10 Jul 2010 @ 7:43 PM 

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The last morning in Beijing we decided to take a quick trip to the Forbidden City, which was a few short blocks from our hostel. We waited in a long, long line in the blazing sun and got our eyes poked out by a million tiny Asians holding giant sun umbrellas. Finally, we entered the Forbidden City. It probably would have been cool if we wanted to fight our way through the mosh pits of Asians to see into the buildings, but we aren’t the type of people that enjoy pushing other people down stairs, so all we saw were a lot of buildings that looked the same. I started calling it the Forbidden Shitty because I am funny. The garden at the back was also probably beautiful, but it was so crowded you couldn’t see much. I would not cry if the city had stayed forbidden.

After that, we headed to the old Olympic Park, which was still pretty active, although not with Olympians. Then we got onto our wacky Asian sleeper bus and headed for the border. We reached the border sometime between 2 and 3 am. As we got off the bus, someone took our bags, said ’50 yuan’ to us, and loaded us into their truck. It is customary for people who own guest houses to pick you up at the border and let you sleep the remainder of the night in one of their rooms, so that was what we were doing. In the morning, we woke up to the sound of masking tape being pulled off a roll. We went outside to see what the commotion was. They were taping up electronics boxes full of god knows what and loading them into the backs of many waiting jeeps. We turned a blind eye because we felt it was something that didn’t concern us, and headed to the border. Waiting for us at the border were the same jeeps. So much for blissful ignorance. You can’t walk across the border, so you have to haggle with a jeep driver to take you across, which we did. We rode in a stripped jeep full of 7 other people and electronics boxes across the border. It was so full they had to throw Sunil’s backpack on the hood of the jeep while they drove around. We made it into Mongolia and spent the day in the train station until our train left that night. We also bought a box of imitation oreos (called Stereos) for 1,350 Mongolian Tugrik, which is almost exactly $1 USD.

The Mongolian train was very nice and in the morning we arrived in Ulaanbaatar. We walked into our hostel and found the following items: a western toilet, toilet paper, a real shower, and internet with facebook. After gleefully rolling around in all of these newfangled things, we headed out to walk around the town. We went to a very worthless but expensive orientation for our trip the next day and then ate at BD’s Mongolian Barbecue, the first American chain restaurant to be opened in Ulaanbaatar. The next morning we got on a bus and headed off into the wilds of the Mongolian Steppe.

We arrived at the first family’s ger and played with their six year old all day. I came to the conclusion that this kid was actually probably smarter than me. He also spoke more English than most ger-dwelling Mongolians. He bit Sunil a lot. That night we rode camels 10km to a rock with scarves tied on it. My camel had collapsed humps, which made it the third worst smelling thing I have encountered in my life. Riding a galloping camel with a wooden saddle for 10km is very, very unpleasant. It actually rubbed the skin off of my butt, which resulted in my walked the 10km back. We ate some Mongolian dairy products and hit the hay.

The next morning we rode horses to the next family’s ger. This was the first time Sunil had sat on a horse. We reached the ger and had some delicious lunch and homemade Mongolian vodka (distilled from butter) and took a ride out to Swan Lake, again on horses. By this time, Sunil discovered that he liked riding horses. We had some great dinner and slept like logs. It stormed that night, so we had to skip our horse ride the next day and head back to Ulaanbaatar. On the way, we stopped at a naadam and ate some naadam meat pies. Our bus was stuck in Mongolian traffic for hours, so we got in pretty late and squeezed in a few hours of sleep before our early bus to Ulan Ude, Russia. On the bus, we met two guys from Finland who became our traveling companions for the next day and a half. We killed some time in Ulan Ude, saw the world’s biggest Lenin head, and ate a million tiny pizzas in a beer tent outside the train station. Kalle, one of the Finnish guys, was celebrating his birthday that day, so we also drank a million beers and then napped in the train station until our 3am train.

We slept on the train and woke up to two dead fish next to our beds. They were looking at me. We got off the train and found our Finnish friends, who had a crazy story for us. Apparently, their train tickets were for a prior train, which the train ticket selling lady didn’t tell them. So when they were trying to find wagon #22 on a train only 11 wagons long, they started to freak out. A Russian guy waved them over, told them he was the train’s captain, and for the low, low price of 3,000 rubles (which was twice the price of their train tickets) they could sleep in his bed and stow away on the train. So they did. We all ate some lunch and laughed about their adventures and parted ways. Sunil and I took a taxi to Lake Baikal. Our driver couldn’t find our hostel, so we had some wacky adventures trying to get the address.

We finally arrived at Olga’s Guesthouse and bathed using some buckets and a pot. We walked around the lake and ate some smoked fish (this time there were 6 fish eyes looking at me), drank some beers, and met some Russians. For some reason, everyone in Russia thinks Sunil is German. I think this is funny because the Russian word for ‘German’ also means ‘idiot’. We headed back to Olga’s for a lavish home cooked meal and went to bed shortly thereafter.

This morning we woke up and ate some more home cooked food (Sunil got yelled at by Olga for not eating all of his oatmeal). We are now about to go eat more smoked fish and take a mini-bus or boat back to Irkutsk. Tonight we will fly to Vladivostok and begin our trans-siberian adventure!

Since we will be on a five-day train, we will not be able to update our blog until July 17. But, the good news is that we have been able to upload A LOT of pictures! So everyone (mainly just you, Chris), don’t go crazy if we don’t update for six days!

In what country did Mongolian Barbecue originate?

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Posted By: Robin
Last Edit: 21 Jul 2010 @ 11:11 PM

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 12 Jun 2010 @ 7:05 PM 

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Before entering mainland China, Sunil and I practiced living with millions of Asians on Hong Kong island and Macau, both of which are the muggiest places on earth. This has resulted in Sunil and I seeing the insides of a lot of grocery stores, which we pop into every few blocks just to cool off. The stores here must pay an arm and a leg to use the air conditioning as they all leave their doors open to air condition the streets on purpose. Crazy.

Our first day in Hong Kong was wildly successful, considering the fact that we can’t speak, read, or understand the language and planned on getting around via public transportation. First things first, we had to eat, so we ate at some lunch at a random noodle place. We walked to the Star Ferry terminal and took a ferry out to Hong Kong Island, which was actually my favorite place so far. The downtown area is very well maintained and beautiful with all sorts of free pubic parks that are about ten million times larger and prettier than anything I have been to in the US. We took the world’s largest escalator system (which is outdoors) up to mid-Victoria peak. We then headed back down side streets past the Hong Kong Zoo and Botanical Garden (also free) to the Victoria Peak Tram. We loaded into a tram with a hundred Asians and headed up to the top of the peak, where we took pictures and ate at McDonald’s. After we took the tram back down, I saw a walk through aviary park (again, free to enter), so I insisted we climb about a million stairs to go to it. Inside, I got pooped on by a bird. Oh, karma, you are hilarious. By this time, it was getting late, so we decided to take a subway back to Kowloon. As Sunil got onto the subway car, the doors slammed shut, and let me tell you, those things are not stopping for anyone. There I was, alone on a subway platform in a sea of Asians. I was momentarily terrified. Luckily, the trains come every 5 seconds because we are in Asia, so I hopped on the next one and met Sunil at our stop. We hugged like we had been seperated for years. I really like Hong Kong, although honestly, it is probably because of the prevailence of the English language here.

Sunil wants me to mention that early the next morning, he had his Asia meconium. He found it pleasant. I found it gross.

The next day, we woke up and stuffed ourselves to bursting on $5 of baked goods, including a chicken curry doughnut. Then we took a ferry to Macau, which used to be under Portugese rule, so in addition to having a lot of Portugese food, the secondary language is Portugese instead of English. Macau is a strange, strange land that consists of Vegas-like casinos, restored historic buildings, and dilapidated ramshackle neighborhoods. We walked the ‘strip,’ which was entirely empty. We walked into a casino, which was also empty. We then decided China is lying about Macau bringing in more gambling revenue than Vegas, as a day in Vegas where all the casinos were empty would cause the town to implode on itself. We then stumbled upon historic Macau, which was my favorite part. It was also the hardest part to navigate, so we kept ending up lost in ramshackle Macau. This was my least favorite part of Macau. We took a bus to Fernando’s, a famous Portugese restaraunt and again stuffed ourselves to the bursting point. By this point we were exhausted, so we took a brief respite on the beach and then took another village bus back to the ferry and headed back to Hong Kong, where I immediately passed out and Sunil woke up at 230am to watch the US v. England soccer game on my computer. Crazy. This morning, we are checking out of our hostel to head over to mainland China for the rest of our journey. I think we are ready for the onslaught of Asians awaiting us there. Next stop: Guilin!

What is the best finish the US National Team has had in the World Cup?

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Posted By: Robin
Last Edit: 17 Jun 2010 @ 07:33 AM

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