Friends of Tuva
Celebrating Richard Feynman's spirit of adventure
The Friends of Tuva Newsletter
Eleventh Issue: Fall-Winter 1994
(next issue: sometime before Spring, 1995 - I hope)
Edited by Ralph Leighton
Published by Friends of Tuva
Box 70021, Pasadena CA 91117 USA.
Hotline and Fax: (213) 221-TUVA (-8882)
(If fax doesn't turn on automatically, press 33)
e-mail on Internet c/o: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuvan Parliament Chairman K.A. Bicheldei Visits USA
According to press reports from Tuva, Tuvan Parliament Chairman Kadyr-ool Bicheldei
visited Washington DC and New York for about ten days at the end of October and into early
November. He reportedly met with some Tuvan children adopted by American families, with
the leaders of the Russian Affairs Section of the Department of State, and with leaders of
the Agency for International Development. The objectives of his meetings included
preparing Tuvan attorneys for work in Tuva, opening a Tuvan Business School (in Tuva), and
discussing the possibility of sending Tuvan regional and municipal leaders and/or their
staffs to the US for training.
As FoT HQ has already received offers from members experienced in law and economics to
go to Tuva and teach seminars there, FoT agents with contacts inside the US government are
attempting to track down (so far without success) who Bicheldei's US contacts were, and
how to get them in touch with FoT volunteers. The next issue of the newsletter, due out in
February or March, should contain more information on this. (On a lighter note, it is fun
to think that Chairman Bicheldei may have handed his US hosts some of the cool horseman
pins he commissioned from FoT -- see the Winter Solstice 1994 Tuva Trader under ``pins''.)
Huun-Huur-Tu Tours Again: Jan-Feb 1995
Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, Anatoli Kuular, and the Bappa Bros Sayan & Sasha) will be
appearing at some new venues this year on their second tour as Huun-Huur-Tu. The concerts
are sometimes billed as Throat Singers of Tuva. (I'd be interested to see copies of the
advertisements.) The schedule, as of press time, looks like this (sorry, no contact
numbers were given in most cases):
Portland ME: Fri Jan 13 (At one of the local high schools)
Burlington VT: Sat Jan 14 (Flynn Theatre, 153 Main St.)
Somerville MA: Sun Jan 15 (Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square)
Hanover NH: Tue Jan 17 (Spaulding Auditorium, Dartmouth College)
Northampton MA: Thu Jan 19 (Iron Horse, 20 Center St)
Erie PA: Fri Jan 20 (Arie Art Museum, 411 State St)
Milwaukee WI: Sat Jan 21 (Fine Arts Theatre, U of W)
Ann Arbor MI: Wed Jan 25 (The Ark)
Peoria IL: Fri Jan 27 (Dingledine Music Ctr, Bradley Univ)
Batavia IL: Sat Jan 28 (Ramsey Auditorium, Pine St at Kirk Rd)
Eugene OR: Wed Feb 1 (Soreng Theater, Hult Center)
Ashland OR: Fri Feb 3 (Music School, South Or St Coll)
Berkeley CA: Sat Feb 4 (Wheeler Hall, UC Berkeley, contact Cal
Performances (510) 642-9988)
Arcata CA: Sun Feb 5 (Van Duzer Theatre, Humboldt State Univ)
Santa Cruz CA: Tue Feb 7 (Palookaville, 1133 Pacific Ave)
Santa Barbara CA: Wed Feb 8 (Veterans Memorial Bldg)
San Diego: Thu Feb 9 (Mandeville Auditorium, UCSD)
Tucson AZ: Sat Feb 11 (Berger Center, Arizona State U)
Austin TX: Sun Feb 12 at 7PM & Mon Feb 13 (Bates Recital Hall,
2400 E. Campus Dr, Univ of Austin). Call
(512) 477-6060. Pre-concert get-together
Sun Feb 12, 5PM at the Mongolian BBQ
(the north location), 9200 N. Larnar Blvd.
You can RSVP by email to John Robinson
(email@example.com) or by
phone (512) 451-0834.
Hull QUE Canada: Tue Feb 14 (Museum of Civilization).
Rochester NY: Wed Feb 15 (Kilbourn Hall, Eastman School of Music)
New York City: Fri Feb 17 (Symphony Space, Broadway & 95th)
If you would like to organize a pre-concert get-together (similar to Austin TX, above),
please leave the "where and when" and your phone number on the FoT hotline (or
e-mail the info) between January 1 and 8. If you would like to attend a pre-concert
get-together, call in after January 9 and listen for your area.
The Orphan's Lament
Reviewed by Bernard S. Greenberg
The Orphan's Lament, Huun-Huur-Tu's second CD, is a work of well-produced art,
contemporary offerings in traditional Tuvan styles, not an ethnomusicological assay. Its
16 pieces in styles varying from unison kargyraa chants to political songs to khomuz
("Jews' harp") solos provide a tour-de-force of Tuvan styles designed for
listening pleasure and wonderment. Master khoomeizhi (throat-singer) Kaigal-ool Khovalyg's
deeply touching igil (Tuvan viol) playing is (as on 60 Horses, HHT's first CD) a real
highlight of the album. His frequent vocal solos in all styles, and those of the
sweet-voice Anatoli Kuular, joined by Mergen Mongush for one sygyt cut, help place this
album among the two or three "must-have"s for anyone who *enjoys* authentic
The late Frank Zappa's last work, "Civilization, Phaze III", has just been
released. The two CD set features an amazing composition featuring the throat-singing of
Kaigal-ool Khovalyg and Anatoli Kuular, recorded at Zappa's studio in January, 1993. The
composition is awesome --- when I heard it, I imagined Frank Zappa out in the cosmos,
tapping into the energies of the universe. I haven't heard the rest of "Civilization,
Phaze III", but it is reportedly a very powerful opus. The CD set can be ordered by
first calling the Zappa Hotline at (818) 786-7546 (= (818) PUMPKIN), which will then
provide you specific information.
PostScript: As it turns out, the only throat-singing apparent on the
"Civilization, Phaze III" CD is some sampled kargyraa at the start of the track
"Dio Fa". The amazing composition referred to is actually scheduled to appear as
part of "Dance Me This", which has not yet been released. --- October, 1998.
Meanwhile, jazz composer and keyboardist Jeff Lorber (remember Jeff Lorber Fusion in
the 1970s?) has written a beautiful composition called "Tuva" that is featured
on his latest project, "West Side Stories", from Verve Records. The singer is
Kongar-ool Ondar, and the first tune will be familiar to readers of "Tuva or
Bust!" who played the soundsheet: it is "Alash Khem (Ode to the Alash
River)". The second tune is about the taiga, the forests of Tuva. The CD should be
available at most record stores.
Additional collaborations with Tuvan musician include the soundtrack to
"Geronimo" (SONY Records) by Ry Cooder, featuring Khovalyg, Kuular, and Sayan
Bappa; "Night Prayers" (Elektra Records) by the Kronos Quartet (featuring
Khovalyg, Kuular, and Ondar); and Andreas Vollenweider's "Book of Roses" (CBS
Records), which features Sainkho Namchylak.
There is also a collection called "Voices of Forgotten Worlds", from Ellipsis
Arts, which features Tuvans at the top of the list (and even a quote from yours truly, to
my complete surprise). The 2-CD (or 2-cassette) set comes with a handsomely illustrated 96
page book, and honors the Decade of Indigenous People proclaimed by the United Nations
Center for Human Rights. (To order, call 1-800-788-6670.) I have seen advertisements for
this project various places, and "Tuvans" are often mentioned without
explanation as if everyone knows (or should know) who they are. Seeing the first such ad
was a milestone --- word is getting out to the masses!
Real World Releases Shu-De!
Another CD of Tuvan music, "Shu-De" (on Real World,, distributed by Caroline
in the US), features a variety of Tuvan music recorded in the UK. From tongue-twisters to
Tuvan disco. this project has perhaps the widest variety of Tuvan music yet in a single
project. Although the liner notes are weak, the listening is good.
Top Ten Tuva CDs
Yes, there are now at least 10 CDs of Tuvan music out there in the world, so it's time
to offer some guidance to newcomers in building a collection of Tuvan music. I'll start
off by ranking them as a way of initiating your comments. I welcome your own ratings. If
enough comments and rankings are received, the results will be published. (* = available
from the Tuva Trader.)
- * Huun-Huur-Tu: 60 Horses in My Herd (Shanachie)
- * Uzlyau: Guttural Singing of the Peoples of the Sayan, Altai, and Ural Mountains (PAN)
- * Tuva: Tuvinian Singers and Musicians (WDR)
- * Sainkho: Out of Tuva (Cram)
- * Huun-Huur-Tu: The Orphan 's Lament (Shanachie)
- * Tuva: Voices from the Center of Asia (Smithsonian)
- Shu-de! (Real World)
- * Tuva: Voices from the Land of the Eagles (PAN)
- Tuva: Echoes from the Spirit World (PAN)
- * Sainkho Namchylak: Letters (Leo Records)
Feynman Video Available
The Best Mind Since Einstein, the latest program about Richard Feynman produced by
Chris Sykes (shown about a year ago on PBS' NOVA) is available for $23.90, postpaid (but
with possible sales tax, depending on where you live). To order, call 1-800-255-9424. I
don't know how long the video will be available --- previous videos by Sykes have had
their rights expire.
For copies in PAL (UK and parts of Europe), please contact Mr. B.B. Walmsley, 360
Croston Road, Leyland PR5-3PL to make arrangements.
The only way I know of to see the other three programs on Feynman produced by Sykes
(The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out, Fun to Imagine, and Last Journey Of a Genius) is to
rent them: send two checks (one for $17.50, which covers a one-week rental and shipping
both ways, and the other for $100 as a security deposit which won't be cashed unless the
tape is not returned), plus a mailing label with your mailing address, to: the Association
for Cultural Evolution (ACE), Box 2382, Mill Valley CA 94942.
Six of the Feynman Lectures on Physics Now Available on CD and Cassette
The Caltech Archives and Addison-Wesley, perhaps taking a cue from "Safecracker
Suite" and "Feynman Volume 1", have released on CD and cassette six of the
now-legendary "Feynman Lectures on Physics" that can be understood by laypeople.
Apart from a rather annoying distortion throughout the first lecture (I think due to the
recording level set too high), these CDs and cassettes are an immense pleasure to listen
to. All Feynman fans should hear them! (If you can't get your local library to order it,
see the Addendum to The Tuva Trader, on page 8, for your own copy.)
Tuvan Grad Students in the US
Two graduate students from Tuva, Inna Maslenidsyna and Aldynai Seden-Khurak, came to
the United States in August as participants in the Russian Teaching Assistants Program
(RTAP), which is administered by the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) in
Washington. This new program provides them an opportunity to teach courses at US
Universities and also to enroll in some courses as well.
Inna is at Southwestern Oklahoma State University (SWOSU), while Aldynai is in the
Slavic Department of the University of Virginia. Says Aldynai: "I realize that this
the great opportunity for me to explore the academic resources in the United States, to
share my own academic experience, which I brought with me from the Republic of Tuva. It is
also the great opportunity to be immersed in American society and culture and in turn to
tell American people about my country."
Inna reports that, being half Russian and half Khakass (the Turkic people, related to
Tuvans, that live to the northwest of Tuva), she fits right in with the people in
Oklahoma: she has been asked more than once if she is part Cherokee.
Aldynai and Inna will stay in the US for the academic year until June of 1995. Each can
be reached by e-mail: Inna's address is: WilsonD@host1.swosu.edu, while Aldynai is:
firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also be reached by "snail mail": Inna at
705 Rogers Hall, SWOSU, Weatherford OK 73096, and Aldynai at 109 Cabell Hall, University
of Virginia, Charlottesville VA 22903.
Water Tank Overtones
Are you looking for a meditative, contemplative acoustic experience? Even if you're
not, tune into water tank overtones! Yes, FoT Jim Cole and friends have found a
(presumably empty) water tank that is a perfect environment for overtone singing, and have
produced an hour-long cassette tape of soothing sounds. Hear them for yourself by sending
$12 and a mailing label to Jim Cole, 82 Foster St., Manchester CT 06040.
Shamanism in Tuva, cont'd
An 17-page report, handsomely illustrated, by expedition leader Bill Brunton, about the
resurgence of shamanism in Tuva is available for $3 from the Foundation for Shamanic
Studies, Box 1939, Mill Valley CA 94942. Telephone (415) 380-8282.
About 200 responses (approximately 25% of the mailing list) have been sent back to be
included in the FoT directory. One problem: I haven't found the time to compile them! Is
there anyone out there with a computer, and has spreadsheet (or database) proficiency and
the time to compile the FoT directory?
More Help Wanted
Is there a "Mac" person out there, familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet,
interested in learning Tuvan vocabulary by compiling a Tuvan-English glossary? If so,
please call (213) 221-TUVA and leave a message. (I hope I haven't narrowed this field too
much with so many qualifications!)
Tuvan High School Students in US
Following the two students (Ayana Mongush & Chinchi Kungaa) who came to the US last
year, there are three students from Tuva attending US high schools:
Mr. Bolat Oorzhalc c/o Lambdin
204 East Ward Street
Urbana OH 43078
Mr. Lyova Ondar c/o Butler
6220 Meadow Crest Dr # 202
Johnston LA 50131-2131
Ms. Choduraa Xandy c/o Cocayne
918 Hackmann Rd
St. Paul MO 63366
It would be great to send these students (as well as Aldynai and Inna) some Christmas
or New Year's cards --- if last year was any indication, they are in places where no one
has heard of Tuva! In Tuvan, Happy New Year is "Chaa Chyl-bile". On behalf of
all FoTs I am sending each of the students some books and videos, and some cool horseman
pins and T-shirts.
Reise Ins Asiatische Tuwa Available in Original German
Professor Wolf Roder (Dept of Geography, U of Cincinnati, Cincinnati OH 45221-0131)
offers to Xerox the original German version of Otto Manchen-Helfen's Journey to Tuva for
$10. (I suggest you make it $15 or $20 to cover postage and the trouble involved in making
the copies.) For Alan Leighton's annotated English translation of this book, see the Tuva
Travel to Tuva - 1995
The first (and perhaps most reasonably priced) tour to Tuva for the summer of '95 will
take place from June 29 through July 22. It will be a study tour headed by FoT Gary Wintz,
a lecturer on Buddhism in the Russian republics. It will also include Kalmykia, Buryatia,
St Petersburg, and Moscow. The emphasis will be, as you might guess, on Buddhism in
Russia. All participants are subject to a strict non-complainer clause: adventurous spirit
and acceptance (even enjoyment) of the unexpected is required! For more information,
please contact Gary at Internet Tibet, 1341 Ocean Ave # 232, Santa Monica CA 90401.
Telephone: (310) 822-7908.
Newsletter # 10 Reprints
After receiving several expressions of disappointment over the format of #10 (which was
printed on 14" paper), the issue has been reformatted on 11" paper. Thus if you
order the back issue of #10, it will fit into your folder more easily. (I had no idea
people were saving these newsletters in such an organized way!) I promise not to depart
from the 11" format again - sorry!
Chettirdim! (Thank You!)
To all those sending in news articles about Tuva (in the next issue I'll excerpt the
Washington Post article --- hopefully with an update on what happened to the forest
rangers who disappeared in the nature preserve near Tuva), and to all those sending in
extra funds to cover printing and mailing expenses for the newsletter. (If you order
something from the Tuva Trader, you're helping out, too!)
New Hampshire FoTuva Delegation Participates in 1994 IG NOBEL Awards Ceremony
by Janet Levy
The ceremony began with the parade of delegates. The first delegation was the MIT
Marching Band performing on their kazoos. It was followed by the New Hampshire FoTs, which
proclaimed their identity to the world by means of a 3-foot-wide Tuvan stamp poster
carried proudly aloft on a 25-foot pole, while "throat-sync-ing" to Tuvan music
blasting from a boom box carried on a litter. The infectious nature of the music inspired
many to try to sing along, and the kazoos occasionally broke into Tuvan melodies as the
march of 19 delegations made their way through the auditorium to their special seats at
the back. As the NH FoTs marched up the aisle, they heard cheers for the Chief, grand
applause, remarks like "I loved him, too!", and received an occasional standing
ovation. It was clear that this audience of college professors, scientists, students, and
general all-around adventurers knew and loved Richard Feynman.
The annual "Igs" ceremony, covered this year by ABC Television's World News
Now and NPR's Science Friday, is sponsored annually by the Annals of Improbable Research
(AIR). Ig Nobel awards recognize illustrious people whose achievements in science
"cannot or should not be reproduced." Editor Marc Abrahams calls it an exercise
in "stirring up useful mischief...--- a nobel effort." The NH FoT delegation
felt that the Chief would have enjoyed the exercise, too, so we took his memory and
misCHIEFousness along to the awards ceremony. (The delegates included Janet Levy, Diane
Benze, Phyllis Croce, Bill Sconce, Tom Steger and Brad Moore.) The men sported housecoats
and hats with earflaps drooping, while Janet and Phyllis wore locks hanging from silk
ribbons around their necks and Diane was drenched in furs (in deference to the Tuvan
winter). It was a fine evening, complete with music, dancing, entertaining visuals, and,
of course, lots of good-natured heckling.
Highlights of the ceremony were the "Dance of the Electrons," which featured
three Nobel laureates and a bevy of scantily clad young women performing an interpretive
rendition (we know the Chief would have enjoyed that exercise), and the 30-second-long
Heisenberg Certainty Lectures, delivered by intellectual luminaries like Artificial
Intelligence guru Marvin Minsky, prominent astronomer Margaret Geller, and Nobel Prize
winning Harvard chemistry professor William Lipscomb. Good sports, all!
The FoT delegation had some favorite Ig Nobel prizewinners: BIOLOGY --- W. Brian
Sweeney, Brian Kraftelacobs, Jeffrey W. Britton, and Wayne Hansen, for their breakthrough
study, "The Constipated Serviceman: Prevalence Among Deployed US Troops," and
especially for their numerical analysis of bowel movement frequency. (The study was
published in "Military Medicine," vol. 158, August, 1993, pages 346-348.);
ENTOMOLOGY --- Robert A. Lopez of Westport, NY, valiant veterinarian and friend of all
creatures great and small, for his series of experiments in obtaining ear mites from cats,
inserting them into his own ear, and carefully observing and analyzing the results. (Dr.
Lopez's report was published in The Journal of the American Veterinary Society, vol. 203,
no. 5, Sept. 1, pp. 606-607.); PHYSICS --- The Japanese Meteorological Agency, for its
seven-year study of whether earthquakes are caused by catfish wiggling their tails; and
ECONOMlCS --- Juan Pablo Davila of Chile, tireless trader of financial futures and former
employee of the state-owned Codelco Company, for instructing his computer to
"buy" when he meant "sell," and subsequently attempting to recoup his
losses by making increasingly unprofitable trades that ultimately lost .5 percent of
Chile's gross national product. Davila's relentless achievement inspired his countrymen to
coin a new phrase: "to davilar," meaning, "to botch things up
The evening was declared a success. Janet was asked if she would speak at a Mensa
meeting on "Friends of Tuva and Richard Feynman" [tell them he would have
resigned immediately from the organization, if elected --- ed.], some young and eager
scientists-to-be were introduced to Tuva, and at the reception following the ceremony
there was a zany conversation relating physics, bongos, and stamp-collecting. A consensus
was agreed upon that the adventure continues...
For a free monthly electronic publication distributed over the Internet, you can
subscribe to mini-AlR by sending a brief e-mail message to LISTSERV@MITVMA.MIT.EDU. The
body of the message should contain ONLY the words "SUBSCRIBE MINI-AIR" followed
by your name.) Otherwise, the mailing address for AIR is: MIT Museum, 264 Massachusetts
Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307.
Midwife to the Government of Tannu Tuva
by Samuel Adams Darcy
Editor's note: This is an excerpt from memoirs, written in the 1950s, by Samuel Adams
Darcy --- today probably the last survivor of the governing body of the Communist
International (Comintern) in the 1920s and '30s. More on the Comintern and Tuva can be
found in Otto Manchen-Helfen's Journey to Tuva (see the Tuva Trader).
The Comintern (which had tried to establish its headquarters in Hamburg, but was
outlawed by the German government, so it moved to Moscow) was the center of the dynamic
world --- and its staff received an education that was unique and beyond the power of any
other institution of which I know. When the storms of the moment have given way to the
storms that will test the next generation, and we can look at the Comintern's work in
perspective, I believe the world will come to realize that it was, on the whole, a great
constructive educational force that, despite its weaknesses, helped humanity through some
of its most difficult years.
All discussions weren't as tense as the one over the Canton uprising --- nor was life
there always as dramatic. There was, for example, the period when, for several weeks, I
was midwife to the Government of Tannu-Tuva.
I can hear the reader saying at this point, "What the hell is that?" --- and
that would be a fair question.
It is a good-sized country with topography, climate and soil very similar to Nevada. In
area it is about as large as New York State, New Jersey and Pennsylvania combined. But it
has only 100,000 population (1927). It lies between Mongolia and the Soviet Union.
In the Comintern I was a member of the Far Eastern Commission. The Secretary of this
body was a friendly, soft-spoken man named Fokine. Once Fokine came to my office and told
me the following story:
One day in 1925 a tired and ragged Oriental young man, dressed in the heavily padded
dark short coat usually worn by the Mongolian shepherds, arrived at the Comintern
building. He spoke some Mongolian and only a few words of Russian, in which language he
asked for the "head man." After a translator was found, he explained his
He was sent by the younger sons of Tannu Tuva, who constituted an oppressed class. In
the religious patriarchal social organization which obtained in that country, the oldest
son always was given to the church and became a lama or church priest. Also the flocks
(animal breeding was the basis of their economy) were not divided among surviving
children, but always inherited en bloc by the oldest son. Needless to say this privileged
group never worked and became a parasitic class. That was harmful to the country, for it
withdrew into idleness a huge amount of the potentially best productive labor power. Also,
it was harmful to the younger sons, who became an exploited class.
These younger sons formed a revolutionary organization to overthrow the power of the
lamas. They sent our visitor on foot, except for occasional lifts on some peasant's
ox-cart (for in their country they know of no motor power, and while a single camel or
pony perhaps could not travel so far, being nomads the distance did not frighten them), to
request from the Comintern a loan of a few thousand rifles with which to arm their
members. He had travelled for almost 5,000 miles. Months had been consumed in the journey.
His appearance seemed to lend truth to his story.
They fed, bathed and housed him and gently told him that the Comintern has no rifles,
and follows a policy which prohibits trafficking in them. He left.
Our friend apparently solved his problem, however, for in the following year, 1926,
they did indeed overthrow the power of the parasitic lamas and established a People's
Now, at the time when Fokine was giving me this background story, word had come that
the leaders of the People's Revolutionary Party, most of them cabinet members of the new
Tannu Tuva government, had made their way on animal back to the nearest Russian railroad
across their border and were, even as I was listening, speeding towards Moscow. The
Comintern leaders had appointed the Far Eastern Commission to receive them --- and for
this occasion, I was appointed to preside at their reception and in the discussions to
This was something! At the reception for the Amanullah Khan (the king of Afghanistan,
who was courted by the British and Russians alike), I was, at least, one in the ranks of
hundreds of onlookers. Now I was to preside to receive the leaders of the people of Tannu
A few days later the delegation arrived. The Red Hall was set with a long covered
table. At one end lay a huge loaf of bread and a dish of salt. First the Far Eastern
Commission filed in and we remained standing in our places, mine being at the bread and
salt. I looked around at all the other members, most of whom were better versed in Far
Eastern matters than I was, and concluded that I was chosen to preside because I was
tallest. Then the Tannu Tuvans arrived, spotlessly clean but still in their shepherds'
coats and hats. This was all done in silent dignity. I solemnly broke the bread and,
pinching off pieces, put a bit of salt on each, and passed it around until everyone in the
room was supplied. I spoke a few words of welcome, which was as solemnly received, and we
all ate the dry bread and salt together --- in the same way that one drinks a toast of
liquor (which by then I wished I had, since I needed it badly). This ceremony finished,
the gathering broke ranks and introductions, smiles, and pleasantries were in order.
In the ensuing weeks I learned, by listening for long hours, the problems of nomadic
life, the position of women in that life, the diseases of animals, the corresponding
diseases of man, and above all the untrustworthiness of oldest sons and all who follow the
I had then received several Sunday issues of the New York Times, in the rotogravure
section of which there were some magnificent photographs of skyscrapers and aerial photos
of downtown Manhattan from which I had derived a great deal of pleasure. I had mounted
these on the walls of my office. During one of the intermissions I took the entire group
of Tannu Tuvans up to my office to show them these and other pictures of my country.
Now (1927), the highest building in all Tannu Tuva is three stories. The delegates were
awed by Moscow's tall buildings, the tallest of which at that time was about nine stories.
Pointing to the pictures I described the buildings of sixty and eighty stories. They
looked and smiled at each other and instructed the translator to tell me that they
"had heard the wonders of America," but "we know a picture of a pigeon coop
when we see one. We have them in Tannu Tuva, and we'll not be kidded into believing any
sixty- or eighty-story buildings exist. The moon would probably become impaled on it, or
at least the rooms would always be full of clouds if they were that high. And that would
surely cause a lot of trouble." (See Footnote 1)
For almost a month I lived with the problems of this ancient, patriarchal people. When
the delegation left and my mind turned to our own problems, it was like returning from
some other century.
The Comintern (actually the Profintern, the Professionals International) later sent a
representative (Bill Dunne) to the Congress of the Peoples' Revolutionary Party of Tannu
Tuva to repay their visit. He told me, on his return, that in appreciation of my efforts
as host, they hung my picture on the wall of the building in front of which the Congress
was held in Khem-Beldiri (see Footnote 2), the capital of Tannu Tuva. I found they had
gotten hold of a duplicate of my passport photo. No doubt many a Tannu Tuvan mother
corrected her child's misbehavior by warning about the sinister-looking man in that photo!
The peoples of the Far East that we met were not tourist-hotel Asiatica. They often
were from deep in the interior of their country, to whom our ways were stranger than
theirs were to us. The cultural gap was wide --- yet in friendly association it quickly
narrowed. We learned to laugh at the differences and enjoy each other the more for them.
Once, when a Mongolian delegation arrived for a somewhat longer stay, they were put up
at the same guest house as were those who come from the western world. They were given
western business suits, long wool winter underwear, low shoes to replace their boots, and
other appurtenances of our civilization and sent to bathe quickly because it was near
supper time. Everything went well, until they came down to the dining room. The entire
group had put their western suits --- which they considered unattractive --- on
underneath, and the beautifully white woolen long winter underwear on top. The diners
roared with laughter. But the man very logically explained that it is common courtesy to
your neighbor to wear your most pleasing garments on top!
They changed. In fact, in all things they learned from us very quickly; we, in our
"superiority," did not always learn the things they could have taught us so
I never witnessed rude conduct in their behavior. All too commonly, Europeans and
Americans who came to Moscow acted like boors.
Orientals lacked in their civilization what was brought by our manufactures, and they
absorbed that in great gulps. We lacked the courtesies, the high quality of human
consideration for other humans and I'm afraid we haven't improved on that score.
FOOTNOTE 1: From an apartment on the fiftieth floor overlooking the United Nations in
Manhattan, three Tuvans in 1993 expressed disbelief that people would voluntarily subject
themselves to such living conditions, in which there are no wide-open spaces and where the
natural horizon ceases to exist. (Ralph Leighton, observing the reactions of Kaigal-ool
Khovalyg, Anatoli Kuular, and Kongar-ool Ondar).
FOOTNOTE 2: Tuvan for "river confluence 1 ," also known in the early part of
this century as Byelotsarsk (Russian for "white czar"), and later as "Kyzyl
Khoto" or "Kyzyl Khoorai" (Tuvan for "red" and Mongolian or
Tuvan, respectively, for "town"), or simply "Kyzyl." --- ed.
Report From Tuva --- Summer, 1994
by Kerry Yackoboski
Founder, Kyzyl-Khem Chapter
We arrived in Kyzyl in grand style, four of us squeezed into the back seat of a taxi we
had hired in Abakan, the fifth in the front passenger seat. We were two Canadians (Russ
and myself) and two Americans (Steve and Alison), along with a Turk willing to share a cab
ride with us for 420 kilometres. It was a warm evening, late in July, when the taxi driver
deposited us on Kochetova Street, Kyzyl's main drag, and when our own Journey To Tuva
began in earnest.
While in Tuva we would do many interesting things and meet many interesting people; in
fact, too many to recount in a short article. A more detailed trip diary is available via
the Internet from "email@example.com". In this article I hope to touch on some of
the more striking aspects of our trip.
The good news is that Tuva was everything I had hoped for and more. We were able to
visit the steppes, the taiga, the yurts, and we were able to experience khuresh
(traditional wrestling) khoomei (traditional singing) and kumiss (traditional drink). It
was reassuring to see that the culture of Tuva is still alive and is not in danger of
being overrun by other cultures (despite the ubiquitous presence of MTV and Abba).
Otherwise ordinary buildings have ornate doors carved with images of Tuvan animals, and
the statue commemorating Tuva's 60 Martyrs is almost as large as the formerly requisite
statue of Lenin that still stands.
The sights and sounds that have been described in other writings about Tuva are
wonderful, but the one aspect of visiting Tuva that we could not have prepared for is the
overwhelming hospitality of the people we were fortunate to meet. We were welcomed into
people's apartments and yurts as if we were family, and we were fed beyond belief. Long
after my photos are faded and curled, I will cherish my memories of the people we met.
However, like anywhere else, Tuva does have some problems. The rate of inflation in
Kyzyl is staggering and almost paralyzing, to the point where a friend who wanted to
organize a difficult trip to the countryside for us was unable to confidently predict the
cost, since the price of gasoline or food could double at any time. As one example, we saw
bread (which cost 7 Roubles in 1992 and 30 Roubles in 1993) jump in price from 700 Roubles
to 1300 Roubles overnight.
This, and other problems common to the post-Soviet republics, has frustrated many
people in Tuva. The transition from a centrally planned economy has not been a smooth one,
and those who were comfortable with the predictability of the old system (whether or not
it worked) are not completely at ease with new ways of doing business. One note of
optimism is that we met an encouraging number of young people who are bright enough and
energetic enough to help Tuva adapt.
Many people were curious about why we would travel half way around the world to such a
remote spot, and it was difficult to explain simply because there was no good reason. I
had read "Tuva or Bust!" and got caught up in the excitement, and before I knew
it, Richard Feynman's dream journey had become my hobby. And since we were going all that
way, we had a few other things to look into as well. We carried in several copies of Jeff
Cook's excellent "Tuvans Invade America" video to distribute to the participants
(Khovalyg, Kuular, Chakars, and Ondar), as well as to Tuva TV for broadcast. Early
indications are that this will be a smash hit in Tuva.
We also carried a draft copy of the English translation of "Let's Learn
Tuvan!" to have the Tuvan portion proofread by a native speaker; we were able to
parlay this, and our status as "members of Friends of Tuva", into a meeting with
the author of the book, Chairman of Parliament Kadyr-ool Bicheldei. He was also kind
enough to invite us to the grand concert celebrating both Tuva's independence day and
Kyzyl's eightieth anniversary. Being a member has its unexpected privileges!
Our most ambitious goal was to try to establish an electronic mail link into Kyzyl.
While we made a few inroads, there is still work to be done before we will succeed at
this. The hardware and the people are in place there now, but the remaining obstacle lies
in making a connection from Tuva to a node that can be reached by the rest of the world.
We were also able to maintain FoT contact with a few notables, such as Tanya
Khuragan-ool, the little girl who had come to the USA for surgery last spring. She is
doing fine and was to attend school for the first time this fall. We also met, entirely by
chance, the president of a Tuvan organization called Friends of America, led by Oyun-ool
Sat. He happens to be one of the designers of the Tuvan flag and an avid endurance
cyclist; he hopes to cycle from Tuva to Atlanta via Alaska for the 1996 Olympics.
"45-Snowy-I" Ondar Daryma is now not only a shaman but also a lama; we saw him
dressed in striking golden robes, surrounded by children, at the anniversary concert.
A Lucky Find
No short report would be complete without a hint of excitement. We hired a van and a
driver and were to travel with four others (two English people, John and Nora Harris of
Cornwall, and two Tuvans, Galina Deshki and her daughter Olga) to spend a night in a yurt
at Lake Tore-Khol, on the Mongolian border. To make a long story short, at 11 PM we found
ourselves lost, at the side of the lake, stuck in a the sand literally on the Mongolian
border. Galina got very agitated when she noticed that we were walking over some concrete
slabs in the ground that mark the border.
We decided that it would be impossible to find the yurt in the darkness --- and even if
we did, it was too late to arrive. We quickly ruled out trying to drive to the nearest
town (Erzin) and seek lodging there, since it was not apparent how to get back there (we
had been driving over the steppe, with no real roads, for hours). My old friend Russ and I
felt that the only sane thing to do would be to sit tight, eat the food we had brought,
and sleep on the spot. The others eventually agreed and quickly staked out their sleeping
space in the van, leaving Russ and me standing outside. (I still don't know how that
No problem; we took this in stride. We were at the edge of a beautiful lake, surrounded
by the stark and almost surreal steppe, we had just eaten, it wasn't raining, and, above
all, *we were in Tuva!* What more could we want?
We had our sleeping bags with us and started looking around for a likely place to sack
out under the cloudless sky when we noticed that just a few steps from where we had
stopped there was a large collection of wood, much of it already chopped into firewood.
This was a remarkable stroke of luck; the steppes are treeless and we had not seen
anything remotely resembling firewood for hours. We tried to light a fire, but since it
had rained that morning the wood was still a little too damp to catch fire. We did our
best, but we really needed something that would burn well to help start the fire. We
thought that we were sunk, until we hit upon another stroke of luck. Before leaving
Toronto Russ had purchased a Gore-Tex raincoat for the trip, and after buying it he had
thrown it into his backpack until we arrived. Just now he reached into his jacket pocket
for the first time, pulling out an Emergency Safety Feature built in by the good people at
Gore-Tex: a thick brochure, printed on heavy paper, extolling the virtues of their
product. When shredded, this brochure made a fine fire starter. After a few hours' chat
around the campfire, I tucked into my sleeping bag and got a great night's sleep; as I
dozed off, gazing at the stars on the border of Mongolia, I was reminded of a story about
Richard Feynman, as told by Freeman Dyson. At a small gathering of physicists and
astronomers near Austin, Texas, Feynman decided that his hotel room was too "enormous
and hideous", and he walked out into the woods and slept under the stars. This, I
felt, was an appropriate reminder of the man whose innocent question had eventually,
inadvertently, brought me here.
Today's topic: some of the food I ate (and didn't eat) in Tuva. As a bit of a prologue,
for the past several years I have generally avoided milk and dairy products because I find
them increasingly difficult on my digestive system. It's usually not a big problem as long
as I show some restraint.
On our way into Tuva we spent a few days in Moscow, and for our first breakfast our
hostess gave us about 10 different things that were either dairy products or were buried
under them. I didn't write down the names, but there was one dish that looked like natural
cottage cheese, and this was doused under some heavy cream and sprinkled very generously
with sugar. This was *very* tasty, but I only had a few mouthfuls.
There was also two types of cheese that were to be eaten with buttered bread, and there
was Russian sour cream (heavier and more sour than what I am used to), but I forget how
that was eaten; perhaps on its own.
I tasted a little of each of them, both to be polite and because they looked good, and
I paid a very high price; I was painfully and inconveniently sick for the rest of the day.
(Incidentally, Immodium really works, and I recommend it to all travellers.) From then on
I told anyone who offered me something that looked like it might have once been milk that
I was allergic to milk, and I would either take the smallest sip (or pretend to) or
decline outright, depending on how potent the dish looked. I also went through an entire
jar of pills that are supposed to help those with an intolerance to lactose in their
digestion; I think they helped somewhat when I drank regular milk. Now, on to the food...
Traditional Tuvan food seems to be almost entirely mutton and milk products. The most
basic method of preparation is to throw a large chunk of meat, still attached to a bone
such as a rib, into a large pot of boiling water and cook it until it is done all the way
through. I found the smell of the boiling sheep unappetizing, but the meat itself to be
good. Typically, several large pieces were placed on a large plate in front of several of
us, along with a single knife. You dig in with your hands, using the knife to cut loose a
bite-size morsel when necessary, or just munch away as if it were the latest dish from
Of course, this is not the only way to cook mutton. We also saw it cut into small
pieces and served in a soup, in a watery stew, or occasionally in a thicker sauce on rice.
(We didn't see much rice eaten in Tuva). Perhaps my favourite way of eating sheep was in
poosa (I really don't know how to spell it, or even if I'm remembering the name
correctly), Tuva's version of Mongolia's boozeh. This is like Russian perogy or Italian
ravioli or Chinese steamed dumplings, in that it is a thin dough wrapper around a small
nugget of ground meat, lightly spiced. For the first bite you must hold the dumpling with
your fingers so that you do not spill any of the juice that wants to escape after you bite
in. After the first bite it is permissible to use a knife and fork if the poosa is large.
The best ones we had were at the home of the grandparents of Tanya Khuragan-ool.
Tea was of two distinct varieties: Russian style is not unlike the tea I am accustomed
to, except that jam or fresh berries are used to sweeten it to taste. The different Tuvan
teas we had were similar to the ones that are currently being discussed in the UseNet
newsgroup soc.culture.mongolian. The most common one is suutug shai, salted tea with a lot
of milk in it. The tea comes in a hard brick and a suitable amount is broken off (in small
flakes) and dropped into the large wok-shaped pot of hot water. I think the salt is also
added at this point, although we did not always have it with salt. The one time I watched
this tea being prepared I noticed that the milk used was actually powdered milk, but that
may have been because we were camping at the time. This tea is tasty, but I preferred it
without the salt and milk. Russ said that after drinking two large bowls of this tea the
salt seemed excessive.
We were also served kumiss. It looks a bit like yogurt, and separates into a more solid
part and a more watery part. It was stirred with a lot of sugar and went over well with
Steve. When mixed with a little milk tea and a lot of talgan, a brown flour-like powder
similar to Tibetan tsampa, it forms a paste that Russ and Steve described as tasting like
Araka is a clear, almost colourless drink made from fermented mare's milk. It has a
very slight white colour to it, and it smells pretty much exactly like I'd expect
fermented and distilled horse's milk to smell like. It doesn't have a strong taste, but it
is definitely a disagreeable taste to my tongue. Russ was quite firm in his dislike of it,
but I think that it's probably like a lot of things that are an acquired taste and that
given the choice of downing a tumbler of araka or Russian vodka, I might choose the araka
(don't hold me to that - it's a tough choice). Then again, we met a few Tuvans who won't
touch the stuff. I only had a few sips of it and at one point we tried to pull a fast one
on our hosts by pouring the liquid from our glasses into the jug while no one was looking.
I think they knew what happened, because they wouldn't drink it either!
As you might expect, tropical fruit and vegetables were not very common (but not
necessarily rare) and not cheap. Bananas and oranges could be found fairly easily. The
most common (and best!) vegetables were the ones that were grown in Tuva, because they
don't have the blandness of supermarket vegetables; tomatoes, potatoes, radishes, carrots,
cabbages, watermelons, squash, and cucumbers formed the backbone of our vegetable
experience in Tuva. Since these are generally not the most exciting foods, and because
selection is limited, people are very good at making them attractive and tasty in many
forms. However, spices are sometimes hard to find at the market --- so when there are none
to be found, meals are rather bland.
Berries are abundant, although I couldn't identify any of them other than raspberries
and black currants. At one point our guide stopped the car at the side of the highway and
we all feasted on tasty, sweet berries.
There is an old Tuvan song, now the national anthem, called "The Taiga Is Full Of
Cedar Nuts". We never picked any cedar nuts in the taiga, but we certainly ate a lot
of them in Tuva. In the market, or just anywhere, people sell little paper cones full of
roasted and separated individual seeds, which you crack in your mouth like a sunflower
seed, eating the soft pulp inside and spitting out the shell. People also carried around
entire pine cones full of nuts and pulled them open, layer by layer, to get at the seeds
arrayed around the centre. Because we were so unskilled, a single cone full of seeds would
take us hours to eat.
There is much more to said on the topic of food, but I'll leave it for another article.
In the meantime, be assured that --- even if you're averse to milk products --- you won't
go hungry in Tuva. And if you like milk products, you'll be in heaven!
Addendum to THE TUVA TRADER
(For the most recent TUVA TRADER (Winter Solstice 1994), please send a
self-addressed, stamped (32 cents) envelope to: Friends of Tuva, Box 70021, Pasadena CA
* * * denotes new item, available in January.
* * * SIX EASY PIECES: Essentials of Physics Explained by its Most Brilliant Teacher,
by Richard P. Feynman. Six Lectures from The Feynman Lectures on Physics, with
accompanying audio on CD or cassette. Hearing Feynman delivering his lectures is an
epiphany, and reveals gems that were not translated into print (such as this one about
chemists and their names for organic molecules: "Why they don't just draw the
pictures all the time, I don't know --- it seems to me easier."). Each lecture is
nearly an hour.
Book only (order only if you're deaf!): $ 19
Book with 6 cassettes: : $ 45
Book with 6 CDs: : $ 49
* * * THE CHARACTER OF PHYSICAL LAW by Richard P. Feynman. The written version
of the Messenger Lectures (now we need to get *those* released on video!) in an attractive
small hardcover edition.
: $ 14
* * * GENIUS: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, by James Gleick, in
: $ 14
Big money discounts! If subtotal is $50-$74, subtract 5%; if it is $75-$99, subtract
7%; $100 and up, subtract %10.
For rush orders, or for orders outside of the USA and Canada, please add 20% for
US orders: check or a postal money order payable to Friends of Tuva.
Non-US orders: cash, traveller's checks, personal or bank checks (if drawn on a US
bank), and International Postal Money Orders are accepted. Sorry, no credit cards or
All orders: To expedite delivery. please include a mailing label with your order. Thank
(You may order the above items now, but I won't be be able to send them out until
sometime in January)