I’m blaming the dearth of recent posts on the Great Firewall of China. China may be the new land of opportunity, assuming you’re not a blogger or like to look at the pictures at http://www.nytimes.com.
You can imagine that quite a lot has happened in the intervening month since my last post.
I spent a week with a nomadic family in the Mongolian wilderneess. We ate goat noodle soup for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, drank salty milk tea, and walked 12km each way across the mountains and through the snow to get to the previously mentioned monastery.
Which was a great disappointment.
The monastery was disbanded during the communist era and has recently been re-colonized with about 50 adolescent monks decked out with red and saffron colored adidas gear. The aforementioned 24km round trip trek meant that we had time just enough to sit through a three hour completely disorienting “prayer” service, have lunch, and teach an English lesson.
* A word of advice to any native English speaker planning to make a trip around the world: prepare an intermediate English lesson that can be skewed up or down as needed. Everyone you come across will want you to teach an English class. Sometimes your students won’t know their ABCs. Most of the time, though, you will be the 27th American to have taught them how to say “hello” and they’ll want to learn how to conjugate the verb “to be” as my Mongolian monks did. You better be prepared to bring it.
Needless to say, I survived a day of horseback riding through the mountains with a wooden saddle, carving out the delicacies from a boiled goat head, and leaving my glasses on a hillside somewhere in rural Mongolia and eventually made my way to Beijing.
I was woefully unprepared for the journey, having packed only some bread, cheese, and water for a nearly 36 hour trip so was delighted to find that the couple who shared my kupe was well stocked with kimchi, rice, fish, bread, cake, eggs, etc. They fed me very well. It wasn’t until I was helping to fill out their immigration forms that I realized the irony of the situation: they were North Korean. You really can’t make these things up: North Koreans feeding Americans on their way from Mongolia to China.
Also on the way to China, I was nearly taken off the train when crossing the border for fear that the crazy mountain man on the train in cahoots with the North Koreans was not the scrawny adolescent pictured in my passport. Thankfully, after some consultation the three Chinese border agents decided I wasn’t an imminent threat to Chinese homeland security.
Beijing is spectacular, exploding with creativity and opportunity. After visiting this city of 20 million it’s clear that the 21st century belongs to the Chinese and that America has got to figure out how to do something more than consume if it hopes to be known as anything more than a short lived experiment that had a pretty good run for a while.