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A ride on the Trans-Mongolian Railway

After one of the unfriendliest cab drivers I’ve encountered in Beijing refused to drive me a bit closer to the entrance of the station I heaved my 23kg heavy and 30 years old Samsonite out of the trunk and into the rain.

My backpack on and another bag with food on one arm I started the long way from the taxi stand over a seemingly useless open space to the Beijing train station. With the exception of my wonderful friend and hostess Marlen who graciously fulfilled one of my food wishes and had her second Beijing Duck of the week Beijing had been quite unfriendly.

The Capital always feels a bit unfriendly after coming from Chengdu, where people are still not as accustomed to foreigners and therefore much more curious and the general attitude seems more relaxed and friendly.

However this time it seemed less friendly than last year, which might have to do with a British tourist trying to rape a Chinese girl on the open street in Beijing. Internet sites and Weibo (the Chinese Twitter) are full of people letting out their anger that quickly turned into anger against all foreigners instead of just the person in question.

Be that as it may, I was excited to start a journey that I’ve been dreaming of doing for quite a few years. Even the overpriced dumpling soup I had for breakfast couldn’t spoil that, nor the girl in the shop who said she couldn’t have a look at my luggage when I had to go all the way back to the bigger waiting hall to buy a phone card.

The waiting area was already packed, mainly with foreigners, so I wasn’t too surprised when I entered my train compartment and soon after two fellow laowais joined me. It turned out they were German too, Christina and Sebastian.

I had planned to get some work done on the train, but that was almost impossible as there were good conversations and fantastic vistas to be enjoyed, not to speak of a few naps. I love sleeping on the train, the movement and sounds seem so cozy and the feeling of moving towards a new adventure always makes me fall asleep with a big smile on my face.

The staff were mostly from northern China and not Mongolia, thus giving me a few more hours of being able to converse and also to order the three of us some beer, that when we asked first was sold out but after a bit of Chinese on my side a secret crate tucked away under a seat in the restaurant was found.

The landscape grew more and more sparse and the mines and factories got more. By the time we reached the Chinese-Mongolian border it was already night and after handing over our passports we were allowed to get off the train and get some late night dinner.

The lady who ran the restaurant was very relieved when she found out I spoke Chinese and immediately asked me to ask the other foreigner table what they wanted. I gladly went over and with a grin asked ‘Good Evening, I will be your waitress tonight, what would you like to eat?’ The family at the table was as relieved as the waitress to have some translation and I was in my element ordering dishes for them.

After a good meal, some baijiu, a bit more grocery shopping and some waiting to be let on the train again we staggered back into our compartment and once we got our passports immediately fell asleep. This sweet slumber didn’t last long as we were suddenly woken up by a harsh order to wake up and show our passports.

Luckily the fierce looking immigration lady didn’t take long and soon we fell back asleep as we rolled into Mongolian lands.

The next morning we spent glued to the windows as hilly steppe with occasional yurts and horses rolled by the window. At noon we reached the capital of Mongolia, Ulan Bateer. Everything reminded me slightly of Buryatia in Siberia, though a bit more wild and a larger.

Since my couchsurfing host didn’t show up and I had no way to call him I just followed Christina and Sebastian to their hostel which turned out to be more of a homestay with my bed being in a four person room behind their kitchen.

As I have always experienced it when traveling we soon were a group of five going for lunch and then trying on traditional Mongolian clothing in the department store. What a great start to my Mongolian Adventure.


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