My lack of funds means that the use of the comfy couchettes has come to an end. From here it’s Platzkart all the way to Moscow, 80 hours / 5,185km to the West. The Platzkart class is not actually as bad as I thought. Basically it’s a sleeper train without individual compartments – all the beds are open to the corridor. This means that as well as having no privacy, you can also hear everything that’s going on in the carriage right from the comfort of your own bed, a bed which incidentally strikes me as being significantly under 183cm in length. I think anyone walking down the corridor tonight might get a pair of my feet in their face!
However, at half the price of couchette class, this commoner carriage is not to be sniffed at. It has another benefit too – one is forced into making friends quickly! As has been the case here. Next to me is scary Russian granny with dyed red hair who insists that I will understand Russian if she speaks enough of the language to me. I’ve given up with the ya nye panimayu‘s (“I don’t understand”). Instead, I’ve taken the compliment-her-houseplants tack (she’s brought several large cuttings with her which are now sprawled over the table next to my computer), hoping that this will generate protective feelings within her towards me. The more friends I have the better, especially out here.
I’m not the only one she treats like this though. Watching her in conversation with others, I am reminded of a school mistress who, when prompted starts a grand speech that she wrote and rehearsed prior to boarding. Wo betide anyone who dares question her logic; they will be in for a thorough telling off, how could they be so ignorant?!
Next to me is the very nice chap in his 40s who has been kind to me since I first got on, giving me his seat with the table so I can use my laptop. On the opposite side of the corridor is the girl in her early 30s with a stripy red and white top. She seems quite shy, only speaking when spoken too. Granny doesn’t let her go silent for long though, firing questions at her in her continuing bid to establish her authority over everyone within earshot. Oh, and who’s this? We’ve just been joined by the 5th member of our gang. A chap his late 20s with short blonde hair and big feet. He’s brought a pair of plastic sandles with him.
I’m feeling quite emotional today. I know why. It’s because I’ve left the community that had formed at the Baikailer Hostel. I first checked in there about 5 nights ago, and promptly established an emotional relationship with the place and its people. Having Adrian there added to the sense of familiarity and comfort. Knowing that I’d be returning there after my stay on the island I left some belongings in the cupboard, thus reinforcing the sense of that hostel being my home in Siberia. When I returned to the city after the weekend I found another familiar face – Tom, the lawyer-to-be from South-East England, who the night before had also been on the island. And of course, Yulie was there, looking after us all.
This morning I went back to the internet cafe where the staff recognised me and my mac, and then when my 1000 rouble (£20) note was rejected for being a forgery it was time for a trip to see my old friends at the bank around the corner to (successfully) complain. To get to the station I had to take the now familiar Tram No. 1, throwing my 10 roubles at the driver and punching my ticket just like any local. I felt settled, secure, and not at all ready to move on.
Being almost three quarters of the way through my trip home in terms of time I feel that I am almost home in terms of distance too. Of course, the truth is very different. If I look at a world map and locate Irkutsk, the city I’ve just left, I can see that I am not even halfway yet. Indeed, according to the regular distance markers by the side of the track there’s over 5000km between here and Moscow!
Another reason for feeling emotionally mixed up is the intrusion of my UK / Japanese lives into this current consciousness of mine that is only concerned with the present. Whilst FTPing another batch of photos to the TGW server this morning (link) I downloaded the thirty or so emails asking for my attention. Sure, it’s good to receive emails of support, thanks and affection (and I thank those of you who have sent them), but some emails which deal with practical issues connected with my everyday life (whether it be that in the UK or Japan) leave a a sour taste in my mouth. I don’t want to be reminded of those responsibilities I have elsewhere. I just want to be here, now, free to be myself. It makes me fearful to return to the UK – an event that is only 9 days away now.
Anyhow, I feel that I’d better give this seat back to its rightful owner. I’ll write more later from Krasnoyarsk.