Friday, July 10, 2009

A reunion with Doug!



D
oug Plaxton, Canadian by birth, a part time actor body double by profession and world traveller since January 2008. I met Doug in Croatia - more specifically, on a ferry ride from Split to Hvar Island. On that day, Doug connected with Lei and I.....the poor ended up with us, trying to hitch hike from Stari Grad to Hvar Town. At lunch that day, we exchanged contact information. The next time I logged into my Facebook account, there was a friend request from Doug and so I added him to my list.

In the year between my trips to Croatia and Mongolia, Doug and I kept in touch via Facebook. During of our chats, he asked where I was planning to travel to next and I told him China and Mongolia. He asked my why Mongolia and I told him because I wanted to see the Naadam Festival. He then asked me about Naadam and I told him to Google it :-)

As Doug he made his way through China (several months before I did), he decided he would venture to Mongolia. The idea of both of us meeting in in Ulaan Baatar, for Naadam, popped up and we agreed we would try to make that happen.

I told Doug exactly when I would be arriving into Ulaan Baatar. I knew I would not have much time to spend with him but I was excited to hook up. It's amusing to me that a woman living in the suburbs of Washington DC meets a man originally from Vancouver, BC, Canada in Croatia and then a year later sees him again in Ulaan Baatar Mongolia......not exactly a common meeting place!

Shortly after Violeta checked into our hotel room in UB, we unpacked. Violeta wanted to chill out a bit. I wanted to go to the bank and get money. From the hotel window, I noticed a sign on a rooftop nearby. It read "Metro". I had no idea what the building was but I decided that's the direction I would head in. Metro was a short 5 minute walk from the hotel and housed a bank, a supermarket and a couple of upscale stores. I did my banking first - converting a couple hundred US dollars into Mongolia tugrik (MNT). The exchange rate that day was 1500 MNT to 1 USD so you can imagine the sizeable wad of bills I walked out of the bank with!! I then headed to the supermarket to pick up some drinks and munchies. After that, I headed back to the hotel.

When I got back to the hotel room, I plugged in my laptop and got online to update my Facebook status. Lo and behold, Doug was on and dinged me. He said he thought he had just passed my hotel. I asked him if he knew where Metro was and he did. I asked him to meet me there.

I told Violeta what was happening and headed back out to meet with Doug. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous as I had no idea how the reunion would play out. After all, he had been travelling the globe for a year and that does change a person. Would he be the same guy I met in Croatia or will have been *hardened* by his experiences?

I got to Metro and looked around. No Doug. I waited, pacing back and forth. At one point, I turned and saw him. A little more gaunt than when I met him in Croatia but he still had that glint in his eye. Same Doug....at least on the surface!!

We gave each a really big hug and then decided to find a place to have drink and catch up. We found a small little bar/restaurant to hang out in and Doug told me more about his travels through China and Mongolia - he goes completely overland and gets from point A to point B however he can....including a lot of hitch hiking. We talked about life and the pursuit of happiness. Doug cannot imagine ever returning to his former life in Canada. I think he's too far removed from it....it would be a strange place for him. While I can never imagine leaving my life in the US, it would be so liberating to give it all up for a short while as Doug has done. But I don't know that I have his courage to leave all that he ever knew behind. These days, the only thing that really keeps him connected to the *real* world is his iPod on which he uses free WiFi to connect to the internet. It's surprising how much he's managed to accomplish, travel wise, using just his iPod.



After we had our drinks, I dragged him with me back to the hotel room. We were going to get a bite to eat and I wanted to see if Violeta wanted to join us.

Back in our room, Violeta was still chilling out and wanted to hang back so Doug and I hit the streets. As he was staying in hostel in the heart of the city, he gave me the lay of the city center. He suggested we head towards the State Department store which is a stone's throw from his hostel. On the way, we stopped into the post office and got me a map of the city - very useful. By this time, I was glad to have someone by my side who knew his way around....and could speak English :-)

As I walk around with Doug, I'm realizing that Ulaan Baatar city center is very navigable. Somewhere near his hostel, we came across a place called UB Buuz which serves buuz ("booze")....a Mongolian meat dumpling. I really wanted to try them so in we went. Doug did the ordering....the buuz were unremarkable though tasty and filling. The conversation was what was captivating me. It was nice to just have a very easy going chat....no hardcore political topics that would result in debate. No touchy subjects of any sort. We talked and talked.

With our bellies filled with buuz and Coke, we headed outside. Time for dessert :-)
Best place, according to Doug, was ice cream at the State Department store so that's where we went. We got to the store but the ice cream counter was closed. Damn.

By now, it was time to say good bye as it was late afternoon and I had to get back to get ready for the introductory meeting with the rest of the tour group. We made plans to meet up the following night to listen to some live music at a local restaurant. I had no idea what the Naadam plans were going to be so I told him I would play it by ear.

We gave each other a good bye hug and Doug sent me on my way back to the hotel ....which I had no idea which way that was. Rain was begin to fall. Drizzle turned into a steady rain. I picked up my pace to avoid getting drenched. I had stop at a couple of places to read the map or get directions. Eventually, I made it back to the hotel.

I never made it to the music performance the following night and I didn't see anymore of Doug while I was in Ulaan Baatar. But, thanks to Facebook, we will still keep in touch. Who knows where the next reunion spot will be :-)