(Note: I’m still playing catch-up! Recapping things I did September 2017…)
Back in UB, Jurgen, an older gentleman from Amsterdam, mentioned he was going to go to a shaman ceremony, and invited me along. I met up with him on a Thursday morning in September, and we went to the shaman ceremony together.
After Japan, I had a brief stopover in Seoul, South Korea, because flights to Ulan Bator are fairly limited (HK, Seoul, Beijing and Russia are the top/only places with direct flights.
In Seoul, I met up briefly with a friend from Shanghai, who showed me around a neat new Korean-hipster area that is being built in old, traditional Korean-style wooden houses. I ate Great Food (because Korea), including this strange cold glass noodle in a sesame sauce that a college friend, Ji-Eun recommended to me.
Unfortunately that weekend, Ji-Eun was in Jeju (Oh, Jeju!) so we were only able to meet up briefly the morning before my flight to UB. However, in that brief meeting, Ji-Eun managed to be the Best Hostess ever, treating me to lunch and making sure I had food for the plane, and even gifting me with a selfie stick and instructions to Take More Pictures.
And so, in the beginning of September 2017, I went off I went to Ulaanbaatar.
I flew to Osaka from Shanghai on Thursday, August 10th.
In Japan, a convenient tool for foreigners is the Japan Rail Pass, different versions of which are basically a pass for all the Japan Rail trains, metros, etc. that go throughout Japan. When you get to Japan you can buy some of the regional passes, like the three-day Japan West pass or the Japan East pass, but if you want an all-Japan pass, you have to buy it outside of the country, and the bring your voucher to a JR station and exchange it for the pass. While in Shanghai (part of the reason why I hung around there for about a week), I ordered a JR pass and had the voucher express-shipped to my hostel in Osaka. It’s possible to buy a 7, 14, or 21 JR pass. I got the 21-day JR pass, which pretty much decided for me how long I was going to spend in Japan. (Sometimes you just gotta let the little things make decisions for you…)
After a quiet evening in Osaka, I got up early the next morning to get my JR pass and take a shinkansen (high-speed train) to Kyoto, which would be my first big stop in Japan.
Ok, I kind of really want to talk about Japan (JAPAN!!!) so allow me to give you the highlights of my three days in Hong Kong and my almost-week in Shanghai:
Surprising no one, the Russian Consulate in HK was full of slightly ill-tempered workers who got very annoyed when I showed up with my application but without an appointment. Apparently, this was a new rule they’d imposed in the summer, but they only posted these rules on the HK Russian consulate website, which wouldn’t load for me. So I had filled my application out on a different embassy website (I don’t know how any of this really works), and hadn’t seen or gotten any notifications requiring me to make an appointment. So I got shunted over to the Visa Application Center, which was literally right across the hallway and helped you submit your application appointment-free except for about $40 more and with nicer people.
(Special thanks to Jeff and Jaynie‘s blog post on applying for a Russian visa in HK, and WaytoRussia, which I used to buy the visa support document.)
I think I sweated out my entire bodyweight in HK while poking around the city looking for new hiking boots. At one point, I ended up in the most haphazard camping store full of towers of shoeboxes that I swear were all read to keel over and bury us all, and they still didn’t have any in my size.
Eventually I found a small Merrill outlet in a very, very, very large department store. The shoes were a little too long, but not too snug on my very, very, very wide feet (I brought thick hiking socks so I could check on the width), so I called this a success and bought them.
Then I went to Shenzhen and spent a brief night at the Star Whisperer Spacecraft Hostel!!! Which was actually kind of cool, even though the blacklights were 1000% cosmetic and served absolutely no purpose.
Also, it was kind of best to just ignore what it looked like on the outside…
On my way out of Shenzhen, I was trapped in the airport for a solid 7 to 8 hours. Three cheers to Hannah, who kept me from throwing myself into some abyss of despair when I saw this on the board.
Then I got to Shanghai!
In Shanghai, I stayed with Hannah, and visited some of the old haunts (like the archery range!), met up with as many friends as I could, and bummed around. It was kind of nice to relax in a familiar place, take a step back from traveling, and watch figure skating videos with Hannah for like, literal hours.