1 July. Ulaanbaatar.
We finally manage to go see a traditional Mongolian dance and song show, at the National Song & Dance Academic Ensemble, on one of the corners of Chinggis Khan Square.
The show is incredible, we get to see and hear the traditional throat singing, horse fiddle playing, as well as shaman, folk and tantric buddhist dances. The costumes are just amazing, from the scary masks of the gods, to the golden dresses of the ballerina-bodhisattvas, to the colourful vests of the throat singers.
But the best part of it all is the so-called Long Song, played by the orchestra and sang by a woman wrapped in red and gold clothes. As she starts singing, the vastness of the Mongolian steppes takes over my head, and before I can realize it or control it, tears start streaming down my face, irrationally, carried by that song and that voice. It’s probably one of the most moving songs I’ve ever heard.
After the show, we find an Irish pub and sit to get some beer, but as we order, the waiter looks at us and goes:
“Oh, no beers today”
“What do you mean no beers? Like, they’re finished?”
“No, no, it’s no-alchool day today!”
“Really? Is it a special festivity or something?”
“No, no, the first day of every month is no-alchool day in all of Mongolia”
“What?” We look at each other and start laughing, not sure if it’s a joke or not. “So what can we order?”
“Oh, you can have cocktails, cause in there the alcohol is hidden under the fruits!”
“What! Seriously?” Well that makes sense right?
Anyway, we’re too broke to afford cocktails so we leave the pub, still finding it hard to believe that this no-alcohol thing is even real. Just to be sure, we ask a couple more bars and yep, it’s all true. They actually don’t even sell booze in the supermarkets. Apparently it has nothing to do with religion or tradition, it’s merely a government decision to counter the high consumption of booze.
Bummer. As a rebound, we buy some Coca Cola and lemon and head home, defeated.
2 July, Ulaanbaatar. It’s our last day in Mongolia and we really don’t have much left to do but pack our stuff and wait for Ganbaatar so we can give him his keys back and find a cab to the airport.
Yeah, we are actually flying to Beijing instead of taking the train. A decision we all came to because of money and time reasons: the price of the ticket was basically the same and it would have taken us a couple of days to get to our destination. A decision which I honestly kind of regret, cause I feel like I’ve got used to trains, I’ve grown to love them and I don’t know, making it to a place by road feels way more real than just flying in. Anyway, what’s done is done.
Ganbaatar arrives at noon or so and offers to drive us to the airport. And then, as he’s standing by the door, about to walk out, he goes: “So guys, I calculated everything and for the flat and gas and everything else it’ll be 200 dollars total”. Just like that.
What? We look at each other and blabber a “okay”, after which he disappears out the door. We stare at each other in complete silence for a bunch of seconds, then we all burst out at the same time: “What the fuck? Is he for real?” Etc. etc. etc. We’ll spare you the details.
The worst thing for me is not even about the money. It’s about the fact that he didn’t say it from the start, I mean that was a pretty sneaky move. This way he completely killed the idea I had of him. That renewed hope in humankind and genuine generosity I was talking about before. In the end, everything he did for us, well, he did it for the money. There was nothing genuine about his kindness and that’s the worst feeling ever. It’s like you feel deceived. Otherwise, why in the world wouldn’t he say he would ask for money from the start? It’s like he slammed in my face the ugly truth that no one does anything for free.
Still, I don’t wanna bend to this reality. I choose not to believe it. I want to believe that there are still good people out there, pure and generous and untouched by the money devil. I don’t know, it’s just that in Russia we got so used to witness and benefit from the generosity and the big heart of the Russian people, and it’s just sad to be thrown back into reality and realize that that is not something common to all people and countries. In a way, it makes me appreciate Russia even more.
Gian spends the all afternoon walking around all angry, repeating how he’ll let Ganbaatar hear it from him, that there’s no way he’ll get those 200 bucks just like that. Still, Marta and I look at each other and know, deep down, that that in the end he will shy out, leaving one of us to do the dirty work. And that’s what happens and that’s what I do.
Once at the airport, as we are about to take money, tugriks, cause there’s no way we’re giving him euros, I confront him in Russian, trying to keep my cool and not succeeding very much, asking him why he din’t tell us from the beginning that he wanted money, instead he let it look like he was hosting us. He just looks at me with an awkward smile and all he says is: “Ladno, davaite sto” (Okay, let’s do for 100 dollars then).
I’m so nauseated at him that we just give him his dirty money and head off behind the gate. None of us wanting to hear his name ever again.
Whatever, chapter closed, we don’t wanna linger on the disappointment, we’re going to China! We board our plane and in about 2 hours we’re landing in Beijing. Time literally flied. The shortest flight I ever felt.
We are in China! None of us speaks the language and we’ve read the city has about 16,000 km of surface. That’s about 7 times the one of Moscow. Shit’s gonna get interesting now.