ERLYAN – DZAMYN UUD, JUNE 2002 - We are in the Chinese train on our way from Beijing to Ulan-Bator in Mongolia, and approaching the border. The sunset in the Gobi desert is fantastic, and we hurry to take a couple of pictures. After that, it is quickly dark and coming up are the usual passport control and customs declaration with the usual waiting and sitting around (in our case sleeping…). But this border has also something special : the changing of the bogeys of the train. Mongolian railways have a different rail gauge than Chinese. So the train drives into a ‘shack’ where the railway men decouple all carriages, lift the carriages with hydraulic cranes, detach the bogeys, and replace them with other ones !
Look, no wheels…
It is an interesting experience to be on a train “hanging in the air without bogeys” , as we do, but normally one can get off, move around in the shack and observe the process, which takes about 2 hours to complete. We are still in the carriage…for border control reasons, doors are locked, and we seem to be late to get off – somehow this was confusing where to get off or not. And temperatures are rising now that the fans cannot work… till 40 degrees Celsius. Some people already start stripping…(the rest of this story is censored)
Will they keep us here forever ?
After the bogeys are well in place and all carriages are hooked on again, next stop is within… two minutes ! Chinese border control & customs. It takes for ages, and I sleep all the way through it (except when they want some papers from me) and when I wake up…. and it is already daylight and we are still here ! At this stage, nobody knows when we are to leave. And the toilet doors are still locked. Some urgencies can be solved after begging to the military men on the platform (to leave the carriage for just a couple of minutes). Finally we are moving …. ! We leave China with the salutes from the Chinese military men on the platform and music from the speakers !
Mongolia, here we come !
Next stop : Dzamyn Uud, where we can wait again for Mongolian border control and customs. It all goes seemingly a little bit smoother here, and after another couple of hours an engine arrives (the rail Mongolian engine to take us to Ulan-Bator), and we are happy as little children ! One certainly learns to wait in these places.
In my compartment, there is a Buryat woman from Ulan-Ude. She is teacher in Russian – by the way great for me to practice my Russian ! - and she tells me she does this trip every other week or so… She teaches in China and in Mongolia ! It is very hard for me to realise she has to undergo the whole 5 to 6 hours (or more ?) process each time, just to go to work !