welcome to China!

Back to Beijing again; haven’t been to China in 8 years.  Right off the bat, I can see that one thing has not changed, whoa!  Can you say air pollution?  Take a look at the shot above from just above Beijing airport.  The Chinese air pollution is just bad bad bad!  But, my visit to Beijing is short – only passing through on my way from Ulaanbatar to Xian, China.

Just like in Mongolia, the fear of swine flu was at full alarm.  At arrival I see H1N1 stations with cameras to capture the temperature of everyone’s face  – anyone with an abnormal temperature was secluded and screened for H1N1.

China is spending a fortune on infrastructure with new airports going up all over.  The existing airports are being retrofitted with the latest technology.  America needs to wake up and realize that we are on a downward (economic) slide; we (Americans) have no clue how much the rest of the world is spending on infrastructure.  China is spending billions to upgrade their roads, bridges, airports, railroads, docks, and industry.  Every airport that I visited in China had (or was installing) the latest technology - flat screen television screens were more common than not.  And get this – their planes actually take off at the departure time – yes, I mean if the departure time is noon, the plane is IN THE AIR at 11:59.  Don’t be late, the plane is taxiing 10 minutes before the departure time.

The Chinese are spending the kind of money that the US spent during the Roosevelt years.  In a decade or two the Chinese will pass us in GDP.  Of course, their environment is taking a toll…

On my flight to Xian I took a few shots.  Many racked out on empty seats to catch some shut-eye.

As part of the pre-movie programming, we were treated to a wonderful military parade and review put on by “team Beijing.”  The 20 minute program was quite impressive.  All of the troops marched smartly (no one was out of step) somewhat akin to the North Koreans.  The review included tanks, trucks, jeeps, radars, rockets, and big huge missiles that looked quite ominous.  I thought that there must be some military memorial or holiday (the next day I would see military parades and reviews in Xian).

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again; American based airlines suck!  I really wish that more Americans travelled.  Then we would realize how bad Delta, Northwest, American, and United are.  They really suck bad.  Their staff have a bad attitude, their service sucks, they charge for bags, and they don’t even feed you!  Airlines around the world cost less, don’t charge for bags, give you food (and booze), movies, and treat you like you’re a customer and not a burden.  And get this, you don’t have to check yourself in at some kiosk machine – you are checked in by a real human.  Not only do you have to check yourself in now, the airlines encourage you to “pre-board” and print your own pass.  Don’t be surprised if you show up to the airport and have to pay a $10 “forgot your pre-printed” boarding pass fee.

I think we should all refuse to use the kiosk machines and print our own passes.  American airline carriers really do suck…

My flight from Beijing to Xian was only an hour or two and we had 3 (three) drink service rounds – the same number that United offered on a 14 hour Shanghai to San Francisco flight.

I decided to try the local cuisine.  In this case, some pork inside of a roll.  It was really good.


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Ulgi

Once in our van our driver Khavlet quickly made his way to the town of Ulgi.  He and Baatar had loaded the luggage so quickly that I did not have time to take a photo of our ride.  But later, I was able to capture some photos of our Russian van that looked like something right out of Scooby-Doo.  The seats were situated very high in the van to allow for shorter people to see right out of the windows.  Unfortunately, I ended up looking at the roof of the car.  I leaned the seat back and found that I could see out the windows OK if I remained in a reclined position.

Khavlet tells us that they had their first “good” snowfall the day before.  Everything had a fresh coat of white covering and the scenery looked like so many Christmas postcards that I’ve seen.  The town is ringed with mountains that when partially covered with snow gave a beautiful rock and white “speckled” look.  The weather prediction is for a 4 day storm with falling temperatures.  I hope Baatar’s promise of a coat, gloves and hat “on loan” from the Eagle hunters will pan out as I’m not appropriately dressed for this expedition.

On arrival at Khavlet’s house, I met his wife Gapu and daughter in law Antosha.  Yulgi, in the province of Bayan Ulgi (meaning “rich” Ulgi) are all Muslim Khazak people who are not (recently) indigenous to this area.  In the early 20th century, Mongolia was worried about border security with China; specifically, they were worried that Chinese “colonists” would move in, make home in Ulgi, and eventually, China would annex the province as they have done with so many others.  Kazakh tribes were invited in to settle the area.  It is a rough land but the Kazakhs have adapted well.

Later, I would learn that much of the trouble in the Muslim Chinese Uigher province is a result of massive Chinese colonization.  I believe that the Chinese are moving Chinese people into the Muslim areas in order to prevent the province from ever asserting its independence.  They have done the same in Tibet and other areas just as the Russians did in the Muslim provinces and in Ukraine and Belarus.

Once inside, Gapu laid out many sweets, breads, and cookies.  As I visited several different Kazakh families I was always presented with many treats and snacks and treated as an honored guest.  I was immediately given a cup of Chai (tea) with added mare’s (horse) milk.  Later, she served some delicious soup made of carrots, potatoes, and sheep meat.  The final course was a serving of dumplings.  I was immediately impressed with the food.  The soup was very tasty and the dumplings not only tasted wonderful, they were quite rich as well.  I had hopes that I would recover some of the pounds I lost on two weeks of Russian train travel.

Above the TV I noticed a poster of the Ka’ba in Mecca.  The driver explained that his dad had made the Haj (pilgrimage to Mecca) a few years ago before he passed away.  The Muslims of Mongolia, like those in Russia are much more moderate than I am used to from my time spent in the Middle East.  The Kazakh Muslims for example do drink alcohol, something strictly forbidden in many Middle Eastern countries.

Before we began our 6 hour drive to Altai Village, we had to fill the van up with gasoline, purchase feed for the horses, and acquire a border permit from the local military base.  We will be hunting only 15 miles from the Chinese border.  The area does have occasional cross-border smuggling and it is required to notify and gain approval from the military before roaming the mountains so close to the Chinese border.  At the gas station I watched the town cattle trading area.  Herders bring their goats, sheep, cows, yaks, & horses to this area for trading.  I watched as local Kazakhs examined and traded animals and the new buyers walked off with their purchases.

In town, at the feed store, I watched as motorcycle after motorcycle with sidecars came by.  I guess the sidecar motorcycle is quite popular.  In one shot, you can see the typical “don’t take my photo” as one motorcycle rider covers his face as I shoot a photo.  The sidecars seem to be used to transport everything from people, to food, livestock feed, and one of the byproducts of the use of meat; animal skins.

At the local military base, we were “refused service” as the Captain was “at lunch.”  So, we did some more errands and came back later.  On our second visit, we were made to wait an hour until finally one of the officers came out to “interview” our permit request.  Apparently, the Swine Flu regulations limit movements of people from Ulaanbaatar to the outer provinces; the government doesn’t want the few cases in the capital to spread to the rest of the country.  After a “look over” by the officer, he took our documents and went back inside.  About 15 minutes later, a lower ranking enlisted soldier brought back our documents and our permit.  The last hurdle to begin our trek was cleared.  Ignoring the directions of my guide, I went ahead and shot a photo of the border guard.  I am told that the soldiers don’t want to be photographed so I had to be very stealthy with my camera.


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Mongolian National Museum

As I make my way to the National Museum, I see a kiosk a store next to a bus stop.  The little stores, the size of a toll booth, offer magazines, cigarettes, gum, sodas, and bottled water.  When you’re in a hurry, they are very convenient.  Some genius in the government decided that they should all be closed due to the “potential” for swine flu.  Am I the only one that thinks this swine flu is completely exaggerated beyond proportion?

I am quite excited about my visit to the Mongolian National Museum.  The tour book says that it has interesting artifacts and a wonderful historical collection of Mongolian items and treasures.  As a history buff, I just can’t wait to see the collection.

After a quarter mile walk, I finally arrive at the National Museum to begin my tour.


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