September 10, 2005

The Russian Experience (part 4) – Into China!

Hello from smoggy China!

It's been quite a while since I last sent out an update, so I thought it would be time for me to send out yet another mammoth blog. I apologise for any discomfort felt for sitting reading for so long, or if it induces any suicidal tendencies.

Day 14: Arrival in Ulan-Uday, our last sight in Russia. We went to a Buddhist monastery here with an uncannily lifelike Buddha (the guards asked for its passport when it was imported from Mongolia) before going to a Ger (a tent thingy that locals live in) having a fantastic meal with lots of alcohol before having a go at archery: probably the wrong way round! In the evening we saw a giant Lenin head (biggest stone head in the world) before drinking some very cheap beer (46p a pint from a bar).

Day 15: Another monastery: very very touristy this time though with sky satellite dishes at every house and lots of overpriced souvenirs. I cursed myself for life by accidentally turning a prayer-wheel anticlockwise, so I made sure I turned every other many times in the right direction! Didn't do much else for the day except go for a quick wander and drink a couple more cheap beers.

Day 16: Train to Mongolia today. It took 9 hours to cross the border and at one point while Tim was taking a walk outside the train pulled off. Luckily it was just changing the number of carriages, otherwise he'd still be in Russia now! One note: never, ever, ever drink with nurses, the stories they tell you are extremely revealing and more than slightly disturbing!

Day 17: Arrived in Ulanbaatar, capital of Mongolia. After a quick tour of the city where we finally went to a good, working monastery with an absolutely ginormous Buddha statue, we went to a working Ger camp. Here me and Tim went for a long walk over the mountains, did a little more archery (I was better before after the drinks) and I wrestled Tim in the Mongolian style. I still have a bit of a black eye and Tim couldn't feel his back until we arrived in China!

Day 18: Another day at the Ger. We went horse riding, which I thought I was very good at until suddenly my horse bolted straight across everyone else's path. Very scary, and after that I had to be a lot more careful (was pulled for quite a bit of it while the horse calmed down). Later we tried mare's milk (disgusting) and went out to look at the stars (amazing!).

Day 19: Early in the day we returned to Ulanbaatar. If you're ever there, I'd recommend going to see the contortionists and throat singers: one of the most impressive performances I've ever seen. While in the capital of Mongolia we also visited an absolutely enormous market selling everything from circular saws to baths to every accessory you would need for your ger! We didn't buy anything in the end, though both Andy and Tim had people not very subtly try to pick-pocket them. In the evening we went with some of the others we've met on this trip for a few drinks at an Irish Bar. I'm still to go to a non-European bar this trip…

Day 20: On the train to Beijing: read my book most of the day as we weaved through the Mongolian desert. As it was the final evening we'd be with Bo and Tanya (the Aussie nurses); Ralph (pronounced Rayph) and Harry ('the Eton boys'); and Maryse (a cryptologist) we had a few drinks together to pass the time. It must be the first time I've ever crossed a border while completely drunk…

Day 21: Arrival in Beijing! We passed the Great Wall, weaving round and under it on our journey from Mongolia: we're going to see it properly on Monday. Beijing itself is quite nice even though we arrived to ticket touts and people trying to extort us. For example we got a taxi to the hostel, deciding to go for a metered one rather than the slightly more illegal ones that locals were trying to drag us to. When we got in the taxi though and set off, there was no meter and the driver took the taxi sign off the roof, we were hoping we weren't just going to be taken to a labour camp!

Later in the day after checking in to our horrid hostel we went on a wonder. Tim got chatted up by a local who took us to see her art gallery, and we all ended up spending quite a lot of money on very nice paintings. For dinner we went to a local fried duck restaurant and had exceedingly big and extremely nice portions of freshly beheaded duck. After a long day we retired to sleep, I was starting to feel slightly dodgy…

Day 22: I'm regretting last night's not-quite-so-fabulous meal today, and as a consequence have found myself visiting almost every toilet in the Forbidden City, including the one that has achieved that elusive 4* rating from Beijing's toilet committee! The city itself is quite interesting, but there is not that much to do there except see the same type of architecture many times, though I was probably just being less attentive than normal as my mind was more on where the next toilet was than if a temple was of the rising or setting sun…

Right, off for now then, I'm off to use the toilet!

Sam


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