Day 9: Manzhouli , Lucky numbers

The thirteen of us seated around the table.
The 13 of us, in Room 666.

After yesterday’s lonely sax session, it’s strange to be woken early by the desolate cries of train horns.

I fire up my recorder and drift back to sleep.

In the morning I hang out near the reception area.

It’s a cooler spot that the common room. There’s a booth where people who work there can chill out, and a TV. I join the girl who works there but is not working right now.

She is drop-dead gorgeous and in stark contrast to the slightly sleazy young man who is currently manning reception. I get the impression that he owns the joint, so after inviting myself over, I cover my tracks with an expensive chocolate purchase and attempt to break the ice by offering her a piece.

Her name is Leonie and she is a traveller herself, travelling from somewhere to somewhere else, but in need of money to propel herself any further. Plus, she admits, she’s kind of comfortable here.

I don’t see Manzhouli as particularly comfortable or appealing, but it’s a relative judgement. It really depends on where you come from and where you’re going. At this point in my travels I’m pretty sure that I’m heading to somewhere better than this, but who knows?

As well as being super gorgeous, Leonie is also super helpful. She offers to walk me across town to the train station, to pick up my bike and organise a bus ride over the border to Russia. From there I’ll organise a train to Lake Baikal and finally get on my bike.

I’ve been here before.

But it was cold, dark, sketchy. Today the sun is blasting out of a pale blue sky and the place couldn’t be more different.

Some sort of riot truck is parked outside and I’d hate to be here when it is required. This place seems too foreign, like a powder keg of different nations who can quite happily trade together, but might not see eye to eye on a lot of other stuff.

And my bike is there!

After worrying whether I would ever see her again, she, it, the Troll, is here.

We will conquer the world together, soon, Pinky.

I lock my trusty steed up outside the hostel door. They assure me that it will be safe there, and I can only pray that they’re right.

Back at the hostel I meet another girl. Her name in Wanna and she is also nice.

She invites me out to dinner with her friends, for my last supper in China. We walk for miles to find a particular restaurant. Once inside, we enter Room 666 and seat ourselves around the large glass table.

We number 13. There’s me, Wanna, the two guys I went camping with, a Chinese motorcycle adventurer, a couple of other young guys, a young family of 5, and a surly, wu-stachioed man, who looks like he is packing a pair of long, sharp swords.

The motorcycle adventurer has ridden his motorbike across China and, in the process, stripped me of any mojo that I might have once had. I’ll have to ride hard to earn some mojo of my own.

They tell me that it’s a classic, famous or special Chinese meal. Which one it is I am not sure, as the beer is flowing freely and I am more focussed on the weird and wonderful food items finding their way into my chopsticks.

There are small but perfectly formed fish, deep fried caterpillars, tofu, pork, oily translucent things and crunchy green things. The group tucks hungrily into the metal serving dishes, and at each turn of the Lazy Susan, I refill my tiny eating bowl.

Stumbling out to the toilet, afterwards, I pass a bathtub of fish. They are thick and eel like, and seem to be right at home in this foreign and slightly unforgiving place.

After dinner, the family invite me out for a walk, to see the lights.

I’ve already seen the lights, but as we’ve walked miles to the restaurant, it seems like a good idea to work off the massive dinner, with a scenic walk home.

Except that, we’re not walking home. My sense of direction is crap, but, after walking for over an hour, my feet tell me that we’re actually walking away from the hostel.

Eventually we arrive at the driveway to a well lit church. The husband is a photographer and invites us to come in with him, but we’re all too knackered and cold, so we huddle at the bottom of the drive and wait for him to get his shots.

On the way back, they flag down a passing taxi. Although there are woman and children present I’m thankful that they urge me to take a spot in the cab. I’m frozen, tired and moody. Being a tourist is hard work, and all I want to do is snuggle up in my warm hostel bed.