Our Beijing hostel was conveniently located above an all night karaoke bar, with the added bonus of the room next to ours being used as some sort of drug haven for the desperately drunk, so we started our first leg of the train journey a little bleary-eyed. The four-berth carriage was Alex, Kristina, Katherine and myself. Rusty valiantly offered to go it alone and ended up with a Mongolian family next door, but they didn't speak English so he squeezed into our cabin for much of the day so he could talk. Otherwise, the train has been great so far, a welcomed break from the intensity of China and the hectic week and a half of travel. The train itself is surprisingly comfortable, but the butch attendants look like direct offspring of Ghengis Khan and have the attitude to match. They do, however, keep the toilets cleaner than anything since Japan, which is almost joyous after the hygiene abominations in Beijing. It feels like I've been gone months, perhaps largely because it's impossible to not live directly in the moment; I have to focus to not fall over, get lost or miss all the newness before me.
The border crossing between China and Mongolia took hours (somewhere between six and eight) including a stint where we were locked into Erlian station without our passports. The small supermarket/duty free shop was like the Boxing Day sales, people yelling and clawing their way to boxes of fruit and booze, with local travelers re-embarking under boxes of groceries stacked impossibly high (not expecting much fresh food in Mongolia, then) and one guy got on with four car tires. At the second customs point, he didn't have enough to pay the duty on them, so one lonely tire was left on the platform. The scenery looks like a telephone pole graveyard, the barren steppes planted haphazardly with new and rotten poles, held in by ice and snow. Our American comrade drank all night with his Mongolian cabin-mates and got rip-roaringly drunk, which put me off vodka in a serious way, which is possibly for the best at this early stage in the program: