Ulaan Baatar >> China
I awoke early on Sunday morning, had a shower and left Bolod's a little after seven for the 08:05 train. I looked for a taxi and thought I had waved one down until, when I tried to get in, I realised it was a minibus of soldiers stopping to drop someone off. My second attempt worked better and I was soon at the station and then on the train, travelling again for the first time in twenty five days.
My bed was on a lower bunk sharing with just one other guy, Christian, a German also heading to Beijing for the Olympics. My ticket took me all of the way there but my accommodation was not due to commence for a further two days so I planned to alight the train at Datong, six hours before Beijing, and to kill time there.
Christian was a huge sports fan who had studied it for many years at university and was now travelling for a year before he hoped to get a job as a journalist on the subject. He had a shirt of his beloved team Werder Bremen and considered it a side project of his trip to take a photo of as many people as possible wearing it. So, we were not ten minutes out of Ulaan Baatar when I was sat wearing this orange and green top, grinning for his camera.
After much talk about football, fell asleep for three hours and I awoke to find myself in the Gobi desert! We only skirted around the edge of it and after an hour little bits of scrub and grass started to appear. After some photos of it and what looked like a sandstorm, we started playing chess. He had a clever strategy to help ensure victory: He produced a large bottle of vodka which he assured me he needed to (start and) finish before the end of the ride, so requiring my help. As I got more and more blotto I threw away the advantage of the white pieces and lost convincingly. After the second game playing with black started to go the same way, some solid and surprising play put me in total command very late in the game, only for me to blow it with one silly move which made the draw inevitable. Even playing chess, football was always on the menu - when I made one attack forward with my knight, he repelled it with a pawn declaring "Phillip Lahm says 'no!'" He also had a little plastic toy meercat which he photographed at various places he visited, so again I posed for the camera on one side of the board looking thoughtful while 'Roxanna' sat on the other side as if playing against me.
We reached the Mongolian side of the border after dark. Peering through the window in the corridor as we waited for the border police to do their stuff, a young soldier standing outside exchanged some waves and greetings with us. Drunkenly, I suggested to Christian that he should hand his Werder Bremen shirt down to the soldier on the platform so he could photograph him wearing it, or at least holding it up in front of his chest. Sensibly he refused, but I persisted, like I do. "I always thought that Germany was a proud nation of brave men. The sort of guys who, when finding themselves a goal down to Mexico in the '98 World Cup, would fight back with two late goals to win it. Now, tonight, I discover that they are in fact a nation who will concede a Steven Gerrard goal just before half-time and go on to crumble 5-1 in the second half . . . etc and so on." Eventually, to my very great surprise, he headed back into our compartment to get the shirt. Suddenly I began to feel pangs of guilt, knowing that I should stop him before he had his shirt confiscated or, worse still, got arrested. It all went very well though. The soldier happily took it, held it up in front of himself and posed while a photo was duly taken. I just hope that his superior didn't see it all.
After just an hour and a half (are you listening, Russian border police??) we were moving again across into the People's Republic of China. I have created a new 'trip' for this next stage of the journey and for the sake of demarkation, I shall finish the final details of this train ride in the first journal of that section. For reference, now I am using multiple trips, I strongly recommend that you all use this link from now on: http://www.tripntale.com/profile.aspx?uid=1367