Friday, August 18, 2006

Almost on the Fringe

As I have finally reunited with my laptop, was able to sort out some problemos with the ability to update my blog, and have some time to kill...I'll fill ya in on what's been up since I was in Mongolia.

Well, three weeks ago, I boarded the direct train from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing. My roommate Alexandria had returned only late the night before from a trip to Lake Khovsgol that had gotten delayed in coming back due to flooding-caused road closures. I was happy to see her because...well, it was nice to see her again but also it made things a little bit easier logistics-wise leaving early in the a.m. and having her go to the train station with me and then take the keys to the apartment.

At 5 a.m. the morning I was to leave, Degii from upstairs knocked on my door and said she was going with me to the station. So I told her to come back at 6 am when we were slated to leave (the son of a woman who had worked temporarily at LEOS offered to take me to the station). Degii came back and was sitting in the living room for a while and then got a call from her dad. At some point she told us he was waiting outside for us to drive us to the station. I hadn't realized he would be driving and of course I had arranged for another ride, so I told her that, hoping her father wasn't too angry. No big deal, he left to go early to the office. But, it was so typical that I wouldn't know he had been planning to drive us and that she wouldn't mention anything about it!

So, anyway, we made it to the station with ample time and everything getting into my compartment went as smooth as yak butter. (Actually, that might be pretty lumpy, so maybe it was smoother than that, I really don't know because I've not had the pleasure of seeing or tasting yak butter, should it actually exist.) It turned out that in the four-person compartment, the only other passenger was a 57-year-old Russian woman who spoke only the slightest English but was fluent in Mongolian, knew German, and of course Russian. I believe my favorite thing she said in English was "Chinese...NO LOVE!" when explaining she didn't care for Chinese people.

I slept pretty much immediately after the train started moving, and several hours later, I woke up as we were crossing the Gobi. There was really not much to see but a lot of sand. So much sand that some of it sneaked through the tightly closed window and got in our hair! But, it was cool to see the Gobi even if I wasn't trekking across it on the back of a camel.

The train was 32 hours or so long, made a number of stops, at some we were able to get off the train and look around for a bit. It was a delightful journey, and I had much fun having "conversations" with Lyuba, my compartment-mate. We ended up having a couple of guests who came in late at night and only to get a night's sleep in the bunks. Turns out it was the Chinese Customs agents. Good thing I didn't know that at the time because I would have inevitably felt nervous or something that I didn't declare anything and yet had like 25 Mongolian handbags in my suitcase.

In Beijing I stayed at the Far East International Youth Hostel and it was a great place to be, smack in the middle of a vibrant and interesting Hutong (old Chinese alleyway type road). I had a dress tailor-made for me out of a really lovely blue raw silk. I visited a few spots I hadn't got around to seeing before. I made some fantastic new pals (one may be moving to San Francisco, the others are two Swedish fellas I might not see ever again, but we hope to keep in touch.) It was glorious to be there and it gave me a new perspective on the city. I totally loved it. It also felt amazing to be back in China, where I felt so at home and comfortable. The traffic wasn't nearly as nutty as it is in UB, and I could walk freely alone at night without worrying about a thing!

My 11-hour flight from Beijing to London was remarkably easy, but all in all, it took 20 hours between my hostel to Josie's flat in Bath. So I was a bit exhausted, to say the least. But a wonderful, relaxing weekend with Josie and Nick and his family on the coast was just the ticket to good food, rest, fantastic company...

I made it to Amsterdam on Monday and except for some poor weather and extreme tiredness, it was great. I saw some friends of the family, saw some art in museums, wandered the streets along the canals. Got stuck an extra day due to flight cancellations, but otherwise, a nice visit indeed. Then...a few days in Cambridge, where I saw Darren and his family (a fella I had worked with in Berkeley and stayed with back in March) and London, where I stayed with a woman called Ruth, who I had known when I interned at the Independent on Sunday, Sunday Review TEN YEARS AGO!!! Blimey, that's a long time.

On Tuesday I went back to my old hood in South Kensington, where I had lived when I spent the semester abroad in London. It felt so familiar. I photographed the Oddbins (wine/liquor shop) where I had purchased my first bottle of wine in London, and many bottles of wine and beer throughout my semester there. It was also where I had received my first marriage proposal. A South African fellow I got to know a bit who worked there learned I was from the Russian River and decided we should marry so he could live there and produce wine. It was very sweet. I also had a drink at the bar that was around the corner from our flat, and while it wasn't terribly exciting, just sitting at a bar by myself while tennis was on the large flat-screen tv, it was nice to be back there and reminisce about all the times my friends and I had spent there ten years ago. And to think how much a person's life can change in a decade.

And now...I am in Perth, Scotland, at Janie's. We go tonight to Edinburgh for the weekend to take in some of the famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Except for having come down with a cold a couple of days ago, I am in decent spirits and pleased to be here most certainly. I will perhaps report back on the Festival and ensuing happenings.

Then...on August 27, I fly home!!! I am so excited to be coming home. It's been a long time and this mad jetsetting I've been doing since leaving China is a bit more exhausting than I had anticipated. But, worth it of course.

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