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Thursday, April 29, 2004

Both sides of the coin 

now that we spent some days here, so we own this town... and it still remains beautifull, relaxed and fascinating (Especcially relaxing when you enjoy a cappucino in the internet cafe after 3hrs of criss-crossing the city).
BUT we are still in search for the OTHER side of the coin: Where are the negative sides, where's the pressure, hectic, greed, crime - where is the dark side of this society?
Sol already mentioned the book "China wakens", our major ressource in the quest for the dark side. Then Li also gave a more vivid description of the situation here - while bossing us around every once in a while :-)
But from our own experiences, there's very few on this and it needs some reading in between the lines to sense the problems. The only major thing we could wittness is the forcefull aproach towards a beautifull Olympics in 2008: The main north-south axis of the city is plastered with shopping malls, international hotels and the likes. Up to one sudden stop at a crossroads. Crossing the street throws you back in a china of some 10years ago. Ghetto-like houses at the sides of the road, people sitting on the street, even more bikes than in town, and a neverending stream of cars and trucks that pulses in and out of the city...
Riding the bike there was definately an adventure, everybody seems to practice something like "preventive honking" and there's just one lane in each direction.
The dark side about it: This is going to be the area of the Olympic area with all the stadiums etc, so everything is bulldozed down block by block. In order to make space for the athletes and... because you don't want to annoy the foreign tourists with such a view, right?!?
By the Way: Li mentioned, there is a big chance that all chinese non-beijing residents might be restricted from visiting the games, because the organizers want to keep as much space for the foreign tourists as possible...

I see that a country is making a huge effort to change it's international recognition and sure appreciate that. On the other hand I don't see a real need to completely turn a grown city inside out... which is going to happen: The beauty of the place is largly influenced by the smalltown-atmosphere of the downtown area - maximum 2 story houses with little shops, barbers, offices, restaurants all over the place.
Li said, that this area is not life-worthy to young urban chinese any more, since they want to live in a modern apartement in one of the highrises in the outskirts. And everybody likes the idea of a modern downtown district with hundreds of highrises... Hmm, hope that will take a while.

This dark cafe-atmosphere makes me tired: either go for a nappy or hit the rushour on the bike...
We'll go for the latter. And a shower (seperately) plus some beer afterwards... After all, this is still vacation.
Pete leaving the newsroom. More news after the break...


P.S.
... in fact, there are no coins in chinese currency. Bummer.

I want to ride your bi-cycle, BI-CYCLE... 

Pete and I are renting bikes today in a sub-conscious attempt at suicide. Not that this place is like Saigon, but I'm more worried about all the other cut-throat cyclists. Those old ladies on two-wheels look nasty...

Yesterday was a GREAT day, hanging with Ben Brink's friend, Li. She's a media student at Peking U. A sharp wit, Peter and I have started calling her "The Boss." We had a stellar lunch at the mall (go figure), then a walk through one of the "smaller" royal gardens. A stroll around town... time for tea. And Laura Jones on the hi-fi. Then... time for supper. The Boss did a great job of ordering for us (she'd tell you that herself, of course). We have plans for a night out on the town Friday night...

Beijing is stunningly beautiful. Aside from perhaps Vancouver, B.C., I can't think of a more beautiful place than here. Calm (with 100 kazillion people living here???) and very scenic. Perhaps Pete and I have been overly influenced by our last pit-stop in the Gobi Desert, but we both love this place.

Which leads me to this: On the trainride here, I re-read "China Wakes" by 2 NYTimes reporters, one a former News-Register reporter while attending high school in Yamhill!! They were here in Beijing for several years, and won the Pulitzer for their coverage of the student demonstrations @ Tienemen Square.

(I still have to re-read their bios, for it seems too surreal. I met the reporter, Nick Kristoff, and his wife and colleague, Sheryl, while they were visiting Linfield and asked him if his experience @ the N-R later helped him win the Pulitizer. He laughed!)

Together they were able to crack the facade of China and Beijing. In 1988, while Beijing was trying to land the '96 Olympics, they cleaned up the city. And not just street sweepers. They built facades to cover up the run-down areas of town. One story they reported about was of this mentally-retarded man who was taken away by the police for fears his appearance may spook the Olympic selection committee, since his parent's home, where he lived, was "near" the route that the committee was to take. The cops beat him to death. A neighborhood governor, an "ordinary" old lady was the one who turned him in to the higher authorities.

So while this place seems so enchanting and spectacular, the events detailed in "China Wakes" are a sober reminder of the tragic and horrific backstories that have created this environment.

And on a tangent, I can post this blog, but can't read it once posted: the site is censored here in China.

One last note: I really wanted to share "China Wakes" with Li, since she's studying media and plans a career in the field. But we both agreed over dinner that the material would be "too dangerous" for her to have in her possession.

Really weird stuff here.

Alright, time for the Tour de Beijing...

Sol

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Gabi und die Endstation 

... oder war's die Gobi?

Sol schlaeft noch und ich sitz hier am Hotelrechner, der mir gerade meinen gesamten Eintrag gekillt hat - und versuch mich jetzt nochmal auf deutsch.

Wir haben UB am Sonntag morgen verlassen - und zwar diesmal in der Koenigsklasse, dem Zug Nr.4 von Moskau nach Peking. Der war zwar so teuer wie das ganze Stueck Moskau-Irkutsk, aber hat auch was geboten: Erste Klasse, Zweierabteile, Halbpension... Fast schon dekadent, genauso wie die Duschkabine, die wir uns mit den Nachbarn teilten. Wir haben drauf verzichtet und uns lieber drauf gefreut, die Runderneuerung im Hotel zu zelebrieren.

Der Zug fuehrte durch die besagte Gobi mit Highlights wie Sand, Huegeln, Sandsturm, Kamelen, Pferden, Sandhosen und Telefonleitungsmasten. Dann abends die Grenze nach China - noch laenger und laestiger als in die Mongolei, da in stroemendem Regen.
Die Schmalspurchinesen haben andere Gleisabstaende, daher wird der ganze Zug einem Reifenwechsel unterzogen:
Rein in eine superlange Halle, Wagen aufbocken, alle Raeder drunter raus, die Sommerreifen drunter und kommen lassen... Feddich. Das ganze findet im grellen Scheinwerferlicht unter der Aufsicht von strengen Offiziellen mit langen dunklen Ledermaenteln statt - fuer merkwuerdige Assoziationen wird keine Haftung uebernommen.

Dann noch schnell (ca 100km/h) durch halb China, an Teilen DER Mauer vorbei und wir sind in Peking. Tuer auf. Alle raus. Tuer zu.
Ende.
Das zelebrative Element wird also als Eigenleistung gefordert. Naja, wenn wir eins gelernt haben... also feiern wir, erst mit Rasierer und Dusche, dann mit Staebchen und Bier. Und als Kroenung dann eine Stunde Fuesse kneten lassen! Da schwebt es sich leicht ins Hotelbett :-)

Und wie Peking so ist?
Ueberraschend entspannt (evtl sogar heimtueckisch???). Die 13-Mio Metropole ist weniger hektisch als Muenchen oder Frankfurt. Alle sind freundlich und entspannt und radfahren ist die Art der Fortbewegung. Fahrradspuren sind 1,5 mal so breit wie die Autospuren und dort wird nicht gerast wie aufm Isar-Radweg, Cruising ist angesagt... und am besten in Flip-Flops und mit Handy am Ohr.
Wie der Taxifahrer im dritten Stau da immer noch gelassen bleibt (obwohl er per Strecke bezahlt wird!)???
Muss wohl echt an Tai Chi und co liegen. Finden wir raus.

Zurueck in die angeschlossenen Funkhaeuser.
Peter

Monday, April 26, 2004

I LOVE KENNY G! 

Ok, maybe that's an exaggeration. Hell, it's a flat out LIE! But me and Pete just got a sweet-ass massage (on our ass) at this parlor here in Beijing, and in the background on the sound system was Mr. G. Very relaxing and just the ticket following our adventures on the TransSib. The massage girls were giggling a lot. Would have paid a couple yuan to know what they were saying. Thought about calling Angie for help. Maybe I'll bring along a tape recorder next time...

So, yes. We're done with the trains. This 2-day leg was pretty pain free. And I've got to say that the Chinese restaurant car was a major step up above the Mongolian one. Peter and I were "forced" to buy 1st class tickets ($140 each) because that's all they had left. The other option was to take a train to the Chinese border and then find a bus. But fortune favored the foolish and we got our tickets at the last second when apparently something freed up.

When we arrived in Beijing, it was somewhat anti-climatic. No marching band, no cheering fans. Where the hell were you guys?? We just walked away from the train and into this stellar city. Wow, this place is cool. Much more inviting than the banks and shopping malls known collectively as Hong Kong. Trees, businesses, crazy cyclists and drivers (though nothing compares with Saigon!). Peter and I were greeted by a traffic cop who wanted to know if I knew who Yao Ming was. And then he wished us in English, "Have a great visit."

We took a chance and landed a hotel not far from the Forbidden City. A sweet courtyard, HOT water and 26 varieties of Chinese TV (CCTV). AND, ESPN. Watched some of the T'wolves-Nuggets Game 3 (dubbed in Chinese) as Pete shaved his beard and showered. Don't worry folks, he still has that silly growth on his chin. I shaved myself... it took some effort. We hadn't shaved since Moscow, after some stupid, "manly" pact. Later, while pounding the pavement, I swung by a (ladies??) barbershop and got a haircut. A young child there was captivated by our appearance (that sounds odd, huh?). All the pampering today felt good. Hell, it feels GREAT.

After weeks of E. European food, it ROCKS to eat Chinese food again. And it's not like you have to go far to find a stellar place. (thank God for picture book menus) This place is a bit evil because everywhere you turn, there's a Chinese restaurant that smells GREAT. Can't wait for breakfast.

Tomorrow, the plan is to rent bicycles and tour the city. I have also contacted two friends of Ben Brink's while in Mongolia and we hope to hook up for tea and/or a meal.

OK, they just turned out the lights here at this Internet cafe. Time to split.

More later from B-town!
Sol



Friday, April 23, 2004

Cell phones and "Gebetsmuehlen" 

We are in Ulan Bataar now, 800.000 people capital of Mongolia. The train trip was long, due to an average speed of 50km/h and a 6hour stop at the border... the customs people really take their time. At least that was a good way to get a little bit more communication with our Provodnitsas and the other travellers.
But in generall, communication gets more difficult. That summited in a 1h search for our hotel in a downtown center of one square kilometer... Some major inquiery and an english-speaking local finally brought the solution: the place does not exist any more.
Best thing today: The monastery - amazing scenery and never shown on a picture, since they're prohibited...
But a lot of people working the prayer mills, even while talking on the mobile phone :-)

More tomorrow...
Pete

Chinggis Khan Beer with Brad Pitt 

Evening from Ulaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaatar, Mongolia. Just a few minutes before me and Pete proudly shut down this Internet Juke Joint!

After a peaceful 2 night trip from Irkutsk to "UB", we arrived at the crack of dawn this morning at the train station to a chorus of taxi drivers singing for our lovings (and tagrog=money). We huffed it for over an hour looking for "our" chosen hotel (selected from Lonely Planet). Well, it no longer exists. That explains all the walking in circles...

After dumping our stuff at a "western hotel", we walked to the Buddhist Temple at the top of the hill. Spectacular! Serene, very soothing. We hung out for awhile and I made a couple interesting photos. Both Petey and I were stunned by this HUGE ASSED 25-meter-high gold (?) statue in one temple. Kind of scary. Created some serious vertigo.

I took a "nappy nap" while Peter walked around a bit. He returned to Hotel GenEx and crashed himself for a couple hours, or more. A bit gone, we decided to choose this simple restuarant near our hotel, which was packed with folks. Turns out, it was packed with RUSSIANS! And when you get more than 2 together, than there is tons of drunk dancing. Yep, they did "the train" around the banquet dinner table. Made for a fun(ny) photo. One Russian guy was fascinated by our English speaking abilities and wanted me and the Brad Pitt look-alike to join the fun(?). We navigated that scene pretty smoothly, escaping quickly after dessert.

A short walk around UB and we decided to call it a night. One more night to explore UB before leaving for Beijing on Sunday.

Will need help in China with this blog (TJ, I'll be in touch), because this site is censored in Red China. And you know how nasty it gets when you mix an American with a German...

All for now!
Sol

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Strippers in Siberia?? 

Strange how average days while traveling in bizarre places usually turn into something spectacular, or at least unusual.

So, after a quick walk around Irkustsk yesterday afternoon, and then a bite at a cheesy pizzeria, we decided to call it a night. Me, Peter and this woman, Jo, from Edinburgh we bumped into, were all still fried from the train ride. We all felt a little light-headed (more than normal) and spacey.

But while buying some water, pivo/beer and snacks on the way back to the hotel, we were approached by a local girl who wanted to speak English with us. Her name starts with an "N" - it was something pretty, too. But I'm horrible with names, let alone foreign ones.

N is 19, Eurasian, is taking French, English and German, and desperately wants to move to America. She's going to Moscow next week for a work visa, wants to work for 4 months in McDonalds in Virginia for $5.75. Her English was pretty solid, especially for here.

She and her guy friend took us to a local dive bar, where we had some drinks and gained a 2nd wind. Guys there, though, were calling her a whore for hanging out with us. See a pattern??

Anyway, we then took a cab to Titantik Klub, the main disco open after hours. The security there had us check in our cameras and bags. Turns out there was a stripper there that night, no photos. Sorry Boyd. Wasn't much of a show, a single song performance. Funny though watching the guys lined up drooling in the dim light of the tiny disco.

Peter and Jo had a few drinks, combination of beer and vodka, of course. I decided to split a little early (2 a.m.) for the hotel. Tired, but also a little wary of N's program, which was getting clingy and dramatic. She wanted us to hang out tonight, but Peter and I are taking the 8:30 p.m. train to Ulan Bataar today.

So, Irkustsk is an interesting, little town. Lots of wooded buildings with sweet windows and doors. A bit run down (and dirty), though. Of course, there's a healthy combination of Russian Ladas and German SUV's. (Russian mafiaso??)

This town was were many intellectual revolutionaries were sent off in exile in the mid 1800's. They created schools, theatre, arts, etc. So while we may not necessarily see it during our 36 hours here, this is considered a cultural center, the Paris of Siberia. Tres bien.

Am having a problem mentally preparing for this train ride. After 5 days of ramen and instant potatoes, it's hard to look at that again. And we've read that Mongolia has a lot of mystery meat and fat and dairy products with various levels of sour tastes. Nummy.

Bon appetit! And more from Mongolia.

Cheers!
Sol

Additional info and comments on Sol's 

We decided to take different roles in this report in order to get out of the internet-dungeon and into the bright sunshine of irkutsk as quick as possible.

First of all, N had a name somewhat like "Nazi"... a little confusing to me. Somewhat also confusing was the security procedure that was undertaken on us when we tried to enter a club last night: it's about the same level as if you were flying into isreal... and as always in such cases: finally in there, we had to realize that the spot was not sooo cool after all. but we were safe - they even took my tube of Pringle's and the bottle of water to the safe?!?

Oh, and Sol made me write this quasi-"apocalypse-now" statement from this morning down: I like the smell of Pringle's in the morning.
In fact the statement came up after we woke up to weird shaking of the whole building due to a construction site and some very loud Wagner-esque violinplay from the appartment next to us... That sure starts some weird thinking when applied to a slight hangover.

Hmm, what else?
Cardrivers that go around the corner as if they were on a downhill-skiing contest: looking for the perfect line... Pedestrians? Oh they are gonna jump aside!
Then I ask myself if between all these Ladas and co it is really usefull to own a AudiTT convertible in sibiria?

Overall I like the city and would like to explore some more - and some trekking lake Baikal would be nice after all that sitting on the train. But we're heading for the next train direction Ulan Bataar. 30h again... I'll never complain about late trains or full compartments in Germany again!
And there's a border to be crossed... let's see how detailed their inspection is going to be +autsch+

To sum up, one interesting experience is chasing the other and... the trip is just beginning!
We better get some last euro-like pizza befor things will become really strange in Mongolia...

So, weiterschaffen :-)
Pete


Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Sibiria finally... 

After 5 days in prison we got to Irkutsk this morning - after 5 days on a train that stops about every two hours for 20 minutes...
But from the beginning:
Last weeks thursday was the final night of our stay in Moscow. Banja was a great starter and led us completely relaxed into a great evening.
We hooked up with our russian connection to get a kind of tour around the russian victory-park. They had also done their best to recover from tuesday night's adventure - even though they had to work the next morning... But that tuesday turned out to be only somewhat of an appetizer :-). Just as boredom took over, a heavy rainshower completely soaked us in minutes (actually the only heavyu rain so far)... great! just in the right time to make us leave this touristic sight and experience some of the more vivid Moscow nightlife :-)

Our place for the evening was a uzbekistan restaurant and we warmed up on vodka with mushrooms (it's great, in fact better than tequila with lemon etc). To give us the full circle on the hooker-thing, this time it was our three ladies, that were mistaken for prostitutes because of hanging out with the two foreigners (one of which happens to be American of which we already heard that they are so powerfull and strong...). Thruth was more somewhat like them being positively independant women: Payed for their stuff by themselfes and in some situations more or less took care of the two dummy strangers.
That prostitute-aspect was the only negative point in an evening that lead us to a "democratic" nightclub afterwards - and then the other negative point was that Elena, state-official and one of our hosts, would find her boyfriend in that club with another girl... stupid him!
The dancing was great, although I think I may have gone a little bit beyond the limits... The evening ended with a good amount of beer, too much cigarettes, a heartly goodbye to the 3 girls, a quick hello to some french guy with a monster-afro and a taxi ride home that exceeded "fear and loathing in Las Vegas".

Friday was spent on getting up, packed, to the station and on the train. We once again wittnessed great help from an english-speaking girl because the stupid tourists were not able find the track on their own... on the other hand it's just more of a nice travel experience to get some pretty local's help.

The train (and even the trainstation) are different from Moscow in that everything is pretty simple and more or less has a certain army-functional look to it... But great people> Marina, our PROVODNITSA for the next days welcomed us with a warm-hearted smile, showing golden teeth on each side of the mouth :-)
It's like this: You have the train with about 20 wagons (including a restaurant car which is connected to bad memories > see Sol's part). The wagon (ours, we used second class, which was ok) has 9 compartments, each with 4 beds, 2 on each side of the compartment. There's 2 toilets (I am purpously not using the word bathroom, that'd be too much), one at each end, a Samowar (for hot water) and the provodnitsa's office with a lot of control buttons that enable them to control literally everything in that cellblock. We were the lucky ones who got the only 2-bed room directly besides the provodnitsas.

Life on the train consists of eating, drinking, talking, sleeping, (some play cards...) or just lethargically staring outside. You'll go through all of these states... exept the cards... what you will be doing the MOST on the train that crosses some 4500km in still-snowy landscapes with temperatures of around zero in mid-april is... sweat!
For some reason people in sibiria have the idea that it is comfortable to spend the day (and especcially the night in that little room with your door locked) at more than 28 Celsius. In fact this is done by either shovelling coal in an old oven or just by throwing our garbage (plastic bottles etc) in there... Especcially in the late evening the started working that oven like berserks and made you stick to your blankets.
Our reaction: We would wear shorts all day and wait for the little stops to hop off and walk around on the cold platform... ok, unusual, you say? But on that train -in that early season- foreigners will be recognized anyway from a 100m distance.
In fact, we just met a scottish woman when we crossed the bridge to the city-center... by first seeing someone with a huge backpack from a 100m distance: must be a tourist...

Still a lot of people tried to communicate with us or answered our less-than-basic russian phrases.
After my glorious poker-game (that I will at least use as a worst case example on my seminar on "decision making") we did not have one single situation again involving people trying to rip us off - and when saying this I do of course not consider that some vendor would maybe ask for a slightly higher prize, but that's ok here anyway.

What else was there on a 5-day trip?
Tons!
Relaxed hanging around, Sol's mega-sleep sessions, his HBO-movie remakes, the weird board-radio that allows the provodnitsa to bring controlled amounts of stimulation to all listeners (with a mixture of Frank Sinatra, Strauss, some russian stuff and funky 80s pieces like "vamos a la playa" >in Sibiria).
Then Nina, the english-speaking passenger, former dancer and now a student that for some reason aims at working at the FBI later on. She was an interesting insight on russian cultural values etc.
The russian army guys, one of em was actally wearing an FBI shirt that had the subtitle "Female Body Inspector" and was trying to make out with the provodnitsa... poor boy! The others only got heavily drunk on vodka.
Freakin out on that OUTKAST-song with sol in that heated cell at night "what is cooler than cold? Icecold! Shake it like a Polaroid picture!"
Meeting impressivley nice people and discovering the beauty of Sibiria on a sunshiny day.

More later!
Do Swidanja

Hey fellas! What's cooler than being cool?? Si-ber-ia! 

Ok, Peter just agreed that I'm going to tell the tale about our train ride. Still feeling a little punchy after being on the train for 5 days. Took a shower this afternoon, changed the anti-bacterial underwear and feel like a million rubles here in Irkutsk, Russia/Siberia.

Two of the ladies we hung out with in Moscow were named Elena and Marina. Our two provodnistas/cabin ladies were named Elena and Marina. Freaked us out a little bit, especially since Peter has a thing about women with the same name, Beate #1 and #2, etc. We referred to them, of course, as Elena #1 for our Moscow friend and Elena #2 for our provodnista and the same for Marina.

These women have POWER! (Think Soup Nazi with a smile) They provide food and water (at a modest price) at the mini kiosk. Plus, they are in charge of shovelling coal into the furnace. It easily got to 85 degrees in the cabin. We tried to slow them down, but to no avail. During our brief stops along the way, I'd walk in my OSU FB tee and shorts and Tevas onto the platform to cool down, a definite scene stopper in Siberia.

Our trip started on Friday afternoon. Saturday morning at about 8 or 9 a.m., we met this friendly guy who wanted to speak English, smoke cigarettes and discuss what kind of cars we had. (His wife has a Honda Civic, so he approved of me, but was easily more impressed by Peter's new work vehicle, a BMW.

We passed on the cigs (and beer), but ended up playing poker in the restaurant car over instant coffee. (the beer was looking tempting after tasting the kafe) Kind of boring, but the guy was friendly and he brought in a couple guys into the action. They looked like novice card players and our guy was explaining the game. Out of nowhere, money started being thrown down in this game with 2 cards we hadn't played before and didn't quite understand. 5 rubles, then 100 ($4). I had a couple aces, but I didn't like the tone of the game and wasn't into the betting, so I folded. And our guy shook my hand, was impressed I guess. Whatever. On Peter's next turn, he had to ante $20 and does. Turns out he has 2 aces, too. Hm. Next thing you know, the ante is $100. Peter is confident because of his hand. I'm skeptical because the game didn't quite make sense and we went from almost playing "go fish" to high stakes poker.

I lent him $40 to cover his end, but then we noticed that this first guy we met was holding the money in his hand. Peter and another guy were the only 2 left. The other guy throws down $200 US cash. WHAT??? But then he confides that he only has 2 tens. So, if Peter matches the ante, the pot is his.

We're trying to figure out the rules at the wrong point in this game. The guys went from friendly and outgoing to serious pricks. I went back to our cabin to talk with Marina #2 and Nina, a girl who spoke decent enough English.

"Say goodbye to your money," she said. "And I'd check your cabin to see if anything was missing. I'm sure there is."

Turns out, this group of guys boarded the train looking for us. These "new guys" in the restaurant car were his buds. What's weird is how easily we walked into this con game.

Thankfully, provodnista Elena #2 had locked our cabin behind us. She knew what was up. Too bad nobody told us until afterwards. Whatever. Everything was safe, cameras, iPod, etc. I went back to the restaurant car to tell Peter to walk away from the game, to stop trying to get our money back. It was useless.

Within a couple minutes, our train stopped at the next stop and we saw the guys hop off together. I gave them the American Bird, but they were happy enough with their little score to care. We (PETER) came across as gullible tourists, but it easily broke the ice in the train car for the rest of our long-assed trip.

It was a weird way to start the train trek, but it turned out alright. We quickly laughed about it. Things could have been so much worse and Peter plans to use that experience in his "decision-making seminar" when he returns. Judy, is gambling a tax write-off?

The train trip itself was an interesting experience, a day or two longer than I expected. Our compartment was to ourselves, so more privacy with the farting, etc. Don't want to commit some Russian faux-pas. The food options turned into tea, instant mashed potatoes and ramen. Sometimes, we'd get some bread, cheese and fruit along the way. There were many women selling food at most stops. Smoked herring anyone?

At first, the scenery was pretty drab and depressing. Many of the villages outside of Moscow were completely deserted. Others looked that they should have been. The final day here to Irkurtsk was pretty and the sun was out. The wooden buildings were more colorful and kept up well.

Somewhat like the banja/sauna experience in Moscow, this train trip helped clear the mind and soul. Not much to do on the train, especially since we avoided the beer most of the time. And playing cards didn't seem like that much fun. Peter and I talked a bunch, of course, and tried to keep each other sane. The provodnistas provided some entertainment. Felt weird to say goodbye to everyone this morning.

Now in Irkurtsk, Peter and I are trying to figure out the rest of our time here in Russia. Will likely split for Ulaan Batar, Mongolia either tomorrow or the next day. That should be a really odd scene. Can't wait!


That's it for now. Signing off from Siberia,
I'm S.O.L.

PS I won't to go on the record: Peter is a FAB dancer. Our last night in M-town, he was a star and made many friends with his energy, style and "grace." Where the fuck was a video camera???

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Ready for more! 

Alright, after a full day of doing pretty much nothing (esp. beer and cigs), Peter and I are at full-strength heading into our final evening in Moscow. We're going soon to the local "banja" or bathhouse. Two hours of soaking. Then a message. All for $20, and that's considered high here. Our Russian "mama" at the b&b is stunned we'd be willing to pay such a high price.

Tonight, we're hooking up, so to speaking, with our lady friends from Tues. night. I imagine there might be a piwa (beer) or 2 in our future.

Tomorrow afternoon, we leave for Lake Baikal. That's 4 days on the train. We'll be stopping along the way for local food, etc. I really can't wait!

So, this might be it for a few days, unless we splurge at this Internet cafe before leaving. Hope to have some funny stories to share soon.

Sol

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Me and the hooker and the illegal alien 

I guess I'll pick up where Peter left off before we got cut out of this Internet Cafe...

After taking pix at the Kremlin and Red Square, we toured the surreal shopping mall there. Felt like Milan or Paris. Lenin is no doubt rolling over in his grave across the square...

We split that scene and wound up at a sports bar. A few (too many) drinks and smokes later, this chick, Helena, sat down next to us and started flirting with me, and Peter some. But it was obvious she preferred Americans, "so strong and powerful." When I asked her what she did for a living, she smiled and said "You know, you understand." Yep. Momma didn't raise no fools. Peter split for the WC ... in the wrong direction. And he joined the table of ladies behind us, who were dying with laughter over our predicament. After getting bored with Helena, I told her I did not pay for sex. Women pay ME! (laugh all you want, dear friends...) Turns out Helena was also trying to get us to pay for her food and drinks because her credit card failed. She wandered from table to table looking for other "friends" without luck. In the end, I felt sorry for her.

We ended up staying for another few hours with our new friends. Peter and I easily had 10 beers each last night. Plus I had 3 shots of vodka with a drunk police officer who was trying to show who the boss was.

We're joining the ladies again tonight, but by looking in the mirror and at Peter's face, I can't imagine drinking any more beer...

Running out of time, more later from Russia.

Lovins,
Sol


...time is running  

we just get kicked out... Sol is about to rewrite the two pages of text that he just wasnt able to send befor system shutdown...
In short: Moscow is amazing, especcially now that I am as legal as a tourist can get in this country. Scared me a bit on Monday because there is a lot of police and passport controls in public places.

The hooker story is in Sol's text. The best thing about it: Everbody in the place congratulated us for not making any deals with her...
We' re soon about to get kicked out again... So bye for now.

Oh, one more> Traintickets to Irkutsk are 200 Dollars in a 2nd class 2bed compartment! A rather fair price for a 5day traintrip!

Gruss vom Alprausch-Pete

Legal matters & Hookers 

Monday night. When we talk about registration with our landlord, I realize that important stamps are missing in my passport... I am an illegal alien.
So Tuesday morning brings another funky METRO- and trainride to the airport. After some 20min of discussion and taking my passport away to various offices, I get it back with the needed stamp. At least one person is able to speak english. Or something like that.
Happy as I am in that Situation, calling Sol -who cared about transsib tickets in the meantime- is my next goal.
Buy a phonecard...find a phone...insert card...dial Nr. All easy. Then someone picks up the phone... but cant hear me. It takes another call to find out that you need to press an extra button if you want to talk - maybe listening only is cheaper???

The rest of Tuesday was great... and we got our first

Aliens and Hookers 

Turns out I was in Moscow making travel plans with an illegal alien. Peter, somehow despite all the crazy paperwork, permission slips from parents, visas, etc., never got his passport stamped when he entered Moscow by plane. Completely unheard of here. Our host "daddy" was stunned, and worried. But, Peter went yesterday to get his stamp without incident and was not sent off early to Siberia.

Weird way to start a day that nearly ended with a hooker. But I'm getting ahead of myself. We went to the Red Square and made some pictures during incredible light as the sun was setting. We toured the shopping mall at the Kremlin, fucking bizarre like Italy or Paris. We ditched that scene and wound up in a sports bar with Russian hockey jerseys posted everywhere. Sat down, had a few beers (and smokes). Then this chick squeezed in next to me and started flirting with me and Peter. "Oh, how I LOVE America, people are so powerful and strong." She made it pretty clear what her line of "business" is and said it was worth it. Peter made a smart call and excused himself to the bathroom ... in the wrong direction. Sat next to a few women that were laughing at our scenario. When "Helena" left for the bathroom, I joined Peter and the ladies. When the hooker returned, I explained that I don't pay for sex. Women pay me! (ok, laugh all you want...) Had a weird run in with a drunken police officer that was threatening us with troubles, but his buddy just smiled and said "No problems." I joined them for 3 hits of vodka, which may explain why I feel so nasty right now...

We are going to join those ladies this evening, but I can't imagine consuming another drink. Peter is worse off than me and today we're wandering around some more, looking at the scenes and avoiding the hookers... (thanks, Finch, for your advice)

Sol

Monday, April 12, 2004

Sauber gelandet 

Kurzen Gruss ausm Internetcafe in Moskau. Super Wetter und eine Stadt, die umhaut.
Sp'ter mehr...
P.

Sandstorm and Open Drunkedness in Moscow 

Alright, sitting with Peter here at some swanky cafe after a FUN first day in Moscow, he's having a fun(ny) conversation with the folks here about his mystery order. Picked Peter up @ the airport this morning after an adventurous trip on the Metro. Thank God for English speaking Russians. Spaceba!

After finding our b & b room (in a sweaty stooper) we went back to downtown, Red Square and proceded to... get drunk. Just like pretty much everyone else here. And yes, we're still drunk. EVERYONE is walking the streets with open beer bottles, women, men, children, dogs. Got some fun pix of a drunk chick being pushed in a shopping cart by a fellow drunk. Let's just say if the Russian police were on top of it, they'd have issued them DUII's.

Found the BEST kebab EVER, in my opinion. Great w/ 6 percent alcoholic beer x2. Walked the tourist/Vegas-esque strip (we spotted strip clubs, Boyd) and Peter bought a black Russian "fur" hat for $10 USD. No doubt a staple in upcoming photos.

There is so much to wonder about and stare at here. Feel like a pre-schooler again, trying to learn a new ALPHABET. Pretty fucked up, but we gain major satisfaction when we figure out that some Scrabbled Alphabet Sign says BEER or CAFE. The "XXX" speaks for itself...

Alright, time for Petey.

Sol

Sunday, April 11, 2004

bureaucracy in detail 

sol, after homestay is fixed I now found out about the registration-pandamonium. Maybe you happen to find a lawyer on the bus :-)

Here it is:
>>
Specifically, if you're staying in an apartment, your landlord (the owner of the apartment) should write a special letter where he or she agrees to have you registered temporarily in his or her apartment. You can download a sample of the Landlord Letter here (in Russian with a translation in English - Rich Text format). The letter should be then given to the travel agency that issued your invitation, so that they can register your visa. Sometimes, the visa can be registered at the travel agency's office without such letter (please, check with the agency that issues your visa support - invitation letter)

IMPORTANT: As of January 2004 ONLY for foreigners staying in private apartments in Moscow in addition to the actual passport and visa necessary for visa registration, it is necessary to provide:
1) Registration Application Form completed and signed by the foreign citizen (your visa support agency should help you to fill it in)
2) Migration card (with an entry stamp)
3) A permission from landowner for a foreign citizen to stay and get registered in his/her apartment. Permission should be signed by all other family members of the full legal age, who reside and are registered in the apartment. Permission should be authorized by the passport office of local DEZ or REU.
You should be able to get all these papers from your visa support agency or landlord.
<<

Enough fear spread. How about eggs? Found any?
See you tomorrow.
Wasche Sdrowje.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

two more nights... 

just found a nice map of the domodedowo airport aera, should be easy to find together there. coming from the city i guess you would arrive at the aeroport-plattform...

no news on the hotel situation yet, but i think that HOFA will be our choice.

packing is starting slowly and i am already sure to forget something!?
enjoy the bus :-)

Sabas 

I forgot to post this link, pretty funny and odd experience on my 2nd day in Lithuania:

http://www.sportsshooter.com/funpix_view.html?id=999


Bumped into one of Sabonis' teammates just now here at the Internet Cafe checking the message boards on European basketball. We're hooking up for lunch in a few minutes after I post this.

More from Moscow.
Sol


Friday, April 09, 2004

Alus=Pivo=Piwo=Beer 

Ok, so the fun really began Tuesday night after I bought a round of drinks for a couple 18 year old ladies. Or maybe they were 17. That's what their friend was saying. 17, 18, 19. No matter. Because here in Lithuanian, EVERYONE is allowed to drink and have fun, assuming there are enough Litas in the pocket. No, nothing happened with the teenagers (seriously), but it did open up several conversations with their friends, and then friends of their friends. Left the Orleans night club @ 2 a.m. with easily the best night and experience in Kaunas (so far). Traveling alone is fine, but making friends is much better. And some of them were really old (20).

Just a couple more nights for me here in Kaunas before I take a kamakaze autobus from K-town to Moscow on Easter Sunday. Just $30 for 14 hours of fun in a bus. I'm assuming the "fun" part is included. How can it not be, huh? Should ("should") arrive around 7h30 Monday morn. Will then hook up w/ Peter at the airport @ 11 ish. Hope we're both on time.

Things overall have been really good here in Kaunas. As I predicted, things go slowly here. Sabonis hasn't played in every practice - or even every game. So a hit here, a miss there. Interviewed him on Tuesday night before he left for a game in Israel. Saturday night is their final regular season Lithuanian League game against rival Vilnius. But it's 50-50 that he will play because his team has already captured the leage title and nothing is on the line but some bragging rights. Am glad I was here to photograph the last home Euroleague game on 1 April, because that may well be the only "game pix" I get.

Alright, off to work on this story over coffee and food, both of which have been stellar here. Wonder what Russia will be like...

Ciao,
Sol

Thursday, April 08, 2004

China 

... is going to be a hell of an experience. Right before leaving the house for the chinese embassy to get my visa and a small insight on how-strange-it-is-gonna-be, I thought about censorship - and found out:
It´s real. Blogger.com is blocked in China...
Means we will be shut down for the last few days of our trip :-(

In the meantime, Sol is having first encounters with cyrillic letters and the local beer-drinking habits in Kaunas.

Sol: My flight dates for Monday are
Flight ST 7546 Munich - Moscow Domodedovo, Arrival at 11.30am local time

Do Svidanja

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