Suitcase and World: Memories of China and Mongolia.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Memories of China and Mongolia.

This is the diary of my trip to China and Mongolia in the summer of 2009.

I'm writing this posting just a shortwhile after having returned to the US. At the moment, I'm sitting at the departure gate at La Guardia airport. My connecting flight back to DC has been delayed by who knows how long thanks to a really bad thunderstorm hovering over Long Island.

It has been an extremely long travel day and I really, really just want to get home. Luckily, I have my computer and all the photos I took on this trip to help me pass the time.

As I scroll through the pictures, I'm still amazed by all the experiences I had on this trip. I had a phenomenal time from start to finish.

Things in China are of scale and scope that is often hard to fathom. Current day China has a largest population in the world and it seems like all of China was visiting the same sights I was.  Everywhere I went, I was surrounded by masses of people.

And, if Beijing is not already the largest city, geography wise, in the world, it soon will be. The size of its airport is most certainly daunting as one terminal is more than a mile long!  Unlike DC, where we only have one highway that encircles the city, Beijing has 5 and I was told there would soon be a sixth Ring Road.  Unbelievable!!

Even elements of ancient China were of proportions beyond belief. Take the Great Wall.....all thousands of miles of it. What an amazing structure and feat of ancient Chinese engineering! Definitely the largest wall in the world and there is no doubt that hiking it was one of the highlighs of my trip.

Other highlights in China included the Terracotta Warriors,the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. I also fell in love with Xi'an - modern, yet full of ancient history. Fun moments including biking on the city wall of Xi'an and getting a foot massage with Jan and Dean.

I was lucky enough to explore the water towns outside Shanghai. Zhouzhuang took my breath away....such a quaint little town.

Of course, the foodie in me was in heaven. There was not a day, spent in China, that I did not have a meal that I did not enjoy. I will forever remember the breakfast buns in Shanghai and the day that I took the hutong cuisine cooking class in Beijing. I had so much fun that day!

And will I ever forget the first time I ever rode a bullet train? Unlikely. That ride from Shanghai to Nanjing will be burned into my memory forever.

The Yangtze River. If there was anything in my trip that did not live up to my expectations, that was it. I was expecting far more magnificent scenery than what I saw though the time spent with the Tujia boat trackers as they navigated us up and down the Shennong Stream was unforgettable!

Last but not least, I had a great set of tour mates and a wonderful guide.  I enjoyed every moment I spent with them.

What made Mongolia a special trip for me was being able to share the time with my colleague and friend, Violeta Patroutoiu. In retrospect, I think she would have preferred a trip with more creature comforts but in the end, she did well!

Mongolia was nothing like I had imagined it to be. For me, being able to experience the Naadam Festival was the fulfillment of a longtime wish. Before going to Mongolia, I had thought that watching the sporting events would be a highlight for me but looking back, watching the events was less interesting than watching the people. On the days of the festival, many Mongolians celebrated their national heritage by donning their national costume. Men, women and even children were dressed up in their finest silks. I did a lot of oohing and ahhing as one beautiful costume after another passed before my eyes.

I will never forget the first time I saw the expansive Mongolian steppe. It was all that I had imagined it to be. Lots of green rolling hills, big blue sky and white, fluffy clouds. I must say that Mongolia does have beautiful clouds...if it's possible to make such an observation.

The ger. I actually found them to be very comfortable. Every ger had a small wood burning stove in it and nighttime temperatures were indeed low enough that we needed to burn wood to keep warm. I love the smell of a fire. In fact, I got so accustomed to sleeping in a ger, with a fire going, that the first night I was back in Ulaan Baatar, I found it difficult to fall asleep! Go figure.

Highlights of Mongolia for me included reuniting with Doug Plaxton (a fellow whom I met on my trip to Croatia), visiting Amarbayasgalant and Erdene Zuu monasteries, fishing on Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur with Adrian and Erka, and riding a bactrian camel on the desert dunes of the Bayan Gobi.

I will always have fond memories of all our roadtrips -- all the animals we saw along the way, all the towns in the middle of nowhere, all the picnic lunches and all the unexpected sights that we saw along the the crookety bridges. I will even miss all the bumpy riders. However, I will not miss having to find a place to relieve myself - not so easy to do when there's nothing but grass in sight :-(

The foodie in me did not really enjoy Mongolia. I will not miss mutton.....ever :-)

Like my Tibet tour, this one had both a tour leader and a local guide.....a clown and a giggler, respectively.  I don't think I've laughed harder on any other trip!

While I'm looking forward to being home and sleeping in my own bed, the past 6 weeks of travel have left me with a lifetime of memories that I will cherish forever.