Liou's quiet little life...or is it?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Finally arrived in Japan

Hi there!

Well, I am finally in Japan after arriving 2 days ago. Left Irkutsk on the 10th and arrived at Vladivistok the 13th. This train was just a tiny bit more shabby, but I had a lot more of of fun. The atmosphere was much more convivial than last time, with people walking around in their pyjamas and going from one compartment to another in the same wagon to talk to different people. I made quite some portraits with my Nikon film-camera, I will put them on the internet as soon as I can develop and scan them! Well not much to say, as it was the same relaxed journey consisting of reading, eating, talking, checking out the food on the platforms. I must note that on the first station after Irkutsk (!) I almost missed the train!!!! I was buying some typical Siberian nuts (from the cedar) when the vending lady started shouting at me and grabbed my arm to turn me around. I was quite shocked when I saw the train starting to move!!! Apparently as the train was a bit late, the driver decided to leave earlier than the usual stop says. Even the provodokna (train conductor) was surprised by this. You can imagine the stress as I runned on my socks and slippers through the thick snow to jump aboard again. Well, let me say I stayed in jumping distance from the train after this little adventure :) As my fellow American traveller quoted from Coppola's movie 'Apocalypse Now', "Never get off the boat"!!!!

The rest of the journey went pretty smooth and we arrived in Vladivostok dead on time! As it was Sunday it was quite hard to find somewhere to have breakfast, so we ended up in this R&B cafe with fashion catwalks on several plasma tv's and waitresses with short skirts. We first thought this was quite a shady brothel-like of place, but this wasn't so. Alex had met a Russian girl (Olga) through a hospitality website, and she was willing to host us and show us around the town. This was very, very cool indeed! Instead of going to the typical tourist spots we got to:
- picknick on a rock above the sea with a beautiful view.
- go out in the local club playing good alternative rock music (franz ferdinand, futureheads, the cure, joy division, etc.
- meet interesting art students.
- see Vladivostok by night from the top of a appartment building.

It was quite hard to say goodbye from Olga, even if we only spent about 32 hours together!

The boat trip was quite interesting, as there were only 10 foreigners out of approximately 150 russians! The women seemed to hide (both passengers and personnel) and they had every reason to! Most of the men were drunk by the evening, and some already started drinking around 10 am!!! So during the night we had to protect Heather (american) and Lisa (australian) as they would get harassed, even if not in an aggressive way. The rest of the trip was okay, you had a lot more walking space than in the train of course.

Again we met some very interesting people. I shared my cabin with a Japanese 60-year old hippie, Tadahiro, who had taken the transsiberian 8 times, as he didn't like taking planes to Europe! Last time was 30 years ago, and he said nothing had changed in the mentality and attitude of the Russian people. Quite a shock there, as the fall of Communism apparently has had little effect on life! A good example of this were the lunch and dinners: we were assigned to the 'foreigner' table and had to be there in time and were asked to leave after 30 minutes in a friendly but certain way! Another interesting guy was Yunden, from Buryat. This is an autonomous republic in Siberia, north of Mongolia. Apparently, as Tadahiro told me, these people have the most similar DNA to the Japanese compared to any other people. And indeed Yunden seemed Japanese except for two things: his larger size and his incredible capacity for wodka :) He is running a business in buying digging machines from Japan and reselling them to golddiggers in Siberia!

The arrival at Japan, Fushiki took quite a while. We arrived around 9.30 am local time, but only got out around 13.30!!! The immigration and customs check went on board (in the nightclub) and a huge queue followed. As non-russians we were told to wait until the end, absolutely no idea why. I was quite nervous there, since I have a double nationality, which the Japanese do not allow. My custom officer said something about not being able to find something about the Netherlands, but his colleague said it was alright and that he should let me pass, pfewww!

And then I finally set foot on Japan!!! This was absolutely surreal!!! After 4 weeks of travelling, my mind could not comprehend it. It was like walking in a dream or in a Japanese theme park. Everything is so Japanese, cute, safe, friendly, etc. It is only after two days that I am getting used to the idea! This is also because Vladivostok has nothing asian at all. According to my feeling it could be 50 km from Moscow. After some initial problems with getting cash, I got on the train and was at my grandparents house within 1,5 hour!!! They were very happy to see me, although the signals are much more subtle than in another culture. They have also grown much older since the last time I visited them, 3 years ago. My grandpa has more trouble walking, and they get tired quickly. But still, he is approaching 90 years and they still live on their own without any assistance, which is something I can't say about a lot of elderly people back in Europe!!

Only now I am getting back to (Japanese) reality. After 60 hours on the ferry, by body repeated the rolling movement of the boat until now, which was a really strange sensation. I ate some delicious sukiyaki two days ago, and some excellent and fresh sushi yesterday, so I am slowly recuperating. Yesterday morning getting up was like getting out of coma! But everything is fine now. Sunday I will head to my uncle near Tokyo and stay there until the 5th of December, when I will actually start to work, another surreal thought :) I am at a very nice internet cafe now, with small boots with leather lounge seats, slippers and reading light, very Japanese indeed. At my uncle's house there should be internet, so I will finally be able to answer you all personally!

Some pictures:


Cheers,
Liou

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