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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016


Are there cows in Russia?" she was asked. Why, after hundreds of hours on Russian trains, had no cows been seen?

"There are cows in Russia," said the train attendant on the Moscow-Barnaul train somewhere after Krasnoufimsk and before Korovanyet, and she then sighed.

"Any milk for the coffee then?"

"No milk," she said.

"What about the coffee with cream advertised on the side of the train car just below the notice saying you could rent blood-pressure testing equipment?"

"No. That has just been scribbled off the menu," she said.

"No milk," said a waitress in the train's restaurant car.

She didn't have much else either. No fried eggs. No sausages, but that was because they had been eaten. There had been no milk from the start.

The waitress was standing in front of a new sign from the police that warned passengers about doing anything at all on the train. If you followed its advice, you would need to lock yourself in your coupe until your final destination.

Passengers should be careful of strangers and not drink, eat or play cards with them. They should "not take candy from strangers," building up the paranoia of any overly trusting passenger with a sweet tooth. It was well-trusted advice that I had previously only paid attention to up to the age of 16.

By the window, a petite waitress with bright-red hair was curled up on a horseshoe-shaped seat like a kitten sitting in the sun. She was quiet this time. Last time seen, she had said, "Beer, water, buterbrody," in every coupe while walking though the train car. A strange one.

Why no milk?

They didn't bring any, said the waitress.

"My daughter saw a calf once, and she asked me, 'What's that?'" said the train attendant. "I said, 'It's the son of a cow.' And then she asked, 'What's that?' when she saw a piglet."

The kindly train attendant had spent a lot of time at her grandmother's in the country. She knew what cows looked like. Her grandmother had cow's milk. The train didn't.

The Chinese were to blame, she said, although she did not know exactly what the Chinese had done to leave tea and coffee black on the train, just that it was somehow linked to them.  

Perhaps it was linked to the milk that poisoned hundreds of people in China last year, although surely the train staff could have stocked up in Moscow.

The Milla Jovovich look-alike waitress lay with no sign of life on the sofa, two tiny feet over the edge, as if she had had a close encounter with the Chinese milk.