Lunar New Year in Mongolia

I’ve just been handed a large drinking bowl of white liquid, and there are ten pairs of eyes fixated on me… assessing me…

We are in a family Ger (Yurt), somewhere in the Gobi Desert. it took us 2 hours on asphalt roads, followed by 6 hours of off-road driving to get to the small town (Erdenedalai) that is our home for three nights. We then did a further 30min off-road this morning to reach our driver’s brother’s winter home. Here surrounded by rough Gobi terrain in all directions, are four Gers of differing sizes and a stone & wood enclosure to protect the animals from the worst of the winter weather.

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It’s Friday! (I think…)

We are leaving Xi’an, heading for Pingyao. It’s Friday, or at least I think it is. I am finding with this long term travel, the days start to lose meaning. Maybe the weekend is busier at the tourist attractions, or fewer places are open on a Sunday, but I have very quickly lost track of which day it is.

Back at home (wherever that may be) we all have a routine, usually dictated by the day of the week. Monday morning closes out the weekend as we head off to work, Wednesday… hump day… the joy of Friday afternoon, leading into the weekend once again. Other things cause us to almost instinctively know which day it is… your email inbox tells you, which night your team’s weekly football match is played on, when your favourite TV show comes on, laundry day, all these things constantly remind us on a daily basis.

But we don’t have any of this. I glance at my email every couple of days, in case something urgent has come in, we don’t get much access to English TV, and laundry day is usually every evening in the hotel sink.

While we were in Tibet, we were amused by this one hotel having a carpet in the lift that said ‘Monday’ on it, then the next morning the same lift had a different carpet, this time saying ‘Tuesday’. We had a laugh about this, comparing it to day-of-the-week underpants. Some days later I wanted to know what day it was and I found myself having to work out how many days it had been since the lift carpet told my it was ‘Tuesday’…

Is this a problem?

You might think with our planned schedule of train tickets, tours and hotel rooms (all laid out in a big spreadsheet), that this would cause issues. However, rather than days of the week, we find ourselves counting the days by how many full days we have in each location. For example I am currently on a train to Pingyao, I know that today is train travel, then I have two full days to explore, then the day after that we are back on a train to our next destination.

I am finding this quite liberating. Despite there being a schedule, it does not feel like the usual daily grind of five days at work, then the weekend. We move from one place to the next, choosing what sights to see, lazy days of rest are taken when needed, we don’t need to make sure we are in front of the TV for specific shows or be regimented by what day of the week it is. It’s a very relaxing experience not being tied to days of the week.

But I digress, i’m sitting on a train, I guess it’s Friday…. but I’ve absolutely no idea what the date is!

The Day I Became a Minor Celebrity

When traveling, this word can quickly become a sound you dread.

Having spent the last two years living in Hong Kong, we have travelled around South East Asia quite a bit. In countries with a developed tourist industry “Hello” can often turn from a greeting into the bane of every traveller. Usually it goes like this:

“Hello, where you from?”
“Hello, I’m from England”
“Ah, London.. Football.. David Beckham!”
<Sigh> “Yes.”

Next comes the inevitable:
“you come into my shop”… “you want to buy [insert touristy crap item here]”… “You want guide? I English speak, good guide”
Then you get followed by the guy for the next 100 yards trying to part you from your money.

But here in Tibet, everyone seems so friendly. While walking around people of all ages say “Hello” as we pass, we give a “Hello” back, and are rewarded by huge smiles and genuine feelings of friendliness. Nobody tries to drag us into their shop, sell us something or scam us.

We get a lot of inquisitive stares, westerners are a novelty here, especially in the winter. Our guide explained that during the winter months a lot of the nomadic Tibetans and cattle herders, who spend the summers out in the mountains working, don’t have so much to do, so they come to Lhasa to visit the temples and walk Kora (clockwise walk around temples or shrines while praying or reciting mantras). As most tourists come in the summer, the nomadic people rarely see westerners. We have become celebrities.

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Birthday in the Sky

It’s my Birthday.

I wake up in hotel bed in Xining, after sleeping off the 38 hours of traveling we have done from Hong Kong. What do I have to look forward to today? A party? Seeing family? Hanging with friends? Nope, another 22 hours on a train. But this will be no ordinary train journey…

Amanda and I make our way to the hotel’s breakfast lounge. We meet our friend Rachel, who has flown in from HK to join us on this next leg of our journey. We catch up over coffee and eggs, discussing our previous train trip and the journey ahead. We contemplate the tiny cabins, the many meals of pot-noodles and the strange feeling when traveling with so many people, yet not understanding or communicating with anyone… even so, I am really excited to be getting on this next train.

Amanda surprises me with various birthday cards that had arrived at our apartment in HK. I manage to connect on the internet and read a number of Birthday emails (thank you all), but unfortunately Facebook and China don’t play well together, so I will have to catch up with that later. We finish breakfast, ‘borrow’ the bread from the breadbasket and some fruit from the buffet (after all, man cannot survive on pot noodle alone) and prepare to head to the station.

Why so much excitement over another long train trip? Well, today, on my Birthday, we will be taking the highest train in the world, to Tibet!

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