I'll just add some highlights here...
After wrapping up in the field we said our goodbyes and headed back to Ulaan Baatar where I stayed a few more days. We had a few more get-togethers with the friends we made on the trip, both Mongolian and Western, and just had a lovely time. I really love Ulaan Baatar, despite the first impressions I had. Crumbling soviet-era apartment blocks with gers bundled in between, both bizarre and charming. Of course, seeing the city with my new friends really put it in a different light.
I was extremely lucky to be present for a special time in Mongolia--- the night they won their first Olympic Gold Medal-- ever! It happened to be an evening I was spending alone so I wandered to Sukhbaatar Square where I assumed there would be celebrations. Sure enough there were hundreds gathered and it soon turned into a huge party. Everyone was chanting Monguul! Monguul! (Mongolia! Mongolia!) there were fireworks and at one point the Prime Minister came out, flanked by a band, and spoke to the crowd before the band played their national anthem. Mongolia has only been independent since 1991-- this was a very big moment for them. I'm so glad I was there! I made some new friends at the square that night and spent the rest of the evening with them, celebrating--- a night I won't forget.
I took an early flight out of Mongolia to Beijing, glad there were clear skies so I can watch Mongolia roll away as we flew out. I hope it's not long before I go back again.
My friend Laura, one of my best friends from college landed a job working at the Beijing Olympics. This was a great opportunity for me to return to the city and see it at a tremendously exciting time. I was really impressed with the way Beijingers came together to put the city's best foot forward. Businesses had new signs, buildings were freshly painted, and tourist help kiosks had been erected everywhere. Cheerful old men and women (without a lick of English), sporting brightly colored vests that said "Olympic Volunteer", hovered around on the streets, ready for anything. I made sure to ask them directions, even though I knew where I was going, as it so pleased them to help out.
I stayed with Laura, in the apartment her job provided near Sanlitun. Sadly, we both got very ill my second day in so I spent most of my time that week in the hotel room-- I saw a doctor in Chiang Mai-- turns out I had dysentery!!! Yes, the disease that kills off members of your wagon train in the old "Oregon Trail" computer game. Needless to say, it is as unpleasant as it sounds. I still wrestled up the energy to see my friend Jade, a cool chick I met on my North Korea trip last year, and to go to my first Olympic competition, which was really exciting. Laura scored free tickets to the synchronized swimming finals, in the Water Cube. The Olympic grounds were expansive and the Water Cube and Birds Nest were impressive up-close. It was fun walking around the grounds, soaking up the excitement, and watching the medal ceremony for our competition, with the gold going to Russia.
Thailand: Al met me at the Chiang Mai airport and brought me home the next day, only to bring me to the train station less than 24 hours later for the last leg of my summer travels. I had months earlier planned to meet my friend Amber, a fellow English teacher in Korea, on the islands somewhere during her once a year break (hagwons work you to the bone). These plans were made before the Beijing plans so I didn't realize how stretched out and tired I would be. I caught an overnight train to Bangkok, waited around a few hours, and then hopped on a flight to Koh Samui, where she had arrived two days earlier and booked some beach side bungalows. It was a great way to wind down after all of my adventures. We lazed around all day on beaches, both on Samui and Koh PaNgan, enjoyed fantastic seafood and tropical drinks, and danced with a bizarre group of Spaniards. Good times.
Amber,relaxing at the Dolphin on Koh PaNgan
It was good to get back to Uttaradit after all that, to start settling in to my new home there. I'm glad I had six weeks off before starting my new job. This summer shook my life up like a snowglobe, now everything's falling into place again-- until the next time!