The Train from Yekaterinburg to Novosibirsk

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The standout feature of the train is undoubtedly the provodnitsa in the next wagon. She looks to be in her late twenties and is quite stunning with long blonde hair and a firm figure under her uniform. Don quickly sets up our new plant, Nastya the Tree, hanging inside her plastic bag in the window. Our Russian companion in the cabin is a middle aged woman with red hair and a lively disposition. We all get settled and I setup the portable sound system again to enjoy some music.

Yekat Graffiti Action

Yekat Graffiti Action

We talk about how much fun Yekaterinburg was and how much graffiti we had seen there. The three of us compare pictures we had taken at different times and uncover a host of creative, pointed commentary in the artwork. We had heard Yekaterinburg had a history as a musical centre of Russia, but with only one weekend in the city, and the endless summer day taking priority, we hadn’t managed to experience it. This went on the list of reasons to return. At the top of that list were the friendly, wonderful local people, followed by the beautiful nature reserve.
“Have you heard any of the Russians directly complain about the government?”, Lari asks, thinking aloud.
Don and I try to remember any examples.
“Well, they often show distaste and frustration, but don’t really complain”, Don pitches in.
“I think I’ve more often seen them just shrug and accept that the government only exists to cause them problems. Then they find a practical way around it”, I add.
“That sounds very familiar to me, very Australian. We accept so much crap without complaining, we just deal with it and move on”, Lari points out.
“I’ve thought that a few times here already, that we seem to think the same. It’s not quite the same, but close”, I agree.
“You think so?” Don begins, looking askance at me.
“I think I’ve seen them assume something will stop them enjoying life soon. That the end is inevitable. Not very Australian at all.”
“It’s hardly a ‘No Worries’ culture is it?” I agree, laughing.
“With their history it’s no surprise”, Don adds,
“The government kills its own people more often than it fights anyone else.”
“And yet, they keep voting for the same kind of leader”, Lari points out with a sigh.
“You can’t change culture overnight”, Don surmises, before drinking some more orange juice.
“But more people SHOULD wear colourful tie-dye shirts Don. You know you need one”, I say, taunting him with the bare truth.
“Never! Just because you’re a soap dodging, basket weaving hippie doesn’t mean the rest of us rational people will give in to the madness!”
“Oh Don needs a hug there”, Lari says, gesturing for me to provide one.
I lean forward with my arms open,
“Get away from me hippie!” Don yells, kicking his feet in the air laughing.

Russian pedestrian safety barrier

Russian pedestrian safety barrier

The air-conditioning isn’t working terribly well in the wagon on this hot summer day on the way into Siberia, but Lari decides to lie down and snooze for a while anyway. Don and I head for the dining car to see what’s going on there. On the way we stop and talk to the beautiful provodnitsa. Okay, it’s in the other direction but we…umm…have to find out if she has vodka for us for later on. She doesn’t and we turn around to find the dining car. Much to my delight I discover Bozbashi soup on the menu and we order a couple of bowls and a bottle of vodka to help the day flow a little easier. We finish it and acquire more vodka and stroll back to see what Lari is up to. On the way we are both commenting on how many connections to Novosibirsk we have built up so far. Two of our hosts are from the region around it and a fair percentage of other Couchsurfers we’ve met have been as well. Lari has dozed for an hour or two and just woken up, so we find her dazedly trying to chat with our Russian companion. We immediately offer vodka to everyone and share a few shots while we try to understand her story. With the aid of my beginner’s Russian dictionary, we slowly discover that she used to be a teacher, but is now retired and taking a summer holiday to visit a friend in Novosibirsk. She says she knows many people around the country through her teaching career and always has someone to stay with when she wants to travel. Trying to explain Couchsurfing to her is far too difficult for our meagre Russian talents and she ends up quizzing us on our lives. This takes a while to try to convey and eventually we’re all a bit tired, Don more than others as he has slowly melted into his bed with a foot hanging out the open window.

Lari and I head back to the dining car to have some chicken schnitzel for dinner with a little more vodka and lashings of orange juice.
“Yekaterinburg had such a different pace to St Petersburg”, Lari comments while we’re waiting for everything to arrive.
“Much more laid back, more, well…..Australian”, I agree,
“The first two cities were nice to visit, St Petersburg more so than Moscow, but I always felt more at home with Yekat.”
“So why is it so easy to be around Russians then?” Lari poses.
“I don’t know. I wasn’t expecting that at all. Maybe they’re just really good hosts?”
“Well, they’ve got it down pat. What was it Uralski Yulia said? ‘The guest is king.’”
“Yep, that was it. The only way I’ve been able to do anything for my hosts is to surprise them and insist or give them farewell gifts.”
“So they are good hosts, but maybe they’re just humouring us.”
“It just doesn’t feel that way. I think they’re just good people.”
Our vodka arrives and Lari pours out shots. We toast the Russians before I continue my woolgathering,
“To a large degree I’m a believer that all people are essentially the same. Divisions of language, culture, religion and race are artificial surfaces hastily spray painted onto the same basic human.”
“Amen to that”, she toasts with the orange juice.
I think it’s a common feeling amongst a lot of people I grew up with and met in Darwin. It’s also a view I’ve found in common with almost every Couchsurfer I’ve met.
“What I wasn’t expecting and have never experienced to the same degree with another culture is how these Russians…”, I pause to find the words, “these Russians with such a different language and history to us…somehow manage to laugh at the same things in the same way.”
My wave of thought is spent and I look out the window enjoying the scenery for a few moments before Lari continues,
“Sense of humour is always different for different cultures. Some things everyone laughs at, poo jokes and sex jokes.”
“Lowest common denominator”, I say with a wry smile.
“If you can make someone laugh without those jokes”, she adds, “you have to share some part of their culture and their history. But we all managed it all the time.”
“True. Maybe we’re just funny bastards.”
“Oh you craaaaaazy Aussie”, she says in an impressive Russian accented sarcastic tone.
“But there’s something there. Aussies and Russians. Weird.”
I feel a growing sense of some connection between the people of our countries, but I’m still trying to get a grip on where that feeling is coming from.

Yekat Graffiti Action

Yekat Graffiti Action

We return to the cabin to find Don has woken up again and the three of us sit on the top two bunks listening to music quietly as our companion enjoys an evening doze. We get talking about the number of times someone has described how beautiful Russia can be during the winter – especially Don and Lari’s hosts.
“They are certainly part of the Siberian love affair with the winter landscape”, Lari comments.
“They’re not Siberian Lari!” Don corrects her.
“Oh yeah…so what are they? Uralian?”
“No! You alien!”, I say in my best Russian accent while pointing at her angrily.
“All of them asked when we would come back in winter to enjoy the country properly”, Don continues.
“The amount of passion they have about the topic convinces me I have to experience a winter here; just to find out what they’re all talking about”, I muse.
“Now there’s a sentence I don’t think any Australian would ever think they would say seriously”, Don says with an eyebrow raised.
“But…that’s how the Russian people get into your heart – the passionate honesty.”

Around eleven I think to send Yulia, our next host in Novosibirsk, a message to confirm we’re on the train and will arrive in the morning. I decide to go for a walk along the train since we haven’t done very much all day. In the place two carriages join I pause with one foot on each platform and sing Lasciatemi Morire a few times to keep it fresh. I want it to be just right in the moment and Totality is only ten days away now. I then head towards the wagon with our beautiful provodnitsa. I stroll past just in time to see her out of uniform in a small skirt and t-shirt passionately kissing a young guy who is in his train uniform. In my next few steps he moves her inside her sleeping cabin and the door slams shut. I return to my cabin with a silly smile and fall into a happy sleep.

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