A journey on the Transmongolian Railway


Here and now.

Mongolia is now behind me, but I have often wondered would I see this landscape again one day. I spent nearly 8 hours on the border with China with my European fellow travellers. We waited there while the train was lifted up and its wheels were changed so we could continue our trip onto Chinese tracks. Same custom formalities apply here as before between Russia and Mongolia and then we could leave the train. I felt like in a Cohen Brothers’ movie on the ground: Beethoven’s Hymn to the Joy resounded all around me from an invisible moltitude of speakers I like to think are hidden under the guards’ jackets.

A very calm wind shoke the trees growing in front of the office where a new stamp was added on my passport some hours before. A supermarket lured me in thank to a coaxing music bling bling bling gnaaaaaa gnaaaaaaaaaa bling bling: I am not sure if it was because of the music, or because I was constantly jet-lagged, but in there I bought some psychedelically colourful sweets and drinks. When I got back to my carriage, I felt like in a video by Pink Floyd: thanks to the gigantic amount of sugars I could deal with in such a short time, the station name sign started to reverberate in my glasses. I am in between immense worlds. Dostojevski, Ghengis Khan and Mao, Red Square up there at the beginning of my Transmongolian adventure, and Tiananmen Square awaiting. Ulan Batoor, Lake Baikal fish and the Forbidden City. I feel like I was in love on this border: my heart beats and I know this specific pulse happens only when I am travelling. I am alive. I am learning and I can welcome Chance.
China is now. China is here.

Beijing – The Empire & Jimmy Choo

My first memory about Beijing is the rain. This journey will soon be over. I follow its streaks with on the train windows. On the other side, green and lush monsonic vegetation. The Empire awaits. Some 16 million people in this gigantic capital, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace. The Forbidden City. When I travel, I am complete. If I hold my Nikon in my hands, I can feel blood pumping in my veins. Some wonder is about to happen. We are not given enough time on this world, so you have to run, see, freeze, appreciate all these magnificent presents that life presents us with. Moments are slipping through my hands. Kublai Khaan’s former capital awaits outside of this modern train station – my last stop. I have no time. Let’s roll.

I booked a nice hotel close to the Houhai Lake. Good morning. Do you speak English? In mind I hope to God that they do speak English. The pretty girl behind the counter replies with a series of sweet and tortuous sounds like anshas peloshs kdoelsh dkog oijklmh. Right – I get it: you don’t speak anything vaguely European and I don’t speak anything vaguely Asiatic. Let’s all speak that Language that does not exist. Big smiles. Drawings and sketches. Hand movements that are unequivocally misinterpreted. Hysterical laughing when I attempt to mime the Forbidden City. We made it eventually. I get my room keys and a map. The latter goes directly into a bin when I get out of the hotel. My friends know it – I am not good with maps.

It can get dangerous to describe the capital city of an Empire. I could talk about the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, about Mao, about the Emperors, but you know all of this already. I’d rather tell you my impression of Beijing. The atmosphere is soft among the hutong when I get there at the end of my Transmongolian journey. I am not an ace in astronomy and I do not know much about stellar movements, so before going I made sure to find out why the air is so smooth in Beijing between September and October. On the 15th day of the 8th month in the Lunar calendar, the Moon is fully round and it symbolizes family riunion. I am not sure I was perceiving things in a distorted way while walking around the capital, but I saw shining smiles of distant sons and daughters, and uncles and parents coming back. I saw them reflecting in the clear waters of the Houhai Lake. When you love someone, you become like a kite. An invincible thread links you to your dear ones’ heart. I like to believe that, sometimes, when life gets light or too dark, we pull these strings. “Hey, I need you. Please find some time for me”. You know it’s time to go home then.

I like to believe I see them, running after each other, Houyi and Chang’e. We run around in circles among street dancers and some elderly people enjoying the warm weather.
The story speaks of a pill of immortality, of Nine Suns, of a Hare that lives on the Moon and of some other strange things I cannot recollect now. The end of the story is the best part, though: Chang’e flies out of a window and goes up and up to the Moon. In the meantime, Houyi builds a palace on the Sun. The two halves of the same Thing, the male and the female, Yin and Yang can meet up again only once a year in this special night that is called Moon Festival. While I was coming back from the Summer Palace, I hoped they were together looking down at us, and that they would pull the invisible threads of those that live apart to bring them together.

My Transmongolian journey ends on the Great Wall at Badaling. It takes approximately 1.5 hours by bus from Beijing. I am dying to spending some time on this architectural marvel. I imagined myselfstanding tall, on this Wall which is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, after my 9000 kilometres across the globe that are ending now, that I cannot stop if not on my Nikon and in my blurried stories. I imagined that I would think of my next journey looking up in the Sky to Yin and Yang. I should be thinking of the immense places I have been over the last weeks and of those incredible dawns. Instead, my Transmongolian journey ends with the sound not of music, but of 12-cm-heels. They belong to the only Italian I met since I left Saint Petersburg. She does not leave me, she follows me around like the Plague, and she wants to know how I found out that Jimmy Choos are not the ideal walking shoes on the Great Wall of China. I reply that I dreamt about it and she appallingly believes me. They say that there is a common thread linking all our experiences. Where the hell is the thread between the Wall and Jimmy Choo? I got it – hold on. Jimmy Choo was born in Malaysia, but has Chinese origins. No!No!No! I cannot believe I crossed half the globe to arrive to the Great Wall to find this girl who is now … asking me if I happen to know of any disco clubs in Beijing?! Please, Houyi and Chang’e, please … make her disappear!

 Mongolia part 2 ● The Absurdity of Violence   Transmongolian 

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