Joyce, Meenday, and I are still in Ulaan Baatar. We had planned to move onwards, taking the train to Erdenet this evening. We had tickets for tonight's departure. For various reasons, we've pushed things back another day.
Yesterday Meenday, Boldra, and I attended a luncheon at a hotel. There was a large group of Mongolians from Xinjiang traveling together. Somebody knew somebody, we wound up getting a decent meal for free. I tend to stiffen up at large functions, especially when there are many faces I've never met. Language barriers can intimidate me as well. However, being Mongolian, everybody was relaxed and welcoming. As the group came from Xinjiang, I could communicate fairly well with all of them. They would speak Mongolian with each other, but could effortlessly switch into Chinese or Uighur when talking with me.
After finishing our meal we met a local tour guide who clued us into the right government office to visit before we leave. We got to talking with this tour guide as he had a Jeep heading out to the same Xinjiang/Mongolia border crossing through which we want to come back into China. When he heard that we hoped to make it across that same border, he assured us that without proper papers, I--as a foreigner--could not even be sold a ticket to reach the border.
The tour guide gave us directions to the specific government office where such permits are issued. He claimed that it should be no problem to get such a permit. His reason for heading west is in fact to receive a group of foreign tourists crossing that very border. He sounded like he knew what he was talking about; the government office is right here in Ulaan Baatar. As it won't re-open until Monday, we've changed the departure date of our train tickets.
So, hopefully getting the requisite travel document really will be that straightforward: we've booked our train for tomorrow evening. I suppose even with that paper in hand, there will be no guarantee I can make it back across into Xinjiang. I presume those papers represent permission from the Mongolian government for a foreigner to make it up to the border. Who knows whether the Chinese border guards won't require some similar document to enter China?
Unfortunately, I won't have smooth-talking Joyce along when I do cross. She's very good at talking her way around such situations, but has decided to abridge her trip. Some family matters just arose back in Beijing. Today she was contemplating whether to return home immediately, taking the next train from Ulaan Baatar.
She finally decided that she won't leave just yet, rather first head up to Lake Khovsgul in northern Mongolia. That will allow her to complete her travel-writing assignment for World Vision. After that she'll return home straightaway.
Joyce asked that I take over some of the photography and writing as I head west. I've never done any writing or photography other than what I've posted to this website, but think I'll give it a go. I'm going to have to stilt things towards a Chinese readership in a way that will feel unnatural, but it could be fun. I'll find it amusing if anything I create ends up published in a Chinese travel magazine.