Travelling by train is an easy and affordable way to see Romania as the country offers an extensive rail network connecting all major cities and towns. Its official website https://www.cfrcalatori.ro/ provides comprehensive train timetables and fare information. During my visit to Romania, I chose train as my means of transportation to whisk me from one city to the other. The experience was both exhilarating and intimidating to me. Why does it present me with these contradictory sentiments? Read on and you will find out, let’s just start with a fun one.
When I was on a train to Sighisoara for a day trip, a small medieval town in the Transylvania region of Romania, I met a very interesting and peculiar Romanian family sat directly across me. The mother was a kind and gentle person. The son had a shy and introverted demeanor. He was a man of few words despite the fact that he could fluently strike up a conversation with me in English. He, however, only opened up and helped her mother complete a sentence when an English word was on a tip of her tongue. The father, who appeared to be talkative and sometimes temperamental, was the one who spent the entire trip staring me into my soul and grilling me with tons of questions to feed his curiosity. So, here’s how our conversation rolled out.
“Jason? Your name is Jason, is that even your real name? Does everyone in Malaysia have a Christian name?” – The father started to probe.
“Oh Jason, poor Jason! Please, be ready to get tons of questions from him, he’s the one who speak the least English but he could be the one who asked anyone the most questions, GOOD LUCK!” – The mother teased me, throwing me a you-have-been-warned wink.
“Yea, that’s the name I give to myself, for the convenience of foreigners who have difficulty with Malay pronunciation,” I explained
“Jason, I like your eyes, the color of your eyes, it is very special. Oh, and I like the shape of your eyes too,” – The father complimented my eyes. Ok, now it is getting weird!
“Jason, you laugh a lot! Do Malaysian people laugh and smile all the time? I like happy and positive people. I don’t like people here, they are NEGATIVE!” – he complained, unbeknownst to the fact that I was laughing at his silly questions.
“Really? What do Romanian people like? Why are they being negative?” – Finally, there was something that piqued my interest.
“Because of our government! The government here is very … tricky! They tricked people make their life miserable” – He was fumbling for the right word to make his explanation understandable.
“What do you mean tricky?” – I probed on.
He leaned over and extended his hand towards me, putting his palm around the water bottle in my grip and with a quick swoosh, he grabbed the bottle and yanked it away from me.
“This is what I called … tricky” – He said that with a smug look while securing my bottle in his possession. WOW! Action did speak volume than words.
“Yeah, but things are getting better than the former days when we lived under the communist regime” – The mother broke the ice, eyeballing her husband and gesturing him to return my god-damn bottle.
“Oh, how things were like when the country was under the communist rule?” I asked, jumping at the opportunity to divert my attention from the father.
“Things were bad when we were young, we didn’t get to watch much TV. There was only an hour of children program on TV every day” – The mother reminisced about her childhood days.
“No way! Don’t listen to her, Jason! An hour of cartoon! Are you kidding me? That’s too short! Obviously, she is exaggerating! They gave us an hour and a half, and I am very sure of that!” – The father snorted in disagreement.
“Wow, it sucks to have to live under communism. I feel your pain and believe me, I would never vouch for communism!” – I cried foul at the mistreatment and hardship they endured as a child.
“Jason! You seem like a good guy. In fact, you really look like a brother to me, a very caring brother I never had. Here, I want you to have this,” – He handed me an oatmeal peanut butter energy bar, staring at me and awaiting me to tear open the pack.
“That’s … very kind of you, uh,” I was struggling to remember his name. Wait a minute! I actually never had had a chance to ask for his name. “You know what, I am good, I am not hungry at all, thanks for your offer,” – I politely rejected his offer.
“Jason, if you see me as your brother, you gotta take it and eat it, come, take it,” – He insisted, remaining adamant that I should accept his offer with gratitude and refusal would be seen as a snub, which would trigger his anger.
Without much options left, I took the energy bar from his hand, peeled open the pack and put it in my mouth. The mother looked away from me, trying to stifle a laugh. The son covered his face with both hands, excused himself and roamed to the other coach of the train.
While chowing down on the snack of his brotherly love, I could feel the train was gradually slowing to a stop. Whispering “thank goodness” beneath my breath, I quickly got on my feet, slung my backpack over my shoulder and got ready to exit the train.
“Jason, you are welcome to join us for lunch, there is one Romanian food I want you to try, and we can discuss our devotion to religion,” – He got up and motioned for me to hand him my backpack.
“I am sure Jason has a packed itinerary to make the most of his one-day trip at Sighisoara, and we have to find a hotel to check in, let’s keep in touch, Jason, have a good trip!” – The mother chimed in, bailing me out of the father who seemed to be enjoying giving me a hard time.
“Sure, you too, enjoy your day! It’s been a pleasure talking… uh… meeting you,” – I bade my goodbye to them and threw a knowingly wink at the mother, before turning and walking the opposite direction from them, away from the eccentric hospitality that I experienced firsthand in Romania.