Donkey Crossing

Welcome to Donkey Crossing! Donkey Crossing is an on-line account of one Limey and one Yank living one Dream. From September 2006 until the end of 2007, we plan to visit friends and family on five continents and immerse ourselves into various cultures, natural phenomena and ways of life. We hope you enjoy our tales and visit often! Cheers, Jason and Rachel Napoli

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Thank You Mongolia,
Ni Hao China!

After our brilliant time in Mongolia for the Naadam Festival and a quick visit to the Gobi Desert, we were anxious to hit the rails again and make our way to China. As we found ourselves leaving Mongolia during the busiest time of the year, it was impossible to secure a direct ticket from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing. As a result, we had to divide the 32 hour journey between two trains.

Leaving Mongolia on a night train heading toward the Chinese border.

We experienced two completely different classes of Chinese train travel during the journey. From Ulaanbaatar to Jining, China we were able to secure a private, first-class cabin. Our cabin was up to the first-class standards we were familiar with on Russian trains, however no level of luxury could prepare us for the inch of Gobi Desert dust that crept through the windows and doors during the nighttime voyage.

The second leg of the journey, from Jining to Beijing, was on a Chinese second-class "hard sleeper". Hot and stuffy, we found ourselves in a train car with twenty rows of bunk beds stacked three high. Up against the window there was a small table for each six bunks, and just enough space to clamber in and out of bed, one passenger at a time. We instantly found ourselves with zero privacy, horrible air quality and mysterious odors. Looking back, it was a wonderful foreshadow of what was to come in Beijing.
Rachel poses with a shiny new engine as we prepare to depart from the Mongolian-Chinese border.
The most interesting part of the journey came moments after we crossed into Chinese territory. Mongolia and China use a different gauge of track, creating the need for every train crossing the border to swap out its undercarriage.
After rolling into what seemed very much like the warehouse at Napco Steel, Inc., , (with the addition of a Chinese anthem playing on some very loud speakers), the process of lifting us off our Mongolian undercarriage and onto a Chinese compliant one had begun.

This lady was responsible for managing the controls which "gently" lifted us up, suspended us in the air and put us back down safely, while the men operating the cranes maneuvered the undercarriages.

The 'changing of the wheels' process lasted about an hour, and we were ready to roll ahead a hundred meters and wait for the Chinese immigration folk to finish their duty of letting us in the country. During this time we watched our new engine being connected to the rest of the train.
This railroad employee carefully guides the new engine into place.
Watching an engine being connected to a long-haul train may not sound like the most exciting event to witness; however being invited into the engine by the conductor certainly livens things up a bit.

Rachel showing a quick smile as we inspected the control room of the engine. We had dropped hints to the conductors, albeit through an intense language barrier, how cool it would be if we were able to blow the train's horn. We were met with a non-verbal response which we translated as, "Yeah, the horn is the big green button right here. Don't even think about touching it".

A closer look at the control panel, complete with a steaming pot of green tea.

After our final dose of first-class train travel, our visit with the conductors and an involuntary sleepover with 58 other train passengers, we arrived to Beijing and were eager to discover its offerings and magic. And magic it has! Visit Donkey Crossing soon to read our entries on China's chaotic, yet addictively lovely capital city.


Blogger Chris said...

Amazing. You two are really seeing the world. Can't wait to read about China. Been kinda busy here lately. Going to Luke's wedding this weekend - remember him? Our baby's due in a few weeks. Chris

9:40 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

Choo-choos! More choo-choos! Did you two ever think you would learn so much about track guages, undercarriages and varities of sleeper cars? It's little details like the track guage that show up the differences between worlds, two places develop in totally different ways and then find ways to connect.

You two capture those details with acumen and in great amount.

4:10 PM  

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