It was a little bittersweet leaving Mongolia. It is a beautifully complicated country that cannot be summed up in a few blog posts. It is also incredibly frustrating, noisy and polluted, yet I still left with a fondness for it that I can’t explain. Maybe it had something to do with the people – Shawn’s friend Manlai and his family made us feel so welcomed and cared for, it was hard to say goodbye.
We hope it won’t be another 10 years before we see them again
We made friends with our tour group mates and were able to go out to dinners with them and just hang around the city. When we asked around on Twitter for advice, people actually responded, probably understanding how hard it is as a foreigner to get around a city not yet ready for the number of tourists who are itching to visit. In a lot of ways, I was ready to leave, but in others, I knew I’d miss it. Perhaps the ease of routine had already tempted us into staying, but we had plane tickets, purchased a couple months ago, that told us it was time to go. So, we made our arrangements to head to the airport and sat there in “our” apartment the night of our flight, nervous and anxious about what awaited us 1200 miles to the east.
A couple of lukewarm Heinekens while waiting for our flight eased our anxiety…that or just surviving the ride to the airport
Before we left Mongolia, we started to research the things we wanted to see most and experience while we’re in Seoul, but it eventually became too overwhelming and we decided the few things we had picked out would be a good enough start – the rest, we’d just figure out as we went along. This city has so much to offer and even with a week here, we feel like we’ll barely be able to scratch the surface.
As we sat in the apartment in Ulaanbaatar the night before we left, I started to ask myself what I was really nervous about. Was it the language? The food? (Pfft…no.) The size of the city? (Maybe. There are almost 12 million people just in the city itself. That doesn’t count the other 15 or so million in the suburbs.) I felt a lot like the days leading up to our departure from the U.S. I felt completely incapable and unsure that we could do this.
After a lot of thought and soul searching (and awkward silences around each other), Shawn made the very poignant statement: “I think it’s just that you and I are both really neurotic and don’t like not knowing what to do.” Hmm. Good point, dear. I don’t like feeling dumb. I want to do things right. I don’t want to make an idiot of myself or go the wrong direction or take the wrong bus or ask a dumb question. But we’re traveling and we’re going to do those things. Otherwise, how flipping boring would we be?? How completely unrelatable would we be? I was scared to figure out how to take the bus from the airport. You know what happened? Shawn went and asked the guy at the 7-11 at the airport if we could buy our T-money cards for the public transportation there and guess what? We could! Then we stepped outside and saw the bus stop we needed to be at. Then we got on the bus and (big shocker here) they announced each stop so we knew where to get off. Then we followed the directions provided by our apartment host and found our place. Since then, we’ve had to force ourselves to just get in there and figure things out, like taking the subway and navigating around this gigantic city. It’s not totally clear until you start the process, then once you do, it becomes pretty easy. And when it’s not easy, we learn something new.
See here? After eating this, we learned to ask the price before agreeing to the expensive skewer
Change is scary, but it’s not always so hard. The truth of the matter is that although I was nervous about coming to a new city, we had already figured our way around a big, challenging city. We’re also going to continue to make mistakes – ones that no amount of research will prepare us for. We’ll continue to do our best to figure things out, but just like in life, once you figure one thing out, another challenge will meet you head on. And we’ll cross that bridge eventually, too.
And you know what? It’s already been worth it.