Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Last station

In the Astrakhan night

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.

Dark images of Russia

Laughter and sadness

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

A day passes

Dreams and complicity

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

Towards the city of Astrakhan

In the warmth of an ageless train

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.

Stops on the road

Balzac under the cold neon glare

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”.

The frozen wait

From the airport to the train station

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

From the other side of the world, I write to you

West-bound departure

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.

Thoughts on politics

A revolt against injustice

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.

Taking a break and encounters

Stories of geography

A group of three young men enters, they come from the city of a thousand lights, the city of joy, of music and especially the city of dreams that is called Paris. The three young men leave and we leave too to go to the museums. We see sea lions and a lot of fish of many different colors that can be found in Lake Baikal. Dad takes pictures and films while I photograph. We go upstairs where there’s a timeline of Lake Baikal and there I hear people speaking Chinese. I am happy and I never thought that I would miss the “country in the middle.” We leave and in front of the museum there are souvenir vendors. We buy postcards and a very funny magnet that shows a picture of Vladimir Putin or Dimitri Medvedev when you move it. We go home and I continue writing. When the three French come back, I take a break and to get a little energy back, I go talk with these young men. I explain to them our trip and give them our card. I learn that they are teachers of my favorite subject. It’s the one that makes you travel in time with Napoleon, Charlemagne, Cesar and many others that also have us travel through many countries and landscapes, that has us discover and reflect. For me, it’s one of the best time machines; we call it “history-geography”.

Serene solitudes

Writing and reflections about my father

This morning I wake up in my little room that gives onto the lake and through the window I watch this blue range. By it’s length, it reminds me of a departure toward the unknown and by its roundness, it reminds me of a voyage that closes us in, isolates us; to write, think and imagine stories, it’s the ideal place to make us travel while isolating us. It’s in this particular atmosphere, I can take my computer, sit in this wicker chair that makes my backside suffer, and begin to think about the faces of these men I was able to meet, the curves of these bodies I was able to glimpse at and also these sentiments I was able to understand. My fingers wriggle and dance on this keyboard, the tic and tac noise delights my father since it’s the sound of writing, but it prevents him from thinking. It’s surely because of that, in this rather cold morning in the streets, he will follow the chorus from the trees and forest, photo and video cameras in hand, to reflect with the sound of birds’ music. I write, and when I finish my first text I get up and wander around in this house empty of bodies but filled with a soul that mixes fear, disgust, beauty and joy; where one must worry about not being happy; where it’s also important to remember to let go. I hear the desperate noise of this door that resists the man who wants to open it. It’s dad that comes in, he’s happy: he reflected, photographed and loves life. He’s a man that lives the present moment while thinking of the life he lived, what he has only half seen when he would have liked to have seen it all, to redo his life by changing the tragic or magic moments of his life. In every way, he’s a man of hope, of happiness; he’s a man that lives. To satisfy this joy when he sees me write, I resume this action and begin to write and dad goes again to leave me alone, to think, dream and travel. I join the words to each other with images, I make them dance, sing and entwine to give them life and also, for those who will read this, will feel as though they are watching me write on the shores of this blue range and possibly imagining themselves with me on this journey, like a commander in the waters of happiness, joy, love and discovery. Dad comes back and tells me that during his stroll with nature, the birds’ singing brought him to the top of a hill where there’s a hotel where we can see the lake beautifully and from where he can dream. More than anything, the place is high enough for a dash of wind to send my texts intertwined in a web to mom; I’m glad and I write. In the middle of this third text, I can still hear the screams from this door that resists being opened, but finally it cracks by the force of dad pronouncing words without touching it and managing to change its mind.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

On the shores of Lake Baikal

Russian present and Provencal nostalgia

Dad wakes me up when we arrive at the “Lake Baikal Museum” station. We get off and try to reach the people that reserved a house for us. They give us the address and we go. We arrive in an apartment that resembles a lot Irina’s in terms of architecture but not in decor. We get settled and we come down with our cameras to go for a stroll. On the shores of the lake, I think of the morning strolls on the pier at Saintes Maries de la Mer with Titou, my grandfather. The Saintes and the South of France are two places I miss a lot this summer. A kind of boat is used as a dock and we stop on it for a long time and dad films. We see men diving into the lake. Instead of going to a restaurant, we go into a kind of store that sells food, but we’re not quite sure what to take until dad hears people speaking Tadjik. He asks these young men if they are Tadjiks. They are workers that are here since April. They help us choose good meals to heat up and a bit of bread. Now there’s the problem of getting back to the apartment. We hitch hike and eventually a taxi picks us up. We pay him once we arrive, but he drives off without giving us our change back. All these attitudes are just not nice. It gives me this strange, unpleasant impression. We go up to the apartment. Since dad is sick, he doesn’t eat. When I finish eating, I get ready to go to bed by putting on bug repellant, and I go to sleep.

Strolling and departure

Reflections on the future

We leave and since dad wants to buy himself a hat, we go back to the commercial street. We go into a hat shop but dad doesn’t find one that he likes. Coming back we pass in front of a saxophonist that looks Mongolian, he’s surely a Buryat from the Buryat Republic that is in Russia, on the border with Mongolia and where the population is of Mongolian origin. We speak with them and they become our friends. They tell us: “We’re the Russian Gangster” and the musician says that his gun is his Sax. After, they talk politics with us. They tell us they mock the United States and also Sarkozy and for them the latter is weak compared to Putin. We say goodbye after having a good laugh at their stories. We go back to Irina’s house. When we arrive, she’s not there. A Swiss man is replacing her, so we speak French with him. When he’s finished giving us information about how to get to the bus terminal, I sit and finish reading my article. That’s when I understand where I really want to go: the Kennedy Government School of Harvard. When I tell this to dad, he’s delighted and we’re ready to go. We leave but since I have a terrible stomachache, I take some time to get to the bus station. I look to see where we can buy tickets but I don’t find since we went to the wrong station. We go a bit further where we find a minibus that will gladly take us where we have to go. I talk to mom and I’m happy. I go in the bus where I end up facing a very blonde baby with blue eyes that reminds me of my cousin Clara, and next to it there’s a woman that reminds me of my German aunt Ursula. I discuss with dad the Kennedy Government School of Harvard and I fall asleep.

At Irina’s

Just like home

Today, it’s dad that wakes me up for breakfast. When I get up, Irina is still cooking. I sit down and take the issue of Géo that is on the table. I keep on reading the English article on Harvard that I started the day before, but I don’t have time to finish it because breakfast is ready. As for the English language, my level wasn’t bad, but now I think that it has considerably improved. Since the beginning of the trip, I speak English all the time (except with dad with whom I speak Persian or French). I feel more and more comfortable, especially since dad gives me a lot of responsibilities; he gives me missions that force me to communicate and find the information I need. Then, dad asks for a few Russian specialties for breakfast and we walk to the cyber café. It’s the weekend so it won’t open before 11 o’clock, so we walk a little in the city. We arrive in a street that seems to be commercial, but it’s deserted since it’s too early. So we decide to take a taxi to an aquarium where they are showing sea lions playing among themselves. We look for a taxi and even though we make signs with our hands, none seems to notice us. Finally, one sees us and takes us. I show the driver where we want to go on a map we bought the day before for Irina and he tells us he knows where to go. He takes us. We end up in front of a small place where a lot of children are waiting for the show to begin. Five minutes later the show begins. Two sea lions turn, play with a ball and a saxophone in a pool. The children are happy. At one point one of the sea lions begins to paint and it’s quite surprising. But the most astonishing thing is to see dad raise his hand when the painting is auctioned off and he wins it. We leave the aquarium to get the painting, and then go for a walk to find a taxi. Ahead, there’s a kind of flea market that begins with fruit sellers and then various objects, but we don’t buy anything. The market ends with merchants selling dogs. In this market, noise from the exchange of money between buyer and seller mixes with the noise from steps and of negotiations, shouts from merchants who don’t want us to film them and also dogs barking. We film them anyways and take lots of pictures. We keep looking for a taxi, but we don’t find one. Finally we come back on our steps and find one. He takes us to Irina’s who prepared lunch for us. Dad is glad to see these dishes that he really likes. We eat quickly and go back out to send mom my texts by Internet, but there’s a problem with my USB key and it didn’t save the texts. I am really disappointed. But I still do some research. We go and dad pays but what’s surprising is that in Russia they make you pay for the videos you watched.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Arrival in Irkutsk

Resourcefulness and tricks

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.

On the Russian side

First contacts and traveling companions

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

Daily life in the train

Encounters and routine

There’s a young woman having a wash. I go back to my compartment and begin to write a new text. When I’m tired of it, I stop and go for a stroll. In a train, we can think, dream, talk, listen to music and try to meet new people. The second compartment from ours is the young girl’s. I stop and ask her in English where she’s from since her skin color has me think that she’s from India. Actually, she’s from Sweden and has Sri Lankan origins and her name is Singoala. She is with her boyfriend Carlos, originally from Colombia, and he lives in England. The third person in the compartment is Louis, a Taiwanese who also speaks English but also very good French. They invite me to sit down and we begin to talk a lot on topics about Taiwan, the European Union, Sarkozy, politics, life, immigration, and all sorts of different things. When we arrive at the border, we see the difference between Russia and China. The Russians look more like Westerners, but they have a very brutal method; for example, when they take your passport, they repeat your name as though you were a suspect and then they have your luggage sniffed by a large dog and they search all of it with a flashlight as though you were supposed to have something really bad hidden. After, I go back to talk to my three friends. What’s funny is that I have the privilege to be the first one in the carriage to have my passport back. Since we are all tired, we say good night and I go back to the compartment with dad. According to the billboard indicating waiting time, the controls are supposed to last more than 6 hours, so I ask dad if he needs me and he answers no, so I go to sleep.

From Ulan Bator to Irkutsk

Settling in

We get into our carriage with all our luggage and we are relieved. We arrive in our compartment where we find a young couple that says in French: “We’ll move over”. It’s a Franco-French compartment. After so many weeks, it’s cool. We put our things away and settle in. Dad tells me in Iranian: “For the moment, they’re happy that we’re all French, but they don’t know what to expect with you talking all the time.” During this journey, it’s going to be different since I have texts to write. The train leaves and I begin to write. When I finish writing, I take a break to go with dad to the restaurant carriage since he hasn’t eaten yet. We arrive a few carriages further in a small Mongolian restaurant that is very nicely decorated with smiling waitresses that are happy to serve us. That is pleasant. Dad orders a good ravioli soup and I just have milked tea. Asking what the ingredients are, we find out that it’s a packet of powder that she mixes with water. We go back to the compartment and I start talking with the two people that are with us. The boy who is quite young, tanned and wearing glasses is called Cyril. He looks a lot like Dimitri d’Aïna who is now Dimitri de Polka. Cyril is doing a road book of his six-month trip that took them to China, Viet Nam, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, Mongolia and Russia. I then talk with the young woman; her name is Annabelle and she lives with Cyril in Puteaux near Paris, and she works in marketing for the brand of butter and crème fraîche “Elle et Vire”. After speaking with them, I continue to write. I write a text and then take out my iPod Touch. When they see that I have one, Cyril and Annabelle ask me how to put music on it. I listen to a little bit of music and when I want to go to the bathroom, they are occupied.

Further on rails

Last moments
This morning, I get up only to write since we have nothing planned besides the departure for the train journey. I take my computer and I write. I write for such a long time that dad asks me to stop so that we don’t miss the train. There’s only one sentence left, so I write it as quickly as possible so that he doesn’t get angry. I join dad in the lobby. We do the check out and put our luggage in the hotel taxi that will bring us to the train station. We take a little break in one of the station’s cafeterias where we eat noodle and beef soup that isn’t very good. Dad is about to begin to eat when a lady he met from a travel agency arrives. We talk with her a little but since the train carrying the tourists she’s accompanying arrives, she leaves us. At that moment dad, who barely touched his food, dashes to find a post office to send the post cards. Everything is closed and after exchanging “tourgrouts” for “rubles”, dad ask the man he met yesterday if he could send the post cards for us. He accepts. Let’s hope he keeps his word. Dad comes back running and tells me that we have to hurry, so I take the luggage and run towards the train.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Last night before Russia

We go back to the hotel, get our luggage and a taxi to go to the Lion hotel which is next to the station to spend the night. When we’re finally settled in and dad has a nap while I rack my brains to find the international calling code with the help of the woman at the front desk. While I wait for the information, I write a text and wait. I am so tired that I feel as though I’m going to fall asleep. Dad wakes up and I finally get the code, which is 003. I ask dad for his phone and call my mother to have some news as well as my cousin Roshanak who I asked for information about the trip, like the passage between Narchevan and Turkey. Roshanak is really someone without who this trip would not go forward, the same with mom actually. I also call my cousin Tchekad with whom I’m glad to be talking to, and I call my friend Sam who I think just woke up and it bugs me a little. After, dad goes out to take pictures and I go up to rest. I turn on the television and come across “Plus Belle vie”, and since mom hoped this trip would stop me from watching it, I find it funny hasn’t really helped. The day goes by slowly. When dad comes back, he proposes we go out to eat something and I accept. We go towards a small restaurant where we take these kind of long fritters stuffed with beef. Dad also buys two for beggars that are standing in front of the restaurant’s door and waiting for a few coins. We drink tea with milk; it’s so good! When we finish, we pay the bill and go back to the hotel. On our way back, mom calls but since I’ve already spoken to her she talks mostly with dad but still tells me that my sister Djanan wants to talk to me. So I call on Titou’s cell phone but there’s no answer and I try a few times before finally hearing their voices and I’m happy. Especially when my little sister tells me that my texts are irreproachable. What a compliment! With these words I can sleep peacefully and after saying goodbye, I fall asleep.

Preparations for the departure to Irkutsk

Quiet last hours in Ulan Bator

Walking toward the taxis, we come across a short man wearing a beret who speaks French to us. He works on the black market in the station by exchanging currencies for travelers. For the moment, we don’t have any money to change, so we thank him and keep on looking for a taxi. Finally, we find one that will gladly take us to the hotel for a reasonable price. We arrive at the hotel and finish putting away the last things before check out, especially putting aside all the books we received during the trip, small objects that we don’t use and also clothes that we’ll send by post, which isn’t far from the hotel. When I finish doing that, I start to write and watch TV5 Monde while waiting for dad. It’s funny because they’re only showing shows on food. We do the check out and ask if we can leave the luggage and pick it up after lunch. They say there’s no problem, we thank them and go. We take the 12 kilos of bags that we have to send by post and we cross the large square to finally arrive at the post office. It’s 12:55pm when we arrive in front of the booth and we ask for three large boxes to put everything in. When the package is done, we go to the shipping office that is supposed to close between 1 and 2 pm but stays open to help us. We take some tape and wrap it around the parcels and write the postal addresses where it has to be sent. We give the parcels to the man who tapes them even more. They’ll arrive in Paris in 2 or 3 weeks. We pay the man and leave to go have some lunch. Since a lot of people recommended the restaurant Bayangol, dad proposes that we go there and I accept. We walk a little before ending up in front of a statue of a horseman that towers over the Bayangol hotel with its height. We move forward and wind up facing a closed door and we find it weird that it’s the entrance of the city’s grand restaurant. We see a man gesturing to us that the entrance is a little further down. We can’t see through the widow what’s going on inside and I get the impression that there is no one but going in, I see that it’s nearly full. We take the menu, order two typical Mongolian dishes and wait. An Italian family comes and sits it front of me and one of the boys who looked about 17 tells his mother something typically Italian that I love which is: “Eh mama” and since his mother doesn’t answer he says at a phenomenal speed: “Eh mama mama mama” until she answers. That’s when our food arrives. It’s a soup with raviolis cooked in water for me and dad ordered a dish that reminds him of the main dish mom used to make him and resembles Iranian Ab Gousht, which is a mixture of mutton and vegetables in which one adds pieces of bread, soaked in a warm and tasty broth. I begin mine and dad his. I really like it and eventually we exchange food and I finish his and he finishes mine. During the entire meal I listen to these Italians that have a very strange accent. To finish the meal, we order ice cream that we share.

A maze in the train station


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

Between father and son

Discussions and flirting

In the bus, same as on the way over, I talk to dad. I like talking with him since he has a certain reflection and knowledge of the world today, and we can debate different topics and I learn a lot from him. He’s more than a father to me, he a friend and also a master who teaches me to reflect and think. Same as the way over, it takes us an hour to arrive at our destination and like the day before, the train station is closed and we have to wait until the next day to buy our tickets to Irkutsk. We are really hungry. We come across a fashionable restaurant that shows on one television weight lifting and on the other basketball, but the food preparation takes too long; so we settle for the restaurant we ate at for lunch. Instead of pizza, I order lasagna. Halfway through our meal, dad waves at the two Americans we had met in the train and that were coming randomly our way. Dad tells them what we did, but since we told them bad things about the program, they don’t seem to appreciate. Dad takes down a few addresses and because they’re in a hurry, we say goodbye and get back to our meal. I watch basketball on the television next to which a group of cute girls are gathered, and then a young man who doesn’t know these girls sits with them to flirt. He’s a Canadian who speaks French and then I pay no more attention to this “flirt party” because the basketball is over and we go back to the hotel. I write two texts and then go to bed.

Far from the city

Gengis Khan’s epic

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.

Happy tomorrows

Forgotten misunderstandings

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

An argument between traveling companions

An issue of confidence

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.

Racing in the city

Postcards and tourists in Ulan Bator

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

Trying to understand Gengis Khan

Night stroll

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.

Unfruitful strolls

Photos and rudeness

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.

First hours in Ulan Bator

Settling in

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.

From Inner Mongolia to Mongolia

China is getting farther

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

The road to Russia

Between X-rays and the train’s lull

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.

Tension is climbing

Last Chinese city in Inner Mongolia

When I return with Ayin’s friend, we take a Taxi to the train station to buy the tickets for Ulan Bator. After a long passport control, we have two tickets for tonight at midnight on the dot. First step to get out of China. I find dad a little tense. I tell myself that he might be tired. So, we go to the hotel and since I have to install software on my PC, I go down to the lobby to John’s office and begin to install it with the help of my cousin Roshanak over the phone. But the connection is so slow that it takes more than two hours, so I wait. At about 9:30 pm dad, Ayin’s friend and his son call me to go eat. I get up and leave my computer running. We go to a restaurant where Ayin’s friend orders us a Mongolian dish, a soup with noodles on the side that are to be mixed with the juice. When we are finished, dad goes into a shop where he looks for tea. After searching for ten minutes he finally finds his tea, buys it and we leave. I go check on my computer but since the installation only worked halfway, I cancel everything and decide to install it again in Ulan Bator. It’s time to leave, so we look for a taxi and head to the train station. Since Ayin’s friend can’t fit in the taxi, we thank him and leave.

Towards the city of Erenhot

A few steps before leaving China
I look out the window and see that our new driver has the build of a wrestler: a small head on a large body. He picks up our heaviest luggage with two fingers, which makes me laugh a lot. The problem with this car is that I can’t sleep because we’re no longer only three but five people and now the car is full. The driver turns on Mongolian music and since the lyrics are repetitive, I know them by heart in five minutes. I am so tired that I manage to fall asleep sitting down. When I wake up, dad is filming the rain falling on the window while listening to music. We stop in a place where the driver and the two Chinese could go to the bathroom. With us, there’s a tanned man, rather skinny who smokes a lot and a woman of a certain volume who only laughs and sends SMSs. Dad and I are dying of thirst and we go into a grocery store. It’s a mix of tastes and smells and especially at the end of the store there’s a television showing weight lifting, a sport I like to watch and that I find fun. Since we have to arrive soon in Erenhot to buy the train tickets to Ulan Bator, we leave. Dad bought something to drink for everyone in the car. That’s typically dad, he never plays “personal”. And we get on the road. In the rain and storms, we head towards Erenhot. It’s an hour later that we can call Ayin’s friend to tell him that we’ll be arriving soon. He joins us at the hotel Ayin’s friend reserved for us. It’s a pretty good hotel to leave our things and rest a little. Since he doesn’t understand English, in order for us to explain our plan to him, we have to call Liu Jia (really, she’s precious!) who explains to him our plan. He understands. Dad and him go to the train station while I watch the Olympic games. When they return, they don’t have the tickets yet since the ticket booth wasn’t open. They come with a young, short haired man who will be our interpreter for the day. Even though his English isn’t perfect, he’s a good interpreter. It’s time to eat. We go to a restaurant and order…the same as usual. When we are finished, it’s raining in the streets, a rain that in Paris we would call “three little drops” while here they call it an “extraordinary climate.” This different way of seeing things makes me laugh. With John our interpreter, we go into a mall where we try to find pants. While looking, we bump into a man with a mini television captor around which many people are gathered. I move closer to see what they are watching and I see it’s the Olympics. I sit to watch with them, but since we don’t have much time dad says that we have to leave. Once downstairs we see an electronics store and since dad is looking for an external hard drive, he looks at them and chooses one and on top of that he buys ma a USB key to separate his work from mine (the joys of technology…the sequel). That’s when we separate. With John I go buy a pair of pants I saw in a store during afternoon and dad goes back to the hotel to get the luggage ready.

On the road to the city of Xilinhot

Leaving and escaping through sleep

Today it’s about 4:30 am when I wake up. Since all the luggage is ready, I don’t have to stress and can get ready quietly. I bring down the luggage to meet our driver as planned at 5 am, he’s the one who will bring us to Xilinhot. He helps us load the car and after doing our check out, we say goodbye to the hotel and our friend Ayin. When we are done with our goodbyes, we take the car. Since it’s only the driver, dad and I, dad sits in the front seat and I stretch my legs on the back seat and sleep. When I wake up, I find myself in Xilinhot and dad’s been trying to wake me up for 10 minutes. Well, that shows how tired I am. It’s not so simple to travel from one point to the other. We are in front of a small restaurant for breakfast and I order flatbreads and milked tea, it’s wonderfully good. This restaurant seems to be popular with noises coming from all sides, it looks like a bazaar and it’s fun.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Olympic’s off games

Team spirit
I jump in the car and can’t wait for it to be eight o’clock to watch the ceremony in the yurt. We arrive far from the city. In front of a yurt, a woman is milking a cow and dad and I film her. Then I see a girl that has just received her first cell phone, she’s happy. I enter the yurt but since I don’t bend over enough, I bump my head and now it hurts a lot. Inside, there’s a small television, a grandmother waiting and like in each yurt, a kind of chimney in the middle. After having seen the interior, I go back outside to play with a goat that runs away so I can’t catch it. There’s only 15 minutes before the ceremony. I go back into the yurt but this time, without bumping my head. The yurt’s chief turns on the television but to a Mongolian channel. Since I see that at 7:58 pm the Mongolian station isn’t showing the opening ceremony, I change the channel to CCTV, the equivalent of France Télévision in China, and there I see 40 and ten seconds later 30 until it reaches 0. It’s a countdown. Then, the show begins with children and adults dancing, playing and singing together with such a surprising synchronization that they seem to be machines programmed to do these movements. In the end, it’s a magical and unforgettable show. The Mongolians watch with much attention this ceremony that seems surrealist to them. The boy who is about 9 years-old watches with much envy and joy this ceremony that will fill him for life with many sentiments. For me, the moment I appreciate the most is the procession of the different countries with the flag holders, the joy of the supporters and especially the joy of the athletes representing the earth that saw them grow up, mature and allowed them to become who they are today. However, in the middle of these moments we are thrown out by the yurt’s family when they tell us that the grandmother is tired. I’m not happy and take my time to watch the most countries as possible. In truth, the countries I want to see the most are France, Iran and Azerbaijan because of my origins, Monaco because of my love for the South-East of France, and Egypt, Portugal Cap-Vert, Haiti, and Italy which are my best friends’ countries of origin, and also the United States because I like that country. We hit the road and I hope that Ayin will go fast enough. Before arriving at the hotel, we come across a shop where the owner had put his television in his shop-window and in front of which dozens of people are watching these countries march ahead. I see France passing on the small screen and I put my hand on my heart while I filming. When France had finished passing, we take the car to go to the hotel but there again we are stopped by a giant screen in the middle of the street this time and we stop to watch Azerbaijan go by and I find that the athletes look a lot like the men and women that we find in the streets of Baku. A few minutes go by and then the five people representing the principality of Monaco march by and I see Prince Albert II and his companion cheering the five representatives of Monaco. I get back in the car and Ayin brings us to the hotel and while dad works in the room, I stay downstairs in the entrance to watch the rest of the opening ceremony. That’s when I see the other countries that I hadn’t see yet except for Iran that I don’t see at all. The last country to pass is China and everyone clapped and it was such a spectacular installation that we have the impression that the Chinese athletes represent more than half the total number of athletes. I also watch the last passing of the torch and the speeches of President Hu Jintao and of the President of the IOC and the pledges of the sportsmen and referees. Tomorrow we have to leave early. I hurry to go to bed and when I’m finally ready, I sink into the blanket and sleep.

Tastes and distastes

Sad world news

After this lesson on Chinese characters, we go up into a separate room like the last two times and as usual I order the same thing, but dad orders vegetable raviolis on top of the rest. I taste some but I don’t like the vegetables that are inside so I let dad have them all and eat those that are stuffed with meat. Ayin hands me a bottle of peach juice that I drink quickly and since he sees that I’m done, he gives me another one. But I prefer to drink tea and again I drink my peach juice quickly to show Ayin that I like it. When I finish drinking my tea, we leave. Dad has to pack and I have to send things from the cyber café, so he drops me off at the cyber café and goes to the hotel. At the cyber café, I had brought my USB key with my texts and I send them by email to my mom and my little sister Djanan. Then, I spend 4 hours in front of my computer doing research. Looking at the news, I come across an article that delivers news I don’t like, for our journey and for the country it’s war in South Ossetia between Georgia and Russia, which forces us to cross out Georgia for this trip. The other news are rather good, but war is never good news and I hope the conflict will be resolved soon. After four hours of doing research, dad and Ayin come get me, it’s about 7:30pm.

The force of unity

Work session and a story on marriage

This morning I don’t have to wake up at dawn. I wake up slowly and start writing my texts. I have a lot of time to write today because the only thing on the program is to go watch in a yurt the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing. After a few hours of writing, I stop my texts to write dad’s photo captions. I finish the ones from Urumchi when Ayin and Harry arrive with a disc case to show dad his DVDs. So that I can finish the captions of the photos from Hami, dad takes his time on purpose to ask a lot of questions so that I can finish writing. Before leaving, I put both Word documents on a USB key to send them to Paris from a cyber café, after eating. I join dad, Harry and Ayin who are already downstairs and we go to the same place Harry took us the other day. It’s a very flashy place since the walls are very white and light the room well with the sun. Next to the reception, there is a large red character. Dad asks what it means and actually, it’s the merging of two of the same character that together means “marriage” and separate means “happy”. Dad finds it nice that for “marriage” the Chinese character means “doubly happy”.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A few music notes

Stage game

We thank him and head towards a house where a family of musicians is waiting for us. We go and when we enter their home, a big dog starts barking at us but we don’t care. At first, the family didn’t want to play because they had to get ready for the concert, but for some reason ten minutes later they gather and play us some wonderful pieces. The mother sings, and so does the daughter while playing an instrument between a piano and a xylophone and the father along with the son plays a Mongolian guitar. What is wonderful is that the son learnt how to play this instrument from his father and received the grand prize that his father was never able to have. I believe that every son or daughter must have the ambition to do better than the person teaching his or her passion. Their music is sometimes high-pitched, sometimes low-pitched but the voices of the two women are really magnificent. Since they have to go to their concert, we let them get ready and leave. I go back to the cyber cafe and dad to the hotel. It’s getting late to go to the concert. I leave the cyber café with Harry and we go in front of the concert hall. We wait. It’s 7pm and the concert starts in a half-hour. We wait for Ayin and dad to be able to go in. Finally, they arrive when the concert is about to start. On the stage, a little girl is singing Mongolian songs. When she is finished, I go up on the side of the stage to film and photograph. All sorts of dances, traditional, modern, mixed are performed during the show in costumes of different shades of greens and blues. Different sentiments come out of these dances: laughter, crying or joy but mostly the public’s dazzle. It’s fantastic. The show over, we go to the hotel with Ayin to go sleep.

Chinese medicine

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.

Technology in Mongolia

Computer trouble

This morning I’m woken up by Harry and I’m not happy. But dad tells me: “get up, quick”. He shows me a young man and tells me that he’s here to help us install an external hard drive on my portable computer. So I get up, hurry to get ready and come back to see how he does it, but there’s nothing fascinating in this copying besides the fact that it takes ages to do. We have to wait and since I can’t write texts on the Mac, I fall even more behind and waste my time. After an hour, the young man tells us that he has to go and that he’ll be back at around 2 in the afternoon. We wait like idiots doing nothing. So, we decide to go back to the little restaurant we went to yesterday to eat. We order the same dishes since they were so good. When we are finished, since I have to send photos and texts to Paris, we go to a cyber café and I take an hour. During that time, dad goes back with the young man to resolve the last few problems.