Friday, October 03, 2014

Sleeper Car!

Oh how fantastic! It turns out I have my OWN sleeper car. Beijing to Shanghai. There are four beds but noone else is here and the train leaves in 10 minutes! And so clean and nice! They even serve hot tea!

So my trip is drawing to a close. In 12 hours, the train will arrive in Shanghai. I'll ride the subway two stops to my apartment, shower, change, and head to work!

So I'm glad it's such a nice sleeper car. I truly think I will get a great night's sleep!

Galloping Over The Mongolian Plains!!

I'm in traffic in Ulan Batuur, Mongolia. Heading to the airport. 

Greetings from a country almost the size of the US, but with a population of just 3 million. NYC alone has a population of 9 million. From a country where the people are a gorgeous and exotic mix of Asian and European: the country is right between China and Russia and... that's basically what Mongolians look like. The girls are very sexy and beautiful; the men distinguished and charming. 

Greetings from a country where half the cars have steering wheels on the left side of the car; and the other half, the right.  A place where cows, horses, sheep, and dogs run free en masse.  I mean: EN MASSE.  Where Yurts are absolutely everywhere!  Where mountains, rivers, plains, clear blue skies, and puffy white clouds abound in every direction. Where Mongolian cowboys can be seen herding cattle; where eagles soar; where Cyrillic is everywhere, but no Russian is spoken: it is all Mongolian!

Truly: this must be what the what the Wild West looked like back in the US. Upon landing, I found a driver who took me an hour away to Terelj--to what was the most wild and remote place I've seen in years. The drive over there reminded me of Iraq, but with mountains and grassy plains. I can see why Mongolia is compared to Switzerland: it IS that beautiful, and it reminded me of my years there. Funny: this place reminds me of Iraq, Seitzerland, and the Wild West--all at the same time! Haha!  I also got to hold a HUGE golden eagle on my hand with a gauntlet. Wow. So heavy. So majestic!

In Terelj, I did what I came to do: gallop through the Mongol plains on horseback!  I hadn't galloped in years!  So fun!  And so exhausting: cardio; legs; BUTT!  It took me a moment to readjust to riding. I forgot that you have to basically standup when galloping and use your knees as springs. But once I did: giddiup!  SO AMAZING! SO FAST!  and.... so worth the expense of coming here for just one day. This memory will never die. 

I had lunch in a yurt restaurant near the horse place (and the breathtaking Turtle Rock). I ended up talking to one guy in Chinese and when his father discovered I could speak Chinese, he invited me and his driver to sit with his group and we all had a nice lunch speaking Chinese.  They too were on vacation here in Mongolia. 

After riding, I went back to UB (which is what they call the city here) and found the hostel. I met up with this girl Odmaa at the famous State Department Store. She is Mongolian and studied in Alabama for a year. She helped me at the airport to tell the driver what I needed thanks to her language skills. So she met up with me and showed me around the store and helped me buy some souvenirs (and two Mongolian language books!) and then we had Cinnabon and pizza together afterwards. 

I finally went back to my hostel, got ready for bed, and here I am now at 9:46 am at the airport (we finally arrived).  Just about 24 hours after I arrived here. 

It's truly amazing: This trip has only been two days. It is AMAZING what one can do in just two days. Truly amazing. AMAZING!

Next stop: Beijing!  The Forbidden City! 


Wednesday, October 01, 2014

In the Army Now... Again

It's 4:47am.

Woke up 10 minutes ago.

Dead quiet.


An it reminds me so much of my army days.


I will be leaving in 15 minutes for Beijing. Should arrive at 7am at the airport. Next stop: MONGOLIA!

One note: here, no one speaks any English. My guide spoke a little but my Chinese is actually far better than his English. So for three hours, during the entire hike, we spoke in Chinese. Talking about everything: the weather; Chinese history, my army days, our jobs, our families, and even... Game of Thrones haha. (It was hard not to feel like a member of the Night's Watch haha).

Ok, quick pitch black shower time! I wonder what language is spoken in Mongolia. Is it Russian? Chinese? Is there a Mongolian language?

The Great Wall

I just returned from a breathtaking backwoods hike of the Great Wall.

This place is VERY far from Beijing. I had to take the subway; then a commuter bus; then a driver took me another half hour.  It's on a farm right in the mountains. I paid a guide to take me on a three-hour hike of the wall. He's the one who took the photos of me. He is the son of the owner of the farm. 

It's called and a friend told me about it but he hasn't come here yet. It's really cool!!  And NO TOURISTS AT ALL!  I am really truly in the middle of nowhere!  And I love it!  

The hike was AMAZING. All the tourists are mobbing the five or six rebuilt parts of the wall near Beijing. This expanse of the wall here is much farther away, but absolutely untouched since 500AD apparently.  From the Ming Dynasty. But when was the Ming Dynasty?  I thought from the 1200s...  Not sure. 

Anyway, it is so historical.  So genuine. So charming.  It makes me feel like I have stepped back hundreds of years. Thousands of years. Even though it wa raining and totally foggy, I loved it. In fact, the rain and the cold are what made it so fun!  And I took a small piece with me. A small jagged piece of stone that was genuinely a part of the wall. What a cool souvenir. 

Right now, I'm in my room. Three beds. And drafty windows. No heat. And it's cold. And damp.  Like a one-star hostel. And yet: I LOVE IT.  There is a group of foreigners in the adjacent room--the farm is laid out like a courtyard with the 'farm' in the center and the house surrounding the farm/garden on four side. VERY small. Charming. Lovely. And I'm by myself, but I don't feel alone. I hear the ten or so foreigners all laughing together and... I don't care! I am so content here by myself, in my long underwear, eating the huge among of home cooked dishes the mother of the house made for me. Rice, warm tea, eggplant, fried eggs, Chinese vegetables, raw almonds, all so yummy!!!  And with the cold room; the drafty windows that let the sound of the rain come through loud and clear, and the general awesomeness of the place, I feel great. Like I'm camping in the Chinese mountains.  I can't believe I am literally sleeping at the base of the Great Wall of China!  This is amazing!

As for tomorrow? I'm waking up at 4am and flying to Ulan Batuur in Mongolia. It is already cold here in Beijing; it's gonna be FREEZING in Mongolia!!  It is 8pm now. I am going to jump into bed with the many many blanket they gave me and try to get to sleep since I have such an early wakeup. 

And the adventure continues!  So hard to believe I was in Shanghai this morning in my apartment. Now I am going to sleep with the Great Wall outside my window. Truly truly amazing!


On the train!

I made it onto the train. G104 high-speed train to Beijing South Railway Station. Departing from Shanghai.

Taking the subway from People's Square took about 30 minutes. Gosh, that train was packed! And to indicate how much train travel happens here: the stop before the train station was one of the airports. Almost no one got off. When we arrived at the train station, nearly everyone disembarked. And what a crowd indeed.

I am sitting in my first class seat now. No one sitting next to me. And... the train just started to move! Yippee! Off we go!

I'm in 1st class because all coach ticket were sold out. I only decided to go about a week ago. I'm glad it all worked out though. Many tell me that I'm wasting my money for all this transportation for just three days. But when else will I get these opportunities to visit the Great Wall? Mongolia? The answer: maybe never.

I'm so proud and excited of my Chinese progress. I can actually understand the announcements on the trains fairly well. Enough to know what they are talking about. Cool stuff!

And... it isn't raining! So perhaps all will be well once I hit the Great Wall.

Gosh, this train is already going reaallllyyy fast...

I only got four hours sleep. I figured I'd be more tired now. But not! Oh cool: the food cart comes to ME in first class. How awesome. See: everything works out.

If you'll excuse me, I am going to order some food. Until soon!