Beijing or Bust: 25 July 2006 (Tuesday)

I am currently on the plane winging my way to Bejing, China. This definitely was not how I pictured arriving in Beijing, but “them’s be the breaks”! Mongolian Airlines and the Mongolian airport have been incredibly efficient, clean, new and impressive. The plane is a rather spanking new Boeing 737-800 and the service of the stewardesses smiling and cheerful. The flight was also on time. Robin is on the same plane as me and caused quite the ruckus at the gate. He had been unable to find his boarding card or (at one point) his passport much to his, mine and the officials horrors. Thankfully his brains returned to him from wherever it had momentarily fled.

Lori saved my life. Today was a day of goodbye’s and souvenir shopping. After saying our farewells to Scott in mid-morning, we had gone to find some cashmere sweaters for two of Lori’s gay friends. I am sure the sales people thought we were mad as we poured meticulously over some incredibly bright-coloured clothes. After all that, we had gone to get some food. To understand what happened next, I need to tell you the story of the Ulaanbaatar underground children. During a particularly bad winter a few years ago, some rural families had sent their young children to Ulaanbaatar to prevent starvation. These children had taken residence in the underground tunnels containing the heating pipes for the city’s buildings. Since then they roamed the streets by day and entered their private city through manholes during the night. As such many manholes were simply left uncovered.

In a gentlemanly manner I exited the taxi with my back turned to the pavement. As my foot entered thin air not hitting the ground as expected, I heard shrill screams from the taxi and a panicked grab at my arm by Lori who pulled me back. I turned to see an open manhole that I had put my foot into. Had Lori not grabbed me, I would likely have fallen ten feet or more and banged myself up completely (or much worse) on the jagged pipes inside. Thank goodness for Lori.

Nevertheless, all is done. We have directions and itineraries prepared by master guide Robin for our brief stay in Beijing. Sarah needs to apply and obtain a Chinese visa in UB, whereupon she will fly out and join us. Scott, of course has gone on ahead. I’m supposed to meet him at Downtown Backpackers, a hostel that Robin has given directions to. Scott will be staying at the Grand Hyatt (lucky him) from tomorrow onwards. The directions to Downtown Backpackers are a little dodgy involving telling the taxi to stop at a Kodak sign. Luckily for me, Robin has kindly consented to drop me off on his way home.

Mind you, it did take us quite a bit of time to get to the airport with a taxi. Robin’s attempts at extending his arms and making airplane noises was so impressive, the taxi driver tried to take us to the train station. Robin did come up with a good idea of calling a friend and getting him to explain where we wanted to go to the hapless driver. So finally here I am at 30,000 ft on my way to Beijing, China. I have a week and a half before finishing this 10,000km journey across Europe, Russia and Central Asia.


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