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Paradise

Day 10: Mongolia/China border to Beijing

After the last ten days any post would have the same name. After about one second across the border I was ready to move to China, get a job, and learn to speak Mandarin.

The first thing I noticed about China was how efficient it was AND we received a smile from the immigration lady. Entry into China was pretty painless – we didn’t even have to get of the train or our cabin. It did involve several people but seemed to work.

Person 1 (white uniform): Asked our nationality, took passports

Person 2 (white uniform): Gave us free meal tickets (!)

Person 3 (blue uniform): Scanned us for fever

Person 4 (blue uniform): Asked if we had anything to declare

Person 5 (green uniform : Asked where we were from (this bit did seem inefficient, same question as Person 1)

Person 6 (green uniform): Returned passports

Person 7 (green uniform): Gave half-hearted investigation of luggage, wisely ignoring smelly socks lying all over cabin

Was super excited about the free breakfast, imagining dim sum with barbecue pork buns, shrimp dumplings, sesame balls, and custard tarts. Sadly was a piece of stale bread and scrambled eggs. Lunch looked even sadder so we skipped that. Seven days since last tasted food.

When morning dawned the landscape had changed from the dull brown plains of Mongolia to green (real green, not brown-green) pastures of neatly sown crops; then huge craggy cliffs towering above us; then Beijing – which from the train view looked like mostly apartments.Was nervous exiting the train but the hotel was just a couple of minutes away and all went smoothly. The first thing I did was step on the scales. I had lost 5 pounds in 10 days! Add that to the paltry list of good things about Mongolia. Now to reverse that and put on 10 pounds in 5 days. Next stop, food. The hotel was above a great mall, and we probably ate at the Chinese equivalent of McDonald’s, but it was the best meal I’ve ever had. I wolfed down Kung Pao chicken, fried tofu with peculiar mushrooms, and sesame green beans in about 30 seconds. Was dying of happiness.

Next, of course, massage! Amazing, besides the fact that they insisted on rubbing my belly, which was not pleased, what with the seven tons of Kung Pao chicken working its way through my intestines. We had a couple’s massage, but had completely forgotten about our little saddle problem. So (a) that area was a tad painful and (b) not sure what sort of kinky shenanigans the massage ladies might have thought we’d been up to, with nearly identical scars in nearly identical places. $75 for 90 minutes.

Unfortunately my massage glow had an abrupt end. We decided to catch a rickshaw back to the hotel, which was about 5kms. We got in without determining a price. BIG mistake. I was thinking so many wonderful thoughts about our driver, like how great it was that you can trust people here and they aren’t all out to get your money. Except that he was. He drove us down a deserted alley (nowhere near our hotel) and demanded an exorbitant price, getting very angry and belligerent when we said we didn’t want to pay. He looked like he was about to punch us, so we forked up, which left a very sour taste to the day. Turns out we had paid as much for that 3km rickshaw ride as a train costs to go 350kms. The only plus side is that it does count towards our goal of ‘take as many modes of transport as possible’. This goal is quickly morphing into ‘take only the most convenient, trustworthy modes of transport.’

I was partially mollified by the discovery of bubble tea in the mall, which has become my meal of choice. We had a mild mix-up with the type of bubble tea we wanted, which involved a twenty minute negotiation and the staff having to call the manager. I am blown away by the huge dearth of English here, all the Chinese people I know speak English really well. I’d thought most people would know a little from school, but besides the hotel staff it’s been far and few between which has made getting around, buying train tickets, and ordering food really hard.

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