Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
The settlement of Vorkuta was established in 1931. In 1932, it became a labor camp that held a large number of political and economic prisoners in the Soviet Union.
A large number of coal mines were established in Vorkuta during the Second World War. The war required resources, so the Soviet Union built a railway to quickly transport the coal to all parts of the country.
As the coal industry developed, the city became more prosperous. Established as a permanent residential area in 1943, the city now mainly relied on coal, machinery repair, wood processing, and construction materials as its key industries.
As usual, judging from its population, one could tell that it was a smallish town. There were less than 200,000 inhabitants.
It was Li Du and his group’s first time in Vorkuta, and the local Wi-Fi signal was very weak. Eventually, they managed to contact Steve, who sent them his address and mentioned that he had arranged for a car to receive them.
The group waited for some time but did not see anyone. In the end, they had no choice but to seek help. When Li Du spotted a local policeman, he brought someone along with him to ask for directions.
The airport policeman did not know English and could only speak Russian. Besides, he seemed to be a nationalist. When he heard them speak English, he asked, “American?”
Li Du replied, “American, China.”
The policeman’s face froze for a moment before he started to mumble in Russian.
Big Ivan walked over and started to speak to him in Russian. At the same time, he explained to Li Du in English, “This dude thinks that we are American spies and he wants to check our documents.”
Li Du said, “Let him go ahead and check them. Our documents are OK.”
The policeman demanded to see their passports, but Big Ivan shook his head and took out some Russian ruble bills to pass to him.
Having received the money, the policeman stuffed it into his bag clumsily and waved to them to follow him out.
Li Du asked, “Where is he taking us?”
Big Ivan said, “He said that he will help us get a car and send us into the city.”
Coincidentally, once they exited the airport, a medium-sized bus with a logo of a smiley face painted on it drove over. The policeman and the driver exchanged a greeting. Then he pulled open the bus door, gesturing for them to get on board.
Li Du shrugged and got into the bus, but he felt that there was something strange about the vehicles. There were metal grills in front of the seats just like in police cars meant for criminals.
However, he did not have a chance to question the policeman. Once all of them got in, the policeman closed the bus door from outside and the bus started speeding down the road.
Li Du went up to ask the driver, “Buddy, where are we heading?”
The driver turned around and said two sentences in Russian. Li Du could not understand him, but he could smell the alcohol on his breath. This dude is driving drunk!
That scared Li Du. The bus was speeding and the driver was drunk. Is he toying with our lives?
On the other hand, Big Ivan was very relaxed. He said, “Boss, calm down. In such a place, all drivers typically drink a shot before they sit behind the wheel. The weather is too cold, so they have the habit of drinking to warm up before they drive.”
Li Du asked, “Are they trying to kill themselves?”
Big Ivan wore a nonchalant look. He said, “Nothing worth worrying about. Everyone’s like that. It’s been like this for many years and there hadn’t been any problems.”
The city was big and scarcely populated. In a place like that, they had the luxury of driving as they wished. Even if the vehicle were not traveling in a straight line, there would likely be no accidents.
Li Du wiped the sweat from his forehead. He had just witnessed the toughness of civilian fighters. The pilot, the driver – they were of a similar breed.
From time to time, the driver would whip out a small steel hip flask and take a sip. Li Du was certain that it contained vodka.
Fortunately, the vehicle was speeding towards the town center. Not long after, they observe the city.
Of course, there were no skyscrapers in such a place, with most of the structures being low-rise buildings. The few local tall buildings belonged to the Vorkuta Coal Co., Ltd and the Northern Steel Group.
Even when they entered the city, the vehicle did not slow down. Li Du did not see any taxi along the roads and hence, he did not try to tell the driver to let them get off so they could switch vehicles.
Finally, the bus arrived at the door of a dark red brick house. The driver stretched his head out of the window and honked. The main gate opened up and the bus drove in slowly.
Li Du grew anxious and asked, “What’s going on? Where are we going?”
Out of their group, only Big Ivan was familiar with Russian. However, Big Ivan had fallen asleep. When he heard Li Du’s words, he stirred and rubbed his eyes. Then he spoke up, “Don’t worry, boss, everything will be fine,” he yawned.
The vehicle came to a stop and a few men and women in white coats appeared. They pulled open the door and said something in Russian.
Big Ivan waved his hands and said, “Time to get down.”
Li Du alighted as told and after seeing him, the people in white coats frowned. When his pets got down after him, the White Coats seemed taken aback.
A lady who was about as tall as Brother Wolf and as wide as Godzilla spoke to the driver. Li Du did not understand and could only look to Big Ivan.
Big Ivan was surprised too. He listened to the conversation and suddenly yelled, “D*mn it, this is a mental hospital!”
Li Du really wanted to pinch himself. Was he dreaming? What was going on?
After letting out a shout, Big Ivan rushed to communicate with the lady.
One of the White Coats frowned and came over to chase Ah Ow, Ah Meow and the rest away. Li Du hurriedly stopped him and asked, “How do you do? Can you speak English?”
“Yes,” the White Coat looked at him, surprised.
Li Du quickly said, “Is this a mental hospital? There must have been some sort of misunderstanding. We are not mental patients. We are tourists who have come to this city for a holiday!”
White Coat smiled. “I know, you guys are not mental patients. You guys are tourists. Me too, and this is the first stop of our travels. Oh, your command of English is pretty decent. Are you the tour guide?”
If I’m a tour then you are a b*stard. The smile on White Coat’s face was clearly meant to deal with idiots, Li Du could tell that much.
Hence, he said, “No, I’m telling the truth, doctor. We don’t know how we ended up here. D*mnit, we are Americans and Chinese. We just arrived from the airport.”
“Sure, I know. You guys came from the airport,” a well-built lady smiled and added, “Here, tourists, follow me. I will show you guys around. However, you guys cannot bring your pets along for sightseeing. Whose animals are these?”
Li Du rubbed his face. He knew that they have run into trouble. They have been mistaken for mental patients!
At that moment, somehow, he was reminded of the time he chanced upon an article on the web. The funny article was about how one could prove that they were sane if they were accidentally sent to the mental hospital.
At that time, when he had read the article, he felt that it was too far-fetched, and closed the web page. Now, he was especially regretful. If he had known earlier, he would have checked out the information.
In any case, he did not want to be mistaken as a lunatic and admitted to an asylum. He explained hurriedly, “We are normal, really. I am a rich man from America. These are my bodyguards.”