Home > Cities traveled > Day 9: The Trans-Siberian railway’s endpoint, my starting point

Day 9: The Trans-Siberian railway’s endpoint, my starting point

April 28th, 2011

My introduction to the Trans-Siberian trains was, in hindsight, a gentle immersion into life aboard a train with strangers, each going their own destinations but spending a few hours or days together. We get to see each other in intimate, beautiful, raw, crude, and ugly situations – each of choosing whether to detach, engage, or just watch; each of us making the most (or least) of the time as it passes. On my couchsurf host, Liz’s, suggestion, I had decided to buy tickets for the platskartny carriage, which can be considered the 3rd class wagon with the least amount of privacy and the most opportunities to meet others. I’m glad I chose the upper bunk in these carriages as it gave me an easy spot to escape to when I just wanted to lay down (not enough head-room to sit up) and enjoy the vantage point.

There are 2 lower bunks and 2 upper bunks and a shared table. Baggage can be stored below the lower bunks or way above the higher bunks. Across the aisle is another set of bunks, 1 lower and 1 upper, with a similar storage shelf way above the upper bunk. This layout seems to be the same for all platskartny carriages in the train lines, though, as I learned later, the comfort and cleanliness varies depending on how old the train line is. The OKEAH (Ocean) train line from Vladivostok to Khabarovsk was extremely clean, comfortable, and quiet. On this trip, it was just Ingrid, Hameed, and me in our compartment and a couple other people two compartments away from where there was a faint smell of alcohol wafting down. Ingrid was from Khabarovsk but going to the university in Vladivostok and studying fashion design. Hameed disappeared overnight but while he was there, he explained with the help of Ingrid, that he was a Russian Kurd, studying oil engineering at the university in Vladivostok. Hameed wanted to “gavareet” in English but was very reluctant to try. He even called his previous English teacher on his cell phone and had her speak to me. Oddly enough, he just wanted me to speak with her and not have her translate anything he may have wanted to say. I tried different ways to get him to talk or act or draw but in the end I just asked him what kind of music he likes and he played some popular kurdish and turkish music artists for me on his phone. He also played a Tajikistani belly dancer video for me.

Ingrid and I spoke in some length, with the aid of her adept sketches, about where I’m from, where I’ve been, where she’s been, and wants to go. Her perspective on the world is so different and fascinating than mine. She was very interested in colors and feelings of cities I’ve been. Try communicating feelings in different languages! She was very interested in the interior design of my home in Los Angeles. I even made a very poor attempt at drawing her my dream house interior. [Note: improve sketching abilities] Even though Ingrid claimed not to speak English well, she was smart, resourceful, and surprisingly well-versed in English literature. She recited part of an Edgar Allan Poe poem for me that even I didn’t know. Ingrid, if you read this, continue to think beyond your physical and geographical boundaries – I’ll look forward to meeting you again.

As the train drew further from Vladivostok, Ingrid pointed out the window with excitement – the sun was setting and sealing with it my warm introduction to Russia and fantastic memories of Vladivostok.

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  1. from SD
    May 1st, 2011 at 04:59 | #1

    It is a very beautiful sun set which gives me a little bit of pathos.
    I think drawing pictures (or sketches) is a universal language to help communicate with people who don’t speak the same language (even with the people from outer space, it might work).
    Gestures also help to communicate with each other.
    And, I think, another universal language could be mathematics….,well, it depends…., but people can communicate without a common language. (^_^)

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