I took a break. I left Mongolia and braved the border crossing I can see from my ger to travel for a couple weeks with my sister in the land called China. It was unknown territory, the stuff of legend. But I did it. And just to show my goodwill, I’m sharing the lessons I learned while doing it.
Be careful out there.
When someone offers you their baby
[This is an opportunity for their child to be in the arms of a foreigner, not for the foreigner to kidnap a Chinese child. It’s all for their benefit. You are here for them.]
When you’re done drinking out of a plastic bottle
Hand it to an old, disheveled person on the street. They usually like this sort of thing. Actually, they usually approach you, asking for it. Roaming elderly: It’s the new wave of recycling.
If you don’t know what it is
Eat it anyway. This is called open-mindedness. Also, cultural integration.
[Think: green pea popsicles; roast duck ‘barticue;’ stinky tofu; thousand year old eggs; red bean ice cream/ pancakes/ rice/ tea]
When they point their camera in your direction
They’re taking your picture. Because you’re foreign. And therefore trespassing. Or interesting. Or at the mercy of all those who can speak this language in which you can only say, Thank you, and Hello, and Don’t want.
When a woman yells that you’re going the wrong way
Follow her. It doesn’t matter if she’s right, or if you can’t understand anything else she says. It’s all part of the experience. And she may very well know more about your destination than you do. In fact, she will call her friend who will get on the bus at your destination to tell you you’ve reached it. This is called social networking.
When you’re exhausted on a city bus
It’s ok to fall asleep. And when your head repeatedly nods against something stable, let it. Only when you regain consciousness will you realize that it was the dude-to-your-left’s shoulder your forehead kept hitting. Just pretend you don’t notice your makeup marking his black shirt by looking out the window and ignoring his presence.
When you’re complimented
Say what you think is the modest form of gratitude. Which is actually a stupid form asking where someone is from. And when I say stupid, I mean saying one word twice, the word that means, where, or from. Neither of which you ever knew you knew.
When you get to the border
Impress your new American friends with your Mongolian language skills, when you ride across in a jeep that has luggage in the engine, on the hood, on the roof, around, under, and on you. And with your climbing skills, when you get to your hashaa that now has a locked gate. And with your capacity for trust, when you get to your ger that has no lock at all. It’s the hard-core version of being cultured.
When a man on a stopped bike is examining his penis
Is it rude to watch? Because you do anyway as you walk by, and nothing seems to be perverted about the situation or out of the ordinary about his demeanor, aside from his genitals being visible under a lamplight in a dark alley.
But that’s China for you.