General Advice on Mongolia Travel

Bring lots of energy bars. _Lots_.

If, at any point, you manage to perform an act of explosive and/or otherwise notable bowel movement–be sure to proudly proclaim so to your travelling companions. If they fail to recognize you for your achievements (i.e. survival), realize they _don’t get it (yet)_ and have faith that _their time will come_. Or find new travelling companions.

Develop some form of superstitious logic to explain how best to preserve your gastrointestinal health–if only to maintain some semblance of composure (sanity). The mind does not take well to dreading diarrhea after every meal, arbitrarily.

Halfway home, the bus breathes its last breath. It’s really more of a wheeze. Watch the driver frantically fan at the flames peeking out of a hole in the bus’ side panel as you walk away.

I see it all unfold from about, without. A meta-travel. We goto this land for many reasons that are all the same. We run from broken homes, repentant lovers, dead pets.

Flip through the study-abroad brochures advertising semesters in Prague, Vienna, Amsterdam. Flip to the next page.

Now you are in the Exotic section. Beijing, Hangzhou, Dakar, Yaoundé. Wish you hadn’t dropped Chinese. It couldn’t have been _that_ bad.

The Dark Continent and the Exotic East, like two stepchildren. Appreciated intellectually, but when it comes down to the wire, people’s loyalties reveal themselves, and align conveniently with the flows of capital and genealogy.

You have narrowed your selection to two choices: Vietnam or Mongolia. Or Nepal. But you eliminate that because you’ve been, if only briefly. Feel bad for not wanting more to go to Africa. You must be an Orientalist asshole, or something. Make a note to work on that.

Vietnam, home of rice paddies and shards of American shrapnel embedded in jungle soil.

Mongolia is nowhere, nothing. Marco Polo and Genghis Khan. He is still Genghis to you.

Mongolia gives new weight to the phrase “Golden Years”. Nostalgia on a new plane.

But _now’s your chance_ to see Vietnam. _Before it develops_ they say.

Realize there is something morbidly fascinating about (post)-communism.

Choose Mongolia because you get to spend two weeks herding sheep and goats, and living in a yurt in the countryside. This appeals to you, but seems to be lost on others.

Develop some stock answers to the question, _Why Mongolia?_ Your favorites are: _Why not?_ or even better, _Because it’s fucking awesome, that’s why._ Deliver these with an air of definite confidence, as if the subject should require no further exploration.

you become a minor celebrity in certain circles. Your mom’s email list. Your sister’s friends. Relatives. No-one at your school cares, or they hide it well. It is likely they resent you for out-exoticizing-internationalizing them. This makes you happy.

Go away–far, far away. You are tired of living comfortable. Which is ironic, since for a rich white male, you’ve had it less than _easy_. Then again, that’s not saying much. you long for culture shock. To be hung by your feet and shaken until everything falls from your pockets.

_You are going to Mongolia_. Repeat 3 times. The words fail to become any less surreal. Two months later, you will echo this experience in downtown Ulaanbaatar, _You are in Mongolia_. Repeat 3 times.

Wonder if there’s something wrong with you because you don’t seem to be _falling in love_ with this place. _What does that even mean?_

And the food is bad enough to prevent any long-term relationship from developing [past the early stages].

Learn that everything extracted from, or grown in Mongolia goes to China; that everything that can be bought is made in China, perhaps from Mongolian materials. Which you hadn’t dropped Chinese.

You want to make sure your Mongolian language skills reach a decent level. Find one of the five Mongolians in Boston and organize private language lessons for th etwo weeks before you leave.

Buy “Colloquial Mongolian” by Alan J. K. Saunders and Jansangiin Batereedüi.

Six months later, the _most played track_ in your iTunes® will still be “Lesson 1, Dialogue 2–Fast”.

Have a sinking feeling halfway thorugh track 2 on the cd. Sample words: Sandal, Kharandaa, Tom, Jijig, Gobi. _Goiv_? Gobi. Figure it must be a mistake or typo. How can Gobi become.. well the G is swallowed, and calls up from the bottom of your throat, leading to a slippery o that somehow terminates in a soft V. Realize you won’t be learning this language from a book. You need corroboration for these crimes against reason. Wish you hadn’t dropped Chinese.

Enjoy thinking about how you must appear, Mongolian phrases emanating from your throat as you practice to the recordings on your daily commute on the wonderful MBTA.

Be glad you dropped Chinese.

Try not to think about how knowing this language will help you later in life. Fill your head with lots of liberal-arts _learn for its own sake_ bullshit.

_Mongolia is fucking awesome_, that’s why.

One Reply to “General Advice on Mongolia Travel”

  1. nice essay. i must admit, that after living in the US for 15 years, coming back home hasn’t been easy. adjusting to life here is quite a challenge. girls, politics, business, money, corruption, friends, family, -40 fahrenheit/celsius, sand storm in spring following butt-freezing winter, beers by the liters, foreign money, rich politicians, diarrhea, strong smelly super-energy-packed mutton meat, being happy to have crossed the street alive without being ran over by a car or a bus, being pushed and bumped in crowds, post-communism mean attitude… but otherwise a fun and very interesting experience for anyone: western tourists, entrepreneurs, or mongols coming back home after a long time away

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