"Siberia 2007" story # 27

Tomsk, Russia           August 26, 2007

Step 1 - Stay away from drunks.
     Step 2 - Stay away from everyone. (This is to reiterate Step 1.)
     Step 3 - Stay away from Altaians.
     Step 4 - Stay away from cities.
     Step 5 - Stay away from villages.
     Step 6 - Find a nice, quiet forest, ...
     Step 7 - Stay away from the piles of litter, sometimes humongous, near most natural places where it'd be convenient to sit.
     Step 8 - Stay away from broken glass, which Russians like to leave behind them upon finishing their bottles of beer.
     Step 6 (cont.) - ... go somewhere far, far away, set up your tent, and sit there. Meditate, if you like. Wait for summer to end.
     Step 9 - Beware, beware, of the gifts you'll be given!
     Step 10 - Especially stay away from drunk Altaians on horses.

While wild, Russians are also very hospitable. They love getting and giving gifts. They've given me heavy things useless to a traveler; canned pig tongues and other disgusting food items; and useful things, such as a black necklace with a Russian Orthodox symbol, which I wear not for its religious meaning but to remember the people who gave it to me.
     I think I would've made it to Lake Baikal, but I was so weighed down with gifts. Serioza and Vera (fifty-year-old tourists who befriended me while I hitchhiked) had bought me a big, hard-cover road atlas. I already HAD a road atlas, except mine was small and paper-back, and I'd ripped out all the pages I didn't need, which were all but the Siberian ones, which were about twelve.
     Instead, I returned to Tomsk for nine days.
     I failed to find a girl who'd accompany on my next hitchhiking trip, but it was worthwhile to ask. Girls I'd just met have almost joined me. Girl-guy relationships in Russia seem to be, fantastically, very liberal.
     While wild, Russians are social and friendly. In addition to, "Pochemu odin?" (Why are you alone?), and, "Net strashnyy?" (Isn't traveling scary?), they commonly ask if I know many Russians in America. No, I don't. But, Matt, a loveable, laughable, not-too-confident young man who drinks coffee at my hometown Steak'n'Shake, does.

Once, I asked Matt how he'd met his Russian friends.
     He said that, some years ago, he'd been walking around Grand Haven - a Lake Michigan beach town. Suddenly, a young kid grabbed his wallet and started running. Matt caught up to the kid, subdued him, and retrieved his wallet.
     As they lay on the ground, panting and recovering, the boy told Matt, "Hey, you know, you have a really nice uppercut." "Thanks," said Matt. "You fight pretty good yourself." They smoked a cigarette together. And soon, Matt was introduced to all this Russian kid's Russian friends. They seemed to be involved with the mafia, and Matt's friendship with them lasted a long time.

To further sum up the Russian spirit, here's the translation of an "anekdot" (joke) I was told while in Tomsk:
     "An international plane takes off. Once it's in the air, the captain realizes they're overloaded. He tells the stuardess, 'We're gonna need to get rid of five people.' The stuardess leaves the pilots' cabin.
     "A short while later, she returns, and she tells this story:
     "'A French man came up to me. He'd drunk a bottle of gin. He yells, "Privet (Hello), France!" and he jumps out of the plane.
     "'A while later, an Italian man comes up to me. He's drunk a bottle of cognac. He yells, "Privet, Italy!" and he jumps out of the plane.
     "'And then, a Russian comes up to me. He's drunk three bottles of vodka. He yells, "Privet, Africa!" and he throws three Africans out of the plane."
     That joke was told to me by ten-year-old Olesa, who's tall, flower-thin, tan-brown-skinned, with proud cheek-dimples and silvery-black hair straight all the way down her back. She likes telling "anekdoty."

- peace, Modern Oddyseus

Thanks to surly Oleg & a girl; Sasha & Pasha; Vitalik; and Sasha & Natasha for rides!
Much thanks to Serioza, Vera, & Olya - again; Olya & Irofei; Sergei, Roma, & Nikolai; Nastia & Dima; and Yinga for places to stay!

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