It was early in the morning in Vladivostok. The cold and dark were still over the city.
We made our way in Nick's car to the bus terminal, a desolate and cold place. Nodar met us
there. Nodar is a strange fellow. Michael Parkinson, the TV interviewer, once said he had
felt stress due to cricket. Keith Miller, a great cricketer, who he was interviewing at the
time responded: "Cricket is not so stressful. When you've got a Messerschmitt up your arse,
then you feel stress". Nodar had felt such levels of stress. Not from flying but in a different
way. He had more than one gun shot wound to prove it. Such can be the life of wayward lads in
Russia. We trusted Nodar. He was, and is a good friend, caring and loyal, yet he could obviously
be carless and foolhardy in some other parts of his life. Nodar found the right bus. He bought the
tickets. He talked to the drivers and he got the good oil from the men in the terminal. We had a
little language then, but still struggled to read the tickets which were written in Cyrillic.
We were eventually convinced they read Ussuriysk, Grodekovo and Suifenhe.
The bus had about 30 seats and there were about 20 of us. We drove north. We headed out through the wilds of
the Far East Siberian desert and along dusty roads. The bus groaned, its engine protesting. We talked at first,
then slept, and woke again and looked and it was a dead scene outside. Rivers and birches and forests just
occasionally, mostly we looked out to low scrub. The bus drove and drove. We stopped for a toilet break in
a fuel station in Ussuriysk. When we got back on the bus we looked out the window and the driver was unloading
something from under the bus. Nearby, a taxi was unloading his car boot. We couldn't see what was coming out
of the bus, but there were furs going in. Big, bulky, just tanned. A trade was taking place. It felt like contraband.
The bus filled with more people. We travelled for another few hours. More boredom. More scrub. More Siberia.
More groaning engine and dry dusty road.
We stopped at the beginning of the no-mans-land zone, at Grodekovo: the border city, 20 minutes from China.
A diplomatic official got on the bus and looked at all the faces. Then he looked straight at me:
"Ve Russkiy" he said. "Ner Russkiy" I responded. "English?" he said. "Ner English, Australian". I said.
"Ahhh Australian!" We were soon all out. All into immigration hall.
In those days, in the Far East, the rule was that you had to register at every place you stay. That rule
was abandoned in Moscow, but at Grodekovo where we were they didn't know that. You had your passport checked
at every hotel and you had to have the registration papers to prove it. We had stayed at the Versailles hotel,
twice each, and so we had four registrations. We searched and searched. We could only find three of the four.
Out came all our paperwork, the folders, the scripts. Out came the receipts, the documents. It took us a long
time. Our bags were open and spewing onto the immigration hall floor. All the others had gone through and we
were holding up the bus. Eventually we found the fourth registration and went through the booth.
We got back on the bus. We were the last ones on and that engine was groaning waiting for us. We found a seat
near the back and it jerked off for China. I sent a text to Sue Burgess, in my relief: "We're through into China".
All she sent back was "Thank God you're out of my area". Of course she was in the Embassy in Moscow, 9500 km away
and didn't want to come to rescue us. On the bus we were finally relaxed. We talked to the guy in front of us, and
told him jovially our story about the missing registration. He told us: "One time, I missed one of my registrations
too. They put me in jail for 4 days".