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What’s worse than 10 hours staring at Mongolian countryside?

Day 9: Ulaan Baatar to Mongolia/China border crossing

Can you believe we escaped? To summarize,

Five great things about Mongolia:

1. Mostly nice people proud of their heritage

2. Direct flights out to Seoul

3. Direct Trans-Mongolian railroad to Beijing




Things to avoid in Mongolia:

1. Mongolia

I’m really excited because we are catching the sleeper train to Beijing, and besides MUNI and Caltrain, which don’t count, I’ve never been on a train before! This is the way to travel! You get to feel like you are doing something (moving) yet at the same time can be totally lazy. The food is abysmal, even Rick can’t finish (I don’t order – I’ll start eating in China). The closest thing to edible was a pancake with butter and jam, but it came without jam. Nor butter. I continue to snack on gummy vitamins. At the last minute Rick remembers he read that people stock up on food before boarding, so he buys 6 cans of soda and a chocolate bar with our remaining Mongolian currency.

With a couple of exceptions, the Mongolian train staff to the border are horrid. The waitress is sour and slapped my hand when I tried to charge my iPad. The conductor could not have been more disdainful when I asked him to unlock my room, and repeatedly made that tsk-tich-hmmf air expelling sound that expresses contempt across all languages. However there were lovely passengers on the train, most making the six day trip from Moscow to Beijing. None got on in Ulaan Baatar. There was a mix-up with our tickets so instead of getting first class the travel company had bought us second class. There isn’t much difference between the two, just two fewer people in the room, an in-room toilet and shower, and an electrical outlet for charging. Either way, the cabins have that stale smell of other people’s bodies; scratchy, stained blankets; and fleas. All the first class tickets had been sold out, which the travel company said was very strange, but they made good and bought us all four berths in a second class cabin. This turned out for the better, because first class had flooded so everyone was crammed into one carriage and no one’s shower worked. No one was on the second class carriage which meant the toilets were slightly less revolting than third class. They are cast iron and look like something that belongs on a battleship. We were laughing, ‘it would be funny if the toilet just went straight into the tracks’, but turns out the toilet did go straight onto the tracks. The power outlet would have been nice, but a very kind Indian doctor in first class let us use his.

Mongolia heading east is much the same as Mongolia heading north, just the grass is more brown than green. We pass through the Gobi desert, but, at the risk of sounding like a desert snob, it is nothing compared to the Sahara. Actual sand would be a good start. We sit in the dining car staring out the window and play I-spy, which is the shortest round of I-spy ever played, consisting of ‘wood’, ‘wire’, and ‘dirt’. The answer to the header of this post is ’11 hours staring at Mongolian countryside’.

Thank you for your birthday wishes everyone! I have not been able to say thank you directly because China doesn’t allow Facebook! A little Internet elf has been helping me post. Thank you for all your comments on the posts too. Knowing other people exist, reading, and vicariously sharing my pain has helped me stay sane (except in the case of poo-ville, which will take seven years of therapy). I received the BEST birthday present ever. I dozed off on the Mongolia part of the ride and woke at 12:05am September 5th, my birthday. We had stopped and there was a lot of loud clanking. We were at the Mongolia/China border crossing and if getting out of Mongolia for my 45th birthday isn’t the best present ever, I can’t think what is (except cash, Mum and Dad). The clanking was the wheels on the train being changed as the Chinese tracks are a different size than the Mongolian tracks. It took five hours but no worries, we were freeeee!

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