12 August, 2005

The rolling fields and forests of Siberia stretch as far as the eye can see.

Yet another dense birch forest.

One has to wonder what you'd find if you just kept heading away from the tracks.

Some train employees including one of those squatters.

This woman basically acts as a green train signal, indicating that all is clear ahead to the best of her knowledge. This system is actually quite standard in many countries.

A cluster of houses in a small Siberian community.

A small town with dirt roads. No 7-11.

Almost everyone you see walking by is carrying a bag with supplies of some sort.

Since so many buildings had their year of construction on them, it was only a matter of time before I found one with this magic number. I only wish it looked more Orwellian.

I probably shouldn't have even taken this picture, let alone post it for all the world to see.

The front of our train as seen from the rear of our train, i.e., our cabin.

12 August, 2005

Day 27. I've acclimated to the train rather well. Almost too well. I think I slept more than ten hours this morning which is a bit more than necessary. It's just so very comfortable with the rocking motion of the train coupled with the realization that there's not a whole lot to do if you should happen to get up anyway. I wonder how many days I could last without going stark raving mad.

There was virtually no cell coverage today so even an SMS from home would have been unlikely to reach me. It seems that every day brings with it a little more isolation. All in all not a bad thing I suppose. And definitely a good environment to get some work done.

It's interesting how you perceive a place in a very specific way and then when you finally manage to get out and see it, it's completely and radically different. I had always pictured Siberia as a vast wasteland where few people lived and even fewer plants could grow. That appears to be all wrong. It's certainly vast. And it doesn't look like a whole hell of a lot of people live here. But what I've seen of Siberia so far is anything but a wasteland. I see dense forests, lush fields, a place absolutely teeming with life. Just not so much in the human sense. If that is the definition of a wasteland, then the earth needs more of them.

Sure, there's no doubt that it gets pretty damn cold around here during the winter. But I see humans as being quite adaptable. I look at it this way: if plants and wild animals are able to thrive, then it's an environment that human beings can live in as well. Something like Antarctica or Mars... that's inhospitable but by no means impossible to live in for a spell. You would probably go crazy in short order if you were stuck in such a place for very long. Kind of like living in a moving train. There comes a time when you would in all likelihood completely lose it. But the parts of Siberia I've seen so far give the impression that humans could exist here quite happily year round with some obvious adaptations. For me the biggest drawback would be that it's so far away from everything. But if more humans lived here, that would become less of an issue. Then the problem would become human beings destroying yet another pristine environment. So maybe things are the way they are for a very good reason.

So I've spent much of the day simply admiring the scenery and getting out for some air whenever the train makes a stop. I figure since we arrive at Irkutsk very early tomorrow morning and I woke up quite late in the afternoon, it won't make much sense to try and go to sleep again. I've adopted a rule that actually makes a good deal of sense: sleep when tired, regardless of when. I'll give it a shot anyway.

We decided to record "Off The Wall" today while on the train. It made for a very nice background sound and I figured it would be my last chance to record a show on the actual Trans Siberian Express. It went quite smoothly - nobody freaked out at the sight of our microphone although some Russian officers expressed some curiosity as we passed by. We started the show in our cabin and eventually wandered all the way down to the dining car which we were extremely lucky to get a table at since the whole place had been taken over by a party of German tourists. In fact, had we gotten there a mere five minutes later, the kitchen would have been officially closed as we saw this explained in no uncertain terms to the next person who tried to get in. It's really weird - the train is on Moscow time except for the dining car which is on whatever time it is locally. And it's almost impossible to know what time *that* is most of the time. Besides, these German tourists were using every table but one and it looked like they had been there for hours. Before they left, their tour guide (I assume) began reading to them excerpts from a Russian newspaper which he would translate to German. Since Hanneke knew German, she translated what he was saying into English for me. And that is how I know that Russian veterans will be losing their free bus passes and getting a cash payment instead and how that may be better for many of them who never take buses in the first place. I also learned that Russians are increasingly upset that Ukrainians are taking over Russian enterprises in Ukraine and that they are looking for ways to get even in Russia. Not exactly the world news headlines but every bit of information carries some value. And in this particular case, the real value was in the delivery.

A part of me wants to stay on the train for longer just so I can be a part of a massive continuous train ride across two continents. Another part of me thinks the first part is out of his mind. Since that's the part that's currently writing, let me say that I'll miss life on the train but I'm looking forward to walking around a bit, having a hot shower, shaving, maybe finding out if we've started any new wars back home, sleeping in a room big enough to walk across without having to turn sideways, and hopefully getting on the net. If the latter is successful, then a whole bunch of my updates will be posted at the same time which may be too much for even the most diehard readers. What I really hope I'm able to do though is get "Off The Wall" uploaded since failure to accomplish that at this juncture may very well result in the show not making it to air next week. I never thought Siberian connectivity would mean so much to me.