1/14/2020, Murmansk, Dragon
I woke up to see the dark sky outside, which made it hard for me to believe that it was already 10 a.m. Lying in bed, I kept considering whether to change to a cheaper hostel or to stay here cozily one more night (for I hadn’t washed my clothes the night before). I felt like I spent all my time on my smartphone but actually did nothing until it was the time to check out.
With all my clothes unwashed, I had no alternatives but to stay for another night. After having some snacks, I got out on streets again. Although it was still 14 o’clock, the sky was dark as dusk. There was a school not far away from where I stay. I was really surprised to see several students strolling around, talking to each other while others walked straight away with school bags. It was astounding to know students in Murmansk get off school this early because as far as I am concerned, my classes ended at 19 in junior high and at 22 in senior high, which is the general case with most Chinese students. What else confused me was I could not tell whether it was a primary school or a high school. At first sight, all the students looked like adults and my Russian skills did not allow me to ask about the details of the school.
The city impressed me with its deserted atmosphere and neat layout and there were not many people on the streets. Since I had no mates to talk to, I took pleasure in reading the posters and slogans. It was technical to guess what a building was from its appearance with confusing Russian words on it. Sometimes I managed to pronounce one word and got delighted before I realized I did not understand its meaning at all.
After passing one crossroad after another, I finally got to a restaurant recommended by Yandex Map. The world inside was completely different with mild lights and hospitable stuff while there was only chilly snow outside. In every restaurant, there would be subtle awkwardness when a foreigner came in, most of the time because of the communicative barriers. I greeted the girl at the counter who smiled to me with all my Russian vocabulary but could only ask the guy who seemed the only to know English for the menu. The restaurant was not a super upscale one, but obviously it got ready to welcome tourists from China apart from English-speaking people with Chinese names for each course. Although some of the names did not help to understand what the dishes were made up of thanks to the blunt translation, I definitely felt the kindness as a Chinese. The problem I had ever been faced up to since the first day I arrived in Russia surfaced again. I did not know what to order at all except for burgers and French fries. Sometimes waiters got confused about why I asked them to leave me alone for a while, but the truth was that It took me centuries to search for information about the dishes and then decide on what to eat. Out of the fear of cold and tough food, I asked for only one anonymous course besides a burger and French fries. That was a nice try because I absolutely achieved my goal of getting energy for further exploration.
Usually in this kind of slow-pace cities, there would not be lots of youngsters. Along the way I headed back, the majority of the people I met were old couples. It was also delightful to find loads of pigeons roaming the field outside the supermarket.
I signed up for a tourist group in the hope of seeing the aurora and we were supposed to wait in front of the northernmost McDonald’s at 19:00. At first, I mistook two Mongolian guys for the tour guides but they turned out to be tourists in the same group. One of them told me there was something wrong with his camera and asked if I could help take photos of them. I agreed when all of us expected there to be polar lights. Besides, I was not surprised to meet other Chinese travelers given that there were Chinese menus and Chinese guides in Murmansk.
We were moving northwest towards the suburban areas where there were far less people and more snow. Although the driver seemed tough and reliable, it was still disturbing to be aware of the heavy snow right under the van. I couldn’t help thinking the vehicle got slipped at any time.
Our destination was a vacant and empty field connecting two roads. It was at that time when I realized what ‘earth covered by silver’ would be. On the north were forests with snow coat, on the south still were forests in white. Actually there were more Chinese tourists than I thought, waiting for the aurora to show up. As we were waiting, an elderly addressed me and we talked about our feelings so far in Russia. I heard he had been to Russia on business many times before and that many of those had been there waiting for the last few days. It was said polar lights did show up the day before but they were here for a bigger burst this night. Unfortunately, the weather was bad with thick clouds floating up in the air which blurred our sight. I did not remember exactly how long we had been waiting below 0 but I was sure there were not any divine lights travelling from the northern skies. Fascinating would the aurora have appeared; full as disappointing it was to fail to catch sight of even the tiniest part of it.
Cold weather making animals clumsy, I felt sleepy and ended up asleep on our way back. I found myself near the hostel when I woke up. The tripod along with my bag became heavier with every step I took. I knew for sure not everything would have a happy ending, like my pursuit of the aurora.