The following morning we ate our last meal at Mr. Lee's, a Chinese fast food restaurant. It was August 4th and our across the globe train journey was beginning. We boarded the train for a thirty hour ride to Mongolia's capital city, Ulan Bator.
Our train ride to Mongolia was beautiful and pleasant. We shared a four person berth with just one other Mongolian woman. She was composed, quiet and sweet. She reminded me of a Japanese woman. She told us that Russia was dangerous and Ulan Batuar was even more so. She was married to a Korean man and they were living in China. She was speaking Korean on the phone to him and English to us. She spoke Mongolian to the train conductor and studied Chinese in college. We ate in the restaurant car separately and drank instant coffee in the berth together. When I finished Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake I gave the book to the Mongolian woman, she read it faster than I.
We crossed the border at Erlian China and arrived in Mongolia in the middle of the night. The following morning Brad and I stuck our heads out the window with the other Western tourists and admired the open fields that are rare in the parts of Asia we had traveled.
The train was relaxing. Everyone ate and slept. I read and wrote in my journal while Brad listened to music and put his fleece on as it slowly got cooler. It made Beijing feel even more hot and crowded. I thought about how I never wanted to live in a city. And, as I expected, my fond memories of Ikeda were beginning.
When we got off the train in Ulan Batur my first impression was that it was incredibly shady. It seemed to be where the East and West were colliding. In my experience, people in Asia do not take things that do not belong to them with as much aggression as people do in the West. But, in Ulan Batur people were ready to use scams, weapons, or any other method that could get them the things they wanted. Our hostel had a sign that suggested people do not to go out after midnight. And most establishments warned people about pickpockets. A little after sunset Brad and I were walking back to the hostel as a man attempted to stick his hand in my purse. Brad noticed and he pulled it away without any other care. Moments later a group of kids threw rocks at us.
We quickly took an opportunity to go to Terelj National Park, about 37 kilometers from Ulan Batur, to stay in a yurt with a Mongolian family. When we arrived it was rainy. Everyone was escorted into different yurts. Brad and I were the last two and we got to hang out in the family yurt. When we walked in the teenage kids turned off the television and straightened up the living room. We told them the television was fine. Then we laid down on some blankets and watched American movies that were dubbed in Mongolian.
The inside of the yurt was like living in an elegant tent.
When the rain cleared up we went on a short hike and rode horses. That evening we hung out with the cute Mongolian baby who lived in the cluster of yurts we were staying in.
The following morning when a van came to pick up those who wanted to leave, Brad and I made the easy decision to ride back to Ulan Batur.
The rest of our time in Ulan Batur was spent wearing money belts and wondering around the city. We returned to the same French cafe consecutive mornings. It was August 8th and I was sitting in that cafe around noon with Brad. He was studying Cyrillic and I was reading The Diary of Anne Frank. I wanted to finish that book quickly because it made me feel like a twelve year old as I was reading it. But, it can capture anyones heart. I could not keep my eyes off the pages of the book and Brad told me he was getting Cyrillic. As I sat there in that coffee shop my backpack and everything that matter was in a hostel dorm room and I thought about how I wanted my life to resemble this. Saturdays at noon in a familiar coffee shop with a partner. But, as I write this, in a familiar coffee shop in Pittsburgh across from Brad, I want nothing more than to have a trip to look forward too. On the 11th we got a train to Russia. A Russian visa is not easy to acquire. And we were excited to use ours.