• Date & Time: 24th August 2007, 10.13pm
  • Carriage 8, bed 9, train to Ulanbaataar from China. Currently just inside Mongolia, Gobi Desert
  • It was so funny when we were waiting to get through customs and immigration. As mentioned in my previous entry, I’d got to the station pretty early and so was first in line. The initial line was that for the first of 2 luggage x-ray machines; all major Chinese stations have them at the entrance for some reason. That wasn’t so bad, as there wasn’t all that much waiting involved, thus not too much pushing and shoving. After that it was the customs x-ray machine. By this time people were starting to get excited, and there was about 30 minutes of waiting for the officials to show up for them to get inventive with their queue jumping. Now, once again, I was right at the front, standing on the yellow line in front of the immigration booth. Seeing this, about 10 Chinese men who’d turned up late started to slowly edge their luggage under the barrier next to me. When the official on duty turned his back, they proceeded to shove it forward until it was right up against the official booth – and they were now standing in front of me!

    The crowds – and their luggage – begin to gather in front of the station
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    I didn’t mind too much, after all, seats were assigned according to ticket, so being first in line wouldn’t really make any difference in the end.

    But the game wasn’t over yet. The men continued to edge forward whenever the official turned his back until eventually they managed to make it all the way past the booth to the x-ray machine. Eager to get through quickly they then started to place their packages on the machine’s (stationary) conveyor belt! The more they put on, the further into the machine it was pushed – if they carried on like that it would be coming out the other side! …and all this time the immigration staff were still in their office behind the scenes. Now and then a station worker would tell the men (kids) to get back behind the line, but they’d just argue with him until he gave way. It was all pretty funny to watch. I tried to imagine what would happen if they did this in Japan – something tells me they wouldn’t get too far!

    The atmosphere in our cabin is really nice. After a 90 minute walk around the border station (during which I met a very interesting Mongolian student who spoke excellent English, as well as Spanish, Korean and a bit of Chinese), we were back on board, welcomed by the two women in charge of our carriage and its little coal fire. During the first part of our trip they were pretty scary, barking at us to shut our window, yelling in high pitched blabbles for us stow our luggage properly. Now they know our faces, and now we are playing the role of obedient passengers, they are being kind and caring.

    The matrons

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    Once the four of us were seated, the main man, one of the 50 year olds from Shanghai, I’ll call him Barry, asked me for my penknife and cut one of his 6 watermelons from the net under one of the bottom bunks. He divided it into 8 slices, and together we sloshed away at the sweet flesh. Being a bit nervous about one of the matrons showing up and telling us off for getting the carpet wet, we shut the door and tried to keep the noise down. MMmmmmm, it was delicious. …Barry and the other older chap, let’s call him Harold (as he does remind me of the famous Mr. Bishop of Neighboursfame) are now comparing stomach sizes, teasing one another about being overweight.

    From left: Harold and Barry

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    It’s now getting on for 11pm, and I’m feeling dozy. I think I might retire to my bunk and get a bit of sleep. When I wake up we should have finished our Gobi Desert crossing, and will be close to the Mongolian Capital.

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    Oyasumi xxx