September 6th, 2010
Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia
Transcribed from written journal

Chris is sick with a chest infection, so our horse-riding adventure has been indefinitely postponed. He looks OK, but he sounds terrible, as though he’s hacking up the lining of his lungs. If we go camping in conditions that could potentially be negative 10 degrees at night, he might very well die. That would put a bit of a dampener on the trip, so we’re waiting for him to recover. I keep urging him to see a doctor – there’s a Korean-funded hospital that should be OK – but, typical Australian man that he is, Chris is deely suspicious of the medical trade and will not see a doctor for anything less than an emergency.

We’re in a pretty good position anyway. We still have the run of the entire apartment, which at $15 US each per night is great value for money. Except for the shitty keys which seem to be made of aluminium and are prone to bending inside the lock, and a bathroom ceiling which is constantly dropping bits of damp, crumbling plaster – while I was taking a dump this morning a piece the size of a dinner plate peeled away from the ceiling and fell on my shoulder. We’re also suffering our first UB blackout; there’s not much to do at the moment except write and read by torchlight, and listen to Chris struggle to breath. Oh, and there’s no Internet here. But all of these flaws are redeemed by the fact that it’s big and spacious and private and has a kitchen. Apart from Glenn’s house, it’s the closest we’ve come to having a home on this trip.

We still have three weeks left in Mongolia, though, which even including the horse trip is way too long, so today we went to the Legend Tour office again to see if we could jiggle the dates around a bit. We got way further than I thought we would – the Russian embassy is more co-operative when you’re working through one of their approved agencies, I guess – but we were shot down at the last minute when we discovered that all the trains before the 28th are booked out. So we’re still looking down the barrel of maybe 10 days in UB after the trek.

I don’t mind that too much. Ulaan Baatar is a shithole, no doubt about it – the kind of city that always has been and always will be a grim urban blot a million miles from anywhere – but it’s still sort of interesting. There are all these fascinating pinpricks of society and culture amidst the communist bleakness; restaurants for the most part, but also bars and art galleries and fashion stores. The gap between the rich and the poor in Mongolia must be gargantuan.

There’s also a movie theatre here, which is nice, because we finally got to see Inception – a film that we’ve been chasing all the way across Asia. It was totally awesome even in the face of all my expectations. It was like Neuromancer directed by Martin Scorsese. In an age where 99% of films follow a predictable formula, it’s fantastic to see something completely original, and I think it might even have beaten Children of Men as my favourite sci-fi movie.

Incidentally, yesterday was Sunday, but all the shops and businesses were still open. You hear that, Perth? Even the Mongolian city of Ulaan Baatar is more advanced than you.