ULAN-UDE: As I walked around the Buddhist spiritual center Datsan outside Ulan-Ude, I saw a dozen or so students. Ochar, 16, stuck out though. He was the only one with Slavic features. He said his father was Russian and his mother Buryat. I asked how he chose to study at the Buddhist university. He said when he was 14, he helped out at a celebration at Datsan and really liked the atmosphere. I asked him how his parents reacted to his decision. "At first, my parents were against the idea. They wanted me to study at another place. But I stood my ground." Ochar said he is in his first year of an eight-year Buddhist philosophy program.
ULAN-UDE, SIBERIA: Alexandra was walking in the center of town dressed in all black, including an ethnic Buryat hat. The 70 year-old, an avid reader and Marxist, recalled how during Soviet times she once flew to neighboring Irkutsk to buy a book about American millionaires. Alexandra said her friend, who worked at the book store in Irkutsk, called to tell her they had some copies. Alexandra said she went straight to the book store from the airport and was able to get a copy of the book....but she wasn't able to get a flight back later that day to Ulan-Ude. ''I called in sick,'' she laughed. ''I told them I had terrible tooth pain.'' Alexandra said she wanted to read the book to understand the thoughts and interests of the wealthy Americans. She said she was a bit disappointed as the book was more about their possessions. Alexandra asked me to give her a copy of the photo in the evening. When I handed her the photo later that night, she in return gave me printed instructions about which prayers I should read at the Buryat Buddhist temple in nearby Datsan. She told me to bring some milk to leave at Datsan. Alexandra called the next day to see if I visited the temple. She said if I ever have problems, "regardless if you are in Russia, Mongolia, the US or Peru" to call her and she will go the the temple to say some prayers. ''You have my number.''