Tuesday, August 06, 2013
RTW2013 Leg 4: Irkutsk to Vladivostok
6/30 - Irkutsk
It's half an hour to the station. The train arrives 0050 (Moscow)/0550 (local) for a half-hour stop. It's 0500 right now. Considering check-out, I should probably get moving real soon, but I want to get some more rays of light across the roofs before I shove off.
Scratching the surface of Irkutsk has been cool, and I do want to get back here eventually, but this is still a city in becoming, brown log houses in the shadow of high-rise hotels, and it is to others, not me, to decide how the Иркуцк of today becomes the Иркуцк of tomorrow.
0249. The block across from the high-rise Marriott.
0250. Government building, panning left from above.
0251. Nationalist graffiti, hiking out.
As I got to the intersection, a dude came up out of the park on the north side of the bridge exit and came up hollering at a woman on her way back from the club. A lot of bad things can happen when a guy hollas at a woman at 5 AM on mostly-deserted streets, but fortunately none of them did, and they rounded the corner to where some maintenance workers were sweeping a bus stop. I was worried that I'd be too feart to intervene if it had, but charging across a big intersection in full pack with my knife out would probably have been a bad response too. No good options.
0252. Old iron furniture on the bridge.
0253. Over to the west bank.
0254. Panda graffiti on the station wall.
0255. Monument at the west foot of the bridge.
0256. Plaster relief of the Soviet era, Lenin (center behind the trees) hanging out with some railway workers.
0257. Irkutsk station facade.
0258. Corner in front of the station, blanketed in morning mist.
0259. Out on the platforms, socked in by fog.
0260. East bank in fog and mist.
There's no transom in the compartment, so the air's not adjustable, but even if there was, it was 7 degrees outside this morning, and I saw my breath heading up to the bridge. I obviously got across and underway without incident; time now for a nap and a mug of tea after, and I can start transitioning off Moscow time.
Actually no: tea first, then Baikal, THEN sleep.
0261. Valley in the Baikal country.
0262. Birch and mist on a high slope.
0263. Lake Baikal, sort of.
0264. The lake is out there somewhere, seriously.
video6: A blurry view into the mists. The windows are dirty as hell, causing false focus, and the vapors of the early hour mean there's nothing distinct on the lake. I'll continue checking to see if I can get better.
It's like 10:15, I've had first contact with meal service, and the mists are still hanging impossibly thick. In about an hour we'll hit the next stop, but we're already away from the lake. Another reason to stay longer in Irkutsk and do a day trip out.
...or not. The lake is still there, out the north side of the train, but you still can't see jack. Perfect fishing weather, rotten for photos at 70 mph.
I ordered...something, but have no idea if it's included (4 meals/day or 4 in 3 1/2 days? The latter sounds more reasonable) or when it'll come. For now, I have my chopsticks up, and it I don't get fed by noon, well, it's хлеб и сыр like originally planned.
0265. Shadows of a forest.
Second class with services is really something. Not only the food stuff, but they have a vacuum rather than sending the provodnik around with a broom and mop.
0266. Traditional station house, still outside Misovaya.
0267. Peaks to the south. The mountains here are larger, more rugged, and generally more inspiring than those further west, but the speed, bad windows, and other conditions make it almost impossible to get shots in.
0268. Summits above the trees.
I has a sandwich bag now; contents undetermined. It can wait, though, till after the next station.
There's a fair amount of construction to the south of the train; gas access and closer ties to China and the rest of eastern Asia are probably the driving factors.
0269. Village under the mountains.
0270. Blurry mountain and field.
0271. Add a forest to the same shot.
0272. A little better look out.
video7: The lack of grain allows a less blurry impression to make it through the window damage, at the cost of battery.
0273. Abstract fisheye shot back.
Lunch, featuring a soup with a full chunk of chicken bones -- must prep for China -- and a "schnitzel" that recalled the "raw animal tissue" that every growing hormad craves, was decent for transit food, and also the first hot meal I've had in a week. I can keep my ration, and will if I start getting charged, but there's no reason not the take what you've already paid for.
Also, the chopsticks did sovereign service. Fast, reliable, sturdy, and easily cleaned, they definitely beat the weaksauce plastic utensils that came in the bag, and my skill with them remains high enough to handle greasy macaroni, huge roasted tomato chunks, and resynth "meat" of no specified origin. In this department, at least, I'm ready for Japan and China.
0274. An acceptable mountain view.
Zoom is no. Accepting reflections is yes. Stay 6 inches back from the glass. Slowly, you relearn the rules of a new compartment and a new angle.
0275. Train under the mountain range.
0276. Rolling land up to the sky.
If the rest of this trip is as photogenic, I'm definitely going to need that extra batt. I recharged only my kindle in Irkutsk -- time was short, I was half asleep, and I had spares anyway.
0277. Valley and railway bridge, coming up on Ulan-Ude.
0278. River below the peaks.
0279. The river widens; a town athwart.
A Few Words On (42):
Tanar of Pellucidar (E.R. Burroughs)
This is not the most focused Pellucidar story out there, but its cavemen-versus-pirates angle is a novel one, and the romance elements are almost realistic, admitting changes of affection that are real rather than affected, as well as kataomoi. There are better Burrough tales out there -- especially if you want a conclusion -- but this one's still pretty good.
It is amazing how quickly, past Irkutsk, the human and natural landscape changes. Everything is different here, much more Asian, trending east Asian. The city we're approaching, Ulan-Ude, is self-apparently Mongol, and indeed we're sitting off the Mongolian border. It's here that passengers for Beijing will need to change to the Trans-Mongolian, and because that line goes somewhere useful not on the far side of the Amur mountains and North Korea, ridership usually starts to drop off here. We'll see to what degree that ends up being personally relevant; my compartment-mate is leaving, but others may arrive.
0280. Some buildings and a freight train in Ulan-Ude.
After 100 pages, my pen bit it. This new one should see out this book at least at that rate, and with only two weeks left, it's not likely that I'll write through both of the remaining spare books, or the two remaining spare pens.
Two kids, and sporty; I'm not too concerned, but the phone's back in leghold. Later indications are that they're soldiers, probably paras or Spetsnaz, on liberty or returning, and while a little safer, this poses its own challenges.
A Few Words On (43):
Tarzan and the Ant Men (E.R. Burroughs)
One of the problems in getting into a long series in medias res at random is that the author, having started a series, is pretty much free to assume that readers of the later volumes have been in from the start, or at least the last one; a common dictum is that you will never sell more of Book 2 than Book 1, and usually quite a few less. This is definitely the setup here, where we get bombed in on a lot of non-Tarzan people without introduction; old friends 80 years ago, ciphers now. The story is decent, the central gimmick not more unbelievable than Tarzan at large, and the political slant -- antitax, anti-prohibition, pro-MRA -- serves for diverting lulz rather than untracking the adventure. Get this man a fedora and a Ron Paul bumpersticker -- and then make him write more Mars stuff.
0281. Wide space and a renascent forest.
0282. Clouds and backlight.
0283. Storm on the mountain.
We're getting some rain now, but I'd infinitely rather some ventilation. Three in one compartment with still air gets real old real fast.
0284. Marsh and plain.
A Few Words On (44):
Tarzan and the Castaways (E.R. Burroughs)
By 1939, Tarzan in Africa was apparently getting a little thin, so Burroughs gets him captured, with a shipful of jungle friends and human caricatures, and delivered to the South Pacific to have a kung fu fight with the Mayans. Yes, it's a silly adventure, but it's a well-done and minimally racist (well, for the time) silly adventure, and it'll pass half an hour in Siberia quite nicely.
Traditionally, people try to read War and Peace on the Trans-Sib. I've never read War and Peace, sharing most of my youngest brother's opinions on Tolstoy ("It makes you empathize with the Bolsheviks," he said of Anna Karenina, "because what you most get out of it is the feeling that all of these people need to be killed ASAP."), so I have no idea of its length, but I've so far read 44 Gutenbooks, nearly all of them on the train and most averaging around light novel length; if each averages even 50 pages, that comes to 1750 pages, with the trip barely half over. Even Tolstoy would surely not cross the thousand-page barrier that has held back even Robert Jordan, and not once but three times and change. Bringing one book on the Trans-Sib is a recipe for boredom and a full pack; thankfully, modern technology allows us to carry a library in a leghold pocket. Forty-four down, something like 135 to go.
It's good that I photoed the barely supra-latrine klo in the last train; this one is spacious, recently-built, and well-maintained. It even has a lace goddamned curtain. "With services" is a fearsome thing.
0285. Murals in ikonic style, Petrovskiy Zavod. The age of the buildings puts them in the Soviet era, but there's a lot about the style that recalls Orthodox church art.
0286. A great open-pit mine, mostly screened by embankment. It's not huge in such sense, but there are others, unworked and exhausted, that would pass for natural valleys.
0287. Exhausted coal mine. There's a connected part still under work -- and a cemetery the size of a football field nearby, then an old stone barrack.
0288. Less spoiled wilds.
A Few Words On (45):
Tarzan the Terrible (E.R. Burroughs)
This 1919ish adventure runs longer than later stuff, maybe due to a more patient audience, maybe due to a bigger story, as Tarzan befriends two tribes (not going to reinforce the racist purpose underlying the split) of pithecanthropi and fights holy wars from the back of a carnivorous triceratops, while Jane gets her own jungle-girl subplot, and Jack crawls his way back in time to supply a deus ex armes at the end. It's a big sweep, and a page turner, but there's almost too much content: a pulp is not a historical romance.
0289. River with an oxbowed island.
Not wanting to waste rations, I'm holding off on dinner till later. It's looking likely that '4 meals' is one per calendar day, and I'll be on my own for the other two, but that's still more hot meals and slower ration drain than anticipated. Tea now, kaesebroet at 7 local.
A Few Words On (46):
Tarzan the Untamed (E.R. Burroughs)
Set in the east African theater of WWI, this long adventure shows Tarzan at war: first against Germans, for Vengeance, then against blacks, for White Supremacy -- seriously, this beloved character straight up lynches tribesmen to pass the time -- and then finally against lion maniacs because there is wordcount left. There's a whole lot of content here, and Tarzan wrestles, then knifes, so many lions in the same way that you'd think Burroughs has a lion_fight.txt to drop in and tweak whenever, but the narrative is straightforward and easily followed, albeit super wicked racist whenever it encounters black people. Some may say that Burroughs was only reflecting the times, but only here, once, in the 14 non-Martian books I've read from his pen so far, has it rained outside the context of a storm at sea, and IRL it rains all the time. An author doesn't need to be a perfect mirror.
0290. River in the valley below the train, outside Khilok.
There's always the train, but when you see the skerrying rain on the distant peaks, across miles-wide plains crossed with maybe a dirt track, you can't help but think of the certain impermanence of humanity: this is how it will look, everywhere, after our species finishes its idiotic accidental suicide, and the planet's wounds begin to close. Two horses running free in new grass on the floor of an abandoned and unfilled mine pit.
0291. Tarn pond, and mist below the caps of distant mountains.
A Few Words On (47):
Tarzan Triumphant (E.R. Burroughs)
The shrinking world has caught Tarzan in its net. This volume pulls in a Stanford scholar, a British aviatrix, a Soviet hitman, and a Chicago gangster, and the first part of the book really suffers for it. Once all the characters are in the bush and through their obligatory tenderfoot phase, though, things pick up, and at the close, we even see Africans -- albeit Tarzan's handpicked liege men -- fight with the intelligence and courage often denied to black characters of the period. The worst slur by a principal character is 'smoke' -- and that from the gangbanger, who in actual conduct treats his guide and gun bearer as an equal. Not only Tarzan but Progress, even as Burroughs might not have recognized it, is triumphant here.
I very nearly committed the unforgivable sin of Asia: start relieving oneself before checking how it was to be cleaned up after. Fortunately, I caught myself and went back for a tissue pack -- for other people, a toilet without toilet paper may be "out of order", but this far east (if not usually this far north), it should be reckoned as "normal".
The clouds are thick, but it looks like night is coming on, and I got an early start; as soon as the paras go to bed, and I finish my mug of tea, I can kick off and try to catch up on sleep. I'll just be up with the sun tomorrow, but I was up an hour before sunrise today and followed it with a banger of a 20-minute hike through the dawn. I've got to rest, and I didn't sleep enough on the train this morning. There's not really enough light to read by, but I may try to get another book in to go with the tea.
0292. A great mountain clad in fogs. For all practical purposes the light is gone, as it probably should be at 10:30 PM...and with rain picking up.
0293. Tarn and firs. This is the one good shot; the first four all featured stray posts for the caternary wire.
0294. An almost civilized-looking pond.
7/1 - on the way to Solntsevaya
0295. Morning river in flood.
This #17 bed is a lot more worn out than the #19 variants I've been in the last couple days, but I was able to jury-rig a solution and get some decent sleep. The first day is (almost) gone; the second approaches, leaving two days and two hours to the final goal. The weather is still overcast, and I expect more of the same as we crawl up around the horn of Manchuria. We're headed slightly north now and will be more northish, in general, this time tomorrow; we don't reach the descent through Primorskiy Krai until Khabarovsk midway through day 3.
I really shouldn't be using the same instrument to do surgery, prepare my food, and clean my nails, but exactly how many knives do you expect me to lug out to Siberia?
0296. Few limits to the land.
0297. Water, plains, mountains, sky.
The cheese is down under 50%, as should be expected of something that's now had three full days' meals taken out of it. If I continue to get one free meal per day, it will probably give out on dinner of day 3, leaving bread and apricots for breakfast on day 4.
0298. The modest station house at Solntsevaya.
The bread is one meal above half gone, and thus should last ok, but I'm not throwing the potatoes out till I get to Japan. You can never be too careful.
0299. Clouds catch on the mountains.
0300. A few birches cling to the weathered mass.
0301. Close to the shorn rock.
0302. A unitary streak of mist.
0303. Seriously, it's meteorological, not a photo artifact.
0304. The cloudlet hangs over an island in the stream, and was probably caused by it.
See enough like that, and you start to suspend disbelief a lot more easily. Nature's oddities make humans superstitious, and then its power makes them reverent.
0305. Morning sun on the water. We're at least ENE now, headed for the tip of the horn and the Amur country.
0306. The sun starts to burn off the clouds.
Wrecked stone walls and forgotten concrete foundations. There was something here that the village didn't need to use and didn't want to keep. Even in this wilderness, shadows of the past.
0307. More clouds below the mountains.
A Few Words On (48)
Tarzan's Quest (E.R. Burroughs)
Like a lot of later Burroughs, this is a direct and fast-paced adventure with few distractions. You're rooting for all of the aristocrats, not just the eventual bad egg, to bite it at the start, but soon enough Jane takes command, Tarzan and Muvuiro get moving against the enemy, and the plot keeps the pages turning in the best pulp style.
0308. Spare rails, tarn, village, and mountains, leaving Priiskovaya.
0309. Flooded marshes, across the river out of Priiskovaya.
0310. Another long Siberian landscape.
The river that runs next to the tracks is in full flood; there's about 8 feet of rise before it reaches the rails, but it's completely overrun its banks, and what should be islands are merely trees sticking out of the water.
0311. Trees swallowed by the flood.
0312 - 0314. Massif and drowned island.
I don't like the sharpness on any of those, but none is so bad as to be deleted. Pick 'em.
video8: Roiling water as the river catches on higher ground in the middle of its current channel.
0315. Rank of trees lost in the river.
0316. Ruined houses on the far bank. Zoom works.
0317. Ruined church.
0318. The desolate country house of some noble. Like cattle bones on the trails of the west, all of them.
0319. Naked birch on the mountainside, outside Kuenga.
0320. More exposed hillsides.
0321. Further weathering.
0322. River, birch, and a floating camera.
I am damned tired of the stupid camera showing up in every shot, but there are three panes on this window. There's not much for it if I want to get anything at all.
0323. A broken slope, and the ghostly ring of the lens. : |.
A Few Words On (49):
The Beasts of Tarzan (E.R. Burroughs)
In some ways, this is as primal a Tarzan story as it gets; backed by friendly natives and jungle friends, Tarzan chases a bad white man up and down an African river, fighting natives, beasts, and the elements, to make sure that justice is done and the unjust become ape chow in a spray of arterial fluids. The twist at the end is suspected from the start, but Burroughs keeps the plot focused and the pages turning.
0324. Endless mountain grasslands.
0325. A strange great rip in the earth south of Chernishevsk-Zabaikal'sk. There are other erosions in the hills, but this one seems to have a crest of sand in it.
It's a half-hour layover here, and we're on time, so the plan is probably to lie still and read, then eat lunch when we get moving; the meal service was by again, and I put in for "schnitzel" again. I'll try the chicken tomorrow if offered, when I have a full loaf of bread up to chop into if it turns out inedible.
A Few Words On (50):
The Chessmen of Mars (E.R. Burroughs)
It's a sign of the degenerate modern times that we don't, as nerds, play jetan any more, if any ever did. The game, introduced in detail here, has potential as more than a plot device. The plot around it here is pretty direct: a damsel in distress, a prince disguised as a common soldier, a composite organism that likes to troll by detaching its head from its bo-- wait what. Anyway, aside from a brief morality play on balanced education and mens sana in corpore sano, this one is all blood, thunder, intrigue, and cracking adventure, making it one of the classics of the series.
We're coming up on Zhireken and ~1100; the lunchbags are in place and borscht is allegedly inc. I've got to stop eating breakfast so early, as if that's ever going to happen.
Such skies as Miyazaki couldn't paint, and the window makes them impossible to photograph. There is nothing for it but to dare the journey yourself.
0326. Distant hills go rushing past.
0327. A slope full of pines.
0328. Pines, sun, and clouds.
0329. Old-style railway carriage at Sbega.
0330. Part of the loading yard; Sbega is a lumber depot, collecting from surrounding operations for milling and/or transport.
A Few Words On (51):
The Eternal Lover (E.R. Burroughs)
Kommerz murders all things, and it seems this baleful influence reaches as far as pulps. Burroughs has two nice caveman stories here, one Tarzan and one Pellucidar, but in order to get them sold, he needs to lash them in to characters from The Mad King and set half the action at Tarzan's ranch, which hurts the story as it happens and then forces the most unsatisfying conclusion possible. This is crap, and if it made sales crap, as it should, it ought to have given Burroughs, if he had a tenth of the courage of his heroes, the impetus to yell FUCK YOU I MADE TARZAN I WRITE WHAT I WANT the next time his editors suggested anything as lame as a crossover or tie-in.
0331. Only the dead see the end of the war. Ruined barrack and cemetery on the outskirts of Ksen'evskaya.
0332. Twisting double stair, maybe a memorial of some kind, arching over the steps to the station house at Ksen'evskaya.
A Few Words On (52):
The Gods of Mars (E.R. Burroughs)
"The whole fabric of our religion is based on superstitious belief in lies that have been foisted upon us for ages by those directly above us, to whose personal profit and aggrandizement it was to have us continue to believe as they wished us to believe." It aint just on Mars, Xodar. As indicated, in this book John Carter, along with green, black (one of whom is the head engineer who makes the above declaration), and red comrades, fights his way out of Hell/Heaven, defeats a palace intrigue, kills the titular gods of Mars (and probably, with them the religion), and gets cut off by pagecount on the cliffhanger of all cliffhangers. Read it, enjoy it, rage at the ending, and quote Xodar at people who believe in religion.
0333. Some wildflowers on a layby stop. We're late into Mogocha, but I don't care. Three days 2 hours, three days 3 hours, even 5; does it matter when NEXT POINT is the end of the road?
A Few Words On (53):
Jungle Tales of Tarzan (E.R. Burroughs)
This collection -- sequential, but self-contained -- goes back to the adolescence of Tarzan for a suite of jungle fairy tales with, for the most part, clear morals. That some of these include white supremacy is an artifact of the times, but should still warrant careful handling of these pieces by modern audiences. Decent craft but no overarching adventure, you could consider these Tarzan B-sides, and not go terribly wrong.
We got delayed a fair while, but are now moving again, and the moving air is maybe the most welcome part of that. The clouds are built up, but rain's not looking likely till dark.
0334. Stripped pines and slender birch.
Dinner did finish up the second bread, so that ration is indeed half gone. With only three more self-supply meals between here and Vladivostok, I won't need the fourth, and if possible will put it in cold storage for the ferry. It's also possible that the cheese will last past those three, in which case I'll probably scoop it with apricots on the final approach from Ussuriysk, removing the bulk of a mostly-empty container and the weight of a couple fruit.
The plan on arrival in Vladi is to check in and dump my gear after photoing the mile post, then go look for ferry offices. I don't know where the DBS office is at, or FESCO, but where ferries dock, there's usually somewhere selling tickets. One way or another, I'll get something organized -- and if not, I can get an out laid on through China to either SK or Japan without enormous difficulty. Leaving an end hanging is always risky, but I knew what I was getting into when I built that into the initial plan.
0335. The rear end of the train rounding a curve.
0336. Over a river where the bridge has no uprights above the track.
0337. Mountains and phone wire, coming in to Amazar.
0338. Mountains over a lumber depot, Amazar.
0339. Exposed birch on the mountains over Amazar.
We're a full hour late here, so it's not out of the question that the scheduled 20 minutes might be a little curtailed.
0340. Station fence detail, Amazar. These started as swans, and then the time and weather got to them.
What's interesting about little towns like this, beyond the scenery, is the look they give into the Soviet era. Next to the only large apartment block south of the tracks, there's a small storefront marked ПРОДУКТИ -- Produkti, "products". You see stores with this legend in urban Russia as well, but out here, it's really obvious that they started out -- locations like this one, but maybe also the name -- as general commissaries (magazin produkti) in the communist days. Those were state apartments -- there weren't any other kind, especially with that style -- and as long as the Ministry of Housing or whatever was going to be building new apartments in goddamned Amazar, they might as well build a commissary next to it, so that the residents wouldn't have to walk too far to get bread, cleaning supplies, and the latest issue of Pravda.
0341. Reservoir dam and the remains of an older one, below Amazar.
A Few Words On (54):
The Land of Hidden Men (E.R. Burroughs)
Set in the fastnesses of colonial Cambodia, this is basically the same as any other Burroughs swashbuckler, but the reluctant white adventurer in this one significantly shows no sign of regarding his Khmer companions (and, of course, eventual bride) as in any way inferior. With brains and grace as well as muscle and guts, he wins his way through, and very few of his adversaries are as evil as they initially seem. Yeah, the plot's formula, but the ultimate result is quite modern, as well as an enjoyably diverting read.
The sun is starting to drop; oranges paint the trees, and the shadows are long. I don't see myself staying awake much past Yerofei Pavlovich, just to see how late we are, but stranger things have happened.
Some words on borscht before I forget and go to sleep: today was the first time I had this delicacy, as the soup with lunch. Russian train borscht, at least, is a chicken broth with a chunk of carcass in it, some cream, and a bunch of vegetables dominated by shredded beets. It was pretty good, and not super beety. Despite the place this soup is held to hold in Russian culture, the dining staff rep announced it with trepidation to the paras traveling with me; I suspect that in the Russian army, "hot food" on maneuvers is far too often borscht for them to get super enthusiastic about it. To eat borscht, you probably want to eat it like a Russian, since it is a Russian soup. First, bang it about with your spoon until it is as uniformly blended as it's going to get. With this done, break up some of your brown bread and throw it in the soup. Let it soak, then eat the bread and soup together. If you eat borscht without bread in it, you are probably doing it wrong.
0342. High plains in falling light.
0343. Tarn and embankment.
0344. Way out into the open distance.
A Few Words On (55):
The Land That Time Forgot (E.R. Burroughs)
It takes so long for the story to get to Caspak that this might be better called The Land That Burroughs Forgot He Was Supposed To Put His Characters In. This book is the merest preamble to the later Caspak stuff, and it doesn't show a great tendency to break out of exposition mode, the obligatory dinosaur fighting and caveman conflicts feeling like little more than encyclopedia entries. If all the Caspak material was collected into a single volume and set in proper order, it would be something, but none of the pieces really stand on their own.
Exactly an hour late into Yerofei Pavlovich. I don't see this changing much overnight, and perhaps not even by the end of the journey. It's still damned hot, and while the setting sun will help with that, we're in or in the process of crossing into northeast Asia, and if there's anything east Asian, it's heat and humidity.
A Few Words On (56):
The Lost Continent (E.R. Burroughs)
To understand the impact the First World War had on the people of its time, all you need to do is read this book. It is a quick read, though a little longer than Carnivore's "World Wars III and IV", which is kind of the audiobook version -- the titular continent is a Europe that never collapsed around its own ears in mutiny at Verdun, in soviets and freikorps in Munich, or in the storming of the Winter Palace, but continued to kill until it was stick against stone. The result: savagery and jungle beasts on the Thames, and Africans developed to the level of the 19th century once freed of the dead weight of colonialism fighting frontier skirmishes with Asians of the mid-20th in the ruins of Berlin. The usual period racism isn't completely extirpated, but Burroughs isn't afraid to consign Europe to savagery -- nor to lay the blame on the gory grey god WAR.
Light's gone; I estimate about 10:30 local time, which puts us a little north and an hour, approximately, east of where we were yesterday. A mug of tea, and then sleep -- the next to last before the goal.
The paras have something beerlike called Kuler (Кулер) that comes in bottles with a pull ring. I'll need to investigat this if possible; I can't count on stuff just being available in Vladivostok. It was bad enough letting caps like in Yeka when I might have, with difficulty, taken them with.
7/2 - ???? (somewhere north of Mongolia)
I awoke to grey skies a little before 0100 Moscow time. I had slept relatively well, but I have no idea where we are, or what kind of time is being made. It looks like we're about 75 minutes late into Ushumun, but I have no idea to confirm the impression; a wall of freight cars blocks the station signage.
0345. Gray morning on a distant forest.
A Few Words On (57):
The Mastermind of Mars (E.R. Burroughs)
In this one, Burroughs puts another Earthman on Barsoom, but mostly to introduce one of his great characters, Ras Thavras, the pure genius of science. It would be too easy to make Dr. Brainswap a conventional mad scientist, but Thavras acts with nobility and detachment, the moral not twisted but utterly separate from the technical. This double-edged sword in hand, Burroughs gives a pricking to mindless scientism, and the whalloping of a lifetime to fundamentalist religion. Scared shitless by a roaring idol? Only in Phundalia, and yes, goddidit.
We've made good time and reached Shimanovskaya only an hour behind schedule. There's not a lot of opportunity to trim minutes ahead, but half an hour in Byelogorsk around eleven local will probably not run as long as all that.
0346. Trees and what might appear parkland.
0347. More pines cut down the distance.
0348. Plains and a distant forest.
0349. Rain streaks cloud a pine forest.
A Few Words On (58):
The Monster Men (E.R. Burroughs)
Alas, that Burroughs did not know kung fu. As it is, we get a fairly decent and mostly positive nonwhite semihero in Sing Lee -- dialect and racist characterization aside -- as a redeeming point in a Frankenstein story that's done better in Synthetic Men of Mars. Particularly galling is the final twist, which the book would have been better off without, but if you're going to sell books in the 1930s where a Chinese cook is smarter than all the whites, and a two-gun USN officer is a blackguard, I guess you've got to tie it up with conventional melodrama.
It's raining again, and we're crawling again. Nothing on that first storm in the Urals, but I'd still rather not lose any more time.
0350. Skeleton of a building on the outskirts of Svobodniy.
0351. These towers are universal around train stations in Russia; they're not large enough to be water towers, nor as commanding as a signal/traffic control tower should probably require, so their purpose is unknown to me. At Свободный.
A Few Words On (59):
The Moon Maid (E.R. Burroughs)
This is a mediocre story that never figures out its own science and is set in a stupid and self-contradictory frame. Almost every aspect, including the critique of communism, is half-assed, and the unsatisfying conclusion is probably not so much running out of wordcount as the discovery that the whole thing kind of sucked, and it wasn't worth the trouble of putting any effort into tying it up.
0352. Fields of the shortest trees I've seen in any great number on this trip.
0353. Great river in high flood. The trusses of the bridge seemed to go on forever.
We're now definitely in a different biome from the mountain forests of yesterday. I just wish we were doing a better job of keeping to the schedule.
0354. Endless grassland under shrouded skies, allegedly approaching Serishyevo.
video9: The wind drives waves in the sea of grass.
The combined effect of the low clouds, haze, and flat country is that I can't see the horizon. I know where it must be, but visibility drops off just before that, somewhere out in that nearly] (ref knorkator) immeasurable distance.
We've crossed a line -- there are right-hand-drive cars on the roads. Russia still drives on the left, but Japan doesn't and has a punitive 5-year inspection regime that ensures a continual demand for new Toyotas and Hondas -- and a continual surplus of used vehicles that need dumping somewhere with high demand for modern vehicles and a libertarian approach to traffic safety. These should increase in number as we approach Vladivostok.
The paras are starting to get their kit back on; if not before, they're probably out at Khabarovsk, then heading out towards Kamchatka or Sakhalin. This means only new companions, not an empty compartment, though; even "with services", second class isn't likely to go empty for long.
We're currently four in the compartment, at least for lunch, which is going to be interesting with the table only so big.
A Few Words On (60):
The Mucker (E.R. Burroughs)
This is another omnibus; a jungle adventure, a boxing yarn, and a Western pasted together by common characters and a bit of literary bondo. When Burroughs learned to split these things into separate volumes, he advanced greatly as an author, or at least as an author that people were inclined to read. In the meantime, this is a cumbersome classist and racist romance thoroughly shot through with annoying dialect. Ignore.
So it is that I've fought my way through almost all the the Burroughs; 60 total books gone, less than 10 ERB works left on the device. I won't finish before 11 AM tomorrow -- when we probably look for our final destination -- but I should get most of them put down and leave only a few for the remaining plane and ferry legs.
Apparently the table was too small for the paras, who ate their soup in-bunk. I'm not relishing another day of "schnitzel", but that's what I get for not learning how to pronounce 'chicken'. Eat what's in your bowl!
A Few Words On (61):
The Oakdale Affair (E.R. Burroughs)
After the ponderous and interminable mess of The Mucker, it's a great surprise to see the musical tramp Bridge back in this light-hearted and compact satire on the detective story. The twists are obvious a mile away, but that's kind of the point, and if the end plays for mellerdrammer, well, maybe that also is merely for the lulz.
We're an hour and more an hour and more late into Zabitaya, but the important part is that I've reached the third page of my votpusk print. We get to Khabarovsk seven lines down, and the night should carry us nearly to the bottom of the page.
A Few Words On (62):
The Red Hawk (E.R. Burroughs)
Apparently, the weird, crappily-finished Moon Maid was in prelude to this story, where white Americans after the fashion of First Nations drive the invaders from the moon into the Pacific. This one is also horribly underfinished, and misses an introduction of the Moon Commies, so the result is neither compelling nor satisfying. Burroughs does ok with the past and the remote, but his immediate and future stuff, this not excepted, generally sucks eggs.
0355. The mountains start to rise again, south of Buryeya.
And now we're stuck on yet another siding. What will be, will be.
A Few Words On (63):
Tarzan and the City of Gold (E.R. Burroughs)
Tarzan may fight a couple lions in this one, but strictly pro forma; this is a palace intrigue that the King of the Apes feels out of place in. The climax is unsatisfying, but the whole book is kind of light on filling content in general.
We've left the mountains of the last stop behind, but unless I miss my guess, we'll be at least 90 minutes late into Arkhara, flat country and all. The train is running flat out, and I'm glad this is now the last day of the last stage.
Through a tunnel and into more uplands -- still no indicator of a stop.
A Few Words On (64):
Tarzan and the Forbidden City (E.R. Burroughs)
The singular in the title is misleading. There are two cities in the forbidden caldera, and the result is that the denounement is hopelessly confused, as multiple groups from the large cast shuffle between them, through the lake, and in and out of captivity like hotel rooms in a French farce or a Benny Hill chase scene. The first two-thirds are good, but in the actual Forbidden City, it kind of goes all to pieces.
My instincts in Novosibirsk were correct. I have only 2 teabags of 25 left from Yekaterinburg, and the late arrival will probably do for both of them, leaving a lack, potentiall, for a mug tomorrow. I won't need all 25 from the backup box, but there's a week and more after arrival that I might need to use them in, and it's better to have and not need than to need and not have.
The mountains in this area are just goddamned amazing, both sides of the train. They're too distant to photo, so take my word for it -- that or get out here yourself.
0356. A blue range of distant bergs to the southeast.
The train is occasionally turned such that the afternoon sun throws shadows into the compartment. This can only indicate a southward heading, and while it's not consistent, shifting more often than not to the east, the corner we're supposed to turn is somewhere around here, and if not by Khabarovsk, it will surely be shortly after.
Our new compartmentmate appears to be headed for Khabarovsk. From Byelogorsk this is nearly a day by train, but there are few alternatives. Intercity aviation sucks, and the highway signs out here tend to have stuff like 1761km on them at turnings, like WWII checkpoints arrowed at Berlin, Tokyo, and Dodger Stadium. Distances thought purely abstract in the outside world are concrete in Siberia; I've already traveled farther on the ground since Helsinki than I did by air getting there.
If I have not completed my circuit yet -- and I'm pretty sure I have -- it will definitely finish on the turn to Primorskiy Krai when I start heading back west. I've been to Korea, and Korea is provably west of the whole of Primorskiy Krai. This, as much as standing by that mile post tomorrow noon, finishes the first objective: it's deciding the rest, and extracting safely, where things will probably get a bit sticky.
Already I've gone a huge distance, and seen amazing things, but I'm not homesick, nor even yet tired of adventure. I want a wash and a shave, but sticky forearms and an itchy neck are not the same thing as low spirits -- and with the first my pelt loses its luxurious black glint, while the second will make me a poor Rasputin impersonator indeed.
The village that we're passing through, apparently Obluch'ye, is the next level in scavenging railroad stuff. Numerous sheds/outbuildings made of old carriages, and a combination bridge/causeway built on flatbed cars. Might as well; the train, given the mountains and remoteness, is the only way anything's getting in here, so if the building materials themselves roll, so much the better.
Apparently, the fourth of the four meals in "with services" is dinner on day 3, because we're scheduled to make Vladivostok before lunch tomorrow. As a result, I wasted five slices of bread and a corresponding amount of cheese, but I've got more than enough of both to account for the two meals I'll need to cover tomorrow, if we don't pick up the pace overnight. I should not be happy for the free calories, but the field is the wrong place to diet: feed when you can, ration when you can't, and if you're doing it right, you don't get fat traveling.
Nothing but high peaks out the starboard side now, and the clouds are getting caught in their tops. The birch are almost gone now, even from the flats, and the mountains are as Asian as all get-out.
A Few Words On (65):
Tarzan and the Foreign Legion (E.R. Burroughs)
Set in WWII Sumatra and full of dehumanizing portrayals of Japanese with ridiculous names (Kumajiro, "bear juice" is not so bad, but srsly, find me a dude called Kaneko), this is a self-aware, fourth-wall-shattering volume playing fast and loose with world boundaries, but which redeems itself with two-fisted combat action. Think "Back to Bataan with Tarzan", and you won't be far wrong. It's not the best Tarzan story, but as Tarzan war propaganda goes, it's a decent read.
It's a great relief, when meat is on the menu, to recognize something that was unambiguously once part of an animal. It's a greater relief to be able to battle, fed, against a dude who had only snacked, and win a comprehensive victory by chopsticks over fork. They did give me plastic utensils, but I've not only got sunk cost in these Snow Peaks, I've got to up my skills for the countries ahead. My only regret is that I didn't get to go after potatoes with them...yet.
No pics from Birobidinsk. It's too thinly settled, too short a stop, and too many surrounding trains. Two hours to Khabarovsk.
A Few Words On (66):
Tarzan and the Golden Lion (E.R. Burroughs)
With the titular lion only getting a couple cameos, this is mostly a straight-up caper set in the jungle: gold and diamonds boosted, murder and disguises, double-crosses by the score. Burroughs keeps the tension up and the dialect mostly down, and the pages fly by -- at least when it's not bogged down by its blacks-vs-gorillas subplot in Opar. A good read, but it should probably go in order rather than at random.
Khabarovsk is allegedly "soon" (час gets thrown about, but it's the root of a lot of time expressions as well as the word for 'hour'), and the paras are bailing, while the new guy looks likely to stick. Unless he's getting off at one of the night stations, I should be ok, and after Byazemskaya at ten, there's no stops more than 2 minutes until first light. Dude seems like a good egg, but you can never be too careful.
A Few Words On (67):
Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar (E.R. Burroughs)
This is Tarzan as battle royale: Waiziri versus Arabas versus Ethiopians versus Belgians versus lost tribes versus apes versus the jungle itself, and bestriding it all, the invincible if frequently amnesiac figure of Tarzan. Burroughs knows that he's getting into trouble sending his hero out for loot, and makes the adventure a harrowing as well as gripping one: Tarzan can't solve all his problems by goldfarming Opar, and to do it at all needs to be strenuous and painful, or you have Jungle Batman entirely.
A haze has settled over the landscape, and we're far from the mountains. The foliage is different, but otherwise, I'd think myself thousands of kilometers west, still on the wide plains and birch stands of the Eurussian steppe. The night will be coming soon; I don't believe that Primorskiy is honestly +7 from Moscow (Magadan oblast is, and Anadyr is +8 or +9), but +5 or +6 by the sun, to match Korea and Japan, puts us in Khabarovsk at 2130 by schedule and 2330 IRL today. The light will go with the paras, and after the last dusk, the last dawn.
Billboards by a motor road -- we must be getting close to Khabarovsk. There's no comparable city for another 16 hours.
When possible, I mean to come back to Khabarovsk. The great Amur River won't come out in this light, and the militsya guard at the approaches shows that there's more to this city than just a waterway and a war crimes court.
Modern houses after Japanese plans, cheek by jowl with Soviet rubble and traditional Siberian homes of wood and metal. Welcome to Northeast Asia, truly.
I wanted to take pictures of the refinery complex -- truly huge, with red and white stacks like a passage out of Patlabor 2, but tourists don't take pictures of refineries, and there's a bunch of Russian paratroopers in the corridor.
0357. Into Khabarovsk-Stadt. Light's hopeless.
7/3 - somewhere in Primorskiy Krai
In Khabarovsk, we were joined by the two Dimas and for socialization purposes, plus the fact of the last night, I hauled the bottle of scotch out when I got made as an Ami, like the old villain I appear to be. The result was a good time had by all, and a late start on sleeping, but true to form I can't stay asleep on one of these contraptions past first light, and I still have about 2/3 of the bottle left for the ferry if needed. If not, I guess I scupper it when I land in Japan.
0358. Railroad siding at dawn. More delays.
0359. Distant peak capped with a weather station.
0360. Different mountains, more light.
A Few Words On (68):
Tarzan and the Lion-Man (E.R. Burroughs)
This is principally a vent outlet for Burroughs; a self-aware cri de coeur against the superficiality and stupidity of Hollywood, which by this time he was neck deep in via film adaptations of Tarzan. Here, a bumbling studio fits out a safari to shoot a Tarzan clone on location, and inevitably needs to be rescued from the real dangers of the bush by the real Lord of the Jungle. Once it gets going it's ok, but the Hollywood-driven start merely reinforces Tarzan's impression at the start of the book: these people are so useless and depraved that it's ok to let them be murdered by natives and/or devoured by lions.
I'm not packed yet, but could be in about 5 minutes; boots will take a little longer. It can wait till Ussuriysk, at least.
0361. Ussuriysk station, shorn of ID.
Somehow, we're back on schedule. It's still two hours to Vladi, though, so I have time to finish my current book before packing up.
0362. Leaving Ussuriysk.
A Few Words On (69):
Tarzan and the Lost Empire (E.R. Burroughs)
This is a Roman repaint of a Tarzan story told many times: feuding lost cities, and the ape-man and his companions split between. Burroughs turns the crank well, and Gabula gets high marks for brains and guts among his black characters, but if you've read a lot of Tarzan, you'll read this one a couple times over in different guises.
Even more than finishing the Trans-Sib or getting a shower, I'm looking forward to taking pictures not through these godawful dirty impossible train windows.
0363. Shrubs of Primorskiy.
Plan for today is simple: arrive, get mile post, check in, get ferry, get all the beers, do washing, sleep. I can plan other stuff, and decide it, how, and with what kit, I'm going to China tomorrow. I would like to, but I need to double confirm air-center connections on both sides, AND be sure I can get on a DBS ferry this time next week. If I'm stuck with FESCO, I have to prep Japan instead.
0364. High house on a sunlit slope.
Just saw my first weighted roof. This doesn't work too well for snow, but is a typhoon precaution well known further south.
This spit of water, these marshes -- it can only be the sea, the Pacific Ocean, fully nine days after I left the shores of the Atlantic. For all the mountains call in the spirit of black metal, I'm one who grew up with salt air in his nostrils, and to be back again in touch with the ocean remains something special.
0365. Across the bay at Ugol'naya, off the peninsula to the mainland.
It was inevitable, in this heat and with this humidity, that I was going to cut a lace. Fortunately, it's only the one -- so far -- and it cut on tie-up, with enough slack to still relace and tie up without going for spares. I kept the cut end without thinking; if it's not long enough to keep for real, I can discard it elsewhere, and it's not like the end of a bootlace is a great burden.
- Vladivostok -
What a reward, for reaching the end in one piece and unconquered.
0366. Right across from the station, after debarking.
0367. Mile post 9288. I had to go out and back in to get this, because my train didn't originate in Moscow, and I'm also bad at navigating the track overpass walk.
0368. Base slate.
0369. Backlit selfie with the pillar; coming out solo means no kill-shot gloating, but this looks pretty effin killer if I do say so myself.
0370. To the north crest of Vladivostok. I was going over the south hill, but this looks amazing.
0371. Амурский Сан Франсиске. The comparison is apt in grade, but the absolute number of hills is fairly small.
0372. Ruined pier in Amur Bay, perfectly framed.
0373. Ship and far island.
I got turned away at the Azimut property at u. Naberezhnaya 10, and it took a while to find the one at Naberezhnaya 9 that I was actually booked into, due to the use of a neo-Japanese numbering system, but it wasn't all a waste of time.
0374. New high-rise under construction on Naberezhnaya.
0375. Admiral Makarov looks boldly north into Amur Bay.
0376. Siberian tiger statue, coming back up the slope.
0377. Trees and graceful lampposts, hiking back up the crest of Naberezhnaya.
0378. Beat-up, yet impressive building -- it's also in 0372 -- with its foot on the beach.
0379. Panorama of my hotel and the surrounding area.
So I got checked in, got showered and stuff, removed enough hair from my face to stuff a golf ball, and in all ways got civilized again in order to set up the next leg.
0380. The Golden Link carries cars down the inlet at skyscraper height.
0381. Memorial to the Red forces in the Far East. Vladivostok was only claimed for the USSR in 1925.
0382. Hammer and sickle on the base.
0383. One of two bands of Red fighters, framed by the Avia hotel.
0384. Uphill from the embankment.
0385. Small shopping street.
0386. Through the rails at Dinamo stadium. No club shop, but what do you expect from a team just promoted out of the third division?
0387. Churchlet and memorial out front.
0388. Better view of the domes.
0389. Coming back; ships at anchor in Amur Bay.
0390. Impression shot of the hotel area; amazing jungle ruin feel.
0391. Hotel, headland, and more ships.
0392. Eventually, I'll get tired of ships with this many around.
0393. New Hyatt on the point.
0394. Down to the gardens in front of the hotel.
0395. View out from my balcony. The Hotel Vladivostok is an old Soviet mess with reception on the roof and black mold in the showers, but I love it to pieces for vistas like these.
0396. Koreans are here what do??! Tell them fan death isn't a thing, for starters. Despite the fact that everyone everywhere else keeps their fans on forever with no ill effects, native South Koreans believe that leaving electric fans on overnight is hazardous to their health. Hence, fans sold where Koreans might buy them have a timer switch like this one on them. It's neat to see, but annoying for Westerners who don't believe in fan death and like a cool breeze in more than two-hour increments.
I've done everything booked for today but the laundry, and I can do that before I go down for dinner. (After a week on train food and ration bread, I can splurge a little on hotel 'Chinese'.) I have to book Japan and ask about reg arrangements to see if China goes ahead, but I can do that tomorrow morning while I plan my Vladi tour schedule. I've seen a lot of stuff already, but there's stuff I haven't got to, booze made with barnacles two hours north, and probably stuff I've forgotten.
Despite the presence of "Порт Роял" (yes, "Port Royal", though to Americans it probably looks like Nopm Porn) up the slope, I'm going to go over 30 caps for this trip, and may go over 40. The neigborhood produkti has an amazing selection, so good I'm not sure I can clean it out at 5 cpd if I go to China. They still hold for me not only the aforenoted Kuler, but also Baltka 0, which must be like the secret level. (If so, it's a disappointing secret level; nonalcoholic, so it doesn't count in any case, and it's got the same cap as Baltika 7.) Awesomeness.
So it looks like I lost the 1-kopeck piece I found by accident in Yekaterinburg. I'm bummed, but this really rates a big "oh well". The coin is decirced, and unless I go up to Ussuriysk, I'm not going to be in a position to get any kopecks any more. I fought well, but ultimately, reality wins.