Trans-Siberian Train - Border Crossing
Trip Start Aug 08, 2006
36Trip End Oct 11, 2006
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The border crossing into Russia was highly reminiscent of the scrutinous control under the Communist regime. After arriving at the last Mongolian town of Sukhbaatar at around 4AM, the engine was disconnected, and around 10 train cars were removed. Only the two front cars containing foreign tourists stood quietly in front of the station. The pink rays of dawn were faintly visible behind the mountains in the distance. Outside, the temperature was 40F.
There was an eerie tranquility in the air. The bustling noise of life was absent outside. Only a few Mongolian soldiers stood guard on the platform with their guns suspended from their waists. The train attendants ran to all the cabins and told us that there was going to be a lock-down for a few hours, a usual border procedure
On the train, there were two college South Korean young men who spoke very little English. They were apprehensive about the border crossing, and their incomprehension of the immigration form, printed entirely in Russian without any English translation, made them all the more anxious. My guide came to me and asked if I knew any Korean. I hesitantly said a little. However upon meeting them, I thought I should try to see if they knew any Japanese, a language I was more fluent in. Luckily, Li, a 22-year old student studying to become a policeman, said yes. There we were, two people from two different nations conversing in Japanese on the Mongolian-Russian frontier. I had never thought that Japanese would ever become an international language that would bind different nations together like English could. So I read the Russian form to him and translated it directly into Japanese. I had translated the form earlier into English for my companion travelers. He and his traveling mate thanked me profusely.
Since the restrooms on the train were locked up at the border, we had to pay 100T ($0.10US) for restroom privileges at the station
Was that it? I thought. Apparently, the treatment of foreigners had changed drastically since the communist days
The lock down lasted from 11:30AM until 1PM when our passports were returned to us with the official Russian border crossing stamp. We then disembarked from the train and went around the border town of Naushki. It was a very small town, infested with the tormenting signs of poverty. Dirt roads full of puddles and metallic shacks serving as homes were visible from the train station. The open-air market sold a few hot foods like Pirozhki, Russian deep-fried pies filled with mutton, potatoes, or onion. The other stalls sold Mickey Mouse coloring books or old, worn-out jeans. Many babushkas wearing head covers sat guarding their fruit stands and hoping for foreigners to make a purchase. Their brown eyes were glazed with signs of hardship in this economically deprived region of Russia.
At around 3:30PM, we returned to the train for our overnight journey to the capital of eastern Siberia, Irkutsk.