Somewhere in Siberia, going to Mongolia (MT +5) (Sat) 15 May 2010

Looks like there’s an advantage to being the only Chinese passenger (as far as I can tell) on a Chinese train.

The Chinese carriage attendants speak no English whatsoever and I was called out just now to do some translating. An elusive lady a few doors down apparently wants her phone back after giving it to the other attendant to charge for her (his shift’s ended now and he’s fast asleep; the current guy on duty has no idea).

I say elusive because in the past four days, I’ve probably only seen her just once. On a ride like this, within the same carriage, believe me, it’s nearly impossible. Jack told me of her existence a while back, but I probably just half believed him. But there she was now, suddenly speaking to me. How she managed to stay in her room 90% of the time, I have no effing clue.

So anyways, doing translation is certainly exciting coz it’s something for me to do, but the advantage is that I get rewarded for it – the attendant gave me a 1.5L bottle of “Nongfu Spring” water for my services! As I said, things that are mostly mundane and cheap in the real world is an enormous windfall on this ride and you can only accept graciously, quietly close your door, and then leap about in excitment! Nevermind that I’ve never heard of Nongfu Spring.

Still going through Siberia. It’s now a vast empty land. No trees. Low grassy lands. Yellowish-pale green. Hills and mountains in the distance.

Then out of nowhere, one single house.

Then, out of nowhere again, a small open truck full of people standing at the back, drives towards the train and then stops. There are no roads.

After a while, a bright white spankingly clean hatchback drives in the opposite direction to the train, along a single dirt track. It’s the only non-dirt-coloured thing I’ve seen out the window for a long time.

Suddenly, we pass a substantially large settlement (not structured like a village, not big enough to be a town?) of brown houses with bright blue windows, a short distance from the train tracks. A man walking a white dog. A woman in a headscarf carrying what looks like a wooden plank.

A small boy runs out of his yard and waves at the train, his bigger sister running close behind. I waved back. My only exchange with these hardy isolated Siberians.

How do they live? Where do they go? What do they do? What sort of future awaits the boy and his sister? All that we complain about at home…we all actually live in luxury.

Four days into the journey, I’m starting feel pretty manky. My hair is getting quite oily.

Moreover, that stench coming from the Russians next door is becoming quite unbearable. They’re now standing in the corridor and have kept their door open. When that happens, I usually hold my breath, close my door and take cover inside!

Seems like I’ve gotten onto good terms with the carriage attendants now – they just gave me a bowl of three Chinese meat buns! I smuggled them into J and V’s room (I dunno, in case the attendants take offense that I’m sharing?!) and we all gobbled them down. Delicious!


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