Moscow Day 14

DSC01988After the sedentary madness of the train, Moscow was an intimidating place in which to find ourselves. Our old friend John held our hands and took us toward the metro. Showed us how to get a ticket and bid us farewell. A nice bloke was John. I hope he becomes president. We navigated the metro, which thankfully wasn’t too complex, and had a good old stare at some real Russians. From a single train carriage I counted:

3 women in headscarves

2 drunks

1 USSR badge (pinned on to a girl younger than me, no less. Do Russians ‘do’ irony?)

4 KGB spies

8 AK-47s

1 woman holding a bear

The first three are true.

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Trans Siberian Railway Day 11-13

DSC01740We woke up at 9am which turned out to be 8am. We’re not only travelling through the wilds of Siberia, we also seem to be travelling through time. Many times zones will be passed over the next few days.

“Time for a spot of breakfast! I´ll slice the bread” I bellowed from my plinth of confidence. What could be easier than slicing bread? Well, dearest reader, it turns out that absolutely anything in the known world is easier. Where to start? First of all, we had no knife so had to make do with the corner of a piece of plastic which was as blunt as a drunken Irishman. The bread as well seemed to resist the temptation to be sliced and much preferred crumbling into an inedible and unbelievable mess. The cheese and salami which we bought fared no better. It was a culinary massacre and I was the perp.

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Irkutsk-Trans-Siberian Day 10

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This evening we will be getting on a train and not leaving it for three days. What a stupid thing to do. I mean, you could fly the same distance in 6 hours or so. Skip the hassle, watch a film on the in-flight entertainment and enjoy those suction toilets that make my ears go pop. Instead of that we will spend the rest of the week in incredibly close proximity to strangers, eating from tins and trying not to lose our minds watching endless Serbian pines whizz pass the window. Can’t wait!

But before that, we have to see the sights of Irkutsk.

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Irkutsk Day 9

DSC01425We were up early as the train got in at 7am. Besides the Jolly Ukrainian farting and an odd sound of screaming through the night we slept quite well. These trains were not built for the sensitive traveller but they are actually comfortable enough, once you’re settled. We had a quick wash using some soap paper we took with us and went ashore. Irkutsk train station is not the prettiest, It has a KGB safe house feeling to it, but it was a considerable improvement to Ulaanbaatar. No sheep running around this one. We had some information about a hostel but somehow we managed to lose the info in our train carriage. Pretty impressive considering it was the size of a toilet. But as luck would have it, there was a    woman with a hostel sign inside the station. She was waiting for a couple of guests and we latched on to her.
“Can we stay in your hostel?”

“Are you Charles and Max from Singapore?”

“Well I’m not Max, and she’s definitely not Charles. We don’t have a reservation, do you have any beds free?”

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Mongolia-Russia Day 8

DSC01362 We had to get up early to catch the bus. It was a struggle but I pulled the old girl out of paradise, we quickly did our business then called a taxi. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of a guy staying in the hostel who Jamie told me about the night before. He’s a young Canadian making a documentary with an American guy. The premise of the film is to travel to every country in the world. Though the only reason I wanted to meet him was to assess how much of an idiot he looked. Apparently this guy is a real piece of work. I was told that on the night we were enjoying ourselves in the wilds of Mongolia, the people in the hostel all went out with the owner to a club. All was going well until this guy picked up two locals. The hostel owner, being Mongolian was quick to figure out the situation.

“They’re prostitutes.”

“No, they’re not.”

“No, we’re not.”

“Yes, they are. Yes, you are.”

The yes/no conundrum I was told went on for longer than necessary until the Canadian abruptly left with the girls in tow, dragging them back to the hostel.

“Did they get in?” I asked Jamie.

“Did they fuck.”

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Mongolia Day 7

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Woke up with borderline hypothermia. Since the ger had no light whatsoever, I had to crawl into my sleeping bag liner/extra liner/sleepbag in the dark. This was fine when I went to sleep as the fire was still on and burning bright, but through the night as my vitals fell, I realised I mustn’t have utilised the layers as well as I should. I woke at 6am with just a thin liner and half the sleeping bag covering me. I was so cold I couldn’t zip the sleeping bag back up as my hands were numb. On top of that-if you’ll pardon the phrasing-my arse was still pounding from the horse.

20150412_125232We got ourselves to the main ger a fill ourselves with Kazakh bread a tea. The tea they drink here is very milky and since there isn’t much caffeine you can drink it all day. We both got a real taste for it. For the rest of the morning we either lazed around or hiked the farm. The lambs were up so we played with them, saw a few yaks strolling around. The dogs made an effort of trying to chase them but thought better once they got close. Big buggers, yaks.

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Mongolian Tour Day 6

Toury time.  We fumbled and rumbled around our things, remembering things to forget and forgetting things to remember. Had a quick breakfast in the hostel: tea and bread and the like, we then asked the hostel to pick up our bus tickets to the Mongolia/Russia border, as we won’t get time.

“We will go to the bus station for you and get your tickets then bring them back. Though we will charge a fee because it’s far.”

“How much?”

“3000 tugrik (80 pence)”.

“Sold!”

DSC00879With that sorted we ventured to our van, met the driver and shortly later met our guide. Her name was Soko. She gave us details of the day ahead then we were off.

We started at Zaisan Memorial, a Russian/Mongolian monument nestle high on a hill. The momument commemorates the years of friendship and corporation between the two nations. Russia has had a very big part in Mongolian history and still continues to fund a large part of its economy. The monument wasn’t much to my taste but the real reason to go is to see the complete view of Ullaanbaatar to the north and the Bogd Khan Mountain Range to the south. It’s a good spot for a capital, and they should know. Apparently the capital has changed location no less than 29 times.

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Erlian-Zamin-udd Day 4

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We got to sleep quite soon after hitting the road again and I woke to see the sunrise over the Gobi Desert. It was a beautiful, once in a lifetime sight and I realised that if I had a better seat I may not have had the best view to see the sunrise. I stared for some time, watching the sky turn from a dark, somewhat drowsy blue to a cool pink, then on to an electric orange. I got a couple more hours sleep then woke for the last hour of our trip. Somewhere close to the boarder there started popping up myriad dinosaur statues. Scores of metal brontosauruses dotted across the landscape. I guess things get boring in the desert.

We finally entered the border city of Erlian at around 7am. A huge, forgotten city, many times bigger than what I had expected. It was an altogether strange area that looked like it could have been something of a nice place to live, but then just stopped caring about itself and sunk into oblivion.

We were once again told to watch our pockets in this town as the people around here were ‘inner Mongolian’ and not to be trusted.

Getting across the border isn’t as easy as it sounds, or as it should be in this part of the world. For one you can’t just walk across, you need to be driven.  But there is only one or two official buses every day so the general way is to get a local to take you in a truck. My wife-who likes to steer on the safe side of the road-didn’t like the sound of this but there were other things to consider. We had read that crossing the border could take hours and we wanted to get the train to Ulaanbaatar that day. We certainly didn’t want to get stuck in this town for any longer than what was completely necessary.

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Review – Castaway on the Moon

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Castaway on the Moon (김씨 표류기)

Lee Hae-jun

2009, South Korea

A man heavily in debt decides to kill himself by jumping of a bridge in Seoul, only to fail and become stranded on an island in the middle of the river cutting through the South Korean capital. His inability to swim sinks his chances of escape and he resolves to stay alive. As the weeks and months pass he is initially unaware that over the river from an apartment window, an eccentric recluse is watching him, until she decides to send him a letter.

There are some films which I put into a chart that I keep in my head. The chart is colour-coded and properly indexed. The name of the chart is ‘The Kooky Calculator’. It categorises and critiques movies on; you guessed it, their kookiness. There are three main categories on The Kooky Calculator: the ‘too kooky’, the ‘suitably kooky’ and the ‘king kooky’. The ‘too kooky’ includes “Be Kind, Rewind”, “The Science of Sleep” and Zooey Deschanel: some of them good movies with wonderful scenes but lose themselves inside their own eccentricities.  ‘Suitably Kooky’ have amongst them gems such as “Adaptation” and “Little Miss Sunshine”, good pictures with great ideas but with just too much kooky for it to be a classic. ‘King Kookies’ is where only the best can sit. Films that toed the line of kookiness but still left me emotionally involved and thoroughly entertained. ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ is there, as is ‘Sideways’ and ‘Welcome to Dongmakol’, and now, so is ‘Castaway on the Moon’.

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Review – The Invention of Lying

55256256-1254725530-invention_of_lying_1The Invention of Lying

Ricky Gervais & Matthew Robinson

2009, USA

In an alternate universe where the human race is incapable of lying, a lonely writer stumbles upon the ability and quickly becomes the most powerful man alive.

A concept movie has two jobs: make the concept interesting and maintain the interest to the end. The first job is far easier than the second. I’m sure I could think off the top of my head a good concept for a film…

Henry VIII is deep into the business of executing his fifth wife when a time hole suddenly sucks him to the year 2145 where a sub species of humans are preparing to overthrow the British Royal Family, the last monarchy surviving in the war ravaged future. The royals have spent far too much time drinking tea and waving and have simply forgotten how to command anything other than extra portions at dessert, so it’s up to Uncle Henry to pull them together and defeat these mutant republicans using old school tactics.

I did it. The concept of my film (let’s call it ‘Tudor Vengeance’) is, I think, pretty wonderful, but would it stand up for at least 90 minutes like ‘Planet of The Apes’ or ‘Groundhog Day’ did? Probably (and sadly) not.

Such is the problem with ‘The Invention of Lying’. It catches your imagination but the scenario and the jokes don’t live up to the premise. It starts with a voice over of Ricky Gervais, not Mark Bellison the protagonist played by Ricky Gervais but Ricky Gervais himself, talking as only Ricky Gervais does. I thought it was the audio commentary until it stopped and I realised it was just a bad idea. The film is crammed full of cameos: everyone from Edward Norton as a police officer with a German porn star moustache to Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a simple minded bartender. What is the point of these cameos? The two reasons that they exist seem to be for the actors to say they like Ricky Gervais and to make the audience forget what they are watching isn’t very good. Louis C.K., one of the best and smartest comedians working today, is wasted in a dumb role. His main responsibility seems to be shrugging.

It’s not terrible. It has its fun moments: Jennifer Garner is extremely watchable: something about her admitting to just being interrupted while masturbating is quite endearing, and Gervais holds it together as best he can, but it’s  flimsy and shot incredibly badly. Here’s hoping ‘Tudor Vengeance’ fares better.