Me and My Mongol

by Ant Stone on April 15, 2010

in Mongolia,Trans-Mongolian Railway

They were crammed in like broken string puppets in a dusty backstage box; elbows twisted around ankles, and their shoes a peculiar mishmash of colours.

I forced my way into the pale grey cabin with my backpack, then squeezed out a seat on one of the two lower bunks. “Hi, I’m Ant. Don’t worry, I’ll save my farts for first class,” I joked.

Drunk Russians along the Trans-Mongolian Railway

“I am Anton, and this, is Eveline. We are from Austria.” We shook hands: One gay. One lesbian, I assumed. Another passenger grinned sinisterly. A mute Mongolian, I reckoned. “That’s Erdenebaatar” said Anton, “he’s a Mongolian. Does not say much.”

I’d only decided to go to Mongolia because my ex-girlfriend didn’t want to. I wound her up so much, we broke up. I’d coldly booked the Trans-Mongolian route, because it was cheaper than flying and after five days in Moscow — being bitten by swarms of nyets — I was devoid of romantic notions: I needed sleep.

“Vodka?” Did that Mongolian man just say, vodka? It was 10 o’clock in the morning, I mused.

It appeared there was little choice.

Within an hour I was warmed with the friendship of this smiling Mongolian. Within two, he revealed the vodka we were sharing was meant as a gift for his family. I became good at translating, and informed Anton and Eveline that Erdenebaatar had just completed police training in St. Petersburg, and was heading home to Mongolia. And, would we care to watch a Mongolian pop music video?

Beats looking out the window, I figured.

When Erden wasn’t drinking vodka, he was asleep. He did both with equal discretion. But somehow, when he sat with a bottle of vodka, I felt obliged to sit there with him. Some days, I had to sneak away to meet new people.

Les and Gavin, were a pair of butchers from Lancaster, England. Gavin was in his late-thirties, and wouldn’t have looked out of place in a wrestling ring. Les was old enough to be his father, and looked the spitting image of the boxer, Henry Cooper.

They were travelling from Lancaster to Hong Kong, entirely by train. My eyes widened, “That’s amazing, are you writing a blog?” I heard the distant thud of his meat cleaver. I laughed, nervously. “Do you fancy a game of chess, Ant?” asked Les.

I’m drunk, I thought. “Sure,” I said.

After an hour I retired. The hypnotic thrum of the Trans-Mongolian doesn’t allow you to do anything, for too long.

At 07:35 on day six we arrived in Mongolia’s featureless capital, Ulaanbaatar. I gathered my belongings and alighted Train 4 as a flock of touts descended onto the platform. I stepped to the side.

Tony and Evelin were haggling; their flailing arms danced in the morning chill. Gavin and Les, the motte-and-bailey of the platform, stretched out their weary bodies. I caught a glimpse of Erdenebaatar scuttling between his compatriots. Mongolia, it seemed, was a nation of puppeteers — and I’d secured front row seats to their show.

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This post has been entered into the popular GrantourismoHomeAway travel writing competition. Please show your support for my entry in the comments below, and retweet it to Twitter.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Ashley Hooker April 16, 2010 at 3:01 am

nice post. your writing and story telling is very entertaining! good luck!
.-= Ashley Hooker´s last blog ..Dispatches from the Grocery Story: Mexican Road Trip Snacks =-.

Ant April 16, 2010 at 4:47 am

Thanks Ashley. I’m pleased you think that, as it’s one of the main things I aim for. Keep an eye out for more of these entries over the course of the year. Kia ora

dojo April 20, 2010 at 12:44 am

Ouch, getting into a trip to make your GF mad is not a great starting point 😀

But you can make a great experience out of anything. Not to mention Mongolia is still an amazing place to see. I am happy to have found your blog. Will return here frequently for more of your nice stories.
.-= dojo´s last blog ..New York High Line – another kind of park =-.

Akila April 20, 2010 at 3:28 am

Lovely post, Ant. Great storytelling.

Ant April 20, 2010 at 5:25 am

@ dojo: It’s as good a reason as any, I reckon! Besides, it was getting into the trip — that part was fixed — it was where the trip should go. Looking forward to welcoming you back, thanks for the comment.

@Akila: Cheers, I enjoyed revisiting this period of my trip. The Trans-Mongolian carriage was an interesting starting point.

Jocy April 20, 2010 at 2:25 pm

To spite an ex! Ha! Great post.

Ant April 20, 2010 at 3:37 pm

@Jocy: Doesn’t everyone book trips to Mongolia for this reason?

lara dunston April 20, 2010 at 4:07 pm

This is wonderful, Ant, just wonderful! Love the imagery of the puppets! Fantastic!

Thanks for entering the contest and best of luck!
.-= lara dunston´s last blog ..Snapshots: Paris on a spring afternoon =-.

Ant April 21, 2010 at 4:35 am

@Lara: Thanks, I’m glad you liked it. I find the moment a train pulls up, when a spell of sudden animation engulfs selected passengers, much more alluring than the static tree-lines we pass en route.

jessiev April 22, 2010 at 4:05 am

i love this. i feel as if i were there (w/o having to drink the supposed-to-be-a-present vodka)…the best part is that the quiet mongolian is so central to the story, blowing away our misconceptions.

good luck!
.-= jessiev´s last blog ..Book Review: If America Were a Village =-.

Ant April 22, 2010 at 6:47 am

Thanks Jessie, sounds like I put you, the reader, right where I wanted you. Erdenbaatar was a real creature of habit, and in the company of three Europeans, he was a man of few words. The lack of oral communication meant he (no, we) were bursting with alternative tactics — and the vodka seemed to help the creation process somewhat!

Lisa @ The World is Calling May 2, 2010 at 5:25 am

Congrats on your win, Ant–it was a very entertaining and insightful glimpse into your trek. 🙂
.-= Lisa @ The World is Calling´s last blog ..Glen Eyrie B&B =-.

Ant May 2, 2010 at 5:50 am

I’m pleased to inform you — this post took third place in the competition. The winners were worthy, and had me gripped. Interestingly, all of our entries were written about experiences on Asia’s rail network. It made me realise that the region has some of the most incredible journeys on the planet. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

@Lisa: Thanks a lot, it was the unusual element of an ordinary journey

Anca Popa May 10, 2010 at 9:12 pm

Congrats on your win, Ant! It was a great story!

By the way, I just thought I should let you know that this month Grantourismo is running a new competition with the theme ‘Food and Travel’, so if you have a memorable food experience from your travels please feel free to share it with us. We’d love to hear from you again!
.-= Anca Popa´s last blog ..Kotor Take-Homes: Supermarket Snacks and Souvenirs =-.

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