Daily Archives: October 31, 2008
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
My journey to Chapayevsk was something left to be desired. I had heard local rumors of this town, and from legends believe, the town of Chapayevsk reminded many people of a version of Silent Hill.
Now you can imagine just how my imagination was running riot on my hour long train ride to Chapayevsk. Buildings falling apart, scrapings of paint ascending into the sky, darkness that covered the area, the sound of a warning siren every few hours, flesh eating zombies from beyond the grave every which way you look, some guy wearing a helmet to cover his lava scorched face, brandishing a 20 foot steak knife….
But was there any of that fantastical stuff? NO! I was sadly disappointed by no sign of flesh eating zombies from the beyond 🙂
What I did see though was a town so heavily polluted that entering the town was like being exposed to an extreme overdose of radiation (Hmmm, one conjers up the thought of a Simpsons episode here where Bart calls out “Watch Out Radioactive Dude!”)
We started our little trek by visitng the ticket booth, then taking a walk past the chemical plant. Hmmm, gave me some ideas, but not many. The chemical plant looked like a demiliterized zone. The eerie thing about this chemical plant was that it had a hell of a lot of ravens in the trees. Now I am not talking about just your average 3 or 4 ravens here. I am talking about DOZENS and DOZENS of the feathered creatures. Seeing them was like watching a scene from Alfred Hitchcocks flick “The Birds”. For a second I thought I may have to high-tail my ass to the nearest phone booth and duck for cover 🙂
No such luck this day 😦
Next up was the old church they were restoring. A beautful piece of architecure that has been in restoration for the last decade. Obviously there is a serious lack of funds to maintain this church as it is literally falling apart everywhere you look, and the grounds are maintained by a gypsy woman who looked like she was born when Stalins’ parents were children 🙂
The food in this little town was also something left to be desired. It is well advised that if you are going to buy food here, take with you a good litre or more of Pepto Bismol. (Seriously, with a town on the brink of a major environmental holocaust, would you “really” want to buy food here?).
With the town features looking anything but scary, we did see an elderly woman in a wheelchair begging for money. Such a sight is common around these parts, and it makes you wonder just where the likes of The Salvation Army is. In many places in Russia, there is a definate class of those who have nothing, and this woman really had NOTHING. So I gave her ten rubles. Her eyes lit up, and she was amazed. As I am told, that is a whole day wage for common people. But it made me wonder just how many others in this town were just like her.
We saw an abandoned puppy with a broken leg. No one seemed to care or bother to notice. Infact, when I went to pet it, it cringed. Obviously it’s former master only showed affection in the forms of beating it. Very sad.
After that we bid farewell to Chapayevsk, and got on the train to return home to Samara. Another eventful trip in which not only did the train take 2 hours to make a 60 minute trip, but the train driver overshot our stop by several miles.
Although the town was extremely depressive, it did give me some ideas for scenes and characters. Like the guy who works in the convenience store who handed me a lighter after having his dirty hand in his mouth; the druken woman who walked down the street, staggering, yelling and crying; the abandoned buildings that were on the brink of collapsing; the ravens (Strange, that reminds me of E.A.Poe); and who can forget the puppy with the gimpy leg.
Alas I await my next adventure.
For those who don’t know much (or anything) about Chapayevsk, here is a little something I found online. For more results you can google the town
Harsh winters, polluted air, crumbling apartment blocks – the residents of many Russian towns might feel that they have cause for complaint. But in Chapayevsk, a town of about 70,000 inhabitants in European Russia, the mayor himself has suggested a novel way of solving the town’s problems – abandon it. You can hardly blame him – 96 per cent of all children there are deemed unhealthy.
Chapayevsk, close to the Volga river and the city of Samara, is home to factories that produced chemical weapons for many years, and is blighted by air and soil pollution. According to the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, at a round table meeting on the environment in Samara this week, the town’s mayor, Nikolai Malakhov, said that resettling the town’s residents would be an “ideal solution” to Chapayevsk’s problems.
The town was founded about a century ago and was named Chapayevsk in 1929, after the Bolshevik Civil War hero Vasily Chapayev. It was the site of a chemical weapons factory that churned out mustard gas and other deadly weapons in industrial quantities. The factory also made conventional bombs and mines. According to factory veterans, chemical warheads were made by pouring mustard gas solution from a teapot into the bombs, with the toxic chemicals frequently spilling over into factory drains. Over time the city’s water became contaminated with dioxins and other poisons. Today the factory produces herbicides, not chemical weapons, but the pollution in the air and the ground is there to stay.
A study undertaken by American scientists in 2005 found that not only was the air in Chapayevsk contaminated with dioxins, but also locally produced fruit and vegetables, as well as the meat from locally farmed animals. The more local produce that people ate, the more likely they were to get ill. The scientists found dioxin levels in the ground as high as in those parts of Vietnam sprayed with the infamous Agent Orange during the US campaign there. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the fatality rates from throat, liver and kidney cancer in Chapayevsk are three times higher than in nearby cities. The American study found a whole range of sexual abnormalities in Chapayevsk boys, who typically have a late start to puberty.
With the factories no longer providing work, the town also has a high level of unemployment, and one of the highest levels of heroin use in the country, which is contributing to the start of an HIV epidemic. So the mayor’s plan sounds like a good one. But a spokesperson at the local parliament denied that there was any serious talk of relocating the town’s inhabitants.
Some experts believe that abandoning the town might be the most economically viable option, however. “For 100 years, factories in Chapayevsk have been producing weapons, powders and chemical components,” Oleg Mitvol, deputy head of Russia’s official environmental watchdog, told a Russian agency. “There are several cities like this in Russia. But we can spend 50m roubles (£1m) on recultivating the stream that runs through the village that has been contaminated, and nothing will improve. To do it right, we’d have to dig a new channel, redirect the stream there, and remove all the soil. Can you imagine how much that would cost? The only sensible way to solve this problem is with resettlement.”
But despite all the problems, a representative of the Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring, said that Chapayevsk was far from being among the worst Russian cities. “It had an air pollution index of 7.8 in 2007,” said a spokesperson. “To be in the league of the dirtiest towns in Russia, it should be 14.”
Saturday, September 6, 2008:
Last Monday we prepared to say farewell to Japan, and we went to check-in our baggage with Aeroflot. As expected we had a long wait ahead of us, but what we didnt expect was the service we experienced at the check-in counter. Apparantly it seemed that Aeroflot didn’t have Anna’s updated E-ticket that we purchased in Sydney, and so after alot of unnecessary stress to us both, the attendant went to go find out from her supervisor what could be done as the computer she was using was “not working”. It once again showed that Aeroflot is as efficient as a fart in a dust-storm.
The situation was not pleasent for us both, but after about 20 minutes they found Anna’s updated E-ticket and we prepared to say our farewells to Japan.
I can remember the last time I flew with Aeroflot, back in April. Although they try to seem that they are a world class airline, they are still anything but. Granted, the meal we had was a definate treat from my last experience (day old ham and cheese crossant), but still, the airline could really do with much needed upgrades. Like, how about a better class of airplane, instead of ones designed and built during the Eisenhower Admininstration 🙂
After 11 long hours and little sleep (did I forget to mention the entertainment that was limited to a crackling radio?) we arrived in Moscow. Apart from the extremely long line-up at Customs Control, at least this part was alot easier and very standard for Russian Immigration. The process is this: You go up to Customs Control officer and hand over your passport and visa and say nothing. These people are trained to ignore any questions anyway, rather opting to engage in idle chit-chat with the other officer who is almost sat on their lap 🙂 They look at you, (another words, they give you “A look”) and give you back your passport. No “Have a nice day” or “Welcome to Russia”. No, just a somber look and you are admitted. Thrilling…. But hey, this is Russia and things here work differently.
When we got our baggage, you have to go through another inspection. This time a second baggage inspection. Goodness knows, we went through baggage inspection in Japan, so God forbid if we somehow managed to sneak top secret documents into our baggage in the cargo hold during the 11 hours we were in the air 🙂
Okay, so once we get through the formalities, no sooner had we exited to the main area, when we are greeted by Russian taxi drivers. Not one, but all of them. It seems that these guys have nothing better to do with their time than ask you ten times if you want a taxi. Granted, I find it a pleasent change compared to Sydney where you have to go on a hunting expedition to find a taxi driver who will take you ten minutes downtown. No, infact compared to Russian taxi drivers, Sydneyite taxi’s are downright rude and lazy.
So, after being hounded by several taxi guys, we agreed to use one who would take us to the train station for a price we were both comfy with (Note: If you want to go downtown or anywhere else by taxi, always haggle. You will be surprized how quickly they will agree to a price. Note: Dont haggle to low. Taxi drivers need to make money too 🙂
So our journey did not stop in Moscow as we soon had to board a train for Samara. Not a short trip either, but a very LONG 18 hour journey, on a train that was obviously used during the Stalin years 🙂 (Note: On such a long journey by train, it is always advised to get food before leaving, as the food they sell on the train is VERY limited and extremely overpriced) So once Anna purchased goodies (not all that good either), we boarded the train and set off for Samara.
Another restless night was in store… For more reasons than one 😉 Good thing we had a sleeping booth to ourselves 😉
The journey by train had some nice scenery, but nothing worth writing home about. So I wont go into details about that and how we passed the time 🙂
Finally at around 5 the following afternoon we arrived in Samara. And none too soon either as after 18 hours I had “had enough”. It was a relief to finally get back to Samara. But it wasnt over yet as we got “another” taxi and journeyed for 40 minutes to our apartment at the other end of town. Of course while Anna and mama joked with the taxi driver and listened to his stories of his adventures overseas, I felt like a fish out of water as my Russian is limited to just a few phrases. So you can imagine how many songs I played in my head during those 40 minutes. 40 LONG minutes. Needless to say, our taxi driver was extremely friendly and offered to take me fishing (I hope he meant fishing and not use me for bait).
Okay, so Wednesday came along as it normally would do each week. That day was pretty much resting after such a long trip. Thursday was pretty much the same.
Oh, did I forget to mention dinner? Dinner on Thursday was pancakes and liver. A Russian specialty and quite delicious! Ah how I have missed Russian food!
Friday came the day that we went to OVIRS. In Russia it is mandatory to go into an OVIRS (Immigration) office and notify them that you have arrived. A good system, but note that in most places OVIRS only works 4 days a week, and limited hours, so it is best that you arrive first thing in the morning. This process can be a real headache if you have no idea what you’re doing. But to break it down: You walk into an office where there will normally be 3 people working. They will tell you that you need to get photocopies of your passport, your invitation, visa, sponsor’s passport. (Note to the wise: Do this before you go there to save time). After registering, you will be send to another room where they will stamp your visa. Sound easy? Yes it should be, but it is anything but. In OVIRS there is no such thing as “take a number and wait til your number is called”. No, instead, it is “First in best dressed”, so to speak. When we were there, we waited for ages before we were seen, and then after that we had to wait another 30 minutes before we could get my passport stamped. Although standing around can be about as fun as watching paint dry, there are some moments that can be priceless. Like, when we were waiting, we saw a fellow who thought he was Captain Ahab (And smelt as bad too). This champion of efficiency took it upon himself to start “a list” of people who were “next in line”. Of course, this list had no real meaning in the real world anyway, and Captain Ahab would have been much smarter to invest in a bar of soap rather than paper and pencil 😉
Then there was his “recruits” who joined in on his idiocity and out their names down on his list. Hmmm, seems Ahab would have been brilliant in recruiting people for Amway. Pity he doesn’t know the meaning of cleanliness. (Yes, I mentioned this before, but this boofin looked like a darn idiot pirate wanna-be .. Arrgghhh! 😉 )
It is a good thing mama knows someone in OVIRS otherwise we would have been there all day. After mama had a chat to this person, we got ahead of Ahab and his “pirate recruits” and got my passport stamped and we were gone… Leaving Ahab and his crew to continue arguing ….. about their list!
Okay so the rest of the day was spend sightseeing. For 15pyt (About $0.80AUD), you can go from one side of Samara to the other by taxi-bus. But before I go on I better explain afew things here.
Taxi Bus is a yellow cab mini-bus. These come along about every 5 minutes and go to various parts of Samara. These seat about 12 people. Getting on and paying is on a trust system. You get on and hand your 15pyt to the driver. If you happen to get a seat up the back, you hand your cash forward and the lucky passenger who is sat near the front will hand over your 15pyt to the driver. (See what I mean by “trust system”. Not something that would work in Sydney or Auckland!)
Trolley Bus is much like a tram. Except it is a bus that runs on electricity. Buses run frequently and also go to various parts of Samara. Trolleys or buses cost 10pyt. The only difference here is that on a bus or trolley they have a conductor who will come up to you and give you a ticket.
Russia certainly has alot to offer and so much to see. I highly recommend those who like to travel to visit this country. It certainly is a wonder.
Keep watch for more news
After a long flight from Sydney we arrived in Narita Japan. The whole process of arriving was almost without incident, as since Anna is from Russia, she did had a slight problem with customs in Japan, but that situation was quickly solved, thanks to the outstanding hospitality of the Japanese customs officers. Infact they were more than helpful in the situation. As it turned out, since Anna is a Russian citizen, she needed a visa to stay in Japan, which is somethign both Flight Center AND Aeroflot failed to mention when they ticket was booked.
We are staying at the Holiday inn in Narita, and although the food is overpriced in the hotel, the accomodations are great!
Day one: Tokyo. The weather was humid, but the place is awesome. After a light breakfast in the Holiday Inn dining room, we decided to head to Tokyo for some sight seeing. There is a complimentary shuttle which goes to Narita train station, and the trip to Tokyo took about an hour. To amuse myself, I decided to people watch.
We noticed in Japan, everything is very prompt. We decided to go on a walking tour around the city and Imperial Palace Gardens. There are a few shuttle services around Tokyo, but the one we found to be the best is the complimentary service which goes on a 30 minute tour around the city. The one down side to all the bus tour services is the one called Sky Bus Tours. They leave about every hour from several pick up points in Tokyo, but we found that when we tried to book tickets, they told us they were booked up. Not exactly true, unless the customers were of the invisible kind.
So Sky Bus Tours gets a rating of 1 out of 5 for their service.
Tokyo city is very clean. One of the cleanest cities I have seen in a long time. That, added to the Complimentary shuttle services that goes around the city, Tokyo is one the best cities I have seen in a long time and Sydney sure could learn from their example. As far as service, hospitality and overall rating, it is a great place to visit.
Dinner we had at a restaurant called OhSho. A nice little Japanese restaurant in Narita district. We had Wontons, Fried Rice and Shrimps in Chilli Sauce. Unlike alot of traditional restaurants you would see in Australia or elsewhere, the wait time to be served dinner was incredibly fast. The kitchen area can be seen from the table where we were sat, and it was impecibly clean. I highly recommend the Oh/Sho Restaurant in Narita. (Located about 5 minutes walk from Narita train station, and around the corner from McDonalds) OhSho restaurant gets a rating of 4 out of 5.