Ulan Bator to Beijing
The train pulled out of the station and rolled through the hills. Soon we were crossing the Gobi, a flat, dry badlands. We were excited to see China. What would it be like? Again, crossing the border took hours. Parked at the last Mongolian border station we could see bright lights and hear faint marching music. It took hours to jack up the wagons and change the bogeys, as in Belarus. When the train rolled into the first Chinese border station, it looked like Disneyland, or Las Vegas. A giant metal arch, lit up with blinking lights, ran over the tracks. Patriotic-sounding music blared from the loudspeakers.
The train was still rolling when we woke up the next morning. Eager for our first glimpse of China, we peeked through the windows. The flat Gobi desert had been replaced by steep, arid hills and wide river valleys. Carefully tended plants grew in reddish-yellow earth. Lines of trees were planted in rows. The soft, sandy soil was everywhere eroded. A haze obscured the outline of the distant hills. The scene looked vaguely like a Chinese scroll painting. As we approached Beijing, the mountains, covered with wild vegetation, became redder. The train plunged into a narrow canyon. At one point we could see the great wall, its ramparts cutting straight over the steep crests and valleys, its watchtowers looking ominously down on us. Below was an immense, flat plain: greater Beijing. Now in the flatlands, the train chugged along, passing graveyards and factories, following canals and skirting narrow streets. Around central Beijing, a sky of cranes stretched to the horizon. The brand-new high-rises that greeted us were as gleaming and modern as in any developed country. When our train pulled into the station, we pulled our heavy luggage to the front square, leaving Anne to guard our things while Eric searched for an ATM. After a short metro ride and some searching along the endless wide streets, we found a hostel and checked in.