Thursday, May 19, 2016

Khabarovsk and the Stinkfoot Witchhunt

I got to Khabarovsk on the Trans-Siberian after traveling from Birobidzhan. The train that I took was the first platskarny  (third-class) train I had taken, and my car was packed to the brim with Russian soldiers. It was not bad at all. They were very courteous and treated me well, even though a few of them whispered, "Amerikansky," and burst out laughing, when I first got on the train. But one guy even helped me with my bags on the train; I tried to beg off, but he was insistent. Third-class differs from second-class in that the compartments have no doors and there are more seats on the other side of the aisle, so they can pack more people into the compartment. It was a pleasant ride and many of the soldiers bided their time by playing cards.

Once the train crossed the Amur River, we were out of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, and into Khabarovsk Krai. Khabarovsk Krai is one of the last remaining habitats for the Siberian Tiger, which makes its home near the Amur River.

When I arrived in Khabarovsk, as soon as I got off the train, it started pouring rain big time. I had looked at the weather before I left Birobidzhan, and it looked like the rain that had been there for the last two days was clearing, and the forecast said no rain. But now the forecast had changed in the meantime. Since I saw that there was apparently going to be no rain, I had packed my umbrella and the rain flap for my backpack away deep in my pack. Big mistake.

I had planned to walk to the hostel.  It was almost 3 kilometers away, which would have been a manageable walk in full gear. But now that it was raining, there was no way; all my stuff would have gotten soaked. So I hailed a cab and scurried to get my stuff in it quickly in the pouring rain. I had the address, and it was easy to find where the hostel was; the only thing was neither the cab driver nor I could find a hostel there. I had to look up the hostel's phone number from the confirmatory email, and then let the cab driver talk to them. Soon a woman peeped her head out of an unmarked door, and I followed her up the steps to the hostel, which was on the second floor.

I was there in the hostel, sitting in the common room, when about a half hour later, another guy checked in. At the front of the hostel, there is a place to leave your shoes. Once the guy checked in and took off his shoes, there was an ungodly stench that permeated the entire common room. I mean, this was some of the worst stinkfoot that I had ever smelled in my life. I was on the verge of retching, and could not even stay in the room any more; I had to go back to my bedroom. After a while, I just went out to explore the city; it had stopped raining and the weather was nice. This made me realize that there are things you can do about sights and sounds you want to block out (earplugs and eye masks have worked pretty well for me), but not much you can do about a putrid smell, except to maybe open the windows or spray some air freshener.

After going around the city for a while, I came back into the hostel, and some guy looked at me accusingly, and said in broken English, "Do you smell something?" in a rehearsed fashion. Oh, shit, I thought.  They think it is me. Probably because I am the most unruly-looking guy there. I couldn't speak well enough  Russian to explain that it was another guy. I just murmured, "Not me," and went straight into my room.

But then I got paranoid and thought that maybe it could be me. I took off my socks and stuffed them in my face and inhaled deeply. Nothing. I couldn't smell any scent, bad or otherwise, at all. And with the putrid smell I had smelled before being so unmistakable, I'm sure I would have smelled something. I smelled my armpits.  OK, a little odor, but not overwhelming, and not any more than you'd expect from your average traveler. Next I had to smell my shoes, but I didn't want to do it in front of everyone. So I went out again, took off my shoes outside, and smelled them....once again, no bad smell.

Anyway, I got back again later, and nobody was saying anything about it to me. Whew. It was just a stinkfoot witchhunt, and I was pretty sure I was now in the clear.

Khabarovsk is definitely the coolest place I have been in Russia. It's a vibrant, big city, and there is lots of open space and a multitude of walking paths. It feels like it wouldn't be out of place in Oregon or Washington. I asked the woman working at the hostel what rents are like here, and it looks like they are in the $250-$350 a month range for the most part.

After walking around for a couple of days, I looked in the Lonely Planet Trans-Siberian guidebook on my Kindle to see if there was anything they could recommend in the city. It turned out that I had already found the main three things they mentioned that I would be interested in; the main boulevard, the walk through the long greenspace park, and the walk along the Amur River. I guess I'm just a magnet for the good shit.


  1. Sweet! That stinkfoot put a hurt on your nose.

  2. I fed bromhidrosis into google translate and it said the Russian word is... bromhidrosis. I wonder if any Russians know abut Zappa. He was huge in the Czech Republic, but he was a figure of western-looking anti-Soviet counterculture, so he probably doesn't have a statue in red Square or anything.