 or more and failed in temperatures below -10. My Russian boots cost the equivalent of £30 and can handle temperatures as low as -60. Pictures: Michael Oliver-Semenov

Russians know more about winter clothes than anyone, so if you’re going to visit Russia in winter, buy cheap stuff to come over with then visit a Russian outdoor shop to buy your coat, shirts, trousers and boots, not only will you save lots of money but you’ll get quality clothes and boots that can withstand a severe beating. To put this in clear perspective, my British bought snow boots cost £100 or more and failed in temperatures below -10. 

My Russian boots however cost the equivalent of £30 and can handle temperatures as low as -60. 

It’s a no brainer. 

Michael Oliver-Semenov is a professional poet and writer from Wales, the small but stoic country parked next to England.

After serving as the first poet in residence for Blown, the British magazine for cultural intelligence, Michael emigrated to Krasnoyarsk, Siberia to live with his wife and translator Anastasia Semenova.

When he is not growing vegetables at their family dacha in summer, or avoiding the wild Siberian hounds of winter, Michael is a freelance English teacher, editor and contributor to The Siberian Times.

His forthcoming expose on Siberian life ‘Sunbathing in Siberia:'A marriage of east and west in Post-Soviet Russia’ is due for release in spring 2014 and will be available online and in all book stores worth anything.


Comments (30)

Thank you for your time Mr. MaoOS ;) It was nice to have a chat with you. It's getting late in Krasnoyarsk so let me wish you and others have a good night ;)
The local, Krasnoyarsk/Russia
04/04/2013 23:12
10
0
Visited Siberia in 1998. Magical. You are giving me a strong urge to go again. Спасибо!
Martin Barlow, Wales
04/04/2013 20:52
9
0
--- and to further my point: under the Warsaw Pact Poland was under Soviet control, in the same way Wales is under British control. --- I think it is also not 100% correct. Poland was (is) the UN member with its own international policy and sovereignity (limited by the USSR in past and EU-NATO-US nowadays). Wales is different at this point.
The local , Krasnoyarsk/Russia
04/04/2013 22:51
8
0
Well, taking Mexicans and blacks in one label is a wrong example of mixing nationality with race. Mexicans are aztecs or mayan or a mix of iberic and indigenous ethnic American origins. If Mexico is part of the American CONTINENT then mexicans are americans,just as Brazilians, Argentinians, Peruvians, etc, end of story. The fact that the US media and television proclaims to be the whole continent has not won it a lot of friends in the rest of America as you can imagine. So if you come to Mexico or Brazil saying you come from 'America' you better also go back to your Siberian hungry bears. A Mexican non American is a bit like calling a Soviet non Siberian, or a British non Celtic, etc -not necessarily. Contrary to Welsh people in the UK, Mexicans were separated against their will so there you can wonder how half of the US cities and natural landscape have actually spanish names? Great article for the rest!
Tiago, Kiel
04/04/2013 22:49
8
0
and to further my point: under the Warsaw Pact Poland was under Soviet control, in the same way Wales is under British control. It was a Soviet satellite nation even though it was a sovereign nation on paper.
Mao Oliver-Semenov, Krasnoyarsk
04/04/2013 20:58
8
0
you're saying my sentence isn't literate?! really? but 'were never been called' is? As for Polish not being Soviet officially, you're right and I could have used a better example, but then again it proves my point: Polish being Soviet is as much a common misconception as Welsh people being English.
Mao Oliver-Semenov, Krasnoyarsk
04/04/2013 20:39
8
0
Hi Mr local, I see your point and have to agree with you in that Poland was not the best example to use. I would argue that GB and UK are political terms and not ethnical, which is kind of my point. While Poland was not an official part of the Soviet Union it was by proxy, thus your argument is a bit of a moot point. Soviet is and was a political term much in the same way as Great Britain still is. The Polish may have never been 'Soviet' proper, just as the Welsh have never been 'British'. It is a term forced on Welsh people, it's not something they signed up for. And as for not being an independent state, that is also another moot point, seeing as the country is currently annexed and colonised against its will (much the same as Poland was).
Mao Oliver-Semenov, Krasnoyarsk
04/04/2013 23:02
6
0
--- Warsaw Pact Poland was under Soviet control, in the same way Wales is under British control. It was a Soviet satellite nation even though it was a sovereign nation on paper.----

Nevertheless Poland was an independent state under Soviet umbrella during the cold war, yes. Not alike Wales though, which has not been an independent state since long time ago, been part of UK. My point was that "Soviet" is a political term but not ethnical. The political meaning of "Soviet" was above nations of the Soviet Union. Poland was not officially part of the USSR, despite of its strong influence. There was a common name "Soviet People" (Sovetskie lyudee) only about residents of the USSR not East European countries. Thus my point is it is not right putting together Russians and Polish, as you said above: "It’s a bit like calling all Russian, Polish and Ukrainian people ‘Soviet’." It would have been allright if you skipped Polish.
The local, Krasnoyarsk/Russia
04/04/2013 22:46
6
0
Creme Eggs - yum. You may have started (another) revolution.
the hungry writer, Offham, England (via Wales)
04/04/2013 17:10
6
0
hope you bring dragons to siberia?
Igor, Brecon
03/04/2013 20:27
6
0
Great stuff, Mao. Really looking forward to reading the book(s).
Alan Perry, Swansea, South Wales
04/04/2013 17:05
5
0
Well said , enjoyable read again . How could you not willingly share your Chocolate with your Beautiful Wife Tut Tut
Amanda Davies, Neath , South WALES
04/04/2013 14:33
5
0
I enjoy reading your stories and I'm happy for you. You are a brave heart.
Alex, Wales
04/04/2013 14:22
5
0
I enjoyed reading this. Thanks.
Ray, Ansterdam
04/04/2013 13:35
5
0
"It’s a bit like calling all Russian, Polish and Ukrainian people ‘Soviet’." - the phrase is not literate.

Firstly, Polish were never been called "Soviets". But it was Ok to call Russians, Ukranians, Azerbaijaneese and others "Soviet People" during the Soviet time. "Soviet" is not the ethnicity term and was not replacing people's ethnicity. Same thing as Mexicans, Blacks, WASPs and others are called Americans. Similar (but not the same as Americans) thing once Italians, Greeks, Jews and others are called Canadians.
The local, Krasnoyarsk/Russia
04/04/2013 20:16
0
0
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