Wednesday, August 20, 2008
We arrive at this station’s platform and the day is getting dark. We head towards the exit when a half drunk police officer checks our tickets and tells us not to film in the station. We go into this cold place with raw lighting and we go to the ticket booth to buy two tickets for Baku. The woman at the booth has a look, gives us the schedules, and we choose a train. The work is 90 per cent done, but the woman comes back a few minutes later to tell us that foreigners can’t take this train because it passes through Chechnya. So we have to take a plane. I’m disappointed and happy at the same time. We take a taxi to the Lotus hotel for 200 rubles. We arrive in front of a very large and modern building with Wi-Fi and dad goes to see if there’s a room available. Meanwhile, mom calls and I tell her what’s happening. I finish my text and send it by Internet. I do a bit of research and go to sleep.
Like the day before, nothing extraordinary happens today. I’m still in this compartment doing the same things with dad. We go to the restaurant for lunch, but then something new happens. There’s a man from Dagestan completely drunk. When he learns that we’re French, he talks to us about d’Artagnan, Alexandre Dumas, Napoleon and Sarkozy. This man is in second class where men, women, and children are piled up in the carriages and where odors of fatigue, wait, desperation, and a certain poverty, mix with moments of joy and love. Going to the restaurant, we can smell the drinkers, smokers and dirty people. The face of the person preparing our food looks familiar to me. I observe him. That’s it, I know, he reminds me of my friend Pierre-René whom I haven’t seen in a long lime and would perhaps like to see again through Balthazar, my friend who lives in Spain and who sees Pierre-René often. We eat our Stroganov beef and go back to the compartment. The phone is ringing off the hook for work and I write. Dad imitates Harry in front of the camera and we have a good laugh. Harry was our translator in Inner Mongolia, and like every Chinese he chose an English name. But for a reason I don’t understand, he chose a name in which there’s an H and two Rs, letters that are unpronounceable for the Chinese. So, when he said his name it would sound like ALLI. I keep writing to keep up with my texts. Then, with dad, we stay in the compartment and wait to arrive to Astrakhan. To pass the time, we look out the window and see that we are passing from mountains to steppes and we’re getting closer to Europe. There is in this desert world a few human grains of sand that live in dented houses in a place that can barely be called a “village”. This place is filled with history. The indo-european civilization was born 15 000 years ago and eventually divided itself in two groups, the first went to actual India and the other towards actual Europe. That’s why we call it “indo-european.” These landscapes bring us closer to Astrakhan. A little later, going back to the carriage that was once full, I see that the second class is emptying as the stations go by. At each stop, old women come running with bags in their hands to sell small foods, to be able to bring something to eat to their families. We settle into the compartment and dad gets some rest while I listen to music. We call Webistan, the studio and I talk to my cousin Soheil who just got back from Italy. We stop at a station where the platform is cut in three rails and where the merchants shout. I observe and see a pregnant woman with a baby in her arms. Next to her is her daughter of about 13 who is also pregnant. I continue to walk to go buy ice cream like dad asked me to. On my way, I talk with two young Russians and I see that the also know Arshavin, the great Russian soccer player who is as well known as Cristiano Ronaldo. They pass me their Coca Cola, and then I go back to dad and I eat an ice cream, he eats two and also gives one to “mongolfiere” who is in actually Kazakh. When the train leaves, we go back to the compartment and I start to play chess and I lose. Then, after a few matches, I win. I talk to Mina, my grandmother, but I wasn’t able to speak to Titou and Djanan. It’s time to get ready for our arrival in Astrakhan and I finish my text and put everything away.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
This day is like any other day on a train. I got up in this empty compartment. I began to reflect and talk with dad. We arrive in a station and dad gets off the train. I finish writing the text I started and then I follow him. I end up in front of a market on the platform that resembles the market of Saintes Maries de la Mer, a lovely little city in Camargue that I recommend you to go visit. Over there is my childhood, adolescence and a part of my life that took place there; there’s the soul of a small town that I love. So, from this train that crosses forests and Russian forests, I embrace all those I love who are over there now. Before our eyes, the market is filled with food, objects and things that are always useful. Dad returns with a headlamp, a Swiss knife and food. When the train leaves, I’m inside but dad isn’t, so he runs and jumps in the train. “Well, Marina, you were right. It’s indeed Indiana Jones, or rather Afghana Jones.” We both stay in the carriage and we write, read and laugh. I imagine other traveling I would like to do later and talk to dad about them. Then, we go see Putin and we meet two young men: one that looks strikingly Pakistani while the other is blonde. They are young and drunk. We learn later that these two men were workers on the train’s maintenance; that’s reassuring. We eat and go back to the compartment. I collapse from exhaustion and sleep.
Monday, August 18, 2008
So, we pack everything and dash towards the train. We have 53 hours of train ahead of us! When we arrive in our compartment, we come across leather beds that are a little hard but that also have mattresses. We are alone, which is cool. With dad, we joke around a lot. He has work to do, so he calls Aina in Paris to talk about Aina Photo Agency. Finally, we go eat and we end up in front of a very tall man that serves us with joy; it’s nice. Dad tells me he thinks our waiter looks like Putin and I laugh. We eat and dad imitates Harry when he says his name in English and I’ve never laughed so hard. Then we head back and I read while dad goes for a stroll. When he comes back, he tells me that in our carriage there’s a very round woman resembling a balloon that has been inflated too much, and since she looks Mongolian we call her “mongolfiere”. We stay in the compartment and when it gets late, we go to bed and sleep.
I wake up when dad asks me to get up because we have to change planes. We arrive in the departure lounge to wait but barely five minutes later, we have to go back into the same plane. I settle in and sleep peacefully, but a few hours later, dad wakes me up again to tell me that we have to change planes again. Waking up, I hear a little girl of about 6 crying and I’m sad for her. Her mother is a very young and pretty blonde woman and is as sad as I am for her daughter who can’t stand these interminable changes. We arrive again in a departure lounge where we wait longer than the previous time, but always boarding the same plane again; we’re in Omsk. We go back in and the plane doesn’t start once, then twice. Then, with dad, we think about our poor Kagoo in Paris which had the same difficulty staring as this plane, but the problem is that here I don’t have Djanan’s muscular arms to help me push the engine. Finally, after a third attempt without success, they tell us the plane will be delayed without knowing exactly for how long. We’re not very happy since we have a train to catch and we wouldn’t want to miss it. We wait in this airport that looks more like a hospital than anything else and we settle in, I have a small piece of pizza to eat and I read. My book is “La peau de chagrin” by Honoré de Balzac. He writes so well! He details things in a way I would never have thought possible. A Russian man tells us in half English and half sign that a plane should be here within three hours, so we wait. I keep on reading and dad edits his photos. Sacha, the Russian man, tells us the plane is landing and it shouldn’t be too long and it will be ok for our train. We are relieved. We put our things away and when they call us, we go board the plane. At first, the plane doesn’t start. But then a man dressed in orange manages to start the engine by the strength of his hands and the blowing of the wind. When the plane takes off, I fall asleep listening to my iPod. I wake up when our plane arrives in Tyumen, our final destination and I say to myself: “finally”.
I see the airport; I have the impression of being at the entrance of an abandoned cave. But once inside to pick up the luggage, I find myself in a very modern universe and I remember that many great things today began in a garage, like Google, Apple or the Rolling Stones. I wait for my bags but since they don’t arrive, I’m a little worried. Finally they come. Dad sees a taxi driver and asks him how much it would cost to go to the station. The driver writes him something on a piece of paper, but dad finds it too expensive so he asks Sacha how much it costs and he tells him to wait. A few minutes later, he comes back and tells us that he’ll accompany us with his wife. We talk and he tells us to be careful because there is a lot of criminality and theft in Russia, we thank him. We finally arrive at the train station and we thank Sacha and his wife. We go in the station and dad tells me to wait. He’s going to find a place for us to rest. In the meantime, I sit and observe this crowded station. It reminds me of Gare du Nord in Paris, filled with people of different colors. Here, in this station, people must come from all the small Republics or former Republics of the USSR, places they are returning to. Finally, dad returns and tells me that it’s on the 8th floor with no elevator. We have to bring up the entire luggage, or else there’s a sort of VIP room with seats, so I tell him I prefer the second solution. We settle in a place where the people are exhausted and the woman at the reception is mean and cold. Dad charges the electronics. I watch a Russian television series about war and dad calls Paris. I call a few people and I’m happy. We wait for hours in this cold place before hearing “Astrakhan” and tell ourselves: “that’s us”.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
I finish writing and with dad we decide to climb the hill to send by wind and web the texts to mom. When all is sent we buy ice cream to refresh our ideas. Valera, the head of the house, is waiting to accompany us to the airport. I go in his car and he puts on music. I find it funny since it’s French. Actually, his first wife works in Paris. Lulled by this music, spread out on the back seat, I fall asleep. I wake up in front of the airport and in the pouring rain, I take the luggage and we run. We are more than two hours early and we’re going to wait. Dad sees a place that wraps luggage in plastic, and since it’s raining he decides to have ours wrapped. When everything is done, we settle down and I write postcards. It’s time to board and we notice that there are only businessmen in the plane and it makes us laugh. We pass without problem and at the lasers I get controlled by a pretty Buryat woman. I board the plane; it’s so small that it looks like a giant’s toy. I settle in my seat and sleep.
I talk to them about traveling and also about Google Earth, which is for me the best tool to teach the subject of history-geography, but one of the teachers can’t use it since for his high school, Lycée de Seine Saint Denis, buying curtains is too expensive and they have to wait until winter to use projections in classes when they are early or late enough in the day, when it’s still dark outside. So, while Mr. Sarkozy’s Government is making tons of promises on education, some schools surrounding Paris don’t even have enough money to buy curtains, to be able to project classes or maps using projectors and after, they complain that the youths from the suburbs are rabbles that don’t like to go to school and only think of setting fire to cars! No Mr. Sarkozy, it’s not Neuilly everywhere in France! If you only give money to Neuilly’s multibillionaires, how do you expect there to be an equality between schooling in money-filled Neuilly and schooling where they’re not even given the means to buy curtains in the suburbs? I’m sorry but Mr. Sarkozy, with your actions in favor of your multibillionaire friends and in disfavor of the entire country, it’s you we should eject from this position of President of the Republic that was given to you out of error. After all these reflections, I go back to my writing and continue to write.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Friday, August 15, 2008
The two French get off too and a man comes to pick them up. Dad takes some information about lodgings and after, we say goodbye to Cyril and Annabelle. We go towards the tickets sales office that is upstairs. Dad tells me to wait downstairs with the luggage and goes up to see. Fifteen minutes later he comes back telling me that with the trains we can get, we’ll arrive on August 22nd in Astrakhan and it will be impossible to return on time. So he goes back upstairs and asks about doing the route by plane. We find one that will take us to a city where we’ll take the train until Astrakhan. With this route, we’ll save two days. We buy the tickets and wait to find a house. We look in the guidebook and call the hotels which are all full. Yes, Lake Baikal seems to be a touristy place. In one of the hotels, a woman tells us that she can try to find us a place to stay at someone’s house. I’m not sure if sleeping at someone’s house is really my thing. Fifteen minutes later dad, while going to get food, comes back with an old blonde woman wearing glasses, who laughs and squints all the time. I wonder what possessed him to bring back a poor old woman instead of food. Did he mistake her for a free-range chicken? Actually, she’s the one who will accommodate us for the night. I am relieved. We go with her to the station’s exit to take a taxi. Irkutsk seems to be a lovely little city. We arrive in front Irina’s house, and the taxi is asking for 500 rubles which is too expensive. Dad tries to negotiate but since he doesn’t speak Russian, it’s useless. We learn later that at the station, the taxi asked Irina for 300 rubles and she didn’t understand why in front of her house he asked for 500 rubles. It’s a little annoying to have the impression of being ripped off. We go up to her place and we end up in a nicely decorated two room apartment with a small kitchen, toilets, a bath, a living room with a television and two bedrooms. We take one and settle in. We call one of dad’s contacts, a woman from a travel agency, to have information on the good places to see. We head towards a restaurant that was recommended to us. Meanwhile, I see how pretty and well-formed Russian girls are when they’re young. We take the city’s large street that’s called Karl Marx and we find the restaurant. We eat typical Russian dishes and we go look for a cyber café. We ask everywhere until we arrive in front of a café where an American, who seems to have lived there a while, is sitting on the terrace. When we ask him where we might find a cyber café, he tells us “good luck if you find one.” Finally, we find one but it’s closed. We go back towards the house when we come across the entrance of a nightclub. For it’s publicity, barely dressed young women are dancing. I can tell you they didn’t choose the ugliest ones! We continue towards our home in Irkutsk. Dad buys a few things at the Leader Price store. When we finally get home, we see that Irina is worried and in her heavy Russian accent tells us in English that there are a lot of bad people in the city and we mustn’t stay out late. What makes me laugh the most is her very pronounced H from TH, something that would make my English teacher Mrs. Roiff scream. I also tell myself that if my French teacher Mrs. Russeil were here, we wouldn’t have to speak English since she speaks Russian. After this reflection, I get ready to go to sleep and put some cream for mosquito bites since there are a lot in this region and they’re voracious. And then I sleep.
I wake up in the train and do a morning stroll while everyone else is still sleeping. I go into the compartment and wait without doing anything. Dad tells me that it’s nearly noon and it’s time to go have lunch. I accept and get up to go to the restaurant. When we head towards the restaurant, I notice that it takes much longer to get there than the last time. When we arrive in front of the restaurant, everything has changed. The decor has become very cold, and the waitresses are cold, distant and smile very little. We take the menu and order something basic. When it’s time to pay, the waiter tries to make us pay for potatoes also, but dad doesn’t fall for it. So, first contact with Russia…, it’s rather so-so! When I return, my friends are awake. I go see them and we begin to talk. I learn that Carlos is studying political science in London; it’s someone with who I can have strong conversations. Louis wants to become an anthropologist and he’s going to study in Boston. Singoala wants to work in international relations. With Carlos I talk about soccer, but mostly we talk about communism, Castroism and the FARC. We exchange ideas and see that we share pretty much the same ones. I like these kinds of discussions but it’s sometimes difficult with my friends, those of my age. We pass next to Baical Lake and it’s just magnificent. After a while, dad calls me. We have to get ready for the so-called controller, since he told dad we had to get off in 30 minutes. I finish my discussion and say goodbye to my friends adding that if they ever come to Paris they’ll have a place to sleep. Our home in Paris is always open. Actually, when I go back in my compartment, I begin to talk with the two French and I see that we’re not about to arrive. I am furious because I had to stop my discussion for nothing. Finally, we arrive in Irkutsk, I say goodbye for the last time to my friends and get off the train.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Today we have to get the train tickets for Irkutsk, in Russia, therefore for another country. This new adventure has me waking up happy. I greet dad and get ready quickly. Dad has decided to change hotels for one night; we pack our bags to be sure to do the check out when we get back from the train station without any problems. Before leaving, we still have to send photos of Mongolia to Roshanak so that she can put them on the blog, but of course there are problems with the computer and by trying and trying again, we succeed but we lost an hour an a half to do everything we needed to do. We bring the luggage down to the lobby and we go out of the hotel to find a taxi that will bring us to the train station. Finally, on the main street we find one that will take us for a reasonable price. We arrive in front of a crowded entrance, which actually isn’t one since no one enters through there, and queues form in every direction to go into the different buildings. We go into one of the buildings and look for the office that sells international tickets. We see that the first floor is for national tickets; so we go up to the second floor where this crowd of people that muddles up the queues everywhere and tries to get tickets as quickly as possible by shouting from all sides doesn’t exist anymore. I line up and wait for dad to return with the information he went to get. He comes back a few minutes later telling me: “come Delazad; it’s not here, policemen showed me through the window; I know where to go.” I follow him and we go down the stairs to end up in this open-roof hall where the sounds from the different tourist languages, the Mongolian language, shouts from merchants, irritated people and also car horns mix. We leave this suffocating atmosphere and I see dad heading towards another building. We come across a completely dilapidated door where there’s a sign indicating the direction to the ticket sales office. We follow the sign and I come across a café called “Nice café”, I find that funny and dad takes a picture of me in front of it. We continue our way and we end up in front of a gate, we pass it and arrive at the building where they sell international tickets. We look for the right booth and they indicate to us the V.I.P. room that is up the stairs. We go up and we arrive in front of a rather round woman and who is selling tickets for I don’t know where, to a Russian woman. When she is finished with this Russian we ask her which trains exist between Ulan Bator and Irkutsk. She looks at her computer and tells us that there is one every day that leaves at 9pm and takes two days, or another one at 1:50pm the next day that takes 25 hours. We thank her, take the information and sit down to discuss which train we should take. After a long discussion, we figure that for the time being it’s better to take the Chinese train that leaves the following day at 1:50pm. During our reflection, two women buy tickets. The youngest is skinny and quite cute, but the oldest has a corpulence that resembles a balloon. I tell myself that Russian women get older while getting rounder. When this group is done, we go back to the ticket lady and we ask her for two places on the Chinese train that leaves the next day. She looks at her computer and reserves for two. When we go to pay, dad asks if they accept credit cards to which she answers no. So dad goes to the bank to get some Mongolian currency to pay for the tickets. Meanwhile, another group passes and I wait. After having paid for the tickets, the woman at the booth gives me a small piece of paper and I understand that it’s the amount we have to pay in taxes. I ask dad for money and he gives it to me. I go down to the office where we have to pay the taxes. I pay and wait for the lady in the booth who is as slow as a turtle to give me the proof of payment. I run back upstairs to give it to the lady. She gives the tickets to dad and thanks us. I am glad to have finally done the most important task of the day. We finally leave the so-called international ticket sales center where no one speaks English but only Mongolian and Russian and where we have to do signs in order to be understood. Tickets in hand, we begin to look for a taxi but since they are tourist taxis, they are too expensive.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
When Dad comes back, it’s 12:00pm and we have to leave to take a bus that will bring us 50 kilometers from Ulan Bator to see a reproduction of Gengis Khan’s cavalry. I finish my text and we go. When we arrive in front of the place where we are supposed to catch our bus, I see that we’re early and ask dad if we could eat something quickly. I take a pizza to remind myself of Western fashion. Then it’s time to leave so I settle down in the bus where I begin to talk with an English man. Eventually, I join dad and talk to him for…1 hour, poor man! We finally arrive. We get our tickets checked and we go into an alley where there’s a series of souvenir merchants. At the opposite end of the alley, chairs are put in a circle so that we can watch a match of traditional wrestling. The wrestlers are dressed in T-shirts that are too small for them and a pair of trousers. Before beginning a combat, they slap each other on the legs and remove their T-shirts. They begin the combats and at the end, it’s a strong man who is a little round that wins everything. At the end of the wrestling we have a half hour to try the archery. I try but miss. Then dad tries and he misses; but proud as he is, he tells me: “You know I could have done better.” The wrestler who won everything comes, tries and succeeds; he’s good at everything! After, it’s time to go watch the cavalry show. They show us a central stage and we head towards it. We wait a few minutes before hundreds of horses arrive at the same time and place themselves after a race around the others in four different groups, singing praises of Gengis Khan who is supposed to be in the yurt protected by these four groups of horses. After, a man who I thought was supposed to be Gengis Khan, but who actually is a sort of army chief arrives, receives offerings and stands in front of shamanist monks praying for success in combat. At the end of the prayer, a knight announces to the army chief that his enemies want to attack; so the latter reunites the entire army and there begins a real representation of a war in the days of Gengis Khan. It was spectacular. Their war system was based on a technique of circling and suffocating the adversary in order to have his skin. When victory is acquired, the most beautiful girl of the opposing kingdom is given to Gengis Khan who comes out for the first time since the beginning of the show. He greets his concubine and goes for a ride in front of the stage with his horse. When the show is over, the Japanese that came only to see Gengis Khan and his cavalry leave and we stay with a few Mongolians to watch the dance show. It’s a mix of music and acrobatics that is boring but I stay nevertheless awake. During the show a little girl comes and sits in the chair next to mine. I see her fall over. In a swift movement I catch her, she was lucky. During the entire show, I only watch what she’s doing and I get more and more bored. When the show is over, we head towards the bus to go back. I notice the two acrobats and I find them quite pretty.
Today, I wake up without knowing what will happen after our misunderstanding between dad and I. Finally, I see when I wake up that dad is rather happy and speaks to me as if nothing happened; I don’t understand but I figure it’s good. We go downstairs for breakfast and I show him a notebook with my research to repeat to him that it’s not the only thing I looked at on the Internet. He says “I know.” That’s when I understand that he had a look at my browser’s history. We order different things from yesterday to avoid eating something bad. I hear French being spoken all around me. I eat without paying much attention and after, we go upstairs to the room so that I can write a text. While I write, dad puts everything that we have to send to Paris in a FedEx box and brings it down to the FedEx office located in our hotel. As for me, I keep on writing.
Monday, August 11, 2008
We gather a lot of information and head towards our hotel to find a restaurant, but everything is closed. Our dinner ends up being a chocolate bar and a can of Coca Cola. Since I have a lot of texts to write, dad says that he’s going to bed and I’m going to write. When I finish my text I remember that dad asked me to find a plan B for the journey and I search the Internet in the room. I spend more than three hours searching before going to bed, but lying down I have another idea so I get up again to search some more. Dad gets up, tells me to go to bed and goes back to sleep. I finish my research and then go to bed, but I have yet another idea and get back up again. I think it was the idea that broke the camel’s back. Dad wakes up and sees me up. So then he tells me that confidence has been broken and if I keep going on like this, we won’t be able to do the rest of the journey on good terms. I tell him that I’ve spent hours doing research for his plan B and that’s some way to thank me. He tells me that I’m a liar, so I’m disappointed and go to bed.
This morning I don’t wake up early or late. Since it’s free, we go downstairs to have breakfast and frankly, it’s quite bad. Oh, the good Chinese dishes are far away. We go back upstairs and since I’m behind writing my texts, I settle in and begin to write. I finish the first one and I’m beginning the second one when dad stops me and tells me not to carry on writing mechanically. He proposes that we go out and have a look around. Dad made inquiries and we head towards a large merchant street. We walk ahead and find the post office. Three German tourists ask if they sell postcards, local stamps and if they can provide information on Mongolia. When it’s our turn to ask for maps, we end up facing three other Germans asking for…fishing permits! Hearing this, dad ask what they’re going to fish and they answer that it’s a large red fish that is found in Mongolia. Dad never misses an occasion to learn something, to be informed and to understand new things. Finally, we don’t buy new maps but instead we buy postcards. We leave the post office and head towards the souvenir shops. A few steps ahead I come across a poster promoting the windmills at Nord-Pas-De-Calais, which surprises me. I look up and see a French flag and I understand that we’re in front of the French embassy and I put my hand on my heart to sing “La Marseillaise”. When I’m finished, we keep going on our small route and end up in a store where there’s a mix of different traditional wonders of Mongolia with hats and pretty little yurts, but since we don’t have the room or the means to buy souvenirs we only watch… “with our eyes (bis)”. Before, I used to collect all the soccer jerseys of the national teams but it’s becoming a little too young for me, so I decide to do the same thing but with flags. A Mongolian flag is the only thing I buy in this boutique. We keep on going after having paid and we end up in front of a large mall. We have a look and we encounter a group of 20 Mongolians between 15 and 50 that live in Japan and are dressed in Western fashion. They spend by buying everything and anything, even things they find in abundance in Japan like Hello Kitty mugs. We try to find a bit of room to pass this crowd of short people. I look around me when I come across a Lonely Planet guide on the Tran Siberian. It’s a train that we’ll have to take. I show the book to dad who thumbs through it and takes it since he says that we’ll most likely need it. We also pick a few postcards that we’ll send out and we go pay.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
We begin to walk and we end up in front of a central place where the parliament is. The parliament building is quite large and supported by columns like the ones on Greek and Roman parliaments from the antiquity. In the middle of this building, there’s an enormous statue of Gengis Khan and dad takes pictures. But when he begins to film, policemen come and tell him that it’s forbidden to do so, but dad keeps on filming anyways. They are a little dumb since today, with a digital camera, anyone can film. Then we continue our stroll. In the middle of this place there’s a large bronze statue of a man on a horse and dad plays a lot with the light to take photos. Since I’m hungry, we go look for a restaurant but because it’s Sunday everything is closed. Finally, we end up in a tourist trap that is quite expensive but not that bad. We go back to the hotel and I go back to my texts and when I’ve done quite a bit, I go to bed.
That’s when we end up facing an entire group of Japanese queuing in a disciplined manor, and wait a long time before our turn comes. Coming out, dad sees a travel agency with a map of Mongolia on the wall. He wants to photograph it but the lady at the reception says no. Since dad wants to take this picture he tells her jokingly: “Don’t worry, Stalin is dead” and he takes the picture. We go further down to take a taxi to go to the train station. Outside, dad takes pictures and comes across a boy who sells objects but more particularly, he offers people who don’t have a telephone to use his telephone. So, of course, dad takes a photo of him but the boy isn’t happy about it and flips him off and I’m about to smash his face in. We go away. When we arrive, everything is closed so we can’t buy our tickets. We decide to postpone that until tomorrow. Dad films a train departing and after, we leave. Going back, we do a small round of hotels to see if there isn’t a cheaper one closer to the train station. Always a question of budget.
It’s about 1 pm when we arrive in Ulan Bator. Barely after making it off the train with all our luggage, we are swarmed by young people asking us in different languages if we need porters, but we tell them no. Dad needs to know the name of a hotel, so he runs to ask the guides if they could suggest us a hotel. I stay alone to watch the luggage, circled by porters that hover around me like vultures do around a dead animal, but I don’t care. While dad is asking around about hotels, people come and give me flyers for Guest Houses. The Guest house is a system that consists of renting someone a bed in a house for a very cheap price. Dad returns and we leave with our luggage. Since one of dad’s friends suggested a hotel, we head towards a taxi and ask the driver to take us to the Fushin hotel, which he doesn’t know and takes us to the Tuchin hotel instead. Dad goes to see the head of the front desk and comes back saying that it’s too expensive and gives an address to the driver so that he can take us to the first hotel we asked him to. The particularity of Mongolian taxis is that anyone who has a car can become a taxi driver, even if it’s only once in their life. We arrive at the Fushin hotel. Dad goes to see, but he comes back asking the driver to take us back to the Tuchin hotel. Dad explains that in the Fushin hotel there was no one at the front desk and there were people sleeping in front of a television and one of them had a pistol hanging from his belt. Finally, in the other hotel there’s a good business center where we’ll be able to send the texts and photos. We pay the taxi and move the luggage into the lobby. It’s a very grey hall, with a small television turned on that a man is watching in order not to miss the Games and at the front desk, a man in a suit is waiting for clients. We ask for a room with two beds and he shows us a room on the second floor. We go in a corridor and we arrive in front of a small wooden door that looks like the ones on houses in Walt Disney stories. We go in. It’s quite nice but there’s a bad smell of cigarettes and I can’t stand it. But dad says that it’s normal and that it will go away. We thank the man and wait for our luggage to be brought up by the hotel’s porters. We thank them and before beginning to write my texts I go have a shower but there is no hot water. We call the front desk and they send someone and five minutes later all is well. I take my shower and then settle to write my texts. After writing one, dad proposes that we go for a walk and find a restaurant.
Today, I wake up in the train. I look at my watch, I see it’s 10am and I panic. I get up as quickly as possible since, according to the policeman from the Erenhot train station, the train arrives at 11am. I ask dad if we still have time for the luggage and if I didn’t wake up too late. He answers that the train will arrive at around 1:30pm and that we have time. I am relieved and wake up slowly. Dad tells me that while he was wandering around the train, he met an American couple that speaks French. So, I go see them with dad and I start talking with them. They live in New Jersey not far from New York. They came with a tourist agency to visit the region. After Ulan Bator, they are going back to China to visit Xi’an and then will go on to Shanghai to take a plane to the United States. That morning, I don’t eat breakfast. I walk among the carriages to find out where the other Westerners come from, but I am unable to. We begin with dad to prepare our luggage to be sure that everything will be ready and we won’t be rushed when we arrive in Ulan Bator. We don’t really have to worry about when the train will stop because every five minutes a woman in a thick Russian accent comes by and says: “20 minutes Ulan Bator”. Since I don’t have to worry, I look out the window and see that we must wait a few kilometers before seeing a house and that it’s almost a party when we see three small houses close to each other. The funniest thing here, is that four houses grouped together is considered a large village. So you can imagine what four houses and a train station represents. I am impatient to see the size of Ulan Bator. The capital’s suburb is slightly more densely populated than the large villages we crossed. In Mongolia, the suburb is different than in France. There aren’t large towers but only small houses. In the suburb, there are a lot of nomads that that have become sedentary and use yurts as houses, very ingenious.
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Our luggage goes through the X-ray and then we wait at customs. Second test and one step closer to the exit. Nothing is said on the films or the photos. It’s filled with Mongolians who cross into China to buy their products in order to save money. We move ahead and when we pass in front of a woman, one of her bags falls and a bottle of alcohol breaks. Therefore we have to watch where we step. We get our passports stamped separately to be able to leave China. Third step on the hard road towards the exit. We have an hour left before our train leaves, I write and dad wanders around the station. Finally, the 100 steps must be calming him down. As for me, I stay calm. In the end, I probably don’t consider the things that could happen if we are bothered. An hour later, the policemen are stressing me to go in the train. I go, but I can’t find dad so I wait for him; he arrives and helps me. We enter our carriage. Actually, without realizing it, we took deluxe tickets with two beds, a seat, toilets and even a shower. But pleasures never come free. Then, a police officer comes and wants to check under our bed to make sure we aren’t hiding anything. He also checks what’s in our camera and since dad remembers filming the rain, he shows it to the police officer and he leaves saying “it’s good”. We are relieved. Finally, I shout out that it’s good. The more steps we pass, the more dad is relaxed. I do my evening grooming in this very comfortable compartment and not having the strength to do anything else, I throw myself on my bed. There’s an hour left before the real border between China and Mongolia. We hold on: our work filming will not have been for nothing. That’s it, I sleep.
Friday, August 8, 2008
Sad world news
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Listening to the heart
We meet up with Ayin who will bring us to a traditional Mongolian doctor. We arrive in a neighborhood that looks rather poor. We push a door in front of which is written “traditional medicine.” There, the smell of plants has us dreaming and makes us want to go on. There, our five senses are in paradise: smell with the plants, hearing lulled by the sound of the man crushing plants with a large metal hammer and many other experiences that amaze our other senses. At his desk, there’s an old man of about 75 years with a very round head and slightly tanned. Seeing that we’ll film him, he has the reflex that the Mongolians have, that is to get dressed in traditional clothes. When he comes back, dad asks him to do as though he was a patient coming in for a consultation. He takes his pulse at the wrist and, after five minutes tells him: “ you had stomach problems”. That’s exactly where he was operated. Incredible! Then, dad asks about cholesterol and in the meantime, I film the preparation of his remedy. After that, I film a young man who is a little chubby and has the build of a wrestler crush with one hand large red plants reducing them to powder. This powder will then be put delicately in little bags. Then dad calls me. It’s my turn to have my pulse checked. The doctor presses on my wrist and searches but he doesn’t find the pulse so he digs his nails and his fingers in my wrist and tells me that actually I have lower-back problems, something everyone told me in Paris. We’re getting ready to leave when the doctor stops us to give us a book he wrote on Mongolian medicine.