Hi. You are looking at a blog that I created when travelling around Asia. It now serves as a diary to that experience.
This post is not relevant to this blog or the journey. I just want to brag with my uncle and link to his blog (click the photo below). Update: He is back home after round-the-globe two-and-half-years trip.
My uncle is on an epic journey around the world and a recent message from him gave me the idea of mentioning it here. My blog is dead now after it has done its service, I just want to show what a cool uncle I have :-)
He is circumsizing the globe on his own in the most free nature imaginable – flying paragliding over the lands, hitchhiking yachts across the seas. He is good.
And he’s f*ing owning it!
This one is going to be in Czech. I owe it to a friend.
Když jsem se kamaráda ptal, co by ode mě chtěl dovést, řekl si o výčet různých, navzájem spolu nesouvisejících detailů. (Těch, které nás baví a často nakonec reprezentují víc než ony ‘velké’ věci.) Tak jsem mu to sepsal cestou ve vlaku do Chengdu, teď jsem ten otrhaný sešit vytáh a konečně sedl k přepsání:
Krávy, co žijí na ulici žerou z odpadků, hubou se přebírají v igelitových taškách a přežvykují zbytky zeleniny smíchané se smetím a obaly. Vlak z Tibetu jede tiše a vyrovnaně, je ale zakázáno pověsit si tašku na háček vedle okna. V horských ubytovnách ale i v městských luxusních hotelech hosté dostanou na pokoj horkou vodu ve velké omlácené termosce. Při slonovinovém pobřeží je zvykem jakoukoliv věc podávat oběma rukama, na znamení úcty a respektu, v Indii a dál na sever se předměty a obzvláště peníze podávají pravou rukou, přičemž levá podpírá loket. Ve východní Evropě jsou psi zlí a mají navrch, na blízkém východě žádní nejsou, zase až v Indii, ale bojácní, ubozí a se staženým ocasem. Všude a vždy lidé volí mezi svobodou a bezpečím. Pro vyjádření míry velikosti se v Tibetu používají “spící děti”, př. “tak velký jak, že mezi jeho rohy mohou spát dvě děti”. US Američené používají pro představu velikost mikrovlnky. Na jižní straně Himalájí se v tropických lesích pěstují ananasy a u jezer jsou nosorožci, na severní straně se po vysoko položených pláních prohání chlad.
Od Turecka dál na východ až k Žlutému moři je lidu přes kultury a náboženství společný zvyk přivazovat do větru pruh látky když si něco přejí. Pochopit proč je srpek měsíce někdy vidět naležato a někdy svislý dělá lidem obtíže všude. Pár století po smrti Kopernika a Galilea si lidé stále nejsou moc jistí u představy pohybů Země kolem Slunce a jejich důsledků na proměnu dnů a období během roku. Studenti univerzitních oborů dovezených ze Západu – jako “Pokročilé Účetnictví 2”, si stejně nedovedou poradit s trojčlenkou. Mnoho lidí nevěnovalo úsilí naučit se číst a psát, ale stydí se za to. Sýr z jaka chutná jako klika od hajzlu na velrybářské lodi. Každý Íránec má doma rozkládací matrace a deky pro hosty. Národy velmi pijící čaj používají průhledné skleničky, které horké nelze uchopit. Drtivá většina lidí uvádí přírodu jako hlavní přednost své země. Nejhloupější důvod, proč se vyhnout Nepálu co jsem slyšel je, že tu žijí velcí pavouci (četl jsem v Lonely Planet forum). V totalitních režimech si muži s oblibou montují do autorádií barevně svítící diody. Kriket se hraje v zemích, kde často a proměnlivě prší. V čínském vlaku každý jí jídlo donesené v igelitce hůlkama přímo z té igelitky, jen krůtí pařáty se drží v ruce, drápy k nebi, a postupně se ohryzávají.
Při omluvě či vyjádření provinilosti vyplazují Nepálci a Tibeťané jazyk, např. babička, která vám šlápne na nohu na vás vyplázne jazyk a odejde; kdysi se totiž trestancům propichoval jazyk a ukázat celistvý je proto na znamení “jsem dobrý člověk”. Buddhističtí mniši v róbě procházející se s plechovkou Coca-coly v ruce nejsou až taková nevídanost ani zamýšlená dekadence. Národy se liší ve způsobu počítání na prstech a v tom, který dobytek je možné jíst. Intuitivní gesto pro potřebu močit je zdvižený malíček. Lidi rádi pálí uhlí. V Číně nemá toaletní papír středovou rulku a je motaný plně už od středu. V Íránu není záchodový papír. V maďarské kantýně dostane člověk na řízek s bramborem marmeládu. Turečtí policajti nosí kšiltovky podle současných hip-hopových trendů. Ve Spojených Arabských emirátech se k dekoraci používají okázalé materiály, co vypadá jako pozlacené, je opravdu ze zlata a co vypadá jako stříbro je ve skutečnosti z platiny. Čínská novozástavba používá nemožně laciné materiály. K nám dovážená zelenina a ovoce se ve svých přirozených habitatech vyskytuje v daleko rozmanitějších druzích, barvách a velikostech. Oblečení se v rozmanitých velikostech dostane jen u nás. V buddhistickém kláštere v Shigatse v Tibetu je na stěne stejná malba jako v židovském synagoze v Isfahánu v Íránu, stejná jako u mnohé křesťanské obrazotvorbě – mír a klid na obláčcích a Alighierovo peklo pod nimi, kde démoni sápou lidská těla. Elektrické vedení hyzdí krajinu všude úplně stejně.
Některé číslice se vyslovují stejně v tibetštině a japonštině. Některé číslice se vyslovují stejně v češtině a kurdštině. Ženy to mají všude těžké. Po opuštění Evropy začali řidiči kolem mě troubit při jakékoli příležitosti; jako otázku, oznámení, při předjíždění, při spatření jiného auta nebo kárání sebe sama. V krajinách, kde tygr prochází lesy a jeho vzhled není příliš známý – protože kdo viděl víc než mihnutí mezi větvěmi nemůže vyprávět – v těch krajinách je tygr vnímán jako beztvará hrozba; v zemích, kde si jeho strnulý obrázek prohlíží lidi už v dětských knížkách si mocnost jeho tlapy příliš neuvědomují. Kdejaký kluk chce být policista a mnohý muž má k policii odpor a despekt. S neoplozenými vajíčky slepice vymýšlí lidé po celém světě šílené kousky. Ceny v obchodech bez cenovek a u řidičů rikši jsou nižší v brzkých ránech. Nikde jsem neviděl lásku tak svobodnou jako v Evropě. V Indii se už nemůže jezdit na střeše vlaků. V Teheránu žije tolik lidí jako v celém Česku a cesta do parku mi trvala stejně dlouho jako z Frenu do Prahy. V Turecku nežije mnoho jelenů. Bytosti zvěrokruhu nejsou ve svém plném složení příznačné pro žádné jedno místo na světě.
Koupit si balíček chipsů je oblíbená kratochvíle i v zemích třetího světa. Květiny se dávají bohům, ne ženám. Před jídlem si lidé nevyjadřovali přání dobré chuti. Odpověď “ne” a “nevím” je směrem na východ postupně vzácnější. Nudle jsou chutnější. V mnoha zemích mi byl jogurt představen jako unikátní národní pokrm. Folklórní zpěváci si mohou žít nad poměry v Turecku a Íránu. Nejpřátelštější jsou Muslimové, nemuslimové nemají Muslimy rádi, Muslimové nemají rádi ty, co zabíjejí Muslimy. Všichni se snaží mít americký přízvuk, gramatika a slovní zásoba je až na třetím místě po slunečních brýlích. Opice mají díky elektrickým kabelům snažší cestu z města ke chrámu. Orientální poezie se čte s naléhavou melancholií a ulevující radostí, jí vyobrazený život se zdá být obnažen v slunci a zahradě růží, v úsměvech a zamračeních férového nepřítele, v ohních spalujících vlastní srdce; jak odlišné od heroické zmužštilé poezie Řecka a Říma. Lidi nemají skříně, protože jejich oblečení sestává z toho, co mají na sobě a toho, co se suší za kuchyňským oknem. Na Tibetské pláni je možné spatřit počátek duhy. Čínský znak pro “ženu” a “otroka” je velmi podobný. Při pojídání hroznového vína oloupávají slupku z každé bobule. Jeden kluk v Íránu si nevážil brouka. Čínské instantní nudle jsou opravdu chutné, i Zápaďáci je pojídali jako chipsy.
V dálkových busech napříč Íránem se rozdávají džusíky v trojstěnném alobalu (jako u nás, divný popis) s brčkem; místo pro otvor je sice vytištěné, ale není předkrojené, a tak jej všichni otáčejí vzhůru nohama a propichují dno; k tomu je nejlepší nechat brčko napůl v obalu, nemůže jím proudit vzduch a je tak pevnějším kopím. V Bombeji spí někteří lidi na úzkém obrubníku mezi pruhy rychlostní silnice, tam je muchy neotravují tolik jako při spánku na chodníku. Osobní přepravní společnosti mají problém pojmenovat záliv přes který letí/plují jako “Perský” nebo “Arabský”, polovina pasažérů si vždy stežuje. V městských autobusech v Teheránu se řidiči platí až při vystupování. Spousty zemědělských produktů jsou v EU levnější než v zemích třetí světa, a cukr je tady sladší. Íránci znají Kafku a Kunderu. V Rumunsku dělají pálenku z kmínu. V Anatolii je nejdražší benzín na světe. V Indii jsou komáři maličtí a člověk ani necítí jejich bodnutí. Delfíni v Černé moři se páří jen v rámci druhu nebo dokonce jen rodin. Splodit v Japonsku dítě prý znamená závazek postupně do něj investovat 150 000$. Nejlepší sušenky v Tibetu mají na obalu nápis overbalanced mouthfeel, daintiness. Opraváři deštníků. U silnice mezi Pokharou a Kathmandu vám za vymočení se v toaletě dají jednu rupii. Na indicko-nepálské hranici je před vchodem do turistické kanceláře obrovská kaluž, mají ale mapy zadarmo.
I arrived some two weeks after my body. Talking about Tibet with a friend really took a big piece here and then schoolmates in a pub were the first ones to actually get some answers from me. I might be here wholy by now. And it didn’t pain as much as was warned. I haven’t cried not even once yet. At the same the normalization process of the society started to work very quickly. Things I stopped to take as granted there seem pretty normal again here and the ideas I was bearing in mind there sound a bit alienated now. Besides, the everyday stuff: I went to a supermarket, I flushed my shit with a drinking water, I cooked in a clean kitchen, I was deciding for what party to vote and could order and eat in a restaurant despite it was raining outside (at rainy days in India the water was even more dangerous than normally so I stayed on bananas). A tram ride to school was so exciting I couldn’t focus on reading: people walking on the street, people standing reading newspaper, a city with its cafes and galleries and shops and all, this is so cool! This will be so exciting! That’s the life I led and will lead now!
But then my hair was cut. That broke me. Samson cut. I feel insecure and the city boy hair cut doesn’t resemble from what I’ve come, it pretends everything is normal. It’s not.
Isla wrote me this in an email:
the feeling of being alienated. i think you have that. how to explain
it? remember when i was freaking out in prague in the winter, saying
that i feel that i don’t belong anywhere? people around me think i’m
strange, and i have nothing to hold on to.
i just thought this could be something that’s really giving you a
tough time now – while being on the road, you were naturally “the
fool”, you know, the strange foreigner, like you said yourself that it
was just cool for you to do stupid stuff and to point at people’s food
in the restaurant. this you can just laugh about, because it’s your
traveller role, you are in a way comforted and secured by the mask of
the foreigner. but now you are in your home country, in your daily
life, which somehow feels or is expected to be more “real”. you see
your life rather as a continuum, something you need to build up an
master, suddenly living day by day beside the road and getting lost
isn’t enough. and then it’s of course much harder to run into
conflicts, arguments, frustrations with people. because they are your
“own” people, your country men, schoolmates and friends and even
family. it’s tough, because you’re still somehow the fool but you’re
not protected by the traveller’s label anymore. you’re just you, and
it’s much harder to face the discussions as you, and it’s much harder
for people to accept weird stuff from You, who should just be a normal
diplomacy student in their minds.
but you can make it, and understanding where the difficulties come
from is already making them smaller.
well, all that above i was just guessing, partly writing about myself
and partly about you, i don’t know if you feel like that or not. do you?
Yes, I do. But no big drama. Some things are hurting you, some other empowering you, you are building stuff with people you love and are cautious with people who disagree with you, you know, the usual.
i think of you in iran while i’m sitting in the
toilet, i don’t know why then, but i realize how important travelling is
in this time. and i think that you’re most probably the best diplomat i
Yeah, I was all like “Can I have more that yellow rice?” and they were “Sure, and tell us again about the war you guys are planning over there.”
I entered my old flat in Prague and among the mess found an advertisement leaflet on the ground for a persian carpets sale out. I looked at the pictures of carpets. Different styles and patterns. Tabriz, Zanjan, Esfahan, Kashan. I knew them all. I lived in the house of a carpet maker in Kashan, this usage of blue, green and orange is a local thing. Next to my bed, there was another leaflet, the supreme master Ching Hai talking about the heaven on Earth and peace among creatures. It really looks like some crazy sect crazy pamflet, universe people or something. But now I know Ching Hai and her work in South East Asia and global advocacy of values I approve. I’ve been in her vegan restaurants in Ulaanbaatar. These two leaflets look like someone put them in my way to reflect something. Funny is that the latter might have been left in the flat by me myself some half a year ago when I was rather curious in studying materials that sects are distributing to be aware of them or to make fun of them.
Then I took a bus and saw a sign “Tibetan furniture”. I went to the mountain with my mum and sis and in a little pub on the top there was a picture of Annapurna. I see Asian people on the tram and can tell the country they are from. I saw a Tibetan restaurant and I think one temple from the pictures on the wall was labeled wrongly. But maybe wasn’t and I just remember it wrong. There is a Chinese poster in the bathroom and many teas in the kitchen. On the first school day (for me. it was third week already) there was a Turkish ambassador in our class, (not) talking about Kurds. And just now I returned from a conference about the freedom and democracy where Iranian Nobel peace prize laureate was talking about the regime and the land I got familiar with. And I could go on with this list of reminders and memory activators, but the biggest surprise was at another place I wouldn’t expect, at my grandparents’ house.
Among many things, grandfather asked me how Tehran was. “Foolishly huge city, very ugly city, no heritage or sightseeing really from the past, and from the modern time I visited the former sah’s palace only. That was fun, he had glasses from Czechoslovakia there and lots of hunting trophies.” I summed up the things I thought might interest him.
“Reza Pahlavi?” asked my grandfather, and I thought he read it somewhere to ‘prepare’ for our talk, to be smart with maps and encyclopedias. Sometimes he does that.
“Yeah, that one, you know his name?”
“Sure, remember how I told you about my ‘diplomacy’ when I served as a forest keeper? We hanged out once, went for a hunt, drank some slivovice…”
I can’t tell when my grandfather fantasizes too much to impress me.
“… I have a picture of us together somewhere.” The old man stood up and returned after a moment of searching cursing with this photo in his hand:
“The one in the middle is the prince of Persia and the guy standing above him, that’s me. We shot the biggest mouflon together, he was happy and for the banket wanted me to sit by his right hand. The trophy won a golden medal – you must have seen it in the palace.”
My jaws fell and the old man went for his afternoon nap.
Right after the first city in Estonia: “Wow, Europe is exactly how the Indians told me – everything is clean and nobody is there.”
Really, I was told that by Indians who visited Europe and was amuzed because the way Westerners describe the shock after getting off the plane in Delhi or Mumbai usually is “everything is mess and dirty and there are floods of people everywhere”. I remembered of their other side perception immediatelly after crossing the border – though I didn’t expect much of a sudden change when coming back slowly through Russia – where I saw road signes that actually did have influence over the drivers and the traffic, I saw no littering, I saw decent houses, I saw broad green empty landscapes between cities and I saw really only a few people walking the streets, a lot of space.
Then came the coldness, no one was really willing to help me. Hitchhiking was slow and people were looking at me suspiciously or in a fear, and I’m the freaking sun shine smiling traveller with a backpack! One that took me a bit told me: “You are very lucky with me, that I took you.” I didn’t ask why. Sun was coming down and my goal of getting to Poland in one day ended with not even leaving Estonia. (btw, did you guys know how close the land and the language is to Finland? I did not! I thought my impressions were influenced as I expected all the time to enter Europe through Finland and finally see the country of my beloved, but other people confirmed that as a fact. I didn’t know, I had seen the Baltic states in one post-soviet package. I’m sorry and thanks for the lesson.) So. I was there, the sun was not. “Can I please sleep in your barn, or elsewhere, any shelter, I’m a passing by traveller on a way home?” No. Yeah, it’s Europe, hospitality for a traveller is advocated by Christianity in the same way as other religions do, but people here are afraid of one another and content and happy in their privacy, in their, in their car. I get it, I understand it, I wouldn’t let a homeless person in my flat right now, I wouldn’t. But still. Why Asians can? Only the westernized of them would not. We are people. Helping people is good. I understand the reasoning why I wasn’t offered a shelter back in home Europe, I do, but isn’t it a contradiction of our declared morals and conducted actions? Maybe it’s not. Again, I think of myself as helping and yet would not let in the homeless person into my Prague’s flat where I’m sitting now writing my blog. We transfered the responsibility to a state, alright, we pay taxes and then we don’t have to talk to people on streets, alright. Is that how we go? Yes, I guess, I do, people around me do, that’s the social solidarity, one of the base pillars of Europe. But isn’t there something strange about it? Something to do with ‘we are people’? I’m quite confused about the text I have just produced, but I was not confused by the text I saw two days ago – I was walking across Prague to meet friend and I saw this election poster saying “Off with homeless and addicts”. Literally. I was really mad. I’m not a saviour of the poor but this made me go to a neighbouring paper shop to buy colored chalks (the background was white as the chalk I carry with me often) to write on the poster “Really? What do you want to do with them? Kill them? Or throw into a garbage?” when I noticed it was a social-democratic party. Freaking CSSD, s-o-c-i-a-l democrats. Few minutes later and few meters away I was painting on the pavement in a park. There were the cobblestones and I only painted three of them brown and green. Autumn you know. Police came and told me not to draw on stuff. That really took my breath away. I wasn’t fucking able to respond and let them go.
I got carried away. Where I was? Estonia. In the end I slept in the abandoned cottage. One could see it’s empty for years and curious people (neighbors) came in time ago only to go through the inventory and take away some valuable stuff and leave the rest in mess. The next night, in Latvia, a farmer let me sleep on a straw in his barn. My sweater was full of straw and I was happy for that.
Then I got a ride from a guy going to Germany. He was really kind and friendly and suddenly my way to Berlin was secured. I was going there, to meet the love I have left 6 months ago. I was not even that nervous, there was this powerful energy in the air. Suddenly the air was hot, the land was cracking, trees jumping and my arrival has come. I could not think of anything else all day. In the night we came to the German border and the driver and his friend in the other car wanted to take a short nap. It was 4am in the morning, last 150km and I didn’t feel like sleeping. I tried to hitch, it was a bit too much crazy but there was so much energy in me I didn’t feel the cold and wrote Berlin on the cardboard paper with a smile. Some young guys driving Jaguar to sell it in the West took me but left me on the highway south from Berlin. Now it was freaking cold, I was on the wrong side of the highway, but looking at the stars to find north just for the backup possibility of walking through the forest and night towards the city, no worry. So I walked across this gas station to see if there is any way how to cross the highway and get to the one one the other side when suddenly I saw hitchhikers! I bursted into the laughter. “The last thing I’d expect is more freaks hitchin at 5am!” They were not really smiling, they were freezing and hopeless. They told me they are going from Berlin. What?? “And you made it here, this bit, overnight?” I tried to encourage them and said I’m going the opposite way. “Then you have to run across the highway.” “I must not die tonight, on the doorstep,” and I disappeared in the forest, walked along the autobahn till the first bridge and walked back to that gas station. I bought a cup of tea for the price of my daily budget and started to ask people if they don’t happen to go to Berlin or elsewhere where train or bus is. No; I don’t have space; no; I’m going somewhere else; I don’t have space; I’m going to Poland;… I started to make strokes on the ground counting the answers types (see? i do carry chalks with me). “I don’t have space” won. Just when I was drawing a monkey on the asphalt and the sun was getting up, one driver agreed to take me. And where was he from? Iraq. He emmigrated from Kurdistan more than ten years ago. I was trying to remember some Kurdish I was learning few months ago when I visited those lands. Nice closing of the circle of the journey. I told him about demonstrations agains US. He told me we are stupid and how cruel Saddam was and how thankful he is to USA. He spent his emmigration in Germany, is now a German citizen, got a technical university degree and was going back home week later, to help rebuild his country and return home. These were his last days. I was returning home at that very moment, I told him I’m going to see the girl I love but left for the journey. He asked on what street does she live and gave me perfect directions right away. “I was working as a taxi driver on the start,” he explained.
I bought something for the breakfast. This is it. I’m there, on the street I imagined in Mongolian ger or Himalayas, ringing the bell I imagined from the train or from a desert. And there she comes, opens the door and we hug and I feel we still feel it. We go up but I don’t remember the floor, I remember the way she walks the stairs only. We talked something but I remember the timidness to kiss only. The flat was the most beautiful one. “I built the nest for us, ” she told me and I couldn’t believe I’m really there, that I have really returned and this is real. Physical body came but the mental luggage will arrive later. It was too much to believe I’m there for both of us, like if it was normal. On the third day she broke down in tears, couldn’t take this so normal so easy return with a smile like if nothing happened and there is no gap to span, and by this short cry made it more real and helped. Moreover, for the first time with my own eyes I saw how much I hurt her in the spring. There are things to buil and rebuild waiting for me here and the suitcase with my mind is still on the way.
I was hitchhiking from St. Petersburg. Years ago I’d think of that as dangerous, cold, long and tiring. Coming from the other side, I saw it from the other side. I was looking forward to using my thumb again for moving and for counting every fifth birch tree behind the train window (which reminds me that every nation uses different way how to count using hands and fingers and it would be cool to cover it by a blog post. if i was a better blogger). So I started hitchin and was all smiling about that and then it started to be cold and tiring. Virtually the only drivers that took me were army men. Apparantely the military training teaches one of empathy and love towards other creatures. They helped me.
Helped to get to the border where was this freakishly long line. Queue of people waiting longer that the one in front of the hell’s gate. I don’t like lines. If I was going to stay the line not only I’d die there but also couldn’t make across the Baltic states (but I was dropping my ambitions to make it to Poland in one day and had no place for night arranged anyway). With a hope that there is a “EU citizens” gate I walked to the front of the line. There was no such a gate. Obviously. But the fact that I was not a Russian person smuggling weird stuff in a plastic bag but a foreigner with a decent backpack impressed the people so much they themselves told me I could go to the front.
The policewomen there were moving slowly, leaving the glass cabin for a long moments, no need to work hard to make the waiting time for the people in the queue few hours shorter, no. There is no point, the line is there everyday, again and again, never ending line of Russians with their bags. But not for the young officer, she was new. She took my passport, looked at the last page, then at me, then browsed through all the pages, back at the last page, another long look at me, then put the passport in the scanner, then under the UV light, then all pages under the light, and then repeated this whole process about 8 times. “Is there a problem?”
“No. No problem.” And she repeated the scan and light and long looks 5 more times.
Come on, I’m on the line of Europe, let me go home, don’t start with Tibet visa shit or anything. Please. I was waiting paitiently few more minutes after which she stood up and left the cabin. She went over to the second check-out cabin and returned after a while accompanied by the older policewoman. Now they did the round together. Looks, scans, lights, looks. Just tell me, tell me, what is it. Did someone put drugs in my backpack? Those fools who let me go in front of them? Is my name on the persona non grata list? Or something with the visas? I want to go home, but tell me what is it!
“Excuse me, is there a problem?” I asked again.
“No, no problem.” Said the experienced officer.
“You can go.” Said the young beautiful lady and gave me my passport with a smile.
What? Well, ok. I’m done. I just took my backpack and left the building.
When I was crossing the brifge across the river, going to Europe, there was a girl standing in the middle, laughing. We knew each other shortly from before.
“Why are you laughing so much? Now it really seems like we just managed to smuggle some shit.” I said to her.
“Do you know what she said? The lady that was checking you, when she came over to the cabin where I was being checked…”
“I don’t know what to do with this guy. On the picture he is a little boy and now he looks like the monkey makake.” We bursted to a laughter.
“Ok, so now I’m a monkey, officialy. She said that aloud in Russian on public?”
“Yes, it was so hard not to laugh.”
“End of fun, now the Estonian border. Freaking border of the Shenghen. They might be tough.”
But they were not. No line there.
“Do you have anything to declare?”
“Alcohol, cigarettes, …?”
“I wanted to buy vodka but I run out of money.” I thought it’s ok to joke, he was young.
“Just go, go.”
“Have a nice day!”
And I was in Europe, at home. I sat on the pavement and was just crazy smiling. I wanted to eat the last piece of bread but it must have fallen of my backpack somewhere at the station. Whatever. I took a chalk and wrote I’M HOME!
Mongolia. What did I see? A steppeland, ancestor of nomads and conquerors, a country between two superpowers, capital city with a cool name. Actually, these were the images in my mind before visiting the country but more or less it didn´t change during my short stay there. The image started to be enriched in Inner Mongolia, northern province of China. Not because of the name only, the Mongolians and their culture is strongly present in the region.
As a passing visitor you have the chance to notice the food and the language on the streets at least. Not that Chinese don’t have meaty cuisine but the Mongolian lust after meat can’t be beaten. There is mutton in everything, every dumpling was wearing horns and no soup or tea or anything is without fat. I would expect even a chocolate to contain blood drops. Obviously, this comes with the severe landscape and climate where you just can’t go without a fair slice of schnitzel. Nevertheless, I found out about 20 vegetarian or vegan restaurants in Ulaanbaatar which I doubt the locals even know about (even in vocabulary, there is the same word for milk products as for vegetarian food, literally “white food”) but it surprisingly many, I feel like it could compete with Prague and in my eyes it shows that every extreme or force creates a counter force or movement.
The language is so interesting! It’s like mixture of everything. The calligraphy looks like Arabic but it is written vertically, from the top down. The sound of the spoken language hasn’t stopped to amaze me. It sounds like German, than few words like Chinese, some Italian and then suddenly a noise that scares you. One Mongolia friend read the Czech text and Czech names with no problem and even his R was perfect. I was shocked, nobody in the world can pronounce that right! Even some Czechs with our president in the lead. Mongolian has such a broad variety of sounds that all possible organs are used to utter all syllables from all languages, he explained to me. It’s like a computer Unicode, the set of all possible sounds. But it doesn’t sound like cacophony, it’s really pleasure (maybe out of the interest) to listen to, except the noise that is used to express agreement – “yes” is like to hear a person sniffle.
The speech only was I found in the Mongolia itself, for writing the Cyrillic is used nowadays. The Russians came to liberate them from Chinese after the first world war and as they do, they came with many advices and improvements, so the original old Mongolian script is preserved in school books, one newspaper, old books and expats communities (emmigrants always work as a preserver of a culture. I was told I can hear old fashioned Italian words only in the little Italy in New York).
Drinking is really popular, and karaoke is really really popular (I guess if you open a pub without a mic in UB (Ulaanbaatar is just too long, not only for locals (it means “red hero” by the way, another improvement from the Russian liberators) than the only your guests would be foreigners).
Oh, foreigners. Another example of a force and counter force? Tourists in tents I will describe later, first I learned about the foreign investment and nazis. Mongolia is very rich in natural resources. Iron, coal, silver, dinosaurs, if you start digging you will come across something valuable and other countries noticed. So they came to help. Most of the wealth is owned by Canadian companies, or Chinese or other. Mongolians themselves stayed with their tents and cattles, just few bribed politicians who sold the country to foreign lobbyists are living the high life. Earlier this year, only big demonstrations made the government rethink selling another share of the national coal mining industry to the Canadian private company that would have 98% control over the Mongolian coal. I think they made it 50% in the end I’m not sure, but it’s a sweet deal anyway, and not the only one. Sometimes the operation is being done as a development aid. Sure, if money infects the character than it’s better to ship all the wealth away so the natives can stick to their culture and way of life. “Ta ikh tus bolloo” is ‘thanks for helping’ in Mongolian.
The danger of not robbing the natives can be seen in another example. On the way there I was meeting happy tourists in an outdoor jackets in the opposite direction to China (with two goretex jackets on the way to Tibet). They were telling me not to miss the true experience of a Mongolian traditional ger (that’s how the round tent, the yurt is called). But I was not really willing to pay 50$ per day for a trip to the steppe on a jeep and then sleeping in the tent. Later when I was in UB, one guy was telling me how this is tearing apart the souls of the people and how he can see it on his own village in the countryside. Hospitality has been part of the culture as in all Asia but here in the hard environment it was a question of survival and thus letting a stranger into your tent was seen a granted thing you should not be thankful for. It might be rude. But now, all the freaking adventurous westerners are jumping on the trans-siberian train with their jackets and dollars to see the great wall of china and as Mongolia is on the way, why not get out and make one more folder of photos. So these days, knocking on the tent costs around 30€ per night (and you actually pay in euro notes) and the people in the natural parks have two gers for them and their family and six more for Dutch tourists. We tourists hate tourists. It’s just business as usual in the end, nothing unordinary, it’s just I remember the look of the eyes of my friend and his serious concern that those people are not able to move with the animals, nor stay with broader family or friends (who would take the place without paying) and the money made can’t be spent on anything anyway, just better accommodation for the coming tourists and vodka and the people are more and more getting lost.
The government was holding a meeting in the desert at the time I was there to point out how serious the situation is with the Gobi swallowing one mile after another. The desert is advancing in China as well, Beijing is afraid to be in the desert in some years so they are planting tree barrier, green wall of china. The Mongolia is said to be one of the countries most painfully hit by the climate change. The rainfall and seasons change is really important for a country where the sky is the only thing you have besides the dry soil and your moving house and cows.
And then the nazis. When I was buying a watermelon from a Mongolian man in China I told him I’m going to his country and he told me “Watch out, there is a lot of nazis these days”. What the *ck? Yes. There are boys and men all around, you can notice, wearing tattoos with swastikas, freaking hackenkreuz. It’s not just an ordinary symbol and decoration as I got used to in Nepal and India, they are actually hailing and talking about Adolf. What is this guy doing here, I asked. One man told me (I was asking carefully) that they are not that crazy and not that bad. He got my attention. As he said, they are just protecting the country from evil foreigners. He got my attention. He said they act when Koreans are trafficing their women (gorgeous!) or Chinese smuggling and dealing drugs when the police is inactive, otherwise the are cool and calm. Well, I didn’t feel good about it. I actually had a “dialogue” with such a young guy. He wasn’t speaking English, I understood just “Mongolia” and his rings but we managed to part with saying goodbyes and gestures of respect.
Then I left the city and went to that tent in the beautiful mountains and forests. I said I have money for one night only but can help working in exchange of shelter for the following days. It was amazing, just horses running over plains and clouds over the sky. I was walking through wonderful wood, crossing the rivers with shoes in my hand as I had no horse or jeep, hiking in one of the healthiest landscape I’ve seen and walking back to my ger barefoot. And after one day of working I got sick. I eat really funny carrot. It was too funny so I had to spay my days with a stomachache and nights with stove and candles writing letters that were good for the fire only. After that a horse took my across the rivers and I returned to UB to pick up my visa and jump on a train to Russia. Arriving to the city from distance felt like coming to a music festival tent village, low line of tents and houses rises high only in the very center.
I was late and running to the train station. Of course. Goodbye Mongolia. The friend told me there is an archery championship in Hungary and he might come in Mongolian colors. I believe he will make it and bring me a piece of that land in the future.
I was sailing! For reals. Roars, russian commands, sails, wind. Incredible experience, so enjoyable, so physical and emotional; changing decks, making knots, working with the wind, now it’s the time, one has to learn fast, first time, but it feels natural and right, like making love. Amazing experience, I was speechless back on the soil, carrying the mass back to the warehouse. And now, I even have pictures of the boat right on the same day!