East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

My (failed) Trans-Siberian Journey


In 1999 I was on the verge of taking my belated degree in geology, and I was working as quality control manager in a call center – doing nights.
To most, this mix may mean sleep deprivation, caffeine overdose and increasing hatred for our fellow humans.
But to me it also meant a small but steady income, and – soon – reason to celebrate.

And what’s the best way to celebrate the finalliberation from the increasingly oppressive University of Turin, but to plan and execute a long trip?

At the time, I had a good friend living in Hong Kong with the family.
So, what about saving money and taking a trip to that city?
After all, it had been one of my dream cities since I was ten or thereabouts.
And what about taking the trip by train?

A quick survey of the available options revealed that with something like 2000 euro I’d be able to take a 20 days vacation.


Now, the fun bit of travelling to Hong Kong from Turin by train is, the further east you go, the longer you travel, and the less you pay for your ticket.
At the time, Turin to Vienna via Milan cost about the same as Moskow to Beijing via Ulan Bataar (or Vladivostock).
I have not checked the prices today, but the proprortion is still the same.

The idea was crazy enough that I started planning, in the long, solitary nights in my garrett, checking the tarot-readers working for the call center (did I mention this was a dial-up cartomancy service, I was quality-controlling? Well, it was).
And I started saving my money.

transiberianSo, I got me a piggy-bank (shaped like a fugu fish).
I got me a copy of The Trans-Siberian Handbook.
I started fantasizing about taking tons of photos and then putting my travel diary online.

1999 faded in 2000, and as my graduation loomed closer, two things happened.
. I was laid off – my company having decided that quality control was not that necessary, after all.
. My mother underwent her first hospitalization for the cancer that would eventually kill her.

This meant a drastic slowing down of my travel-related savings, and more urgent problems to solve.
I shelved my Trans-Siberian Handbook, and concentrated on finishing my university work, and finding another source of income.

In 2001, things looked up.
I framed my degree, and got a gig doing lab preparations… in the same place where I had studied.
But hey, it was work!
Then 9/11 came, with its restrictions on international travel.
Then the situation in former USSR countries heated.
And finally we were hit by recession.
My friend moved from Hong Kong to Australia.
I moved to the country.

So here I am, sitting in the hills of Southern Piedmont, trying to make ends meet.
The Trans-Siberian Handbook is still on my shelf.
The fugu-shaped piggy bank has been replaced by a Hovitos Idol-shaped piggy bank.
And I’m waiting for the end of my belated PhD, planning some long-distance move afterwards.
And it feels weirdly as if the last ten years have been a rerun, though a filter, of the previous decade.

And as Ray Davies used to sing, I feel older, I feel fatter, I feel the blues coming on.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “My (failed) Trans-Siberian Journey

  1. So, it was quality control…. I like this definition, I’ll take it in my resumee


  2. “Slave driver” might be closer to reality, but it would look BAD on our CV.


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