After visiting the Wenzhou Hotel, and being entirely too excited about hiring a driver in Chinese, Alena and I were picked up on the morning we’d arranged. In the end, the driver we’d found at the Wenzhou Hotel spoke no Chinese, a little bit of English, and a fair bit of Russian. (Thus began my endless reliance on Alena/Alyona/Alyonka, the Universal Translator.)
Our first stop with our driver was the giant Ghengis Khan Equestrian Statue. There’s not much going on with the Ghengis Khan statue, beyond an underwhelming museum in the basement and also the fact that it is blindingly bright in the relentless Mongolian sunshine. It’s also 130 feet tall.
(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.