Tales from Tomsk

I wanted to go to Tomsk to see the architecture. German-Russian house, Tomsk Peacock House

Tomsk is famous for its “wooden lace” carvings that adorn many of the houses around town. They look like fairy-tale houses or gingerbread houses. Irkutsk has a lot of it too, but the examples in Tomsk are in much better shape. It was fabulous; I was not disappointed. But, as we found, there is so much more to Tomsk. Walking around on our first day, we discovered…. Baby in a cabbage, Tomsk

a baby in a cabbage.

On our second day, we found a public square with fountains. Someone had put foam in one of the fountains, and we watched the kids playing. Kids playing with foam, Tomsk

Kids playing IN the fountain

Every day we were there, we saw wedding parties, even though it was midweek. After leaving the ceremony site, groups of friends would go out to take photos together, riding in ridiculously over-the-top decorated cars, and the bride and groom would hang an engraved lock on a bridge. Russian wedding car Locks on a bridge, Tomsk

Luckily for us, we were couchsurfing in Tomsk, and our host was able to help us solve all these mysteries. The baby in the cabbage is the Russian version of the stork. When Russian kids ask their parents where they came from, their parents say that they were found in a cabbage. That particular statue is outside of a maternity hospital. Cute, no? Kids playing in fountains is normal in summertime, because it’s so hot out. Personally, I don’t think 70 degrees Fahrenheit is that hot, but then again I’m not used to Siberian winter. The weather explains all the weddings too. The main wedding season runs from June to August, when it’s possible to wear strapless dresses and not freeze your buns off. It’s so busy at this time that weddings are held every day, not just on weekends. As for the lock thing… he didn’t know. Further investigation has shown that while this is a popular trend in a lot of eastern European cities, no one knows where it started. Any thoughts?

This is just one of the many reasons I love couchsurfing: greater cultural understanding. Another reason: making lots of new friends from around the world.Asya, Bob, and Dan at the Buddhist center in Tomsk

Our host introduced us to one of his friends from the local Buddhist center, who also happened to be hosting a surfer. Over three nights, we had dinner and drinks, went to meditation and a cookout at the Buddhist center, visited a banya (Russian sauna) together, and stayed up till 3:30 am to watch the sunrise (and then some, because we were having such a good conversation.)

Anton Chekhov came here over one hundred years ago, and didn’t have very nice things to say about the city. The Tomskians (Tomskites?) were not pleased, so they erected a not-so-flattering statue of the playwright.Chekhov statue, Tomsk

“Tomsk is a very dull town. To judge from the drunkards whose acquaintance I have made, and from the intellectual people who have come to the hotel to pay their respects to me, the inhabitants are very dull, too.”

Well, Mr. Chekhov, you should’ve been couchsurfing.


Southeast Asia: Three Favorite Things


I wouldn’t say that we’ve been *everywhere* in Southeast Asia, but over four separate visits, totaling five months spent in the region, we’ve seen and done a lot. At this point, we’ve been to nearly every Southeast Asian country (we’re only missing Brunei and East Timor.) So what did we like the best?

Three Favorite Cities

  1. Luang Prabang (Laos)
  2. Chiang Mai (Thailand)
  3. Yogyakarta (Indonesia)

Each of these cities has a laid-back, fun-loving atmosphere, and days spent here flew by. We tend towards the smaller cities; Bangkok and Jakarta are not among our favorites (though we love Kuala Lumpur and would choose that as number four.)

The Luang Prabang main drag

Three Favorite Places for Neat Architecture

  1. Bali (Indonesia)
  2. Singapore
  3. Yangon (Myanmar)

Balinese traditional architecture is a blend of different styles, and it is like nothing else in the world. I particularly admired the Hindu temples on Bali, but ordinary courtyard houses were also beautiful. Both Singapore and Yangon have some fabulous old British colonial buildings, as well as Hindu, Buddhist, Chinese, and (in Singapore) Malay-style architecture. The different neighborhoods were fascinating to walk around.

An old British building overlooking People's Park in Yangon

Ruins of the historical center of Sukhothai, the old capital of Thailand

Three Favorite Attractions

  1. Angkor Wat (Cambodia)
  2. Bagan (Myanmar)
  3. The old city of Sukhothai (Thailand)

Hmmm… these all turned out to be sites of ancient ruins. I guess you can tell where our interests lie?

Three Favorite Experiences

  1. Snorkeling in the Perhentian Islands (Malaysia)  The most fish I have ever seen in one place… plus turtles and sharks.
  2. Watching a water-puppet show (Hanoi, Vietnam)  So what if it’s touristy? It’s a really cool show.
  3. Touching a tiger (Chiang Mai, Thailand)  Do I have to explain the appeal of this one?


Three Favorite Foods

  1. Pad thai (Thailand)
  2. Adobo (Philippines)
  3. Banh mi (Vietnam; similar ones in Laos)

We tried making adobo when we got home... it was good, but not as good as on Boracay Island

Pad thai may be an obvious choice, but we never ever got tired of eating it. In the Philippines, each adobo we tried was better than the last. I don’t know how they do it. I asked one waitress about her restaurant’s version; she just shrugged and said “It’s Filipino food.” Which explains… nothing.

Runner-up: Roti canai (Malaysia and Singapore), which we ate for breakfast nearly every day in those countries.

Three Favorite Drinks

  1. Teh tarik (Malaysia, Singapore)
  2. Local coffee, sweetened with condensed milk (Vietnam, Laos)
  3. Watermelon shakes (anywhere there are backpackers)

Teh tarik… how can I explain teh tarik? It tastes like plain ol’ black tea with sugar and lots of milk (think Japanese milk tea) but the process of making it is special. Before serving, it is poured back and forth between two glasses several times, which makes the top nice and frothy, and in my opinion, makes the drink creamier.

Breakfast of champions: roti canai and teh tarik