July 17, 2010
Our train ride from Mongolia to China really couldn’t have gone any better. Our friend dropped us off at the train station with our gigantic bags (filled with carpets, tea sets, and paintings) and saw us off. I was giddy when I actually saw the condition of the train. Not only were we in a room with only 4 beds that were spotlessly clean, we had only 3 people in it so the fourth bed was there to accommodate our bags. If we were actually 4 in the cabin, I would have had to spent the entire ride curled up against our rolled Kazakh rug. I just couldn’t believe our luck. I’ve been very concerned about how we will manage with two very full backpacks, two full day pack, and our large rolled carpet. I spent the first several hours just giggling with delight every time I discovered something new on the train. A restaurant car! Clean bathrooms!! TOILET PAPER….for FREE!!!
We spent the first few hours chatting with our cabin mate, a Singaporean Australian, and watching the last of the beautiful Mongolian scenery pass by. Late at night we reached the actual border and it was a bizarre sight. Chinese officers in full dress uniform were saluting the train as we pulled in and full patriotic music blared from the speakers. We were held at the station for a few hours as each carriage got a slight adjustment. From what I understand, the tracks in China are different from those in Mongolia and so each carriage is raised and given the necessary adjustments while all of the passengers stay onboard. The rest of the trip we were just amazed at the difference between the Mongolian side and the Chinese sky. It was shocking how quickly we lost that big, blue Mongolian sky with the vast steppes to the grey, smoggy skies concealing dense Chinese “villages”. When we actually arrived in Beijing’s train station, it quite literally must have had more people in it than all of Ulaan Bataar.
Emerging from the train station, we were in the thick of the crowded Beijing that we recalled from our last time here in 2002…only smoggier, hotter, and more humid. We were impatient to wait on the official taxi stand because our overweight backpacks were unbearable in the weather and our tempers were short. We are always very impatient after long hauls. Our other options to get to the hotel were to take the metro which was a huge unknown on how many stairs and walking we would need to do with the packs on or to deal with the con-artist cabbies. While bickering with some of the cab drivers a beggar woman with who had no fingers came up to me and began to poke me with the remnants of a digit to beg. I gestured to her with my open empty hands to try to show that I had nothing to give and was then humbled since I have all my fingers. I was proud in a strange way because a few years ago dealing with people who have been disfigured would have made me feint. I guess all of these years abroad have desensitized me.
Fairly quickly, I was able to negotiate a price for a ride and we were able to get dropped off at the hostel with no trouble. We arrived at the hostel and immediately put our carpet and one bag in storage and felt a huge sense of relief. We had a few hours to clean up and rest before Bobby’s parents arrived and then enjoy some beautiful Chinese food.