A Travellerspoint blog

12: English lessons

sunny 24 °C
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Woke up in our comfy Ger this morning and enjoyed a really nice western style breakfast. Before leaving the Ger camp we learned how to shoot a traditional Mongolian bow.. of which I have no talent.. Luckily for me neither did any of the rest of the group!

Returned to UB around lunch time and we immediately set out for a local under privilidged school. The school is for teenagers who are required to work to earn a living and who have left school. They do their schooling at night and on the weekend to try and attain their high school certificate. We attended their English class and we tried to help them improve their English. I had two 15 yo girls who were only too keen to practice their English. Considering they are high school drop outs and only 15 I was pretty impressed with their English.. Today's lesson was on hobbies and out door activities.. which was pretty funny as some of them Mongolian's would never learn these hobbies let alone need to know the English words (ie Surfing or Snorkelling!!!) My two girls actually had pretty good English so we were finished our activities quickly. We spent the rest of the time with them trying to teach me Mongolian (again I have no talent). Mongolian written language looks like Russian but apparently the meaning of words/ syntax etc is nothing like Russian. It is a very gutteral language so i've been struggling to say many of the words with the correct accent and emphasis.

San-ban-yo (it sounds like this) is the word for Hello
Bar-ral-lash is the word for Thankyou
Bar-ral-lach is the word for Good Bye

See the problem! Both thankyou and good bye sound pretty similar but you need to emphasise differently and make sure you roll your r's!!!

We then took off to see how the middle class of UB live. Most of them live in Ger districts (which just means they live in either tents or small houses on about a standard sized house block). The streets are dirt and there is no running water or sewerage to any of these homes. To an outsider you would think they live in a slum but this is actually how the middle class live.. I'd hate to see how the poor people live!! They do have electricity but only for lights and tv/ computer. All cooking and heating is done by burning either wood or coal (so you can imagine the smog in the winter time). And all water needs to be hauled from a central well building to the homes. Toilet is a pit toilet dug out the back! There is very little public transport so surprisingly most Mongolian's actually own a car (imported direct from the second hand market in Japan)..

After lunch we returned back to the hotel and spent the afternoon looking for a bank to change our Mongolian Turgrits for Russian Rubles as tomorrow we are back on the train to go to Russia!

Posted by weary_feet 07:15 Archived in Mongolia Comments (1)

Day 11: City Slickers

semi-overcast 27 °C
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Early start today as we were off to the Ger camp. Ger is a Mongolian word for tent and is used both in the singular and the plural. The Ger camp is in the Terlj National Park.

The journey out to the national park was interesting as the roads are really poor here in Mongolia (think of the worst ungraded road in Aus and you are looking at a pretty good road here in Mongolia!-- it seems that since the Soviets have left Mongolia most of the infrastructure has been left to go to ruin!). The Nat Park is probably less than 60kms from Ulan Bataar but it took us a couple of hours to get there (due to the poor condition of the roads and heavy traffic). On the way to the park we stopped on the side of the road to see an eagle handler and his eagles. The birds were enormous and actually were a little scary.. those birds up close are a site to see!

As i said yesterday the landscape in Mongolia is just incredible and the road out to the National Park was no exception. Rolling greeny/ browny hills dotted with the occasional sheep/ cow/ goat and the usual power lines! We also stopped off at the entrance to the Nat Park where there is a prayer mound (complete with buddist flags) were we needed to pray to the spirits for a good time in the National Park. At the prayer mound we also saw our first yaks! Yaks are incredibly large, hairy cows/ bison. They are beautiful creatures up close but do seem quite a bit grumpier than your average run of the mill cow.

Finally made it into the Nat Park and wow the landscape is just amazing. Leading down into the valley we passed a small tourist type community set on the banks of a river (reminds me of the rivers in the South Island of NZ in Otago.. you know the gold field rivers).. The communities in Mongolia all have different coloured roofs so the communities are really colourful and quite pretty to look at! We wound our way through the valley which is dotted with Ger camps (all for tourists.. no actual nomads live here) and finally arrived at our camp. The vista in the Nat Park is made up of the following- rolling grassy hills (greeny/ browny) strewn with granite boulders and cliffs and occassionally dotted with pine type trees. Just incredible to see... The landscape reminded slightly of what I remember Yosemite National Park to be but without the hoards of tourists.. In fact where our Ger camp was you couldn't see any other people.. "Ahh the serenity!"

Lunch was served at the Ger camp and it would be by far the best food I've had so far on the trip.. Lunch consisted off a beef soup, complete with chunky veges for our first course... Sorry bookie but better than the soup you make! And second course was these meat filled pasties.. absolutely delicious!

After lunch most of the group elected to go for a hike in the surrounding hills.. I had a headache so I decided to have a rest in the sun and send some postcards.

Once the others came back we went for a horse back ride for an hour down the road.. My horse was fairly well behaved and didn't get any faster than a trot so I was feeling fairly secure for my first real ride on a horse! We road traditional Mongolian ponies so some of the boys looked ridiculous just because the pony was so small and they so large!

After returning we did a "Master Dumpling Class" and learned how to make traditional meat filled dumplings (which we subsequently ate).. Wonton wrapper is just plain flour and a little water.. Kneed well, roll into cylinders and then cut cylinders to about 1 inch thick. Squash the little squares into circles and then roll the circles out into thin wanton wrappers (using a circular motion with a rolling pin).. Meat filling was mutton, beef, onion, cubed carrot and potato, garlic, oil and a little soy. Add the filling then pinch the wrapper into either a flower shape or a dinosaur shape. Steam and then serve!

Yum, yum!

Then off to the Ger for a sleep. The Ger is made of wood poles, lattice worked together to form a frame. The frame is covered in felt (for insulation) and finished with water proof canvas to keep out the weather. Inside the Ger there was a fuel stove (for warmth and cooking) and comfortable room for 3 beds with a table and chairs (so quite large). V comfortable and v warm during the night (the night probably got down to about 6 and I wasn't cold at all)

Tomorrow back to Ulan Bataar to see where the ordinary people live.

Posted by weary_feet 06:51 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

Day 10: Contrasts

sunny 22 °C
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When I left the blog yesterday I was just going to sleep and we were waiting for the train to get going again.. We didn't get through customs and immigration for Mongolia until after 1.30pm!! It ended up taking us 5hrs to cross the border between the two countries. Not that surprisingly I slept through the whole thing and was only woken up when immigration/ passport control needed to see my face to confirm who I was!!

Poor old Tracey (one of my travelling companions) was awake through the whole thing and managed the border crossing for me and another of my buddies Karina because both of us where asleep. We've told Tracey that we owe her and we'll manage the border crossing when we board the next leg of the Trans Mongolian to take us to Lake Baikal in Russia. Apparently (I wouldn't know because I slept through the whole thing), that Chinese customs searched the whole cabin looking for illegal stuff being smuggled over the border- they even went to the extent of looking in the roof cavity to see if we had hidden anything!!! Needless to say I had no idea any of this was going on as I slept through the whole lot and only heard about the night's adventures this morning!

During the swap from China to Mongolia we lost our dining car and gained a Mongolian dining car.. The two are chalk and cheese! The Chinese cabin was dreary and reminded me of a hospital cafeteria back in the late 70s and the Mongolian car is covered in intricate wood panelling and plush carpeted seats!!!

Anyway we went down to the dining car with our own breakfast stuff this morning to soak up the ambience and watch the Gobi desert go by! The desert reminds me a lot of the western plains of NSW.. Endless slightly rolling hills that are a yellowy grey colour that just go on and on. We've rediscovered blue sky and white fluffy clouds which is a real treat after the endless browny, twilighty smoggy colour of China. The thing I find most interesting about the Gobi is that the whole desert train track has power lines and full mobile coverage... Now I may be a little slow but no kidding there aren't many people out and about in the Gobi (trust me we would have been lucky to see 20 all morning-- until we hit a town) but we had 5 bars of mobile coverage the whole way!! National broadband eat your heart out!

Slowly the terrain began to become more hilly and we slowly started to go up in altitude towards Ulan Bataar. Mongolia is probably the most interesting terrain I've seen in quite some time. The landscape is breathtakingly beautiful and the houses are quite run down but colourful.. Its an interesting contrast.

There is no contrast greater than that of Ulan Bataar itself. The city has a Louis Vuitton outlet and every second car is a Landcruiser V8 yet the streets are pot hole filled, half of the buildings are almost falling down and definately soviet vintage.. The contrast is just amazing.. Clearly there is quite a bit of money here in the city but I'm damned if I know where they are spending it!! Some of it has been spent to refurbish the parliament building which has a huge statue of Genghis Khan (pronounced Chengis Khan!!) and some has been spent on this ultra modernistic, out of place architectural building but other than that the town looks quite run down and in bad need of some decent cash spent on it!!

So far I'm really loving Mongolia and can't wait to get out on the steppes.. Stay tuned cause that's where we are headed tomorrow!

Posted by weary_feet 07:05 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

Day 9: Making Tracks

sunny 25 °C


V early start this morning as we had to be at the train station by 8am to catch the Trans Mongolian train from Beijing to Ulan Bataar. Our room (there are four of us sharing) is quite cozy as it is probably 2m long and 2m wide and 4m high. We have four bunk beds (two fold out) and we have small storage spaces under the downstairs beds and up in the loft above the upstairs beds. It is cozy but comfortable. There is no showering facilities and we only have one toilet at the end of the train. Boiling water is available but the urn looks like something from the 1920s and it is a little concerning from an OHS perspective. Amazingly our day has gone quite quickly (we don't get off the train til tomorrow morning).

Highlight of today has been our food.. Lunch was a free delicious (I'm exaggerating greatly) 1 course meal of stir fried celery with a bowl of white rice and some small pieces of chicken in soy. We finished off lunch with a coke/ beer (very expensive at 5Y or about 70c).

Dinner was equally inviting with some pork-ish meatballs (very soggy meatbally things that were pretty concerning) and boiled cabbage and a bowl of rice. Dinner was all over by 6pm!! (Lunch sitting was at 11am and Dinner at 5pm). Meals on board are a crack up. The dining car probably seats about 40 or 50 and there are at least 6 times that number of people on board so you only get about 10mins to eat your lunch. The poor lady eating before us got hurried out of her seat and we were sat down whilst she was still eating!!! Only in China!

About 8.30pm we hit the border crossing with Mongolia where we have been stopped for over two hours (at the time of writing) and are changing the bogies on the train-- the rail line in China is wider than the ones in Russia and Mongolia. Pretty interesting the way they hydraulichally jack up the train and remove and replace the wheels.. Surprises the hell out of me that they still do this but when in Rome......

So far has been a really interesting experience. The landscape in China started out as quite mountainous and has ended up being quite arid, flat farm land.. I guess this is the steppes/ Gobi Desert as we are now in Mongolia. Another interesting fact, as we entered the border town we saw these dinosaur shapes off in the distance.. we've since found out (from reading lonely planet) that there are heaps of fossilised dinosaur remains in this part of the world and that it was a tourist attraction... It was so bizzare in the middle of no-where we just started seeing dinosaurs... v bizzare experience. Another point for me to remember is that for at least the last 4hrs the air has been thick with dirt and dust from the desert.. yet somehow I'm not continually sneezing!! coughing yes (on and off) but not sneezing.... somehow i'm just not allergic to pollution or dust!!!

Its now 10.30 and we've finished changing wheels and we are re-hitching up the trains.. another passport check and we should be on our way. We will wake up in Mongolia tomorrow with us arriving in Ulan Bataar about 1pm tomorrow arvo.. So far i'm really enjoying train travel-- i've got some great travelling buddies and we've had a great time just chatting and playing cards!

Posted by weary_feet 07:03 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

Day 8: How great is Great?

sunny 28 °C
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Had an absolutely awesome day.

Spent the first day of my tour on the Great Wall. The wall is just phenomenal.. not just in size but in its location as well! The wall is built on top of this sheer escarpment and the scale of it is just incredible. At last count the wall was over 8000kms long.. that is the double the width of Australia!!!!! How incredible it must have been in its hey day???

Was a bit of a steep climb to get up to the wall but once you are on it, it is fairly easy going. The watch houses are spaced approx every 100m or so, so you get such a varied vista as you walk along the wall. Disappointingly the pollution was quite excessive today so the visibility of the surrounding mountains was quite poor. On a plus, the number of visitors to the wall today was quite low (at times we were the only ones walking along!!!)

The great wall definitely lived up to its name and was a definite highlight for me of my time in Beijing.

The afternoon was free so caught up on some rest and went shopping for tomorrow's start on the Trans Mongolian (Mongolian at this stage Siberian later on). Apparently the food is inedible on board so spent an hour or so in the supermarket buying some staples to keep me nourished (probably not super healthy but fed) during the trip. I think by the end of the trip I'm going to be sorely needing a decent feed of steak and veges.

Spent the evening in the night market checking out live scorpions and snakes for sale.. Needless to say I didn't purchase much to eat!! I draw the line at something either looking at me or still moving! Apparently snake tastes like chicken (one of the guys bought some)--- doesn't everything taste like chicken?? The scorpion tasted like the outside of crispy duck... the crispy bit (apparently).

Time to go to bed.. Am going to probably be out of touch for a few days so will upload photos and more blogs later in trip.

Posted by weary_feet 07:24 Archived in China Comments (1)

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