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[See also: [Trans Siberian Index] for other documents related to this story. Transcribed 2002-10-01, Santa Cruz, CA]
September 5, 1982, Jogashima Island, south of Tokyo
In an attempt to finish off my notes about the Trans Siberian train, a few last thoughts.
One thing that made the trip interesting was the other people that were on the train. Most memorable was Mildred, from Canada. She got on in Irkutsk. She was 77 years old as she was quick to point out to anyone new to the conversational group. If you asked her how long she had been traveling she would say, "Oh about since I was 16 years old." And to listen to her stories it was quite believable. She had been everywhere and seen and done everything. On this particular trip, she was flying from Tokyo to day after arrival to Delhi India, then getting up to NEPAL to do a bit of trekking in the mountains and to see off a Canadian Group that was starting a climb of Everest. She kept complaining that she couldn't get enough proper exercise for her legs on this TRAIN. The last night on the boat after the floor show, she took the floor after the show was over with her Vodka glass in hand and requested that the Captain buy her a drink. As the dance band started up to try and provide her an exit cue, she grabbed one of the crew members and proceeded to start the evening's entertainment. We had to lead her from the Bar as it closed that night at 1 AM.
For her next trip she was planning to go around the world as fast as she possibly could to break her own record.
Talk about living life in the fast lane, indeed !
Also in Irkutsk, the TRAVEL groups got on, mostly German but also some French and Belgians. Typical tourists, bitching and complaining about everything. Taking up all the cabins in FIRST CLASS, and all of the time of the tourist restaurant and having loud, late drunken parties, drinking all the champagne available on the train. Well it is one way to travel I guess, but I wonder if they even realized where they were. I have seen these TOURISTS wherever I go and I guess I should pay them some respect because without their money, most of the travel industry wouldn't even exist. But they also ruin every place their charter flights bring them to. Fortunately they were in other cars of the train from us so they didn't spoil the atmosphere too much, except at the stops when they would all pile out with their camers and begin snapping away at the "LOCAL LIFE". I never saw any of them being stopped from taking pictures of the train tracks, stations, bridges, factories, etc... [as I had in Omsk where my film was confiscated.] They would make perfect covers for spies.
Meanwhile, back in "OUR" car, the real travelers, the major change took place in Novosibersk when the small group from TRAILFINDERS got on. They were basically a bunch of Individual travelers who went with this group as that was the way they found to do the trip. Upon arrival in Japan they were all going their separate ways. Their Intourist guide "Erin" was very nice and a source of a lot of good information. This was only her second group to be a leader of and she was having a lot of fun herself as she had never been out this way before either. She was a bit disappointed as in Chabarovsk she had to fly back to Moscow and wasn't able to go with her group to the Ocean. From what I can remember, in their Group was a girl from Switzerland, who had traveled a lot before, taking off about 8 months to go to South America. A young school teacher from Ireland who promised me he will see me in Los Angeles in '84. Now he was only on a short vacation, a few weeks. Being Irish he was always the center of a drinking party every night, lots of vodka and singing. And there was an old English couple who were very nice and interesting to talk to. They travel a lot all the time and must have been just about everywhere. There were a couple of Austrailians that I never had a chance to talk to and a girl from Japan also with this group. Also in Novosibersk a young Danish couple got on, Christian and Helen, they were on their own, starting a half year trip that would take them through Asia & India. They were the source of the story about the food, or lack thereof, in Novosibersk. They explained that it was a 2nd priority city for food deliveries and was lacking in all the basics. They observed that when a new crate of something was set out in a store, the Russians would make a fight out of getting portions thereof, not a pleasant scene to see people fighting over food. Whereas in a city like Chabarovsk, where a lot of tourists go through, it is obviously a 1st priority city for food and supplies. The stores are well stocked with everything, always for appearance sake, to impress the visitors, a very old Russian custom.
The other individual travelers in our car were all on at the start in Moscow. The danish couple that were my roommates, Chris & Hannah, very nice people, he being my age and we both had a lot in common, music and such things, it was nice to talk with them. They were just starting a two year trip around the world, touching a bit all over if possible. He was a journalist so I think they can make money with his writing and thereby extend their trip if desired.
And there was the young German couple, Johannes and Gudrun. They were also doing a round the world trip, in about 7 months. He was typical of some young German kids, very set in his ways and ideas already, but yet naive about many things and although curious about things, not willing to learn about anything that doesn't fit his preset pattern. He was also very dominate over his girlfriend/wife which is also something found in some German kids, she almost never was able to speak in a conversation, and I don't know if she even realized her position. I think their travels will open their eyes a bit about many things.
And there was the young French student, Guillaume, he spoke good English which is unusual to find French people speaking english but it is because he travels. And he once spent a summer in IOWA on a farm in some kind of Exchange program. He told me of finding the microphones in his hotel room in Moscow. He used the black market in Levis to finance his expenses while in Russia. One pair of Levis would sell for 120 to 200 Roubles which is a lot of Roubles, I spent 30 Roubles in ten days there, and 10 of that was for postage of postcards from Chabarovsk. A big meal in a Fancy restaurant in Moscow, with drinks & all would only be about 10 to 15 Roubles, so you would need to party a lot to spend the amount from one sale of Levis as there isn't much else in Russia to spend Roubles on.
There was also a French girl on a short vacation before she had to get back to school, she spoke English well also because of her travels.
There were three French girls traveling together, only two of them spoke English, and they were making the mistake that many people make when traveling with friends. They stuck together in their little threesome and never mixed with anyone else. I guess they were new at traveling and not sure of how it worked. I saw them later in Tokyo at the youth hostel, still in their little group of three. Perhaps some time will help them break out on their own.
And there were two Japanese kids on their way home. One had been studying Russian in Moscow for a year. The other had been traveling in Europe and most recently working in Berlin. He had been away for 2 1/2 years and wasn't too happy about going home, planning to get away as soon as he could. They both helped us all to find a place in the Tokyo youth Hostels upon arrival & went with us on the trains which was a great help as at first sight the train plan looked quite complicated. It turned out later that the trains are quite easy to use in Tokyo.
I almost forgot the other Amerikans beside myself. Brian and Richard, they got on the train in Irkutsk, having flown there from Moscow. Brian was only 19 years old and was doing a quick trip around the world, about 5 weeks, before he started school at BYU in Hawaii. Richard was a friend of Brian's father who decided at the last moment to go along with Brian on this trip. Richard was 46 years old but looked like about 25. They were in the same compartment as Mildred with a guy originally (Bernie) from Czechoslovakia but who now lived in Austrailia as their fourth. Brian was about tired of dragging Richard along and they were both just a bit weird as far as I could tell. But I think they would be rated typical Amerikans. Richard was an ex-Marine and a Reagan supporter. He was also complaining a lot about a mysterious back pain that he claimed was kidney stones, but turned out to be a pulled muscle from some yard work they did one day in Sweden on their mad rush about Europe, 14 countries in 12 days or something ridiculous like that. During the Boat cruise I was put up with Brian and Richard at the same table for meal times, our fourth was an Intourist guide/spy to keep an eye on us shifty Amerikans. Given their Right-wing view of things and my Anarchist slant, we had some wild meal time conversations that I'm sure bewildered this poor lady from Intourist. Brian was writing about this trip for his school newspaper and he said he would put in a comment about me, I hope he sends me a copy of the articles, as I think they would be a lot different from what I saw.
And of course there were the car attendants. Each car had two people to keep it clean and the water hot in the samovar. Their job pattern consisted of two weeks on this train, then a one week break. It wouldn't be an easy job. Hardly any of them spoke any other languages, but always a word or two of English or German, and they would learn a bit more from the tourists on the train. The two young girls in the next car up had a favorite phrase in English that they used a lot "I love you". I guess with the proper people, thats all they would need.
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