No, I am not Russian (day 126)

Tomorrow I leave Khabarovsk for Port Vanino (from which I hope to get a boat to Sakhalin island). I hope I heard the woman at the boat terminal right – I thought she said that there were 2 or 3 boats a day. If I am wrong, I guess I will spend a day or two sitting around in Port Vanino. Not really an exciting prospect, but who knows what might come along?

No one in Khabarovsk seems to own a watch. That was my first observation when, as I was walking around to find a hotel approximately six million people asked me what the time was.

I met two 14 year olds yesterday. I was sitting on the foreshore (they have a much nicer beach than Vladivostok – lots more sand, pity about the broken glass everywhere). And they saw that I was reading an English book and starting talking to me. Most conversations I have seem to start with “are you a foreigner?”. Like it is not obvious. Many people seem to think I am from the Baltic republics though.

These two kids showed me around Khabarovsk a bit – they spend their whole summer (like American kids, Russian kids get three months off from school) at the beach basically, and wandering around trying to think of ways to fill in their time. They were interesting enough to talk to, and pretty easily impressed (the fact that it cost about $20 to stay in my hotel made them think that I was a millionaire).

They got a bit annoying though, when they kept asking me to buy things (being a millionaire and all). They did invite me to come visit their dachas (many Russians spend the summers at their summer homes just outside the city), but I was tired by that point, and happy sitting in the sun on the beach. It is funny to have a seaside summer holiday in Russia, normally associated (at least in my mind) with long, cold, dark winters.

I had lots of good feelings this morning from doing stuff. It is funny how simple things like making a couple of phone calls, changing some money, buying some lunch, and successfully negotiating your way around some strange place can fill you with enthusiasm.

Then I was suddenly filled with bad feelings. I left my sunglasses (such high quality that they are essentially irreplaceable in Russia) in the bank or the phone place. Sigh. Me and sunglasses have a pretty bad history really. I left my last pair (exactly the same) at the beach. At $160 a pair, I can’t really afford to be doing that.

Still, it gave me the chance to buy some more things. I got replacement sunglasses (although they say Oakley on them, the only similarity with real Oakleys is that Oakley also make sunglasses), and I even bought some line and hooks and sinkers and other things for fishing (cos I might get the chance on Sakhalin). I also bought a little cord to hang my sunglasses around my neck. Me thinks I should have got the cord when I had $160 sunglasses to hang rather than $10 ones. But you get that on the big jobs.

Khabarovsk, I have decided, is actually quite a nice place. It is built at the confluence of the Amur and Ussuri rivers. And the streets are wide, tree-lined, and with relatively little traffic. It is quite European really, particularly given that it is about as far away from Europe as you can get while still being on the same continent.

The train station is henious. The queues are diabolical. In fact I think my queue story deserves a separate post. The waterfront is lovely. Beer is still cheap. It is cheaper than water. There would probably be some kind of national rebellion if they increased the price of beer.

So not only is this place nicer than Vladivostok, they are even doing it up – laying new cobblestones around the place, painting some of the old buildings. All good.

Accomodation is a problem unless you want to pay $60 a night. For some reason, and the problem is the same in other parts of Russia too, it seems, people in hotels just won’t let foreigners in. Apparently there is no reason for it (the rules about where you could go and where you could stay once you get into Russia now having been abolished), but it exists all the same. Like many things Russian, I suppose.

When I arrived here, I wandered over to the cheapest hotel in town. They told me they had no rooms. But they, very helpfully, said they would call all the other places in town to see if they could find me a hotel room. Eventually they did. And it was cheapish, so that was good.

While I was sitting there, a Russian woman wandered in and asked if they had any rooms. And they said “yes, of course we do”. Quite annoying really, since I had to walk another half hour with my backpack on in the sweltering heat to find my way to the new hotel. At least I knew they would take me (although from the look of the receptionist they wouldn’t have if the other people had not rung first).

And when you do get a hotel room, you usually get charged twice the Russian rate as well. Even if you spoke perfect Russian you would not be able to avoid this, because they require your passport to check you in. Sure, it is not a lot of money, but it annoys me all the same.

I have this weird thing that happens without fail every morning. All night I think in English, you see. Sometimes I talk to myself (no hairs on the palms yet), but mostly I just think to myself. If it were not for my inner monologue I would seldom have a decent conversation, and I would never be able to make any decisions.

Anyway, all night I am dreaming and thinking in English. Then I wander downstairs in the morning, and someone speaks to me in Russian. And I am always surprised and slightly taken aback that they are talking Russian. So I don’t really reply, or I mumble. Or I just look confused. Very strange for this to happen every day, I think.