Arrival in Seoul

August 9th, 2008 § 1 comment § permalink

It was a strange thing to wake one morning in a Mongolian ger in the countryside, and later that night be going to sleep in a giant urban city such as Seoul. A true experience of traveling from one extreme to another and an eye-opening reminder of just how small our planet really is, when a few hours in a plane can transport one from the dinosaur age to the future. Sound overly dramatic? Perhaps, but that’s how it felt…

With the airline snafoos in Mongolia, accommodation has been a bit of a problem as we canceled our reservation in Korea when it appeared we wouldn’t be here as planned, so when we actually did arrive on our original flight, we didn’t have a place to stay. Not usually a problem as we traveled most of Asia in this way… arriving unannounced, sometimes in the middle of the night, in search of room in a string of towns visited from Calcutta to Ho Chi Minh City. We called a bunch of guesthouses (budget range) from the airport and everything was booked… summer = lots of students traveling I think. Eventually we found a place that had 1 small single room and 1 dorm bed, so we agreed to take the beds and then proceeded to get into a type of taxi, called mobeom, that here in Korea charges double for a supposed ‘nicer’ ride. We ended up paying $120 for the taxi ride from the airport!

Having been on the move all day, with a ‘surprise’ flight from Hovd to UB in the morning, and then barely arriving in time for our connecting flight to Seoul (plus, they’d canceled us from the flight for some reason, too… had to fight our way on), we finally got here at 9 pm 2 nights ago. Ben and I shared the single bed last night having given up the dorm bed after night 1, and we found a nice little home stay in a nearby historic neighborhood where we’ll move today. In a few days, we’ll head out of Seoul, and into Me No Speak territory (the countryside and less international cities).

Since arriving in Korea (apart from the joys of reentering the modern world, with paved roads and hot showers… and, er, something on the menu other than mutton), we have been wondering why more people don’t visit. We love it so far. The people are friendly; the place runs smoothly; the aesthetics are attractive. We’re staying near an area known as Insadong, and our home stay is in a ‘hanok village’–hanok is the term for the traditional courtyard-style buildings and the hanok village is preserved, historical neighborhood. Just our type of place…

Mongolia photo albums are up on Flickr

August 9th, 2008 § Comments Off on Mongolia photo albums are up on Flickr § permalink

See Cheryn’s Mongolia collection on flickr

Descriptions, tags, and all that jazz to come once back home, with time to add the details…

Picture Mongolia

August 8th, 2008 § Comments Off on Picture Mongolia § permalink

I haven’t said near enough about Mongolia and our adventures there… there was too much to do and too little internet access. Now we’re in Korea (yes! miracles happened and we made it), and there will be new stories to collect. To give you a flavor of Mongolia, I’m posting several photos, but stay on the lookout for Flickr albums coming soon…

Mongolia is all about the land, and there’s one stunning landscape after another on any drive or flight between here and there. This image was taken on our journey between Olgii and Hovd towards the end of our trip. And because there are few paved roads in Mongolia, and the terrain is so rugged, no trip is complete without the requisite breakdown or flat tire.

The most common type of restaurant found outside of Ulaan Baatar is called a guanz (canteen)–perhaps the origin of the term ‘hole in the wall’. And withing the guanz, the most common food is, of course, mutton-based and greasy. Buuz (steamed mutton dumplings) and kuushuur (fried mutton pancakes) are pictured here.

The public shower
Most hotels or ger camps don’t have hot water showers (if they have a shower at all), so if you want to bathe with something other than ice-cold water, a visit to the public bath/shower is in order! For the equivlanet of $1.00, all the hot water you can stand is yours. Never mind the aesthetic of the place–Mongolia is a time capsule of Russian Bolshevik architecture and glum aesthetics. Because it’s not convenient to go every day, we spent much of our time in Mongolia between showers.

Strawberry Ger Camp
Our last few days in Mongolia were spent at the Strawberry Ger Camp in Hovd, run by a school teacher named Amarraa, who’s set up a few gers during the summer break on the school’s grounds, and charges tourists a little over $4.00 per night. Nomads live in gers, so they can be erected and dismantled quickly. We discovered a plate of ankle bones under our bed one morning–perhaps a shamanistic ritual or misplaced keepsake? Who knows…  bones are a common sight around Mongolia–walking anywhere there always seems to be a discarded bone (or hoof or skull) in the dusty street or sidewalk.

Traditional clothing
Amarra keeps traditional costumes on hand for tourists to play dress up.

The Hovd airport

The tiny airport in Hovd, as experienced on our arrival to a flight on August 7 that had departed 5 hours early. The first image is a view back to town (Benjamin’s 5km walk)

On the road

August 8th, 2008 § Comments Off on On the road § permalink

It usually takes a a week or so to get “That” feeling. You get over your jet lag, lower your expectations of everything, adjust your gut to the local fare, downshift into the low and slow gears, and in most cases “That” feeling arrives with mixed company in establishments that serve beer and the local version of meat on a stick. A day after arriving in Olgii is when I knew I was officially on the road.

Olgii is located in the far west of Mongolia. The borders of China, Russia, and Khazakstan are all within a days driving distance. The main spoken langugage Khazak is followed by Mongolian and Russian. The people are a mix of Sufi Muslim and (insert here) mostly herders and their traditions have probably not changed for hundreds of years. Time in Olgii creeps along, unlike the wind and dust that relentlessly eat away at the soviet era buildings that populate the town. It is still pretty “wild west” out here, which seems to draw adventurous characters from all over the globe.

“That” feeling came while making friends in the local beer garden. Beer garden is a loose term here. It is more a place that the local young couples or groups of young people come to escape the very close living quarters that most families share in their Ger. It is also a place for families to come to with their children to talk, eat, and drink (the Sufi’s are a little loose and slightly tolerant with alcohol consumption) with friends. There are small pavilions scattered around a walled-in garden with a swing-set in the middle and various plastic children’s riding motorcycles or cars and some music playing. There are also 5 or 6 very small Gers that couples can rent out for maybe a little more private time, and backpackers can rent out (yes, odd as that sounds you can stay in a Ger in the beer garden). From what I could tell it was not quite a love hotel thing, the culture is fairly conservative so more a Ger of our own for a few hours kinda thing.

Back to “That” feeling. I could write pages about all the details of each eccentric character I met but it seems more fitting to just throw them out like the lost hollywood casting director’s face book that fell from the sky and blew into Olgii: the bohemian Italian pizza maker hallucinogen inspired oil painter; the Lithuanian linux head-cum-Mongolian Altai guide with a penchant for vodka and beer; the Swiss-French 21 year old girl with a hidden penchant for the Russian Soul who had hitchhiked through Russia to Olgii to try and scan the eclipse with a camera-obscura,; the professor of Botany from Moscow with his two muscle bound Russian equivalents of the Navy SEALS (these three brought out the hidden penchant of the former); the Dutch-English girl who went to high school in Saratoga CA who was taking a break from a road trip gone awry; the Australian Cambodian Ger merchant who was spending the summer ferreting out new Ger to export while staying with a local family; a tech geek from SF who worked some magic for a Khazak TV documentary film maker who happened to be filming in the area; a certain girl from SF who’d come all the way to stare at the sky for 2 minutes to see why eclipse-viewing is so addictive and found she was our eclipse expert. There are a few more characters, but that’s another night in a Ger camp down the road, and includes 4 naked men and 1 woman (yours truly, Ben and Cheryn) in a Russian Banya.

All of the above found sitting under the abundant stars around a few plastic tables and chairs in one evening in the middle of nowhere Mongolia. “That” is the warm feeling of being on the road.

How do you say ‘cluster fuck’ in Mongolian?

August 7th, 2008 § 2 comments § permalink

Since Benjamin and I are in need of a few beers at the moment, and to make my life and yours simpler at the moment, I’ll just paste in the dialog of an email conversation that sort of explains the state of things in our travels. Read from the bottom up for a thread with some semblance of sense:

I'm going to rename it as 'fucked up place'

(OK, you should know I am giggling but still, it is fucked up - we'll tell
you why later, or perhaps will all my extra time here tomorrow, I'll make
a big blog post. A preview of the story: airline reschedule flight 5 hours
early meaning we miss our flight to Ulaan Baatar and then flight to Seoul,
etc. etc. Stuck here for another day until the next flight. no more
flights to Seoul with our purchased airline until mid-September! big
clusterfuck. BK had to walk 5 km from the airport to town in scorching
Mongolia heat/desert)

Hovd, Mongolia...

It's beer o'clock!


> Well it may be nowhere, but ya got an internet connection!
> Where exactly is nowhere?
> Mark
> On Aug 5, 2008, at 11:22 PM, wrote:
>> Awesome! Congrats!
>> B and C, in nowhere, Mongolia...
>>> X-Ray Book Co. & Industrial Mandalas
>>> are Proud to Announce X-Ray Handbook #1
>>> A series of 20 prints by Mark Faigenbaum
>>> tipped into a circa 1960's copy of
>>> Science Digest with letterpress wraps.
>>> Package design and letterpress by
>>> Johnny Brewton. Published in a
>>> limited edition of 59 copies, each
>>> numbered and signed by the Artist
>>> and Designer.
>>> $99.99 postpaid
>>> Check it out here:
>>> Buy through PayPal
>>> Or send a check or money order to:
>>> Mark Faigenbaum
>>> 611 Texas Street
>>> San Francisco, CA  94107

Total solar success

August 3rd, 2008 § 3 comments § permalink

After months of planning and hoping for success getting from point A to B to C to D (the final location being our eclipse camp), not to mention all the wishing for good weather and clear skies, the TSE (total solar eclipse) of 2008 has come and gone, and WE GOT TO SEE IT!

Only 2 minutes and 5 seconds, it was lightening fast (time never seemed to pass so instantaneously in my life)… but during totality, when the moon blotted out the sun in the sky, the sight of the glowing ring around the black orb was mesmerizing… and the sight, like a picture in a photo album, is etched into my memory even though afterwards, it felt as if the whole experience was a dream. Perhaps the sight is so surreal that the brain cannot interpret the event in any other way but as an odd concoction of sleep’s imagery.

As everyone who has witnessed a TSE has said, it was truly a spectacular sight. I can’t say it was a life changing experience – apart from the fact that any travel to foreign lands is a life changing experience – but it did add another hobby to my ever-growing roster. I’m addicted to eclipses and can now call myself an ‘eclipse chaser’, with plans as soon as I get home to make arrangements for next year’s TSE, which will be over 6 minutes in the seas south of Japan!

They say you shouldn’t bother trying to photograph the eclipse, especially for ‘eclipse virgins’ like me; it’s hard to capture unless you’re a real pro with a lot of experience (not to mention it’s a waste of time to be fiddling with your camera instead of looking at the sky). I took this image during totality, which comes nowhere close to doing the sight justice. The sun/moon looks much smaller in this photo than it did in “real life”, and the camera recorded a lot of the sun’s flare, which isn’t visible during the actual event – it sort of ruins the effect of a glowing eye, the ‘eye of God’ as some call it. There are 2 white specks captured, just left of the sun (and slightly higher) – 2 of the 4 planets visible during the eclipse. I believe the closest to the sun in Mercury and the other is Jupiter.

I have much more to say about travel in Mongolia, and the eclipse experience itself, but I would be held up in this internet cafe for a solid week if not longer, just getting it out of my head and journal. Stay tuned for more blog updates, but for the real story, I need more time (and a willing publisher).

Where am I?

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