Greatra Mayana

Career & Employment Opportunities

Sustainable living on Altai: alternative lifestyle of Russian man


Stas got tired of the Moscow rat race so
one day he jumped on an airplane and flew thousands of miles away to the
Altai mountains to live in total isolation. While he was there he started
to take around a 3D and he got good enough to make material for Hollywood
movies and AAA video game… Not too bad. You know, one thing I can
tell you as an American who lives in Russia, there’s something missing here.
You don’t often meet people like Stas who have that can-do attitude. That’s why we’re
doing this program to travel all over the country to meet people who believe
that anything’s possible. In 2009 I faced serious health problems,
like serious. Stas, 35 years old. Born in Jezkazgan, Kazakhstan 3D modeller specializing in robots and vehicles and master of Gundam style. I was, I don’t know, just falling apart because of the environment. I lived near Tepliy Stan metro station and a waste incineration plant had been built right outside my windows. And it turned out that at night I would leave the window open, and in the morning, I would see a layer of soot on the windowsill. And you can’t live with windows constantly closed, because there’s no fresh air, and you can’t open them, because you get all these fumes come in. Plus, I felt a kind of emotional crisis, as I saw where this was going, I saw those people whom I would turn into in 5-10 years. And this motion vector didn’t appeal to me at all. Because I didn’t want to sit in the office and languish. And plus, some kind of complex depression from all this, from life in Moscow. And, well, a life crisis of sorts began. So I decided to somehow change the situation. And dad said, “Man, you’re quitting your job. Where you going? To Siberia? Are you crazy?” In Siberia, there are two seasons: winter and preparation for winter. I came here and started walking in the mountains. I’d never been to the mountains before. And I was so stoked by these mountains, that I ran to the glacier, took my clothes off and began to swim under the waterfall. And I was so astonished, that I just realized, no, I’m not leaving this place. And so, with the little help from the old man Stas began his quest to build a life in the Altai mountains. The first wintering was difficult psychologically. Because, well, I moved here, I had a budget, but it’s finite. “How to earn my daily bread?” was the question. And I calculated, well, I have money for a year and a half, maybe two: for the construction and for life itself. What was next – I didn’t know! Then I met a girl here, we had twins: a boy and a girl. And I had just finished the house so we moved in! But I noticed that your house is very different from the rest in the village. This is Finnish technology called “passive houses”, where the main thing is that the house is the most heat-efficient. And it turns out that this lean-to roof and large windows to the South garners additional heat from the sun. And with these windows, with this insulation and with this roof in winter when the sun is low, the house heats up to about 35 degrees Celsius. Just from the sun! It’s even disgustingly hot. And this is why I haven’t finished the air duct recuperation system for the 4th year now, I just open the windows in the winter. My specificity lies in the fact that I first moved here, and then I became the vehicle concept designer. I learned this craft here. And when you came here, didn’t you have any plans for your career? I thought I’d be a beekeeper. And why did you quit? Well, I had already had some skills; I worked as a 3D artist in Moscow, but not in this concrete sphere. I did the textures, created game models: some characters, buildings – well, some odd bits and pieces. And here, when I came, I guess I’ve always had this dream since I was a kid, when I saw Star Wars, that I would design robots and spaceships and the rest! This followed me throughout my life. And fortunately, high-speed Internet appeared. And I went online and found this rather intriguing artist – a vehicle concept designer by the name of Aaron Beck. He did concepts for Avatar. Among many others, for the movie Chappie, too. And they amazed me so much that I said, “I want to do the same as him, and do what he does. It just blew my mind. And so I decided to go back into design, but as a vehicle concept designer. I worked, and work from time to time, in companies, mainly from America, which make AAA class games – 3A. This is quite a solid international level. Those is in the game dev, immediately gets that these are games like Call of Duty. This company usually finds some guys from China or from Russia with the help of subcontractors. Well, there was this game, a very cool one, Call of Duty Infinite Warfare. And you can imagine what kind of level this is. Of course, it’s all relative, yes. I see, something like that, something like … Yeah, yeah, yeah. I make robots, some mechs, I make vehicles: planes, spaceships, tanks – everything that can move. I do it in 3D and it’s basically a design projects. The technical requirements are sent to me. They consist of some references, usually pictures of other designs or let’s say other tanks, and I create a tank. They send me references with a detailed description of what the customer wants from me, point by point. I want this tank to have two muzzles, I want it to be on its feet, I want it to be able to jump or run in the mountains. Well, for example, they give me two to three weeks to design a tank, just for the design. And well, here’s what you have to invest: you take a system integrator, you take a monitor, you take a graphic tablet. And the budget for all this, well, you can do it for 80 thousand. My hard drive died recently. How do you deal with that here? Do you have to go to Gorno-Altaysk? For a new one. No, no, what for? They have them in stock here in Koks. In the center there’s computer store, you just buy a new one! Or there’s simply the Russian Post: 2 weeks it’s here. I overcame too many things to build this house. 100%. Well, the first thing – the building materials. When I started to build here, there was no possibility to buy building materials nearby. We had to rent a truck with a 5 and 10 ton capacity. This also cost money: to go to Barnaul or Novosibirsk. Next up, I don’t even know how to put it, there’s the incapability of local builders; I mean, it’s not a monopoly, because we can build any kind of crap here. It’s something subconscious in these people, that they do it themselves: zero quality, but demanding top dollar. I guess, they seem to be guided by the city, where prices are high. Yes, and it turns out, that for low quality they demand high prices. I faced this situation and when I was almost out of money, I decided to continue building myself. I hired a guy personally, and he worked under my supervision. I spent all the time on the construction site, and told him what to do. Then there was another situation. When you work with builders – never pay them in advance! This I remembered. Yes, because if you have a deadline, you have to move into the house as the weather is getting colder, and your stove is unfinished and, God forbid, you gave them an advance, you won’t see builder until they’ve drank away that advance! And, of course, there were problems that made me want to leave. The first year was the most difficult, when I think about it, I came here and saw the local scene, which in many respects consisted of very drunk people, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, some psychos, frankly crazies. And I thought to myself, crap, where did I end up, I’m between some kind of psychos and alcoholics! And I was very depressed. There was a time, when I was just starting to build and I didn’t have a fence yet. At first it seems, locals would test my patience, or whatever. I had a pregnant wife back then, and they would come every night, they cut off the far light in the window and would turn up their speakers to maximum. So, I went out and asked them: “Guys, I have a pregnant wife, please, don’t bother us – but they didn’t care, so after that fight with bitten fingers, rumors immediately went around that, you know, “he’s crazy, a psychopath, better not to mess with him!” No one ever appeared under the windows after that. I was building the house then. Once I was riding my moped and saw two guys on a motorbike with five liter bottles of beer. They have a nice way of greeting each other here: you nod your head like this and they nod back. Well, I nodded, but they flipped me the finger and said, “Hey you, come here, why are you…”. I didn’t pay any attention and went on my way. But they somehow found me later, riding out of nowhere and shouting, “Hey, stop…”. So I said, “Okay.” I knew that a fight was inevitable and they began to threaten me, “You’re going to… you out-of-towner, who are you?” Well, I can’t repeat what they said in this interview, but let’s say they told me to have oral sex! I rudely refused and grabbed a piece of wood. I had to be proactive. So as they were getting off, I kicked their bike into the ditch and started hitting one of them with the piece of wood. The second guy jumped over, knocked me down and began to strangle me. The other then jumped on me and began kicking my head. While one was strangling me, sitting on me, I was hitting him with the piece of wood. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and when I broke his nose his blood filled my mouth, nose and eyes, and I started to suffocate in his blood. And the second, smaller guy, started to (I still have a scar, here) squeeze my eye out with his thumb, so that his index finger went into my mouth. So I bit his finger off. He was shocked and ran away, but the other guy continued to strangle me. I felt like I was losing consciousness but I saw some men running up. While Stas was at the hospital out of action with a concussion the police caught the two men who attacked him, but they said Stas started it. It turns out Stas did way more damage to them than he took, so the police started to believe the attacker’s story! Thankfully, neither side chose to press
charges and the case was dropped. They do a kind of prank here, I don’t get it, but many people do. Locals buy binoculars and pry. Binoculars? Really? You mean like
someone over there in that kitchen? We were filming yesterday on the mountain, and I think we were watched … Hah, by 12 pairs of binoculars. Yeah, at least 12. I guess people like to do it. Everyone has their own way to have fun. But I don’t want my personal life to be filmed, or be pried upon like that. That’s why I put up a fence. Well, today we’re filming with your permission. Yes, of course. You have my permission, but people with binoculars don’t. There was no sense of community yet, no circle of friends. There was a feeling of loneliness. Plus, winters here are very long which, if you don’t leave, you can easily get tired of! When I arrived in Altai it seemed like this would be the ideal place to live. But it turns out that life in Siberian paradise isn’t so simple. In fact, Stas went through a lot of hard times to built a life here in the Altai. Over time these frustrations built up in Stas making him question whether to stay or go, but little did he know that his toughest challenge was still ahead. My wife had her own spiritual viewpoints, and I didn’t fully share or understand them. And this person decided they were more important than family so we divorced. I was in this kind of shock for a year and a half and I couldn’t get used to it and begin living my life anew. I lost my job, and somehow managed to get by. After the divorce, I wanted to leave this place; for me it was a difficult challenge, but somehow I realized that children under 12 years old need to have a father nearby. And so I stayed. When I get depressed or have a breakdown, or it’s doom and gloom or something, I just take my backpack and head to the mountains and everything falls into place. I feel so great surrounded by nature, the noise of the river, the fresh air and the smells that drive you crazy. Your life becomes meaningful and you reach some kind of harmony. You come here and it’s something nonverbal, not even semantic, something you feel only at the level of your intuition. You cannot convey this in words. There are a lot of advantages of living here: fresh air, clean spring water, organic food: you buy meat, which you see grazing. They kill it and you eat it! Milk, dairy products are all here, if you have a vegetable patch – then there’s also tomatoes, cucumbers – everything is fresh. I came here when I was 25, I’m 35 now, and I’m healthier now than when I was at 25! So, is that your logic: to live in a perfect environment, food and stuff you have to tolerate a thousand idiots? Or are you really integrated into this
local society? Look, no, I don’t have to tolerate anyone, you just have to know how to limit communication, be able to distance yourself. I have my own community here, who also ended up here, they’re not psychos. Well, one way or another, of course, everyone has their own demons, but they are within reason. And then we have our own parties here. We play strike ball, various board games, ride motorcycles, go to the mountains or go camping. In short, why did they come here and what are they doing? Some work in tourism, actually most work in tourism, I’m the only one with my profession here. Someone organizes horse tours, someone knows English and shows foreigners the mountains, someone has a truck, they drive around. I have a friend who moved here, now he’s a real downshifter, in the real sense of the word. He was a programmer in Tomsk, but he came here with the idea he would become a goat herder and beekeeper. He gave up on programming, settled in a house on the outskirts. Of course, the place is gorgeous, on the banks of the river, outside the village. A hectare of land and a house. And can provide himself with everything: he bakes bread, has his own goat’s milk, his own cheese, sour cream, and generally, a full range of dairy products. Plus, what he has in excess is sold. He also has an apiary with bees and he sells the honey he doesn’t use. His only necessary purchases are: a bag of flour and a bag of sugar. At the end of January, I got into the car, loaded it with my belongings and just came here. Kirill.
Does big off-road tours on his huge Ural truck. When I came here, people asked, “Why did you come here? Are you looking for something? May be a spiritual Shambhala?”. No, I just came here, I like it, I wanted to live in the village, and Altai is a nice, beautiful place. At first, we traveled all over the country, exploring the North of Russia: Karelia, the Central part, the Urals… Misha.
Runs English Language tours of the Altai Mountains. We drove through all of Kazakhstan, the Black Sea coast. We were looking for a place where the environmental conditions were good, where we could find some opportunities for self-realization, where we could raise children in a quiet, peaceful environment. People are much better here than in other places. I’ve lived in St. Petersburg, Surgut… Anton and Anatoly.
Local strikeball enthusiasts. There people are more evil, more aggressive, which accumulates in relation to each other. Here, since it’s more discharged, there are fewer people, I think that here, people are more like children. They’re naive and simple, and then, when you get used to it, it’s a big plus. I see you have a lot of dogs. What for? Security or something? Yes. winter riding. Aaa, for riding in winter? It’s like training to keep fit. Since I work as a guide, I always have to be in perfect shape, let’s say, a higher level than my clients, to ensure safety, a good stay in the mountains and so on. Well, that is, it’s a serious job, that demands a lot from me … This place, Vova.
Beekeeper and Stas’ biker buddy. it’s so much more homely and milder in terms of climate. Grain is produced here, and the animals grow well, and the grass is thick. Again, bees survive well here, unlike the Republic. I compare it with our life in St. Petersburg – here, we started to communicate much more often. We have a pretty large community here, and the same is for the children. And when we got to this place, we saw a lot of people coming from big cities. And a friendly social environment has formed. It all happened because it happened. I guess it’s rather a Taoist view of life: everything happens as it should happen. I didn’t have that feeling that I will suddenly move to a new place, find new friends there and begin life anew. No, usually such images in your head break up from the prose of life. You arrive somewhere, but you stay the same, everything remains the same, and you’re disappointed. First you are fascinated, but then you become disappointed. I didn’t have many expectations, I just wanted to live in an ecologically clean place in the mountains. I moved and that was it. Yes, it’s a new stage in life, building a house, that’s fun! There was a price peak, when everybody came here to escape the end of the world in 2012. Then, the price for a plot of land could reach 2 million rubles. Well, with a run down house on it. Now, prices have dropped drastically and, generally, you can buy a plot of land for 80 to 150 thousand rubles, no problem!

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