Browsing Tag


Asia, Destinations

When Air China gives you lemons

December 11, 2014 • By

When Air China gives you lemons, the Burmese make lemonade in the form of markets.

I departed Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia two hours late for Beijing, which started a domino effect of sorts.

Seated in the back of the airplane, my only shot to making the connecting flight to Yangon, Myanmar would be if these kind and generous Chinese passengers remained seated and allowed those with connections to exit first. I paused in my thinking and came to the conclusion that I needed to rectify this situation quickly. These people don’t wait – ever! I slyly walked up the aisle and formulated a plan. The bulkhead row right behind first class section had an empty middle seat beckoning me. I asked the flight attendant to move me and believe it or not she did and we even relocated another passenger’s carry on bag to accommodate mine. Score!

After I stomped over the aisle seat passenger four times, we started talking. He is Welsh and was flying to Bangkok to see his Thai wife who was expecting their first child, a boy, the next day. We discussed his job and living in Mongolia, he teaches English at a private school and has no intention of returning to the United Kingdom. Prior to Mongolia, he taught in Bangkok for five years. He gave me some insights to what living in Ulaan Baatar is like for non-Mongolians. It doesn’t seem pretty. Ex Pats are heavily targeted by robbers and just the other night his two mates were taken by a taxi elsewhere and jumped. He confirmed the corruption problem and reiterated the pollution is absolutely debilitating until about March. It probably goes without saying but he is looking to move to another country – possibly Shanghai and that his wife isn’t a fan of returning to Ulaan Baatar with a baby.

A damsel in great distress, the Welshman came to my rescue. He offered to carry my bag and run with me through Beijing’s finest. Normally, I would brush gestures of kindness off because I am She-Ra but he seemed to know the way and frankly running in general and running with 25 pounds did not excite me. We hatched a plan and as soon as the seat belt sign dinged at 6:50 PM we sprung into action. We jumped on the first class bus to the terminal, sprinted to the transfer desk grunting all the way, screamed at the international customs officer who basically told me to chill, and then split up at security with me thanking him for his kindness.

With the clock ticking at 7:15 PM, the security folks demand to check out my jewelry. I am panting at this point and sweating profusely as I am still dressed as if I am outside in -22F F. I blurt out, “Not real, it’s not gold, fake fake fake.” Ugh no luck back on the belt it goes. I assess the situation again. It’s now 7:20 PM. I grab my coat(s), laptop and bag and take off running. A cart guy waves at me and I say very winded, “57.” He asks for my boarding pass and I hop on the cart. While driving, he is adamant about learning where I am from and finally I say USA. He points to a $10 USD. Argh! I get it now. I have no US currency on me and I am not giving him $20 Aussie dollars so I think quickly. Fuck it! I give him 100 Yuan (Chinese local – $16) and he turns the wheel and we burn rubber. I arrive at the gate with a few folks waiting for the last bus to depart for the plane. We board. I sit in my seat thinking how winded but thankful I am to be on the plane and I strip off my cashmere sweater and pray my bag makes it. We wait another hour and four more men board. Alas, we depart.

I sat next to a lovely American woman in her 60s who was traveling to Myanmar for three weeks. She is still single, never married and we discussed dating at 60s v. 40. She confessed that’s she’s picky and seemed to genuinely be very happy with her life. I confess I don’t date and then admit I am partially crazy and the thought of hairs on my bathroom floor or people touching my rugs sends me into a tizzy. She is a huge fan of Nepal and without much effort convinced me that is definitely next on the bucket list – only if they have an American 5 star hotel. We settle in for a five-hour flight. I watched Little Women. She napped.

Air China, China Tourism, Air China Bag Loss, Burma

The claim form

I should have really taken the opportunity to snooze on the flight so that after we landed and from the hours of 12:30 AM – 4:00 AM I could have conducted myself in a more even-tempered manner. After the luggage belt stopped moving and my bag did not arrive, I panicked. There were about 20 of us staring at each other in dismay. Finally, after I watched four female airport ladies scurry about aimlessly for a good 30 minutes, I took matters into my own hand. The one thing I can do and I am darn good at it is getting shit done but what I am not is patient and I don’t speak Burmese. I snatched the forms out of one of the ladies hand and took a pen and directed her to “write” and write she did with the help of a few Burmese Americans helping me with translation. Seated next to the woman on the belt, I supervised the San Francisco American who assisted me with personal information, while the New Yorker continued to complain about Air China. A few folks gave up and departed while the rest of us hunkered down. Forms filled, passports copied, I left the airport exhausted, extremely flustered and concerned I would never see my bag after I heard the next Air China flight to Yangon arrives Sunday or Monday. I leave for Bagan Saturday. You see where I am going with this, don’t you? My purchases from the cashmere store are in the suitcase along with my toiletries, make up, shoes, converters and summer attire.

Silk skirts

Silk skirts

A few hours of sleep under my belt, I allowed the sunshine to arouse me from my unconsciousness. I complained to a few people at home on What’s App about my lost bag and then mapped out my day. It obviously involved shopping as my wardrobe consisted of a cashmere sweater, two pairs of sneakers, baseball hats, a sports bra, dirty exercise pants and a tank, one pair of clean underwear, one pair of socks, three winter coats and a random pair of flip flops. I could always wear an iPad, MacBook and iPhone along with three converters none of which work in Myanmar and my retainer if I get desperate.

The front desk handed me a photocopied map and started highlighting things. I asked the woman to mark the route for the market and she kept repeating, “It’s too far for walk.”

Irritated and sleep deprived, I gave my spiel I say in every foreign country, “I live in New York. We walk. We not fat Americans.”

I broke her down. She showed me the market and I got on with my day.

I made it to the market in 20 minutes thank you very much and the locals were just setting up their stalls. My guide warned me at 4:00 AM that I would need long dresses for the pagodas (yes I have those in my suitcase) so I kept that in mind as I purchased a few local “skirts” and t-shirts. With each purchase, the sellers would take the cash and baptize their other merchandise with it for good luck (more sales). An eye doctor fixed my readers for free (they sustained some damage when I dropped my suitcase on my face). I even tried to pay him and he refused. That’s the only thing that didn’t cost me today. I’ll take that as my good fortune.

Buying a bra proved to be a comedy of errors and I really debated whether or not to buy one as I sorted through random underwear and bras made from the finest in China and Thailand. I picked up one style and looked at the sales lady patting my chest, “Do you have smaller?” She throws me 38D cup bra. “No, smallllller like little.” She hands me a 36C. We are making progress. I push my hand down as if to say less. She says, “flat like baby.” YES, exactly flat like baby – one nude bra, check!. Armed with three t-shirts (one for sleeping), two skirts, two tank tops, deodorant, and some ugly dress I paid $5 for and now regret, I headed to the grocery store for hair conditioner. I was so hungry that I ended up sampling the entire store aisle by aisle. – A shot of chocolate milk here, a rice drink there, and lastly a slimy tasting shrimp thing – disgusting. I located the shampoo section, paid and returned to my hotel walking lopsided with bags all the while soaking wet from the humidity.

My new outfits

My new outfits

When I checked into the hotel this morning, they gave me a voucher for fruit juice. When I returned with four full bags of clothes and products totaling about $200, I went directly to the bar and asked if they could provide rum or vodka with the fruit juice. They looked at me quizzically. It was only 2:00 PM. They said something in broken English that I took to believe after 4:00 PM. There will be alcohol in my future. There will be cold, crisp beer and there may be one, two or even three.

It’s lush, it’s green, it’s hot, it’s humid and my once peeling skin is dripping with sweat.  The salt percolating through my skin is forcing me to dine on it willingly. Tomorrow, I take on the sites dressed in Yagon’s finest. I hope my new outfits warrant fewer stares than the Lululemon outfit I sported today.

Air China Sucks! This is why I NEVER check luggage. I broke my rule!!!!!!!

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Asia, Destinations

Local Life in the city

December 9, 2014 • By

Why is Ulaan Baatar so ugly? I shall ponder this for a moment…because the Russians forgot to share their great architectural secrets with the Mongolians. The buildings resemble some fine engineering feats and architecture genius reminiscent of the USSR from the 50s-60s. Socialism = equal = crap!

Salty Milk Tea

Salty Milk Tea

Mongolians are nomads – herders and farmers not builders. They also under planned. They designed a city for 600,000 people and currently about 1.6 million people reside in Ulaan Baatar. Mongolians drive Japanese cars (second hand – some have driver right others driver left), they sit in hours of traffic with limited public transportation (in the cities) and they drink vodka like the Russians. The drinking age is 21. Don’t look for McDonald’s here although KFC is making a run for it. Crime is limited to pick pockets but it must be enough of a problem that signs abound. There is a Louis Vuitton but it’s next to the Parliament building (hmmm). Mongolians enjoy sports – archery, horse racing and wrestling all dating back to ancient times. Historians believe the Mongolians were successful warriors because of their weapons – makes sense.

I sipped salty milk tea – butter, milk and tea. It tastes like it sounds buttery and milky. Mongolians eat horse, camel, goat and lamb. I tried the mutton skipped the horse. Mongolians think the Chinese are weird for eating chicken feet and pork. I agree. They marry between the ages of 18-20 and have about three children. Nomadic families marry younger at age 16. Men buy rings in gold, silver or diamond depending on their income. They pay for the wedding and dress too. My guide is in the silver category but at 28 he is an old single man. He thinks the young women are liars and wants an older woman. Sorry I am waiting for the Shanghai husband.

My city view.

My city view

They love them so karaoke. It’s on every block. They sell and buy camel wool and cashmere clothes and carpets. I went shopping. I love me so cashmere.  I might need DHL and Capital One texted me a fraud alert.   Oops.

My taxi driver will not mess with single American women ever again. He followed me into the store spying on me and it made me uncomfortable.  I gathered he wanted to receive a commission when he passed me his phone and his “friend” spoke in broken English (thought it was the hotel first). With the help of a local Israeli lady who now lives here (why on earth), he learned to stay far away from me.  She informed him I wanted him to wait in the car and that I would insist no store paid him anything.  I understand he is trying to earn money but my hotel hired him to drive me and lurking near the dressing room first alarmed me and then pissed me off.  It’s not fair to the stores and I would not have him abusing the system.

Mongolia should not be judged by its cities but rather its vast countryside. Visit the Gobi desert and ride a camel, travel to Khuisyn Eight Lakes, the fresh water lakes in the center of the country, hike one of the many beautiful national parks, attend a horse show, step through time in Karakorum, the capital of the Mongol Empire and capture a glimpse of wildlife at Ugii Lake. Go in July and be generous. You will be most welcome.

…And from Mongolia, you really can see Russia. It is 372 miles from Ulaan Baatar.

I’m back to Beijing by air for a brief stopover before I fly to Myanmar. Where did I hide that damn visa for arrival? The woes of a traveler on the move. Don’t worry my back is completely scar free and ready to test out the Burmanese technique.

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