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First Experience on Russian Train

If only there were subtitles...

From Vladivostok to Birobidzhan,
January 1-2nd 2014

In my open compartment were an elderly couple. They seemed to be in tough conversation.

"Houskvousk rousk vousk!!"

"Houskvousk rousk vouskkkk!!!"

On my bunk there was no bedding. But on the upper bunk across me were two rolled mattresses. So I tried to pull one roll of mattress from the across bunk and move it to my side. It was h-e-a-v-y. To make matters worse, the head space on the upper bunk was severely tight. Imagine, such a petite I am, there wasn't enough space for me to sit upright on my bunk. Because I couldn't sit on my bunk, I only had two options which none of them were effective to transfer that heavy load from across my bunk. I could lie down on my bunk and stretch my left hand to pull that rolled mattress. But then my arm would be too short to reach to the bunk across. Moreover, let alone pulling the mattress with one hand, even with both it's h-e-a-v-y . Option two was to sit on tip of my bunk with half my body sticking out. But in that case, as I reach out for the rolled mattress across me, the weight of my body would fall to the front... and the petite me would surely fall off the bunk.

Option three. With my right foot on the step and right hand clutching on the steel horseblock, my left foot dangled in the air for it was too short to step on the step across, and my left hand did all its might to pull the mattress but in vain. Only fifth of the mattress moved from its place. The edge of it dangled in the air from tip of the bunk, just like my left foot.

Within less than 24 hours in Russia, I could tell that Russian men are gentlemen. The most recent example I saw was when a lady had difficulty bringing her suitcase up on the train. It took only a matter of seconds until the gentleman talking with a train crew stopped talking and carried the suitcase for her. Done, he continued his talking. Obviously, the gentleman and the lady weren't acquaintances. Don't get me wrong here. I'm not neglecting the favor of Chinese men I have received in the past. It's just different. In my following days in Russia, I could divine the difference. That's another story. My mattress is still dangling in the air. Now, where are the gentlemen? I pleaded in my mind. The man in my compartment was busy making the bed on the lower bunk. His wife, standing behind him with her hands on her hips cried: "Houskvousk rousk vousk!!" The man, in a lower tone, "Houskvousk rousk vousk!" And then again, "Houskvousk rousk vousk!!"

"Uuuuuugggghhhhhhh....! Uuuuuugggghhhhhhh....! Uuuuuugggghhhhhhh....!" I moaned.

"Houskvousk rousk vousk." I heard the woman again. But, in a much different tone. The next minute, the man raised his hands up and moved the whole mattress to my bunk. Phew. Spasibo.

Pardon the blurriness. I took this while the train was already moving and this is the reflection of the train interior on the window. It's a Platskartny, similar to China's hard sleeper. Nevertheless, I have to say that China's train in general is more comfortable. In China's hard sleeper, there are lower, middle, and upper bunk. On the middle bunk there's enough head space to sit upright. There's also a headlamp that allows one to read when the lights are turned out.

The good thing of Platskartny is below the lower bunk there's a cabin. Lift up the bed and you can store your suitcase and other belongings there. In a blog I read that this method makes belongings kept safer, because if one wants to steel, he has to lift up the bed. That means lifting up the person sitting or sleeping on it. In my opinion, on top of safety matter, it's also about cleanliness. In China, people store luggage in the open space under the lower bunk. So do people push their shoes under. Uhm... China's road are paved smooth but as a matter of fact varnished with... uhm, spittle. Now, these shoes undoubtedly have stepped on the road varnished for a countless time. Push your suitcase in, and then someone pushes his shoes in. Accidentally, unintentionally, his shoes touches the handle of your suitcase. The train arrives at your destination, you pull your suitcase out, and there you get a share of the road varnish. Eeewww! That's yet not the worst case. On my train from Mudanjiang to Suifenhe, a mop used for cleaning the toilet was stored under the bed. The train crew had a bit difficulty pulling it out, because the mop was pushed to the wall by passengers' suitcases. And as he pulled it out, the mop helplessly moped the sides of the suitcases. Phew. In the end I was grateful I didn't get a space for my suitcase under the bunk. In Russia, I don't think they store the toilet's mop inside the cabin under the passenger's bed.

For an additional fee, you can get 2 white sheets, a pillow case, and small towel. Not meant to be yours, of course. I saw some passengers use their own think, bright, and colorful sheets.

Through my neighbors in my compartment, I saw a little more of Russia. As mentioned just now, there was an elderly couple in my compartment. Then the man left and came another woman with a little boy. Conversation between this elderly woman and younger woman were tougher than with the elderly man, probably her husband. Obviously, though gentlemen differs, women are the same anywhere in the world.

"Marinaaaa!! Houskvousk rousk vousk!!" cried the elderly woman.

"Mamaaaa!! Houskvousk rousk vousk!!" replied, probably her daughter.

"Hhhhouskvouskkk rousk vousk houskkkk!!"





I thought I was watching Telenovela without subtitles. I have never liked Telenovela. Not a bit. The speech which was dubbed into Indonesian, sounded very unnatural to me. That was enough to turn me, and the TV, off. Nevertheless, the way I hear "Marinaaa!!" now, sounds EXACTLY like what I heard in Telenovela. "Marinaaa!!" Ah, if only a blog could talk.

Minutes went by. At that time the train had yet not moved. The sky outside turned darker. It reminded me of night. Night reminded me of sleep. Suddenly! Oh, no! Am I going to hear this "Marinaaa!!" - "Mamaaa!!" - "Marinaaa!!" through the night?!?

Wait! You aren't! I sat back straight. No, no, not on my bunk. I sat on the seat by the window in front of the opened compartment. Marina grabbed her hat and pulled it roughly over her head. Indeed, I was like watching a live drama.

"Marinaaaa!! Houskvousk rousk vousk!!" cried the elderly woman.

"Houskvousk rousk vousk!!" Marina was like: "I don't care what you say!!" She pushed her hands into her hand-gloves, and turned away!

"Marinaaaa!!" her Mom called. Marina rushed out instead. Off the train Marina was. Wow. If only there were subtitles...

I got back to Lumia and continued my journal. Not long after, came a young lady who took the lower bunk beneath mine. Her spouse (must be) hugged and kissed her good bye. He got off, the train began to move.

I dreamed through the window. What an interesting country, I thought to myself. Suddenly again! Marina appeared into my sight as if she had just come back on stage. She dropped her plastic bag on the ground and ran alongside our train. I thought she must be running with tears streaming down her face. No she wasn't! She was smiling wide. She waved her hand enthusiastically. Look to the right! I told myself quickly. I was curious how her Mom's reaction was. Oh! Her Mom, too, smiled a broad smile and waved back enthusiastically. Wait, is this another episode of the Telenovela? Marinaaa's mamaaa held her grandson up so he could wave to Marinaaa. If only there were subtitles...

I turned my head back to Marina. She was still running alongside. Hence, going further from her bag laid unattended on the ground. Wow.

You can check out the beginner's guide to train travel in Russia here. There's a better photo of a Platskartny, and it might help you to picture it better when I say I sat on the seat in front of the compartment. There are 2 seats with a table in between in front of the compartment. These 2 seats and 1 table can be transformed into a bed. I decided to sit there until as long as nobody comes to take this berth, or bed. I was so reluctant to lie down on my own upper bunk, unless I was about to sleep. Being 4 hours ahead of Beijing time, I was far from being sleepy. I continued reading Seven Years in Tibet using a battery reading lamp that can be clipped into the book

"Houskvousk rousk vousk!" I heard that again. The elderly woman was on the phone. The voice over the phone could be heard from my seat. Probably, another tough conversation, again.

Then she handed her mobile phone to her grandson. But her grandson shook his head hard. "Houskvousk rousk vousk!" he said while holding another mobile phone. I translated for myself: "Why should I talk through your phone? I have mine!" Ah, now her grandson, too, is upset with her, I said to myself.

Several stops later, when the lights had been turned out, a lady came and sat across me. She looked rather gloomy. I thought she was unhappy because I was sitting on her place whilst she wanted to sleep.

"Do you want to sleep?" I asked.

She looked at me.

"Do you want to sleep?" I repeated, but with my hands beside my face gesturing 'sleep'.

She waved her hand and motioned me to sit back. Then she continued playing with her mobile phone. I continued reading. A few minutes later, she got up, and walked to the toilet. You know what? She left her mobile phone on the table! Wow. When she returned, she didn't seemed that she had forgotten her mobile phone.

"Houskvousk rousk vousk!" Again. But, much louder. I turned my head from my book. I shuddered. Granny held Grandson up and was like wanting to throw Grandson to the upper bunk. Grandson didn't step on the little step beside the bunk and Granny wasn't tall enough to lift Grandson to the upper bunk. I figured out Grandson wasn't too small to step on that little step and get on the bunk by himself. Why doesn't he? Maybe he is scared? Grandson sounded to me like begging Granny not to push him up.

The next scene was more terrifying. Granny carried Grandson to the table between the bunks. With Grandson facing to the front, Granny slammed Grandson repeatedly against the edge of the table. "Houskvousk rousk vousk!! Houskvousk rousk vousk!!"

What's this?? Child abuse in public?? I looked at the lady who took the lower bunk below mine. All the time she had been absorbed with her iPad. But this time she looked up and turned her head to Granny and Grandson. Her look seemed startled, too. But when she caught my look, she instantly returned to her iPad. Regardless of the fact that I'm four hours ahead the time where I used to be, how can I go to sleep in such a situation?? Child abuse is certainty not a good theme to bring one to sleep, is it?

I managed to put my backpack on the head side of my bunk, cover it with my pillow, and laid my shoulders on it. After all that's not too bad a position for reading. I don't remember exactly how it happened, but Grandson was already lying down on the upper bunk across me. Granny sat on the side of her bunk with a little booklet in her hand. I peeped from above into the booklet. There was something like a diagram on it, something like a circle with lines in between and icons at the end of each line. I got goosebumps. It surely must have something to do with religion or belief. Granny appeared silent... because she was chanting.

Meanwhile Grandson laid down with his face towards the wall. I could hear him humming a cheerful song. It seemed like a short but witty song consisting of just one or two lines. Each line ended with something like "Ha Ha". Poor boy, I thought. Being far from Mom and Dad with a mentally ill granny, who else can comfort but me? Ha Ha.

I returned to Tibet. The book, I mean. Tibetans chant a lot also. Leave Granny alone. When my mind was back deep in the Himalayas, "Hooouskvousk rooousk vousk..." again. But this time it was a man's voice and in a cheerful tone. I waited. Hmmm. It's like China! Food and snack vendor.

"Houskvousk rousk vousk!" called Granny. The food seller stopped. "Houskvousk rousk vousk?" Granny looked up to Grandson. Grandson popped his head at the end of his bunk. "Houskvousk rousk vousk." he answered.

Granny took one green package from the food cart. "Houskvousk rousk vousk?" Granny looked up to Gransdon again. Again Grandson answered, "Houskvousk rousk vousk." with a big smile.

The next scene was hard to believe. Granny sat on the side of her bunk next to the table. On the table were two three, maybe more, small colorful packages. Grandson slipped off his bunk like Spiderman. He grabbed one package and sat next to Granny. His feet couldn't touch the floor. So dangling his feet in the air, he said to Granny, "Houskvousk rousk vousk?"

Granny turned her head to him, "Houskvousk rousk vousk." and nyam nyam nyam... her mouth went munching maybe nuts.

Nyam nyam nyam... "Houskvousk rousk vousk?" said Grandson again.

"Houskvousk rousk vousk." answered Granny again.

Isn't Grandson mad or upset after being treated so rough by Granny? I wondered. If it were me, I wouldn't want to sit next to her again no matter how many packages of snack she buys me. "That's you," said a voice inside me. "Ill tempered. This boy is not." Oh, okay. Back to Tibet.

All packages emptied, Grandson returned to his upper bunk. Granny pulled her blanket, ready to sleep. Both grandma and grandson laid down facing the wall. But no, they were not yet to sleep.

"Baba...?" I heard Grandson.

"Agghha." Something like that. For sure, it was in a loving tone.

"Houskvousk rousk vousk," said Grandson.

"Houskvousk rousk vousk," replied Granny.

This thing went on, and on. "Baba...?" "Agghha." "Baba...?" "Agghha." These were the only human voices heard in the train. Everybody else seemed already fast asleep.

I finished another chapter of Seven Years in Tibet. Granny and Grandson were silent. Finally. I figured out, in China, it would be time for bed. So I turned off my battery reading lamp and tugged it in my pouch. Sweet dreams to me.



"Houskvousk rousk vousk?" Grandson's voice.


To my disbelief, Grandson stepped down from his bunk. Now, the child abuse scene is going to be replayed, I warned myself.

But nothing was heard. I waited. Nothing. Silence. I moved sideways and looked down.

Half of Granny's thick shoulder, broad hip, round buttock, and fatty thigh, were hanging out her bunk. Thanks to the table in between the bunks. The table served as a stopper, preventing Granny from falling off to the floor. Between Granny and the wall, peacefully slept Grandson. If only there were subtitles...

Posted by automidori 04:40 Archived in Russia Tagged train russia vladivostok russian_railways birobidzhan Comments (2)

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