Train 4: Irkutsk to Yekaterinburg

52 hours and a redundant number of minutes.

My home for the next 52 hours is this small cabin, the beds are covered in fake brown leather, the walls covered in brown veneer, its somewhat reminiscent of a sauna, although I suspect that I will remain clothed for the duration.

My friend is heading to Krasnoyarsk, at least that’s the reply he gave when I asked “Mosckva?” This place is almost identical to the Chinese cabins, colour aside, although I won’t have any Chinese people to chat to. It’s likely that the conversation of the next few days will be restricted to one word questions and misunderstood answers.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. I read recently the theory of introverts and extroverts and how their social energy comes from being alone and being with others, respectively.

I’m not sure which I am? Is there a middle ground? We shall soon find out.

52 hours to go.


I accidentally got drunk with 3 Russian dudes.

Vitali introduced himself first. He invited me in to share in his chicken, potatoes and fish sandwiches.

He, together with Vladimir, are travelling to Krasnoyarsk for work. They’re metrologists, not meteorologists as I initially thought. They measure the capacity of tanks on river barges, presumably of oil.

We were drinking straight vodka with dinner until Sergei boarded the train. He was the one with the home-brew whiskey, yet he remained the most sober.

Vitali passed out. We went to smoke a cigarette hidden between the two carriages, you could see the track passing below the floor. He simply couldn’t stand up straight. I was concerned he would slip and fall away between the gap in the floor never to be seen again.

Vladimir and I continued to drink. We finished our vodka shortly before we arrived at Zima. We rushed from the tracks to the local store for supplies. I asked for two beers. 600 rubles!? Whats the deal? Until I realised they were four litre plastic bottles. The price was reasonable for eight litres of convenience store beer.

At this stage its 10:30pm. I tapped out. Given the chance I’m sure Vladimir would finish the beer himself, but he understood enough English to understand ‘sleep’ so that’s what I’m doing now.

47 hours to go.


I had a ten hour sleep. That’s not bad. Now there’s only one and a half days left on this train.

I’m feeling good, I’ve had some green tea and a mandarin for breakfast. It’s the first of my food I’ve had to touch on account of being fed quite well last night by my comrades.

The only thing missing is most of my vodka, yet none of my orange juice was touched. I feel I would have brought shame onto my family if I had mixed the two at all last night.

36 hours to go.

I can taste the spring but I cannot yet see it. The naked white bodies of trees want so badly to reach forward with green fingers to touch the sky.

The few that have already, perhaps prematurely, are quite outnumbered; will they make it to summer? Or will Siberia turn the tables once again, by laying down another layer of white before saying goodbye to winter for now?

The grass is no longer oppressed, but it still lays flat, maintaining the shape formed underneath the snow for the last six months.

The only remnants left of winter being the semi-frozen puddles and streams.

32 hours to go.


I was just busted smoking where Vitali showed me last night, hidden between the carriages. I was briefly distracted by a gentleman entering on my right when the conductor snuck up on my left!

She seemed mildly shocked and annoyed but said nothing as I threw my cigarette through the gap between the carriages onto the tracks.

A few minutes after I retreated to my cabin she came past and said something in Russia despite knowing that I wouldn’t understand a word. Fortunately my new friend, Mr Federov, travelling from Krasnoyarsk to Omsk to inspect industrial machines, gave me a brief translation.

“If you want to smoke you need to buy something!”

Its seems a purchase of one of her slightly overpriced products will be considered a kind of soft bribe. I’ll find her shortly to buy something. Maybe she sells cigarettes?

29 hours to go.

We crossed a timezone a few stations back. 11:30am became 10:30am once more. I didn’t notice, the trees didn’t seem to either. At this stage, I barely remember getting on this train. I’m not sure where to get off either, this very well may be my whole life now.

I ate a lunch of pickles, salami, fish roe spread and bread just like yesterday. I drank a glass of beer stored in bottles so big that they may outlast Siberia itself. Now I simply wait for the next stop long enough to have a smoke on the platform.

11 hours to go.


2 days on a train!


I think that I’ve reached my limit. 48 hours in and I’m pretty sure I’ve been here my entire life. I speak fluent Russian now. I drink straight vodka, I’m like a kid with red cordial, except the effect of the vodka is weaker. I simply feel warm; my thoughts and my body.

Comrades and I laugh about the good old days; that time we may have seen a bear at around dusk. It may also have been a large man. Either way it fled from the tracks as this giant metal machine came sailing past.

As I lay in my bed at night I swear this train hovers above the tracks. Maybe, it was just a dream, perhaps I had not quite woken, but my view from the bed of the lower bunk out the window opposite was entirely blue! Not a power-line or a tree, not even a cloud.

I wonder how high a train could fly above this magical forest. I wonder if each carriage had its own levitation device or were they dragged into the air from the front, powered like the head of a uniplegic snake?

Sometimes I think I have reception on my phone but then I remember I don’t have a phone. I don’t need one. I’ve been on this train my whole life.

4 hours to go.

I just watched my third sunset from this train. I’m not sure if it’s been three days or if I’ve circled the Earth thrice.

I wrote a poem to celebrate.

Can one understand you, Trans-Siberian Train?
In you belly so many have grown,
Some grow tired, some insane,
They fear no escape from the Siberian zone.

If I arrive, for it is not yet known,
And I see the end of your metallic lane,
Will it be with a smile or a moan?
It’s still not yet clear what I have gained.

I’m ready to get off now.




24/07/2013 12:26/13:26?

Somehow, the last train ride ended.

We had about an hour and 40 minutes with which we caught a taxi in a circle and get in line for the next.

I’m now reclined on a daytime sleeper. Just before, the train was invaded with uniforms. Those with stern demeanours passed us by; we were thoroughly checked with a smile. He laughed as we pulled random items from our bag, his level of Chinese was about the same as ours.

We had lunch, not inspiring but quite welcome after eating only a banana and 2 Oreos in the last 21 hours.

I’d like to sit and watch those lives speeding past from my window, but I have a bed now. The fan, half a metre from my head, rotates past like a security camera with a cool breath. Each revolution touching me like a hand of sleep, stroking me towards slumber.


14 hours

22/07/2013 18:59

The train from Beijing to Dandong takes 14 hours.

90 minutes in:

We’ve established ourselves in the community. The characters are numerous, varied, yet they all share a common goal. Everyone banded like the Amish tetris masters raising a barn, to organise the luggage.

There are about the same number of people sitting as standing and the same number of standers squatting or lying or stooling.

2013-07-23 19.29.17

We were greeted as foreign friends. “What!? You don’t have seats? Guys, they don’t have seats, give them a hand.” So far, Old Mate behind Alex spent half an hour subtlety removing his shirt, the nice couple to my left have taught us a few tongue twisters and the Big Boss Man has said a lot of stuff, too. I just smiled and nodded.

It’s still early, the sun is yet to set.2013-07-23 21.23.12

310 minutes in:

I’ve watched the moon rise, from my stool in the aisle, I saw it turn from yellow to white. It’s high in the sky now.

I expect the delirium to set in shortly, for now I wearily fend off advances of bored China-men looking for something to amuse them. Blank stares are both effective and efficient.


333 minutes in:

I can feel the delirium, a niggling sensation like a dream you’re trying to remember. You close your eyes, ears, sit still. It seems to be exactly what you need.

I just caught my reflection in the mirror as I smoked a fake Marlboro by the bathroom. There was a lady reclined over two sinks and a piece of cardboard below.

I chuckled to myself, or maybe it was some other sound. No one cared enough to look, either way.

A surreal scene caught my eye, bodies sprawled, clinging to any inch of space, but not in a greedy way. Such innovative and efficient people we’d become.


Will I die on this train? Ridiculous, that’s just the sleepless drug talking. This is some people’s lives, the Beast of Sonder reminded me, he stuck his head from behind the chair a couple of rows back and made a sound like a mix between a lion and a train. I understood. The occupants of the chair seemed unfazed. This is all they’ve known.

He lured me back to my seat and it was only a moment for it to seem like it never happened, a cigarette of a dream.

I feel like a cigarette.china2013-1-41

626 minutes in:

I’m not sure I’ve slept. My eyes were closed for about 140 minutes. That’s for sure. But my brain hasn’t stopped, like the Earth that brings back the sun through this turquoise sky to my left. It’s actually about 4 to 4.

I’m not even certain that 600 minutes out of Beijing I saw a single star. But the distracting Moon rise and over-clocking mind may have blocked it out, filtering out the unnecessary extraterrestrial intrusions.

I had another dream cigarette, the window was cool against my arm as I leant to ease the load. The train rocked a little like a boat would, more than I expected. The basin, now full of water lapped back and forth, teasing the sleeping lady underneath with a cool surprise, maybe a welcome one.

At this stage, the sun is definitely close to the Earth’s rim. My eyes are adjusting but the smog or fog or morning dew restricts the view.

Uncle, to my left, has almost finished his 4 litre bottle of what smells like home-brew. Auntie has disappeared, as they have been doing in intervals, perhaps to sleep in the corridor of the next carriage. Maybe I made her up.

Maybe none of this happened.