The Transsiberian Railway – Part III: Locking Toilet & The Mongolian Visitor

(Enroute from Beijing to Ulaanbataar: Northeastern China)

Transsiberian Part III
With a shudder and a shake, accompanied by a noise that sounds like steam escaping from a pressurized valve, the dimly-lit transsiberian train pulls out of the Beijing station at 13 minutes before 8 o’clock. The morning  sun is low in the sky and frost lines the window panes.

Backpacks on and tickets in hand, we pass through the cars in search of our cabin.

We are walking down a hallway. Pale blue carpet, a foot wide. To our right, through the frosty windows – the Beijing train station rushes past. On our left, heavy wooden doors. Eight sliding doors in each car.

We are looking for a number. A middle-aged Chinese man in puffy pyjama pants stares at me from his room as we pass. I smile. His grimace tightens. I’m happy we’re not going to be roommates.

Further ahead, a young boy drags his toy truck by a string down the hallway. Grinning from ear-to-ear, he tells me something in a language I don’t understand. I smile back. He runs his truck over my foot.

And then, third cabin in. The number on the door matches the number on our ticket. We’re here!

With a shiver of wood on metal, followed by a resounding clunk, the door slides open.

What looks like a small 2 bed room at first glance is, in fact, a 4 bed dorm. Just like bunk-beds on either side of the room, with the top bunks folding out from the wall, our new home is the shade of caramel bunks on vanilla ice cream walls. At the back of the room, behind a little table separating the two lower bunks, is a big window shielded by a semi-transparent, checked white curtain. A stray kleenex on the floor. Brown carpet with parts unraveling. A couple scratchy-looking wool blankets folded on the lower bunks. Something in a plastic bag. One pair of miniature slippers on the floor.

We throw our backpacks onto the bunks. And then we collapse, ecstatic that we’re here, happy to have an entire cabin to ourselves. And we sit in silence for awhile, floating in our windowed box as China flashes by.

The next sound we hear is “kablam! kaboom!” followed by a knock at the door.

I look to Sal, who looks right back to me. We both shrug. Neither of us moves.

“Kabloom, Kapow!” And another knock. Harder, this time.

Fine. I’m up.

I slide the door open. Clunk. Nobody there. I slide it shut.

“Kablam!” I open it again. Look around. Still nobody.

I’m about to slam it shut for the second time, ready to come to terms with the fact that I’ve obviously got some hearing issues… and then, a muffled giggle coming from somewhere in the neighbourhood of my toes.

I look down, and there he is: our first Transsiberian friend: The Inquisitive Mongolian Visitor.

He’s three feet tall and he’s wearing a collared blue and yellow polo shirt. His black leggings are tucked into his velcroed shoes. “Kablam, kaboom, krrrrawwww!” he yells, and bangs his head against our door.

Maybe that means hello in Mongolian; I’m just not sure. But we’ve made our first friend. And from that point onward, the three-foot high Mongolian Visitor spent three-quarters of his time inside our cabin, taking things from our bags and hiding them, giving us high-fives, running his truck over our feet and flying his airplane into our hair.

He also tried to hide our beers. And then he tried to drink them. And when we told him no, he offered some to the other person who had made our cabin her home: his sister, clad in a very fashionable diaper.

A few hours later, and the pints have rendered my bladder full. I walk down the hall to use the loo, and find that it’s locked. I’ve really got to go, so I walk through to the next car. That bathroom’s locked, too. To my despair, every single bathroom in the next 3 cars are locked!

This is outrageous! Either everyone has to pee at the same time, or something funny’s going on around here.

So here I am, reaming away on one door, knocking wildly and about to pee my pants, when one of the provodnistas (train attendants) sees me. She comes over, shakes her finger, and makes noises with her mouth that amount in my brain to something like “stop. wait. 5 minutes and being somewhere”.

Five minutes later and blue-faced, our train pulls into our first stop and I realize what she was trying to say. I leap (leap!) off the train in search of a bathroom. That one, too, is locked. Of course it is!

I later find out that all bathrooms on the train lock 30 minutes prior to arrival at a station (they do this to keep the railway tracks around cities “clean”. Because, yes, the bottom of the toilet bowl is the railway track). They remain locked for the entire duration of the stop. And they only re-open 30 minutes after departure. Which meant my waiting period was something like 65 minutes. Outrageous!

Where’s our Mongolian Visitor’s fashionable friend at? I recon I’m going to steal her diaper.