I landed in Beijing with a backpack full of clothes and a scrap of paper bearing the address of a guesthouse I found online. I knew my sister Sarah would be arriving soon, but we hadn’t set a solid time/place to meet up. I looked around for any fellow travelers who seemed to have a better idea of where they were going and met Noor from Amsterdam. She at least had an address written in Chinese - no one was able to read my english one - so I followed her onto a bus headed for the city center figuring that would be closer, at least, to my destination than the airport.
The bus did take us right where we wanted to go, but a nearby “friendly” rickshaw pilot convinced us otherwise. We paid him a small amount to take us to the hostel, but of course we didn’t get there before he showed us a “much better” one and a brief argument. At least we got a quick tour of central Beijing complete with hair-raising traffic maneuvers. Noor had arrived in Biejing after having already spent some time in Shanghai. Her Mandarin-Chinese vocabulary consists of “Hello,” Thank You,” and “Keep you eyes on the road,” all three of which get plenty of use.
The hostel turned out to be a massive YHA “tourist ghetto” style thing - hundreds of rooms, ok prices, no character whatsoever. It was good enough for a night, though, and I was tired so I took a room. Noor and I found a cheap, simple dinner at a late-night food place and I told her my story about just having left Bangkok that morning. I was feeling really down, of course, and it was nice to talk with someone who had been through the same situation before. I spent that week trying not to think about Bangkok, but i couldn’t help longing for warmer weather, Thai food and my friends. I did manage to reunite with Sarah the next morning at the Red Lantern Hostel. We moved into a double room and took to exploring the city, but unfortunately she soon developed a tooth ache. A trip to the hospital revealed an infection around her wisdom tooth. Since we had both boked tickets for the Beijing - Ulaanbator leg of the trans-siberian railway departing in just a few days, this threw off the current plan.
During the last couple days we had in Beijing I bought a new camera to finally replace the one I lost in Thailand - a Canon 400D. Sarah and I also visited the Beijing Glasses Center - the mecca of budget optometry. I bought two empty frames and had them fitted with prescription lenses for next to nothing. After we bought the glasses we started off walking randomly and eventually found ourselves in the company of an incredibly nice and helpful old Chinese gentleman. As he carefully explained the best way for us to get back to the guesthouse we were joined by another friendly Chinese guy and we all walked together to the bus stop. On the way Sarah and I decided to go instead for some Peking duck so our new friends recommended a place (which turned out to be the biggest, most famous Peking duck restaurant in China - the Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant) so we rode the bus there.
For about $16 we had an entire duck (number 362,224) to ourselves. It was the best duck I’ve ever had. We sat at the restaurant until they were closing up a couple hours later.
The next morning we woke at 5am, grumpy and tired, in order to get to the train station in time for our ride to Mongolia. Long story short: a stupid argument ensued and I ended up leaving alone for Ulaanbator. Hopefully Sarah and I can reconnect somewhere else along the way.
The train ride was lonely but comfortable. About 30 hours in total. I passed the time writing letters and sleeping - I had an entire 2-person cabin to myself since Sarah didn’t come along. We stopped at a few quiet stations on the Chinese side before a long stop at the Mongolian border. The bits of “civilisation” we passed were nothing more than a few dozen shacks clustered around a factory of kind. At the border I opted to wait the hour and a half inside the station and spend the rest of my Chinese Yuan at the shop there. I met another American traveler on the way back onto the train. Tressa was on the way back home after having spent the last 6 months in Mongolia and plenty of advice to share. She even gave me her pair of Mongolian boots (which turned out not to fit, but I passed them onto another traveler who was glad to have them).
When I arrived in UB, I took a room at the UB guesthouse (the default choice for new arrivals in Mongolia). I settled in and tried to withdraw some Mongolian cash with my card but was denied. Uh oh. I wrote some panicked emails and tried to call my bank… It took a couple days to sort out but I finally found out that it had been suspended due to “suspicous activity” ie, using it in 3 countries within a week. Thankfully, its all sorted now and I’m back in business.