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So it was said that Siberia has some of the most hospitable couch hosts, and I had the fortune to spend some time with one. Tanya worked in a newspaper agency and was busy the morning of my arrival. She asked her friend Eugene to pick me up from the train station. Eugene contacted me days before my arrival and we have scheduled to meet at the entrance of the train station. But as soon as I stepped off the train I saw him greeting at me, “you must be Jenny!”
“Yes, are you Eugene?”
“Yes, here, I got your bag.”
Together we walked to his car. He drove me around the city, showing all sorts of interesting buildings and landmarks: the navy cadet building, the railroad transportation school, the main street, etc. We stopped at the fort next to the river and he showed me all sorts of interesting things along the river. “This river goes to China.” He said,”you must knew it.”
Nope, I don’t… Despite my effort trying to connect “Om” with any Chinese river that I knew, I still couldn’t make any sense out of it; but Om does sound like a Buddhist word.
During the breakfast with Eugene, he told me that he is planning to go to New York in a few weeks. “How long are you going to be there?” I asked.
“Really? Just two weeks? How long is your visa?”
“Geez, that’s so not fair. We only get one month tourist visa for Russia and you get 2 years for U.S. Why won’t you stay there longer? It could make your plane ticket and visa worth a little more while. “
“Yes, but New York is very expensive to stay, and I still have to come back to work.”
Afterwards, I went with him for his doctor appointment before the continuation of his tour. “This is a private hospital,” he said,”we do have government sponsored ones, but those are terrible. This one is good and cheap.”
Then we went back to his car where he dropped me my bag off in Tanya’s office. I toured around the city center for a while, spending a considerable amount of effort trying to figure out how to get to the top of the fire tower in the city center for a good view of the city. Later Tanya told me that the fire tower is actually closed from the public, and the people on top of it were statues…
I spent a very nice evening with Tanya and her husband. She invited me to join their dinner and introduced me her fruit soup afterwards. After dinner I had some chat with her husband Pavel, whom had some good memories of the brotherhood during the soviet times, “The soviet time was better, though we were poor, at least we were happy…”
I was going to deposit my bag in Tanya’s office in the morning and then take it out in the afternoon before my train, but then I got a message from Tanya saying that she’s going to the court and won’t be available in the afternoon for me to retrieve my bag from her office. So Pavel looked through their phone book and found a friend living in the city with whom I could deposit my bag. Following his direction, I could not find his friend’s place. So I braved up and asked a friendly-looking lady for direction, it turned out that she speaks English. “You are very lucky, there are not very many people who speaks English here but I do and I could help you.” She told me how scarce English is spoken in Siberia – she was the only English-speaking nurse in her hospital and one time she got a tourist in her Emergency room begging her to not let him die….
She was also very confused with Pavel’s direction, and she called Pavel three times, “Pavel, are you sure she lives here?” “Pavel, we can’t find your building” It turned out that his friend lived in another building from the address, and it took us a while to find the right building. Indeed, I was pretty lucky to find such friendly people in the city…
Pavel’s friends were also very hospitable people, they chated with me for a while with their limited English, then we took a lot of photos together. When I came back to pick up my bag in the afternoon, the four of them walked me to the train station, made sure I was on the right train before they left.
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