An Unexpected Encounter in Mongolia 2012

I had always wanted to go to Mongolia. Gobi Desert was the place that I wanted to go to. The nomadic lifestyle fascinated, still fascinates, me. It could be because of all the TV dramas that I watched when I was young. The ancient people rode their horses freely on a vast land, playing polo or just racing against each other. And they lived in a tent, gur or yurt. It was really amazing. Of course, I didn’t think much about the toilets and showers etc. When you romanticise something, you tend to ignore all the practical things. It applies to relationships as well. 😄

I did some research on the internet prior to my trip. Tours to Gobi Desert were extremely expensive. Fortunately, I found a new B&B which also organised group tours so I decided to ask them when I arrived.

I asked the B&B to pick me up from the airport. The owner came. In fact, the airport wasn’t really that far from the city centre or at least where the B&B was. The owner warned me about things like keeping my belongings safe, not going out alone at night because I was just travelling by myself and because I’m Asian. Mongolians didn’t like Chinese because there were some fights among the Mongolian miners and the Chinese miners working there before I went there. Most people can’t tell the difference between Chinese and other Asians. After he briefed me about all these things, I asked him about the Gobi Desert trip. He then said, ‘a couple should have arrived at the B&B. They want to go to Gobi Desert too. If you see them in the B&B, you can ask them. We need to have four people in the tour.’

When I arrived at the B&B, the owner asked me to sit outside the office when he prepared some check-in documents for me. I sat there. There was a couple sitting at the same bench too. It seemed they had just arrived. The lady started talking to me. I don’t remember the details but I remember one funny question that she or her husband asked me, ‘how did you come to Mongolia?’ I paused, thinking, ‘How else?’ But I answered, ‘I flew.’

They didn’t say anything.

I was thinking again, ‘this is not a usual response.’ so I asked, ‘how about you?’

The husband said, ‘we took the train to here.’

‘From where?’ I asked.

‘From China.’ The guy answered and he started to explain the route.

Wait, that’d take a long time. So I immediately asked, ‘how long are you travelling?’

An unexpected answer came.

The lady said, ‘we have been travelling for nearly one year. Our plan is to travel for two years.’

Jaw dropped.

This was exactly what I wanted to do! Long term backpacking!

I remember when I was at university, an economics lecturer asked me what I wanted to do after I graduated. I said without any hesitation, ‘I want to be a backpacker.’ My Asian parents if they knew would yell at me, ‘I paid you so much for your university education and you want to be a backpacker?!’ Of course, I didn’t tell them. So like an obedient girl, I worked in the office, earned some money and gave them some. Remember what my friend said in Norway? She said she couldn’t imagine me working in the office. I can’t too. The economics lecturer repeated, ‘a backpacker?’ He probably was expecting a boring answer. He later told his then girlfriend who was also my friend that he thought I was really different (or unique) and he kind of admired me. I just want to do things that I want to do. I don’t expect anyone to admire me.

Fast forward to 2012 at the B&B with my jaw dropped, I looked at the couple with admiration. I wanted to know how they did it but if I remember correctly, they had to go or I had to check-in. Whatever that was, we decided to talk later.

That ‘talk later’ turned out to be a long conversation. We signed up for a 6-day Gobi Desert tour with the B&B and that was when my first lecture about practical tips of long term backpacking started. The fourth person never made it so only the three of us went. I will talk about that trip later.

For now, let’s enjoy a bit of the modern Mongolia.

Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia
A square in the capital city
Genghis Khan
As I walked around the square, I saw some locals wearing the traditional Mongolian clothes. I asked them if I could take a photo with them. Here you are, this photo. He then asked me to email it back to him. Unfortunately, his handwriting was a bit illegible so I couldn’t send him this photo. I hope he can see it here.
I don’t remember if I joined them or if they asked me to join them. Anyway, one of them took this picture for all of us.
They even asked me to take a group photo with them.
I was actually on my way to the cathedral – Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral.

I asked the owner to show me how to go to this church. I wanted to try the public transport so he wrote down the name of the stop for me to show to the bus driver or the passengers. The passengers were really helpful. They instructed me when the bus was close to the stop. I only had paper maps. I didn’t have a smartphone.

You can see the paper maps and the notes the B&B owner gave me.

I met a few people at the church. Unfortunately, the church was closed. I could only visit the exterior and some rooms in their community centre. The girls at the centre greeted me and introduced me to the priests who invited me for a drink. They are missionaries from an African country. The Catholic nuns are from Korea. They were very happy to see me and invited me to join their daily mass in their chapel. I did. I went back there again a few days later. I think they invited me to attend something on another date. Or was it the priest who asked me to come back again for a chat? I don’t remember. That’s the problem when you don’t keep a journal.

The chapel inside the church

The girls at the community centre were very happy to see me. Maybe they didn’t usually have guests walking in like this? She showed me around the community centre. Thinking back now, I should have sent them an email beforehand. But I wasn’t sure about my schedule so… anyway, good that everyone was happy.

After I went back to the B&B, I saw the couple again. I was planning dinner so were they. They asked me if I wanted to try Vietnamese food or Italian food. I could eat Vietnamese food all the time so I decided Italian. I didn’t know they wanted to try Vietnamese. You guys didn’t tell me that when I picked Italian. I know you are reading this. 😄

Anyway, during dinner, I asked them how they financed themselves. That was pre-lecture. I was fascinated by that idea. My dream of becoming a long term backpacker was getting closer and closer. You see? I like Mongolia. Their nomadic lifestyle is what backpackers’ lives are like. Well, of course, I like the place not just because of this. You’ll see. Be patient.

We shared what we did that day and they gave me a ticket to the monastery near our B&B. I had nothing to do so I decided to visit the monastery the next day.

The monastery near the B&B
Inside the monastery
Inside the monastery

Just as I was walking around and taking photos, a mad man came. The local people avoided him and so did I. But when I was taking some photos, that mad man came and hit me on my neck with a stick or something. Then he murmured something and walked away. The locals looked at the mad man and me. It hurt but very fortunately, no blood or anything. Lesson learnt – wherever there is a mad man, leave that place immediately. You’ll never know what they’ll do to you when you are doing something else like concentrating on taking a photo.

The next day, I went quite far to the following place. I really don’t remember what this place was and I don’t even remember why I went there and how I knew about this place:

This is the kind of bird that can kill you.
I took a bus to this place, if I remember correctly. Did I go there by myself or with a few people? Or did I meet those people on the bus? Oh, that’s why I need to write my memoir. Can anyone help me recall?
History was carved and painted on the walls.
Some more paintings
View from the hilltop
Ulaanbaatar. It seems they are building some luxurious apartments here.

I remember saying goodbye to someone and continued to walk to another place. Then I took a bus back to the B&B. Who was that? Was that a traveller I met or was it the couple from B&B? Why didn’t I keep a journal for this trip?

The busy road in Ulaanbaatar 

The couple invited me to join their CS host who’d take them to a national park the following day. Life is full of surprises.

Stay tuned.

2 – 4 August 2012

P.S. The American couple I met at the B&B host a website too. Feel free to check it out here.

P.S. To Two Years Off: if I have missed out anything, leave a reply. I’d be happy to see your responses. 🙂

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