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transsiberian no edit

October 24, 2012

As the creaky train creeps towards the russian border, a group of us wonder how to handle the upcoming stop. Its 6 hours just south of siberia in winter, waiting for russian border patrol to properly inspect the train, switch it to russian tracks, and drink a fifth or two of vodka for good measure. We could stay on the train, drinking heavily while staring into the vacant eyes of permafrost locals, only to have to leave the train to use the bathroom because they lock them all during the delay. Or, we could head into the station, bundled up beyond belief, and peruse the fine displays of glass figurines, which if bought, have 10 days of life in them as they could never survive the transsiberian in the first place. The station is chosen for its bathroom, once it is established we can drink anywhere. Sitting around an iron grate mall table, passing stories and shots, we discuss where we are coming from and where we are going. My bunkmate is an 18 year old british girl, heading home the interesting way from a vacation in china with some friends…they all decided to fly home. She wanted to stop in Mongolia, as many do, but didn’t, as many don’t. So a quick 7-10 day ride home is her agenda. Her iphone and constant check of messages tells me that her family is interested in her whereabouts, but her frame of mind is to find a group like us and relax. Along with Liz, the Brit, are 3 Aussies halfway through a yearlong world tour, a polish couple on the leg back of their honeymoon, and myself, not really sure where I’m going, I just know it is west of here.

The train should sound and doesn’t.  I have to watch other people to see if it is time to go.  A few russians begin packing up so I stock up on beer and vodka.  Everything around us is desolate.  It has been since we left Ulaanbataar, and I guess before that as well.  Mongolia seemed like another whole trip.  Some were just going to and from home, but many came from different places, physically and mentally.  It was an adventurous crowd, exploring. Now there is still a bit of adventure in the foreigners I see, but there is a strong sense of commute.  I picture mixed asians in toyota corollas on their way home from their job in the valley back to south LA, probably should listen to music to make the ride go more smoothly but just want to keep quiet after a long day.  That is, except these people are traveling for days.  From entering russia through mongolia, it will be 5 or so days on a train before western russia and moscow.  People have their lives on them.  Some ride the whole distance, but many stop along the way.

Chinese people are generally not very dark, some are though that is because they have mongolian blood in them.  Mongolians are round.  Their faces and waists, barrel chests and broad shoulders. Russians you have seen.  Kinda.  Russians don’t all look like women’s tennis players, vladimir putin and old tiny short pudgy men and their similar babushkas.  Many are a mix of the chinese, mongolian, ad uzbek/kazhak central asian sort.  They have a name:  _____, and in Siberia, they almost seem to outnumber the light skinned russians.  This is most of my train to siberia.  Quiet, except for the children, which seem to outnumber the trees in the endless forests out the windows on both sides.  They wait and wait for their destination, their commute home having only begun.  Food is a time to let go a bit, laughing and talking.  They eat what I will soon know well.  Sausage and bread.  Big hunking links and long thick bread sticks.

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