BISHKEK: "It is rare that someone [among Dungan people] enters university. Almost all of them work in the fields," said this 52 year-old Dungan woman, who was selling fruit along a major road on the outskirts of Bishkek with about 10 other Dungan people. Dungan people are Muslims of Chinese origin living in Kyrgyzstan and other former Soviet republics. Tents cover these Dungan and their fruit from the hot summer sun. They can rest on beds when their are no clients. "Children also help with the fruit and vegetables" during their vacations, she said. "I watered onion plants during my childhood."
ULAN-UDE, EAST SIBERIA: Maria was working the coffee machine in a small kiosk on Arbat Street in Ulan-Ude on a weekday afternoon. Maria, in her mid-20s, said she studied and worked in St. Petersburg as a lawyer. However, after two years, she said she got tired of working in an office and quit, moving back home to Ulan-Ude. ''I am doing what I love,'' she said from inside the kiosk. ''I go to work like I am going to a holiday celebration. I want to lift people's spirits.'' Maria says she works about a month, saves up her money and then goes snowboarding for a few days. She is now saving to go to China in the fall. ''It is an old dream of mine to go to China,'' she said.
LAKE BAIKAL: Vladimir Osipov, 63 and a life-long painter, lives next to Lake Baikal. Not surprisingly, it is the main subject of his art work. I asked him if he paints the sun setting over the mountains. [Sunsets] are either for dilettantes or geniuses. Blue skies and clear water isn't my cup of tea either. I like harsh landscape scenes," he said, standing next to a huge painting of a cloudy, and possibly stormy, Baikal. Vladimir said Chinese customers account for about half of his sales, adding it may be due to the infamous air pollution in China. "Clean air and clear skies is a fairytale for [Chinese people]," said Vladimir, who has traveled around China. "They like the cleanliness of Baikal." Vladimir lives on a plot of land with his son Dmitry, a sculptor. Vladimir and Dmitry collect and repair old cars. You can read about Dmitry here.
CHITA, EASTERN SIBERIA: Chita, which lies about 400 kilometers from the Chinese border, suffered during the 1990s economic turmoil just like many other Russian cities. Yura said his mother, a single parent, made ends meet by buying clothing in China and reselling it in Russia, 'like many other people'' from Chita. Yura said his grandmother watched over him when mom was traveling. Yura said his mom came to like China and Chinese language. She even took him on a vacation to China. That must have influenced Yura. The 22 year-old is now finishing a bachelor's degree in Chinese. He just took a job at a hostel in Chita to save money to continue his studies in China. He said the Russian economic crisis and subsequent ruble devaluation have made studying and living in China more expensive. ''China is the future,'' he said. ''We live near China. It makes sense to learn the language.'' Like many students from Chita, Yura said he will look for work in other, bigger Siberian cities like Krasnoyarsk and Novosibirsk. ''There aren't many jobs here.''
KHABAROVSK: Evgeny and his younger brother were touching up their new bar ‘Loft’ in Khabarovsk early on a February weekday evening. They had just held what they called ‘a pre-opening’ event a few days before, but still needed to do some work before fully opening.
The clean, simple bar had black and white portraits of Cubans on the wall. Small tables and couches were placed in various corners of the bar. Evgeny said his father made some of the bar’s furniture.
Jazz music played in the background. Evgeny says he likes Jazz and Blues and that his favorite musician in this genre is Karl Frierson….
Liza, 17, is also studying Chinese, but for a slightly different reason than Valeria (previous portrait). Liza said she like Asian cultures as a child, including some Chinese songs. She said she felt there was a good future in learning Chinese and was confident she could find a job. There are about 1,000 studying English at her university but about 100 studying Chinese. "It's good to learn English, but it is also good to learn Chinese.
Anfisa, the Starbucks-loving and Iphone-toting Moscow teenage blogger, was born in the USA and has a native Chinese grandfather (perhaps the result of Russians escaping to China after the Communist revolution). One of six children, she said she has been drawing from an early age, inheriting some skills from her dad and Russian grandfathe, a sculptor.