After nearly 72 hours off the adventurous trip through the trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Beijing, I still struggle to grasp the very words that could even describe 1% of my overflowing emotions and amazement in the past two weeks. This trip through Eurasia on trains has changed my conceptualization of time as well as my surroundings. When days become hours, there is simply no bad moment on this trip but new experience in every minute of the time. When one traveler becomes twenty, there could be no dullness but endless multiplier of joy. I am glad to only have known one person prior to this program, because I was able to engage with everyone else without any assumption of his or her personality and life story. We were strangers; strangers who opened up quickly even without the help of vodka. My mind was refreshed at any given minute, and I felt alive when a new language stimulates my thoughts or an unknown cultural landscape unveils its beauty in front of me. We moved through time and spaces in various types of vehicle, and I was stunned by the world both through my eyes and the dirty windows. The beauty of massive landscapes we traveled across, the train culture, and our motion through time and history were irreplaceable pieces in my story.
To me, Russia has always been this mysterious northern comrade of China that I did not imagine myself to visit during my early 20s. I did not know much about this neighboring country before this January, and it was also the first country that I had traveled to without having any supposition in my mind. In all honesty, it turned out to be the most suitable way for Russia to keep growing on me. My hours long video footage remind me of times on the train and how we were moving through a massive landscape in a man made container closest to human civilization compared to everything else outside of the train. I remember the breathtaking moments when I looked out the windows and saw only endless of untouched snow. For hours, my friend and I just observed the immeasurable landscape uncontaminated by human, and I found a kind of peacefulness in my mind that I seldom experience when I am living in spaces full of people. I was speechless when all my senses and thoughts were filled with awe to the beauty of nature. The richness of life in Lake Baikal precisely detailed the power and complexity of nature, and the kindness of the local people warmed both my heart and body. To be frank, I don’t think this trip would have been this memorable without the sheer friendliness of the many people we met.
In most cases, people immersed in the train culture were vastly different from that when we exit the train. When most of us are forced to live without the Internet and other toxic human entertainment devices from the developed world, we become closer to one another. People on the train were ready to interact with strangers with engaging conversations, and the constant curiosity lit up the train life for us. For instance, Olek, the Russian boy that Sydney and I met on the first Russian train was a pleasant personal encounter in Russia. Just like our moving train, our all-night long conversations moved from one topic to another and we talked without any sign of weariness. I remember vividly that I wrote down somewhere saying that travel is my language. Cliché as it sound, this trip reinforces how I think about travel and how it opens my mind through both shock therapy and gradual exposure. To awaken in a strange town is truly one of the pleasantest sensations that I have experienced. I absorbed new knowledge through sound, sight, smell, taste, and touch every single moment, and I was this greedy person want to remember everything I sensed.
This trip progressed in a very unique way for me in terms of moving from unfamiliarity to some places where I recognize by heart. Despite how much I have grown and learned from China, I have always disliked my experience growing up in Beijing. Nevertheless, this trip showed me that my vain stubbornness is eventually carried away by age. My heart shivered with joy when I first heard the train conductor spoke Mandarin to me after nearly ten days of me attempting to understand some Russian. I was more than excited to show my new friends around Beijing, where I am too amazed by how much it has changed over the period of three years. Many Russian cities had their charm of historical marks on them, but they don’t seem to be moving forward with the current of globalization. Contrast to the many cities we passed by in Russia and Ulan Bator, Beijing was lively and it was constantly in motion even when we were not moving. Needless to say, seeing my parents at our last stop only added additional joy and comfort to this trip, and I was thrilled to tell them about the so many new experiences I have had with a group of people whom they will meet again in May. I counted my time with them by hours, just like the rest of the trip, and this made me realize how precise it is to be able to live through every minute in joy and a sense of fulfillment.
If I could even attempt to summarize this experience in one sentence, perhaps it would be that “today is a miracle, and tomorrow is a surprise that you cannot miss”. It was a truly eye-opening and incredible trip, and I hope that you will also have a spectacular time like I did, if not more.