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Subject:Hot and Noisy in Phu Quoc
Time:12:34 am

Due to a little bit of China, Leslie and I came to Phu Quoc a little earlier than Brent and Wen Juan. Wen Juan, being a Chinese citizen, had to get permission to leave. Her own little bit of travel curse. Everyone needs a little.

We arrived and walked through town, bought sandals and hats, ate Vietnamese baguette sandwiches and tried to rent some scooters. Ice cream at Buddy’s led us to make some phone calls. No rooms. Full. We panicked a little. Found a place with one room. They’d not hold it but if we got there first, it was ours. We paid up and left to get a cab. Turns out December and January are high season on Phu Quoc and there aren’t really enough nice bungalows to meet demand. By the time we got to the place, it was booked but we could try just up the road.

35 dollars would get us a shabby bungalow with stained sheets, 2 beds, cockroaches and urinal cake-scented bliss. The doorway, an obstacle course of hammock, would not welcome a drunk but it wasn’t that kind of trip. The sheets, traced with red wine, smelled of cleaner. The lady, old and wrinkled, exuded trust though her family seemed full of trickery. “I’m in charge of that building. 50 dollars 1 room.” We were fine with our 35, thank you very much. The cockroaches laid in wait while we dined on delicious beach-front BBQ, the sand-fleas, on my feet. Squid and giant prawn soaked in delicious garlic butter sauce, decent tuna steak, veggies and spring rolls!

The night was surprisingly cold and there were at least 5 unfortunate journeys back to consciousness.

The next day, we were out. Calling all the places this Lonely Planet could list. All we could secure was a room for the next night. Fuck this place. This island sucks. Beach packed with barca-loungers, sand filled with fish bones and cigarettes. Oh no, this room is 20? OK we can do that. Maybe this place isn’t so bad. A freshly painted bathroom kept the door open so we stashed our luggage back in our old room. We had to secure our Thursday night at the Beach Club and rode out to do so and as a bonus, got a room at Paris Beach to fulfill our 4th night. A 4 room Phu Quoc whirlwind tour. We hooked up Brent and Wen Juan for the rest of their trip as well. Our return to the $20 room found it not quite done and our stomachs brought us down to the beach.

4 hours, 1 flight, 1 price/room discrepancy at Charm, 1 headache, 7 mango shakes, 1 hippie sleeping in my hammock, 1 Vietnamese-English fusion conversation, 1 room for 20 dollars lost, 1 room for 15 dollars gained and a whole lot of puttering around left our Phu Quoc island fairy tale with a stable room arrangement until departure for all parties involved. 3rd story in the building, no cockroaches in sight but definitely still present (resilient buggers) for 15 dollars (not 50 – damn the English language) and it’s time to hit on the road. Time to shake off some evil feelings about this island, to remove the curse and cake on some dust.

We cruised South. Past pearl farms, endless beach, palms, and red dust.

We took a rest stop at a rather deserted stretch of white sand. Played with Brie the Brittle Star, Hermie the Hermit Crab and chased a whole lot of those sand bubbler crabs. A quick conversation with a surprisingly fluent and worldly self-taught by book Vietnamese man hanging out at his convenience store put a pleasant omen on the evening. On we rode. 2 weddings later, we found the main highway into An Thoi, our spot where we would eat dinner. Passing a family eating dinner outside on the right, I spotted a 4 table restaurant with beer cans all over the floor and a raucous bunch of diners quickly adding to the piles. “There’s a hot and noisy restaurant back there. Let’s give it a try.” Hot and noisy is Chinese for a great restaurant, a place where you can have an amazing meal in a cozy, yet crazy atmosphere. Look for the dirty places filled with happy diners and you’ve about got it made.

“Funny that there’s a hair salon in this restaurant,” Leslie’s observation was shared by all. The stainless steel table was well used and being cleaned by a rather drunk gentleman with a balled up napkin. We sat down. Our fellow diners approached us and engaged us in conversation only seconds later to be joined by cold beer cans from almost empty cases. A few of the younger patrons had a decent grasp on English. We got up and pointed to the table beside us. “We want what they’re having!” Seconds later, a dish of hacked up pigs feet is on the table, sweet chilli sauce for dipping, spring rolls, vermicelli rice noodle bundles, spicy peanut salad, dried squid and beer. Lots and lots of beer.

“Oh! This is your family? This is your house?...” Nervous laughter of the sort that comes after a slight faux pas. “Ah your daughter, his wife, your sister, your daughter…very pretty. Vietnam! Yes. Vietnam. Uhhh…Canada? Adam? Yes. Your father! Vai! Hah…cheers. No, Canada. Yes. Leslie. Vai!!! Cheers. Vietnam! Yes! OK. OK! Oh yes. Very good. Vietnam! Good! Thank you. OK! Vai!!!” And the beer kept coming followed by shots of ‘wine’. We had stumbled upon a family dinner and sat down at their empty table. We were served amazing food and liquor. We gave entertainment.

What would you do if 4 foreigners pulled onto your lawn, sat down at an empty picnic table and demanded to get in on your family bbq? I can only hope that I’d give them the best meal and all the camaraderie they could ever dream of having.

The ride home was arduous if not for the copious amounts of beer and wine that were shoved down our throats before we were allowed to leave (they physically restrained us until we chugged a few with the important family members.) I figured I was in the clear as I left Brent to deal with the snake wine but got hauled in by the family to the right. A couple chugged beers and I managed to slither out of reach. The road was dark, the ride sobering though my mind remained unclouded by the drink. We chittered away excitedly until the cold set in and the ride stretched on. All good things come to an end and each bit of excitement comes with a cost.

Yet another once in a lifetime opportunity afforded by the freedom and generosity of island people, about a 3 hour boat ride away from the last such encounter only 1 year ago. May there always be such pockets of civilization and humanity in the world.

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Subject:The Days of My Lives
Time:02:40 pm

It seems that people don't know anything about it. I have started to take photos with my new camera in an attempt to get used to it as well as take photos. Here are some of my photos along with some descriptions of what is happening behind these photos.

I always look out my elevator window and think", This would make a killer picture. I’ll admit that I’ll try again someday.

These are the advertisements for things you can get in my apartment. We like to deface these, me and the Chinese.

Sculpture outside my apartment in a park i’ve never been to. I see people burning fake money for the dead every once in a while here. Sometimes they walk through it. From this angle it looks like the every present eye of big brother oppressing my Chinese brethren. I must put a stop to this by going on facebook and eating foreign foods.

These three-wheeled cars are cheap. I kind of want one. I’m scared of dying in one. I would die alone. Chicks don’t dig these cars. This is the street from my house to Hong Mei (the Korean part of the city – the good part?)

That’s my building. I live on the 23rd floor. I have been getting notes that say I should pay my administration fees. But they’re in Chinese and I am illiterate. How can I pay fees when I am illiterate?

Here is the street where rich Chinese people live in town houses looking over the exercise park and golf course. I don’t know why all trees in China are painted white on the bottom. I assume it has to be pest control or…something. I’m not going to lick it so please don’t ask me to.

Here is the smoke stack at my school. It is powered by coal and the hearts of young children. Basketball is popular and you can see young minds playing.

I like sunsets. Here is a sun setting over the mountains by the Qing gui in Jinshitan. “How pleasant,” you might think. You’re right. Here we can see some other town houses for rich people. I don’t think anyone lives in them, though. There aren’t enough rich people to fill all the houses for rich people.

More of the same. I suppose people do live here seeing as they have the solar hot water heaters and air conditioners.

Let’s take a ride on the QingGui!

Happy New Year.

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Subject:Lots of Stuff
Time:12:34 am
Read at your own risk, back to front



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Current Location:Moscow
Time:12:09 am
We stayed at the Trans-Sib hostel. A pretty great place save for its bathroom. The bathroom is large. Larger than any bathroom I’ve seen in years. In one corner sits the door. In another sits the toilet and shower stall squished tightly together. In another corner, 5 feet away. sits a gigantic Jacuzzi tub, exactly the kind of thing you don’t want in a solitary hostel bathroom. Laundry lines at perfect levels for decapitation stretch across the room, offering some level of adventure in getting to the sink which lies in the last corner. It is a stupid arrangement. There is room for potentially 3 toilet/sink/shower stalls but instead you get a ridiculously huge bathroom serving, potentially, 7 people.

The place had free internet, though. I will forever love it for that. I had spent about 13 dollars on 1.5 hours of internet in Ulan Ude.

Irkutsk has some amazing churches and some nice walks along the water. We did that a fair amount. Some park sitting, tram riding and overall enjoying.

Ed has taken a liking to a certain style of Russian eatery. It’s a cafeteria setup where you get to point and choose your food. The food is decent but not really that great. It is easy and relatively cheap. Not my favourite but we went back a couple of times. It was under construction and it was quite rewarding to see the amount completed over the 2 days we went. The outfits for Mario and Luigi are, most definitely, taken from Russian construction/maintenance workers. In Vladivostok I saw the exact red shirt, blue overalls and in Irkutsk, it was Luigi’s turn to shine.

Our other eating experience was defined by omul, the endemic fish of Baikal. We went on a big hike to what the Lonely Planet listed as a “brew pub that serves its own Czech-style Pilsner on tap.” Turns out it serves Czech beer from a tap and has an unused brewing vessel prominently displayed at the entrance. Much like a place we found in Vladivostok. After being thoroughly disappointed in the beer situation I was again disappointed by the omul. They served us raw omul, lightly salted and pickled. It was alright but old and overly fishy. Just like sushi in Dalian.

Our second omul experience was day 2, on a small road just off the coast of Lake Baikal in Listvyanka. A dude
was outside of his place, smoking up some fish. I stopped to get some fish. Ed, not quite the food adventurer, figured he’d try some of mine. It was absolutely delicious. Buttery, smokey, tender, juicy and not at all fishy. Incredible. I would go back for that flavour. Ed went back to get his own...I never did get my bite back. We finished our Listvyanka time by cruising up a side road up into the valley a ways.

We spent our last afternoon in Irkutsk walking around in the city’s parks checking out birds, fish and fungus. Ate at a good place behind the stadium where our server relied on her massive boobs stretching the limits of her uniform over prompt customer service. She was helpful, though and got us an English menu. I had beef, Irkutsk style (cooked until dry and tough with cheese, tomato and peppers on top) and palmeni with sour cream (delightful little meat dumplings).
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Current Location:Moscow
Subject:Train to Irkutsk
Time:12:07 am
The train to Irkutsk was a pleasant experience. Getting on the train was not.
Russian train stations, by default, look lovely. Trains stream in and out, people milling, waiting, coming leaving. Hub of activity. The one thing the train stations lack is, usefulness. The station in Ulan Ude was worse than Vladivostok but almost more informative. Our train was listed on the board. Due to arrive at 11:19 and leave at 12:00 from track...hmmm no track listed. 11:19 comes and goes. Nothing changes. At 11:40 we start to enquire around. No one knows anything. I go to information counter lady and show her my ticket. “Nyet.” Hmmm...train isn’t here. “Platform?” Lady holds up her hands and shrugs, “Nyet.” Hmmm...

Judging from the anger and disbelief of the Russians around the ‘information counter’ she wasn’t much more helpful to Russian speakers. Why even have an information counter? We resigned to do what we could, stand up in the hot hallway overlooking all the train tracks and check each new train to see if it was ours. It worked.

We rode to Irkutsk with some youngsters on their way to a camping trip off in the mountains for 2 weeks. They were going rock climbing and all that good stuff. Very excited about the mountains. They were all from a local adventure type group out of Chita. I don’t think you’d ever find such a group of kids in China. Russia is a lot like Canada in that people camp. People actually go out into nature and explore it!
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Current Location:Moscow
Subject:Ulan Ude
Time:12:05 am
After hiking to our hostel, which was just a lady’s apartment, we were greeted by a voice over the phone “One double bed?” “No. Two singles. It says it on our paper.” “Oh...” Sister knocks on our room door, dude walks in, “Hello!” “Good morning!” He picks up the phone. “Yes, okay.” Hangs up the phone. “My girlfriend and I have food poisoning. We will be out of the room later if that is okay.” “Oh. That sucks. Yeah. No problem. We’re going to have a walk around anyway.”

The apartment smelled like Nana’s house. Old. It had a massive jail-like door, unlocked with a massive jail-type key. There are many locks like this in old Russian hostels, I would find. We ventured out into the midday Ulan Ude streets, stopped at a cafe for beer and some blintzi. We then cruised around a bit. Ulan Ude, has lots of old wooden buildings like we had seen along the way but way fancier. Some of them are falling apart, some aren’t. It also is home to the Buryat. They are the main indigenous group of Siberia. As Valeria, our Buryat home stay host, said, “basically Mongolian.” Ulan Ude is the capital of Buryat culture in Siberia!
It also has the largest Lenin head in the world. It is at this Lenin head where we met our fellow home stay guests. Giles and Linda from Amsterdam. We chatted a bit, arranged an activity for the next day and then Ed and I went back to eat and clean up. First shower in 3 days in a bathtub that was elevated 1 foot off the ground and a showerhead that trickled more water down the wall than anywhere else. Ahhhh home for the next three days.

The next morning we had our first Valeria breakfast and it was delightful. Giles and Linda had recovered and were eating with us. We ate oatmeal with walnuts, raisins and one dried apricot, bread, cheese, tomato and cucumber. We, the Valeria family, headed out to the Buryat Buddhist temple and the Ethnographic Museum on 2 separate trips. It was a whirlwind tour of ancient Siberian culture and a beautiful group of temples on...well an Indian reservation. Just some flat barren land outside of Ulan Ude a ways. The museum was quite nice but I wouldn’t be scrambling to go back (there wasn’t a motorcycle with mounted machine gun).

That evening, the last evening for Giles and Linda in Russia, we went out for dinner. It was at Modern Nomads, the local place for Buryat cuisine that Valeria recommended. It was alright. Kind of plain food in a very nice and trendy atmosphere. There must be a lot of rich Russians in Ulan Ude as the place wasn’t cheap. After Modern Nomads, I convinced everyone to go to a place where there was WiFi so I could send my emails. The place, Marco Polo, was dead but I sent my emails for only 4 dollars. 20 minutes of internet for 4 dollars...people in Ulan Ude must be rich. Dad took off to the hostel, the rest went in search of some nightlife.

We passed what seemed to be a restaurant but with really loud music. In we went. It was a restaurant/night club. It was filled with drunk guys and cute girls dancing. Occasionally a portly, drunk dude would kind of get up and smile while standing in the middle of the girls. As the evening progressed, more dudes started dancing and the drunkenness increased. Some great folk dancing went down but still my goal of seeing a guy do that one Russian dance move where they kick from really low has yet to be achieved.

One totally drunk chick sitting behind Giles, asked him to dance. He politely declined and pointed her in my direction. I thought, “forgive me, Leslie,” and walked out onto the dance floor. What proceeded to happen was much like an awkward high school dance scene. The lady, was not only drunk but very smelly. It was a slow song. We awkwardly shuffled from side to side a bit and at the end of it, I looked at the lady and said “thank you. That was lovely.” She kind of swayed and we walked back to our respective tables. She was later joined by her boyfriend. They left together and she bailed hard on the metal grate. Hilarious.

The rest of the days were spent wandering the city, eating things from Sputnik (very trendy, very expensive supermarket. Even more so than Market on Yates), riding trams and enjoying not being at any museums.
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Current Location:Moscow
Subject:On the Train to Ulan Ude
Time:12:03 am
Our final roommate configuration came to us as a gentleman clad entirely in camouflage. He was rather stinky and a little distant. It’s awkward coming into a train car. Who knows what to expect? Who are these people you will be spending such close quarters with for the next 50+ hours? I dubbed him Ol’ Stinky and he seemed a good humoured fellow. Quiet and interested in his books. A penchant for talking to himself/us and eating sunflower seeds (sure sign of a good character) round out my initial impressions of the man.

We rolled on and on towards Ulan Ude. On the first day, I felt as though I was in a prison. Trapped in this little cell. I think 3rd class would cure me of this but 3rd class is more cluttered. It’s nice to have the hallway clear for looking out the other window. In 3rd class, there are 2 bunks on one wall and 4 bunks on the other. I prefer the Chinese setup of 6 bunks on one wall and a sitting area in the hallway.

The food you get at the train stops is awesome. Mostly ladies wander around peddling sausage, cucumber, voreniki, meat pies, potatoes, sweets and shops sell beer, vodka and snacks. On our first round we purchased mildly pickled cucumbers and some sausage. The sausage was not very good but the cukes were awesome. The second round of purchases came in the form of some voreniki, salad and pies of sorts. All just as delightful as the last. Stinkster bought some potatoes. Good move as they looked delicious. Stinks also saved my life and got me the greatest souvenir ever. I was cupless and Ed was all “oooh look at you with no cup, I’ve got a cup I brought from Canada. Have fun eating out of your noodle bowl. I told you to buy a cup and you mocked me.” Well, Dad, Ol’ Stinky had a cup as well. A Vladivostok-Moscow cup. I went and got me one of those from the Provodnitsa.

The provodnitsa is the person in charge of your train car. She keeps the peace, cleans, sells snacks, keeps the samovar full of water and doles out cups. She pushed some tea on me and said something about how it was a souvenir. I had my own tea and didn’t want her stupid tea but she insisted and so I took it. Later she somewhat angrily came by and demanded 12 rubles for the tea. I wasn’t happy with Provodnitsa at this point in the day. I thought something along the lines of “you suck.” Over the next few days, Provodnitsa and I warmed to each other especially when I bought my souvenir cup holder for the low, low price of 30 dollars. We’re friends for life.

On the morning of our last full day, we decided to hit up the meal car for breakfast. The meal car is moulded wood, wrought iron and coloured glass. It’s beautiful and old-timey. Very nice place to eat. I wanted a Russian breakfast and enquired what that might be at the lady who looks like the evil mom from the Goonies. “What do you want?” Her gravelly voice welcomed me. “I want a Russian breakfast. What is a Russian breakfast?” “Eggs with milk. Bread. Sausage.” “Sounds good.” Ed had the same but with fried eggs. The menu said Fried eggs with Ham 150 rubles. How much more could our breakfast cost? 700 rubles. Just shy of 30 dollars at the Vancouver exchange rate. We didn’t tip and we didn’t come back. It was a nice experience and the food was decent but I know now why the dining car is always empty.

By this time, the compartment didn’t feel like a cell anymore. I was acclimatized to my small quarters and enjoyed sitting and watching the countryside scroll by effortlessly. Serge, Ol’ Stinky, and I had spoken some German to each other. I should have pimsleured some German before the trip to get my words back. Especially since I’m going to Germany.

I had been hoping to get drunk with some Russians on the train and as luck would have it, as I was buying some food, I ran into one drunk-assed Russian named Vladik. Vladik was a young man who had a bit of asshole in him but he seemed innocent enough and I agreed to visit after dinner and have some drinks with him and his buddies.

As I was eating my dinner, Vladik came by. Vladik sat down in our car and sat there, defiantly staring. “Dude, I’ll come but first I’m eating.” Vladik’s friend was in the hallway trying to get him to leave. My dad gets mad when this sort of thing happens. “This is my place. I don’t want you in here. You have to go!” Says Ed. A drunk smile is all that gets returned. “Oooh shit,” I thought. Eventually Vladik’s huge and higher ranking friend came by and got him the hell out of there while apologizing to Ed and Serge. I later cruised on back to their car to have some drinks.

Vladik was a soldat. At 19 he had a 1.5 year old daughter and he also raced go-karts. He was quite drunk to the point of smiling stupor. I chatted with the two girls that were with him, one the sister of the polite guy who tried to get Vladik to leave earlier and the other...I don’t know her story, and polite guy. Our conversations were mostly about music playing on the phone and just randomly laughing awkwardly and drinking. It was strange to be a mysterious being in a car filled with white people. I can see it in China because I look different but in Russia, in this car, it was exactly the same.

Ladik came by and he was the raddest of the guys in that car. He was about 6’4 and...way bigger than Luke. Also quite drunk but with the experience of a Russian sailor who possibly was a jet pilot on an aircraft carrier. That’s what he told me/showed me through pictures anyway. He also gave me a surprise. “Surprise.” Waiving his hand for me to follow. “Uhhhh, ok.” Not something I’d do if it was a native English speaker. “Surprise. Come.” I followed him to his bunk where he proceeded to rummage through his bags for about 5 minutes before presenting me with my very own Captain’s hat. He put on his real army hat and I put on my tourist army hat and we went back and drank some more Russian Vodka chased with Pepsi from Korea.

I eventually returned to my number 7 where Ed and Serge were getting along splendidly talking about the river we were passing. Ladik came by and brought some vodka for Ed and Serge. Another guy who had helped me with the time tables earlier came by as well. His name was...ED! Crazy! Let’s drink vodka. I thought I was free. Never. You are never free from drinking with Russians on the train once it has begun. It had begun. Serge, it turned out, didn’t drink vodka but he had some salmon that we sampled and he went and got a Warsteiner.” Ed brought some tomatoes and pickles and we shot vodka, sipped pepsi and ate. It was splendid. Eventually Ed brought his kid over...or a kid, anyway. He was a swimmer going for the Olympics it would seem. He didn’t drink.

Eventually the party died down but I went back to Ed’s place and hung out with the kids mom who fed us some more delightful sausage, bread and other treats all washed down with glorious vodka. Ed was a train mechanic and he had the secret key for opening train compartment windows. It made the rest of the trip a little noisier. It sure was fun to take it to that dastardly train window.

The next morning I awoke very satisfied. I had achieved my ultimate Russian Train Experience. Getting wasted with Russians. I got myself some tea in my delightful metal cup holder/cup and sat down for a relaxing morning. Dude comes by. Dude I didn’t know. “Dobrey utra.” He made the eating motion. Serge told me he wanted to invite me to breakfast. He said so with a kind of “you started this, now, my friend, you must finish it,” sort of smile. I innocently went over to this guy’s car and his buddy’s kid was watching Pride replays of Russian fighters kicking ass. From Russia with Glove starring Emilianenko, Fedor and well Crocop was in there as well.

“Beer?” the guy with the kid said. “No thanks, I’ve got this tea.” I held up my glass. “Just a little. Come on.” I thought, “it’s my last morning on the train...” “Alright, just a little.” A glass of beer appeared before me. “I don’t drink beer. Only Vodka. Russian Vodka said the guy beside me. Guy with the little boy was an officer in the army and Russian Vodka guy was an Engineer who built bridges. I forget their names. We had a great breakfast of bread, fish, pate, tomatoes and pickles and Vodka. By this time Ed had found me and joined in. These guys had no qualms with drinking in the morning and Ed was down with it because it focused his hungover mind, man.

Engineer had a daughter and the memory that sticks with me most vividly was between shots of vodka, he lovingly combed her hair before sending her off to play with her other friends. I was also prompted many times to say how beautiful his daughter was and, later, when talking to Ed, I described her as the attractive one. Weird. How many other compartments housed parents tending to their childrens’ needs while starting the day with a shot or more?

The scenery that dominates the Vladivostok to Ulan Ude leg is empty, untouched wilderness stretching off in both directions. Grasses, shrubs, few trees interrupted by small villages of run-down wooden buildings. No mountains, few hills, few cars, few fields, few livestock, few villages with many colourful graves and window frames. Apparently flies don’t like blue. Sky blue is the colour of window frames. Approaching Ulan Ude, you start to see more signs of human activity but the vast, flat, empty Russian Far East is unbelievable.
The first major interruption to natures beauty was Ulan Ude. We were approaching our destination. Provodnitsa dragged me away from my vodka breakfast and I put away my linens, said goodbye to Serge and finished packing. I returned my glass and cup holder. She said, “kaufen?” “Ich will kaufen. Uhhh...how much?” “800.” Since I didn’t want the glass cup, I got it for 750. What a deal!
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Current Location:Moscow
Subject:Leaving the Lord of the East
Time:11:58 pm
The last day in Vladivostok was just like the day before the last, only a little rainier. A quote about Vladivostok is that the guy lived there for 4 years and never saw the sun. I suppose my time there was an anomaly. 3 days in Vladivostok and I saw the sun for 1 of those. I now understand the fat g-string guy and the others basking in the sun. Could be the only chance all week.

One thing striking about Vladivostok compared to China is the presence of breasts. Not that Chinese girls don’t have them, the accepted stereotype, but they sure don’t display them effectively. To look down the main street of Vladivostok is to see at least 50% boob, young or old. Mind boggling for a young man just out of conservative (and unseasonably cold) DongBei. I’m slowly getting used to this and my reports of boobs may dwindle as I become acclimatized to Russian fashion. There is also a penchant for tight and or see-through clothes showing undies...just like China...sometimes. Men as well. I should have brought my Diesel jeans!

Vladivostok bathrooms are fucking nasty. I tend not to say this about Chinese bathrooms though they often are. For some reason, I feel that the Vladivostok ones are worse. Perhaps because they all charge 10 to 15 rubles. For such a price, you expect cleanliness. Not feces, vomit and stench. Even in rather upscale public buildings (train station, ferry terminal) you find little remnants of former visitors. In China, you don’t usually pay for this privilege and if you do, it’s only about 17 cents (1RMB) not 40-60. There are also few urinals in Vladivostok. One place they were boarded up and another they were off limits. What the hell, people?

We took a rather extensive walk on our last day in Vlad. The buildings really remind me of China except that they lack fancy new ones just the ones under construction or falling apart. On the other end, the really old buildings in Vlad are beautiful, plentiful and actually old. Once you start to venture outside the core or look more closely you see crumbling structures requesting to be put out of their misery. The walkways around the area are pretty dilapidated as well. Stairs with concrete crumbled in a pile on the step below, only rebar and packed earth remaining. It could be one of the most beautiful cities. It just isn’t.

Traffic is horrendous. Somehow people still decide to drive. I can’t find the joy of sitting in your car, moving forward every 5 metres every 5 seconds. Most of the time the pace seems slower than that. The drivers seem very accustomed to letting people walk in front of them. I’m getting used to cars stopping for me again. Maybe because the reward they get for stopping is the ability to drive 10 metres uninterrupted.

After cruising the streets of Vladivostok, we worked our way back to the hotel to get our bags before heading to the train station. So far this trip, we have managed without taking one cab. Pretty good.
The Vladivostok train station is a shit show. It is possibly the least functional station I have ever been in. The board of trains leaving tells you only 2 trains in advance though there is room for many. When it posts your train, it waits an undetermined amount of time before putting up the track number. This doesn’t matter because nowhere did I find anything that clearly showed which track was which number.

When I went out on my first reconnaissance mission, I reported back relatively little information. I had decoded the signs about track number and whatever, seen that no one was really waiting in mass numbers anywhere and that’s all. This probably rattled Ed a little bit not as much as when, 1 hour to the train departing, we went out to find more information. “There’s no one around to help!” “Yes.” “There’s no signs, no numbers.” “Yes.”

In the end, the track in the middle, at the bottom of the stairs was track 1 and we boarded our train. We are in kupe, 2nd class, and our first cellmate was a woman named Nataliya (Natasha for short). Nataliya is a soldier with 2 stars as her rank. Her husband has 3. I believe this to mean they are very high ranking. Natalya has 3 sisters and 4 brothers scattered around Russia. Her son is 24 and is an Economic Programmer for a bank. This is basically all the information we could share. She left at 5am this morning.

Our new cellmates are a couple. Natasha and D something. They are from Moscow but I don’t think they are on the train all the way. Natasha seems quite friendly and D seems unfriendly. We may never know or we may find out for sure soon enough. Such is the excitement of the train.

I was worried about Kupe. The privacy could be a blessing but the fact that you are stuck with only 2 other people can be a curse. The beds/seats, of course, are setup so that you must stare into the others’ eyes as you sit at the table. This is the most hated bus configuration unless travelling in a group of four. D enjoys listening to loud Russian pop on his earbuds and snoring. That is all the information have about him. Natasha likes to sleep quietly. More will follow?
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Current Location:Moscow
Subject:Strip Club in Vladivostok
Time:11:53 pm
On my last night in town I decided to go out for a drink as I had not done so. It was all a clever ruse to give myself permission to head to the xXx Night Club. I walked down the street from the hotel to the place with the beer mug on it, expecting a pub. It wasn’t. Across the street where the bouncer like guy was standing. Nothing there either.

Well, you tried, Adam. The only possible solution is to go and see some strippers.

I walked up the road to find the 4 German shepherds chilling at the top of the staircase I was going to use. I decided to walk up the driveway. I was wearing my black vest, fake 1.5 year old Paul Smith sport shirt, saggy, faded Hurley shorts with my 2 year old Onizuka Tiger track shoes. Perfect dress for a seedy strip club!

I walk in the door. The brightness blinds me. It is a night club with all the lights turned on. The lighting, however, is soft as energy efficient fluorescents have not made it to Vladivostok. The decor is classy. Other than the soft music playing, it is dead quiet. A girl in a white maid outfit is slowly dancing on the stage. She has all her clothes. A gentleman is sitting on a bench with a lady, not watching the show. A few employees are milling about.

I order a beer from the bar. Sapporo. Small bottle. Japanese import! I get my money ready. Ooooh yeah, going to pay. Peel off 500 for the 230 ruble drink. “Big spender,” I think to myself. 9 dollar beer! A somewhat cute bleached Russian chick walks up to me and says something in Russian. "I don't understand Russian." I reply in English. She looks at me, at the bartender who is unlocking the computer to input my beer purchase, moving back to get the swipe card, going back to the computer...and she speaks to me again. "I don't know what you are saying." She beckons me to follow her over to the coat check.

She talks to coat check girl. Bar guy is there getting my change. Coat check girl shakes her head and then says to me. "You speak English?" "Yes." "It's 1500 rubles to sit and watch a show." "Really? I just wanted to have a beer." "You can't." I turn away...60 dollars...for what? "Are there any other bars around here?" "What?" "In the neighbourhood." I draw a circle with my finger that definitely means 'around here.' "Are there any bars?" She shakes her head, "I don't know." "Hmmmmm," I give her a skeptical look.

I was about to regail her with all the things I could do for 60 dollars that would be better than sitting in a quiet strip club, drinking 9 dollar beers but instead I went to the bar, looked at the tip jar, looked at the bartender, picked up my beer and shrugged my shoulders, "sorry." I walked back towards the door, looked at bleached girl, gave her a smile and shook my head, looked at the coat check girl, gave a big look around the room before delivering a “seriously? Omg," face with suitable hand motions. Took a drink and pushed...no pulled my way out the door. "Spat. Spat. Spat," alerted me to the situation. The fizzy Japanese beer was foaming over. I remained calm and let nature take its course. "Have fun in your beer smelly entrance hall. About as close as you'll ever get to a strip club people will go to!" My glorious, sneering thoughts brought laughter and satisfaction. I high fived myself and drank my beer alone and stripper-less, wandering the darkened streets.
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Current Location:Moscow
Subject:Entrance to Vladivostok
Time:11:50 pm
The bus took about 4 hours and that put us in Vladivostok (Lord of the East) around 8pm. We decided to walk from the bus terminus to figure out a little about the city.

Things we figured out:
  1. The bus terminus is far from the centre
  2. Russians like camping by the ocean and having fires too
  3. The roads and waterfronts of Vladivostok are nowhere near as developed as Dalian (mud and nature abound)
  4. Russians have dog shows too
  5. Scummy looking dudes drinking homebrew on the train tracks are really quite helpful
We had just decided to walk down the tracks when I heard “English?” from Ed. “Good luck,” I thought. One of the guys holding a label-less 40 of beer said “you speak English?” “Yeah. We want to get to the Hotel Vladivostok. Can we walk there?” “Yes. But...you should walk down the tracks to the left so you don’t...*Russian mumbling*” “You should walk up there and turn right.” “Walk to the big road and turn right. 50 metres.” Said another guy. “There is a bus stop in fifty metres. Ask and they will tell you which goes to town.” More Russian mumbling. An incredulous, “travelling?” “Yes.” “Here?” More Russian mumbling. “Up the stairs and turn right. 50 metres there is a bus. Too far to walk.” “Thanks, guys.” We wandered across the tracks. “Hey! Where are you from?” “Canada.” “Canada?!”

I am sceptical of these Russians. I don’t trust them. Something deep within has made me think that all Russians are out to get me. I think it was because Benson is such a mean guy. Or perhaps cold war style programming had not fully left the North American psyche...probably James Bond, actually. I am quickly getting over that feeling. I think it has a lot to do with Vladivostok and the fact that almost no travellers come here. Many seem in a state of shock that you are coming to Vladivostok to check it out.

On the bus, later with our bags. “You speak English?” “Yes.” “Travelling?!” “Yes.” “First time in Vladivostok?!!” “Yes.” “Then what the fuck are you doing on this crowded, sweaty bus?!!!” I could see it in his eyes. Instead, “where are you from?” “Canada. We came over from China.” Relatively normal banter ensued. After what seemed like far too long and too much interest in Ed’s gigantic backpack, we got off with the crowd on the main street of Vladivostok. I asked a couple what way to the Vladivostok Hotel and we walked through the hordes of people milling about. Vladivostok, it seemed, was a happening place.

When we got to our hotel, the immensely helpful receptionist, Valentine, possibly the best hotel guy I have ever dealt with, let us know that it was the 150th anniversary of Vladivostok. The Russian President, Dmitri Medvedev, was here checking out the festivities which included concerts at the big stadium and in the central square. Not a bad time to come and visit a town. That explained the extra security and also the bagged beers secretly sipped around the neighbourhood as alcohol was banned. “Just like the Olympics,” said Ed.

We settled into our room with a view of the construction site next door, not the ocean (600 rubles extra for that one) with a hot water shower handle that falls off, a toilet that flushes in reverse (you pull the button looking thing up!!!), a TV that does not work, and a basic, overall seedy appeal. Bonus being free WiFi, bottle opener on room key, buffet breakfast and the xXx Night Club. Hell yes, Russia. I love me some WiFi.
We headed out to check out the night life as we had 3 hours of extra China time. The concerts were insanely packed. We headed to the public stage and checked out the crowd and band for a while and wandered around. It was pretty amazing. Thick crowds, families, high spirits and more secret sipping was being carried out in black plastic or white paper bags. We ate in some rather great restaurant. A cafeteria/buffet style deal that offers up delicious food and drink that seems to be half price after midnight.

After some very impressive fireworks we headed back home against crazy lines of traffic and not one horn.
The morning, bright and sunny, started off with the buffet. Vast salad array, eggs, sausage, battered cod, rice, potatoes, bacon, coffee, tea, orange and apple juice, muesli, sour cream, cottage cheese, fruit salad, breads, pancakes or crepes. Possibly the best thing about the Hotel Vladivostok. Even better than strippers and WiFi.

We headed down to the waterfront and checked out the dragon boat races. There was a JiLin Oil field team but I didn’t actually see any of them around. I gave out a couple of JiLin jai yo chants during a few of the races but don’t think they were in any of them. In my mind, I was sure that some of them had to have played hockey against the Ice Dragons or at the very least were connected to that 10 litres of baijou and were, thus, deserving of my support.

After we left the boat races, walking along the road I saw a geared up crotch rocked dude with a helmetless, shorts and sandal wearing passenger. “Man, I’d hate to be that guy.” I hate being on the back of bikes especially when not geared up for it. I looked away but once I heard the impatient engine wind-up, I had to look. Smash! into the back of a parked truck. What a tool! Shorts guy was okay, just a little bit of road on the knee and a sandal under the bike. Bike driver was thrown against the truck, handcuffed and given a stern lecture by the security guy who just happened to be standing there. After a while, the cops showed up along with the ambulance, the handcuffs were long gone and the bike guy and security guy were sharing a laugh. Another happy Russian ending.

The rest of the day was spent wandering, checking out sights and sounds around the area. We saw folk music, kids on rides with guns, Ed was attacked by a street woman’s dog, beer was drank in the dank dark of a pub, shashlik was eaten from a guy at a stand, bare boobs were seen on the beach and even a black dude was spotted. He was singing bad reggae and playing bad bongos. His talents seemed more to lean towards the fact that he seemed fluent in English and Russian not la musique. Still, the blackness drew quite the crowd. I filmed him and felt bad as my intentions were to showcase the absurdity of the situation not his skills of an artist.

We also secured train tickets for the first leg of our journey and during the effort, ran into a girl whose boyfriend lives in North Battleford, Saskatchewan. She and a guy, who were working at giving out flyers by what seemed to be the train station (actually int’l ferry terminal) helped us get our tickets which was quite the run around. They were good to talk to and the guy studied Chinese. He was going to be heading to Beijing for a week to visit a friend of his uncle’s. He was a little worried that they would get in trouble for leaving their post outside the doors and we bid them to leave us to figure things out. We did.
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