Category Archives: trains

Drunk Lives Matter: A visit to Sokolniki Park and my experiences as a victimised minority in Russia

All I wanted was to spend a sunny Autumn day exploring one of Russia’s most famous and beautiful parks. What I ended up with was a heavy dose of victimisation, racial profiling and police prejudice that should have social activists in an uproar. This is the harrowing story of my adventures through Moscow as one of the most marginalised people on Earth; an intoxicated Australian.

With Lena working again (which is just as well, because I’m sure as shit not bringing in the bacon), I rugged up and headed out towards the legendary Sokolniki Park, which lies a few kilometres north-east of the CBD. The park is a major place of recreation and relaxation for Moscovites, with beer gardens, restaurants, skating rinks, aviaries, gardens and seemingly-endless paths to wander along. It sounded like a great place to spend an afternoon, but getting there would be a true test of my determination, as I would face challenges that few would be able to handle.

I was minding my own business on the metro between Lubyanka and Sokolniki, looking cool and listening to some of my favourite wrestling theme songs on my phone, when a bloke with a shaved head and a scowl on his face pushed his way through the crowd and stood in front of me. I thought he might’ve been a fan of songs about punching people and invited him to groove along to the music, but he wasn’t a fan of the dulcet tones of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage. He was a policeman, and I’ll never forget the words he said to me. They still send a shiver down my spine. Those words were, “Show me passport.”

And just like that, I had been stripped of my humanity. I was no longer a person, I was no longer a dreamer, I was no longer a walking poet with a heart of gold. In three words I had been reduced to nothing more than the colour of my skin. I mean sure, I just pulled out my passport and the cop left straight away, but I’d still been robbed of my dignity. At that point I could completely empathise with how black people feel when this sort of thing happens to them. Of course, black people can fall back on their natural sporting, dancing and rapping abilities, their enviable physical resemblance to Wesley Snipes, and their baseball bat-sized penises, so I guess I’m the real victim here. Some call me a hero, but I don’t like labels.

After my brush with the law, I did finally make it to Sokolniki Park, and it’s quite lovely. The main part, which is a two-minute stroll from the metro station, is usually packed with people walking around, or dancing to the music that’s blared non-stop over the PA system, or rollerblading around as if it’s still 1994. It’s a genuinely nice place to find in the middle of a busy city, and the park only gets nicer as you delve further into it. Lovingly-maintained gardens open up amongst the bush, and paths wind amongst ancient trees and past bubbling streams. Further in, the park is overrun by dense forest, which looks stunning as the leaves turn to gold and amber.

I was admiring a tree when I felt a tap on the shoulder, and turned around to see another stern-faced policeman was standing there. “Show me passport,” he demanded, further demeaning me and appropriating my sesnse of self-worth. I enabled his bigotry by showing him my passport, and it felt like I was handing over a piece of my soul as I did so. The policeman soon fled the scene of the hate crime, leaving me to pick up the shattered remnants of my psyche amongst the glorious landscape of Sokolniki Park.

After wearily staggering back to the station, I climbed onto a packed Russian train and did my best to hide my tears from the staring throngs. Nobody reached out to help me. Nobody cared. Dear reader, you probably think that I’m made from granite, with the heart of a lion, but the fact is that I’m only human. I broke down and wept, but then felt a warn hand wipe away my tears. “Spasibo,” I stammered.” “Show me passport,” a voice said. The weight of social injustice almost crushed me.

On the walk home, I planned out this blog entry. I imagined the uproar from my fans when they read it. I imagined protests. I imagined violence in the streets. I imagined people kneeling during the national anthem in an act of solidarity. Despite everything I’d been through – more than any man should experience in a lifetime, let alone an afternoon – I had a spring in my step. Things would change, and I would be a victim no longer.

I burst through the door’s of Lena’s place, and immediately started ranting about the nightmare I had survived, and the revolution that was to come. No longer would Australians be discriminated against. No longer would we be forced to carry passports like dog tags, just to visit the park. She took one look at me, told me to grow the fuck up, and forced me to do push-ups to prove my masculinity. Bloody hell, I need a safe space…

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It’s Hip to be Red Square

I might spend my days sleeping until 3pm and watching old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons in my undies, but my girlfriend is a valuable member of society and has a big-person job to go to, so today I was left to explore Moscow on my own. Not wanting to be a typical tourist, I headed for the one place that certainly wouldn’t be crawling with Chinese dudes clutching selfie sticks; the Kremlin.

See what I did there? I made a joke, so at least give me a pitty laugh. The Kremlin is packed with more Chinamen than a small penis competition Jackie Chan book signing, but despite that it’s still an incredible site to behold. Red Square is massive, and the cathedral thingy at the end (I don’t know what it’s called, look up a proper travel blog if you’re interested) is absolutely beautiful. The majority of Moscow might consist of Soviet-era apartment blocks, but the historic centre is glorious.

Hey, and unlike the Chinese, I didn’t stand around taking a billion selfies.

Before coming to Moscow, I definitely thought it would be a drab and dishevelled place to visit, with a homeless person in every gutter and the threat of a head-kicking around every corner, but it’s far nicer than that. It’s similar to places like Riga and Warsaw, of course (it’s basically within walking distance) and is a modern city that’s safe and easy to navigate. It’s also now almost completely free of the bubonic plague.

After sauntering away from the Red Square and into the nearby neighbourhood of Balchug, I found an incredibly strange park full of the wackiest statues this side of a malaria-fuelled fever dream. The most interesting statue in Bolotnaya Square Park is titled Children – Victims of Adult Voices and features an evil robot, a frogman, a big fat dude on a barrel, a drug-dispensing doctor, a dancing pig, a sexed-up granny, and several other intensely strange creatures. I think most artworks are as worthwhile as the sticky stuff in a teenager’s sock, but this one really spoke to me and was totally awesome. Three thumbs up.

By that point I was feeling tired and in desperate need of a drink, so I was stoked to see a train not far away, and gleefully climbed aboard. Alright, it seemed a bit old-fashioned, and the fact it had a slippery dip jutting out the front raised alarm bells, but I assumed the communists do things a bit differently and settled in for the ride back to the suburbs. Sadly, it turned out to be a kiddie ride, and I was soon chased out of the park by a group of angry locals who must’ve assumed I was a sex pest or something.

I was swaggering back past the kremlin on my way to the real train station when a long, shiny limousine pulled up next to me and bunch of burly blokes in black suits climbed out. I thought they might be the Men in Black and had a look around for that Willie Smith fella, and while I was doing that a wiry bloke with piercing blue eyes got out, looking me up and down. The dudes in the black suits reached for their guns as I approached the wiry fella, but he told them to relax.

“G’day brother, I’m from Australia, how are ya?” I asked, sticking out my hand.
“I am doing very well,” the main man said in a thick Russian accent, before shaking my hand with a grip that could crush a doorknob. “My name is Vladimir.”
“Oh, you’re Vladimir Kozlov, the former WWE wrestler!”
“No.”
“Dominican baseball legend Vladimir Guerrero?”
“No.”
“Long-dead concert pianist Vladimir Horowitz?”
“No.”
Everybody Loves Raymond star Vlad Garrett?”
“No, no, no!”
“Yeah, figures,” I replied, walking off into the icy evening. “I never meet anyone famous!”

BEER OF THE DAY: 387 OSOBAYA VARKA

Legend has it that this creamy lager is named after the number consumed by the average Russian every week. I only had one, but amongst the sea of other brews, it was the best, and perfect for colder climates. Like the perfect woman, it’s comforting, not too thick, and goes down easily. It’s a bit like dipping a Caramello Koala in your beer and theen drinking it, only it’s not as disgusting as that would be.

Train of the Sri Lankan Dead

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I was looking forward to travelling across Sri Lanka by train as much as I’m looking forward to the new Ghostbusters remake with all those fat chicks in it. After three lengthy rides in overcrowded and uncomfortable buses, I thought the nine-and-a-half journey from Batticaloa to Combo would be as much fun as having afternoon tea with a registered sex offender, but it was actually quite pleasant. I suppose afternoon tea with a sex offender could be alright, too, as long as he was a good conversationalist and promised not to bugger any dogs until he got home.

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It’s way too early for this shit

The train left Batti at 6:10am, which is a time I didn’t even know existed, and was mostly empty. I had two large, reasonably comfortable seats to myself, and a big window to open up and look out of, so I could wave to happy little Sri Lankans as I went.  We rolled past a world waking up, with farmers starting their day’s work, shops opening, and dogs being chased by hungry people looking for breakfast. Palm trees, rivers, wetlands and villages all slid past.

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Maybe someone farted?

At every stop, little blokes would climb onto the train and start singing as they did their best to sell food to the passengers. Some of it looked edible, some of it didn’t, but I passed on it all because Sri Lankan trains don’t have toilets and I didn’t like the thought of hanging my blurter out the window for the next five hours. It’s certainly a colourful and interesting journey that’s far more enjoyable than catching the bus.

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Sunrise over a nightmare

I was reading a book when I felt my hair being pulled, and turned around to see a strange creature staring back at me. It had a frog-like face and was making unusual choking noises, its tongue flicking in and out as if it wanted to lick me. I swiped out with my book but the beastie ducked and spat something acidic at me. I dodged it, and the spit hit the seat in front of me, melting it. I squealed and the creature crawled under the seat and scuttled away like a bug, never to be seen again. I went back to reading my book and enjoying the view out the window.

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“We are going to eat you!”

But then, everything went wrong when a FLESH-EATING ZOMBIE shambled into the carriage! With eyes rolling back in his skull and a foul odour emanating from his emaciated body, the ghoul lurched from seat to seat, violently biting and eating the occupants, sending blood spurting through the carriage while people screamed and ran away. The corpse shambled up to me and leant in to tear out my throat, but I wasn’t having any of that, so I told him to sit down and shut up, because he was fucking around and wasting everyone’s time. The monster had no choice but to wander off and take a seat and stop being a dickhead.

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“I love you, I want to eat your brains!”

With all the blood and gore and headless bodies lying around, I was glad when we finally pulled into Colombo at around 3:30pm. It was a long but memorable journey, and brought me one step closer to the end of a journey that’s taken me through 15 countries across two continents. While I could definitely keep going and see more of the world, it will be good to relax at home for a few weeks before heading off again – this time to Bali for a fortnight’s paragliding, before checking out Japan. That’s just going to be an appetiser, because I’ve got a feeling the trip after that’s going to be a big one…

Cheers, motherfuckers!

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Huddersfield is like my ex-girlfriend – cold, hate-filled and full of ugly Polish men

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After my wild night out in Manchester, I woke up to endless rain and a phone call from my brother. My grandfather had died about the time I’d flown out to England five days before. It was not unexpected, because he was 93, but that doesn’t make it any easier to take. The cold and wet weather outside my window reflected my personal turmoil, as I tried to deal with losing a family member while, literally, the furthest from home I’d ever been.

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Two handsome trains

With the day off to a bad start, I decided to make things even worse by heading out to a town that no visitor to England has ever visited – Huddersfield. Situated halfway between Manchester and Leeds, Huddersfield is a dreary place with ugly people and drab buildings and very little that anyone would ever want to actually see.

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As bleak as Manly’s finals hopes

Well, that’s not quite true. There’s a reason why I headed to this dirty little town in the north of England – back in August of 1895, representatives of 22 northern rugby clubs met at the George Hotel, Huddersfield, to form the breakaway Northern Rugby Football Union. The renegade competition sought to create a semi-professional environment where rugby players could be paid if they were forced to miss work due to injuries, but the movement ended up being far more important that that. For on that cold night in Huddersfield 20 decades ago, the great game of rugby league was born.

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If you see this sign, don’t get off the train

Growing up in Australia, I’d wake up early to watch English rugby league matches, and because of that I was convinced that the biggest cities in that country were London, Wigan and St Helens. So, naturally, no trip to England would be complete without a trip to the birthplace of the Greatest Game of All.

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All they could serve me was a pint of disappointment

The train ride out took me through rolling green hills, but the weather was miserable and couldn’t see a thing. When I made it to H-town, tired and emotional and hungover, the George Hotel was closed for renovations. With the rain tumbling down and the list of interesting site in the ‘field rather limited, I headed off to check out The John Smith’s Stadium, where the Huddersfield Giants play. The journey took me through dilapidated buildings and some of the grimiest, uninspiring streets you could ever have the misfortune to see. The stadium was in a creepy industrial district and I wasn’t able to get too close to it, and while scoping out the area some tough-looking children started calling me a paedophile, so I headed back to the station.

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The Theatre of Bad Dreams

The town is weirdly quiet, and most of the people I saw were either thuggish kids, crackheads, or Eastern European peasants. I looked around to find some food, but nowhere was open, and I ended up buying some weird imitation Twisties from a Polish shop. They reluctantly served me and I swaggered back to the train station never to step foot in Huddersfield again.

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I bet they have to bolt the windows shut to stop people from jumping

If given the option to either spend time in Huddersfield, or have a gold ball roughly inserted into your wee-hold by a man dressed as a penguin, go for option B. It’s an ugly, boring, dreary town with a shit footy team and ugly residents, where dreams go to die and the sun comes as regularly as a pensioner who had his imitation Viagra tablets confiscated by customs after his trip to Thailand.

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The famous ‘uddersfield circular metal thing

 

Beijing to Guilin in 27-and-a-half hours

Oh, bloody hell, I’m pretty sure a homeless Chinaman snuck into my room while I was asleep and shat in my mouth. I woke up shortly after passing out, feeling rubbish and needing to quickly pack my stuff and get out of there. My train was at 3:44pm and I wanted to check out the Beijing National Stadium first, hangover or no hangover.

Give me the gold medal for sexiness!
Give me the gold medal for sexiness!

I made it out there without much trouble and, while the stadium was fantastic, it was also kind of like a mausoleum. Since the Olympics it’s only held a handful of events, and these days the whole precinct is blasted with sound effects to make it appear the Games are still on. It’s truly weird. Homebush Stadium might be rubbish, but at least they’ve moved on and use it for other events – this place is like a grave.

I got out of there and along to Beijing West Railway Station, the biggest in Asia with up to 400,000 people going through it a day. Having not eaten a proper meal in a day, I grabbed whatever they had there – McDonald’s. Shit, I’m keeping those pricks in business. After eating my burgers I rolled onto the train with visions of a 22-hour booze-fuelled party with a bunch of slutty European backpackers. What I got instead was a cramped, dirty crypt to sleep in and three elderly Chinese peasants for roommates. They hated me and I soon learnt to hate them, because they sat around eating seeds from a huge bag and yelling at me. It was like sharing a room with a bunch of mean-spirited parrots.

Where the nightmare began
Where the nightmare began

The trip got underway and I settled in for 2500km of awesomeness. I had no food and there was nowhere to buy any, so I just sat and got hungry while cities and towns and villages sped past the building. As the world outside darkened and we sped into the wild heart of China, I felt myself becoming increasingly shell-shocked by the massive cultural divide between me and the other passengers.

Hangovers leave me feeling scared and weird at the best of times, but this was something different. This trip is changing me in wonderful ways, making me a stronger and more independent person, a more worldly person, a more interesting person (well, I think so), a better person. But I feel I’m changing at such a speed that sometimes I wonder who the fuck I am, and that’s hard. I’m over the other side of the world with no-one I know, and I can’t even recognise myself sometimes.

At one point I felt so detached from the world around me that I actually started talking to myself, just so that I could hear someone speaking English. Luckily, before I could go completely mental a Chinese bloke came up and started talking to me in perfect English. We ended up chatting for three hours, mainly about Australia, and by the end of it I was in a much better state of mind. Thanks, Greg (dunno if that’s his name, but let’s pretend it was).

Being hungover, eating Maccas and hurtling through the Chinese countryside wasn’t great for my guts, and around midnight there was something very troublesome going on. I needed to take a shit, and badly. I made it to the toilet without a problem, but there wasn’t a bowl there, just a damn hole in the ground, with the ground flying by underneath it. It didn’t go well. With the train rocking from side to side, I was spinning around and squirting like a busted hose. I hit the wall, I splattered the floor, I probably even got some on the roof. There was shit everywhere. When I got out the dunny there was a line outside the door, and the first bloke who walked in started yelling at me and chasing me through the carriage, as if it was my fault they still use stupid bloody holes in the ground rather than toilets.

Of course, a few hours later I realised there was a very nice toilet right across the hall. Oops!
Of course, a few hours later I realised there was a very nice toilet right across the hall. Oops!

I finally fell asleep, but something very, very strange happened during the night. I woke up and the Chinese people in my cabin were taking turns photographing each other in front of me. When I opened my eyes they immediately jumped back into their beds and pretended to be snoring away. It was weird and creepy, and I couldn’t help wondering what else they’d been doing while I was asleep. I can only assume they all sucked me off or something. Shit happens.

The hours rolled by, my roommates kept eating their seeds, until finally the boring, flat landscape outside my window was replaced by huge mountains and beautiful lakes. I was nearing Guilin and, soon after, I was back on non-moving land for the first time in 27-and-a-half hours.

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Just sit back and bask in the loveliness

I cabbed it to my hotel, which is a truly lovely little place in a quiet neighbourhood, surrounded by trees and filled with all sorts of Chinese artifacts. Then I set out to explore the town of Guilin, which is truly beautiful, especially compared to Beijing. Trees, lakes, bridges, temples – it has it all, and without the swarms of people. I explored parks, crossed bridges, walked over hills, stared in awe at mountains and ended up having a delightful dinner at a little cafe by the lake – and followed up my bowl of fried rice and massive chicken sandwich with a burger and chips from KFC, seeing as I hadn’t eaten for more than 30 hours.

The scenery of Guilin is as unique as an honest politician
The scenery of Guilin is as unique as an honest politician

I first wanted to come to Guilin in 2000, after exploring it in the video game Shenmue II. Back then, it didn’t seem possible that I would ever actually make the journey. After dreaming of this place for close to half my life, it’s hard to believe that I’m finally here. It’s weird to be walking through a place that I’ve pictured in my mind for over a decade. But it is a beautiful place, a magical place, and I can’t wait to get out there and see what else it has to offer.

The Sun and Moon Twin Pagodas
The Sun and Moon Twin Pagodas

Journey to the end of the east Beijing

Not content with spending my first two days in Shanghai wandering aimlessly, I did the same today. With a few hours to murder before jumping on a train to Beijing, I swaggered off find something to eat. Of course, I did what I do best and got lost, heading down tiny, filthy alleyways while the locals looked at me as if I was green and had a three-foot dick hanging out of my cargo shorts and dragging in the dirt.

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It was wetter than [insert fat celebrity] with a [insert type of junk food]
It rained, I got soaked, but I did find some traditional Chinese food. Nah, I’m just kidding, I ended up going to Maccas, but I’ve gotta say the paedophile clown serves good food over here – the two burgers I had didn’t taste like hobo arse at all. They were spicy and Asiany enough to stop me feeling like I was chowing down in George Street, and by the time I waddled out it was time to bugger off to catch the choo-choo.

Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station is just a little bit bigger than Gosford Station. Like, instead of having three platforms it has about 45,000, and instead of having room for 17 people and one dog, it holds over 10,000 – and the place was bloody packed. To be honest, it was quite intimidating. Every sign was in Chinese, I was getting pushed this way and that by an endless swarm of Chinamen, and I was short on money for a ticket without a money swapper in sight. But I wasn’t in as much trouble as this bloke I met in the toilets.

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One Chinaman, two Chinamen…

They love those weird hole-in-the-ground squat toilets in China, and when I headed into the brasco there was this bloke who had his leg stuck in the hole. He was hootin’ and hollerin’, as you would if you were trapped in a toilet, and a horrible mess of sloppy shit was splashing around and soaking into his nice blue slacks. Then his poo-drenched shoe came unstuck, and old mate went face first into a huge puddle of piss on the floor, fresh from a thousand little yellow dicks.

Now, this isn’t the first time something like this would’ve happened. Chinese blokes would be falling into those stupid holes all the time and ending up splattered with arse chocolate, so why do they still use them when they know there’s better alternatives? It’s like seeing an Xbox 360 and saying, “Nup, I’ll stick with my Atari 2600 with the broken power cord and the cartridge slot that hasn’t worked since my weird uncle Dean shot a load of tadpole mayonnaise in there last Christmas.”

I finally got a ticket, waited three hours for the train, and settled in for the five hour ride. Traveling by train at over 300km/h really does give you a fantastic appreciation for this mind-blowing country. Shanghai stretched on forever, until finally the skycrapers gave way to farms. But massive cities – nameless to me, but home to thousands or millions of people – were constantly zooming past my window, part of a dirty urban sprawl that spreads for thousands of kilometres.

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The endless cities of eastern China

One weird thing is that, no matter the size of the town, city or village, every single building in that town, city or village is made to the same design, like the background of a dodgy cartoon. There’ll be dozens of 30 storey buildings, and every one of them identical. But the buildings in one town will be totally different to those in all the others, mental.

About halfway along the train stopped at some place or another, and the fattest Chinaman I’ve ever seen got on… and sat next to me. This fat, horrible waste of flesh must’ve been pushing 400kg, and his bulging gut hung out from beneath his snazzy blue t-shirt. He ate boiled eggs constantly, only stopping when he needed to fart. I named him Chunk. He was the most horrible bloke I’ve ever met, and it gets worse.

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The Row Show with Chunk the Hunk

To take my mind off Chunk, I watched an episode of raunchy television program Californication on my computer. Of course it took about three seconds before Hank chucked it up some big-titted stonker, and when Chunk saw that he started bouncing around with his hands in the air and making a weird “woo woo woo” noise. And then he put his hand into his filthy pants and started wanking himself off, right there next to me. It sounds funny, but having a gigantic Oriental gentleman fondling his spring roll next to you is actually kinda scary.

With one final “Woo” that would make Ric Flair proud, Chunk blew his load in his pants, farted, and fell asleep. I was thinking that I’d never sleep again.

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My hotel in Beijing. Actually, that’s a lie – I basically stayed in a flop house

After finally arriving in Beijing, I took a cab to my hotel and was astonished to discover that my $30/night room was an absolute shit tip. There were actually footprints on the wall and what appeared to be blood stains on my bed. I doubt you could count the number of hookers who’d been killed there on two hands.

By that time it was late and I was tired, so I grabbed some KFC and went straight to bed with visions of wanking Chinamen dancing through my head. The exploration can’t wait till tomorrow – after the nightmares have stopped.

Originally written April 29, 2012 –