12:36, September 25th 2012, 21 hours down, 89 hours to go till Moscow.
The first night wasn’t nearly as cosy as I had hoped for based on my experience from train rides in China and Mongolia. The lights were on till late and my nose got so clogged up from the heat I could hardly breathe. On top of that, the younger Russian guy in the other upper bed across from me was watching wretched action films till late – of course on full blast without headphones – machine gun lullabies, how nice.
As you might guess I wasn’t in the best mood when I woke up, in fact I was quite grumpy. To make my mood even worse my glasses broke again when I cleaned them after waking up. After a few years of wearing them in quite diverse climates they had broken into two halves right on the bit that sits on the nose. No force applied, they didn’t fall they just were tired of life it seemed. I glued them back together since the optician in Ulan-Ude told me they couldn’t fix them and to get new ones would’ve taken too long. But the glue didn’t really last for too long making my glasses into a fragile question mark impending on my daily vision.
And now, after a night filled with Russian battle cries, they broke again. I cursed. Luckily I had brought a little bottle of super glue with me. I crouched on my bed but as I can’t see very well (stating the obvious, I know) I failed putting them back together at the right angle so that the super glue didn’t glue as superbly as advertised. I muttered a few words of desperation under my breath. Little did I know that this unlucky incident actually would become into a turning point of my journey.
As I was busy scowling at my still broken glasses the action film fan from the bunk bed across took the two pieces formerly known as my glasses and the glue from me. He jumped off his bed in one admittedly smooth move and took out a big pocket knife and a lighter, left and then came back with some yarn and a needle.
Before I continue let me briefly describe this dude. For nothing else fits better than the word ‘dude’. He looked like he was in his mid-twenties, wore something that looked a bit like a cross between a wife beater and a sports shirt and sweat pants. A big Russian cross dangled over his slightly hairy chest. So far I’ve counted four tattoos some of which are either very old or of very dubious quality. His high check bones, clear light eyes and very short blonde hair give him a kind of “military style tough guy look”.
So, tough guy sits down and with the help of his lighter and needle manages to put a small metal stilt, that he made from God knows what ,in the bridge of my glasses to hold it together. Then he ties some yarn soaked in superglue around it, singes the end of the yarn together with his lighter and voila I have my glasses fixed for eternity.
I curse my little knowledge of Russian language, that fails me in expressing my gratefulness to my now slightly sweaty savior who’s also bleeding from one finger where he forced the metal in to my glasses. Instead I decide to buy him some beer and cigarettes later.
The old man gestures me to use a case for my glasses. Although I swear to him: “I “njet!” gesture of sitting down on my glasses” he’s obviously convinced I broke my glasses because I didn’t use a case. When both the men leave for a smoke I try to mime-explain to the young woman next to me that I really didn’t sit on my glasses. Not that it matters, but I at least want to try and make one person understand I’m not completely stupid.
I point to myself “Moscow! You?” and then look at her questioningly. She says “I Moscow”. After a pause she asks me in quite good English where I’m from. I try to mask my surprise and feel a bit sheepish for assuming she didn’t speak English just because she didn’t speak with me. We chat and I find out that she was visiting her children in Ulan-Ude and is now returning to Moscow where she works.
Another gorgeous birch forest passes and I’m invited by the three others to watch a film with them. I decline as politely as possible giving my lack of Russian as a reason.
I finish the day thinking about a few troubling questions. Is there a limit to how many instant noodle soups a person can eat or how many birch forests one can enjoy swooshing by? For the first I’m starting to lean towards a ‘yes’ the second one so far ‘no’. But this is only the second day so who knows what will happen next? Maybe I’ll start getting super powers from all the chemical additives, of which there are many, in the instant noodle soup…
- Trans-Siberian Railway Diary – Day One (vivianesview.wordpress.com)
- Siberia — Home of Warmth and Hospitality – Ulan-Ude, Russia (travelpod.com)