Night Train To Khabarovsk
At the start of the trip we were talking about spending the last day in Vladivostok basking in the radiation emanating from the nuclear submarines that may be based here, but on the actual day we decided to go to the Poshta (Post Office) to use the internet facilities there. The rest of the day was spent buying groceries (accomplished by a lot of finger jabbing in the general direction of the things we wanted and nodding or shaking of heads according to what the unfortunate shopkeeper may grab). Nik also had the foresight of bringing a sack of koala bear key rings which he distributed to our host, a babushka with very little grasp of English (...and yet about a grudzillion times better than our grasp of Russian).
We boarded our train, the "Okean" (Ocean) bound for Khabarovsk. In the third class carriage there are four bunk beds. After we occupy three of the bunks we say to each other, 'Let's hope that no one else enters our carriage for the rest of our (10 hour) trip. We need to seriously practise the lingo.' Some deity for pathetic travellers must have been listening for no one else entered our carriage.
The "Okean" sets off. Adios Vladivostok. The train rumbles away from the station with a shudder and we head towards to parts unknown. The view out the window is like the view out of most trains. We see graffitis on walls, people going home from work and dogs running on the other side of the tracks. A man carries a sack of potatoes, maybe for a family feed. Five seconds of a football match. It's like an old family movie taken by a Super 8 camera, shaking slightly, telling only a snippet of a story that doesn't end. Russia is a lot greener than I expect it to be.
Afternoon becomes night. The train stops at a station. Chris, Nik and I are going through our 'Teach Yourself Beginner's Russian' book ("Excuse me. Could you ask a hotel porter to come to our room? There seems to be a dead contortionist in the bath tub.") when the door to our carriage opens suddenly. A young man stands on the other side. Peering once again at his ticket he decides that this indeed is his carriage. He asks us something in Russian. We nod politely. A tired smile crosses his face. Great. None of you gap-toothed morons can speak my language, he's thinking.
Minutes pass. Some form of conversation eventually takes place. Pointing, flipping through our phrase books, grimaces signalling no, nods signalling yes and stick figure drawings establish that Raman is an army man. I mime a rifle shooting an invisible target. He nods. Going to Khabarovsk to...teach? Be taught? Something to do with teachers. Makes sense seeing that the city was founded in 1858 as a military observation post. 'Ya iz Afstrali-i.' we say repeatedly, 'I from Australia.' He nods. Got it. Australian, not Yank. He pulls out a 2 litre plastic bottle of beer and some cards. 'Cards?' he asks.
The game is confusing the hell out of us. Who's go is it? Mine? I put down this card. Raman shakes his head in disapproval. Are you not listening to my instructions? Not that card! This one! Did you want to lose foreign people? We smile. A couple of Raman's army mates duck their head in the door. 'Aloha Raman!' they say in Russian, 'Who are your new friends?'
'They are Australian imbeciles who can't play a simple flippin' card game.' says Raman, or words to that effect.
The carriage now has six people. There is a lot more pointing. Cards thrown angrily at the table. 'How do I lose three games in a frickin' row?' I roar. The others laugh. It's fun to watch people lose! More army guys poke their heads through the door. What's happening here?
A dozen army guys. The corridor is filled with 'em now. Introductions are quickly made. Names are forgotten in succession. Serious drinking has started. Funboy says 'You guys came to Vladivostok from Japan huh? I an uncle in Japan.' His English rocks.
'I'm half Japanese.' I say to them, 'Karate!' I make chopping motions.
'Oooohhhh.' say a half dozen army guys. We're so scared. Kid Carnival laughs and smiles a lot. He takes pictures of the dumb Aussies with Funboy's camera that has an Angelina Jolie wallpaper.
By the time I get back to the carriage with a bottle of vodka the guys are winding down. I show them the drink. Raman groans. 'We've figured out exactly what these guys are.' says Chris, 'They're Russian SAS. They are going to Khabarovsk for officer training.'
'Cool.' I admit as I pour the vodkas for Funboy, Moose (a red-faced guy about 8 ft tall), Goldie (a little guy with a mouthful of gold teeth) and Kid Carnival . Raman politely declines.
'Your friends are thinkers,' says Funboy several drinks later, 'Logic. They logic. But you. You chatty one. Never shut up.'
'I don't even understand the language.'
'This what makes it so funny.' says Funboy. Nik produces his bag of key chains. 'Who wants a koala?'
We crashed out soon after.