Second leg of my train journey is now completed. No soul is harmed during crossing the Mongolian border to Russia’s soil except from being asked to step out for interrogation. I was lucky for there was a Mongolian woman who speaks Russian in my cabin and she helped to translate the conversations carried out in Russian.
It all started with the immigration officer that is as dull as the dishwasher who alerted her higher-ranking officer. It was done on a basis that I might be carrying a fake passport and destinations listed in my Russian visa are considered as not common for Malaysian travellers. I was then asked to step outside and followed the higher-ranking officer for interrogation. I thought that I should scheme my way out by mentioning that his blue eyes really compliment his immigration uniform. But with the stern look given by the other immigration people, I ended up by saying I heard Russians are a bunch of nice people when he asked why I come to Russia. My passport was taken away for further inspection, as it is fairly new with only 4 pages used for stamps and visas. Besides, they are not sure whether it is the latest issue with the black and white photo. It felt like an eternity when I was being interrogated and I can’t help but to feel like being in a movie as well. You know, a bit like Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.
The officer then proceeded with asking my family background. Husband? I had to bit my lips. I was this close to blurt out: Yeah, Tom.Tom Hiddleston. Parents? Mum, 2 sisters *cough and a few Facebook’s cats. Where? Malaysia. How much money do you have with you? Not much. Just a few hundred of USD and a couple thousand of rubles. Are you a Muslim because you wear scarf? Yes (Nahhhh. It’s bad hair day. Hair looks like being cow licked). I then asked him whether I’ll be in trouble for wearing one and he assured me that it wouldn’t be any problem. I knew that he was lying for he diverted his eyes and looked at his shoes instead. Duh!
I showed him copies of train tickets, hostel’s bookings and bus ticket to Lithuania as prove of exit. I even assured him that Russia is far too cold for a flip-flop lover like me! In addition, I showed him the documents that I sent to Russia’s Embassy in Kuala Lumpur in order to obtain my visa. He then asked one of the officers to make a copy of my passport, my train itinerary and document sent to the embassy.
When I was released, my cabin was in the middle of being searched. I saw the Mongolian lady been showing the contents of her bag while the Mongolian guy had done his bit. And the fact that a dog was brought on board made my heart raced a bit. I was then asked to step into my cabin and opened my bags. Luckily I packed all my apparels in zipper bags so it was not a hassle to open up the bag pack, show the contents and put them back in. My passport was then returned and after a while the train continued its journey. I was so relieved and thanked the Mongolian woman repeatedly like a broken record for being an unpaid translator.
Based on my experience, I could sum up a few things that are vital to ensure your peace of mind when travelling to Russia:
- Make a copy of all documents sent to Russian’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur and bring them with you to Russia.
- Have extra copies of your train itinerary, hostel bookings and your exit ticket from Russia. Remember, it is bureaucracy. There will be loopholes and ways to manipulate it for some bribery opportunity and whatnot. Play along with the system and save your ass.
- Register your visa immediately when you arrive at the hostel. I paid 400 rubles to get it done at my hostel. Of course I didn’t go out the whole day for the Russian police officers have the authority to stop people and request their identity and travel documents at any time, and without cause. Look different would be enough cause to stop me on the street. Though it sounds silly and maybe being scared for nothing, I believe it is better be safe than sorry. I’d rather spend one day in the hostel than not having the rest of 20ish days of my journey.
- Bring one more ID card with you apart from your passport. A copy of your work ID would be fine since Russia loves those who work.
I’ll be off to Olkhon Island for a few days. Could hardly wait to see Lake Baikal. It is said that Genghis Khan was born there. The legend said that if you dip your hands into the lake, you will be rewarded with 1 extra year of life. If you dip your feet into the waters, you are to be rewarded with 2 extra years of life. If you dunk your entire head into the lake, you will be granted 5 extra years of life.
And if you completely submerge yourself in the waters of Lake Baikal – hands, feet, head, and body – you will either extend your life by 25 years, or be killed immediately.
What would be a better way to celebrate my birthday?