The Olympics and the Trans-Siberian Railway

With the Olympics over a couple of weeks ago – and a little bit of extra time, I wanted to replicate an email conversation about a 20 year anniversary which only took notice amonsgst a group of 6 cousins.

(Yes I know this post is useless without photos – but all of my photos are at my parents house. Maybe when I get home I’ll scan them in.)

Start with this link

CC: I actually wanted to write to you all a couple weeks ago when the Olympics started. Because can you believe it’s been 20 years since we rode the Trans-siberia train, and I remember we ended up in Berlin at Zoogarten station watching the Barcelona Olympics on the big TV’s there, and then enjoying the milkshaes and Big macs from the McDonald’s across the street, bacsue after over a week on that train and in Moscow, we were starved for Western capitalist food. That trip was epic fun.

The Olympics were going on during our trip, the Dream Team, etc. GAP sold a series of vintage-Olympic theme T-shirts thsi past summer. I confess I broke down and bought the LA Olympics one (Volleyball, Vivienne’s wedding, Arcadia), because I liked the design better then the Barcelona one. Joe saw my t-shirt and asked if I found it used at a thrift-store!

This past summer I had this urge to go ride the Trans-siberia again (except to start from Vladisvostok, maybe even take the ferry from Korea or Japan) – pesky things like work get in the way, so no we didn’t go. I guess if I had thought about it in advance, I could have proposed it to you all, and see how many people might be able to make it or even willing to go. It would be interesting to see what it’s like now, or even to go on this other train ride. I wonder what Chien and Marina are doing right now? When we were riding it the first time, I remember thinking one day if I ever got married, I’d want to come back with my husband to ride the Trans-siberia.

I can’t believe it’s been 20 years, we’ve all changed in terms of life’s milestones, but in some ways I think we’ve changed very little, i.e. in terms of our love of travel.

DC: Thanks for the trip down memory lane. A lot of those memories are still very fresh so it’s hard to believe that twenty years has passed. I remember Jason getting clubbed for trading Levi’s out of the train window, a beautiful sunset sing-a-long, learning how to play Big 2 for the first time, and a friendly Russian bodyguard who insisted that we call him “Michael” not “Mychael” haha. That was an amazing trip.

When I read this line from the article – ” The BAM doesn’t offer all the plush comforts of the Trans-Siberian,” I laughed because I don’t remember those sponge baths being all that luxurious. I’m sure a lot has changed on that line since we were there, so we were lucky to have experienced it when it was still a bit raw and gritty. Not a lot of 12 year olds have the opportunity to go on a trip like that and I haven’t traveled on such a grand scale since that summer. So thanks for taking me along! If we can somehow pull it off again with all the new members in our family, that would be an epic sequel!

TC: Thanks for the article. Is Chien aka French Cow? Yeah i will definitely skip the watches and get the night vision googles and uranium isotopes. instead. Would be cool to converge and ride the rail again. We should roll thru Mongolia this time, not sure if that will still be considered Trans Sib. Perhaps it is time to bring all of the kids on a trip of a lifetime so they will have stories to talk about with their cousins.

CC:I’ve forgotten, what’s the reference to French Cow?! Chien was the Cantonese girl who only spoke Mandarin and Russian because she lived in Moscow….

IC: Yeah sounds like BAM is the ticket if we do go on another run on the Siberian route next time. I love to see lonely places.

Among the images still enshrined in my memory on that 92 trip are, in no particular order,

– the beauty of the parts of Manchuria in sunset on the 1st night
– my trusty little Sony shortwave radio tuning into BBC or VoA to get some news
– how dining car food got from bad to worse after we crossed the Chinese/Russian border
– the incredible amount of top ramen we bought in HK and how we got sick of that too by the end
– the name of the HK shop where we got tickets: “Monkey Business” in a dinky room in Chungking mansion.
(It seems they are still in business under a new name “Monkey Shrine” and not in Chungking Mansion anymore.)
– the joy of sponging in that little train toilet
– how random people shuffle in and shuffle out the train during the 5 days of the trip, just like the title of my favorite Hemingway book “The Movable Feast”
– the image of Matt Biondi in the Olympic pool (Cal grad, *gasp*) on the big screen at a Berlin station
– trying to catch the dream team games on TV when we were in Amsterdam but to no avail.

92 was a watershed year for me in many respects: grandfather’s death, my decision to remain in Japan after a year of exchange (didn’t think it would stay another 10 though, but I eventually did); the Olympics and the Dream Team, Mr. Mao’s death (Mao is the Peto seed guy who helped Adams in the 80s; dad from CIssy’s dad over the phone the day we were touring the Red Square). Insignificant as it may seem then, without Mao our current seed production would probably not have existed. The Trans-Siberian train trip seemed to have tied everything up neatly together for me.

JC: Here are some of the things I remember….

1) Cissy had this huge red duffle bag she lugged around everywhere and it seemed bigger than she was!
2) Dad and Tim arguing( something about Tim wanting to go to some church meeting) while we were strolling through the Red Light District in Amsterdam, David and I were in the back of the group with guys offering us to see a “sex” show ( i was barely 16 and david 13 yrs old) and ofcourse we were googling at the neon prostitutes in the windows….LOL
3) How it only cost 1 ruble to ride the subway in Moscow.
4) How Tim tried to impress that girl on the train and ended up giving her some sweatshirt and my boston hat and they kept saying…FRENCH COW….
5)Trading Marlboros/Levis for fur hats and russian binoculars (which I still have!)
6) Like david mentioned, getting a rubber baton on my wrist trying to exchange dollars for rubles and witnessing them baton a lady in the ass for trying to sneak on the train….
7) The first night we got into Russia and ate at some dive restaurant with entertainment and it cost 10 rubles per person and the meat was like a bunch of tendons mashed together….
8) we were constantly on alert for people trying to steal our stuff on the train when we were asleep

It was a great trip and would love to do it again…

Me: he effect this trip had on me – well, I think it may have laid the seeds for me being overseas for so long – remember this was the summer before Tim and I went to college.

19 things which I remember –

1. JC, DC and I arriving in Japan, and TC had a sign that said “Boyz from the Hood” – but he immediately got on another flight to Hong Kong.
2. The super long transition from Narita to IC’s place at TIT . .. being super hungry and introducing us to the wonders of Japanese curry.
3. JC, DC and I playing around in the computer lab on IRC. Probably among the earliest iterations of the internet.
4. Sprinting through Seoul airport to catch our connection to HK.
5. Cousin GC in Hong Kong. He spent a lot of time talking about trying to join the Hong Kong Club.
6. Grocery shopping in Wellcome on Caine Road to fill Cissy’s giant red bag. CC bought a bunch of cans of sardines because she had read about someone else eating sardines on crackers in their travel memoir.
7. My first visit to Beijing staying on Jinbao Jie in the Taiwan Hotel (which was there up until last year – it’s now been taken over some global chain)
8. Buying bottles of Jianlibao orange soda in China – and taking a swig and then pouring them all out. Man, that stuff was sweet.
9. Everyone exchanging tapes on the train – and Sasha letting us play some tapes over the car’s PA system. I may have listened to the Les Miserables soundtrack 30 times on the trip.
10. The french cow thing. I started saying “meeeuuuuu” instead of moo, which turned into the french cow.
11. I think we ate 60% of our meals in Moscow at Pizza Hut and McDonald’s. Remember they checked at the door to see if we had hard currency.
12. The Asian looking guy at the Moscow restaurant (who now, 20 years later, was probably from Central Asia OR Korean) who kept saying “un petit peu” and then Cissy and I thought that he could speak French. But he could only say “un petit peu.”
13. Biking around Berlin on a really uncomfortable bike.
14. The “sex show” and drug dealers in Amsterdam.
15. Getting kicked out of Harry’s Bar in Paris (actually denied entry) “NO SHORTS!!!”
16. Seeing a girl sobbing while lying on top of Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris.
17. Frank’s wedding was really really hot. For some reason I thought braces (suspenders) were really cool so I was wearing them.
18. Watching the Olympics in bits and pieces all around Europe. The opening ceremony went on when we were in Moscow. I remember seeing Magic Johnson and the torch lighting via the bow and arrow.
19. DC and I going back earlier to start school – and eating at Burger King in Heathrow while transferring back to the US.

CC: I finally got around to digging out the photo album that I had assembled for that trip.
Damn, we were really young and skinny.

My specific memories to add:

Buying rectangular shaped Haw Flakes in Beijing when we were stocking up: I remember being surprised because I was only used to them being in those small squat slugs in the red and yellow wrapping.

Eating at this tiny “Niu Rou mian” (beef noodle soup) a couple of times near the Taiwan Hotel.

Helping T buy silk boxers: I never realised that there was a gap in the front of boxers until then!

Playing basketball in the parking lot at Forbidden City

All the guys oggling at ‘Nonny’ the VJ on Asia MTV which we watched at the Taiwan Hotel (whatever happened to her)

Being stuck in my slippers when we had to wait in that no-name Russian town for the bogeys to be changed on the train. Playing hopscotch. Marina being excited to buy a Russian newspaper there, even if it was a week old!

I think I only took one sponge bath the entire week on the train. We had bought our own plastic wash basin, because there was no stopper in the sink to hold the water.

the crash-tinkle you’d constantly hear as people who finished their vodka bottles would simply toss the empties out the train window.

buying tiny strawberries in newspaper cones at the whistle-stops.

The giant sacks of leather jackets traders loaded onto the train at the beginning of the trip.taking up the space in their the time we got to moscow, they were emptied.

We also passed around a copy of “Riding the Iron rooster” and “Jurassic Park” for reading on the train.

Ice cream, and loaves of bread in Moscow. Hotel Transit in Berlin (Still there today!). Some hotel across from the Central train station in Amsterdam took pity on Uncle Wing traveling with 6 children! and let us rent the large attic room at the top floor for one night only (he usually had a two-night minimum or something.) Paris _ Ivan insisting on going to McDonalds because he needed to have an (American style) coke – with ice in it! (the local shops only sold you a chilled can!) Running into Uncle So Ha in Zurish, and then we all piled into Yan’s apartment to hang out and snack on fruit.

I wanted to take a photo of myself doing handstands in each stop. Except I wasn’t capable of doing handstands on my own, so each of you guys helped hold my legs each time, thank you!

OK, I’m going to make a very rash commitment: I’ll take on organizing a Trans-Sib (or parallel route) train ride for 2013 if we can figure out what would be a good time for as many people as possible. IC and DC I guess it would depend on your kids’ school schedules, and would you even feel comfortable for Emma who’s still very young to go on such a trip like that.

I might as well take it one step further and later ask if any of other ‘Santa Rosa cousins” if they’d be interested?!

I may even bring the same red duffle bag. Let me know.

Me: Nonie:

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10 Responses to The Olympics and the Trans-Siberian Railway

  1. terence says:

    My editing skills are terrible.

  2. uzbekcelia says:

    Maybe I’ll make another rash commitment . . . if I get around to scanning the photos I have of that trip, you can post them . . .

  3. Terence says:

    @uzbekcelia – If you go by Dublin, my photo album is on the bottom of my bookshelf and in a big brown album.

  4. Dad says:

    I have that green backpack you used for the trip. Unfortunately “someone” has lose the waistbelt, making it kind of useless.

  5. terence says:

    I used the blue backpack actually. I think that’s also still there.

  6. Dad says:

    Blue, that’s what I meant.

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