Mongolia-Russia Day 8

DSC01362 We had to get up early to catch the bus. It was a struggle but I pulled the old girl out of paradise, we quickly did our business then called a taxi. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of a guy staying in the hostel who Jamie told me about the night before. He’s a young Canadian making a documentary with an American guy. The premise of the film is to travel to every country in the world. Though the only reason I wanted to meet him was to assess how much of an idiot he looked. Apparently this guy is a real piece of work. I was told that on the night we were enjoying ourselves in the wilds of Mongolia, the people in the hostel all went out with the owner to a club. All was going well until this guy picked up two locals. The hostel owner, being Mongolian was quick to figure out the situation.

“They’re prostitutes.”

“No, they’re not.”

“No, we’re not.”

“Yes, they are. Yes, you are.”

The yes/no conundrum I was told went on for longer than necessary until the Canadian abruptly left with the girls in tow, dragging them back to the hostel.

“Did they get in?” I asked Jamie.

“Did they fuck.”

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Mongolia Day 7

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Woke up with borderline hypothermia. Since the ger had no light whatsoever, I had to crawl into my sleeping bag liner/extra liner/sleepbag in the dark. This was fine when I went to sleep as the fire was still on and burning bright, but through the night as my vitals fell, I realised I mustn’t have utilised the layers as well as I should. I woke at 6am with just a thin liner and half the sleeping bag covering me. I was so cold I couldn’t zip the sleeping bag back up as my hands were numb. On top of that-if you’ll pardon the phrasing-my arse was still pounding from the horse.

20150412_125232We got ourselves to the main ger a fill ourselves with Kazakh bread a tea. The tea they drink here is very milky and since there isn’t much caffeine you can drink it all day. We both got a real taste for it. For the rest of the morning we either lazed around or hiked the farm. The lambs were up so we played with them, saw a few yaks strolling around. The dogs made an effort of trying to chase them but thought better once they got close. Big buggers, yaks.

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Mongolian Tour Day 6

Toury time.  We fumbled and rumbled around our things, remembering things to forget and forgetting things to remember. Had a quick breakfast in the hostel: tea and bread and the like, we then asked the hostel to pick up our bus tickets to the Mongolia/Russia border, as we won’t get time.

“We will go to the bus station for you and get your tickets then bring them back. Though we will charge a fee because it’s far.”

“How much?”

“3000 tugrik (80 pence)”.

“Sold!”

DSC00879With that sorted we ventured to our van, met the driver and shortly later met our guide. Her name was Soko. She gave us details of the day ahead then we were off.

We started at Zaisan Memorial, a Russian/Mongolian monument nestle high on a hill. The momument commemorates the years of friendship and corporation between the two nations. Russia has had a very big part in Mongolian history and still continues to fund a large part of its economy. The monument wasn’t much to my taste but the real reason to go is to see the complete view of Ullaanbaatar to the north and the Bogd Khan Mountain Range to the south. It’s a good spot for a capital, and they should know. Apparently the capital has changed location no less than 29 times.

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Zamin-udd-Ulaanbaatar Day 5

Slept fine for someone vicariously positioned on a top bunk of a rickety old train. Fortunately there was a sort of harness attached to the side of the bed and I strapped my leg to it. It could very well have saved me a broken arm. Baggi let me know that the Gobi had ended and the shacks and gers dotted over in the distance were the far reaches-the suburbs-of Ulaanbaatar. The houses seemed a little ramshackle but wholly liveable, and who wouldn’t want their own ger in the garden?

DSC00795“Normally a family member, maybe an aunt, will live in the ger.” Baggi told me.

“How many rooms in a ger?”

“Just one room.”

“For the whole family?”

“Yes.”

“How about if…the parents want a bigger family?”

“They will all stay there.”

“Yes, yes, but how do they…make a bigger family?”

“Sex.”

“Thank you, Baggi. I’m wondering how the act of copulation occurs with the little’uns scamping around.”

“The family helps.”

“Gotcha!”

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Erlian-Zamin-udd Day 4

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We got to sleep quite soon after hitting the road again and I woke to see the sunrise over the Gobi Desert. It was a beautiful, once in a lifetime sight and I realised that if I had a better seat I may not have had the best view to see the sunrise. I stared for some time, watching the sky turn from a dark, somewhat drowsy blue to a cool pink, then on to an electric orange. I got a couple more hours sleep then woke for the last hour of our trip. Somewhere close to the boarder there started popping up myriad dinosaur statues. Scores of metal brontosauruses dotted across the landscape. I guess things get boring in the desert.

We finally entered the border city of Erlian at around 7am. A huge, forgotten city, many times bigger than what I had expected. It was an altogether strange area that looked like it could have been something of a nice place to live, but then just stopped caring about itself and sunk into oblivion.

We were once again told to watch our pockets in this town as the people around here were ‘inner Mongolian’ and not to be trusted.

Getting across the border isn’t as easy as it sounds, or as it should be in this part of the world. For one you can’t just walk across, you need to be driven.  But there is only one or two official buses every day so the general way is to get a local to take you in a truck. My wife-who likes to steer on the safe side of the road-didn’t like the sound of this but there were other things to consider. We had read that crossing the border could take hours and we wanted to get the train to Ulaanbaatar that day. We certainly didn’t want to get stuck in this town for any longer than what was completely necessary.

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Beijing-Erlian Day 3

April 8th Beijing-Erlian

Day 3

Up at 6am. These early starts will start to get to me before too long. I am a notoriously late sleeper. My mother surely considered homicide in my youth trying to get me up for school.

The reason for the early rise is that we aren’t completely sure about getting a bus ticket from Beijing to a town called Erlian, on the Chinese/Mongolian boarder. Online sources have said various things. Some have said they have had to wait in Beijing for days for a ticket, other have strolled up to the tickets desk with minutes to spare and got one. We’ve decided to get there as early as possible to try and score tickets. Peace of mind and all that.

From our dungeon it is only a 15 minute walk to The Forbidden Kingdom, where our bus stops. We are around 300 poxy metres from the stop when we see the bus coming from behind us. We leg it and just get to it in time. For anyone reading who would like some tips, the bus is number 2 and many people will tell you to get off at Muxiwun station but this is not correct. You actually have to go one more stop Hua Hutong. Here is where the long distance bus station is. When you stop, you walk 50-100 metres in the direction the bus will go and the station is on your right. A big, glass covered building. We arrived at 8 and asked the lady at the ticket box:

“Erlian. Today. Okay?”

(Lots of Chinese)

“Er….Erlian?”

(more Chinese)

“Today?”

I won’t put you through the whole back and forth but this went on for a while.  At the end of it she figured out where we wanted to go. To her credit I think our pronunciation of the town was less than stellar. Once she got the gist she directed us to the information desk.

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Beijing and Badaling (the Great Wall) Day 2

I woke before YJ, but not before our guest. I sat for a minute before checking my clock, hoping it was before our symphony of alarms would be set off.

6:50

“You have many alarms.”

“Yes. Sorry about that.”

“No, problem. I think you need some more.”

At least she took it well.

As we overslept we have no time for breakfast. We packed essentials and hoofed it to the train station, having to pass through Beijing’s blisteringly inept security policy and catch the train. Subway trains in Beijing are incredibly frequent. The 10 or so trains so got in Beijing were either waiting for me at the platform or were there within a minute or two. The stations are clean but retain a nice sense of old fashioned mustiness and gloom. About on a par with the London Tube.

We arrive at the station with 5 minutes to spare, hurrah! After the high fives and back pats with find out that the train is full. Sunken, we line up for the next train, hoping it won’t be 4 hours later. With some luck it is only an hour away at 9:05. We get the tickets, pass through another security check and wait around with half of Beijing. Since we have 50 minutes to spare I decide to grab a coffee from KFC (capitalist pig dog!) and by the time I get back there is a somewhat chaotic queue forming.

“What’s going on? We have 40 minutes before the train goes. Why are we lining up?” I testily ask the other.

“You think I chose this? It’s group mentality. One lined up and the rest followed.”

After pointlessly lining up for 20 minutes they opened the doors to the platform. Perhaps I haven’t explained yet that Beijing is big. On top of being big, it’s long. The buildings are big and long and so are the trains. Not only was our train big and long, but they decided to park it a big, long way away from where the tracks come to an end, rather conveniently by the door. A Good 300 metres from it.

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Incheon-Beijing Day 1

The morning of our trip started with DSC00123tea and apprehension. A quick shower, brekkie and last minute triple checks. We have been waiting for this trip for months, even years, and now it’s here I don’t really want to go. Why are we even going? I have a good job here in Korea, Youngja’s doing well at work and we’ve decided to pack it all in and live in sweat house dormitories, showering in toilets and sharing sleep patterns with strangers.  I know the dignified reason for travel: it broadens the mind, you experience cultures out of your comfort zone and realise how small and big this world really is. It’s an incredibly fortunate situation to find yourself being able to get out there and have a jolly good look around.

Though, one shouldn’t forget that travelling is hard. You’re constantly on the move, from plane to bus to subway to whatever next. You flitter and flutter about more than a whippet in heat. If you’re not moving you’re preparing to move, and for a man who has declined whole careers for an extra hour in bed this can be seen as a tricky spot to place oneself.

We said goodbye to Youngja’s mum and set off. Youngja gave her little hug and a pat on the back and tried to make the best of it. They’re a sturdy bunch at the in-laws and public displays of affection are few and very far between. After we were dropped off I asked “How was your dad?” “He was quite upset” the wife told. This came as a surprise, to the untrained eye he seemed his usual self. “He seemed okay to me” I put forth. “He couldn’t look at me.” She confessed, through her blues.

At the airport we met a tiny Chinese man who was very jovial and proceeded to push in front of everyone and get to the front in record time.

“How did he manage that?” Asked the wife.

“Maybe everyone thought he was looking for his mummy.”

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Review – Castaway on the Moon

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Castaway on the Moon (김씨 표류기)

Lee Hae-jun

2009, South Korea

A man heavily in debt decides to kill himself by jumping of a bridge in Seoul, only to fail and become stranded on an island in the middle of the river cutting through the South Korean capital. His inability to swim sinks his chances of escape and he resolves to stay alive. As the weeks and months pass he is initially unaware that over the river from an apartment window, an eccentric recluse is watching him, until she decides to send him a letter.

There are some films which I put into a chart that I keep in my head. The chart is colour-coded and properly indexed. The name of the chart is ‘The Kooky Calculator’. It categorises and critiques movies on; you guessed it, their kookiness. There are three main categories on The Kooky Calculator: the ‘too kooky’, the ‘suitably kooky’ and the ‘king kooky’. The ‘too kooky’ includes “Be Kind, Rewind”, “The Science of Sleep” and Zooey Deschanel: some of them good movies with wonderful scenes but lose themselves inside their own eccentricities.  ‘Suitably Kooky’ have amongst them gems such as “Adaptation” and “Little Miss Sunshine”, good pictures with great ideas but with just too much kooky for it to be a classic. ‘King Kookies’ is where only the best can sit. Films that toed the line of kookiness but still left me emotionally involved and thoroughly entertained. ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ is there, as is ‘Sideways’ and ‘Welcome to Dongmakol’, and now, so is ‘Castaway on the Moon’.

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Review – The Invention of Lying

55256256-1254725530-invention_of_lying_1The Invention of Lying

Ricky Gervais & Matthew Robinson

2009, USA

In an alternate universe where the human race is incapable of lying, a lonely writer stumbles upon the ability and quickly becomes the most powerful man alive.

A concept movie has two jobs: make the concept interesting and maintain the interest to the end. The first job is far easier than the second. I’m sure I could think off the top of my head a good concept for a film…

Henry VIII is deep into the business of executing his fifth wife when a time hole suddenly sucks him to the year 2145 where a sub species of humans are preparing to overthrow the British Royal Family, the last monarchy surviving in the war ravaged future. The royals have spent far too much time drinking tea and waving and have simply forgotten how to command anything other than extra portions at dessert, so it’s up to Uncle Henry to pull them together and defeat these mutant republicans using old school tactics.

I did it. The concept of my film (let’s call it ‘Tudor Vengeance’) is, I think, pretty wonderful, but would it stand up for at least 90 minutes like ‘Planet of The Apes’ or ‘Groundhog Day’ did? Probably (and sadly) not.

Such is the problem with ‘The Invention of Lying’. It catches your imagination but the scenario and the jokes don’t live up to the premise. It starts with a voice over of Ricky Gervais, not Mark Bellison the protagonist played by Ricky Gervais but Ricky Gervais himself, talking as only Ricky Gervais does. I thought it was the audio commentary until it stopped and I realised it was just a bad idea. The film is crammed full of cameos: everyone from Edward Norton as a police officer with a German porn star moustache to Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a simple minded bartender. What is the point of these cameos? The two reasons that they exist seem to be for the actors to say they like Ricky Gervais and to make the audience forget what they are watching isn’t very good. Louis C.K., one of the best and smartest comedians working today, is wasted in a dumb role. His main responsibility seems to be shrugging.

It’s not terrible. It has its fun moments: Jennifer Garner is extremely watchable: something about her admitting to just being interrupted while masturbating is quite endearing, and Gervais holds it together as best he can, but it’s  flimsy and shot incredibly badly. Here’s hoping ‘Tudor Vengeance’ fares better.