When I travel to and from UB (Ulaanbaatar), I usually take the train. I get on in Erdenet in the evening, and 11 hours later, I arrive in UB. I like the train, probably harking back to my days as a pre-schooler when my family and I would travel overnight by train from Washington, DC to Southern Pines, North Carolina to visit my grandparents. Yesterday, however, I decided to take the bus back to Erdenet, a roughly 6-hour ride, depending on road conditions, and it happens during the day.
The Dragon Center is perhaps the sleeziest, seediest, ugliest place in UB. Buses come and go frequently to and from aimags (provinces) all over Mongolia. The place is teeming with all kinds of people, doing many different kinds of things. PCVs are regularly robbed there, though it’s often the ones who forget to guard their iPhones and wallets. It’s a great place to get away from. So to think about going there on purpose doesn’t fill me with anything but determination to get through it. I should have taken a picture for this post, because when I google Dragon Center UB, there are no pictures of the center, only very classy shiny pictures of things not near there.
I arrived at the Dragon Center at 8am yesterday because I wanted a seat on the 10am bus to Erdenet. I asked for a window seat, got my ticket, then I sat down in a cafe there that’s dirty, and where, fortunately, the staff ignores you. At one point a young man sat down opposite me, and asked me what time it was. I let him read my watch. It didn’t occur to me until later that there was a big clock on the wall that I’m sure he was aware of. But who knows? He left soon after. I guess my 12-year-old scuba diving watch didn’t impress him.
I read until it was time to board the big Hyundai bus. The driver kindly led me to my seat, and there was an obese woman taking up not only her seat, but a good portion of mine as well. And she was sitting in my window seat. However, the driver had made it clear that the half seat that was left was mine. I was miserably uncomfortable during the ride, despite frequent changes of position, but we finally made it to the lunch stop after 3 hours. I got out and stretched and ate the lunch I’d packed. I made faces at a laughing toddler who was running around for all she was worth, glad to be off the confines of the bus. I watched the aerial acrobatics of my friend, the Red-Billed Chough, and listened to its call.
The driver gave us a half hour, and then we all piled back in.
The condition of the road was so bad that the driver kept going off the road and driving overland. There were tracks that other vehicles had made, but at times, it was quite bumpy all the same. And he was driving very, very slowly. Even on the main road it was slow going because of all the holes and bumps.
But I was eager to get off the bus. For the entire ride, the big TV in the front was blaring. First we listened to traditional Mongolian music, seemingly always about horses (videos included). I like this music, but didn’t look forward to the prospect of listening to it for 6 hours. But after a couple of hours it changed to some rather uninteresting numbers, but with video footage of the countryside. Then, after the lunch break, the driver played a historical Mongolian movie. The acting was terrible, the costumes were colorful, but heavy (did people really live their daily lives in that getup?), there was a lot of fighting and lots of loaded, slow motion, romantic, soul-outpouring eye contact, and it was interminable. I wasn’t watching it, except accidentally here and there, but the airwaves were full of it.
This 6-hour bus ride turned into 7 hours, due to road conditions. Seven hours of sound. I was so grateful to get off that bus! Next time, I’ll take the train.
And then guess what? As I approached my building, pulling my reluctantly rolling suitcase, I found spring flower #3, tiny purple irises blooming right outside the front door of my building! What a lovely ending to my adventure.