Ulan Bator / Beijing
Slept in, then grabbed cab to the Zaisan monument. Big, like those commies liked. Then to the Winter palace. Walked back to hotel. Kept room a few hours longer, relaxing before airport.
As we approached the end of the winter palace tour, a man saw us and started waving. We went into the main building and saw the last of the sights. Exiting the Palace, the man ran over to us, handing us each a note saying that his wife and 4 children had died when their house burned down 2 years ago. “Money,” he shouted and handed Stig a bunch of postcards.“Wife, children, dead in fire,” he continued and contorted his face into a grimace that I take it was to imply bereavement, but looked more like a strenuous bowel movement. “Sorry,” Stig said and tried handing the postcards back unsuccessfully. “Russian money, American money,” the man went on, growing more agitated. “Dollars,” he added helpfully, if menacingly. “Ulanbataar bad place,” he shouted, “Very bad place. Money,” and stuck out his hand again. “Pickpocket, Ulanbataar bad place,” he spat. Stig kept saying “Sorry” and handed the man his postcards. Finally, we could leave. So far, this was the only instance of aggressive begging we’d encountered. Mongolia, as a matter of fact, was laid back this way. Everyone accepted “no” for an answer.
15 minutes before we were to leave for the airport, the heavens opened. UB completely disappeared from sight. Checking out, it let up a tad, but it was still pissing down. The cab we asked the hotel to order arrived. The windows were completely fogged up, and the driver would wipe it once in a while so he could see where he was going. Thankfully, he wasn’t driving as fast as usual, but not being able to see anything, I sat in the back and hoped for the best. I wiped the window every now and then and was amazed at how much water had come down; some places looked like they’d been hit by a flash flood. The the hail started. It was only a quick shower, but it still made noise.
We made it safely to the airport. Most of the flights were delayed, so it was a bit of a mess. I asked some English travelers were we checked in, and he said it was on the other side of the first security checkpoint. So we got in line. Turns out were in the wrong line, and had to wait until the Beijing flights started check-in.
We finally made it in. There were a few souvenir shops and some duty-free booze and smoke stores and that was about that. There was no currency exchange either. We didn’t know then, but we could’t change our remaining Mongolian money to Yuan in Beijing. This was my bright idea, as it made sense to me to maybe buy something at the airport, if only a coffee or a beer.
Back in Beijing, it was smooth sailing. Unfortunately, Stig was coming down with the sniffles, and while I hoped we hadn’t somehow contracted Swine flu, it was still a problem. We decided to go western and headed to the McDonald’s on the corner. I know you’re not supposed to, but we’ve eaten local stuff, even Mongolian, for a week straight, and every now and then, it’s excusable to re-enter your comfort zone. An early night (for me, not so much, as I couldn’t sleep until early morning) and then a day of waiting until the train ride to Xian.
At this point, we’d toured and traveled for 8 days straight, so a day of resting seemed acceptable. After all, even the Good Lord him/herself had to take a day off.
Don’t ask. The file says “04:38 AM”