The Train from ULAN BATOR to BEIJING

This was written a few days ago now, between Ulan Bator and Beijing. It’s another train story…and truly I do so love these long distance trains. One emerges a bit grumpy and grubby and banged around and exhausted and ever so pleased with oneself. Why is that? I LOVE THESE SNAKY BUMPY CREATURES.

 Another day another train another moment of gazing at world going by outside my window and being very very happy.

I want to finish editing Mongolia before some final philosophizing  about what this journey means to me…but feel the need to express my joy in this enterprise right now…especially after working a little hard at constant joy in Mongolia.

I love trains. Maybe only three days in a row or maybe more days if food planning were a little higher on my list of priorities. This compartment has an easy chair! There are a lower and upper bunk on one side, a table in the middle, and a nook with a comfy reading, staring into space chair. AND an almost private bathroom we share with the compartment on the other side. This is also the cleanest conveyance of any kind I’ve ever been on…the bathroom gets scrubbed at practically every stop, the service is so prompt with hot or cold water, information, small kindnesses. It is Train 124 from Ulan Bator to Beijing and I’m not sure if it’s operated by Mongolia or China. The attendants seem too kind to be Russian or Chinese. So on your next trip…

My compartment mate is a 25-year-old Hungarian getting a Masters in Engineering. My god, they’re everywhere aren’t they, these 25-year-old Engineering grad students?  He’s from Budapest, just finished an internship in Mongolia. His school starts a week before he gets back so he’s stressing a little. Really interesting guy, reminds me a little of one of my favorite engineers named Jonathan. This guy’s name is Balou for short. For long it’s too long. He has a 76-year-old grandmother so he’s very quick to climb to the top bunk, lift things and share food with me in honor of grandmothers everywhere.

I think there are a lot of Chinese going home on the train. Noisier than Mongolians and Russians. Coming here to visit for Chinese must be a little like Americans visiting Australia. Same and different in almost equal measure.

Sometime today we get to the Gobi Desert. Lake Baikal, Ural Mountains, Gobi Desert. Wow. So Balou asked me why I travel. I have lots of answers and no answers. But one solid response is I want to have seen the places I read about in books. When I read Tim Cope’s book about Genghis Khan and the steppes and the Urals and the Gobi my mind’s eye couldn’t quite go there; now it’s feasting on the view.

Nearly 8pm now. Approaching Chinese border. Scenery has been much like that stretch of the 8 that branches off below Phoenix going west. In other words, uninspiring. I guess we only barely touched the edges of the Gobi since no picturesque dune ripples and ridges have appeared. And I so wanted that photo op.

September 6th…the Beijing Hutang Hotel and I got sick this afternoon and got well this evening and was happy and depressed and finally now at 8pm fairly mellow and hopefully sleeping long in my unmoving rather large bed.

I may have just realized how much censorship sucks. Google only sneaks on my computer because I was using Google Mongolia but it mostly will not function at all. There is an approved Chinese search engine that is awful as well. Something to be said for freedom of speech … Much more about Beijing to come… I’m hoping to get to a Starbucks tomorrow evening for some hours to post Mongolian pieces and smell coffee.

I’d post the Chinese character for goodbye here but can’t Google it to get the info.

2 Comments on “The Train from ULAN BATOR to BEIJING

  1. My Hungarian father Kalman would have loved to travel to these places in his lifetime.
    I love your journal Marge. What ever will I look for in my inbox once you’ve finished the Big Trip.

  2. When I see the sweep of these wide open spaces…well, I want to go out there and plant some trees. The spaces between civilization are so interesting…and one of the reasons I like the “empties” as I call the land with few people…is that I like it because it has few people…and it is quiet. civilization is too noisy. Those apartments….with thousands of people in them…well, to me that is modern China and that photo certainly captured it for me.

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