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Archive for May, 2009

The Bulgan province…

The front of beyond...

Beijing was the city of bicycles and constant tourist traps. Ulaanbaatar is the city of constantly polished four-wheel drives and unmarked, open manhole covers in the middle of the street.

It’s a pretty ugly place, a place where the nomads have definitely been forced to settle. The people who fill the streets look pissed off to be here. It’s like some wild west outpost, but with even less charm.

Today I went to the market with a French couple for them to find some rope and some “cheap but not bitchy” shoes and for me to get me some riding boots.  In the end they cost me 30,000 tukrug (15 Euros).

I’m heading off into the Bulgan province for six days tomorrow.  No Internet. No phones. Just some nomads, horses, gers and two pairs of clean pants…

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My Mongolian posse

Mongolian Backstreet BoysThe Mongolian Girls Aloud

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The Zaisan Monument

Always the Mongolian bridesmaid, never the bride...I’m sitting behind a big golden Buddha on the outskirts of town.

School children are running around the base. Half of them are praying intently, the other half are boys chasing girls. There are no threatening looks here, just an amazing blue sky. I could sit here all day. Behind me is the Zaisan monument.

The Zaisan monument is apparently a testament to the achievements of the communists during the soviet era. It’s very pretty.  A wedding party were having their photo taken when I eventually got to the top. I had my photo taken with a very enthusiastic bridesmaid, then another. Then came the school trips.

I wandered around with my light meter and my Lomo weighing down around my neck and the wind blasting back my hairline. I felt people behind me and turned around several times only to find children scattering suspiciously. They eventually plucked up enough courage to ask me for permission to have their photo taken with me rather than doing it paparazzi-style.  I was alone taking photos for about five minutes before the next school trip arrived and we all went through the same again…

That night an Irishman taught me some useful Mongolian. “Tombox”, it means “Fat-arse”.

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...taken whilst sat in bird shit...I got worried this morning after being told by a bloke in a forum about what there is at the Khongor dunes…nowt.

I’m going to be there for six days, with a tent.

But then I remembered that I’ve got some accommodation sorted for half that time in a ger camp.

The forum bloke liked the idea of taking it more slowly than normal and finding nomadic families to stay with/help out. I like that idea, but I’m still glad I’ve got at least some time in the camp.

I’m a bit worried about food and water, but I want my time alone in the dunes…

After leaving the hostel for the second time today, I wandered around and found the Gandan Tegchlen monastery. As with every other temple I’ve seen recently, the best part is what was going on around the outside.

A little square full of pigeons, families feeding them and little poor kids selling them bags of seed. They weren’t pushy like in China, and seemed more genuine. I hung around just watching for ages, then got out my Lomo (big panoramic camera), cos big blue skies full of pigeons look good in wide-screen. I think I probably got several good pictures of empty blue.

So far, Mongolia hasn’t been the paradise that I’d expected, but I supposed it’s only Ulaanbaatar and it’s just the first full day. Besides, those hills over there look interesting…

Oh yes, the food is f@#king gorgeous.

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The train

hide and seek professional

It took about two hours to cross the Chinese side of the border, then another two on the Mongolian side.

I’m starting to worry about how well I’m going to be received here. During the border crossing, a Mongolian bloke from a compartment further down the hall came up to me and shouted “Whites no! F@#k you!”. I wasn’t expecting that.

On the other hand, I think I may have made a friend for life. A little Mongolian girl two compartments down from us. She copied everything I did whilst laughing her head off and we passed the time with several hide and seek marathons.

When we finally arrived in Ulaanbaatar, I got off the train so fast that I didn’t have time to say goodbye to her.

I didn’t even ask her name.

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Goodbye Beijing…

My little hutongFriday, 15th May

I’m leaving for Mongolia tomorrow morning at 7:45am.

Some bloke in shabby clothes and a worn out dinner jacket has just stopped in his tracks, looked at me as I walked towards him, pointed at me and with the biggest smile you can imagine said “Hallo!”, pointed again, smiled and I think he gave me a thumbs up. I smiled, said hello back and kept on walking.

He’s the second person to say hello just to say hello (and not want to sell me something/con me/chat me up). The first was the first Chinese person I met here. I don’t even know her name. She just chatted to me in the bus queue and told me where to get off.

It’s my last day in Beijing and that smiley man has ended it perfectly.

I’m walking down my little Hutong, back to the hostal to pay the bill. It’s probably the last time I’ll do it. Past the constanltly burning food stalls, past the big pile of rubble with builders buzzing around it, past the two old ladies who sit and chat on the corner, the market with a thousand eggs out front and the woman who is constantly throwing out gallons and gallons of dirty water. Round the corner of the Chinese lady’s miniscule vegetable garden that she looks after as if it were a child with a look of enormous pride on her face,. Past the brill grandad fixing his bicycle/trailer contraption and painting it green with his wife standing behind him watching with a big smile on her face, and now I’m nearly back, I just stopped to write it down.

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The Great Wall

...tower number 17...Thursday, 14th May

I’m sitting at the end of my part of the Great Wall of China having just downed two bottle of ice tea after shaking my head and wagging my finger at about thirty different men and women trying to sell me beer, water and t-shirts along the 4 hour trek. I mistook a ticket checker for one of them and she had to come running after me shouting “ticket, ticket!” at me. I made up with her afterwards and showed her my Lomo camera.

I took too many Photos. I had to look at my feet a lot to avoid breaking my neck on the 45 degree sloping steps.

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