Archive | Train RSS feed for this section

Map – China Travel Route

25 Sep

Travel Route for China

Map – Trans Siberian Train Route

25 Sep

For those who want to check out the Trans Siberian train route.

More detailed map of the Trans-Siberian Rail below…

What do you mean the Train Wheels are too Small? Gettin’ into China

25 Sep

It’s September 23. Friday. 11:23 AM. On the train. About three hours away from Beijing. I’m sure you are so sick of another damn train blog. I’m tired too. I’m on the top bunk. Stomach pains. Smelling cig smoke. Listening to the door bang and bang and band. Our compartment saddles up next to the working toilet. They say the air condition is on – so all windows are bolted. I’m becoming desensitized to recycled cig, urine air.

Sitting here. Watching China reveal herself to me. A lot of building going on in Northern China. Then, you hit nothing – looks like scenes in Avatar. Spotted the great wall an hour ago. It was built in Northern China to keep the barbarians out – and the annoying Khan family from Mongolia…

We boarded the “to” China train yesterday AM. Last night was the highlight. Leaving Mongolian was easy. We had a two hour stop. No bathroom. No leaving the train. After the Mongols wished us well – we headed off to China border only 30 minutes down the road.

We pulled up around 9 pm and left at 1 am. Not only had they check our passports, but also take apart each car and change the wheels. That’s right. Change the wheels. The train tracks are smaller in China. They took our passports. Locked the toilets. Locked us in the train. They ripped apart each train and drove it into a tunnel where they jacked us up about 10 feet.

It was a weird sensation, watching other trains being lifted up into the air by over sized jacks or whatever they’re called… And watching the many, many Chinese changing the big wheels. (Job security) When it was our turn, they slowly lifted us up. We could not feel a thing. We were not moving. But, we were – then we here major clanging and the metal scrapping. The train jolted. Jolted. And, it was silent. They lowered us down and then they slowly started reconnecting the train. There’s a new restaurant car – selling Chinese food instead of Mongolian. Bring on the rice baby!

Next stop is Beijing.

Hello Mongolia – Land of smiles & sunshine

25 Sep

Mongolians don’t sigh, they smile. Even their border agents smile.

Train pulled up to the border. Mongolian customs’ agents politely asked us to to leave the train while they added more cars and cleaned. We disembark. It’s cold. I mean cold, cold. We picked up the pace and bolted to the one room train station. Mongolians packed from wall to wall, loaded down with duffel bags, boxes and plastic satchels in route to Ulaan Baatar, the capital of Mongolia. They pushed and shoved, but they with smiles. Think I’m going to like Mongolia.

The Young Bucks did what we do best – sniff out cheap beer and crusty bread. Mash, our Mongolian tour guide, told us he did not know of a food/beer mart in walking distance. Not a problem. The Europeans, Americans, Canadians and Scandinavians will find one. And, find one fast. We have one hour until we re board the train.

It’s dark. Outside it’s freezing. Roads are dusty. Pot holes. Unfinished road construction. Small concrete structures with peeling paint. Protecting our faces from the cold and win, we take off for the light. It’s about 1,000 meters. We’re gaining on the light… stupid tourists in search of beer.

Door swings open. And, Mongolian shop keeper sees twelve round eye, white foreigners. She starts mumbling. Another girl from behind the curtain joins her. We’re all smile. We scored. They are smiling because they’re in shock. From the look on their faces, they don’t see many tourists. Mash helped us make our purchase. I think a liter was like $.90. I walked outside – for fresh air. I liked watching people – the town. Who are these people? Where do they work? Why do they live here? Where’s the clinic? School? Watch and observer.

Yea, well my observing leaped to annoyance in a matter of seconds. The no-teeth Mongolian bee-lined for me. Only me. A super blond, young, beautiful Swed is standing next to me. Nope. He wants me. Check the box again for the DNA challenged, the unemployed or midgets finding TallGirl attractive. No teeth Mongolian man comes close. Starts talking. Smell of liquor combined with dirt turns me on… I pull the Russian sigh. He smiles again. I sign. Russian sign has zero affect. Turned my back, open the door, walked back inside and stood in line for a beer. Emily found this little episode HY-sterical. Ha. Ha…

Back on the train. With beer. I think its around midnight. We wait. A nice Mongolian FEMALE solider asks us for our passports. I was a little nervous for Mongolia recently changed its rules saying US residents do NOT need a Visa. Well, our tour leader, MASH did not even know this. Lauren in our group is from Jersey. So, we were talking contingency plans in case the Mongolian train agents did not get the memo. For the past day or so, folks on our trip have been talking about how easy or difficult it was to get a Mongolian Visa. Lauren and I would just look at each other – smile – and whisper, we’re screwed.

Well, low and behold, Mongolian train agents DID get the memo about US citizens not needing a Visa. Thank goodness. Looks like we’re staying out of a Mongolian detention center. Lauren said she felt nervous. No nerves about the Visa. I was more uptight about my upset stomach. My thought was Mongolian detention center at least had flushing toilets. No joke. It was THAT bad.

After they searched our compartments, the Mongolian customs’ agents welcomed us to Mongolia, again. The train lurched forward and we set off for the capital city, Ulaan Baatar. The locals call is UB. YEA! We arrived around 6 am. Tuya, our Mongolia country tour guide, picked us up along with the bus driver, Mia. They soon become my new Mongolian BFFers.

Our micro-mini bus came from S. Korea. I tell you this because we’re very large people. It looks like a clown show at the circus trying to fit our bags and big people into such a small bus. The San Hotel stood before us. It’s around 7 am and Tuyo had the kitchen serve us a HOT breakfast by 7:30 am.

See, I heart her. We’ve been living off of bread, platform food and beer for 2 days. Anything soaked in hot grease is welcomed by this point.

Fried egg. Hot random sausage-like meat. Cucumbers. Cream bread. Instant coffee. Now, guess what was the best. Hello, cream bread. I was told cream bread is made by taking thick, cows cream. Heat it. Skimming the fat. Somehow turn the fat into an oil. Use the oil to fry the bread. Talk about double delicious. The French have nothing on Mongolian fried cream bread. I could have put away a pound of it.

We showered. Hot water. I blew dry my hair. First time in weeks. I put on mascara. My word, I’m such a great candidate for ‘before and after’ pics for regular grooming. I feel like someone is saying overhead….”Ladies and Gents… This is what you look like with limited grooming…No showering…no lotion…no brushing…no nothing… And, this is what you look like with 30 mind of grooming… showering wit soap, moisturizing, drying hair, putting on make-up….” It’s remarkable. I truly.

At the Russian border patrol the passport agent did THREE double takes at my photo. Then she asked me stand to get a better look. She was either annoyed that I was smiling in my passport picture – a BIG No No in Russia. And, I’m serious. Or, she could not believe someone could go from cute to narley sooo fast.

After sanitizing the body, the Young Bucks were off to tackle Ulaan Baatar. Mash gave us the 411 on his city. In a few mins time, we hit a gigantic square where Mr. Ghangis Khan is featured. Yes, it’s a damn big square because it was a damn, big family operated Empire that took and ruled the land from East to West. We’re talking about China, Russia and parts of Europe over the span of hundreds of years. You have to give the Mongolians a lot of credit. They were fierce horsemen, arrow-men (not sure if that is a word) and warriors. Don’t mess with the Khan family.

Mongolia is on the move. You smell progress and a side of corruption in the air. Mash and I were talking. He said that if you are an honest Mongolian businessman, you won’t get ahead. You won’t make money. You have to do things on the side. Be corrupt in order to make money. My response was, “yea, it was like that in the states in the 18th and 19th centuries… then lawyers were born….” I laughed. It will take years and years to weed out corruption. You need to have systems in place. Transparency. And, a stable judicial/legal system. He said in China they execute politicians who take brides or CEOs that are corrupt. The baby milk scandal a few years ago, the Chinese government killed the top people managing the company who were responsible for tainting the milk. Damn. I wonder if they will do the same with the CEOs that put lead in toys… This is the stuff you DON’T read about.

Yes, Mongolia is moving. There are over 2 million Mongolians living in the country. And, over 1 million live in the city – Ulaan Baatar. Just by my observations, its seems like a young city. We’re talking about 20s and 30s and 40s. They are hip.

The women here are NOT teetering in stiletto heels, like the Russians. They take the practical approach to navigating potholes. After Soviet empire took its last breath, Mongolians kicked them out and are making a run at capitalism – Mongolian style.

Mongolia is a very rich country. It’s lands house copper, coal and coveted minerals. Some say, they have the largest copper fields in the world. South Korea has set up shop here. China too as are other countries. The new president – according to our bus driver – supports capitalism and business, but is trying to slow things down some. While progress is good, its corrupting. Rich are rich. Poor are poor. But, there appears to be a growing middle class.

While filling cracks in Poland, I heard about the BEST Indian restaurant in Ulaan Baatar. It’s called the Taj Mahal. I told the Young Bucks about it. Indian food seems to be a trend. Or, if you live in London, you live off it.

A large group wanted to go. Taj was on the 6th floor of a 5 star hotel. Again, hotel star ratings are NOT universal. We asked for beers and they returned COLD. Take that back. This is a 5 Star outfit, for sure. Indian just leaped over Mexican as my new favorite food. It’s time to toss the tortillas…

That night, we took in a traditional Mongolian cultural show. The performances radiated positive energy and joy, unlike the Russian ballet dancers performing Swan Lake. As I was watching Swan Lake in St. Petersburg, I was wondering what was off – what the missing piece in their performance. The dancers, just danced. Lifeless ballet. My seat was close enough, I was able to read their expressions. Annoyance. Boredom. More Annoyance. My Swan Lake experience occurred my second night in St. Petersburg so I was still sorting out the Russian sign and ice cold eyes.

I chalked up the ballet performance as “the dancers were tired.” On the other hand, the Mongolian performance probably do their show 7 days a week for the last ump-teen years. It does not show on their faces. They want to be there – performing. They are joyful. My word, what a change a smile and positive attitude can make –

Pictures below:

After the show, we went to another friggin cafeteria. This time, it was an all-you-can eat Mongolian restaurant. FYI. We gluttonous Americans are the ones who kick-started the Mongolian restaurant concept, not Mongolia. Feeling full from the Taj, I restrained from seconds. But, did a taste of their unsweetened desserts.

I couldn’t sleep. I plopped down at the Mongolian hotel lobby to connect to WiFi. They have only one cable cord in the entire hotel. The lobby was jumping. Karaoke bars closed around midnight. Hooks up start happening around 12:05 am. Men asking for rooms, around 12:15 am. Couldn’t tell if the hotel charges by the hour or night. You have your older men in suits and younger girls – who, by the way looked classy and not slutty. Here I was, the white tourist sitting cross-legged on the couch. Laptop on. Wearing old jeans and a black fleece and mittens. (Still cold) I did not fit. Because of that, the “men seeking a room” crew tuned me out.

At one point three couples were waiting for a room. Then, the song “All the Single Ladies” came on the TV. Beyoance was dancing across the screen. And, I started to giggle. Oh, the irony. The song goes….“If you like it…then you should have put a ring on it…If you like it…then you should have put a ring on it…” These young things should be saying it to these horny Mongolian men. Irony was beautiful. They got their rooms. I headed up four flights of stairs. Crawled into bed ALONE around 1 am.

About 1:30 am or so, I hear some mans’ voice and water running. Maria, my roommate, is standing in the middle of the room looking at the bathroom I asked, “what is up?” She says, “we have a leak. The pipes burst. And, there’s a man crawling through our bathroom ceiling. I called the front desk…I thought you left the water running, but when I opened the door, this is what I got…” I forced myself out of bed. I just wanted to throw the pillow over my head and go back to sleep.

I look in the bathroom. Steady water is falling to the floor. A man’s is standing on his tip toes on our toilet, half is body is in ceiling. Not sure if he is a hotel worker or a pervert.

I pop my head out the hallway, waiting for the hotel clerk. A woman’s loud moans permeate the air. What? Brain fog is lifting. What is GOING on here… The ceiling man jumps down off the toilet. Mongolian bell-hop walks in and they go at it. Everyone seems calm. Front desk gal walks in. Sizes up the damage and asks if we want to move rooms. Then, she narrows her eyes and let’s these guys have it. I stand back. Listening to them. And, listening to the loud moans.. Their faces are not distracted by the sexual cries. They are focused on the front desk lady. By the looks of it, this is a normal situation. Loud screams of ecstasy. Pipes bursting. Men crawling in the ceiling. I look down, feeling out of place in my crayola crayon Pjs and long sleeve t-shirt. Desk clerk lady hands us a new key. Second floor.

We pack up. I ask Maria if she is hearing the sex noise? Maria gets flustered when things go array, so she’s more focused on packing then being immature like me. We go. We pass by the rooms. I turn around to look at the Mongolian man’s faces again. Blank. They are not even grinning. They are probably thinking they have to clean the room after they finish doing their business. OK. This is a new experience for me.

Its closer to 2:30 AM. We have to be up early for GER camp traveling. I crawl into bed. I laugh. I go back to what just happened here? And, who and hell was that man shimmering through our bathroom ceiling? Does he work at the hotel? Or, just some perv checking on the sex addicts in the other room… So confused. So, don’t care. I need sleep.