To Central Asia

I listened to the safety instructions.

Put the mask over your mouse…
the emergency exit are there, there and there…
thank you for attention…

Most Russians on the plane to Novosibirsk looked like actors from an early James Bond movie. Men all seemed to have the same hair dresser. Or the same clippers at least. Ruddy faces. Women were either young and stunningly beautiful or old headmasters with bleached hair.

That morning, very early, a scooter had picked me up at my hotel in Bangkok. We stopped next to a van that was waiting for the traffic lights. The door slid open. Airport, my driver said, motioning me inside. Fast.

At the airport all my anxiety proved to be for nothing. Of course no transit visa for Russia was needed. The English website of the airport of Novosibirsk where I had an eight hour layover, had suggested that I had to go through customs at layovers longer than 4 hours, but that must have been 24 hours. Another website had listed ‘the only cities that have international transit areas’ and Novosibirsk wasn’t on that list. And I had also worried about the size of my backpack that I intended to take as hand luggage as my cheap ticket didn’t allow me checked in baggage. But even though my small backpack was too big, nobody ever even looked at it. So that was okay. Everything was okay.

Relics of the Soviet Union in Bishkek.

The flight to Novosibirsk was much more pleasant than I had anticipated. There were not many passengers and I had ample legroom. The Russians were sleeping. No screaming children, no tattering smartphones. Just the hum of the jet and high above the clouds I was reading Paul Theroux’ Ghost to the Eastern Star. He wrote: A  national crisis is an opportunity, a gift to the traveller.

The Thai king had died just days before I left Thailand and hundreds and then thousands had walked the streets of Bangkok, dressed in black and white. Many shops were closed and all televisions in restaurants, including the ones that catered to the farang, showed the procession of the kings body to the National Palace. Many people were watching. Nobody said a word. Some had red eyes, others carried portraits of their king.

The haircut I had on my last day in Bangkok was surreal. The salon was white, but the hairdressers were all dressed in black. It felt like some sort of purgatory.

I have often rebuked flying, but of course it has its advantages. It can offer a culture shock that can be invigorating. In the past I had flown from India to South Africa and at the time it had helped me finding back the joy of travel. Now I was hopeful. I had been way too long in South East Asia.

We were getting ready for landing. Important message for transit passengers: nzdrl nazr… drazka… thank you for attention. In the last daylight I saw snowy patches, Novosibirsk looked dreary, the river Ob, some Soviet era apartment buildings.
I followed the signs for transit passengers. It seemed I was the only one. It led to a small booth where a man in uniform checked my passport. Follow me, he said. He went up a flight of stairs and unlocked a door. Please… He then locked the door behind me. If felt very much like a prison. A white tiled floor. No decorations. Bright white lights.


I must have fallen asleep because I was woken by my alarm that I had set for my connecting flight to Bishkek. The flight was uneventful and I arrived at 4.30 in the morning at my destination. Immigration was a simple stamp in my passport and in the small arrival hall I found a machine that served coffee. Outside the arrival hall I noticed somebody had arranged a neat row of pots with flowers. Some pictures of airplanes decorated the walls, though I must admit I found it difficult to get excited about a Turkish Airlines cargo plane….

When it got light I toke a mashrutka into the city.


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