Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Madness Persists...

I have no idea WHAT Alison has blogged about regarding our recent Mongolian experiences, but Oi! have we had an adventure. Again, I'm racing the clock here at Za Internet on Peace Avenue, but let me attempt to fill you in.

Upon arriving in Mongolia, Alison and I realised that while some of the older folks speak a bit of Russian, we were now on similar playing fields. I was no longer the dumb foreigner who didn't understand what was going on--we were BOTH the dumb foreigners without a clue! Fabulous, because that's exactly what I'm used to.

What was most liberating for me was the freedom to deal with male attention or interactions as I saw fit. In Russia I left a lot of that up to Alison as she spoke the language and I didn't neccesarily feel right about stepping over her. Here in Ulaan Bataar when a man lunged after one of the four 1.5 litre bottles of water that I was struggling to haul back to our guesthouse, I snatched it back and shot him a nasty "NO!" and booked it up the road...granted the man was poor and seemed pretty innocent, but my past dealings with men in Morocco programmed me to be quite harsh and agressive. This little incident might seem pretty trite, but it gave me confidence to protect my space in the way that I saw fit.

When Alison and I saddled up on our sad looking horses out in the Mongolian countryside ready for a full day's ride, the guide looped our reigns around his fist and lead us for 20 minutes like kids at a petting zoo. We laughed and joked for a bit, but when he stopped at a viewpoint he tied up the horses, pointed to the large rock we were supposed to photograph, and then went and sat in a car with four buddies and smoked for a while. I was fed up. Alison and I were freezing, we weren't impressed with our pony ride, and we were quite aware of the fact that the guide and his friends were making fun of the 'dumb tourists'. I had enough. Alison and I decided that we'd rather walk back and go for a hike so I marched up to the car full of Mongolian men and using the most ridiculous actions and body language, announced that we were walking back and that we no longer wanted to ride 'attached' to each other. The men giggled and laughed at my wild and crazy gestured but I made our point clear. We strode off and minutes later the guide came after us with the horses and let us ride on our own for the rest of the trip. All in all we had a great time and had the chance to see some beautiful scenery and definitely filled the afternoon with photos and laughter. Fully satisfied, we returned to our yurt and warmed ourselves by the fire.

With traffic too, I feel a lot more bold about being agressive than I did in Russia. Here, traffic is a lot more chaotic and lawless, which is fun and I get quite a kick out of swerving through 4 lanes of (slowly) moving traffic. It's the only way to cross the street here, and standing in the middle of downtown rush hour traffic trying to cross to the next lane is such a rush and reminds me of Morocco. I've missed the insanity.

And speaking of madness. On the day Alison and I arrived hours before the Chinese embassy opened, (to try and accquire a visa for her entry into China next week) we wound up fairly close to the front of the line. 30 minutes after the embassy was scheduled to open we were still huddled around the front door, only now we were bracing our elbows and practicing menacing looks in hopes of warding off those who refused to queue up. As the solid metal door opened to let the first batch of visa-hopefuls enter, we were sure we'd make it indoors on the first round. BAM! The door slammed shut just as Alison and I tried to squeeze our way in. We caught the pitiful glances of the other Europeans ahead of us who we'd allowed to go ahead of us because they'd initially been in line before us. Polite Canadians that we are. Just keeping up our reputation as travel-savvy, polite Canucks for our fellow backpacking countrymen. After that though, we through patriotic duty to the wind and when the door opened again we squeezed in, triumphant. Out, out,, no, no...only those picking UP visas were allowed in doors. Again, sheepish looks from the Aussies, Brits, Americans, French, and Germans all cozily awaiting their turn to step up to the application counter. The guard ushered us back OUT of the embassy waiting area. "Are you SURE???", Alison asked, incredulity dripping from her voice. "SERIOUSLY???", disdain oozing out from mine. BAM!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We reduced to giggles there on the steps in front of a hundred onlookers. Again, and again, and again, the giant metal door clanged shut inched from our faces. BAM! BAM! BAM! Eventually we got in. Eventually Alison's visa application was accepted (with no problems unlike a lot of others...thanks for all the prayers!!! Can't emphasise that enough!!!) and FINALLY a few days later, in the shadow of Ghengis Khan in the middle of Sukh Bator Square Alison received her Chinese visa and Canadian passport. What a crazy epic and odyssey into the world of the Chinese bureaucracy that has been over the last few months!

Despite the madness, there has been glorious respite found in North American-style restaurants, Irish pubs, a jar of Nutella, our new host Galina (another friend of April French's!) and her fabulous friendship & hospitality (just like Natasha's in Irkutsk) and the beauty of the Mongolian countryside. People here are incredibly friendly, directions are easy to obtain, and good grief things are cheap here! A 20 000 Togrog bill is worth less than $20. And there's no use of coins here. Alison has also found some relief from the effects of carbo-loading in Russia and my cold is finally easing up (for the second time!). Alison has caught a bit of my cold though...inevitable I suppose after sharing such close quarters for a month, however neither of us have gotten on each other's nerves. We've again had the pleasure of photographing in/performing for a local Mongolian church fellowship, and Alison even received an encore which was pretty funny/awesome!

Two more days and we're headed to China for the last leg of our journey...hard to believe it's coming to a close soon. But of course, there's so much more to experience so we're not looking at the final days yet. I am however, dreaming of a hot shower as I haven't had one in quite some time!

From the land of Ghengis Khan...and onto the Far East,