Crossing Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway: Chapter 5
- Crossing Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway: Chapter 3 of 6
- Crossing Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway
- Crossing Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway: Chapter 5
- Crossing Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway: Chapter 4
- Crossing Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway: Chapter 6
- Crossing Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway: The Final Chapter
The 2 ladies in my compartment were from the north of Lake Baïkal and were travelling to China on their yearly shopping spree to buy cheap clothes for the family. They whispered this to me, for some reason they didn’t want other people on the train to hear, though they told me everyone does this. They said that in China, on the boarder, everything is in Russian and you can pay with Roubles.
As it was early in the morning I wanted to take a nap and pointed to the woman’s pillow to ask her if she knew where the 4th pillow was, as there was one on each bed except mine. She looked under her berth, under her friend’s, I looked in the upper luggage shelf, we all looked and couldn’t find it. We searched and searched and they kept looking in the upper luggage shelf where I couldn’t see where there could possibly be a pillow without them seeing it.
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Finally the 4th passenger in the compartment went to get the Providnitsa who searched again, and I saw a pillow this time when they opened the berth below, but the lady said no no that’s not it so I figured that was somehow not the right pillow. Finally, after the 5 of us searched every tiny space where I felt it was ridiculous to look for a pillow, the Providnitsa lifted my coat and stormed out in a fury; under it was my bed linen package which I knew very well was there, but they all thought that’s what I was looking for. The 3 of us (not the man nor the Providnitsa who both thought I was insane) understood the misunderstanding and started laughing hysterically at the thought of how silly each of us had looked to the other one. The laughing went on for some time and I finally didn’t take my nap. Fortunately I was getting off in a couple of hours, I don’t think I could have faced the Providnitsa again and I wasn’t able to explain the whole story to her.
[Just before Ulan Ude, a young girl who was cleaning the toilet got her toe caught in a metal door and it started bleeding rather badly. I was in the corridor and saw her start to cry, looking lost. I figured the Providnitsa would come up with a first-aid kit, but no, she just ignored her colleague. I pulled out mine, gave the girl a disinfectant tissue and a large band aid. She didn’t know how to open the band aid nor how to use it, so I did it for her. She thanked me very intensely, and I could tell by the look on her face that she thought I was a foreign doctor. I wondered if there was a first aid kit at all on the train.
After this eventful ride, I got off in the town of ULAN UDE – km 5642, MT + 5, which is the region of the Buryats, who are Russian Buddhists. They have totally Asian traits, to me they looked Chinese so it was confusing to hear them all speak Russian.
My cab driver to the hotel was terribly sweet and he asked me if I wanted to go to the monastery, said he would drive me there and back for what seemed a reasonable price. Mainly, I really liked the man and he was the first taxi driver who didn’t play bad Russian pop music in his car. I said Ok, washed up at the hotel and 20 minutes later I was in the front seat next to him and we drove off to Ivolginsky Datsann, the Tibetan Buddhist monastery, the centre of Russian Buddhism, which stands on a vast plain about 40 km from the city.
The landscape was endless, barren, we were really in the middle of nowhere, I felt like I was in a western, and my driver threw coins out the window every time he passed what he told me were Buddhist prayer spots. I don’t know how we did it, but we had the liveliest, most pleasant conversation, I questioned him about being a vegetarian, he mocked me and said it’s too cold, that he eats everything he can come upon animal or not and spent 10 minutes naming all the animals under the sun, from smaller to bigger, and gesturing that he gobbles them up when he has a chance, as I looked up all the names in the dictionary. His sense of humour somehow transpired through our meagre shared vocabulary.
The monastery is a large group of houses and temples and small monuments or simply colourful prayer poles inside a wooden gate. My driver wanted to stay outside, so I wandered through it alone, at sunset, in the freezing cold, walking clockwise as I was told, never turning around nor passing a prayer pole on the left, but I read afterwards that you don’t climb the main stairs to the temple (which I did) unless you’re a monk (which I’m not). A few monks in long red coats gathered here or there, the pastel colours of the houses and pieces of cloth hanging from the trees, what a place at the end of the world! Outside the monastery I bought a pair of camel-hair slippers at the souvenir stand for Augustin and Léa’s future baby.
I was so pleased with my day that I went out to celebrate in a “real” restaurant where the waitress was so impatient that I ordered the first thing on the menu which turned out to be … tongue, ordered something else that looked a bit better but I’ll never know what it was, and finally, finally, managed to have a glass of cold, dry, white wine, which was bliss.
Two Buryat women at the table next to me came up and asked if they could sit with me, wanted to hear where I was from, we talked, they proudly declared me a “feminist”, insisted on paying for my meal and we drank some more. When I declined whatever it was they were drinking they ordered me cranberry juice without insisting for a moment that I drink alcohol with them. They were both called Galina, they walked me back, each holding me by one arm, in their long fur coats, Galina 1 buttoning my coat up for me and putting my hood back on my head each time it slipped off, Galina 2 slightly more drunk giggling away. I told them they made me feel like a princess and they said I was one. In the hotel lobby the night clerk who I called Lurch ‘cause he looked like Lurch looked at me rather
disapprovingly when he saw I was mixing with locals, and drunk locals for that matter.
Ulan Ude boasts the largest Lenin head in the world, and the next day it was snowing hard on top of it. I studied it closely as I was told that the Buryats consider they got their revenge for the years of persecution, as if you look carefully enough Lenin’s eyes seem to be slanted… (thought to me they always seem slanted)
Tags: bed linen, berth, boarder, cheap clothes, linen package, luggage, misunderstanding, nap, roubles, shopping spree, tiny space, toilet, train, travelling to china, ulan ude, young girl