Another 2 day train ride… in total I have spent about 10 days of the last month on a train… I’ve learned that the more food, and the greater the variety, the easier the trip. Making friends goes a long way too. On this trip, I made friends with two Russian men; Alec and Zhenya. Of course, their food was better than mine and I ate (again) like a king. I was beginning to grow weary of all of the kind hospitality that has been plied on my by these Russian people. They are such gracious hosts, they are so eager to treat you as an honored guest and invite you into their meal or party.
We had a 4 hour stopover in the town of Taiga. Zhenya suggested we walk over the railroad tracks and go into town for some coffee or a beer. There was a large contingent of Russian soldiers who agreed to pose for a photo when Zhenya told them I was from “Hollywood.” The weather was quite cold as you can see (14 degrees F).
Alex and Zhenya left early the next morning and were replaced by two men from China. Specifically, they are from Manchuria in China’s far Pacific northeast. They were very curious about me and asked to see my passport. They compared the American passport to their Chinese passports and were very interested in my name, its spelling, my birthdate (age), the style of the passport, and they had all sorts of questions about where I had travelled and about my work.
Both men spoke no English and little Russian, so we had a challenge communicating. But, what Russian I did know went a long way in making the train ride much more enjoyable. The man on the right wrote his name (in Chinese characters and in English; Ma Yun Kun – family name: Ma, first name Yun) in my book and asked for my email. He said that he had a Chinese/English translation program and wanted to stay in touch via email.
Of course, these two guys brought a virtual restaurant and insisted on feeding me for the next 24 hours. They had sausages, pickles, anchovies, noodles, and all sorts of other tasty foods. The only thing that they had forgotten to bring was a knife. They regularly asked me to use my knife to cut their bread and sausages and to open the different food wrappers. When they tried to open a can with my knife, I stopped them and pulled out my Gerber (leatherman) and we used the can opener. They were quite impressed with the leatherman and had not seen one before. Yun opened all of the attachments and looked at each with great interest. When I showed him the diamond blade saw and let him cut beer cans and bottle caps in half; he was quite pleased.
The miles rolled on and on and I saw an endless sea of farm houses and barren fields covered in snow, endless little towns and train stations, and thousands of trees and farm animals. The heat was working quite well, so much so that my drinks were all warm. The two Chinese men and I tried to figure out a way to refrigerate my drinks and we finally settled on some 100mph tape and put the can outside the window. Within 20 minutes, the Pepsi was 1/2 frozen. The total time to chill a can to “cold” was about 12-15 minutes only. The men had a look at my roll of 550 cord rolled up “Ranger” style. They were very impressed with the green cord and were in disbelief when I told them that one strand could hold 220 kilos. They tested this by stringing it between the bunks and standing on it. I explained that if you looped the 550 cord 8 times, you could use it to pull a car.
Again, I felt so guilty with the generous hospitality that I was receiving. These men did not know me at all yet they were sharing all of their food and drink with me. I counted how many times I had been “invited” into the train feast of my fellow passengers. It was at least a half dozen, maybe 7 or 8 times. As I lay in my bed, I wished that there was something that I could do to show my gratitude. Then, I remembered that my leatherman had its own blade; I had two knives and Yun had none.
I climbed up to Yun’s top bunk and presented my knife to him as a gift. He tried to refuse but I insisted telling him that I had two knives and he had none. He finally accepted and then became very happy. He had a big grin and examined it very closely. He opened it again and felt its razor-sharp blade. I bought that knife at a US military PX (post exchange) some time ago. I remember earlier this year Kevin was admiring it and tried to buy it from me. Sorry Kevin, that knife should be in Manchuria by now. I finally felt a little less guilty for all of the wonderful hospitality that I’ve received.
In some of the stops we saw some “interesting” things that seemed worthy of taking the camera out of its case. We saw a nice vintage train that was on display and I always enjoy watching the local vendors selling their food and wares to the train passengers.
Later, I met Anja from Bavaria. She was a few cars down and also travelling alone. So, we decided to team up and travel together for the next 3 days until our paths would take us in different directions. She was 2 months into a 12 month around the world trip. Just like I did, she began in Odessa, Ukraine and studied Russian. However, she had a few years of Russian studies at University and her skills were more advanced than mine. She was able to communicate with most Russians (albeit in a quirky German/Russian accent) and it made my next 3 days of travel a lot easier.
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