Posted from Haerbin, China.
So I’ve made it to Harbin, China in one piece and have been feeling much better since my run-in with the flu. Much thanks to my couch-surfing host Denis for his fantastic accommodation and kindness which had assisted in my rapid recovery.
So when I woke up last Wednesday afternoon after a well-needed rest following my odyssey of a train-ride, my couch-surfing host Denis had laid out in writing how to get to the center of town, which bus to take and how many Roubles to throw down (and he even left me some rouble coins in which to do this, what a guy!) I made myself a quick breakfast of his leftovers, slammed a coffee and was on my way into town.
The first thing you notice about this city is that you’ve died and gone to Japanese car heaven. Pretty much every make and model of automobile in Vladivostok is Japanese. There are so many Toyotas, it is beyond comprehension. About 90% of the cars are Japanese, with the rest being Korean and the occasional international model mixed in. Unlike the rest of Russia, there are zero Ladas here.
I immediately headed back to the train station from where Denis picked me up that morning as a point of reference to my walking around the rest of town. It was a gorgeous, sunny day and somewhat cool, but not like the weather I had been experiencing in Siberia. I followed a bit of a walking tour I had discovered in my ‘Russia’ guidebook before I got a text from a girl named Tatiana I had contacted earlier on couch-surfing, whom I had asked before I left Irkutsk if she could show me around Vladivostok. We met shortly afterwards in the city’s main square (Revolutionary Plaza… it seems every main plaza in a Russian city has something to do with some kind of Revolution) and then after a quick walk up and down the picturesque harbor side near the train station to take some photos, we went for coffee at one of the finest places in town.
I learned that Tatiana was a linguist student in both English and French and had been to the west coast of Canada numerous times, including Vancouver and Whistler. Her knowledge of the English lanaguage was refreshing and she was a pleasure to talk to. Her dream is to one day live and study in Canada and is working diligently on studying both our official languages as well as going through the mountain of paperwork required to immigrate to Canada. It put into perspective how I sometimes take my country for granted. Often, I want to leave Canada to see the rest of the world, but here was somebody who had devoted a good portion of her life (if not the majority) so she can experience what I have every day. It definitely made me take a step back and reflect on what I have in where I come from.
As the day progressed, Tatiana had to leave briefly for a previous appointment, but made a promise to return later. During this time, I ventured down to the coast to see a make and model of one of the first Russian submarines next to the docks and did a quick walk along the eastern coast-line. An hour or so later, I met up with Tatiana again and we walked along the west-side of Vladivostok’s coast to a couple look-out points so I could take photos of the setting sun. Afterwards, we stopped in one of her favorite restaurants for a quick bite to eat (also, the wind was picking up and it was getting -cold-) Tatiana agreed to join Denis and I for the evening, so we chatted for awhile and sipped tea while we waited for Denis to finish work.
In the evening, Denis came and picked both of us up to drive us around to various scenic areas around town. From a variety of look-out points (there are numerous hills surrounding the city) I took some night photos and some photos of my new friends, before bundling ourselves back into Denis’s Jeep. The wind had picked up significantly at this point and while we were dressed warmly, the wind cut right through us like a wicked, icy blade. Denis and Tatiana eventually agreed (after a back and forth I did not understand) where to take me for dinner and we dined at a popular Russian restaurant in town. It was here I ate my last bowl of Russian Borsche (the best soup ever) with a bit of sadness as I remembered the numerous bowls I had before it in this amazing country.
During dinner, we chatted about numerous topics that resound with Russians. These topics mostly included: politics, political figures, corruption, (they told me a funny story about a defective, extremely expensive Christmas tree that was erected in the center of the city and broke the day before Christmas) Russian criminals and the conditions of the roads. After a lively back and forth, most conversations ended with the words ‘well, its just Russia.” It seems that a sense of “that is the way its always been” permeates the Russian culture. However, I have seen from recent events in the country, that people are starting to become fed-up, if not downright rebellious towards this attitude.
That evening, after dropping off Tatiana and wishing her a good night, Denis and I retired to his place for a social gathering and a conversation about life’s topics. Denis was recently divorced so our conversation revolved around our thoughts on marriage, traveling, what things cost in Canada, Canadian culture and him one day coming to Canada. Long story short, it was early in the morning before we finally called it a night and I easily see that I had made another close friend on the road.
The next day, I met up with Tatiana again before she had to take the bus home to her hometown to visit her parents and younger brother. We walked around the city, had lunch together and she helped me hunt for a few souveneirs from Russia to take home. However, while the weather itself was tolerable, the wind was unbearable. There were times I felt like I was going to ice over on the spot. Walking soon became more than a chore and before long, we were off to the bus station to garner my ticket to China and so I could say “dasvidanya” to Tatiana and wish her a safe trip home.
That night I felt -terrible-. After a chat with my special lady Meghan online, I quickly fell asleep and was awoken to Denis coming home to grab a few things before he had to take off again. I met his niece who was the cutest thing and from the look on her face, I could see she was quite astonished to see a big, hairy, sick-looking, half-asleep Canadian wearing a Kim Jong-Il t-shirt in her Uncle’s apartment. I must have been quite the sight. After they left, I did some busy work (laundry, post etc) had a quick dinner with Denis when he came back shortly later and was off to bed for a solid twelve hour sleep.
The next day, I was feeling significantly better. I walked around town briefly for an hour or two before meeting Denis in the evening for dinner with his former work colleague, Tatiana (yes, another girl named Tatiana. All girls in Russia pretty much have the same name. Tatiana, (Tanya) Natasha, Olga and Elena (Lena)) That night we dined together at a buffet-style restaurant not far from his place, chatted late about everything under the sun (including the recent political developments in Russia, Tatiana, I thank you very much for speaking English, it was great!) and retired to Denis’s apartment. Not much later I was asleep and up even earlier to catch my bus to China.
The next morning, Denis drove me to the bus station where I quickly found my bus. After a heartfelt goodbye (seriously Denis, you were a fantastic host. I can not stress this enough) I hopped on the bus and was passed out before we left the station.
Just finished my first full day in Harbin, China. I have my ticket booked to Dalian, China (about four hours from the border with North Korea) for tomorrow evening on the overnight train. It is a coastal city that I will briefly visit before making my way towards the capital city of Beijing. The culture shock I have experienced here reminds me of a time almost eight years ago when I stepped off the airplane in Kuala, Lumpur Malaysia. The language is next to impossible and it took some serious thinking on the spot to reach my hostel in Harbin… but that is a story for tomorrow. I’ll post before I head to the train station.