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.
We 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.
Once lunch had been served (mutton rice. I could live here) we got talking to Janat. His family, like the majority of Kazakh’s are Muslim and he’s hoping to the Mecca in two years for his pilgrimage. He also told us that the farming has been quite hard for him recently as he slipped a disc not too long ago. Youngja offered to give him a massage and not even a minute later she’s got her elbow between his shoulder blades, seemingly digging for gold. The gasps for mercy showed her she was hitting the right spot and not long after she had the whole family at her mercy. They loved it.
After everyone was good and sore we went to the local well to collect water. I don’t think I have ever met a family who still had to collect their well from somewhere other than the taps. It certainly made me appreciate the circumstances in which I was raised, but more than that it made me question my own misuse of water and how wasteful we are with it.
Once the truck was loaded up with the slosh we visited a tourist camp that was on the land. It was set up to show tourists how the nomads live. Every visitor gets their own ger and rather than having to go out to the hole in the ground to do your business, these gers had been designed to house toilets and showers under them. The builder was a very bright man, he had a PHD in engineering and told us (through our tour guide) that his aim was to try and make Mongolian sanitation amongst the nomadic families more modern and safer for the families. It was interesting to see this man and Janat, our host, sitting together. Not to disrespect Janat because what he does and how he lives I’m sure I couldn’t do, but you could feel a separation in them. The strong, traditional mentality against the modern intellectual one. Maybe Janat and his ways will be a thing of the past in the future, and though I’d like to people not getting sick from dysentery as much as the next man, I hope this is not the case.
It was time to go. We said our goodbyes, hugged the baby, stroked the lambs, Youngja cried, all the normal things. On the way back to town we stopped off at The Genghis Kahn Equestrian Statue, more commonly known as The Bloody Big Statue of Papa Genghis. The size of this thing can’t be underestimated. Its base is ten metres and from the hooves to the top of Khan’s head its forty metres high, six metres smaller than The Statue of Liberty. It is one big Genghis. The statue was made with polished steel so in the sun it shines gloriously off his big head, which you can see for miles and miles.
It is a development project that, after its completion, will include hotels and shopping centres but at the moment all it includes is a museum of the history of Mongolia, housed inside the base of the statue.
Genghis Khan’s popularity and admiration in Mongolia is like no one else I’ve ever seen. Like many countries who have had their time in the sun, mine included, Mongolia likes to hold on to past glories and Genghis Khan’s domination of the areas of Europe and Asia is a biggie. Never before or since has one empire had such a large percentage of the world population under their control. More than a quarter of everyone living at the time was a subject of The Khan.
The Museum was full of the usual things: swords, arrowheads, bowls, a 25 foot shoe. Said shoe was apparently made with the hides of 25 cows.
“Whoa! Big shoe. No wonder Genhis Khan found t so easy to win his battles.” I very amusingly said.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, look at the size of his shoe. His feet must have been massive!”
“Oh, no no. This isn’t his real shoe. It’s just for the museum.”
With this comment I felt somewhat defeated and lurched around till it was time to go.
This was the last stop of our tour and we headed back to town. We said our goodbyes to Soko and the driver, exchanged Facebook details and arrived at the hostel to find out we got upgraded to a single room (!) We showered, cleaned clothes and planned dinner. An English guy who we met in the hostel previously had told us about a North Korean restaurant in town. He said he went and it was surreal so Youngja, Jamie, another traveller called George and I made plans to go that night.
As I live in Korea, married to a Korean, I guess I have better knowledge than most westerners about the situation in the North. As much as anyone can know what the hell is going on over there. The two countries are technically still at war and promoting propaganda or even speaking favourably of North Korea is quite dangerous in the South. For these reasons and many more Youngja was less than comfortable about going, but curiosity (and her husband’s insistence) got the better of her.
It was a strange dinner alright. The waitresses, all very pretty with big, plastic smiles take off your coats and do their best to make you feel comfortable, which might be the reason why I was the opposite. George making quite verbal jokes about the state of the country didn’t help me relax any more either.
“How is the price compared to South Korea?” Jamie asked YJ.
“It’s about the same, maybe a bit more. I’m surprised it’s this expensive”
“Well, nuclear weapons aren’t cheap. HAHAHAHAHA!!!!!” was George’s appendage to the discussion.
The man is young, and maybe I’m paranoid, but I didn’t much like how he was talking. Besides being quite impolite to the staff it also made me anxious. I asked if maybe he’d keep it down and he obliged.
The dinner was good, well worth it, but when the ladies dressed up and started singing and dancing about the fatherland that’s when the fun really started. They were singing their confused little hearts out.
“I need to go to the toilet.” Said YJ
“Be careful” I whispered.
“If I’m not back in 10 minutes come and find me.”
While she was away George suggested that maybe the North Koreans wouldn’t take it so kindly that a Korean was married to a westerner.
“They are against that kind of thing.”
“Well I’m sure they’ll get over it.”
Just then, the waitress appeared and asked me if the Korean girl was my girlfriend.
“No, she’s my wife.”
I won’t lie. After I answered I was more than a little flustered. What if they kidnap Youngja, send her to the north, chuck her in the work camps then stick her on telly as an example of the South’s brazen marriage policy? This can’t happen! I must stop this outrage from ocurr……
“Oh. Hi! Are you okay?”
“Better than you, it seems.”
“Yeah, let’s go.”
As we were leaving, after the waitresses helped to put on our scarves in a somewhat intimate manner, the owner of the restaurant came out. He spoke to Youngja, thanked us for coming and presented us with North Korean books on Kim Il-Sing and Kim-Jeong il. I was exstatic. These are books that you couldn’t find in any book shop in the world. Books on North Korea, written by North Koreans in North Korea! Incredible.
“You can’t keep them.” Said YJ.
“You can’t keep these books.”
“You try getting them off me.”
“If you bring them into South Korea, not only will they deport you, they could put me in jail.”
After thorough negotiation it was decided I could keep them but they would be kept in England. I considered sending them in the post in Russia, as I didn’t want to lug three heavy books around Russia and Europe. Jamie, who had just finished the Trans-Siberian from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar advised against that.
“If you post anything in Russia, You won’t see it again. You might as well chuck ‘em out the window.”
“Is it that bad?”
“A friend of mine has lived in St. Petersburg for the last thirteen years. Since then he’s been married and divorced. He’s still waiting for some wedding presents.”
After dinner we headed home and got an early night. Another border crossing tomorrow. Only this time it’s Russia…