My side of the story is, admittedly, the backside. I'm often left in the dark and infer much of what I know. I hadn't seen Beau for almost three weeks at the time in which he showed up in Ulaanbaatar and began inquiring about me. I dare say that I was as happy to see him as he was to see me. I was getting bored there. Ulaanbaatar isn't that great of a city. Beau got bored there too after his return. When we met again, I was ready for action but I could tell that he needed a rest. We both got what we wanted, and in that regard neither of us were happy. I got to move around and explore the city, and I heard stories of how Beau passed his time.
On his first night back, Beau had apparently gone to dinner and then clubbing with his new Israeli friend. I inferred that he had had a good time since he didn't return until 3:30 in the morning. I heard later that he was forcibly propositioned by three very large, very drunk, gay Mongolian men that night, two of whom unzipped their pants in public, one of which took off his shirt and one of which tried to start a fight as he walked away.
The next day he left me at home while he visited the infamous "Black Market". It's not a place where illegal goods are bought and traded, rather a place where cheap but not inexpensive Chinese products are hawked, like most markets in Asia. I suppose it's for the better that I didn't accompany him as someone had managed to unzip the outside of the smaller pack that he had brought with him before he even made it to the market. Nothing was taken but I suspect that if I was there we would have come to fisticuffs.
The next couple days passed quickly and I saw a lot of Beau. Then, unexpectedly—I think due to Beau forgetting the date to be quite honest—we left; back from whence we had come. A 29hr train ride from Ulaanbaatar put us in Hohhot, China. Out of Outer Mongolia and back in Inner Mongolia. Did I mention that I love Mongolian trains? There's always plenty of space for both me and Beau, even when we're sharing a cabin with a family who's moving their entire (Chinese) house in their luggage and haven't purchased tickets for their kids.
Stepping off the train from Mongolia to China is like when Dorthy exits the cottage, you hear the first "kaching" of Money, and the drugs begin to take hold. At 2.8 million people, Hohhot is an insignificant sized Chinese city yet has the exact same (estimated) population as Mongolia, and probably uses as much power in one city block—with it's rapidly changing technicolor buildings—as the entire country of Mongolia.
Oh the differences. The people, the food, the smells. Things were open past nine o'clock. The air was putrid and stung. There were people out and about everywhere. I got the distinct impression that we were the only nomads in town. That night we had a home. A real home. Someones home. We stayed with someone Beau had found on CouchSurfing. He proved to be an excellent host and spent the entire next day showing Beau around the city and helping him run errands.
Seemingly as soon as we arrived, we were gone. Back on another train. But this time it was a Chinese train. Did I tell you that I don't like Chinese trains? The air was hot and thick when we boarded. The windows on Chinese trains don't open, unlike their Mongolian brothers. The car was overstuffed and I was forced to sit on the floor. Now I've been around and I've rested in some pretty gross places, and I like to think that I can travel as well as anyone—after all, I've been most places Beau has for the last eight years and gone through whatever he's gone through, and never a complaint—but the floor of a Chinese hard seat car was the worst.
An hour after we started moving I felt the light splash of liquid. I looked at the table to see what was dripping. Nothing was. Instead it was the young boy, not toddler or baby, on the lap of the woman across from Beau who was openly urinating on the floor. His lack of undergarments made this particularly easy. Did the women try to stop him, scold him or somehow catch the deluge? No. When it was over, did she make an effort to clean it up or call the cleaning crew on the train? No. She just grimaced a fake displeasure of non-ignominy and pretended it didn't happen. Did anyone else do anything? No. For the next hour I watched as the puddle grew closer and closer to me. As it was just upon me Beau spotted a space in the overhead rack made by an alighting passengers luggage, and helped me squeeze up in there. It wasn't comfortable and I look kinda goofy up there alongside all the suitcases, but it was better than the floor. For the next seventeen hours I could smell the urine even up there.
Eventually it was over, we were off the train and it was starting to rain. We quickly boarded a bus. I hate buses. I'm always in the way and I can tell that Beau is overly concerned about me. I'm usually anxious for the entire ride. It wasn't a long journey into town and shortly after disembarking Beau shielded me with a rain cover. Where was the waterproof poncho when I was on floor of the train? I don't know exactly what happened next, but there were obvious signs of Beau trying to hurdle over a language barrier and then I felt a bumpy rise in elevation. When the rain cover was removed I was in a dingy hotel room where neither the internet or outlets worked, the toilet didn't have a cover and the window to the adjacent busy street didn't close, deafening the room with horns. I remember thinking: "This is the Economic powerhouse that countries are worried about? This is the legacy of a great empire? This country is more modern than most in Southeast Asia? I seem to remember the internet always working and the kids being potty trained at the begging of this trip."
The next day started rough. The hotel turned us out early, which in the end may have been best since we spent a good portion of the morning going to different phone stores in an attempt to get a reasonable Chinese SIM card. I hate being dragged along on those kinds of errands. I don't do any good and I have to just sit there and be patient and watch Beau get more and more frustrated with the unnecessary difficulty of it all. Alas, we were on to bigger and better things that afternoon.
Beau took me along with him to see the Danxia landforms outside of Zhangye. He doesn't usually take me on trips like that, and while I think I was mostly a burden, he didn't seem to mind having me along that much and I certainly enjoyed being there. I wonder if Dr. Seuss had traveled their in his youth. Perhaps that was the inspiration for "Oh, The Places You'll Go".
It wasn't long after the Danxia that I found myself in the hold of a bus on its way to Jiayuguan, the very end of The Great Wall of China. I was happy to be in the luggage compartment as the fumes from the bus were less vial than the low-hanging smog outside. We were delayed en-route and didn't arrive at the edge of town until at night. At that hour the sidewalks were ablaze with sacrifices being made to peoples ancestors. The temperature was nice. I always feel better when it's fair outside, I suppose because I know that shelter won't be a life-or-death issue. As it were, we walked around town for almost an hour in search of a hotel and were about to sleep in the park when I nice Chinese kid jogging by helped us find a place to stay.
The next day I stayed at the hotel while Beau went to go visit the great wall. I surmise that he went to the two sections further from town, and must have walked as it couldn't have possibly taken him that long to return had he hired a taxi. I think he may have learned how to deal with the Great Wall of China while he was in Mongolia. I wonder if he snuck into the park, at times scaling the different walls. Perhaps part of the reason he was so late in coming back is that he found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, his forbidden path blocked by a military academy parade escorted by police cars. I wish he wouldn't have worn that bright yellow shirt when he left in the morning. Oh well, he came back safe and sound as he always does. You'd think I'd be used it all by now and wouldn't worry, but I suppose I'm just too attached to Beau.
A note from Beau about the pictures on this site: None of the photos on this blog are ever color corrected or color enhanced. The most I'll do is crop images or remove the occasional power lines from a double rainbow. The Danxia Landforms pictures found here and elsewhere online are authentic, but a bit misleading. The pictures you don't see are the ones showing the relatively small area that the landforms cover or the roads, paths, power lines and platforms winding throughout them.Soundtrack: Up Around the Bend (Creedence Clearwater Revival)