The sun peaked through the clouds, warming the hurrying crowds of Beijingers around me. Workers on their way to work, children on their way to school, and retirees settling into their morning exercises. I am among the old people, about fifteen of us, practicing Tai Chi. A moment of fluid calmness among the organized madness of millions of people in their own morning routines.
Soon, I was part of the crowds also making my journey to work. Yet today, I had all I needed for the weekend on my back. After work I was to set off to Mongolia to renew my visa. I was worried; I had heard countless horror stories about the 7-14 hour bus ride from Beijing to the Mongolian border. Stories of stinky busses breaking down and one, maybe two, bathroom stops at diarrhea-inducing truck stops along the way.
Nonetheless, here I am, shifting my weight from one foot to the other in the biting cold. Waiting for the two-hour-late bus with three Chinese men on the corner of a busy freeway soaked in a cocktail of blue, green, and violet neon signs. Enveloped by the usual blaring talk of car horns, hordes of hungry stomachs off-from work, and scooters winding their way through the maze of it all. Our bus arrived.
Fast forward 14 hours and I am waiting outside the deserted Mongolian border in -4C weather with a guy I met on the bus. Being the only English speakers around and both on a visa run, we joined forces. A minivan, which appears from nowhere, pulls a hard stop next to us and the passenger door swings open and a bearded blond fellow foreigner shouts to us, “Hey! Can you speak English?” We’d found another travel mate. The three of us teamed up, squeezed into the van with about seven large Mongolian men and spent the next four hours crossing the border and renewing our visa.
Now, there is much to say about what went down during the border crossings and the interesting meal of sheep spleen, tongue, and seaweed we ate afterwards, but I realized among all the anxiety of it all something profound. The odd beauty of Mongolia. I had been told how much of a “shithole” this place was, how it was a border town like Tijuana, but something, I couldn’t put my finger on it, made me feel I was doing Tai Chi all along the way. It possessed something basic, something I was missing in Beijing, yet uncovered within my few short hours in Mongolia.
There were no trees, only small mounds of yellow dirt and shrubs. The wind could crack one’s lips upon contact, the buildings had pieces missing, and the entire place was varying shades of brown.
Mongolia is an introspective place that reminds me of the complexity in simple acts. Rolling hills of gradual shades of earth brown, yellow, and green, leave the most room for personal interpretation, in a sense of both wonder and insignificance. I feel an overwhelming desire to travel the world, to allow myself to give in to the master sculptors effortless chiseling, no longer resisting her sculpting me into a peacefully simple being as have the centuries of her wind and rain have gifted this landscape.