A Good Lil Mongolian Adventure

I was chatting with my brother and he said, “Well, so much for staying there. Good lil adventure tho.” And my time in Mongolia was a good little adventure.

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On the train somewhere in southern Mongolia: Boys playing basketball.

I came to Mongolia in search of an epic adventure that would last till the beginning of April. Things didn’t go as planned and I stayed for about two and a half week.

I arrived to Ulaanbaartar by train from Beijing which is a pretty epic arrival. I explore Ulaanbaartar the best way possible: with a local in a car.

I really enjoyed my time at Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan as I had the whole place to myself and there was so much beauty to capture. I had to pay a fee to take photos but it was worth it. As I was on the way to airport I saw it one last time and I smiled appeared on my face.

After a long bus journey I arrived in Moron and learned I had to leave. I had another week back in Ulaanbaartar. My favorite thing to do in a city is just wander around and explore and take photos but because of the temperature it’s just not possible. So I have been enjoying my time in coffee shops while listening to Taylor Swift, eating Cinnabon and chicken curry noodles, buying souvenirs and postcards, and teaching my online classes in the evening.

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In Ulaanbaartar… the closest I will get to a camel for the time being.

I believe that if you have a desire to return to a place you visited then you had a good trip. And I do hope I can return to Mongolia someday. I would love to see the Camel Festival someday and watch the Naadam festival and go all around Mongolia in the summer. I really love Ulaanbaartar and would love to come visit in warmer weather so I could explore the place without worrying about freezing to death. In the back of my mind I was always worried I was spending too much time in Mongolia. Honestly I am happy it didn’t work out as I now feel I have more than enough time to do what I want before I go back to the states this summer.

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I got some great affordable artwork that I can’t wait to frame someday!

As I was on the plane leaving Mongolia and I looked down at the endless snowed covered land and just admired the beauty. Mongolia will hold a special place in my heart.

Have you ever been to Mongolia? How was your experience? If you haven’t gone, is Mongolia a country you would like to visit someday? Why?

Trust Your Gut

Traveling has reinforced lots of mini life lessons and one is “trust your gut.”

I am currently in Ulaanbaartar, Mongolia. Last week I was in Mörön, Mongolia where I planned on teaching and staying until the beginning of April. But now on Saturday I will go to South Korea, have a 21 hour layover, and by Sunday night be in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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I arrived in Mörön ready for my next adventure. I was told I would be living in a ger and looked forward to the challenge. When I arrived I learned I would be “shared” with an English school and a hotel… And I would be living in a hotel. They were worried about the cold and I decided to just go with the flow. Life in a hotel would be more comfortable than a ger. And I could stay in the ger later if I really wanted too. But I was worried about the internet connection at the hotel as I teach online with a company and to do my job I need stable internet. I learned in Beijing that not all internet is created equal. I decided to worry about it when I got there as I was exhausted from a long bus ride and I was still adjusting to life in Mongolia.

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The view from my hotel room

The major factor of me leaving the work exchange was the internet was super unstable. I am not putting my job at risk for a volunteer position. I need to make money right now (and I actually like my online job and want to keep it for the time being). There were other factors in my decision too as Mörön had some qualities to become Chuzhou 2.0.  I was living alone in a hotel and I ate every meal by myself. The staff was friendly and as they all want to learn English. I know if time passed we could of had some simple conversations but even so it seemed like it would be a lonely few weeks. The shower had no hot water which is definitely a first world problem but after five months of shower woes in China, two more months sounded like hell. In addition, I was teaching in person two hours a day and in my first week there I only taught once…and to only one student!

So I went back to Ulaanbaartar (which included another long bus ride) and I am writing this in Ulaanbaartar. I have been enjoying this oddly charming capital.

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My motivation for travel has always been out of curiosity and in search of adventure never to “go find myself” but right now I am feeling pretty directionless with life. I am hoping warmer temperatures in Thailand will improve my moods. After living in China with no central heating and watching my hands turn purple while teaching and seeing my breath in my apartment and Mongolia in February, warmer weather sounds pleasant. Chiang Mai is full of temples and coffee shops and I haven’t been to a temple I haven’t liked and one of my hobbies is going to coffee shops.

I now have “extra time” and have been debating between going to Nepal or Laos. I know it sounds super hippie of me but I believe certain countries “call” us and Nepal calls me. After debating for some time I have decided to go to Laos as just the plane ticket to Nepal would cover my entire trip in Laos. Money isn’t everything but I need to use it wisely. Last night I did some Google searching and I am happy with my decision to explore Laos. I can ride a hot air balloon and learn how coffee grows while seeing incredible scenery.

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I find this view simply stunning

I was talking about my brother about traveling and we both agreed that being open to adventure and having enough money helps ease the stress. I had enough money to leave Mörön, come back to Ulaanbaartar for a week, and to book a plane ticket out of Mongolia to anywhere I desired.

I took a big risk and taking a big risk means sometimes it doesn’t work out and that’s okay.

What do you do when your travel plans don’t happen? What countries or locations “call” you?

 

Food in Mongolia

Mongolia is known for it’s nomadic life style and rich culture. It is not know however for its food. I concluded with simple logic that Mongolian food would be different than the Mongolian BBQ I could get at the mall.

Mongolia is a land locked country and it gets really effin cold so plants can’t grow year round. So what do people eat?

My first taste of “Mongolia” happened when I was being shown UB with a local. I needed to get something to eat but everything was closed due to the holiday. He suggested we go to his place. Because of the holiday a variety of food was displayed which included the butt of a sheep and lots of diary products. The main dish was “sheep dumplings.” I loved dumplings in China so I thought I would have no problem with these! Well, they had absolutely no vegetables in them and they were so heavy I could barely stomach three. I was told, “If you eat meat you won’t get cold.”

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Just me and a sheep butt.
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At the bottom is sheep dumplings.

My main diet in China was noodles and in Mongolia the main diet is meat and dairy. I eat a little bit of meat and my diary portions went down significantly in China. I would have the occasionally piece of milk chocolate and a latte whenever I made a trip to Nanjing or Shanghai. With my new diet I felt better, lost some weight, and my skin cleared up significantly. I wasn’t sure if my body could even handle a diet of meat and diary.

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SHEEP DUMPLINGS

When arrived in Mörön I was given yet again sheep dumplings. I was hungry after an overnight bus trip but still could only stomach about three. For dinner yet again I was given sheep dumplings. I thought, “Dear god, I don’t think I can live off of sheep dumplings for the next two months.” Thankfully I was given more than sheep dumplings through out the week. To summarize the food it was meat and rice with the occasional pickled vegetable. I also was given “vegetable soup” that had lots of meat in it.

For breakfast four days in a row I was given a meal of cucumbers and meat with white toast. (I think I was given this as the cook wasn’t there in the morning and this could be prepared the night before). I surprisingly really liked it and would even try to make it back in the states.

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I had this for breakfast for four days in a row.

Ulaanbaartar, the capital, is a major city so there is a variety of options from Korean to American to Italian. I have really seen a little of everything. There are no McDonalds but there are Burger Kings. There are no Starbucks either but there is definitely a “cafe culture” in Ulaanbaartar with the most popular chains being Tom n’ Toms and Cafe Bene.

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I found a place called “Ramen House” near the State Department Store and I have been going the past few days as I can get a filling meal for cheap. I have been eating “curry chicken noodles” for 3800 tugrik or $1.87 USD. It’s has a nice combination of veggies and the broth isn’t spice at all.

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I was recommended by two locals to try Modern Nomads so I decided to check it out. As a noodle lover I ordered the “traditional beef stir fried noodles.” It was a little too dry for my taste but I enjoyed the flavors of the peppers.

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In China I always had thought, “I could eat Chinese food for the rest of my life and be completely happy!” And I still stand with that philosophy. I love Chinese food. I love the flavors and the diversity. I was never bored with food in China as I was always trying something new. On the other hand with Mongolia I could barely stomach three sheep dumplings.

Have you ever tried Mongolian food? What did you think of it?

 

Ulaanbaartar to Mörön

Bus is my least favorite way to travel. I’ve done some short three to four hour rides which have been doable but when I learned I would be taking a 16 hour bus ride to Mörön I panicked. I would worry about it when I got there as there were other things I needed to focus on. Plus, I knew I could do it, it was just going to suck.

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Like most things in Asia the bus late (and by late I mean over an hour and a half late). But before the bus even left I had made a new friend. A boy said hello to me in Mongolian and before I knew it I was showing him pictures of my travels and family on my phone and he was teaching me Mongolian. A a few hours in to the trip he declared, “You are my sister.” Like most little brothers he could be very annoying but also such a sweetheart. “Tic tac toe” and “Rock Paper Scissors” are classics wherever you go and we played to pass the time. He gave me a hair makeover twice but was frustrated that I had no comb. He also helped me when I ordered food at a restaurant which was great because the currency here simply confuses me.

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It was an overnight trip and we made some stops along the way which makes sense because there is just no possible way for the driver to drive 15 hours straight! The guy needs food and at least one cigarette break! We stopped for dinner at around 9:30pm and there were a few bathroom stops along the way. Bathroom breaks included stopping in the middle of nowhere on the side of the road and using snow as a toilet.

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I handled the trip pretty well thanks to my new little brother. I could of slept the whole thing but he kept annoying me but after five tough months in China it was nice to be annoyed. I have the world’s smallest bladder so there was a rough point in the middle of the night when I didn’t know when our next stop would be and I was in pain. Thankfully we stopped after some time and squatting in the middle of nowhere freezing cold Mongolia never felt better.

Would I want to do another 15 hour bus trip? Hell no. I will avoid them at all costs but sometimes you have to do what you don’t want to do.

What is the longest bus ride you have ever done? What are your tips for surviving long bus rides?

 

Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan

I saw the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan while a local was driving me around Ulaanbaartar. I was immediately drawn to the bright yellow.

I went the next day for two reasons: it was walking distance from my apartment and it had a pretty high ranking on Trip Advisor. It was simply to cold to walk around aimlessly exploring the city which is what I prefer to do. There was a fee to get in and another fee to take pictures. It was rather high but I knew if I didn’t take pictures I would regret it. So please enjoy these pictures that I had to pay money to take!

As Lonely Planet says, “For reasons that are unclear, the palace was spared destruction by the Russians and turned into a museum. The summer palace, on the banks of Tuul Gol, was completely destroyed.”

The museum has lots of fun stuff. There are also six temples on the ground. I was the only person around the temples which was a dream come true. I guess, the cold scared people away. I took pictures to my hearts delight. The lighting was constantly changing which was a fun challenge. I would be taking a photo of a building I liked but the lighting wasn’t “just right” so I would focus on something else. I would turn around and then THE LIGHTING WOULD BE PERFECT.

After a while my hands were simply too cold. I got some postcards and went to a coffee shop for a warm drink.

 

Have you ever had a “tourist site” all to yourself? Did you enjoy it?

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My favorite. I fell in love.

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Ulaanbaartar

I stepped off of a twenty six hour train ride in to a whole new world. I was excited and wanted to take it all in but I had all my luggage that was physically holding me down.

I have spent the last five months in China and have explored various cities and regions but its always been China. Each city had its unique charms and characteristics but it was still “China.” I know survival Mandarin and being in China was my “normal.” Seeing a kid peeing on the side is just an average day and I know enough food in Mandarin to get what I want. Coming to Mongolia things were completely new. The language sounded so different than both English and Mandarin. The currency is in the thousands and I wasn’t sure what was considered a good deal or not. It took me time to figure out what is a cheap meal (and two weeks later I am still figuring out the currency!). Even the colors of buildings were completely different. I saw pink buildings and even some in mint. The signs were in the cyrillic alphabet with sprinkles of English.

I arrived to the studio I would be staying at and got connected to the internet. Facebook wasn’t blocked. Instagram wasn’t blocked. Gmail wasn’t blocked. And to make it even better the internet was super fast. So incredibly fast. I was in heaven.

By the time I was motivated to get up and get dinner it was complete dark. I wasn’t sure where to go but I started walking. It was dark. With the darkness and the holiday I thought it was best to go get some cheap food at a supermarket near the apartment complex. I wasn’t sure how much my money would buy but I was hoping I could at least get some water. I had enough for water, instant soup, bread, apples, and even chocolate with money to spare.

Someone through Couchsurfing contacted me and suggested he could drive me around the next day. I accepted his offer as I figured Ulaanbaartar probably didn’t have the best public transportation and I was too lazy to figure out the bus system.

Having a local drive me around was the best decision. I got to see some sights and even meet his family where I was fed food and learned the traditional way to greet people. It was a great day. On many blogs I have read people have said that they don’t like Ulaanbaartar but I find it oddly charming. It’s a mix of old and new. The Mongolian language sounds the closest to Russian to me but I am definitely still in Asia. The temperatures are freezing but life still goes on.

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“It’s called Peace.”
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My host visited his Shaman.
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The wood has healing power.

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You only wear traditional clothing if you visiting relatives.

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I learned the traditional way to greet people.

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“Would you like to take a picture with my mother’s hat?”

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Beijing to Ulaanbaatar

The journey from Beijing to Ulaanbaartar is about 26 hours but trains are really the way to travel (if time isn’t an option). I mean I got to rest, take a few naps, eat snacks, and color for 26 hours in complete privacy. I could go the bathroom whenever I wanted and stand up whenever I want. I probably could of done a handstand too if I was capable of doing one.

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I had this all to myself.

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My new friend the conductor gave me some Mongolian money!
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With my new friend
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Only five months in Asia and I take pictures with a peace sign

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By Chinese standards this is a good toilet. It always had toilet paper too.

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Nothing much happened the first day. I got some Crispy Chicken from the dining car that was more crisp than chicken. The main event happened when we arrived at the border. The wheel sizes on Chinese and Mongolian railways are different so they had to change them. It’s a time consuming and rather loud process and not possible to sleep through. In addition, we had to deal with immigration. I had to fill out multiple cards with my name and  passport number saying that I wasn’t carrying illegal items and all that jazz. The Chinese had my passport for what seemed like forever. As an American citizen I don’t need a visa to enter Mongolia but I was still nervous about something bad happening. After I got my passport back with a stamp from Mongolia I crashed and finally got some good sleep. Oh yes. All this happened from like 10:30pm to 2am. Good times.

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I woke up once and looked outside my window to a white wilderness. I concluded, “Yup, I am in Mongolia.” I went back to sleep. I woke up again and saw a train that had a horse on it. I definitely was in Mongolia.

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At the border we lost the Chinese dining car and got a new Mongolian one. The Chinese dining car tried to be nice with its fake flowers but the Mongolian one won. The Chinese car did sell cheaper water. And the Mongolian car took Chinese, Mongolian, and I think even American currency in case you are curious.

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Boys playing basketball in Mongolia

I got a small taste of Mongolia after we crossed the border and got to hear some of the language. But it was still very Chinese as most of the workers were from China. During lunch time they cleaned their vegetables and made rice right near the bathrooms and in their rooms.

Going during non peak season really made my trip an unique experience. I am pretty sure it was just me and the conductor in the train car number two. I saw more workers than passengers. The train was basically empty. I mean, I had a room meant for four people all to myself!

We arrived on time and I was thrown in to a completely new world with all my luggage. I was ready for ice piercing, I am going to die, “this is the coldest cold I have ever felt” cold but it wasn’t. The language sounded so completely different than English or Chinese, the currency was different, the drivers are on the other side of the road, and even the buildings were different colors. It was overwhelming and exciting at the same time. I wanted to enjoy it all but I really just wanted to drop off all my luggage.

What is the longest train ride you have been on? Would you ever want to take a train ride from Beijing to Ulaanbaartar?

How to buy a ticket from Beijing to Ulaanbaartar

I’ve seen a few posts online about people’s experiences of getting a train ticket to Beijing to Ulaanbaartar. I thought I would share mine as it was completly easy and painless!

For various reasons I wanted to take a train from Beijing to Ulaanbaartar. But how would I get a ticket? Like a good modern American I turned to Google.

I’ve used http://www.travelchinaguide.com for trains in China so I looked at their site. They had the dates and times for various trains that would leave to Ulaanbaartar. I was all good. Well, I later learned that their site was completely wrong! It hadn’t be updated (and still hasn’t been updated)! I had to extend my visit in Beijing and rebook my hostel room. I wrote in the comment section and one of the worker’s responses said I should buy a ticket with them quickly as this was a popular time! You don’t have to genius to know no one is heading to Mongolia in February. I decided to look at other site.

I checked out China International Travel Service Limited (CITS) as I remember some blogger used them. I emailed them and they gave me a prompt response. They couldn’t book me a ticket due to the Lunar New Year but there would be lots of tickets for this trip. I would just need to come in person and make sure to bring cash.

The CITS office is located in the Beijing International Hotel which you can reach by the metro line. Enter the lobby and take a left. You can’t miss their office.

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I filled out the piece of paper, gave them my money, and I got a ticket. It really was that easy. I was actually shocked by how easy it was. I did come during their lunch break but it worked out cause I needed to grab some lunch too!

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If you plan on going during peak season you will probably have a different experience and need to book early but I had a great and simple experience with CIST.

Have you ever booked a ticket with CITS? Do you have any desire to take a train from Beijing to Ulaanbaartar someday?

 

 

Beijing

I am currently in Mongolia trying to think about my time in Beijing. I was there about a week ago but a lot has happened in a week. I was in in Beijing for nine nights (January 31st to February 9th) and I am scrolling through my camera roll trying to remember my time there.

My time in Beijing was different than I expected. It was less “touristy” which is fine by me. I didn’t accomplish everything on my list but it doesn’t bother me at all. I know I will come back someday and they will still be there. There was a lot of practical things to get done like a buy a SIM card, get a train ticket to Mongolia, and exchange money. And being China most of those things took longer than need be.

Another factor was that I was working many of my evenings. To make matters even more complicated, the network was too slow at my hostel so I got to commute to work for a few days. This took away some fun time but I have to make money! I haven’t had to commute to work since I lived in NYC so it was an unique experience to get to try it for a few days in Beijing.

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In addition, I was recovering from an illness so it took a few days for me to feel better and ready to explore.

Yes, I saw the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City which was great and all but some of the highlights were just getting a drink and a cheeseburger with my coworkers or grabbing hot pot with a local or getting tapas with Americans and Argentinians. After an isolating time in Chuzhou it felt nice to be able to socialize. Plus, I found a cute cafe near where I was staying that reminded me of NYC and made me feel at home. There was also a great dumping place next to the hostel so I was a happy camper. Give me good food and I will be all good!

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Hot pot with Beijing’s local soda
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Pumpkin soup at Cafe Alba
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The best food is breakfast food. And Chinese food. And Japanese food… And all the food.

I stayed at the Beijing Drum Tower Youth Hostel which specializes in “pods and capsules.” I know, its sound really sci-fi like but its really just a small room. I stayed in a capsule which allowed me to “enjoy an independent space with bed price.” The ceiling was extremely low. Really low. I am 5’5″ and they was just a few inches between me and the ceiling and it was like this in my bathroom too. If you are on the taller side I wouldn’t recommend it but they did have a shower with a normal height ceiling on the floor too. The room was small but there was enough space for me and all my luggage. The shower had incredible water pressure and burning hot water so I was basically in heaven. On my first day there I used half a bottle of conditioner and my hair looked amazing. I hadn’t had a good hair day in a while so there was lots of selfies involved. Plus, being the city I felt inspired to play with my makeup and I had fun trying some new things.

The highlight of my time in Beijing was celebrating the Lunar New Year. I was going to grab some dinner before meeting up with my coworkers when a worker at the hostel asked, “Would you like to make dumplings?” Well, I have been wanting to learn how to make dumplings since I have been in China so I of course said yes! I learned it pretty hard to make dumplings but I tried. I am better at eating dumplings than making them. I thought I was just making dumplings but I ended up getting a whole delicious meal with the staff that included wine and beer! The owner, Mr. Joe, said we were part of the family. During the dinner I met two other solo travelers, a Canadian and an American.FullSizeRender

At midnight the fireworks began and it just an incredible experience. The sky was just full of them. It was unbelievable. Everyone watched in the street. I am glad I didn’t bring my fancy camera as I took a few short videos and just enjoyed the experience.

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I thought I wouldn’t like Beijing but during my time there I could actually see myself living there. I really would of had the experience in China that I wanted. As one of my coworkers explained you can really choose your own adventure. You can pick both an Eastern and Western lifestyle. Visiting during the New Year was great too cause everyone was in a great mood (and millions of people weren’t in the city!). The fireworks in the street were an unforgettable experience.

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Temple Fair
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A performance at the Temple Fair

This trip wasn’t what I expected it to be but it was just what I needed. I have realized with traveling all you need to have truly planned is a place to stay and maybe a few ideas of what you want to do or. The rest of of it will take care of itself. And if it doesn’t just be open to new opportunities.

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Also, I got goat cheese which I haven’t had in five months.

I know someday I will come back to Beijing to see more of the sights of perhaps live there for a year. Who know what will happen.

Have you ever visited Beijing? Have you ever visited Beijing during the Lunar New Year? Have you had a trip go different than you thought it would?

 

Ice Skating at Shichahai

Through a pin on Pinterest I learned about a fun place to ice skate in Beijing at Shichahai. I had it on my list but I never really focused on my list during my time there. I was walking around and taking photos and realized the place was near by so I decided to go.

I mimed the ice vehicle I wanted and got a card. I was beyond excited. There was just excitement in the air. I got on the ice and got my super cool ice vehicle. And I started to go. I checked my wallet to make sure it was still with me. All good. Ten seconds later I double checked again. It was gone.

A lady who spoke English thankfully helped me and told security about my wallet. But it was gone. There was nothing I could do. I exchanged Wechat information with her and a worker. I just stood in shock for a while. Thankfully, my passport and debit card were in my room. Plus, there wasn’t a lot of cash in my wallet. If there was a time to lose my wallet this was the best time.

Eventually the worker gave me one of the ice vehicles almost saying, “White girl, go skate.” And so I went. It was my last day in Beijing and I was going to enjoy it. And I did.

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I’m pretty sure this is a vehicle on Mario Kart.

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Have you ever had your wallet lost or stolen while traveling? What did you do? And on a lighter note, have you ever used an ice vehicle before?