All set for another year of posting! After a wild two and a half months globetrotting (ok, a little exaggeration) I find myself back in Nanjing, with a new job in a brand new school, loads of photos, a few new friends, and fresh pile of ideas and enough things to think about to last me at least a year. I’m feeling pretty good.
So here we go. If you care to wander over to my photo section, you will find a swath of unlinked titles. These will be filled in ASAP. I’ve taken over 1000 photographs of the various places I’ve been, so setting up and captioning (yes, I will be captioning all!) will take some time. I’ve completed a few of the smaller Mongolian sections (Trans Siberian – easily the shittiest of all my photos, Unknown Mountain and Yak Race and Mongolian Gers). As for a
overview on where I’ve been, I’ve decided to start with Part one of my 10,000 word (so far) Mongolian rambling and we’ll move down through the weeks hopefully in somewhat of a chronological order. This first part takes place during early August of this year.
My idea for this essay is less of a day-by-day play-by-play travelogue of my time in Mongolia, but rather a collection of thoughts and ideas about Mongolia and my time there. There is not particular time table or logistical explanations, but instead attempts to draw events into themes. That said, it will probably be just as boring as reading a traditional travelogue, and I caution against reading section seven, unless you are looking for a natural 100% organic sleeping aid.
Part One: The Beijing Madness Continues…
My relationship with Beijing is a relationship of necessity. In the sense that if possible, I would prefer to avoid the city at all costs, given the history of failed plans and destroyed dreams (heh heh heh).
As this is being written without internet access, I’ve forgotten where I last left my loyal and bored readers (thank you for taking time to read about something you didn’t experience).
After the standard visa debacle, which resulted in a subsequent ticket debacle, I wasn’t sure if Beijing could possibly frustrate my plans any further. However, as usually, Big BJ was one step ahead, plotting to create further mayhem and disaster by sabotaging what is a simple and relatively easy procedure in every other Chinese city (providing you are not hosting the 2008 Olympics)….changing money on the Black Market.
If you are a tourist in China (ie. You hold a valid and legal Tourist Visa) you will have no trouble converting your real money into maobacks. Furthermore, if you are lucky and are not duped into spending all of this money on seemingly ‘killer’ deals in the markets around Big Red, you can easily and painlessly convert the remaining monopoly money back into useful currencies with the help of the friendly staff and your original conversion receipt at any convenient Bank of China branch. Simple. Yet as I am not a lucky tourist, but a foreign language laborer, I am not permitted to utilize such a wonderful and logical system of commerce. Instead, I am subject to the ‘Keep it Red’ policy. An ingenious system forcing me to keep a substantial (essentially all) of my hard earned clams in local denominations. The idea being that since this money was created in China, it, as such, should be kept in China. At a theoretical level, I respect this policy and in some instances wonder at the wealth that Canada would retain if it followed something similar. However, at a practical level (and when it comes to your money, isn’t that the only level that matters?), it sucks.
In a true capitalist nature, a market was noticed and created. Enter the Yellow Cow (黄牛 huang niu). This intrepid species can be found throughout the P.R.C. inhabiting various banks waiting to serve all of your conversion requirements. However, this usually abundant and common species is at risk, especially in Beijing, where it has gone all but extinct in the central regions. Blame can be placed on the Central government, who has entered into an eradication program to exterminate this useful group of mammals in an effort to ‘clean up’ the city in the face of the coming Olympics.
Despite knowing of several Yellow Cows in the Nanjing region, I, naively, assumed I would be able to easily track one down in Beijing. Usually ‘tracking’ on down consists of standing in front of a bank for approximately 2.4 seconds. After that time, several will emerge from the stone works or slither out of the cracks between the concrete ready to give you the best possible rates. I wasted several hours on my last day in Beijing visiting numerous banks with zero success and only blank stares to inquiries regarding the seemingly rare Yellow Cow (and answers of “you have to go to the Bank of China”). Although I was fairly certain I would be able to exchange RMB within Mongolia, I never like to travel anywhere without several powerful presidents in my pocket. Defeated, I wandered into what I consider to be the last bastions of hope and help in China…the 5 star hotel. I coyly inquired about currency exchange back into USD, and received the standard answer. I then asked about the Yellow Cows, which appear to have been driven out of Beijing. The girl and the front ran away to her friend working behind her, where they discussed the situation in quiet, returning a minute later to deliver a lecture on the dangers of employing Yellow Cows. Thanking them for their concern, I reiterated my position, stating that given the current policy, this is the only possible way for me to obtain USD and that my Mandarin skills, while lacking considerable, are up to par in this department.
“Ok, you can go to this address” said the girl, promptly scribbling an address down on a hotel name card as if she had given this address a million times.
Unfortunately, this would lead me to an area about thirty to forty minutes from my present location, well past the closing time of the banks. Yellow Cows operate differently, with some holding all their cash on them, while others have relations with the actual bank itself, converting currency within (I have no idea how they swing that operation). Given that I had no idea about which type I would be dealing with, I opted out of making the trip over to that region (I didn’t want to shell for the lengthy cab ride). RMB would have to suffice in Mongolia, and it did…where the government respects the individual’s right to exchange currency anywhere and anytime they please.