Beijing to Karakhorin

Trip Start Jul 25, 2006
Trip End Dec 13, 2006

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Flag of Mongolia  ,
Monday, October 16, 2006


Beijing: extended sojourn

I ended up spending 11 days in Beijing, rather than my intended 5 because the chinese have their national week of holidays 2 - 6 October so I had to wait the whole week for the visa office to open. Grrr. In the end though, it was a great excuse to have an extended holiday in Beijing!

China definately feels like the engine room of the world. There is an incredible amount of energy there. I felt it in the seething masses of (mainly weathly or middle class) chinese around me (all on holiday for chinese week) but you also well know that the roaring economy in Beijing is the result of the billion or so chinese farmers and other poor workers round the country who are furnacing the bubbling economy. There was construction on every corner, not just apartment buildings like in UB but great solid towering structures, and just so many people in every nook and cranny of the city. I suppose the contrast with Mongolia makes observations like these especially stark.

Mao's smiling portrait still looks proudly over tianamin square, touched up by "master painters" each summer. His face is still on flags, and books, alarm clocks, and is often hanging from the rear vision mirror in taxis. He is still unquestionably seen as the father of their nation. It seems strange, considering what kind of man we know Mao was, but I guess absorbing certain aspects of their past into their present - like Mao's achievement of re-unification of the China - while rejecting others - like the cultural revolution and other atrocities, is their way of retaining a positive sense of national identity - like many nations have done. Mongolia included (with Chinggis). I get the feeling a sense of nation-hood is increasingly important for China as the country surges forward with such massive ecomonic and technological changes in a such a short time.

I visited most of the sights worth visiting in the city and then found some swiss and chinese friends and we went on a hunt for the best dumplings in Bejing over the period of many days. We found them on the street off Wangfujing Street, to your left just after the Foreign Language Bookstore. There is a shop saying "Chinese Dumplings" - it is not that one, but the one to the left (up a few steps). I am also proud to say that although I was not game enough to eat the dog's penis that a street seller offered me, I did eat a writhing scorpian on a stick!


This weekend, Tsoogi, her husband Boro, her son Turo, myself, and two other friends Arielle and katrina drove up to the ancient capital of Mongolia Karakhorin. In 1220, Chinggis Khan decided to move the capital here. It took a while for permanent structures to be built there, and when they were, they only served as the capital for 40 years before Chinggis's grandson (after conquering China) moved the capital of the mongol empire to Beijing but it is still a revered place here. Teams of German archeologists are currently recovering foundations of the palace and other buildings from the time. Locals have also found some and sell relics to tourists. I almost feel guilty that I purchased an arrow head - it should probably be in a museum!

The capital was sacked and looted by the Manchu's a century or so later, and a beautiful monastary was built on the ruins - Erdene Zuu. Unfortunately, the stalinist purges left the monastary a shadow of its former self, but it is still a beautiful place, in especially beautiful landscape. Apparently, the current Mongolian Government has developed plans to move the capital back to Karakorin because it would be in a more central position geographically. Kind of like the decision to move the capital to Wellington from Auckland, though more drastic because at the moment there is nothing really there at all. It will be a few years coming I imagine because if there is one certainty here, it is that the Mongolian Government has no money.

Just up the hill is "phallic rock", which is just what you would imagine a rock of such a name to look like. The lonely planet says it was erected to prevent monks fraternising with local women. Tsoogi said it is now used as a mecca for couples having trouble conceiving. Easily the most entertaining rock monument I've seen in Mongolia.


We all stayed with a local herder family (who had a wee baby) and we also had Turo (aged 3) with us for the weekend so just thought I'd write about a few observations about kids here. I have only once seen a nappy. Even the tiny new babies wear little pants with a big hole at the back and front and if the baby goes to the toilet, the unfortunate person holding the baby leaps to their feet and runs outside as quick as they can. Usually there is a trail of poo following them but luckily there is no carpet in a ger, so the mess is easily dealt with. Babies are thus taught from a very young age to announce their bladder and bowel movements and so are actually toilet trained from a surprising young age (like a few months). I was quite nervous holding the baby during the weekend (six months old), but amazingly, the baby would cry and his sister would say "he wants to poo" and so take him outside. Western parents would hardly believe their eyes.

Another thing - Turo is as boistorous as you could imagine a little boy of three to be, but I could not believe how well behaved he was. There was not once the whole weekend where he caused a scene, or whinged or was a pain. He just slotted into our trip. I can't imagine this happening back home, where the addition of a small child to a holiday is usually a logistical nightmare requiring massive amounts of additional luggage, particular food and meal time requirements, regular stops in the car etc etc. I especially couldn't believe that he endured a 6 hour journey there and back non-stop (literally) on Tsoogi's knee (or one of our knees) without a single complaint...amazing! And he is just so happy, all the time! Seeing him so happy often made me think of the children I have been working with at World Vision, who can only dream of a childhood like he has.

Today I am heading back out to countryside with World Vision, right across to the west of the country to Zavkhan and Khovd aimags. I don't even want to think about how many hours driving this is going to entail.



Books read: A history of Civilisations by Frederic Grandel
The death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Totstoy
The Symbosium, Plato
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