09 July 2009

Beijing to Ulaanbataar


It's always weird to follow a post like my last one. Though, this is where I am in my life right now.

To backtrack, most of you know I spent a little over three weeks in Alaska, post school releasing. The first two I was in Bethel for reading training and Curriculum Committee meetings. I spent a little over a week back in Nunapitchuk after that painting (with help) and doing a marginal bit of organizing in the classroom... and tinkering with the new boat. Then, Tesia and I took a spontaneous trip to Gasquet, California (far NW, just East of Cresent City) for a wedding. The following three weeks I stayed in NC visiting family and friends.

I arrived in Beijing on the evening of 4th. In Chicago, I had a 5-1/2 hour layover. Though, when I went to get my seat, and I was the last person to be issued a ticket, I had a surprise. It wasn't until I was boarding the plane that I found out I was bumped to business class, free of charge. This meant no plastic dishes, free booze, a c-u-s-h chair that included loads of leg room and reclining, and a bubble at the low back that pressed in and out, giving me a massage the whole time. It was worth the wait!

During one of the three days in Beijing we visited The Forbidden City (massive, impressive, and repeatitive). Another day we hiked the Great Wall, away from the usual tourist trap at Badaling, on the 10 km trail to Simitai, a largely unmaintained, delapidating portion of the wall. It was quite beautiful, and a good work out! We took 3 hours to hike that distance on the constantly rolling waves of the dragon's spine. We were all sweating buckets & lucky that it was overcast. There is a highway to Mongolia being built now that will pass under the wall in two places. I don't know when it will be finished. That's a long way from the original plan of the wall, eh?

Another day we bartered for souveiners (and spent a couple hours in the bookstore). Our last night we went to the City Market. There was a strip about a block long with all kinds of foods to buy and try. Some of the more exotic ones included (most all fried in a huge wok): scorpian, crickets, water beetle, silk worm, centapeid, sheep penis, snake skin, eel, cow stomach, organs, fried banana, fried ice cream, pumpkin cakes, candied fruit, bubble tea, cold noodle soup... and the regular chicken, lamb, beef wraps, etc.

Two words I used a lot in Beijing were (she' - shae') meaning "thank you" and (bouy yeow) meaning "no," " I don't want it" or something similar to detour the never ending hagglers. Vicki was pushed a few times, a couple times she pushed back. Her Chinese skills also came back nicely, I must say. It was fun listening to her carry on conversations with people, and she was complemented several times on her inflections being good.

Another enjoyable aspect about Beijing was the parks in the evenings and early morning, when things weren't so hot. We saw a massive (17 x 23 rows of people) practicing Tai Chi, or two in another park, "bomb" card games, eryu music along with fertive singing, some style of birdy hacky, Kung Fu warm ups including cracking chains in the air (this by a 70 something year-old man). I could people watch for months.

I'm in Ulaanbataar, Mongolia as of 2:00 this afternoon. We're meeting our director in the morning (Sat.); then we'll be heading out for the Volunteers For Peace workcamp. Vicki and I were able to take the train from Beijing after all. The Needam (men's games) festival begins tomorrow and there are trains running up here four days a week, as opposed to two. All & all the 33 hour ride went smooth. Our roomates were cool & the beds were comfortable (4 inside each "soft sleeper" room, which is about 6' wide at best). They would randomly locked the bathrooms though, like at the Mongolia border and always at stops. Also, at the border we had a scheduled delay because the gauges on the tracks differ from China in Mongolia, and again in Russia. So they took the train down, changed all the wheels and brought the train back. It took about two hours.

Going through the Gobi Desert was quite dusty. The countryside just outside of Ulaanbataar is gorgeous! There are prominent tall hills just outside of the city even. I love seeing the gers (yurts) among the rolling green hills and livestock scattered about. There really are a lot out there. The gers are even mingled among buildings outside of Ulaanbataar here. A fence runs alongside the railroad from as far as I can remember, maybe the Gobi Desert. It's quite unobtrusive though, a meek bobbed wire fence with posts. Closer to Ulaanbataar they were repairing it. Aside from the cattle herders I saw a woman seated in the grass cutting the square around her. For some reason, I am reminded of the Navajo Rez. Maybe it's the sheep and the desert. I'm excited to get to spend some time with people on a low key level, unlike the rushed bustling city life. It will be nice to interact on a more intimate level with people... and pull weeds (exercise). I've seen enough buildings and cars to last for a while. I'm ready to get out of the city and to the work camp.

I memorized and practiced two words this evening: "sainw" (san oo) meaning "hello" & "bayarlaa" (buy iRtlh laah) meaning "thank you." Many of the sounds we've heard so far seem related to the way Yup'ik sounds are.

A'ite I need to split to shower and sleep, neither of which have been abundant, but that's ok.

I'm wishing productive, happy summer time to all of you out there!

1 comment:

Jim Bennett said...


Nice blog post. There's no doubt that I wish iwas there. Hope you enjoy your work, get to see the manly games, and say hi to Vicki for me.