Archive for the 'Travels' Category


Before the rooster crowed today, I was grinding the morning brew. I woke Maya by offering her a steamy mug of blessed java. We sipped our coffee together before I bolted for the bus station. My friend, Mark, met me there and then we traveled (in a Mercedes, no less) to a city four-hours away. The weather was only bad for the first hour. I forgot my camera, but my mobile phone captured a couple of images. Here is one of the Merc that we rode in:

The trip went fine. I went there because I had to change some airline tickets. I planned to fly this weekend to Moscow and meet with publishers about a translation project that I am overseeing. Because of pressing issues here, I had to postpone the trip for a month. The funniest thing is that it took me a whole day’s time (with travel) just to change the tickets. Since there is no airport in this city, it was the only way. Thankfully, we arrived home safe and sound, and enjoyed excellent fellowship on the road.


Update on B. Study and My Road Trip

Our fifth B. study meeting went great tonight. The attendees are still very interested in the material. Alya did not come for some reason, but everyone else (the three couples) were all here. The lesson was The Fall of Man. They ask great questions and they seem to be comprehending these important truths. We plan to host this month’s seminar (we meet every Tuesday night, plus one Sunday seminar a month, which meets for an extended time) on Easter.

Also, early tomorrow morning I leave for a neighboring city (eight-hour round trip, by bus) and I hope to return by evening. Please pr. for me on those slick roads. Maya is staying home. I’ll dig my camera out for the journey and maybe post a few pics.

To The End of the Earth

I skipped blogging since Sunday because of a wild three-day trip to Mongolia and back. I have posted about the need to renew a document (which required leaving the country) and I planned twice already to go, but then just delayed until the very last moment: Monday.

Early Monday morning, I packed a day bag and went to the bus station (where the long-distance taxis gather). After asking around, I found a driver headed to the border town and within an hour, we were off. The road winds its way through the mountains for about 500km. We arrived in the evening, and it was too late to cross the border. So, I found the town’s most suitable (i.e. only) hotel and then wandered through the town and the market, standing out like crazy (I must have been the only non-Turk around that day). After a couple of hours of that, I went back to my room and read myself to sleep.

The next morning, I found a car willing to take me to the border. My plan was to cross the border and come back the same day, and that would have been great. As it turned out, I barely made it out before the border closed for lunch (yes, they close for lunch). And when I got across there were no more cars crossing the border back to Russia (one must find a car/van/truck and pay the driver to ride with him across; it is the only way). Good thing I brought my day bag.

The Mongolian side of the border is a semi-deserted town with about 20 old Kazakh-style houses (complete with dung roofs) and a few Mongolian Yurts. The cold, dry wind and blowing sand complete the sense of being somewhere very far away. I was the news of the day. Everyone wanted to see the strange bearded American. One person followed me around saying (in English), “I am your friend, I will help you.” Later, someone explained to me that that guy was the town’s ‘fixer’ and if I did have a problem he would 'fix it' for a fee. He knew everyone (even the officials). Thankfully, I did not need help. I located the only hotel, which consisted of a big hall full of beds that the owner rents ($1.50 a day) to travelers. No place to wash, no toilets, etc, just a warm sort-of-safe place to sleep.

By 8:30 this morning, I was at the border looking for a ride to Russia. A group of Kazakh-Mongolian merchants pulled up in their Uazik and kindly agreed to take me. Today’s border crossing was the most interesting for me – ever. If you are looking for an unusual adventure, try traveling and border crossing with Kazakh-Mongol traders. You will never be the same. I got my new document and was glad to set foot on Russian soil again. I found a car and headed north, back through all the high-mountain passes. The weather was worse this time (snow & ice), but I arrived safely at about 9 PM. What a crazy trip! There was more, of course, than what I have written here, but my tired brain needs rest.

The study on Sunday and the one I missed on Tuesday deserve their own post, and I will do that tomorrow. For now, I'll just say that we are very encouraged.

Random Anti-cerebrations

We arranged for a driver to meet us at the train station and take us back to the city (the station is four hours away from the city where we live). The train arrived at 4 A.M., and the driver had obviously not slept. I thought he might have a hard time staying awake on the lonely road home, and I was right. My task was to keep him awake. I settled on a strategy of asking questions at key moments: when his head nodded forward or when he forgot to steer. About two hours into the trip, I ran out of material. The substantial conversational themes had run their course and my questions fell into randomness (e.g. What were the Soviets trying to accomplish with the Berlin blockade?). He got us there safely, but he seemed a little annoyed at me for keeping him up.

So, what is the difference in English between the word complex and complicated? Life is usually complex, but the last two weeks were crazy (i.e. complicated). I think that the difference is this: complex degrades into complicated when the structure that keeps the details orderly erodes, leaving chaos and migraines in its wake. Maybe I am too tired to write about this now.

A few words about productivity while on vacation. When we left here, I had high ambitions. I planned to complete a few reading projects and to begin a study/writing project. I packed 700 books for the journey (an ESV Bible, Henry Scougal’s The Life of God in the Soul of Man, and 698 others that happen to reside on my laptop’s hard-drive). However, to my great disappointment, I read very little on this trip. Only on the train did I manage some meaningful reading time. Here is a cool Scougal quote:

Love is that powerful and prevalent passion by which all the faculties and inclinations of the soul are determined, and on which both its perfection and happiness depend. The worth and excellency [sic] of the soul is to be measured by the object of its love…

And, to make sure that this post is sufficiently random, here is a picture of Maya and her grandmother (and Hannah) in Chita.

Another From-The-Train Post

We are sitting here in Novosibirsk waiting for the train to finally take off after a 7-hour layover – another 40 minutes to go.

A fellow traveler, Alsu, roamed the city and ate dinner with us at a Russian fast-food place. Back at the train, we watched The Chronicles of Narnia together until the battery on the laptop gave up. We only got to the part with the wolves chasing the beavers. Anyway, I hope that we can keep contact with Alsu after this trip.

The other half of our team arrived back yesterday, and they hosted the coffee club (college group) tonight. They openly invited everyone to the B. Study (which starts next Saturday) and the students seemed very interested in attending! I learned that from a text message they sent me about 2 hours ago.

Well, vacation is over. We get back tomorrow morning (at about 7am). We have a few days to get settled and contact folks before I try to leave the country (it did not work out for me to leave while we were in UU for many reasons). It would be great to make the trip down to Mongolia and back in one day, but it might take up to three. I am hurrying so as to return in time to teach on Saturday.

On The Train Again

Not many opportunities for blogging presented themselves in Ulan-Ude. We shared the apartment with 9 (on average) others and from morning to night it was beehive-like busyness.

Our highlights in Ulan-Ude were many. We especially enjoyed the family time. It was probably the best time with them so far in our married life. We celebrated Maya's dad's birthday with a large dinner and a rare family reunion of sorts. It will probably be years before we will all be in the same place like that again.

We left on Tuesday for Chita, and arrived there yesterday morning. In all, we spent only 8 hours there before boarding this train to head back west.

In Chita we visited with Maya's grandmother (the one who suffered a stroke last year). For someone who the doctors said would only survive days after her stroke, she is in amazingly good condition. She still cannot walk, but her speech skills returned and she remembered us well. I sat with her for two hours and listened to amazing stories about life here during and after WWII. She shared her experiences during famines and other calamities. She also mentioned the Japanese soldiers who were required to work in Chita after WWII. Steve commented about that in my last post.

She was born in 1917, so she does not remember the revolution, but she remembers Lenin's death, the terror of Stalin, and the horrors and lingering hardships of WWII.

She is an amazing woman. She bore and raised 9 children (she has over 20 great grandchildren already). When we left, she presented us all with small gifts and blessed us. I am so glad that we could make the trip to Chita to see her.

We just passed Irkutsk. We arrive home on Saturday. This train is nice and clean, and there is another family travelling and their kids and ours can play, which adds a lot to bored children.

Free at Last

Yesterday, I walked away from the train station a free man. Of course, the train must be nicer than prison, but it was still confining.

All joking aside, it is really nice to be w/family, and I am thankful that everything went so well on the trip here. Maya and I are looking forward to 1 & 1/2 weeks of vacation here. I'll post some photos when I get a chance.

On a technological note: I am still posting with my handheld device via GPRS. It is worth mentioning that things have changed in Siberia. I counted 15 GPRS zones between Novosibirsk and UU. 5 years ago, connecting to the internet in Siberia took considerably more effort.