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18 Nights in Mongolia

This is an excerpt from a larger story I’m writing. This chapter’s titled:

18 Nights in Mongolia


To My Ancestors:

The Korean bloodline is said to have originated from Mongolian roots. Though I’m not sure of my heritage, whenever I read my US history books in school I couldn’t really identify with the stories because I always felt like I was from elsewhere. I’d imagine myself on horseback roaming through some plains alone. I don’t know where these images came from but I had them ever since I was young. And, because of this, on a whim I have decided to go to Mongolia.

Two other factors have come to play in my decision. One is my friend, Jake, from childhood. He told me around this time last year that he wanted to go backpacking alone in Mongolia. He was planning on going without bringing any cash and just seeing if he could survive. He is not much of the adventurous or rugged type so I was very surprised. The other individual that has motivated me to go is Kettik. I haven’t seen her in months but she just invited me today to go on a picnic. When I think of her I remember her Mongolia trip. She went there by herself a few years ago. The only person I know who’s ever gone there. Again, I believe in synchronicity. Because of this I am very comfortable in my decision to go to Mongolia even though it was decided less than ten minutes ago. Like this entire story, I am just writing as I go. Where I place all the chapters will fit later. When you don’t believe in time, why write chronologically? Just write. There is no time like the present.

Jake has yet to go to Mongolia. If he ever reads this story, with any luck, it’ll motivate him to go. I am planning on buying a one-way ticket to there for around May 8th. Hopefully, the next excerpt of this story will be me in Mongolia writing. We shall see.


I just read the above. Wow, it’s already been three weeks. I have yet to buy my ticket. I am a procrastinator to the extreme. My date of departure is now rescheduled for May 14th. I was rethinking my trip and under the impression that I might as well visit two countries instead of one. I immediately thought of going to Kazakhstan but they require a visa, so do China and Russia. I don’t have time for the process. I’m looking at a map on Wikipedia that discloses locations worldwide that accept US passports without a visa. I have no clue where else I want to go…

I’ve been searching online for an hour now and still have no clue. The weather’s rainy in both Nepal and Bangladesh and it’s too hot in Oman. I don’t want to go to Europe and I plan on going to Africa and South America next year so would rather wait. Where else do I want to go?…

Fuck it. It’s been two hours now. I’m just going to go to Mongolia and play it by ear. I’m getting too drunk for this.

5/10 (A couple hours later)

This is another thing I realized. When I was younger I had hundreds of friends. Now that I’m 29 I’m thinking of calling someone to get travel opinions and I can’t think of a single person to call. As you age, the number of friends you have dwindles as well. They turn into contacts. Nothing negative. Just a process in life I guess.


Finally got my ticket. Going to Mongolia on the 13th and will head to Turkey after. Want to check out Istanbul and chill at the beaches of Bodrum. But first it’s off to Lake Khövsgöl in Mongolia.

Catch me on horseback biatch.

I went on Kayak.com to book my ticket. Wanted to go from Korea—> Mongolia—> Turkey—>Korea. The cost is $2300. However, I then entered how much just a round-trip Mongolia ticket from Korea costs. It’s $680. A round-trip Turkey ticket from Korea costs $800. That’s a combined $1480. I save over $800 by booking two separate round-trip flights but this means I’m going to have to come back to Korea after Mongolia then head up past Mongolia to catch a transfer flight in Russia to Turkey. I’m traveling many more miles yet spending much less cash. Strange this world is. Whatever.

Catch me on horseback biatch!

 I’m drunk again.


My plans keep changing. A friend, Nate, just called and told me he can join me in Mongolia on the 23rd. I just canceled my Turkey ticket and rearranged my Mongolia ticket to stay until the 30th now. He told me a couple weeks ago that he wanted to join me, but he didn’t get back to me so I naturally thought he wasn’t coming anymore. Because of this I purchased my Turkey ticket. Before, when others would change their plans on me I’d get very upset. I get irate easily. Now I’ve learned to accept it. It’s not like Nate was trying to purposely cause me stress. Live and let be. I’m now heading out to a club to see a friend perform. I’ll pack and do all that stuff later.

Catch me at the club biatch!

I’m drunk again.


I am not ready for my trip. I had a binge of a weekend and haven’t packed a single thing. Will leave on Monday, May 14th now. Here’s some advice to my fellow backpackers. When you have to make changes to your flight plans, call an operator. For tickets it may say on the website that there’re cancellation fees or penalties. However, an operator can waive these fees or sometimes they may not even mention them. I’ve changed two of my flights and canceled my Turkey trip yet this process has cost me only $11 total. Also, if you see that the price of your fare dropped online after you booked your ticket, many operators will allow you to cancel your previous ticket and book the cheaper rate. It all depends on the operator, not always company policy. Operators wield more power than you’d expect. Most operators aren’t trying to be assholes, they like helping you. This can end up saving you hundreds of dollars. If the operator you are speaking to is an ass, hang up and speak to a different one. This doesn’t just work with airlines; it works with pretty much any company such as banks and retailors as well.

It’s now 1:30AM and I’m heading out again to join some friends. I feel like I’m twenty-two again. Lately I haven’t been going out much at all. I spend my afternoons going to yoga classes everyday then head to a local park to read. Or at least try to read. My mind always wanders. I’ve bought over ten books in the past year but have yet to read a single one.


I am now finally on the plane to Mongolia. We had to take off later than expected due to bad weather. I’ll fly in at past midnight and have no idea where I’m staying or what I’m going to do. When I travel, I plan nothing but the destination in mind: Horse backing at Lake Khövsgöl.


It turns out I finished all the pages on my passport so a customs official has just set me aside from the line. What a burn.

I should’ve known. The guy was working the slowest line out of all of them. Most customs officials I’ve encountered stamp my passport quite randomly and don’t care about my pages. This guy takes his job too seriously. He’s being a prick. Though I know there is a time and place for them, overall, I dislike anal motherfuckers.

The airport is quite small. There is only one destination foreigners can fly into in Mongolia and that’s its capital, Ulaanbaatar. Now that I’ve arrived it’s finally hit me that I’m here. After all the other passengers had entered into the country, the customs official finally speaks to a coworker and the coworker tells him to just let me in. I can’t tell by their words (they’re speaking Mongolian, which sounds oddly like Russian to me) but I can read their body language.

After finally passing the customs gate and entering into the actual airport I realize everything’s closed and many of the passengers who were on the plane had already departed. It’s well past midnight. I was hoping to see a tourist booth or something open. There are very few airport employees and I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do. When I’m in these types of situations the first thing I look for are other backpackers. Most backpackers are the adventurous and friendly type so they don’t mind if you join them. However, it does not look like there are many tourists here left. I see a bright-eyed young German female who catches my eye and we strike up a conversation. She’s from Munich. I’ve been to Oktoberfest before so we develop an instant rapport. She has no clue what to do either but she traveled with a group and they have a hotel and cabdriver prearranged. It turns out she’s here for work purposes (to attend a convention), not travelling. For whatever the reason, I was a bit disappointed upon hearing this and decided to head to the second-floor to exchange some money. While doing this, there is a cabdriver that follows me. I tell him it’s okay but he’s on me like a leash. Currency exchange is the only thing that’s still open in the airport. The rate is around 1300.00 tugriks for each US dollar. The whole process takes over twenty minutes. I don’t know what took so long, but the lady at the counter had a long discussion with the one customer in the room that came before me. When I head back downstairs I realize I am the only tourist left besides a small group of six other people. Excluding them, there are about thirty locals hanging around the airport, including the one that’s still following me.

I approach the group and strike up a conversation with an American in his mid-thirties. He looks a tad like a skinhead to be honest but I have little choice in whom to talk to at this late hour. He tells me he’s been working here for nine months at a mining company. His group has prearranged transportation and hotel accommodations as well. I ask him if it’s okay to trust the cabdrivers hanging around at the airport. He replies that Ulaanbaatar is very dangerous and he wouldn’t trust them. He goes on to tell me stories about people being kidnapped once in a cab, then robbed and abandoned afterwards in some alley. He says he doesn’t even go out at night. And he’s one rather tough-looking guy with a goatee, tattoos and all. This isn’t really the type of thing you want to hear when you just landed in a foreign country late at night and have no clue what you’re going to do. I asked his group’s travel coordinator, a local Mongolian, if I could hitch a ride with them and that I’m willing to pay. She acts like a complete bitch and shrugs me off. So far, my trip isn’t working out quite well. This group leaves within minutes and now I am the only person left in the airport that’s a foreigner.

A group of eight cabdrivers surrounds me like vultures and I’m not quite sure what they’re talking about. They’re yelling and fighting amongst each other for me, the foreigner.  As I’m going through this situation, I flip out my Lonely Planet to read about airport procedures. It says do not ride in any unmarked cabs. I head outside and now there is a larger group, about seventeen cabdrivers, fighting for me. To me, all the cars look unmarked. The vehicles all look a bit ragged, like they have over a 100,000 miles on them. I tell the original person who followed me that I will ride with him. He looks a bit shady however and gets into an argument with another cabdriver as I’m about to get in his car. Maybe it’s just my apprehension, but I don’t know what to do at this point so I head back into the airport instead. It seems safer. The crowd follows me in. Oddly, there are also a few locals here dressed up in suits that look straight out of some eighties B-rated gangster flick. They’re in their twenties. Some of them have dyed blonde hair and definitely look shady. I have no idea why they’re here. They seem out of place in the airport. They keep their eyes on me as well. I look around for some airport security or staff, but there really aren’t many people in here. This was the last flight in and everyone seems to have left except the cabdrivers, eighties gangsters, and me. What an odd situation to find oneself in.

One cabdriver hands me a business card and offers a smile. He looked amiable enough and I decide to take off with him. He drives an unmarked vehicle as well but I have little options at this point. It’s past 2AM. He asked me where I wanted to go. I didn’t really know myself. I told him just take me into town. I reached into my backpack and took out my flashlight so I could read the Lonely Planet’s recommendations for accommodations.

When going abroad, there are two types of trips one can arrange: a vacation or an experience. A vacation is a trip in which everything is prearranged, one stays at luxury hotels, and travels with loved ones or some friends for a few days. An experience is the opposite. It is a trip in which one travels independently, makes few plans, travels for a bit longer, stays at cheaper places, and his main goal is to experience local culture. Of the two, experiences are far more noteworthy and impactful. They really make you question your preconceived notions and challenge you to find your way around a country when you don’t speak the native tongue. Vacations are merely exercises of the ego.

I find a hostel in the Lonely Planet that’s recommended as one of the top choices, Zaya Hostel, and tell the cabdriver to take me there. It’s around 3AM and I’m not certain if there are any rooms or if Zaya is still open. The cabdriver doesn’t know where it is so I ask if he can call them. The Lonely Planet lists phone numbers as well. Fortunately, someone picks up on the other line and there are rooms left. This brings me a sigh of relief but I’m still a bit on edge. The drive into town is dark and I look back every minute or so to make sure there are no other vehicles trailing us. I don’t want to end up a statistic. Before I took off for Ulaanbaatar, a friend of mine told me he heard from a Mongolian that there are plenty of robberies out here. This (plus what the American miner had said earlier) really put me on edge. My countenance remained stoic however. When in uncertain circumstances I’ve learned never show fear.

Once we pull into Zaya, the place looks sketchy. It’s in a dark alley and is located on the third floor of a building. I look for a sign of the place but don’t see any. I get out of the cab with the cabdriver and we walk around an open gate. Soon, a young female opens a coded door on the bottom floor and she greets me with a smile. I finally feel relief.

I’m now in my room as we speak. It’s a single. The place is better than I expected and very clean. They recently renovated. The room costs 33,000 tugriks per night. A part of me realizes I need to plan my trips a bit more. Yet another part of me relishes these random moments of panic and “What the fuck am I gonna do now?” thoughts. They provide a rush different from any physical activity. When doing activities like dirt biking or snowboarding you’re still in control. When backpacking alone in a country you know very little about, you really have no idea how events may play out. You’re body is still, but mentally, you’ve never felt so alive. You’re absorbing the entire scene knowing that some of the people you encounter are out to fuck you while most are just trying to make a living. It’s a unique experience.

In life, I believe one must always engage in new experiences. Novelty sustains brain activity and keeps you mentally sharp. I think a factor behind why some old people get Alzheimer’s or Dementia is because they stopped engaging in new pursuits. They probably lived decades of routine, thus setting their brain on autopilot and leading to atrophy. I travel a lot. The most tiring day out of any when I’m in a new country is always the first full day. This experience isn’t so much physically draining as it is mentally. You experience mental fatigue because you’re constantly absorbing new information. You’re learning the layout of a city, what the customs are, what the language is, who to trust, where to go, eat, shop, etc. Your senses literally pulsate from the constant wave of stimuli never before experienced: new sights, smells, voices and tastes. It’s a dopamine rush. I feel like I learn more in a day of travelling than I can learn in a month back home. The more exotic the destination the better, places where there are not too many foreigners.

To keep your mind sharp, travel alone and use a tour guide only when necessary. Tour guides put your brain on autopilot. Figure out where you want to go and you can always make your way, even if you don’t speak the native tongue. It’s more interesting when you don’t speak it. This leads to interesting experiences and new friendships. More than anything, you’re really challenging your mind.

5/15 8:40PM

After a night’s rest I spent my first day in Ulaanbaatar. Upon checking my bag in the morning I realize I lost my headphones. Spent $300 on them. I was looking forward to listening to some good music while riding horses around Lake Khövsgöl.  Oh well. Fuck it. Don’t worry about the trivial matters in life. They mean nothing.

I read about a place near here called the Tsergiin Khuree Shooting Range in my Lonely Planet that allows individuals to drive Russian tanks and shoot RPG’s and AK-47’s. I’ve never driven a tank before. Have you? I was very dismayed to hear that the place no longer operates however. Oh well. Again, fuck it. No point in getting bent up about things you can’t control.

I spent my day walking around the city for several hours and stopped by a travel agency to book my ticket to Mörön. Mörön is the closest airport to Lake Khövsgöl. It is about a two-hour plane ride away. I am leaving tomorrow early in the afternoon. In the downtown of the city, Sükhbaatar Square, there are several teenagers roaming around on bikes and rollerblades performing tricks as tourists watch in bemusement and take photos of the Chinggis Khaan statue and parliamentary buildings.

Statue of Damdin Sükhbaatar, who declared Mongolia’s independence from China in 1921

Statue of Damdin Sükhbaatar, who declared Mongolia’s independence from China in 1921

Sükhbaatar Square

East of the square is a large Louis Vuitton store which seems out of place here. The most notable event that occurred today was when I happened to walk by the National Theater and Opera House. I saw a performance of traditional Mongolian dance and music, albeit briefly. The doors to the theater were open so I just walked in. It’s a large pink building that one cannot miss if he is walking by Sükhbaatar Square. The most appealing thing about the performance was the clothing: very bright and colorful, a sharp contrast to Mongolia’s long winters of ice and frigidity. It is mid-May and still quite cold.

I met a man in his late thirties there who was ushering a few businessmen into the building that looked like they were arriving late. I struck up a conversation with him because I wasn’t quite sure what the whole procedure was about entering the performance and if I had to pay. He was very cordial and invited me to tag along with him to watch, but I went against it. I felt it was wrong if I did not pay. I have a kind of twisted sense of morality. I could care less if poor individuals steal from places like Wal-Mart. I know it’s still wrong but I honestly could care less. On the other hand, I believe the arts deserve all the funding they can get. I was more interested in chatting with the local man anyway. His name is Gegeen. He is a manager at LG Electronics, a conglomerate from Korea. It turns out the businessmen I saw him usher in a few minutes ago are executives of the company, including the president. Gegeen told me that LG has just entered the Mongolian market. I was surprised because I thought LG would have already been in Mongolia by now. Something may have been lost in translation and maybe they are entering a submarket today. Not quite certain. The executives are here to sign some papers and do a meet-and-greet for publicity’s sake. The performance today is thrown, in part, for their sake. They don’t do shows here everyday or even every week as is common in other international theaters. I ask Gegeen how long the executives are staying in Mongolia for. He responds, “They flew in today and are flying out tonight.” My goodness. Though I try to withhold judgment, this is no way for any individual to travel: purely for business’ sake.

I ask him if he knows where I can exchange some cash and he tells me that he has to exchange some money as well and knows the best place in town. We head out of the theater to a currency exchange center a few blocks away. As I exchanged less than $200, I see Gegeen bust out a good-sized wad of $100’s. Straight cash. Something base in me felt an instant compulsion to rob him. I get these types of thoughts sometimes. I would never do stuff like that but I’ll be the first to admit these thoughts run through my mind. I’m sure they run through yours as well if you’re honest enough.

Afterwards, we head out to a café. He asks what type of coffee I want to drink and, as I was about to place an order, I see they serve beer here as well. Instinctively, my mind pulls me in this direction and I ask Gegeen, “What’s the best Mongolian beer here?” He orders it for me. I forget the name. We then talked about family for a moment and he shows me a photo of his two kids as I ask him various questions about Mongolia. For a businessman on his working hours, Gegeen is surprisingly friendly in demeanor and looks like your typical middle-aged Asian businessman. He is a few inches shorter than me and has a slender build. His countenance is youthful and he sports thin gold-rimmed glasses that give him the nerdy vibe. I ask him if Mongolia is dangerous at night. He replies that for a young man like me it shouldn’t be any problem. This put my apprehensions at ease because I enjoy taking long walks at night. Note that his opinions are in stark contrast to the American miner I had met last night. That miner really had me shook last night as I was walking through the airport. I believe that most human fears are self-created. We naturally fear the unknown. Indeed, the greatest restrictions in life are self-imposed.

From my travels, I’ve noticed that much of the world is less dangerous than we presume. Many still doubt me however. I believe a few bad seeds taint the whole batch. And then these bad seeds get played over and over again on our evening news and in our papers.  I have a saying, “Don’t fear the unknown; embrace it.” For it is only by doing what we don’t know we allow ourselves to grow.

After Gegeen and I parted ways, I walked around downtown looking for a place to eat. The food here is quite good. I’ve only had one meal but judging by what everyone else was eating too, the food looks delicious. I’m not just talking about Mongolian cuisine; I’m talking about foreign food too. In Ulaanbaatar, at least, it’s quite cosmopolitan and hard to tell the difference between a decent restaurant here compared to anywhere else in the world. But just as how Ulaanbaatar is becoming international as anywhere else, I noticed the places here play the same shit on TV as anywhere else too. As I was eating, what was playing was a music video of Justin Bieber. I came out here to leave behind all that bullshit. My goodness. In a decade I sense this whole downtown center is going to change. Money is flowing into Mongolia due to mining for its rich natural resources. Multinational corporations, like LG, are invading. Ulaanbaatar, and the rest of Mongolia, are undergoing a rapid period of development as we speak. My only hope is that they don’t lose their cultural values along the way. As I feel Korea already has.

5/16 12:30AM

I just came back to the hostel after a walk out. There’s always an exhilarating feeling when you walk alone for the first time in a city at night. Cities have two distinct personalities: One in the day, the other at night. In the daytime the city shows the world the view of it that it wants you to see. At night all the other elements come into play. The daytime is persona whilst the shadow is night. If you’re into Jungian psychology, you can infer what I mean.

Disappointingly, I walked around for two hours and could not find a single decent bar to drink at. Surprisingly, most of them were closed by midnight. This is a bit unusual because many Asian cities have the latest closing hours in the world when it comes to serving alcohol. I’ve been walking east-west through Ulaanbaatar rather than north-south (the major streets are just structured that way). I think I just wasn’t walking around in the right places. No way can any city be this quiet at night. The only odd observance I had all night was when I saw a group of around eight men engaging in a scuffle. One of them took off his shirt while coaxing another into fighting. They’re part of the same group. I have no idea what they’re arguing about, but you can easily see they’re drunk. After watching for a few minutes it looked like it was going to mount to nothing so I continued walking.

The only other thing I did all night was call a hostel in Khatgal since I plan on heading there tomorrow and wasn’t certain if I had a place to stay. Khatgal is a two-hour drive north from Mörön and is located at the base of Lake Khövsgöl. The owner of the hostel, Garage 24, was very polite when I spoke to her and she told me she’d send one of her staff to pick me up from the airport for free. I thought about it for a second, but instinctively, I went against it. I feel that an adventure should be just that: An Adventure. If everything is planned there’s little room for self-discovery. My favorite memories in life are those I did not plan at all but just lived.

5/16 10:20AM

I am at the airport now heading for Mörön. The drive to the airport was not a scenic one. It was my first real look at the city since I arrived here late at night in the dark. There is lots of dust, small houses scattered everywhere, and in between all of this you’ll see a huge development either under construction or recently built. It’s such a marked contrast between past and present. The houses have odd-colored rooftops, some pink and blue, others green and red. The colors belie the shabbiness and plainness these individuals reside in.

While getting nearer the airport, I saw a local on horseback. Then it hit me. That’s going to be me soon. I’m not just traveling to another city to go sightseeing; I’m going to go horseback and live in gers for two weeks. And just like how I landed in Ulaanbaatar, I have no idea what to expect. I’m fucking excited, a tranquil excitement. I love the unknown.

5/16 11:10PM

View of Mongolian steppes from plane ride heading to Mörön

I am finally in Khatgal. I landed in Mörön at 12:30PM. Thought there would be taxi’s there but it was the smallest airport I’ve ever been to. They have only a handful of flights operating per day, with only one airstrip. For some odd reason, it felt like I was more at an empty hospital or a vacant governmental office than I was at an airport. I’m used to flying into major cities. After I grabbed my luggage I walked out the airport and had no clue what I was going to do. As I mentioned previously, my first instinct is to look for backpackers. There are none here. My second instinct is to look for someone who looks like they may understand a bit of English. Not sure if this is going to work out either. The plane I flew in on only fits 35 people. There were less than thirty of us on it. I don’t have many options at this point and I don’t want to walk into town. It doesn’t look far but it would definitely take over an hour. In these situations you have to act quickly before everyone leaves. If everyone leaves, you’re going to be alone. And that’s a shitty feeling. I see two girls waiting in the parking lot and I approach them. They speak very little English but are friendly. They giggle as they talk to me. It’s very hard to communicate with others when you two don’t speak the same language. Oddly, one of them is Japanese. They call one of their friends who can speak English and they hand me the phone. I try to explain my situation but the line isn’t very clear. After our exchange, the person on the phone tells me that her two friends will drop me off at the bus stop so I can catch a ride to Khatgal. I thanked her for her help.

Something must’ve got lost in translation because I did not end up at the bus stop. Instead, a young man and female, plus a kid around the age of ten, came to the airport in a car. They exchanged greetings with the two girls and we all got in the vehicle and went back to the guy’s ger. This was a very unique experience. The first time I’ve ever stepped into a ger in my life. It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime things and I will forever remember the details vividly. A ger looks like a tepee but is more dome-shaped than triangular. It appears small from the outside but is pretty spacious once you’re inside. There are three beds located at the outskirts of the ger while near the center is a fire pit, or chamber I should say, that allows the smoke to ventilate out the ger so none of it remains inside. It’s a simple invention but quite ingenious. I’ve slept inside East African huts before and they just have an open pit. All the smoke gets in your eyes while you’re trying to sleep and you wake up with phlegm trapped in your nose and throat. Without a fire the alternative is being cold, but it doesn’t get that cold in East Africa. That’s why I’m guessing they haven’t made anything like this out there yet. They don’t have as much of a need for it as they do in Mongolia where temperatures can reach -49 degrees Fahrenheit during winter. Crazy. Mongolia has the frosty distinction of having the coldest capital in the world.

The girls started making lunch while I just soaked in the scene. I stepped out for a bit to walk around the neighborhood. It’s a pretty rundown looking place with dirt roads. I’m in the housing area of Mörön where each unit is divided by wooden fences. Some homes are more modern and built like cabins while other residents just live in gers. There really isn’t much to look at but I can’t believe I’m here right now. Here I am with a few strangers who don’t speak the same language I do in a place I’ve never been or heard of in my life. Very strange.

For lunch, the ladies, who I found out are in there mid-thirties (we used our hands to tell each other our ages), made a type of beef soup with noodles and a few vegetables. It’s very plain but doesn’t taste too bad. I kindly remind the ladies that I wish to make my way to Khatgal and they tell me they’ll drop me off at the bus stop around 3:30PM. Meanwhile, the guy, who is a bit younger, packs up some stuff in a bag and heads off. He’s a university student and has to go back to school. At least this is what I gathered from our conversation. When there is a group of people that don’t speak the same language, it takes about two minutes to understand something that could be said in less than ten seconds. Body language is key in these types of circumstances.

At 3:30PM, the Mongolian girl I met at the airport walks out of the ger with me and we take a taxi. The taxi’s here are basically locals who drive around their home vehicles for a living. This town is covered in dirt, very few roads. She drops me off in front of what looks like a very old-school Volkswagen minibus and she speaks with the driver. She tells me he’s heading to Khatgal. I thank her for her help and head into the minibus thinking we’re taking off soon. This wasn’t the case. The guy’s constantly loading and unloading stuff into and on top of the minibus. Finally, the driver leaves after an hour, only to drive around town, pick up some odd stuff like a bicycle and a few boxes, and then head back to the same spot we were originally at. We can’t speak to each other and I have no idea what’s going on. Shit was getting very frustrating. After another hour, we finally make our way to Khatgal. We left at 5:30PM and there were seventeen of us total in the minibus. The back of the minibus is divided into two columns with four rows of seats. You’re basically sitting directly opposite another person facing you. I was sitting across from a lady in her late forties I presume. We exchanged an awkward smile as we tried several times to figure out how we’re going to position our feet. The grandma sitting next to me sees our awkward exchange and immediately grabs my right leg and thrusts it forward. She adjusts our feet quite expertly as if she’s done this several times before. With age comes wisdom.

In the minibus

On our drive the minibus breaks down twice. Each time it did the guys immediately got out to take a piss and smoke a cigarette while the girls remained inside. All but one female came out both times. The guys take a piss on the right side of the bus while the female heads left to relieve herself. They act so routine while I’m just befuddled by what’s going on. Meanwhile, the driver climbs on top of the minibus to grab some tools while the man riding shotgun, his father, lays out a blanket underneath the minibus (the road is made up of a bunch of broken gravel in some parts). His son lies on the blanket and starts working on fixing the vehicle.

Second time it broke down on us

After about twenty minutes, we’re on our way again. What is a ride that takes under two hours in a normal vehicle, took us more than double the time. I was getting very frustrated. In the first couple hours of my ride I was regretting not taking the owner of Garage 24’s advice and just having one of her staff take me into town. Being in the minibus, it’s hot, I can’t move, the ride’s bumpy, the vehicle sucks, I don’t know what these people are saying, it smells a bit, and I’m getting irritated. Nothing about this ride is pleasant. Honestly speaking, I probably make more than double in income that of the other sixteen passengers in here combined. I could easily afford to hire a private driver to take me into town. As I was riding, my frustrations grew and I started having dehumanizing thoughts about my fellow passengers, forgetting that they are just like me as well. We’re all human. So often people like throwing money at a situation to provide them ease, thinking little about what others go through on a daily basis.

Though this ride lasted only a few hours, from my travels, I’ve endured many random obstacles and difficulties since I like to travel alone and try as much as possible to live the life of a local. In hindsight, I’m grateful for these types of experiences because they always teach me humility. Another important lesson I learn from such instances is the importance of gaining an education and a hard work ethic. Without these two attributes, regardless of whatever country you live in, you’re going to live a life stuck just like any of the passengers in this vehicle. In life, there is only one way to get to wherever it is you want to go. And that path is through intelligence and work. In the long run, shortcuts become detours. Learn from your mistakes and never lose sight of your visions. Nothing can stop you if you stay focused and are willing to work your ass off, not for money, but to pursue your dreams.

To become materially successful, you must develop a skill greater than that of any other. For the things you’re not good at, hire other people to do them. Don’t focus on the things your bad at. That’s what others are for. Focus on developing your skill. It doesn’t matter what career you choose, you just have to become the very best at it. And, again, it all derives from intelligence and work. Nothing easy. The dumbest thing to do is develop a skill in a career you’re not passionate about. Why devote your life to doing something you don’t want to do? So many people do this. It’s absolutely stupid. Don’t follow the crowd. Follow your heart. In your heart, you know what you want to do. It’s just that so few people ever listen to themselves. They get scared.

I arrived in Khatgal past 9PM. Instead of staying at Garage 24, I decided to stay at a place called MS Guesthouse. Don’t know why, just chose it randomly from Lonely Planet. It says it’s the only place open year-round. MS Guesthouse is situated near the southern end of Khatgal. Upon driving up to it, there’s a cabin with two gers nearby. Inside the cabin, on the left side, lives the hostel owner (Batbayer) with his wife (Bayarmaa) and their daughter. To the right side is the dining area. The cabin isn’t large nor is it cramped. While in the dining area, I met a young professor of Mongolian history, Bagsh, who has studied at Cambridge. Pretty random. Another person I meet is a young female, Enkhtuyaa. They both work as guides. They’re the guides for what appears to be a French couple. The French man is interested in shamanism out here. He wants to become a shaman. Okay, whatever floats your boat I guess. I didn’t speak much with the French couple, but the two Mongolians were cool and both a bit younger than me I believe. They both speak English fluently and also came with their driver, an older man who doesn’t speak English at all. In his younger days he was a kick boxer. He’s pretty tall and you’ll see him shadowboxing from the corner of your eye.

Now I’m currently lying in bed inside one of the gers. The kick boxer/driver asked if he could sleep in my ger as well. Each ger has three beds. I didn’t see any reason to refuse. I bought a bottle of vodka from him that he had in his car. He charged me 8,000 tugriks. I know he overcharged, just not quite sure how much. The four of us drank some shots until it was time for everyone to go to sleep. I think the two Mongolian guides are going to be hooking up tonight; guessing that’s why the kick boxer/driver asked to sleep in my ger instead of sleeping in theirs.

Inside my ger at MS Guesthouse

5/16 11:45PM

I’ve been reading something while lying down opposite the kick boxer/driver. I have great difficulty sleeping before 3AM. My circadian rhythm is that of an owl. There’s a light in the ger so it’s not too bad. He’s saying some stuff in his dreams while sleeping in his boxers. I’m in my boxers too. I put a good number of logs into the fire chamber. It’s hot.

There is what looks like either mosquitos or thin flies falling onto me from the top of this ger. I’m using my sunscreen spray to kill them. My life is one strange trip.

5/18 11:10AM

I didn’t write in my journal at all yesterday. I’m still new to this type of thing. This is the first journal I’ve ever written in my life. In the daytime, yesterday, I hung out with Bagsh and Enkhtuyaa. After they departed, Batbayer graciously drove me to the top of Khatgal’s nearest mountain. Here, one can get a view of the entire town to the south and see the lake in the north. On the north side, the lake is colored blue at its shores but mostly still white since the ice hasn’t melted yet. To the south, all one sees is the brown of the town. Khatgal isn’t very picturesque to look at from above. You see the outline of various homes and that’s about it. I can’t believe there’re around 4,000 people living down there. It looks like under a 1000 if no one had told me.

View of Khatgal

At the mountain’s peak is an ovoo. An ovoo is a shamanistic collection of stones, wood and offerings to the gods. This ovoo reaches about eight feet in height and is adorned with blue ribbons. I don’t know what the blue ribbons signify but it’s a unique sight, adding a bit of color to an otherwise leaden mountaintop.


Later in the evening I met an Italian named Retta. I met him while sitting adjacent to him and Batbayer in the dining room. Retta wants to head to Chandman-Öndör and Bulnai Hot Springs, which are a three-hour ride east then two-hour drive north respectively. Batbayer says there isn’t much to see there, which upsets Retta. Their conversation was turning a bit confrontational so I joined in to ease the tension. I told Retta if he wants to go there he should go. Batbayer’s rates are a bit upsetting to Retta. The cost is 80,000 tugriks per day for driver and another 80,000 tugriks per day for gas. Nothing ridiculous but Retta figures he’s getting overcharged and refuses the deal. He heads out of the hostel only to return about a half hour later. You can see he drives a real hard bargain. He’s a bit dark from being out in the Gobi desert and his nose is slightly crooked from who knows what. He sports a beanie along with a dark red rainproof jacket and dark green pants. Not the most stylish guy but who is out here? Underneath his beanie lies a crumpled mound of brown hair that’s been slicked back from the pressure of wearing a beanie for a few weeks. He looks like he hasn’t showered or shaved in that timespan. His sleight beard matches well with his new tan and he stands around 5’9”. Batbayer, on the other hand, looks more gracious and is a few inches shorter. He’s genial but not overly friendly. They’re both rather on the quiet side. Batbayer’s built stocky and his face is a bit doughy. He has what some would term a baby face.

Once Retta returns, I chat with him and he tells me he has found a driver that is willing to take him for 50,000 tugriks per day. The gas Retta will pay for separately. He asks if I want to join him.

Why not?

I canceled my horseback trip for tomorrow (which is now today) and decided to join him instead. I’m not quite certain what I’m in for. When I travel, I don’t care too much for the places I see or go to. I only have a couple destinations in mind that I pick out haphazardly. Why I travel is to meet people. I enjoy the company of new individuals while doing new things. And Retta is a bit of a curiosity to me. He’s introverted, detached, aloof, and a tad serious; socially awkward as well. From my travels, I’ve tended to notice that people who backpack alone are a bit strange in one way or another. After all, has the thought of backpacking alone for a few weeks in Mongolia ever seriously crossed your mind? It takes a certain type of character to do these types of things: A strange one. This must mean I’m quite strange too. I’m not socially awkward though. My eccentricities lurk beneath the surface.

We have a slight problem. The driver that Retta met yesterday didn’t pick up his phone last night when I tried calling him to arrange plans and, today, his phone is now dead. Strangely, at around 8AM this morning (while I was still sleeping), a different man arrived at MS Guesthouse to talk to Retta about our trip.  His English isn’t as good as the person Retta met yesterday so both Retta and I don’t quite know what’s going on. The guy from this morning said he’d be back but didn’t give Retta a time. It’s past 11AM now. It doesn’t seem likely he’s coming back.

This is how my trip has been going so far: a waiting game. On another note, let me share some travel advice. If you plan on travelling to some faraway destination, always give yourself more days than less to enjoy there. After all, if you’re going to spend, say, a thousand dollars on a ticket, might as well make the most of your money right? This allows you the opportunity to waste a day here and there doing nothing. Having too tight of an itinerary causes stress. The result of what happens when you try to jam pack too many activities within a span of a few days. I say this because this is how I travelled when I was younger, sometimes cutting across three continents within less than two weeks. Though I wouldn’t change my experiences for anything, if I had to plan similar trips in the future, I’d give myself more time. A trip should be enjoyed and done at the pace of the locals. Something western tourists have difficulty understanding. In developing nations, the people there don’t operate on the same timeline we do. It’s not up to them to adapt. It’s up to you.

Moreover, when I reflect about the previous countries I’ve travelled to, the ones that have left the strongest imprints in my mind are those that I stayed in longest. Memories take time to form. Without time, all you’re left with are fleeting impressions that mean very little; your trips turn into obscure dreams as the years pass. If you’re an employee of a company, I understand there are always work pressures to deal with and your employer may not be willing to grant you a long vacation. If you’re competent at what you do, however, you’ll get what you want. If not, demand it. Demands usually work as long as they are justifiable. If your boss doesn’t allow you a few weeks here and there to live your life, fuck him. Ultimately, you have only yourself to get mad at. On the other hand, if you’re an employer, give yourself a break every now and then from making money. Money is like any drug. It can become an addiction with hazardous consequences if that’s all you are concerned about. Take a break every now and then to refresh your spirits and remember what living truly means.

Anyways, back to the waiting game. Retta took off a few minutes ago to go to the Mongolian driver’s house from yesterday. I didn’t know he knew where he lived. I told him I’ll stay back just in case the guy from this morning returns.

5/18 5:40PM

The mystery of what happened to our driver has been solved. It turns out he got stabbed last night. The man who came here in the morning was his brother, Naiz. Naiz came to MS Guesthouse a few minutes after I finished my previous journal entry. I got in his Toyota Land Cruiser to head out to look for Retta. Besides Naiz in the car is his wife breastfeeding an infant. I ask how old the baby is. She replies, “Twenty days.” Wow. The ride is bumpy, a marked contrast to the silence of the toddler. After finding Retta we all headed out to the hospital.

I don’t know what Mongolian etiquette is so, at first, I waited outside the room of the victim that got stabbed last night. You can’t tell it’s a hospital by the appearance of this place from outside. Nothing about it is notable, very plain. Inside, there are about eight rooms and, as I’m pacing, I peep through each door window to see what’s going on. Most of the rooms are vacant with a patient here and there lying next to a few family members. I’m a very curious individual, the type who turns every door handle that warns Do Not Enter. It’s just my nature.

Within a few minutes, Naiz ushers Retta and me into the room. We have no idea what to say or do. The victim is surrounded by what appears to be his mother, grandmother, and about three other people. I ask the victim if he’s okay and he tells me he’s fine. He’s a good-looking guy, around his young twenties. His English is much better than what I had preconceived. He looks healthy as he shows us the area where he got stabbed. Shockingly, as he uncovers his blanket, the bandages are right where his heart is, on the upper-left side and everything. I’m guessing if the knife had punctured him any deeper we might not be having this conversation. What a lucky guy. I’m befuddled at this point. Here we are trying to negotiate a deal to take a trip with his older brother who speaks little English. The stabbed victim is acting as our translator. This conversation seems so inappropriate in terms of the gravity of his current predicament. Every other minute he’s screaming in agony from pain while his mother feeds him some tea. I don’t bullshit. He’s writhing in pain while we’re by his bedside trying to negotiate a price for our trip. I’ve engaged in many random negotiations in my travels before but none like this. It feels like we’re filming a documentary or something. What a unique experience. I cup a hand over my mouth as I stare at Retta while trying to suppress my laughter. I’m not laughing at the victim, this whole situation is just bizarre. I don’t know how else to respond. And, as I’m about to let out a chuckle, the victim shrieks in pain, silencing everyone. Then, after a few seconds, our negotiations continue. Life goes on I guess.

We reach a settlement fairly easily, or at least this is how Retta and me think it to be. Out of respect, we leave the patient’s room after our settlement and leave the young man with his family. We talked to him for about a total of fifteen minutes. While outside, Retta and I have a moment to ourselves in which we laugh in absurdity at the entire situation. When I woke up this morning I was not expecting this.

Naiz soon comes out, runs a few errands, drops off his wife and baby at home, and then we head out to a gas station. On the way to the gas station we pick up one of his friends. We weren’t expecting him to invite anyone. Our original plan was to pay for Naiz’s meals and accommodations only, not for anyone else’s too. On top of this, we are to pay him 50,000 tugriks per day, spanning over three days. Naiz tells us, “Don’t worry. Friend, no pay.” And we leave it at that. At the gas station we run into our first problem concerning money. Retta’s plan is to fill their tank, and whatever gas is left after our return, we deduct from the 150,000 tugriks we owe Naiz. I tell him this isn’t smart since we’re not sure they’ve agreed to these terms. We tried to explain it to the stabbed victim but I doubt he understood what Retta or I was saying fully. A knife will do that to an individual. Retta then gets out a piece of paper to try and explain the plan to Naiz and his friend. They nod in agreement but I can tell by their eyes they have little idea what he’s writing. Retta, meanwhile, thinks everything’s settled. Regardless, we take off.

Naiz is built stockier than the average Mongolian. He’s a miner out here. He stands around 5’9” and looks a bit more refined than the other locals I’ve come across in Khatgal. Just judging by his vehicle, a Toyota Land Cruiser, you can tell he’s wealthier than most townspeople. Judging by his younger brother’s English ability as well, I’m guessing their family may be a bit more upper-class.

Khatgal is a small town. A place that’s very barren in May, with little tourists or anything to do. Seriously, you take a walk for half an hour and might only come across five people. Everyone stays indoors. Naiz’s friend, Khulan, is very skinny, tanned, and stands around 5’5”. He wears a beat-up brown beret, a stained purple shirt and blue jeans. He doesn’t look as wealthy as Naiz and has a ruffled complexion.

On our drive we came across numerous yaks, lambs, goats, and gers dotting the landscape. It was a very bumpy ride but enjoyable. There are no paved roads and only dirt trails you follow from previous drivers. There isn’t much scenery to see currently. There are mountains in the horizon and everything is brown. The trees have yet to turn green and there are little to no patches of grass yet. In the summer, or when the leaves change color in autumn, I imagine this place looks majestic. Currently, however, the path to Chandman-Öndör is barren. We stopped by a random ger on the way there. This is my first time seeing that these gers have solar panels and satellite dishes attached to them.

Hi-tech and eco-friendly

Wow. I sneak a peak into the ger and see a few people watching television as they go about their daily lives. My mind is filled with curiosity. I look around me. There’s nothing for miles but this family’s herd of goats and sheep — numbering in the hundreds — and mounds of animal shit everywhere. Retta is filming the scene. He records everything. What a curious place to live.

Out and about

Out and about

As we drive further east, after an hour, we come across a huge fire across the horizon, the biggest I’ve ever seen in my life. I open my window and it smells like scorched earth. There are surges of smoke arising from the mountains, mingling with the clouds. If I hadn’t known otherwise, I’d have thought a volcano just exploded.

5/18 8:50PM

We have now reached our destination. And what a beautiful one it is. I have no idea what Batbayer is talking about. This place is serene. More green as well.

The people here are friendly yet aloof. No one’s trying to con you into buying souvenirs or overcharging you. There aren’t even any souvenir shops. The simplest word I can use to describe this town is quaint. Very quaint. Retta and I took a walk around the whole town that lasted about an hour. Children are playing nearby, occasionally glancing over at us to see who we are. They have a horse field thirty yards from us as well.



Mongolians I’ve noticed tend to be quite free. They seem to live and let be. Take Naiz for example. On the way to Chandman, he stopped by every car or motorcyclist’s path we came across. They chat for a minute and then go on their way. Once we arrived in Chandman, Naiz and Khulan immediately took off without telling us. We had no idea where they went. They just left after we checked into the only tourist cabins here. We then saw him driving around two hours later as we’re walking through town. I asked him where he’s going and he replies to a friend’s place. I then asked if we could join him and open the door. I tell Retta, “Let’s get in.” Naiz doesn’t understand my intentions however. We drive in every which direction, sometimes going straight, other times reversing, then after ten-fifteen minutes, he drops Retta and me back off at the cabin we’re staying at. It was an exercise in futility. We get out and he soon leaves again, to where I do not know. He drives his car like how I imagine a Mongolian would ride his horse; just wandering around in every which direction to see what’s around with no particular destination in mind. When he’s driving, you can totally tell he has no idea where he’s going. He just drives. Though this may mean very little to most people, to me it left a strong impression. Just by the way he drives you can tell he thinks completely different from any American I’ve come across.

5/19 12:04PM

I woke up around 8AM cold. I don’t have a sleeping bag or anything. Just the two thin blankets the lady of the cabin handed to us. Our beds are very interesting, just a slab of mattress over a wire-mesh with some pieces of wood to stabilize the bottom of the frame. Retta’s in the fetal position with his sleeping bag and two blankets covering him. You can’t see his face. Just by looking at the way he’s curled up you can tell he’s cold. It’s very hard to sleep once the fire burns out. You wake up in the middle of the night freezing, yet you don’t want to get up to remake the fire cause it’s a crappy feeling. After two hours of back-and-forth napping and waking up cold, I finally went outside to gather some wood and restarted the fire in the kitchen. It’s too damn cold. In our room there’s nothing but two makeshift beds, a table, and two wooden chairs. Outside of our cabin is a random dog. He just chills around by the door.

This gives me time to tell you about last night. It was the most beautiful yet. Just as I think I’m getting used to being in Mongolia, events that transpire suggest otherwise.

Retta and I heard music playing in the ger next to our cabin last night so I walked near the entrance of the ger and followed a five-year-old in. There was a lady in her forties inside and I gave her a smile and a wave to show we meant no offense. She invited us in and a feeling of immense warmth filtered through the ger. Retta’s videotaping everything as we move. Two females, both around the age of thirteen to my guess, were playing traditional string instruments: one that looks like a guitar made from snakeskin, the other was violin-shaped. There’s a group of around six girls total, ranging from ages 5-13.


Soon after, the lady takes the violin-shaped instrument and starts playing as the girl who was playing that instrument starts throat singing (a traditional Mongolian form of singing). While doing so, another girl grabs Retta’s camera and starts videotaping the whole scene. Instinctively, she has a great eye for the camera and understands how to direct scenes with stability. When the other girls grab the camera, they shake it too much and don’t understand how to properly utilize it. Their talents lie elsewhere. Meanwhile, one of the younger girls, a very spritely one, reaches over a drawer and puts on a traditional Mongolian dress to display for the camera.

These girls are reflective of one of the major themes of my story. From a young age, you can already see these children’s natural proclivities and talents. Each one is doing something that shows their capabilities, whether it is playing instruments, singing, dancing, directing, acting, joking around, or just being observant of the actions of us two foreigners. In life there is no such thing as a hidden talent. The problem is we sometimes fail to see talents within others and, ultimately, within ourselves. If we follow our cues, however, they will lead us to making the most of our abilities.

Later, the lady shows me how they make their dresses and the different garments they use. Very little of our interaction is verbal; we just use body language and facial expressions. Then, a few of the girls guided Retta and me to their music room which was only a few yards walk away. Inside, it felt like I was at a museum of traditional Mongolian music.

Girls messing around

After a few hours, Retta and I returned to our cabin. Words can’t quite express the enchantment of the scene we just experienced. Imagine being in Mongolia for the first time, walking into a stranger’s ger because you heard some instruments playing, getting a live show, and seeing these children engage in their summer activities. If you’re into culture, this type of experience is once-in-a-lifetime. What made it beautiful is that it was so unexpected. From what I gathered, they are practicing for the summer fest­ival, ­called Naadam, which takes place every August. The dresses are for that occasion as well. I read about Naadam in the Lonely Planet. Basically, every year, to celebrate the summer, Mongolians hold an annual festival whereby all the citizens of each town gather to engage in traditional rituals. The males engage in horseback and wrestling whereas the women dance and sing amongst other activities.

When we got back to our room, Retta and I reminisced about the night we just had and, to my delight, Retta busts out a bottle of whiskey he has been carrying with him on his entire trip since Italy. It’s still quite full. Immediately my eyes lighted up. We cracked open some beers we had bought earlier and I take several shots. In another beautiful twist, the room we are staying in is adjacent to the communal kitchen and we had made sure to leave the door unlocked so we can have access to the kitchen (technically we’re not supposed to). We need access to the kitchen, not for food but for warmth. It’s freaking cold out here. And the fire chamber is in the kitchen. After finishing the bottle, Retta starts loosening up a bit and we engage in an animated conversation. He tells me that tomorrow he wants to go back to the school (he had wondered there earlier without me) and playback today’s recordings to the students. In regions without much modern development, kids love to see themselves on camera. For many it’s their first time. Do you remember the first time you ever saw yourself on video? For children it’s a thrilling experience. They have a couple computers in the classroom and Retta is sure he can display the video onto one of the monitors. I encouraged him and thought it would be a great idea.

We went to sleep last night with that thought in our minds.

5/19 3:30PM

Retta woke up a bit later than me, around the afternoon. I think he was a bit hungover but I didn’t ask. After he spent an hour making breakfast, I asked him if he’s ready to go to the school to show the students the video. Surprisingly, Retta shrugs me off and doesn’t really say anything. I didn’t really want to go either (we drank quite a bit last night), but I’m the type of person who feels that if he says he’s going to do something then he has to do it. Otherwise, your words are meaningless. I asked him again later and he gave me the same lack of response.

We ended up not going to the school.

As I reflect about Retta’s actions, or lack of action, I think he represents a fundamental dilemma we all face as people. At heart, I believe most of us want to do kind acts for others and be generous, yet when it comes time to act, we stall and make up excuses, eventually pushing these thoughts out of our conscious minds. It is much easier to be lazy than it is to act. I was a bit dismayed, just as much for the students as for Retta. Last night he was genuinely excited to show the students his video. He discussed his plan and the kids’ reactions for over half-an-hour while we were drinking. It was my first time seeing him so animated. Maybe it was the alcohol speaking, but that type of goodwill doesn’t just spring from drunkenness. There was a genuine quality to his attitude. And now, that the moment has arrived, he let it slip.

In life, what leads to regret aren’t the missteps we take in our journey. It’s the steps we don’t take at all.

We drove to our next destination, Bulnai, around 2PM. It’s about an hour’s drive north of Chandman-Öndör. There are hot springs located here at Bulnai but the place itself is very small. Only a few cabins dot the area and there are currently only four people here total. There’s an old lady plus three men. They all work here in one capacity or another from what I gather. Retta and I are the only foreigners. Some of the cabins are shaped like gers but they are meant for tourists. The most luxurious gers I’ve seen in my trip by far, but knowing they are meant for tourists kind of takes the adventure out of it.

Smoke from the fires in the background

If you like seclusion this is the place to be. Rolling hills surround us and everything is colored a wheat-brown, with pockets of greenery — that is everything that is not smoky. The fires are still ongoing and we drove across burnt terrain for several miles as we made our way to Bulnai. The ground was parched in blackness and you can see the smoke from several fires still burning throughout the area. Before driving through the burnt lands, we passed hundreds of yaks, lambs, and horses. It’s an awesome road trip.

Scorched earth

Random grandpa chillin’ on our drive

5/19 11:20PM

After eating lunch the old lady had made for us (it consisted of noodles without broth and some chopped vegetables in a unique bright purple dressing), we went to take a bath in the Bulnai springs. There are about fourteen little huts that serve as individual bathhouses near the gers. You’re basically taking a bath in a dark wooden pit. You see bubbles rising from the dirt as you’re sitting waist high in sulfurous water that is 4’x4’ feet in area. It smells like you’d expect and all four of us soak ourselves for about twenty minutes. Retta is the last to exit his private hut. Coming from the Gobi desert I think he hasn’t showered in over ten days. He at least looked like he hadn’t.

No matter where you are in the world, there’s nothing so invigorating as the feeling of a clean shower after you’re dirty. It’s damn refreshing.

Retta and I then had to decide whether to stay here for the night or go back to Chandman-Öndör. I wouldn’t have minded staying here to relax for a day, but Retta was insistent that we head back to Chandman so we took off after our showers. Naiz was a bit confused by this because he thought we were staying here for the night. I’m assuming he thought we were strange for wanting to head all the way up to Bulnai just so we can take a quick bath then head back down to Chandman. Regardless, we left.

When we got back into Chandman, tonight’s pace was much slower. I’m getting used to the deliberateness of life here and I wandered a bit by myself. I noticed more children out today. They stare at you in bemusement but rarely approach. The girls weren’t playing instruments tonight in their ger.

Riding around

Riding around too

Just hanging

Town bank on left with, I’m presuming, the owner’s ger to the right

On a separate note, I met a Mongolian mixed martial artist today. I met him back at the same lodge we stayed at last night. He’s staying in the room across from us. A pretty heavy-set guy but not in the overweight way, he’s built strong. He speaks English quite well and, surprisingly, he works in Korea as a police officer. He’s here vacationing and what not. A very gracious individual. Without asking us, his wife brought Retta and me dinner. It was what Mongolians typically eat: a soup-based dish with noodles, bits of meat and vegetables.

As I’m reflecting about my trip thus far, I feel excited. I can’t wait to go horseback: horseback at Lake Khövsgöl.

5/20 7:10PM

Today was another long day. I woke up around 10AM and visited the town dormitory and school. It was a very nice experience.


Kids messing around outside the dormitory. The guy up in the stairs must be a tad more shy.

All grade levels are housed in one big dormitory-looking structure and the classrooms are pretty well kept with desks, chairs, books, and the like. I looked at some of the material that the high school students were learning and they were doing mathematical equations I have no idea of solving so I’m pretty sure they’re getting a decent education. They’re well groomed as well. If you stuck these kids in an American high school, of course they’d stand out a bit, but nothing too unusual.

Inside a classroom. Blending right in.

It’s the older generation — the over forty crowd — that stands out more. Many men still wear the traditional Mongolian garb of a del, which is a brownish or grayish one-piece garment that is tied at the waist by another piece of cloth (usually orange or something bright to contrast with the drab color of the del). Most men wear varying hats and gray boots as well. These individuals would definitely stand out back at home. Strangely, I ran across very few older women in the town. They must spend much more time indoors than men I’m assuming.

In the town center

After my stroll through town I returned to the lodge to see Retta engaging in a heated discussion with Naiz and Khulan about the price of our trip. This is supposed to be our last day in town before we all head back to Khatgal. Retta wants to stay behind in Chandman so he wanted to figure out the bill today before the rest of us leave. I knew that whole incident about paying for their gas, then deducting the remaining gas left in their tank from the 150,000 tugriks we owe Naiz was going to bite us back in the ass. Retta’s trying to explain to Naiz the terms, but Naiz’s English isn’t good enough to comprehend the situation. All three of them are pissed off. A local English teacher tries to translate but it’s unnecessary. You can easily read that Naiz and Khulan think its bullshit that the remaining gas gets deducted from their 150,000 tugriks. Honestly, I can understand their point. I’d be upset if I were them too. Retta’s a good guy but he’s not seeing what he’s doing. He thinks we’re being cheated when he never negotiated the price to Naiz clearly beforehand. We filled up their gas tank before we took off and Retta tried to explain how he wished to pay Naiz, but it was clear that Naiz never clearly understood from the get-go. Naiz had nodded his head in agreement at the time, but by observing his eyes, you could clearly see he was very confused. In my opinion, he was just nodding to be polite. Basically, the only place Retta ever had this clear agreement was in his own head, not in reality. I was confused by the way he was explaining everything to Naiz beforehand as well — by using a piece of paper and drawing a bunch of crap — so how the hell is Naiz going to understand anything? I try to explain this to Retta but he’s one stubborn guy.

This example is very telling about the human condition and how disputes start in general. What I’ve realized is that most life arguments occur over miscommunication or a lack of communication, whether it is with business partners or with friends. Rarely are people purposely trying to be complete assholes and fuck others over. Due to this, always be levelheaded and try to view conditions from the position of the other side. Confrontations in life are usually unnecessary. One must be careful. Words lead to actions. Actions lead to deeds. Deeds we may regret committing. Communication is key.

I don’t know how long they were arguing about the money before I arrived on the scene, but it took another forty-five minutes to finally resolve matters. It got to a point where the Mongolian mixed martial artist from last night offered to just drive me back with him to Khatgal, saying he’d do it for free. We were all getting annoyed by their dispute.

I tried to get Retta to reason and tell him we should just pay the man 150,000 tugriks, but he was so adamant about not doing so. It eventually was agreed upon that Retta and I would pay Naiz 100,000 tugriks for his services and Naiz gets to keep the remaining gas as payment. Basically, Retta got his way. He’s so introverted and in his own mind that he doesn’t see how he’s the one at fault in this situation. I got sick of the bullshit because it was feeding into my emotions as well. I left for the kitchen to grab a couple shots of Chinggis Gold vodka. Retta basically argued over an hour for what amounts to $30. Is this really worth arguing about when you’re on vacation? It’s ridiculous.

After the payment gets settled, I tried to ease Naiz and Khulan’s tension by pouring them some shots of Chinggis in the kitchen (I had bought a bottle last night and still had over half remaining). I’m great at dealing with people who are upset. I’m naturally easy-going and I love to have fun. We get to drinking and we start fucking around in the kitchen, laughing about the whole situation and what a cheap-ass Retta is. I tell them not to take it personally.

The thing about Retta is that he’s a good guy, but in my opinion, he travels too much like a tourist. What’s the point of backpacking alone if you don’t befriend a single local? More abstractly, what’s the point of travelling to foreign destinations and absorbing all the sights such as the Gobi Desert or Lake Khövsgöl if you don’t avail yourself to making friends with the people living there? They provide context to your journey and add to your breadth of human knowledge. This is what I believe true travelling is about. Gaining insights into humanity and discovering a bit more about who we are. Maybe Retta is on his own journey and has his own reasons of which I can’t comprehend. I try to be nonjudgmental. In an ironic twist, Retta says he wants to return here next year so he can help the villagers of Chandman out. He wants to be helpful yet he’s not helping the two individuals that have provided us the most assistance thus far. He’s clearly not seeing what’s right in front of him. Yes, we’re paying them for their services but they’ve done a commendable job at a bargain rate. We were even supposed to pay for their lodgings but I think they slept in their car instead. They provided for their own meals as well for the most part.

Before Retta went on his own way I asked him to give me some cash for tip. He responded, “Yea,” but he ended up giving me nothing. I implied he’s being cheap. He replied that he’s a businessman and he knows business. Often times, I’ve noticed people use the term ‘doing business’ as an excuse for treating others like jackasses. Here’s some advice: Don’t treat people like means to an end, instead, treat them like people. In doing so, they will give you the world.

I know not all Italians are like Retta. But through his actions he’s giving Italians a terrible name out here. This is how racism starts. Naiz and Khulan have met few Italians so they now subconsciously have a negative bias instilled in them about future Italians they meet. When you travel, remember you are a guest in another country. As such, act graciously. I have one simple rule I abide by: Never be an individual that brings disrepute to your family, your friends, your community, or to that of humanity in general. We’re all in this together. Regardless of wherever you find yourself in this world, always be a source of pride to the communities you represent and to the people you know. This is how one must think. It leads to much less hostility in the world and to performing actions that lead to courage.

As we continued drinking shots, the atmosphere got really festive. The lady who runs the lodge also started taking some shots as well. We finished the bottle and whatever beers we had remaining. We all then hop in Naiz’s car and he stops by a local store. I didn’t know what he wanted to buy. He asked me for a bit of cash, around 15,000 tugriks. I hand him the money and he comes back within minutes carrying a case of 24 sixteen-ounce beers over his right shoulder. I’m drunk at this point and started laughing hysterically as I honked his steering wheel in approval.

This is the thing about being giving. Since I gave him shots and beers in the kitchen earlier, he now goes off and picks up a 24-pack of beers. I’m assuming it costs over 50,000 tugriks. He basically spent almost half the money Retta and I paid him so that he could buy some beers for our return trip. This is the lesson here. A simple one: treat others well and they will return the favor. Most people abide by this principle. It’s human nature. If they do not return the favor, cut them out of your life.

It’s amazing to witness the effect that one person can have on a group. With Retta staying in Chandam, the atmosphere between Naiz, Khulan, and me is much more relaxed. Before, our relationship was one of separation: tourists and locals. Now that barrier is nonexistent. As we set off to Khatgal, I ask Naiz if I can drive back. He says, “Sure! Go! Fuuckk!…” and starts laughing. I take over and we start blasting the stereo while I’m driving off road, past herds of sheep and goats. A fantastic drive I will never forget. We’re having fun, drinking beers, and just jamming to some Mongolian pop music. I don’t even know if it’s Mongolian. A song Naiz kept replaying repeated a chorus of, “One way ticket.” That’s the only line I remember because the rest of the song was in a different language. I found this song fitting because that’s how I like to travel. No plans. Just a one way ticket.

In the back of my mind, I couldn’t stop thinking, however, that in less than ten years this road is likely going to be paved. Though I’m sure the locals will appreciate it, this is a very unfortunate situation for us backpackers. For us, the best paths are those least traveled.

With Khulan

After driving for around forty minutes, we take a pit stop for a piss. When Khulan opens the door, he immediately falls out on his face. Literally. He’s fucked up. I’ve never seen someone open a car door and fall out face first and hit the ground like that. I started laughing hysterically. He’s covered in dust but doesn’t appear to be in pain. He then takes a few steps forward, unzips his pants, and starts pissing, but not in a very controlled fashion. He’s flailing left to right making his piss fly everywhere. Then he looks over in my direction, turning his body towards me as he’s urinating. From this I learned that Mongolians don’t circumcise. Naiz is nowhere near as drunk. I’m guessing Khulan drinks much less than we do.

One of our many pitstops. Naiz on the right.

As for myself

Khulan then tells Naiz that he wants to drive. Naiz doesn’t care and neither do I so he takes over and I go sit in the rear right seat. After about twenty minutes of drinking and chilling as we’re cruising, listening to some Mongolian beats, I see two dogs running at us from twenty yards away. One is ahead of the other, and before I can blurt anything out, I hear a “Bumph..” followed by a rollick. Khulan just keeps driving. I’m thinking in my head, “Did we just hit a fuckin’ dog??” I’m drunk so I don’t really know. I got about eight sixteen-ounce beers in me and at least seven shots. I turn my head around and don’t see anything. No dogs running or bodies on the ground. The only dog I see is the one in our car.

Before we left Chandman, Naiz took the dog that was chilling at the lodge and put it in his car. I asked him, “Whose dog is this?” He answered with a smile, “Mine.” I’m pretty sure it’s not his dog, yet here the dog is in our car. What happened to the other two dogs? I can’t make sense of this entire situation. Soon after, there’s a sound coming from the right side of Naiz’s fender, the sound of wind dragging against something. Khulan eventually stops and Naiz goes out to investigate. I’m sitting in the backseat and I can only see Naiz using both hands to yank something off. What he yanks off is a piece of his fender. He shows it to Khulan and me happily and throws it about twenty yards to his right. I thought that was pretty badass. Coming from developed nations, we would get so bent out of shape if something like that happened to our vehicles. He really put shit in perspective for me. At the same time, I’m thinking, “Was that one of the dogs that caused that?” I felt terrible. Khulan’s too drunk so I take over to drive again. My pace isn’t as frenetic like earlier but we’re still enjoying ourselves.

Khulan passed out with Naiz’s new dog

A half hour later, Khulan awakens and says some stuff to Naiz. He has this plastic sack that he’s brought with him on this trip. Khulan can’t speak any English. Basically, Naiz says to me that Khulan brought special tea for us to drink and that we’re going to make it by a stream that we’ll eventually bypass. Once we got to this stream, Khulan makes a small fire and lights it to heat a silver pail full of water from the stream. When the water boils, he puts in the tea. It honestly didn’t look like anything special but it was fun to be off-roading with two Mongolians and stopping by a stream to brew some tea. It felt like real man shit. Its moments like these I enjoy most when travelling: just chilling with local people and having a good time in nature. No matter what I do in the future I know I’ll never be able to relive this experience. It’s unique.

Brewing tea

When the tea finished brewing, Khulan went over to lift the pail with a piece of cloth in his hand. As he reaches down to lift it, he accidentally kicks the pail over into the stream. There goes our fucking tea! I see the tea strands floating downstream as Khulan retrieves the silver pail from the water. This shit was hilarious. He was hyping that tea for a while and I was anxious to try it. Khulan was so frustrated after what had occurred he just started cursing while Naiz and I couldn’t stop laughing. Naiz cusses a lot too. He just points at Khulan and repeats, “Ahh… Fucker..” He’s not being serious. We’re just a bunch of guys messing around.

Afterwards, we got back in the car and, while we’re driving, Naiz offers me to sleep at his house for the rest of my stay in Khatgal. I was really honored by this and he says it’s not a problem, that I shouldn’t waste my money on lodgings. I thought about his wife though. I don’t think she’d be happy. It would be awesome to stay with locals though. The next thought I had was of horse backing. Naiz tells me no worries and that he can get a couple horses for us. I started getting excited as we chugged down our beers.

When we finally made our way back into Khatgal, Naiz directs me to his house. I was surprised. We all got out of the car, including Naiz’s new dog, and stepped into his home. His house is very nice and clean, definitely cleaner than my place back in Korea. The furnishings were nice as well. He doesn’t live in a ger. Most young Mongolians prefer wooden homes now, similar to log cabins. After visiting his home, his wife looked quite serious. We only stayed for a few minutes then made our way to the hospital. Once there, the festive mood from earlier immediately evaporated. Naiz’s brother is now in critical condition. He’s hooked up to some breathing apparatus and is not conscious from what it looks like. I felt awkward being there. I have no idea what the customs are but I felt it’s best to give them privacy. I thanked Naiz for the ride, tell him I’ll call him soon, and now here I am in the kitchen writing in my journal back at MS Guesthouse. Next to me are a French man and a lady who appear in their forties. They look very worn, tan, and like they’ve been here for months.

5/20 11:40PM

About two hours earlier, a group of four Americans arrived to MS Guesthouse. They are studying abroad in Ulaanbaatar and just arrived in Khatgal from backpacking and hiking. They had a few days earlier gone on a 55-hour road trip using public transport. I immediately took a liking to them. This is the way to travel when you’re young. You can learn a lot by just observing the customs of others when on a bus. For example, when I was in a Tanzanian minibus that took me from the Masai village into town, I saw a local pay for his fare by handing the driver a live chicken. I was surprised, thinking to myself, “Did that guy just pay his $5 fare by giving the driver a chicken?” It makes sense if you think about it but you just don’t expect to see stuff like that.

I forget what colleges these four Americans are from, but I strongly recommend any young individuals to study abroad. I could not emphasize that enough. The classroom experience won’t be all that different. It’s the stuff that you do outside of class and all the little adventures you go on that leave a marked impression in your life, even when looking back upon these experiences years later. They’ll leave a permanent imprint in your mind and you’ll begin to see how they’ve shaped your perspective as the years pass. If you’re reflective enough, you’ll gain the greatest knowledge an individual can ever possess: you’ll discover who you are. You can’t obtain this type of knowledge in the classroom nor in the workplace. If you share my type of mindset, you must travel far and go alone. You’ll never return home the same person. It’s a revelation.

You won’t notice this type of stuff immediately though. You’ll be too busy processing all the new sensations and having fun, doing stupid stuff like going on 55-hour road trips on a public bus with three friends you just met a month ago. You’d think they’d be grumpy or upset after that kind of road trip right? Not at all. It’s these types of experiences you cherish most when you reminisce about your backpacking days. It’s very difficult to travel this way as a forty-year-old. You don’t have the energy for that kind of stuff as you age. I see this in myself as well. The older I get the more comfortable I want to travel, staying at nicer hotels and stuff rather than in shitty hostels where I’m sleeping adjacent to ten other people. I can’t do that kind of crap anymore. But I’d strongly recommend it to any college student.

5/21 12:40AM

It’s snowing outside. I just took a shit. Have you ever shit outside of a ger while it’s snowing past midnight? It’s quite the experience. There’s a public toilet here but I don’t like the smell of it. It’s basically a pit with a toilet on top. I’d rather just shit on the ground. Find two sizable rocks, pad them with some toilet paper, and do my thing as I gaze up at the stars. It’s the first time I’ve noticed the stars all trip. They’re quite vivid and there’re no obstacles to hinder your view from the night sky. This is why I like travelling alone. I have an entire ger to myself and I can just sit for hours in silent contemplation as I engage in some self-reflection.

After taking a shit of course…

5/21 2:50AM

Coming to Mongolia has been a bit different from my other travels. This is because everyone here looks like me. Mongolians and Koreans look very similar. It seems like our genes skipped China. With Mongolians, there are certain aspects of their personality I see myself in as well. For example, they have a very loose concept of time and they may take several hours to do something. Like how Naiz drives, they seem a bit aimless in their movements, yet ultimately, get to where they need to be. This is how I view myself. I believe, in the West, there is too much focus on the clock. We think minding the time makes us more productive when it actually does the opposite. Think about the moments when you’ve really been into a task. Do you ever look at the clock? No. You’re too absorbed in whatever it is you’re doing. You only look at the clock when you’re bored or antsy.

Time, when broken down to minutes, leads to anxiety and short sightedness. In thinking about the seconds we lose sight of the days. Days turn into years yet we’re too busy counting down the minutes waiting for the subway to arrive, class to finish, work to end, the TV show to start. It’s frivolous. Be patient. Run on your own clock and schedule. Shut out the outside interference. Travelling has taught me this.

It’s good to be a bit aimless and wonder. All you have to do is get up and go. While others spend their time planning stuff — stuff they never end up actually doing — I just get up and do them. From my travels, what I’ve realized is making specific, concrete plans for your future is a waste of time usually. This is because the ‘reality’ we face will be much different from what we envisioned. Because of this, plan as you go. Move. Move. Move.

Those who think most, act least.

Those who act rarely have time to think. They’re too busy living.

Move. Move. Move. Reflect. Adjust. Then move again.

5/21 3:40PM

I was supposed to spend this week with Naiz horse backing, camping, and taking a return trip to Chandman-Öndör once Nate arrives. Looks like this won’t happen. I went to Naiz’s house twenty minutes ago and received news that his brother has just died. At least this is what I’m pretty certain of hearing. There is always the language barrier. Naiz and his wife weren’t home. There were two other adults in his house and they made a phone call once they saw me. I believe Naiz’s wife picked up. All she said was, “My brother died.” She repeated it twice. I didn’t know what to say except to offer my condolences and hang up immediately. I thanked the two adults that were there and left their home. I stopped by the local store to pick up a bottle and am now writing. Though I didn’t know Naiz’s brother very well and only spoke to him once, I feel a bit despondent. I didn’t think he’d die. He was a good guy and looked a bit mischievous; he had that look of the type of person you want to meet in your travels. And, just like that, he’s dead. Got stabbed over trivial bullshit.

As human beings, there are some things about us I will fail to ever understand. Now I’m thinking about the dog from yesterday. Though I can’t be for certain, I’m pretty sure we hit one of them. It’s snowing today. If the dog is still alive, what an agonizing death awaits it. Like the drastic change in weather from yesterday’s sun to today’s snow, life takes its turns as well.

I wanted to go out to the lake today and spend some time walking around its frigid shores. Maybe I still will. Right now I just don’t feel right.

5/22 12:29AM

I took a walk into town. I stopped by the town school and interacted with many children.

Khatgal classroom

The school here is smaller than the one in Chandman-Öndör, which is odd since Khatgal is supposed to be a bigger town from what I heard. Regardless, this refreshed my energy and I proceeded to take a three-hour walk by the lake.

On my walk

It began snowing a bit and was cold. I enjoyed the walk though. There wasn’t much to look at. By the shore it feels like a ghost town. None of the places are operating yet because the tourist season hasn’t hit. You just see a bunch of empty buildings. The only people I saw were a group of four adult men fixing the tire of a broken down jeep.

Harbored in the lake I saw three very old shipping vessels that are no longer operational. Seeing nothing much in the horizon but the lake stretch endlessly, with mountains to my left serving as a backdrop, I thought it best to head back into town. On the way back to my hostel I flagged down a local and hopped on his motorcycle. What took me three hours to walk took him less than ten minutes to drive. Upon returning to my hostel I met another Italian traveler. He was a bit serious but not in the uppity way. Something about him I liked immediately, just a feeling of intuition. I trust my instincts. He had arrived from India and is on his way to Japan next. He’s a well-groomed man for travelling so long and very easygoing. Kind of silent though. I could tell him and I share a similar mindset but possess opposing personalities. He’s quiet and proper whereas I’m anything but. He plans on horse backing tomorrow as well. I talked to Batbayer earlier today and told him I wanted to start my trip tomorrow too. Though the Italian and I are both horse backing tomorrow, I could tell that we would both prefer travelling alone. We had a nice conversation and I wished him goodnight.

Now I’m in my ger. I built a huge fire.  It’s getting really cold. I shoved eight logs into the two-foot in diameter pit. Now the whole room is hot. It feels like a sauna. The whole day I’ve been cold. It feels good.

There’s a dog outside my ger whimpering. I gave it some snacks and it took a piss right after to thank me. I wonder how these dogs survive in the winter?

5/22 1:17AM

I just woke up choking, my throat burning and feeling asphyxiated. Due to my huge fire, a piece of cloth nearby the pit had caught fire. The whole ger got filled with smoke and I choked on the fumes. My eyes were stinging. I couldn’t see shit when I woke up. I just ran with my hands out and aimed straight for the door to get some fresh air. I left the door open for several minutes as billows of smoke came ventilating out. It took awhile to clear up. Batbayer woke up to investigate as well. I don’t know if he heard my coughs or saw the smoke but he came running out. He shouted, “Kim! (He calls me by my last name. Don’t know why.) Kim! What happened? Are you okay?” I told him I’m fine and no worries.

I feel dizzy from the alcohol and the smoke. I feel like passing out.

5/22 8:17PM

After speaking with Batbayer earlier today I found out it wasn’t Naiz’s brother that died. It was actually his wife’s brother. This made more sense because yesterday when I spoke to her she said, “My brother died.” I thought I may just have misinterpreted her words or their customs. Either way, it’s an awful tragedy.

Today, I left for horse backing at noon. They had a satellite dish at MS Guesthouse and I was watching a bit of the NBA playoffs in Batbayer’s living room when my guide came with his horses. I honestly didn’t want to miss the game but then I realized its just basketball. If you spend too much time watching television all you’ll end up seeing is your own life pass you by.

It was a beautiful day. The horses are smaller than you’d imagine. The one I rode was pretty easy to control, but is a fast one according to my guide. My guide, Sükh, speaks a bit of English and has a pleasant demeanor. He’s around thirty-three and is married with kids. His complexion is tan, eyes small, jaw strong, and he has a goofy laugh. He’s a bit introverted as well. It seems like everyone I’ve been meeting is on the quiet side. He sports a Mongolian del, tied with an orange scarf, and sports a crooked and dusty cap. My first impression of him was a bit ambivalent. The Italian’s guide came at the same time as Sükh. His guide had a much more lively personality and he sported a cowboy hat. Sükh looks very plain and complacent. Time will tell but he’s got a pleasant laugh.

On our trip are Sükh, myself, and three horses (one’s a pack horse). We are to make our way eastward for three days then head back so I can meet Nate in Mörön. We’re not travelling far. As we rode, we passed by the usual herds of animals around the lake, which is to the left of us.

Riding lakeside

Crossing the bridge heading to the eastside

The first thing you notice is the solitude. The whole day we did not run into a single other rider. We had the eastside to ourselves. The scene is tranquil and very brown with few patches of greenery. Since it’s a small town I asked my guide if he had heard about the stabbing. Sükh replied that he did. He explained that the two were friends but had gotten themselves into a drunken altercation. This led to the stabbing. The assaulter is now in prison and Sükh expects him to get a jail sentence of 25 years. Since Naiz’s brother-in-law wasn’t wholly innocent in the matter, the assaulter will most likely avoid the death penalty. I didn’t even know they had the death penalty here. I was a bit surprised by how systematic it is here. Due to my ignorance I almost half-thought they didn’t even have a prison in Khatgal.

The lake is still frozen, at least the majority of it is. The breeze is quite chilly. I wasn’t expecting this at all to be honest. I thought Mongolia would be green by now and that I would be able to kayak in the lake. Man was I wrong. I was a bit disappointed but, at the same time, it’s kind of nice that no one’s here. Honestly speaking, the purpose of my trips when I was younger was to party at clubs with locals. I’ve been to a lot of clubs in my life, spanning across four continents. Now I feel less of a desire to do that kind of stuff. Maybe it’s because I’m turning thirty in a few months but there’s more to it than that. This past year has been one of transformation for me personally. I still love to party but it doesn’t consume me like it did in the past. I’ve realized there’s a lot in life I want to get done before my time expires.

I asked Sükh if the horses have names. He told me they’re named after their color. My horse is called Yellow. Simple enough I guess. It’s his wife’s and is nine-years-old. His wife has entered Yellow in Naadam festivals in years past because it’s quite fast.

Yellow and me

The last time I’ve been on a horse was in Egypt while riding through the pyramids. The two experiences are vastly different. The ride is bumpier in Mongolia as you cross through streams, forests, and ditches. In Egypt, you’re just riding through rolling hills of sand. There were more people in Egypt as well. Here, there’s nobody.

We stopped by a ger after riding for a couple hours. Sükh didn’t even knock on the ger’s door. He just opened it, went inside, and plopped down on the ground. We ate some salty milk tea and bread with the locals. I then took a brief rest.

Ger chillin’

Afterwards, we rode out for another hour or so till we came across around twelve cabins by the eastside of the lake. They’re very old and rustic.

The only people here are a Mongolian mother and her son. I’m guessing they rent these out during the summer to tourists. Her son is about four-years-old and he’s a wild one. He climbs cabins and is a spark plug of animation and noise. Upon meeting him the first thing he did was whip out his thing and take a piss to greet me.


Speak of the devil. As I was writing in my cabin, I hear someone trying to open my door. I knew it was him. He then knocked. When I opened it, he spoke gibberish for a few minutes and had a few tears streaming down his eyes. He wasn’t crying. He was in a good mood so I’m not sure what the tears signify. I’d say something to him and he just repeats it in the same tone. When I spit, he spits. I pick up a stick, he picks one up. What an interesting fellow. When I rode into these cabins I saw him from afar wielding around a five-foot stick and he looked like a Shaolin monk. He has a shaved head and a similar Shaolin-like garment to match. He’s a good-looking kid and very active. Good-natured but might become a bully if he’s not careful. He’s going to get laid a lot in the future. I can already see it.

Wild child. Love this kid

When it comes to people, I have this uncanny ability to see into their futures and read their pasts. I’ve had it ever since I was young. When I was younger I thought my ability to be nonsense and didn’t trust my intuition. As I’ve aged I’ve realized this is one of my strengths and my travels have honed this ability of mine. I meet many strangers when I backpack. Some have tried screwing me over while others have been of great service. In either case, in the first split-second you meet someone, we all get a feeling for what type of person he or she is. I used to ignore this voice in my mind when I was younger and would just follow my logic. Logic doesn’t work when you have to make quick decisions based on little information however. In these circumstances you have to trust your gut. Here’s a bit of advice. If you’re out travelling and you meet an individual or group that makes you feel uneasy, this is a cue telling you that this person or group may not have the best of intentions. I doubt they are going to do anything crazy to you, but they may try to rip you off. When you’re around good people, you feel this tension much less. Follow that feeling. Also, be aware of your own feelings as well. Are you unnecessarily paranoid for no reason? So many people lead this type of life.

More often man lives in fear of his own shadow than he does of any clear and present danger. Perception becomes reality.

What is it that you fear? Is it really necessary? It’s like how I felt at the airport when I first arrived here. I was on edge but have now realized I didn’t need to be. Other people’s fears had fed into mine about how dangerous this place is. I’m sure horror stories happen here but they happen everywhere in the world. This begets the question: Are we to live behind closets? I think not.

The easiest way to read someone is to block out what they say. Observe their actions and mannerisms; their gestures and the little furtive expressions their words do not express. Children are much easier to read than adults because they’re not trying to hide anything from you. They show you who they are. As we age, we become better at creating the persona we wish others to see of ourselves, but the cues that reveal our true nature are always there if one is observant enough to watch for them.

While I had dinner with Sükh, the boy, and his mother, the TV was on in their cabin. We’re watching an American Idol type show except that it’s a Mongolian version. The contestants are caked in makeup and have very colorful outfits. Though I can understand the appeal of these types of shows, I came to Mongolia to get away from this pop culture bullshit. First it was the Justin Bieber video I saw when I was in Ulaanbaatar, now it’s young Mongolians singing remixes of American songs. The more time passes, the less we’re going to be able to escape this nonsense. As Americans, it seems our major global export is pop culture. Is this all we have to offer to the world? Vanity? There’s nothing else American-made out here.

5/22 10:13PM

I spent the past hour gathering firewood. The lady offered me some but it wasn’t going to be enough to last through the night and, besides, she’ll probably need some as well. It sucks waking up cold in the middle of the night. I don’t have a sleeping bag or anything so it gets really cold. Pretty much everywhere I’ve been around Khatgal so far I’ve seen a pile of logs about ten feet high near people’s cabins. Not here. The lady only had a small bundle. It seems like I do much more manual labor when on vacation than when I am actually working. I don’t mind though.

Sükh has been up since 3:30AM. He had to wake up early this morning to tend to his herd of sheep, horses and yaks. Mongolians are the most industrious workers I’ve ever met in my life. What I appreciate about them is that they don’t complain or expect any gratitude in return. They just do it as if it’s second nature.

I’m alone in my cabin and I got the fire going. In the daytime the cabins look shabby, but at night it’s quite beautiful being inside one with the fire glowing against the walls. The golden sheen of the walls really shines out. It’s cold. On nights like this there’s not much to do. I moved the table in my cabin near the fire and just got lost in my thoughts. The hours pass as I tend to the fire and drink my Chinggis Gold Vodka. I’ve been drinking this brand for the majority of my trip. It’s quite smooth and the buzz isn’t dirty.

Writing this journal

Mongolian fire chambers are a very clever and simple invention. All the smoke ventilates out from the chimney so you get all the warmth without the smoke. When I stayed with the Masai, they just have an open pit in the boma (hut). Your room gets filled with smoke. There are a shitload of bugs in Tanzania as well. Mongolia, at least in May, is quite free of bedbugs, ticks, or mosquitos. Those things are a pain in the ass in Africa. I feel like I’m at a resort compared to there.

It’s cold out here though. The fire chamber is small, as I have mentioned previously, so I just left the ‘door’ to it open and shoved in huge sticks. Some were around four feet in length and are too thick to break in half to fit into the chamber so you have to leave the handle open. This is probably not the safest thing to do and I’m still cognizant of what happened last night when I woke up choking but I don’t really care to be honest. I know I’ll be fine.

My fire

The reason why Mongolian’s are so hardworking is because of the weather I surmise. Nine months out of the year it’s cold and snowy. This is a difficult lifestyle and the only way you can survive is through manual labor. Today is the start of summer and its still cold. Yesterday was 30 degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime, not to mention the wind chill factor. I asked Sükh earlier about the difficulties of life and how he manages. Does he ever want to live in the city? He replied that he used to be a bus driver for several years. However, he didn’t enjoy it. He’d much rather tend to his herd and be a guide during the summer than go back to being a bus driver. I was pretty surprised by this. In winter, he wakes up around, I’d assume, 5AM daily (taking weekly turns with his father) to watch the herd all day. It’s freezing out here. I guess this job provides more purpose than driving a bus however.

5/23 10:34AM

I got up an hour earlier and saw the boy again. He was trying to open my door all morning but I left it locked. I didn’t want to be bothered. This time he’s here with his father. His father’s a large man and walks with a wide gait. He grunts a lot. Without asking, his father walks into my cabin, looks around, sees my vodka on the table, his eyes glimmer, and he grabs it. Then he looks over at me, gives me a nod, and swigs it. He took a large swig. I see where the boy gets his animated personality from. Ten minutes later, the man came back. By this time I had packed everything into my backpack. He searches the room, giving me a confused look. He doesn’t speak any English. I know what he wants. I grab the bottle from my backpack and hand it to him. His eyes light up again as he takes another huge chug. I take one too. I had saved over a third of the bottle for tonight but now there are only like two shots left. He sees a two-liter water bottle and reaches for it. I pulled it away from him and tell him not to drink it, signaling to him with a sway of my hand, “No.” I didn’t explain why. I just told him not to drink it.

It was really cold last night. This cabin has a bunch of air pockets in it and there’s a large draft that comes in from the right side. There are gaps between the wooden logs allowing in fresh air. It was so cold that, when I awoke in the middle of the night, I didn’t want to go outside to take a piss so I just used an empty water bottle. The boy’s father would have drunk this if I hadn’t taken the bottle away from him. I’ve been drinking a lot of water and vodka on my trip so my urine is coming out clear. What a way to start your morning.

5/23 11:15AM

You can always tell where the boy is because he’s always screaming as he plays. While boys raised in the city play with their friends on concrete streets, this kid is playing with some deer now, about six of them. He’s feeding them as he’s yelling at them from behind a fence. There are reindeer housed here as well. An ethnic group called the Tsaatan living north of the lake is known for their reindeer. The boy’s family isn’t part of the same ethnic group I don’t think but they keep the deer here for tourists during summer. They charge 3,000 tugriks for you to take a picture next to them, another 3,000 if you want to feed them. I didn’t do either. It’s only 6,000 tugriks but I felt like it was a rip-off for some reason. It cost 10,000 tugriks to stay here all night. Feels like a waste if I have to pay 6 just to hang out with some reindeer.

5/23 4:26PM

From the lake, we headed eastward along the same path I had taken to reach Chandman-Öndör. I didn’t think a few days after I drove this path I’d be horse backing it now. To get to the path we rode by a forest for two hours. I’m getting the hang of horse backing now. I guided my horse through narrow trees and up and down some hills. Though the lake ride was more scenic, the ride today was more fun. Riding a horse is like riding a motorbike or scooter. You want to keep your balance loose and tug a little to the left or right and the horse will follow. Make sure to keep your legs relaxed. Go with the flow of the horse. It knows what it’s doing. After riding all day, we did not see a single car or any tourists. The eastside of the lake is known for being much less touristy. All I saw were trees and a bunch of brown mixed in with little islands of white snow.

We stopped by a ger to take a break, eat bread, and drink some milk tea. In the ger are three kids. Two older boys and their baby sister who is tied around the waist by a piece of cloth to the bed. This is to ensure that she does not fall off the bed. She’s very cute and she has what looks like chocolate all over her mouth.

Mongolian childcare

A one-hour old newborn sheep is in here as well. Seeing the newborn sheep was fascinating. The umbilical cord was still attached to it and it would urinate sporadically in the ger. If you petted it, it was still wet from its mother’s womb. It was crying loudly but no one in the ger seemed to mind. Meanwhile, the two boys are running around while two men and Sükh are drinking milk tea. The mother of the ger is cooking.

Petting the newborn

The two boys, around the age of nine and twelve in my estimation, are quite adventurous. They kept making snowballs outside and aiming them at empty vodka bottles. The kids have a lot of freedom to roam. They repeatedly wanted me to take picture after picture of their actions. I played back videos for them of what they were doing and they really enjoyed it. They seem to get along very well. I asked Sükh if brothers fight a lot and he asked me, “Why? Why would they fight?” He said that siblings don’t fight much at all. This shocked me a bit as I immediately thought of my own childhood and how much my brothers and I used to squabble. Being the youngest one, it was more like I just got picked on. I guess it makes sense that they don’t fight here as much. There aren’t many other kids around. Basically, your siblings are the only friends you have if you live in a ger outside of town. It was good to see that the two brothers got along so well and now they have a younger sister that has entered their lives.


Good-natured fellow

Sükh and I rode off for another hour and a half until we came across a ger that had a herd of over fifty baby sheep, yaks, and goats. It makes for quite the memory. Once I got off the horse and close to these newborns, the bold ones came up to me and bit me at the knees. I’m guessing they think I have some milk to offer. The baby goats are really cute with their little horns sticking out.

Baby goats

They jump at your knees incessantly

I just found out we’re sleeping here. Every new ger you come across, the first thing the female of the ger does is offer you some milk tea and bread. You might then eat some gureltai shol (I’m butchering the spelling), which is a Mongolian meat and vegetable broth they eat everyday. I’ve already had it several times now. It tastes pretty much the same at every ger. It doesn’t taste bad, and being of Korean heritage, I would compare it to a Seolleong-tang. If you’re a westerner it might take a bit longer to get used to the flavor but it’s nothing exotic. Every ger I go to is the same pattern. There are a few kids, a female cooking, and there’s even a baby sheep in this ger as well. This sheep is much quieter. It’s amazing what routine does to you. I’m getting used to visiting gers and nothing surprises me anymore. Rural Mongolians all seem to live quite uniform lives.

Each ger has a television and is usually powered by solar panels. As I’m writing, the people living in this ger are watching a Korean movie. Sükh asked if I had seen the movie before and I replied that I haven’t. He was shocked and told me that the movie is very popular. I have no idea. I don’t have a television at home and the last movie I’ve seen in a theater is Avatar. If I were a child raised here, it would be quit odd to live in a ger when I see all these different lifestyles and materialistic images on television. They must view me as quite an exotic traveller. Probably much more exotic than I view them.

Every culture has its own rules of etiquette. For instance, in Korea, one is supposed to take off his shoes when entering someone’s home and he is to pour out and receive alcohol with two hands as a sign of mutual respect. In America, one is to greet others with a handshake and make eye contact when conversing. In Mongolia, I’m still not quite certain what the rules of etiquette are here. Observing Sükh for the past two days, we’ve gone to four or five gers and he walks into every single one like it’s his. He’ll lie on the ground, smoke a cigarette, drink his tea, eat, and watch some TV. One does not even knock when entering another’s home. He just opens the door every time. Traditionally, the entire family is to live together until the children are eighteen. Some children might live in a dormitory if their ger is too far away from school. Sükh told me forty years ago there was a ger that housed eighteen children. The parents had a child every year pretty much. All of them were housed in one ger, which is a single room basically. Every ger is shaped like a circle and there’s no sense of privacy. I think because of such close proximity to each other, rural Mongolians grow up quite comfortable in their own skin. For men, you basically urinate wherever you want once you step out, at least this is how Sükh behaves. Nothing about it seems awkward or strange however. I think it’s one of those things you just have to experience to understand maybe.

I just felt some bug crawling up my jeans. I squeezed the right side of my jeans — thigh level — and heard the snap of a dead insect. I am now going outside to see what I find.

5/23 6:00PM

I went out to take a piss. About twenty baby goats and sheep came following me. While I’m trying to dodge them as I urinate, flailing around like Khulan, they’re nipping at my jeans.

5/23 7:47PM

I took a nap for about thirty minutes and awoke to find myself alone in the ger. I stepped out and saw literally hundreds of adult goats and sheep. The adult flock had returned.

Some of the herd

I asked Sükh how many total there are and he responded over 450. It’s a stunning sight to wake up to. I then asked him how much territory does the average family own in these rural areas. He said around 5 to 50 kilometers. This family owns around 25 kilometers according to his estimate. I found this quite surprising. They own 25 kilometers of land yet all live in a home the size of your average bedroom in suburban California. One reason why is because they live a nomadic lifestyle. They move with the seasons, from the mountain to the countryside and back to town. I asked Sükh if the herd has any predators and he told me wolves. A few wolves attacked and killed a young horse yesterday from the ger we visited earlier today. That and winter are the biggest enemies. They use guns to kill the wolves.

Randomly, this orange, black and white spotted cat has just walked into our ger. It’s purring as it encircles my left leg and I’m writing. Though the pace of life here is slow, I still experience these moments of surprise. This is the first cat I’ve seen in Mongolia.

During the summer, the rural Mongolians living by Lake Khövsgöl eat goats and sheep. In autumn, they kill cows and horses so they have something to eat during winter.

5/23 9:46PM

I just spent the past hour outside. Three teenage girls and another that looks like she’s about ten are separating the flock of over 400 animals along with a man who appears in his thirties. I had no idea what was going on. They’re just running around, grabbing animals and separating them into two pens while another group of animals is left in the field. They’re not separated by type of animal however. The procedure looks pretty random. After watching this chase go on for about a half hour, I walked over to Sükh to ask him what was going on. It turns out that the flock is a mixture of two separate herds. Two of the teenage girls were supposed to tend to the flocks — keeping them separate — but they got caught up in conversation. Girls will be girls I guess. It was interesting watching them now trying to separate the two herds. Sükh told me they could tell which animal belongs to which herd just by looking at them, his finger pointing to the herd as if to show me. I would’ve liked to help but they all look the same to me. Though it was troublesome for the girls, it was fun watching them pursue after sprinting animals, dragging goats by the horns and lifting sheep to throw into the pens. Even the ten-year-old was in on the action. I thought about California teenage girls doing something similar and I couldn’t fathom it. These girls are awesome.

Herding. She picks them up and throws them into a pen

5/23 10:14PM

These girls don’t stop working. They were up all day herding until past 9PM. They then went out to collect firewood. Now they’re kneading dough and making food. The most remarkable thing about all of this is that they look happy. They don’t appear upset at all. I think its because there’s such a strong sense of community out here. As two of the teenagers are cooking, the other teenager is holding and playing with the ten-year-old. Though I don’t think they’re all blood-related, I have yet to see any siblings fight. They help each other out. For such difficult living, what beautiful people.

The blood runs deep

5/23 11:46PM

There really is no sense of privacy. I’m sleeping on the ground now. A few inches to my right is the guy who lives here. He’s up on a bed, sleeping shirtless. A foot to my left is one of the teenage girls. We all change in front of each other, albeit a bit inconspicuously. In between the girl and me is the baby sheep I mentioned from earlier and directly south of me is the cat. There are seven of us total sleeping in this ger.  Sükh offered me a bed but I thought one of the girls should sleep on it. Sükh ended up sleeping on the bed instead.

5/24 4:17PM

I just got done with a shower and had some breakfast. All I had in the morning was a slice of bread. I’m back at MS Guesthouse now. I took a shower in the same place I ate: in the dining room. There is no one else staying here but me. I showered in a silver pail of water about two feet in diameter that was warmed by Batbayer’s wife. The water was heated by placing it over the fire chamber. It felt odd showering in a dining room naked, but not really. I’m getting used to life out here.

Today was a long day. This morning I awoke at a little past 9AM to see Sükh with a bloody left hand and holding a knife with his right. He shouted, “Danny!” to cajole me out of my slumber. I knew exactly what he meant and I came running out. I had asked last night about how they kill animals here and if it was possible for me to see them slaughter one. Sükh asked the man in his thirties and he said they’re going to kill a goat in the morning. So I immediately ran outside when I saw his bloody hand and the knife.

How they kill a goat is by first smashing its head with what looks like a metal dumbbell. After it collapses, they then stab it right in the middle of the belly, as they proceed to cut off the fur. This part took the longest. I helped out a bit and you hear the goat’s skin tear as you’re ripping it apart. You curl one hand into a fist and knead the under layer of skin as you pull the fur off with your other hand. It gets tiring after awhile. The only parts that are snapped off are the hooves. Sükh grabs a hoof and snaps it like how you would twist off a metal cap on a bottle of Soju. You hear a similar sound as well, the sound of bones cracking. Once the entire coat is cut off what lies before you is the carcass of the goat enwrapped cleanly in its under skin. There’s not much blood at all. Just a goat without any fur. Sükh then gets his knife and cuts through the belly. Blood now starts gushing out. The man in his thirties uses a bowl to scoop out the blood. He then hands the internal organs one by one to two of the teenage girls who proceed to wash them.

Afterwards, he starts cutting out the legs and ribs, putting these prime pieces into an empty rice sack. The only parts that are not cut up but still covered in fur are the hooves and the head. The head is all that remains visible to identify this animal. It’s odd staring at the head of an animal you just cut up. The goat’s eyes were still open. Being a goat’s head, it reminded me of religious ramifications. Mongolians will eat the head as well. Sükh says it’s delicious in stew. No part of the goat is wasted. They eat everything pretty much.

As I was watching the guys cut up the goat, I saw to my left two of the girls grab what I believe is the intestine and start squeezing it from opposite ends. Some fecal matter comes draining out and the intestine looks like a very long piece of precooked sausage.

The whole process of carving up the goat took about an hour. When they were finished, the man in his thirties handed the head and four feet of the goat to me and told me to put them in the ger. I grab the goat by one of its horns as I carry its four hooves in my other hand. The whole time I couldn’t stop staring at the goat’s face. It’s eyes were still open. Once I was inside the ger I asked one of the girls where I should put these parts and she pointed to the firewood stack. And that was the end of it.

Afterwards, Sükh told me why the animal was killed. The man in his thirties is a cousin of Naiz’s wife. He put the best parts in that rice sack so he could deliver them to Naiz’s wife’s family. Indeed, when we were finished with everything he immediately took off on his motorbike and headed to Khatgal. Sükh and I followed from behind later on horseback. The trip back to Khatgal took us about a little over three hours.

It seems like the story of the young adult who got stabbed is following me wherever I go during this trip. Khatgal is a small town of around 4000 people so it’s not very surprising. At the same time, when you go on a journey, it is up to you to find the meaning in your trip. Like life, the story will go wherever you wish to take it. Earlier I had asked Sükh what’s the quickest way to head back to Mörön. I had planned to party with Enkhtuyaa and her friends tonight and tomorrow while I wait for Nate to arrive Saturday. However, Sükh told me that the funeral will be held tomorrow morning. I asked if I can come and he tells me yes. In my mind, I immediately canceled the Mörön trip so that I can attend. We will be visiting the father’s home later today at 5PM so we can pay our respects.

On the way back to Khatgal we rode a bit faster so we would not be late to see Naiz’s family. The ride back was a bit bumpy on my ass but pleasant. In the past few days, we’ve rode through snow, forests, rocks, hills, and by the lake. Of these trails, my favorite is riding through the forest. Its fun careening through trees as you guide your horse. I’ve never had an experience quite like this before where my main transport is a horse. For miles around you, you see nothing but nature, with an occasional herder and his flock every hour or so. On the way back into town, we saw a dust tornado hovering over Khatgal. It was thousands of feet into the air, colliding with the blue skies serving as a backdrop. It’s a beautiful scene. Majestic. On my way back, this time, I kept my gaze more towards the horizon, observing clouds floating above endlessly as we approached to see the lake from below.

My hands are getting worn from horse backing and I can feel them tearing, even though we only rode for around four-five hours a day. I didn’t bring any gloves (thought I could purchase some here but there aren’t any). As I was riding I stared down at my hands momentarily, realizing they’re getting tanned from the sun, have been burnt from making fires, and have splinters due to collecting wood. Some of the ends of my nails have chipped off. Even after showering and staring at my hands now, I see there are still bits of grime left under a few of my nails.

It’s almost 5PM now. I don’t know if Sükh is arriving at five standard or on Mongolian time. I’m going to step out real quick to get some vodka.

5/24 6:32PM

I just returned from Naiz’s wife’s parents home. It was a very somber atmosphere as expected. About eight young male adults were hanging around outside by Naiz’s SUV. I passed by them, feeling their eyes staring at me. They must be wondering who’s the new guy. Once I step in the home there were around nine females doing various chores. In terms of sex roles, Mongolians play very distinct roles.

The parent’s cabin is much more rustic and less frills than is Naiz’s home. The Mongolian cabins I’ve been in so far have primarily just one main room. Upon entering, there might be a smaller room you enter first but there’s no door separating it from the main room. At the end of the large room is a picture of their son, standing on top of a drawer. The picture is a close-up of his face and he looks young in it. Next to the picture frame are over a hundred bills of various denominations placed standing. Most of the bills are of 10,000 notes. You can tell by the orange color. Below are over a dozen bottles of oil. I wasn’t aware of it at the time but I found out later that candles are burned for 49 days consecutively when there is a death of a loved one. To the right of the drawer are women of various ages. I’m assuming his mother and grandmother are two of these women. Naiz’s wife is also sitting there, breastfeeding her newborn. Everyone’s staring at me and I feel like I’m invading their privacy. I’m not sure if they’re upset or just curious. Most probably don’t care at all. I won’t disclose how much money I left but it was a fair amount. I took the bills out of my wallet and they were bent. I couldn’t get the bills to stand properly so it was a bit of an awkward moment. Afterwards, I told Sükh let’s step outside. He didn’t look comfortable inside there either. I had a short conversation with Naiz outside when I saw him and he took me to the back of the home where he and a few of his close friends were smoking cigarettes privately. We had an awkward exchange and I soon left right after.

The funeral will be held tomorrow morning at 7AM up in the mountains. I asked Sükh to pick me up on his motorbike and he obliged. He made it sound like he might not wake up. He told me to call him at 6:30AM just in case. Not wake up for a funeral? I was a bit surprised. I’m guessing he’s not too close to the family.

On another note, I logged online a few minutes earlier and went on Facebook. I rarely go on anymore but I sometimes scroll through my homepage to see everyone’s updates. The first update I saw posted was from my oldest brother’s girlfriend. They are getting married today in Hawaii. I had no idea. They have been engaged for a while now so it’s not entirely unexpected. Still, I never thought I’d find out my brother was getting married through Facebook. And, of all places, I’m in Mongolia to hear the news after I just attended a wake. I did the only reasonable thing I thought possible under these circumstances: I clicked the Like button.

In a family of three random boys, you never quite know what the other two are doing. My oldest brother is getting married in Hawaii, I’m attending a funeral in Mongolia, and I wonder what the middle one is up to? My brothers don’t have Facebook. And, coming from a stereotypical family of men, we don’t talk much.

5/24 10:26PM

Life is all about perspective. Coming from my comfortable studio apartment in Seoul, when I spent my first night in Khatgal spraying the flies above me with my sunscreen before I slept, I felt very cramped and dirty. After spending the previous two nights sleeping in a cabin with air pockets everywhere and sleeping in a ger with six other people, being alone in my Khatgal ger feels like paradise now. Indeed, after my shower in the dining room using a pail and eating a good meal cooked by Batbayer’s wife, I feel like I’m staying at a four-star hotel. It’s amazing the impact perspective plays in an individual’s life. You think the lifestyle you’re living is normal when it’s not. There are so many different lifestyles to live in this world of ours that none of them can possibly be normal or mainstream. More than anything, what happens is we just get used to our routines. It’s good to once in awhile step outside of your comfort zone. If you’re open to the experience, you’ll never return home the same person.

5/25 5:06PM

I woke up at 3:30AM this morning and could not fall back asleep. This happens to me sometimes. When I have to wake up early for something the next morning, I end up waking up way too early. Then I can’t stop thinking. My mind constantly wanders. I think about very abstract thoughts, sometimes losing touch of myself. After my random musings this morning, I started thinking about the young man who died and then began pondering about death in general. Later, my thoughts shifted to thinking about the funeral and if I have anything black or formal to wear. I don’t. How others will be dressed was my next thought, in the same clothes or in special outfits? What are their customs and will they think I’m an intrusion? How should I act? I’ve been the only foreigner at celebratory events like weddings in Ethiopia or family birthdays in Morocco, but I’ve never attended a sorrowful event before. I’m sure the customs are to be observed much more strictly.

I often spend my free time like this. My mind constantly wanders, jumping from idea to idea. Though others may not realize it, I’m a very introspective individual and solitude is not something I find discomforting.

Sükh arrived to pick me up at 7AM. I hopped on his motorbike and thought we would head straight to the mountain. Instead, we went to the parent’s home first. Around fifty people were gathered there along with seven vehicles to transport us. I thought we were going to head to the mountain separately but this method of cruising as a convoy makes more sense since not all these people have motor vehicles.

While lingering outside the house, brief chatter is uttered in whispered tones. I have no idea what anyone’s talking about. Then a hush silences the crowd as the family emerges from the house with casket in hand. About eight men carefully lay it into a van that looks like it’s from the 70s. In a land of dust and brown, the casket was a sight to behold. It was embroidered in a bright burgundy silk garment with black stripes running vertically in patches to the sides and on top of the casket. Three flower-shaped silk adornments were placed vertically on top of the casket as well, running down the middle. We all then got in separate vehicles and followed the van. I thought we were heading straight to the mountain but we only drove for about thirty yards. Everyone got out and the casket was then taken inside another building. This building was small and kind of looked like a house. It was very plain on the outside and I had no idea what was going on. People were walking in and out of the place, but I stayed outside with most of the other young people. The women are in tears and I started questioning what I was doing here while at the same time wishing to pay my respects and learn from this experience. While waiting, a local approaches me and he speaks a bit of English. I immediately took a liking to him. He’s the first person to approach me all morning and it felt more comfortable having someone to stand next to. His name is Oktai. He stands around six foot and his build isn’t big but he looks tough. He tells me that he was a friend of the deceased and I found out he came back from Korea recently. He studied something similar to oceanography out there. He works on a vessel in Lake Khövsgöl during the summer.

After waiting around for twenty minutes, the casket is carried out of the building and placed in the van again. I’m guessing now we head to the mountain. As I looked for a car to get in, one of the older lady’s grabs me by the arm and tells the people in the van to let me in. I was a bit surprised but went in the van, the last one to hop in. In the van are seven of us young men in the back and two older individuals up front. There are no seats in the back. The seven of us are sitting surrounding the casket, our arms resting above it from time to time. I was seated on the right side, behind another passenger, sitting in a kneeling position that hurt because I have bad knees. We drove for about an hour in silence, leading the procession of vehicles. The van chugged along slowly, uttering heaving gasps as it crept up the mountain.

I started reflecting about my trip as we were cruising. A few days ago I had met this young man in a hospital to strike a deal so that Retta and I could have a driver to take us to Chandman-Öndör, and now I’m in a van with his kin sitting next to his deceased body as we head to his funeral. What a surreal moment. It gives one time to reflect upon his purpose in this bizarre voyage we call life.

When we finally reached the burial site, I saw the gravestones of other deceased relatives. There was already a pit dug out for his casket to be dropped in. Once we got out of the van, we placed the casket on top of two wooden tiles that were above the pit. While doing so, there was a shaman sitting at the head of the pit, uttering hymns and lighting incense. When everyone had arrived we made a circle around the burial mound and the shaman got up and poured what looked like milk tea around the casket. He then handed the cup to the boy’s father and he did the same. This process, including the hymning, lasted for about fifteen minutes. Afterwards, the young men placed two long pieces of rope beneath the casket and then removed the wooden tiles. Men on both sides carefully loosened the rope as the casket was placed gently underground.

About thirty-to-forty yards away, there was a group of seven men shoveling dirt and mixing gravel with water and another liquid, producing cement. I saw them earlier but had no idea what they were doing. Now I got a clearer idea. As the women wept and the older men stood silent in contemplation, the young men began making their way to the mixed gravel. Being a young man, I made my way as well. There were about thirteen of us total and we stood in a makeshift line with rice sack in hand. A man with a shovel then filled the sacks with wet gravel, then these sacks were carried back to the burial site to cover the mound. We carried over forty sacks easily in my estimation. These sacks are not light by any means. Some men carried them over their shoulder while others dragged them in groups of two. I did a mixture of both. By my third sack, I was really spent. As I waited for another sack to be filled, across some of the men’s hands I saw drops of red. They were bleeding. I looked at my own hands and saw they were bleeding too. Though my nails weren’t long, I had cut into my hands from lifting the sacks. Like everything else in Mongolia, the funeral was a very labor-intensive task.

Once the burial mound was topped with the cement mixture, some of the men grabbed saws and began cutting wood to make more tiles. Soon, the pieces were connected into another casket-shaped rectangular square. This was then placed over the site. It stood above the mound, which I thought a bit odd since the casket was several feet below. More cement was then placed into this rectangular box until it was filled. Then, once the cement had smoothed, boards were placed over the top to cover the gravel. When I looked over at the other tombstones, I did not see any with this rectangular frame over the burial mound. I’m not sure if nature did its thing to cover these boxes already or if this is a newer practice. Afterwards, another smaller wooden box was placed at the head of the burial site. This wooden box was for the gravestone. This gravestone was much larger than the other ones around. It stood up to my thighs and was very thick. Sükh was the man who lifted the gravestone, placing it into the cement. Just by the way he was working today you can tell Sükh’s strong; shorter than me but solid as an ox. I gained a lot of respect for him today and the way he works. In terms of our labor, the whole process took about an hour and a half.

As these events were occurring, I tried to discreetly take some photos to document the experience. I know this would be inappropriate, but the historian in me came out and I felt like I should document these actions. There isn’t much to look at in terms of scenery, but this whole experience I’m certain will leave a marked impression upon me for years to come.

After everything was intact and the site was finished, everyone grabbed a handful of rice and circled the tomb three times, throwing the rice into the air, aiming it above the tomb. I felt that this was very proper. It kind of lightened the atmosphere and was a way to send him off in good spirits into the afterlife, as I felt bits of rice rain on me as well. “So long friend,” is all I could think of.

This is the third funeral I have been to in my life. The first was of a childhood friend, the second was of a close friend’s grandfather, and now I’m here. I would never have thought in high school that the third funeral I would ever attend in my life would be in Mongolia. Meanwhile, my brother just got married hours earlier. This all felt quite surreal. Since I’m a very random individual I never know what to expect, yet it all eventually makes sense in hindsight. I have another saying: Follow your cues. My cues led me to this moment right here. I wasn’t formally invited but I just felt that I should come today. I don’t know why, but again, I know everything eventually will make sense once I reflect upon it.

After throwing the rice in the air, we all proceeded to head in our cars and leave. I sat in the back of the van and, while I had my head turned to get one last glance, a guy grabbed my shoulder and waved his head, “No,” to me. According to Mongolian custom, one is not to look back at the dead. There were now fifteen of us in the van. I don’t know where the other six people came from, but they were mostly older and female. I looked out at the only other window I could, the one to the right of me. There was not a cloud in the sky. I’m not sure if this was because it is still early in the morning, but there was not a single cloud. Just clear blue.

Once we made our way back to the parent’s home, there were several people outside. A group of females handed each of us some clean water to wash our hands with, then we were handed a cube of sugar to eat, and the final thing we did was light a candle right when we stepped into the parent’s home. There were about a 100 candles total. After lighting a candle, a huge feast awaited us. The living room was spare yesterday. Today, the space is covered with benches, in the shape of the letter ‘U’. Over fifty of us were cramped in this single room as we ate. I sat in the upper-right corner of the ‘U’. The first dish served to us was, of course, milk tea. A mixture of sour milk and rice soup was then served. It tastes like you could imagine. Next was some potato salad. This was delicious. The main course was meat stew, similar to what I’ve been eating all trip but much more meaty; there are chunks of it. I wondered if the goat from yesterday that we killed was put in this broth. It’s very possible.  There is a huge bread cake the size of a wedding cake placed in the front of the living room, but I left before I could have some. I ate two servings of the stew and was stuffed. The lady that handed me the stew gave me a smile each time I had asked for some. Something about her looked familiar. She stared at me more intently than is normal for a stranger to do. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Now, as I reflect, I realize who she is. She’s the same lady I sat across from on the minibus I rode to get to Khatgal, the bus that broke down on us twice. I sat directly across from her and here she is serving me a meal. Wow. What synchronicity. She must have remembered me right away since there aren’t many foreigners in town. Though I only met her once, it’s great to recognize a familiar face. I had thought about who she was for the past two hours. Just something about the smile she gave me was very genuine and warm.

After eating, I felt back to normal again. The mood in the room was still somber but it wasn’t like yesterday’s wake. There’s lots of noise, people eating, babies crying, the usual stuff. It was a packed house, making it easier to blend in. With the delicious meal, I doubt anyone cared who I was anyways. Everyone was eating.

The whole funeral process took us about five-and-a-half hours total. I was expecting it to be much shorter. When I arrived back at the MS Guesthouse dining room I felt a bit strange at first. I was just in a room packed with over fifty people. Now I’m alone again, the only tourist here. I think I’m the only foreigner in this entire town today. The only two tourist camps open currently that I’m aware of are MS Guesthouse and Garage 24. When I had spoken to the manager of Garage 24 a few days ago, she said they weren’t expecting anyone out here but me, and I have yet to meet a single tourist outside of the ones I’ve met at MS. It’s too early in the tourist season.

Today was much hotter compared to previous days. I tried napping but couldn’t sleep. I just sat lying in my ger, then I spoke to Nate. He’s flying in tomorrow to Mörön. We’re going to go horse backing, this time on the west side of the lake. I usually like going on trips alone, but it will be good to see a familiar face. I feel with his arrival tomorrow it will be a marked distinction from my first ten days here. Tomorrow will begin part two of my trip.

God bless the dead.

One thing I noticed about Mongolian children is that they are very free. Even at the parent’s home I ate at today, there was little supervision to monitor their activities. They are very, very adventurous due to this.

5/25 8:54PM

Just got a call from Nate. He’s out partying in Ulaanbaatar with the Korean, Japanese, and Polish people I had met on my first or second night here in Khatgal. I didn’t write about meeting them in my journal. He’s going over to their dormitory for some type of party. I can already feel a change coming.

When it comes to travelling, I have a saying: When you travel alone, it’s an experience. When you travel with others, it’s a vacation.

Neither one is better or worse than the other. It just depends on what you’re looking for. This will end the first part of my trip.

5/26 1:20PM

An hour earlier I had just taken the nicest shower in the past ten days. It was at an actual facility. It’s a half-hour walk away. The shower is operated by a family living next to it. The family lives in a ger. It seems like the family earns their income by operating this small 3-shower facility, with the third shower faucet broken. The cost is 3,000 tugriks. After my shower I felt great. Less than five minutes later, as I’m making my way back to MS Guesthouse, I walked into a huge dust storm. You can’t see anything but brown just ten yards in front of you. I’m not sure the speed of the wind but it was definitely slowing my step. I was dressed in a shirt and shorts because the weather was warm. You can feel pebbles of rock pelting your arms and legs as you take each step and shield your eyes from dust. Everyone had gone indoors, not that there were many people on the road to begin with. The pebbles feel like how rain feels when it hits your sleeveless arms as you’re driving fast on a scooter. At least this is what was going through my mind. This experience reminded me of being in Thailand. On a rainy day a few years ago during monsoon season I was speeding down a hill on a scooter when, all of a sudden, I tripped up against something on the road and lost control of my bike. I immediately let go of the steering wheel and slid for about fifty feet down the wet road. My bike slid for another forty feet after. I wasn’t injured at all. This is the thing I learned about falling. When you have to fall, always roll. Let yourself slide as much as possible. This way you’re spreading the point of impact and creating much less damage to any one area. My shorts were filled with holes but I wasn’t injured.

I learned about this technique from snowboarding. When I was younger, I liked going really, really fast down mountains. I only travelled in one direction: straight. Sometimes I’d eat it hard and slam right into the ground. These falls hurt the most. However, when I fell crazy styles and did flips down the mountain with my snowboard detaching from my boots and everything, these falls hurt much less. Bystanders always stopped to see if I was okay but I wasn’t hurt at all. It’s the falls where I slammed right into the ground with no movement that hurt most. It’s because all the impact is released on one point, not spreading throughout your body. I don’t have any scientific proof to back my assertions but I’ve fallen enough times off of bikes and snowboards in my youth to know what style works best. If there’re no wall or barriers around to hit you, always remember to go with your momentum, not against it, until you come to a complete stop. When you get up, it will be quite the adrenaline rush pumping through your system and you’ll scream, “Whooo!!” cause you’ve never felt so alive. When there was fresh snow around, I’d fall on purpose when I was a teenager. I’d go as fast as I can then do a flip onto my shoulders and just start tumbling down double black diamond slopes in Mammoth. If the snow is powdered, you’re not going to get hurt at all. It’s like falling on pillows.

As the dust and pebbles came pelting at me, the next thought that ran into my mind was about life in Mongolia. I can see why Mongolians are so tough. They don’t have a choice. I just took a shower half an hour ago, and now my body is covered in dust again. Shit’s comedy. And right when I got within two minutes of MS Guesthouse, the damn dust storm ends. I must have done a lot of bad shit in my past life to be going through some nonsense like this.

It’s hot today, but according to the weather forecast, it’s supposed to snow tomorrow. Nate wanted a trip that’s raw. He’s in for a treat.

5/26 11:15PM

I am in a ger with a grandfather and drinking with Nate. The horse ride here was cold. Nate had arrived from Mörön in the late afternoon today and we immediately took off with Sükh to go riding.

The grandfather, Nate, and I have been drinking for the past couple hours. We finished off over a bottle of Chinggis Gold. Sükh doesn’t drink and he went off to sleep at a different ger. Unfortunately, the grandmother here is sick. She’s been sleeping and doesn’t seem to notice our presence. In this ger is a child as well. She’s around four and is a pretty girl. Not as rambunctious as some of the other children her age I’ve seen though. I thought Nate would be a little uncomfortable sleeping in a ger but everything’s worked out perfectly thus far. Grandpa is very drunk. And so are we. He doesn’t speak any English but we’re having a great time. His face is very worn. He has the features of an individual that has lived a very rugged life. An outdoorsman.

5/27 11:25AM

It snowed a few inches overnight. And it’s still falling.

Outside our ger in the morning

Today we will be horse backing through and in snow. Grandpa woke up a tad hungover. He was grunting throughout the morning while sleeping on the ground next to me. He graciously offered Nate the bed. It was cold. It turns out the four-year-old girl is actually a boy. Nate and I saw him urinating in the ger this morning while the boy’s grandfather was helping him. He urinated into a pail. Nate looked over at me surprised and I had the same expression. The whole time I was certain ‘he’ was a ‘she’. He has very long hair and everything. The more I think I’m getting used to these gers, I get surprises here and there that throw me off. It’s like you begin to feel like you know something a bit and are getting comfortable when all of a sudden something throws you off to make you rethink your preconceptions.

5/28 10:35AM

Yesterday’s trek through the snow was the best yet. It was breathtaking horse backing in fresh snow. Today Sükh told me that two men from Khatgal will come to the mountains to hunt wolves. After it snows is a great time to kill them because hunters can see their tracks. It’s a bit disheartening hearing this because wolves need to survive as well, but I can see the reality of this situation.

Two dogs followed us all along yesterday’s trail and they are still with us. One is Sükh’s (which looks like a wild Husky) and the other is a black-and-brown-coated dog that has followed us from the first ger we were at yesterday. I wonder if and when it will go back home.

In the snow

I’m riding the same horse as I was during the first leg of my trip — Yellow.


Yellow’s mane is cut. The manes are used to make rope. We rode yesterday until we reached some cabins. The windows of the cabins here are all double-paned. It can get to -40 degrees Fahrenheit during winter. I can’t imagine being outdoors in that type of weather. The west side has some beautiful trails and we stayed last night at a ger that’s located within thirty yards of the lake. The ger is owned by the same people who live in the cabin. The whole lake is still covered in ice except for about the first twenty yards near the shore in some areas.


It makes for an interesting panoramic view as you take in the scene and look out to the mountains in the horizon. There are still very few people here, including locals, so we had the lake to ourselves.

Yet you can still feel that this side of the lake is much more touristy than the east. The cabins here are much nicer and so are the gers. The locals are dressed more Western as well, sporting newer jeans and jackets. They speak English a bit here too. Every ger seems to have a child between the ages of 3-5. If the kids cry, they are mostly left to their own devices. They soon stop crying. Yellow listened to me less when we were riding yesterday. I wanted her to cross the deepest sections of snow whereas she wanted to skirt around.

There are about seven people here total in the cabin we visited. Nate and I slept in a nearby ger the family owns but we spent most of the night with the family in the cabin.

Nate in the red. Dirtier than the locals but in a different kind of way

Fitting right in

The family here owns a herd of animals as well but it’s nowhere near in size as the herds on the east side. There is quite a large yak however. Sükh and this yak were engaged in a back-and-forth struggle as he tried placing a piece of rope in between its nostrils. The yak wasn’t all too happy about this but Sükh eventually prevailed.

Sükh putting a piece of rope in the nostrils of a large yak. You can't see it but he got the rope through

At this point, the yak had given up

After taming the yak, Sükh starts chopping some wood

After taming the yak, Sükh starts chopping some wood. What a badass.

As it got darker, Nate and I spent our evening in the cabin with the family. We ran out of vodka so a local offered to drive into town and pick us up two bottles for a cab fee of 10,000 tugriks. In the cabin are a mother, an aunt, and a few of their children. The children are around their late twenties, with a couple that are much younger. I’m guessing these are grandchildren. I forget. The family does not drink much. Nate and I drink quite a bit. We sat with the eldest son and Sükh on the left side of the cabin. We were sitting on a firm couch. On the other side, the mother of the home and her daughter, Tsolmon, are watching television while seated on the ground. Tsolmon is around twenty-five and is the most attractive girl I’ve seen in Khatgal. She’s not very photogenic in pictures but she’ll hold your glimpse for a second if you were to pass her by on the street. An hour later we saw her carrying two buckets of water from the lake. Nate immediately went outside to help her carry the water in. He was awestruck that a pretty girl like her could be doing manual labor. Meanwhile, trailing behind Tsolmon was her grandmother carrying two buckets of water herself. Nate didn’t see or help the grandmother at all. This shit made me laugh. Guys are fools for attraction. And I’m very guilty as well.

After finishing off the first bottle, I went outside to urinate and came back to see Nate had moved seats and is now lying down next to Tsolmon. This cracked me up too. What made me laugh is that Nate is obviously hitting on her in front of her older brother and mother in the same cabin. While I took the same seat again — next to Sükh and the eldest son — I can hear and see Nate asking Tsolmon to take a walk with him outside. She doesn’t understand English very well so he resorted to using hand gestures. The time was around 11PM by now. Mongolians aren’t quite the type to take midnight walks out in snow. She says it’s too late. Then Nate asked her what time she wakes up at. She responded 6AM. Nate told her they’ll take a walk in the morning. He’s one of my closest friends so it was some funny shit to watch this scene unfold. He’s the type of guy who is completely oblivious of his social surroundings when he gets to drinking. In other words, he’s an awesome guy to drink with.

After it got closer to midnight, we left the family and went back to our ger. Sükh slept elsewhere again so Nate and I had the ger to ourselves. This ger is the first I’ve been in that’s insulated. There’s some fabric between the inner-cloth and outer wooden frame. I asked Sükh what it was this morning and found out it was wool. This kept the ger remarkably warm. He told me it’s a winter ger and they will take off the wool layer soon because the temperature’s expected to get warmer as early as next week.

On another note, Nate went to take a number two at the outhouse, which is basically a pit in the ground with some logs to cover one’s view. There’s no rooftop or anything. While he was taking a shit, a bird flew out from the pit directly below his knees.

5/28 4:25PM

We just arrived back to MS Guesthouse. We took the lakeside trail. It was a great ride today and it was no longer snowing. In some parts of the trail, you’re riding next to cliffs that have a 50 foot drop. To the left side is the lake below. To the right is a mountain. The trail is only a few feet wide for the most part so Sükh led while Nate and I followed from behind.

Riding through

Riding low



It was a breathtaking view. I had used my camera to videotape some of the scenery while I was riding Yellow. Sükh had told me on my first day riding that abrupt noises can scare horses. I had forgotten about this. When I pushed the playback button on my camera, Yellow was startled by the sound and immediately reared, kicking her two front feet in the air and flinging me off in the process. It happened so fast I don’t remember anything. The last thing I recall is that I was looking down at my camera. Then, all of a sudden, I was lying on the ground against my back, my camera still in my right hand and my eyes still viewing the clip as my feet were up in midair. All I did was yell out a “Whooo!!” because I felt such an instantaneous rush. Luckily, the snow had broken my fall so I didn’t get hurt at all.

We rode for several hours until we made it to Sükh’s ger in Khatgal. He is in the middle of building a cabin for his children. The cabin takes a few months to make. Some can do it within a month if they have the time available. Once I was in Sükh’s ger, I asked him how does a couple engage in intimacy if their children are around. He responded that they just do it in front of the kids when they are sleeping. Then he put up his left hand and pretended to cover his eyes, saying, “Sometimes they will peak.” And we all started laughing.

Nate’s on the toilet again, his third time today. Yesterday, he went four times. Think he has a case of anal anxiety or some shit. He must squat quite well by now.

5/28 5:19PM

Mongolians nap frequently. Sükh would often nap when we stepped into a ger after drinking some milk tea and eating bread. Batbayer’s taking a nap right now. So is Nate. I think it is very important for individuals to take naps, especially for Mongolians. Since they work throughout the day, napping helps restore their energy. As for myself, if there is one thing I am terrible at, it is sleeping. I rarely nap and sleep very, very late at night; often not till past sunrise if my mornings are free. Sometimes, I won’t sleep till 1-2PM in the afternoon. My mind constantly wanders, jumping from thought to thought, idea to idea. It is very difficult to shut off my brain as a result.

I just called Naiz and told him let’s meet for drinks around 9PM. I also called Oktai to tell him to meet up at the same time. I wonder if they’re good friends.

5/28 6:27PM

Nate woke up from his nap while I was drinking. He has to use the toilet again. He has more shit coming out of him than do our politicians.

5/29 9:57AM

We just arrived to Mörön Airport. There’s only one check-in stand and one airstrip for planes. Last night was a great way to end our stay in Khatgal. I met up with Naiz, Oktai, and a few others I had seen at the funeral. We went to a bar but it wasn’t really a bar. It was a large room next to a convenience store. We were the only one’s there. I think this bar operates during the summer for tourists. It’s clean but doesn’t look like anyone’s been in here for a while. It was cold inside. The convenience store lady is a friend of the guys so she let us drink inside and turned on the speakers for us. A fire was lit as well but it did very little to warm the spacious room. Khulan ended up coming out too. It immediately brought a smile to my face seeing him again. He’s one of those guys who’s funny without really meaning to be. Nate and I bought a couple bottles of Chinggis while Oktai bought the beer. We were going to get the beers as well but Oktai insisted. He’s a good guy.

We started getting quite intoxicated and Nate wanted to arm-wrestle everyone.

Nate arm wrestling Chuluun. Haven't done this type of stuff since college

Nate arm wrestling Chuluun. Haven’t done this type of stuff since college

Dropping shots

Dropping shots

With Oktai

With Oktai

I don’t even remember what we talked about but it was a fun night. The lady was closing up shop so I told the guys let’s go back to my ger at MS Guesthouse. There were five of us total. Once we were there, Batbayer wasn’t too happy. I stepped aside and had a talk with him. He reminded me that the way their friend got stabbed was under the pretenses of a similar night. Understanding his perspective, I responded that I would take full responsibility for anything that happens tonight. Batbayer then left, looking quite stern. I think he was overreacting, but after half an hour, I felt a tinge of guilt creep in and I told the guys let’s get out of here. We stepped into Naiz’s car while his friend, Chuluun, drove ahead of us on his new motorcycle. We ended up at someone else’s home. I think it was Chuluun’s. This home wasn’t like the other cabins I’ve been to. There were separate rooms. An older woman (I’m presuming Chuluun’s mother if this was his house) stepped into the room and looked upset. We stayed only for another forty minutes then took off for MS Guesthouse again. I got on Chuluun’s bike and he dropped me off. We called it a night. I can’t recall a specific moment that summed up the night. All I remember are scenes. It’s weird. When I drink alone I can finish a bottle and still be fine for the most part. When I drink with others, I’ll drink half the amount and get tossed up. The more people there are on any given night the drunker I get. What a night. Oktai and Chuluun are around 25. Naiz is 31. They’re all friends of the deceased individual. I have not provided his name because I do not know it. After he died I asked Sükh what his name was and he put his finger over his lips, replying that they don’t utter the names of the dead. I understood the implications and left it at that. He is the unnamed. In that sense, he could be any one of us. I feel like his story has been trailing me during my whole stay in Khatgal and, hanging out with his friends on my last night here, felt like the best way possible to end this trip, providing a sense of closure and optimism.

Some may question our behavior since all we’re doing is drinking and engaging in randomness. To me, that’s the point. Are we to be engaging in philosophical discourse instead? Personally, when I meet someone new I prefer drinking with him or her if they are of the same ilk. In general, people tend to let down their guard when drinking. Hence, the conversations become much more authentic and entertaining. This is just my personal opinion. Men must really stop engaging in violence when they are drunk however. In my mind, alcohol in itself is a neutral substance. It only serves to accentuate the emotions we have residing within. It’s how we use, or abuse, it that leads to problems.

Nate woke me up at 7AM this morning. It’s my first morning waking up feeling hungover. I wanted him to shut up. He kept asking me for the time. I’m the type of sleeper that once I open my eyes, it’s very difficult for me to fall back asleep. The man was persistent.

We packed our things then headed out to Mörön an hour later. The ride back was a bumpy one, a two-hour trip. This trail isn’t one you want to be on when you’re hungover. I could have slept but I wanted to stay awake the entire way, gazing one last time up at the distant skies and roaming hills, reminiscing about my trip thus far and how I originally got into town on a beat-up minibus with sixteen strangers.

I do this often. Whenever I leave a town or a city I may never visit again, I don’t sleep on the way to the airport or train station. Instead, I soak in the scene and take a mental picture as I reflect about what each trip has taught me. When I’m back home and feel hurried or impatient I replay these old scenes, be it me strolling along the street markets of Marrakesh and by the Seine in Paris, sleeping on the streets of Amsterdam and Barcelona, or chilling at the beaches of Zanzibar and Phuket. When feeling anxiety, playing these old clips calms my mind and teaches me patience. Now I have another one to add to my collection: horse backing through the hills of Mongolia. What a beautiful trip.

5/29 10:33AM

Nate messed up. He thought our plane flies out at 11AM. We don’t depart till 12:55PM. Guess I’ll have to replay old memories sooner than I thought. Patience is key.

5/29 12:34PM

There are nineteen of us total on this plane. It was the quickest check-in of my life. Took less than a minute. There is only one plane that flies from Mörön to Ulaanbaatar daily. This is one of the great things about traveling in countries that aren’t as touristy or industrialized. There’s much less bureaucracy. It’s very easy to do what you want quickly.

5/30 1:15PM

Ever since Nate’s arrival, I have spent less time writing. He departed this afternoon at 12PM to catch his flight. When we landed into UB, we stayed at the same hostel I stayed at when I first got here, Zaya. It’s strange. With Nate, I feel like I’ve been playing my whole trip backwards. I first arrived in UB near two weeks ago and stayed at Zaya, then left to go horseback in Khatgal. When Nate arrived, I went to go horseback first and now am back at Zaya. Now he is gone and it’s me alone again. He was supposed to depart with another tourist who was staying here. The hostel had arranged it. Nate ended up hopping in the cab and took off without the other guy. When the staff had heard from me that he left, they looked bewildered. The tourist looked saddened. Haha. Fucking Nate. He had no idea.

Yesterday we didn’t do much. When we landed at the UB airport it felt much more modern and high-tech than when I had first arrived. Again, it’s amazing what perspective can do to an individual. Travelling in the day is so much of a different experience than travelling at night as well. It felt much safer arriving in the afternoon than it did when I came in past midnight. Nate and I had a crazy cabdriver that drove us into town. He was around the age of twenty-five and cut off slower vehicles by driving on the wrong side of the road. This is common practice here. At one point, there were fifteen cars coming in our lane from the opposite side trying to bypass a large truck. Our driver, instead of slowing down to let them pass, sped up and drove with a grimace. I could tell what he was thinking: “This is my lane bitches.” It was a bumpy stop-and-go ride. I was still feeling hungover so it wasn’t pleasant. It’s like I wanted to check out the city through the passenger mirror, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off the road. The driver got us into town a half hour quicker than is usual during afternoon traffic. It wasn’t worth the time saved. When I was younger I used to drive similarly. Now I drive much slower. There’s no need to rush. Young people are always living too fast. Take time to slow down and enjoy the ride.

Once we got into town yesterday all we did was eat and Nate had to do some tourist shopping. We ended up back at our hostel at 6PM. Nate immediately took a nap. I didn’t doze off until around 10PM. We were supposed to go clubbing last night but neither of us woke up in time to go.

Today, I called the Khuree Shooting Range again but it was to no avail. They are indeed closed. I’m not much into guns or anything. Just sounds like an interesting offbeat thing to do when you’re alone in Mongolia and have a day to kill.

5/31 1:07PM

Last night I went out clubbing. There’s a new club here called Vegas but when I got there it was closed for the week so I headed out to a place called Metropolis instead. It’s supposed to be the busiest club in UB from what I heard. As I was talking to the hostel manager about various Mongolian issues before I went clubbing, an Alaskan in his mid-thirties overheard and asked if he could join me. To be honest, I was disappointed when I heard this. When I’m in foreign countries I like clubbing by myself. My nights end up quite random and I wake up in some odd places.

I had no ill feelings toward the Alaskan. He was very polite. I just like roaming alone. Regardless, we headed out to Metropolis and the people there were friendly for the most part. What shocked me was that there were more girls who had tables than guys. This is the first time I’ve ever seen that in a country. Girls usually don’t get tables at clubs due to the bottle fees. The ratio of girls-to-guys was about 4-1. It was crazy. It turned out last night was ladies night. Nate would’ve loved it.

Bar side

Bar side

The night turned into a blur for me but the venue was quite nice and modern. A good showing for a Wednesday. The club closed at 4AM but I heard from some of the locals there is an after-party at this place called River City. I was going to hop into a convoy of four Range Rovers — don’t know why they all drove the same type of vehicle — but I didn’t want to leave without informing the Alaskan. This is why I like clubbing alone. I found the Alaskan soon after and we decided to catch a cab back to Zaya. Once we arrived back I immediately took off for River City. I got in a cab but it was evident after fifteen minutes that the driver had no idea where the place was. I didn’t think to take anyone’s phone number down from Metropolis. I asked various locals as we drove around if they knew where it was. No one knew. We drove around for about fifty minutes and, as the sun was rising, it was obvious that I wasn’t going to find the place. Don’t you hate when you’re out and the sun starts coming up? It’s one of the worst feelings in the world. I ended up back at the hostel at 6AM. Unfortunately, it turns out I lost my room key. The staff didn’t have a spare so I slept on a couch until the manager arrived. He hospitably put me up in another room.

I just had a forty-five minute conversation with him about the development of Mongolia. I read before I had arrived that Mongolia is one of the most democratic countries in Asia, but he told me that the politicians are generally corrupt. Their former president recently was arrested for being involved in numerous scandals and, through graft, he became a part-owner of one of the nicest buildings in the UB skyline: the Blue Sky Tower. It’s the same place where the club Vegas is. I’m not quite certain what the whole backstory behind this situation is but I’m sure there’s a lot of political backstabbing going on for someone of that high authority to get arrested. Guess corruption exists everywhere. Looking through the entertainment magazines in Mongolia, they pretty much look like the same magazines we have in America as well. Just a bunch of egotistical individuals dressed up in nice clothes, handbags and sunglasses. I don’t hate on them. Ultimately, what I’ve realized is that individuals overly concerned with their appearance are, at heart, insecure. That’s why they need all those material things. It’s to mask their insecurities. They really want to be loved and respected but they go about it in a very unhealthy and twisted ‘fashion’. I fear that Mongolians may lose their sense of cultural values — the values I found in the people living in the gers — and become like us Americans overly driven by our materialistic impulses.

I hope this isn’t the case but with that LV store I saw right next to the heart of Sükhbaatar Square, I believe this is the ultimate destination Mongolia is heading. At the nicer restaurants you can see this as well, especially amongst the females. You can tell they’re insecure because it appears they spent hours getting ready when all they’re doing is going out for lunch. Who cares? Meanwhile, Nate and I had just arrived back from Lake Khövsgöl covered in dust. I haven’t shaved in over a week nor do I have a decent haircut. Nate told me at the restaurant that I look homeless. Yet, in that restaurant, if you had to choose, who would you say are the most comfortable and confident people in the room? The most confident individual in any room is always the one who cares least. That’s how confidence works.

I spend a lot of time travelling. People often ask if this is a wise way to spend my income. This is what I tell them. Travelling actually saves you money. Before, as a teenager growing up in Orange County, my desires were to have a big house, nice furniture, and all that other stuff. Now, with the more developing countries I travel to, I realize I don’t need any of that. It’s all bullshit. Ways for individuals to feed their egos. Honestly, take a look around your house and see all the nonsense you buy that is unnecessary. We live in a society in which we can easily rationalize spending $50,000 on a car but will hesitate to spend a couple grand on buying a plane ticket to go on the trip of our dreams, or better yet, spending it on a noble cause. Instead of going to places like China, we spend hundreds of dollars buying porcelain plates from there thinking this makes us cultured. I don’t get it. It does not make logical sense for me to spend thousands of dollars on a nice car or a handbag for a girl I’m dating when I come across individuals such as Sükh who work very hard but make very little. Yet, I’d have to say he’s one of the most authentic individuals I’ve ever met. In the end, like meets like.

I don’t mean to come across as preachy. Ultimately, it’s your life and do whatever you want with it. I try to be nonjudgmental. The only message I hope resonates in anyone who cares to read this story is that you don’t get caught up in the bullshit. Enjoy it but don’t get caught up. You’ll start thinking all the stuff you have is leading you to a life of value when true value can only come from within. Same thing goes for confidence. True confidence doesn’t come from what you have. It comes from who you are. Travelling has taught me this.

6/1 12:14AM

I’m finally on the plane about to takeoff for Seoul. As usual, I was the last person on board. I got me a bottle of Chinggis from duty-free to keep me company once I’m back in Seoul. I’ll take a shot back at home whenever I want to take a trip down memory lane. I walked around town for three hours today quite mindlessly. I later texted Naiz, Oktai, and Sükh farewell. We said our goodbyes and Oktai told me not to forget my nickname: it’s Huvhen. It means drinking. I don’t lead the healthiest of lifestyles but I enjoy every moment. I’ve gotten a lot of nicknames I’ve received from friends throughout my life. As I reflect, each one reveals a certain aspect of my character.

I realize I’m going to be quite busy in the next few months working. Nate told me about his job at the airport yesterday. He works in the renewable energies department of a large American conglomerate in Japan. He says he dislikes it. They sit a team of around ten individuals across from each other at the same table. At the head of the table is the team manager. I thought cubicles were bad. What a shitty work environment. Constant monitoring. Soon, I’ll be working sixty-hour weeks myself. I don’t mind though. I’m actually looking forward to it. I teach a mixture of admissions writing, SAT’s, and psychology. People are surprised when they hear I’m a teacher. I guess I don’t fit the mold exactly but I enjoy my job and there’s nothing I can honestly think to complain about. It provides me zero stress and I realize how fortunate I am. I’m only staying in Korea for around one more year however. I’m heading back to Africa and then to South America around late next year (after a brief stint back in California to see family and friends). Not sure how long I’ll be in either of those continents for but I’m guessing around a year total. I’m just going to buy a one-way ticket to Tanzania. There’s something I have to do there that will take some time. After that I’m going to go where the wind takes me, eventually winding up in Peru. How I get there, when I do, or who I meet I am uncertain of. That’s what makes it an adventure. My immediate goal is to be a writer. From there my goals get more expansive but I have no doubt I will accomplish them. In life, one must have belief.

And, if you fail, who cares? In my mind, the far nobler individual in society is the one who fails at doing what he truly desires than the one who succeeds at doing something merely because he can. What’s the point? Think bigger. Aim higher. For there comes a point in every individual’s journey where taking steps no longer cuts it. You’re going to have to jump. Most fail not because they didn’t jump high enough, it’s because they didn’t have the courage to even take a leap in the first place. I will never allow myself to be that type of individual. And even if I fall, again, who cares? Just get back up.

There’s a lot in life I want to do. In my youth this led to internal pressure and caused me stress. I completely lacked direction. Trips to places like Mongolia, however, ease my mind and give me the space I need to exhale. A trip like this really puts one’s life in perspective. I’ll land in Seoul tomorrow around 4AM. I work tomorrow but forget what time I start at. It’s okay though. I’ll figure it out as I go. Life isn’t meant to be stressed. It’s meant to be lived.












-This chapter is dedicated to the fallen, to all those who never had a chance to share their stories.

God raise the dead

He could be any one of us.


Biting Through..

This excerpt is from my 2014 trip:

4/30/2014  3:23AM

I just got off the phone with Marvin. I asked him some general info about Cambodia cause I was thinking of heading there after Tibet. I need to buy an exit ticket before I enter Tibet due to China’s laws but I’m not sure if I want to return to Nepal, go home to Korea, or check out a new place like Cambodia. I will be in Tibet from May 17th-25th if everything works out hopefully.

Marvin told me that Cambodia was cool but touristy. After talking about various other locales like Macau, Shanghai, Vietnam, and Thailand, he told me why not check out Bali? After we ended our conversation, he texted me a few minutes later, “Beaches, temples, and nightclubs… Think it’s your last stop bro…” Again, I believe in cues. So why not? I think I’ll go to Bali. Life is fun when it’s lived like this.

After his text, he sent another one, “Shit man.. You’re all about venturing the unknown.. Write some more fun stories about it.” Before, I wasn’t certain if I should journal this trip or not. I just felt hesitation in my mind. But I guess will. We’ll see what happens.

I’m flying out to Nepal tomorrow. I have yet to pack anything nor have I any idea where I’ll be staying once I get there. I’m most focused on planning my Tibet trip currently because Tibet has the strictest visa restrictions and regulations.

Compared to going to Borneo last year or Mongolia the year before that, this trip is more tentative for me. I feel hesitation and anxiety for some reason. In the past few years I’ve consulted the I Ching to see if there are any insights to gain from its messages. For those unfamiliar, the I Ching is akin to an oracle of sorts. I only use the I Ching about 3-4 times a year. When I asked about my upcoming trip a couple months ago, I received the hexagram 21 (which stands for Biting Through). The hexagram is in the shape of a mouth and there appears to be an obstruction between its teeth, hence the name Biting Through. When I received this hexagram about my trip it made me more hesitant. It’s not really a positive hexagram. It’s as if there’s some obstacle I have to get through, maybe it’s stagnation.

In late March, when I asked the I Ching what the month of April would be like before my trip, I received the same hexagram: Biting Through. I’m not sure what this means yet. Either I can yield or go forward. I choose to go forward.

So I bought a one-way ticket to Nepal a few days ago because I felt like it was about time I decided to just pick a place and go somewhere. I was disappointed when I couldn’t rent a motorcycle towards the end of my Borneo trip last year so I’m hoping that things will work out once I get to Nepal. I want to rent a bike for around a week and ride around the hills of Nepal if possible. I also want to go paragliding and kayaking. I’m not sure if I’ll have time for everything. I just sent an email to a motorcycle rental company in Pokhara, Nepal so I’m hoping things work out.

We shall see… For now, I think I should maybe start packing.

Later at Incheon Airport…


On a one-way-ticket with no plans or place to stay yet. Fly out in 20 minutes. Should be interesting.

5/2  2:00AM

I just landed in New Dehli, India. The time is four hours behind Korea. It was around an eight-hour flight. I’m not too fatigued and have about a five-hour layover here in India before I can fly out to Kathmandu, Nepal. I will be arriving in Kathmandu at 9:00AM local time.

It still hasn’t hit me that I’m here, traveling. I’m not sure what to expect yet. The airport has a musty smell and an orange din colors its carpeting and walls. The airport has a very 1980s feel to it. There are roughly ten fellow travelers here with me making the transfer flight from New Delhi to Kathmandu. Since it would be 6:00AM local time in Korea, everyone looks tired and shitty. Their faces are ruining my mood.

On a positive note, I finally secured my flight entrance and exit tickets for Tibet earlier today. I will fly into Tibet on the 17th and fly out on the 25th to the Philippines. Jake recommended Boracay over Bali to me and, after talking to a few other friends, they gave me a similar recommendation. From what I can infer, Bali is more for honeymooning and temples, Boracay for backpackers and beaches. The rainy season begins around early June though so I hope I don’t face the beginnings of it.

I have brought with me two bags, one of my personal belongings and another of clothes I want to give to people I meet in Nepal and Tibet. It’s kind of a hassle lugging around the extra bag, but I figure I should give these clothes away if I don’t wear them. Some of these shirts are brand new, others were gifts I never wore. They all generally have a fun image plastered on them. I have also packed away a couple nicer shirts and a watch to give away. I figure I’ll give this stuff to my tour guides in Nepal. The watch was a gift but I don’t wear it. If I don’t want it I figure there’s got to be someone else who does.

In Nepal, I am meeting an individual who is to secure my Tibet visa. I told him to meet me at the airport because upon landing in Kathmandu my plan is to immediately book a flight to Pokhara. The man is upset about this because the airport is far from his agency. I replied that as soon as my paperwork is done I’m taking off and I’ll provide him extra monetary compensation for his lost time. He agreed.

There’s no free wi-fi in the New Delhi airport and there’s already a few travelers who are now sleeping on the floor.

Tis the life of a traveler

Tis the life of a traveler

5/2  9:41PM

I flew into Kathmandu at around 11AM. My flight got delayed a few hours due to inclement weather here. I met with my Tibet travel agent at the airport and he helped me book a flight to Pokhara. That flight also got delayed for over an hour because of the weather. It was really rainy in the morning from what I heard. I want to fly to Pokhara because I heard that’s where the adventurous and scenic stuff takes place.

In the airport at Kathmandu, I came across a group of backpackers. I asked to borrow their Lonely Planet Nepal guidebook so I could peruse it to see where I should stay once I get to Pokhara and to get a layout of its landscape. Here’s a map of Pokhara and a view of it from the plane flying in:IMG_2168

There were about six people in their group and they were here to do some adventure traveling and orphanage support. Low and behold, once I flew into Pokhara I saw them an hour later eating by the lake. We had taken separate flights but it was surprising to see familiar faces in a locale I’ve never been to before. They had a large group with them and I got introduced to the head of their organization. We drank beer and ate pizza together as they shared details about what they do. They bussed around 30 orphans here from Kathmandu to take them on an overnight vacation.


I only had about five beers today but I feel rather tired. Upon landing in Pokhara, I met an Indian medical student and we shared a cab together. She was quiet in nature. We rode to her destination first, then I got dropped off in front of the Hearts & Tears motorcycle shop and booked my plans for tomorrow.


I’m taking motorcycle lessons. I haven’t really ridden a motorcycle before. My last time on a motorbike was in Africa over five years ago for dirt biking so I’m excited. Actually, I’m not really. I’m tired. I spent over 24-hours transferring flights today.

Now I’m in my room. I booked a place close to the motorcycle shop. Here’s my view:


My ghetto paradise..

What I had to walk thru to get to my hotel:


The entrance to my hotel is on the left side, past that tree and electricity post in the center. Not bad as it looks from this scene.

5/3  10:20PM

I came home to finding this on my bedpost. It was either him or me so I had to do it.


Cockroach.. Sniped him with my slipper.

Today I biked for eight hours with Jones. He’s from Australia and bought this motorcycle company three years ago. Yesterday, we engaged in an hour conversation over drinking a couple beers by his shop. He told me he studied engineering abroad for several years before ditching that and buying this shop in Nepal. He doesn’t plan on doing this for life but he’s open to the idea if his business can grow internationally.

Since I was on a bike for the majority of the day I couldn’t really take any pictures. It was a very interesting ride. After doing some morning lessons, once we hit the road a dog started trailing Jones and biting at his left leg for about three minutes. It was the funniest shit. The dog just came out of nowhere and started biting at him. Upon seeing this, I knew we were in for an interesting day. Riding around Pokhara is a bit of a clusterfuck but not nearly as bad as the major cities in Southeast Asia. There’re not as many people here. On the road you still drive past cows, old ladies, and cars cutting in front of you though. Anything goes out here. There’s no road rules except stay to the left side. After passing the streets, we went up this dirt trail thru the hills away from the town.



It was a fun ride and rocky in some parts. I asked Jones how many times he’s been on this trail and he replied it’s his first time. This made me laugh. I think he could sense I’m the type up for adventure so we went.

And got lost. Nothing bad. He was looking for this village but couldn’t find it so we headed back down the trail. It took us a little over an hour. Accompanying us was another biker. Before we set off, a random guy asked if he could join us. He’s a beginner from Canada. I’m a beginner too. I fibbed to Jones I had some experience motorcycling before when I really don’t. I did so because it takes three days of training to rent an Enfield for a beginner. I don’t want to wait that long. I’m going to start riding the Enfield tomorrow. I’ve rode scooters and dirt bikes before so I’m guessing a motorcycle can’t really be all that different. I don’t know much about Enfield’s to be honest. It’s an old-school bike though and it’s got some size to it. I rode on a Yamaha today. I liked my bike.


8 hours on this Yamaha today.

The Canadian guy’s bike was low on gas and stalled three times when we were coming back down from the hills. Felt bad for him. He’s paying around $8 a day to rent his bike. Including training, Jones is charging me $130. I don’t mind. Jones’ bikes are better and he taught me well. I have no idea the layout of this city. It was due to him I had fun today. Sometimes, you get what you pay for.

This is my tan from today.

I used sunscreen too.

I used sunscreen too.

5/4  11:36PM

Jones, the Canadian guy, and me went out riding again. Yesterday we headed south of Pokhara, today northeast. I switched bikes from a Yamaha yesterday to a Royal Enfield Bullet today. It’s more of a cruiser bike and the Enfield has an illustrious history, being the longest bike still in production today. It was established in 1890 in England. The bike I rode was around my age.


This bike was harder to ride than the Yamaha yesterday. It’s heavier but that wasn’t really the issue. For whatever the reason, I had trouble getting the bike into neutral. You need to put the bike in neutral to start it. I couldn’t really hear the click. All the other gears were fine. This bike is so old that it’s gear shift is on the right side. Jones keeps it in great condition though and the fault was likely mine. We cruised along a beautiful trail heading north thru the open hills of Pokhara. It’s a beautiful ride and the road is great for biking thru. We stopped for lunch at the top of a hill. Jones knows a lady who owns property out here. She grows ganja in these hills.


And has a pet monkey. Interesting life to live.

When we headed back it started raining as we’re blazing on the paths, our jackets flapping into the air. The ride back was more fun to me. Personally, I prefer riding downhill than uphill. You go a lot faster and tilt your body as you make your turns. It feels like a video game, except a hundred times better cause it’s real.

Once we got back into town, there was a large deluge of rain flooding the streets. You see rivers of rain pouring into the sewers. Up in the hills it didn’t really rain so we were fortunate. Back in Pokhara, the road was wet. I enjoy riding thru different conditions. It makes the ride more memorable. Come snow, rain or sunshine, it doesn’t really matter. When I travel I take the conditions as they come.

It doesn’t really feel like my biking skills are improving. We’re planning for a three-day trip two days from now. I told Jones I want to do something adventurous. He replied not to worry and I’m in for a treat. As he was providing me details of our itinerary, I started zoning out. I’m terrible with specifics. All I know is we’re going to be riding a triangular path heading thru some villages and off-roading. We’re going to be riding thru rivers and stuff. He looked excited as he was explaining the trail to me.

This morning I checked out of my hotel. After returning from motorcycling, I walked into a place called Avia Club that operates paragliding and ultralight tours. I read about the company on TripAdvisor.com and it got great reviews. I’m interested in doing both activities. But, first, I had to go into the store to use its wifi to search for a better hotel. Now I’m staying at a place called the Family Home. It was ranked #2 for lodgings on TripAdvisor. From my experience, TripAdvisor is a great guide for hotel accommodations and activities planning. While Lonely Planet is great for providing details and breadth, TripAdvisor.com comes in handy when you just need to get up and go. Just make sure to book your hotel in a great location. Location is paramount when traveling.

I am happy with my accommodations. There’s about seven guys working here at the Family Home and we talked for a couple hours once I checked in. I found out it’s called Family Home because the guys working here all come from the same town that’s about 140 kilometers away. We had a long-winded conversation covering a wide range of topics. To my surprise, two of the workers here used to live in Korea. They said the most difficult transition about living in Korea was how fast everything is done at work. They found it stressful and hard to adjust to. Coming from a rural upbringing where life is slow, I could understand their difficulties. Korea’s pace is fast, very fast. That’s why I like living there.

I was thinking of going on an ultralight ride tomorrow morning but that mean’s I have to wake up very early. I don’t want to do that. I still feel a bit of fatigue from my plane transfers so tomorrow I just want to do nothing but take a stroll around town to familiarize myself with my environment. The best way to get to know an area isn’t by bike or car, it’s by walking. Tomorrow I will learn the pulse of this town.

5/6  12:24AM

I didn’t sleep very well today. Slept around 5:30AM then woke up at 10:00AM and couldn’t fall back asleep. Today I spent the afternoon running errands and ate lunch at a place called the Beach Club which is located up north. It was ranked highly on TripAdvisor, but honestly, I can’t understand why. They were already getting ready to close up shop for monsoon season so maybe this had an effect on their food. It was okay, not great. As I was eating I had a conversation with the owner. He’s a Canadian but has lived in California before too, among other places. He has an outspoken nature and one thing he continuously remarked about was the work ethic of the locals. He says they don’t work hard but engage in time-wasting behavior to get more pay. I was surprised he’s telling me this since I had just met him five minutes ago, but whatever. He speaks from his gut. So far, the locals I’ve met here seem honest so I’m not sure what to make of his statement. He has a cantankerous temperament however and if I worked for him I don’t think I’d try my hardest either. He’s not a bad guy. He’s friendly. But he doesn’t appear too good at discerning things from other people’s perspective. I could be wrong, but this is my impression.

I met his wife later and she is very animated as well, just in a more positive way. She has a vivacious nature and they met in an ambulance out here after he got injured. She was a medical technician at the time, or something like that. I forget the details of the story. They both like talking a lot and have outgoing personalities. In the back of my mind this made me wonder, “When they’re alone together, who does more of the talking?” One of them has to take a backseat to the other right? She appeared a couple decades younger than the man and she instructs yoga out here. They both have strong personalities.

One thing I will say about this place is that it has a beautiful view.


You can’t ask for much more than that. I’m the only one eating here so it feels like I’m dining at my front porch. Afterwards, I took a walk back south to Jones’ bike shop. It was a leisurely stroll into town and I chose to go the lake route.


On my walk, I stopped by Paddle Nepal, a company specializing in canyoning and kayaking tours. I plan on doing these activities upon finishing my biking trip and wanted to get more detailed information. I told them the dates I’m free and it looks like I’ll be going canyoning first, then on a 3-day kayaking trip after that. Once I got back to Jones’ shop, we discussed our itinerary in more detail and he showed me a map of our route. We’re basically heading in a triangular path, starting in Pokhara then riding southeast to an area called Tansen. From there, we’ll head west then go on off-road paths as we make our way northeast back to Pokhara. It’s a 3-day trip.

After discussing our plans, I went to eat at a restaurant called Monsoon for dinner. The prices for meals here are relatively fair, costing around $8-10 for a decent meal at the nicer restaurants. I like the food, tastes good. Then I spent the rest of my evening chatting with locals or walking around town some more. I went to get a one-hour massage as well, which costs around $20. Now it’s near an hour past midnight and I’m back in my hotel. I should head to sleep since we start our bike trip at 7:30AM tomorrow. Trouble is I’m not tired. Shiet..

5/6  4:55PM

I only slept a few hours this morning because I had to get up early to head to Jones’ shop. I got there around 7:40AM, earlier than him. By the time we got all our gear together, we didn’t start riding until 9:30AM. I’m starting to notice a pattern with Jones. He starts late. We rarely begin our rides on time. I don’t mind if we start late but I don’t want to wake up at 7:30AM unless it’s for a purpose. I’m not a morning person. We were accompanied on our ride today by two other individuals from Australia and Canada. One has quit his job while the other doesn’t have one yet. They’re young and full of zest. I call them the caped crusaders.


We rode together today, then will depart tomorrow. They will continue heading south while Jones and I will head west. We’re staying at the same place for tonight.


This doesn’t look like the brightest idea, right? Motorcycling with a cape on? They bought these capes the day before for $50 a pop. Quite a sum. And, after a couple hours of riding, one of them tore his cape. It got caught in his back tire and dragged him and his bike down with it. Funny shit.


We tried cutting the cape out of the back tire but it was to no avail. Jones and I rode ahead to the nearest mechanic who then rode back with us and took apart the back tire to dislodge the cape. Wanting to save time, Jones and I went ahead and gave them directions about where to meet us up later.

The trail was beautiful today. A great day for riding. After taking turn after turn, your mind gets into this zone. You’re not thinking, you’re gliding. I know I’m in the zone when lyrics naturally start forming in my mind. A bit strange but true.


Swerving thru hours of trails like this, up and down, left and right.

Now I’m lounging in a hammock as I’m typing this entry into my phone. We made it to Tansen.


Tansen is a small town and we are staying with a local farmer. Jones has the personality of a scout. He likes using his GPS to scout for new locations to take tourists. This farm was one of them. He’s a personable individual, yet professional. The farmer here lives with his wife and they have 1-2 kids. He had a city job for awhile but disliked it so he quit and bought this property out here to develop into a farm/backpackers lodge. This place only has room for about five tourists currently. The family here owns cattle, goats, and raises various organic crops located in the hills below. I tried imagining life for their children, wondering what it would be like to be raised in a place like this, so remote and isolated from a big city. I couldn’t fathom it. Very unique. But I think a place like this would be good for a person to stay if they’re feeling stressed out from city living. It’s peaceful and calming. You live very much in the moment because there’s nothing to really preoccupy your mind otherwise. You pick up on the sights, the sounds, the smells of things much more out here, whereas living in the city you’re senses tend to drown things out cause they get overwhelmed. It’s refreshing. Before going on this trip I wasn’t really sure what to expect in Nepal. This is the nature of my travels since I plan so little. Chilling in this hammock makes me realize I’m here right now, in Nepal, motorcycling. I can’t believe it.

We rode all day. Due to this, we’re going to need more gas. Problem is there is a fuel shortage right now. We stopped by a few places and nowhere has gas. From what I heard, there’s a fuel shortage because the Nepali government hasn’t paid India for the gas it has purchased yet. Hence, the Indian government shut off Nepal’s supply. This happens from time to time. This has Jones concerned. He’s a pretty responsible individual and is on the phone right now trying to figure out how to get gas. He has gas at his shop and he’s thinking of asking one of his workers to put the gas on a morning bus so that we can have some fuel for tomorrow. Either that or we might stay in town an extra day. I don’t mind either way. It’s shit like this that makes traveling interesting. Don’t travel with too fixed of an itinerary, especially in developing countries. Be flexible and go with the flow. Your trip will be much more enjoyable that way. The place we’re staying at is nice so it doesn’t hurt. It’s a beautiful place. Jones has a good eye for picking spots.

5/8  10:49PM

It was an eventful trip. Exactly what I wanted. Its hard to type right now cause my hands hurt. I’m typing on my laptop with just my right hand.

Dinner came out…

5/9  2:53AM

I’m back at my hotel in Pokhara now, Family Home.

I’ll pickup the story from where I left off, on the 6th. In Tansen, we ate dinner inside the family’s kitchen. I heard from the farmer this kitchen is made from cow dung but Jones told me it’s not. Not sure who to believe, but it’s still impressive:



The Canadian and Australian are your typical young backpackers. They’re both on the adventurous tip and on that journey of hubris self-discovery. Around 10PM, Jones headed off to bed while the three of us smoked some hash they had brought with them. Before going to bed, Jones gave me a sack of weed that the monkey lady gave him. We smoked that as well. Pictured is the piece we used. That pipe is around three feet long and you need someone to light the other end for you cause your hand can’t reach the bowl. It’s impractical, an impulse buy. The kind of things young guys do on road trips: buy capes and metal pipes that require two people to operate. Seeing stuff like this reminds me of how old I’m getting. When I was a teenager I thought I’d be married and have a couple kids by now. I still have no desire to do either.

I tried going to bed around 11:00PM in my room but couldn’t fall asleep. I ended up heading back outside around midnight. By this time the caped crusaders had gone to bed. I stayed up until around 3:00AM, chilling outside by the hammocks area. As my mind drifted I’d hear the occasional ruffle from some nearby bushes that shook me from my daydreaming. Hoping there aren’t any predators around is all my mind could think of as I saw sparks of lightning from the clouds illuminating the night sky, interspersed with rain. It makes for a surreal scene. And it’s pretty damn dark out here.

When I awoke the next morning, I got a better look at my room. It’s quite colorful.

I wondered how many people have ever read those books. Interesting to design the bookshelves into the walls.

Interesting to design the bookshelves into the walls. I wondered how many people have ever read those books.

The morning view from the hammocks area was quite colorful as well:


The meals that the farmer and his wife cook are delicious. Breakfast was no exception, even though most of it was gone by the time I made my way downstairs. At around 10:00AM, I headed down the hills to check out the farms in the area and to take a look at the homes of the other villagers here. The people are friendly and the pace slow.


Our gas had arrived in the morning through one of Jones’ connections so we were set to depart. We said our goodbye’s to the caped crusaders and I wished them a pleasant journey ahead.


While packing up our gear, Jones had a glimmer in his eye as he told me we’re in for quite a ride today, one to a remote location with no paved roads. As he described the trail to me, I could tell we were in for a trip.

The trail was beautiful and quiet, very quiet actually. We passed by very few vehicles due to the petrol shortages. This made the ride even more enjoyable since it felt like you had the entire path to yourself.

We road for about seven hours yesterday. Here are pictures of the day’s trails:




We finally arrived into this remote village. The journey there didn’t disappoint. It was quite a ride, especially going over the bridge. It’s not the most stable of bridges and you can tell it’s not meant for bikes. As you ride across, you realize if you tilt either way too much you’ll most likely end up flipping the bridge over and falling down into the shallow river below.

This village is very remote from what I can surmise. One of the locals told me we were the first foreigners he’s ever seen travel thru here. There’s no hotels or guesthouses here in the traditional sense. We rented out a room in someone’s home and stayed there for the evening. This was even Jones’ first time being out here.

Crashing here for the night.

Crashing here for the night.

After we had dinner in the kitchen (which is also a makeshift garage), Jones and I engaged in a colorful dialogue about our aspirations, what took us to this point in our lives, leaving the office grind, and we just enjoyed ourselves. It was a good conversation while we were drinking some beer and local rhaksi. It’s a fermented rice alcoholic beverage. After Jones went to bed, I engaged in a talk with this guy in the kitchen/garage.


He’s only seventeen but mature for his age. Much more mature than the caped crusaders. That’s one thing I realize from my travels. Usually local people in developing nations are much more mature than their western counterparts. Maybe they are forced to grow up quicker. I’m not sure.

After Jones went to sleep, the guy above had to close up the kitchen so I headed upstairs to the living room to join this other guy watching TV. I’m supposed to sleep in this room.

On my bed.

On my bed chilling.

I couldn’t really fall asleep cause it was too bright and noisy so I went into Jones’ room. There were two beds in there anyway. I couldn’t really sleep in there either. It’s really difficult for me to fall asleep before 4:00AM. When I went out to take a piss in the middle of the night I came across the front door. Interesting lock:


You just lift that piece of wood, pull the handles, and out you go.

The next morning, which is today, was the most challenging. It was a fun ride but I ate it quite hard twice. There’s an element of danger since mudslides are occurring all throughout this region when it rains. You run into a steady stream of bulldozer-type vehicles clearing debris from the dirt roads to allow oncoming traffic (mostly minibuses loaded with passengers) to pass thru.


As can be seen from the picture on the bottom-right, conditions can get dodgy here, especially when it rains. Mudslides are frequent. I hope the driver of that bulldozer made it out alright.

Today was a fun ride but arduous. While I was turning hard around a corner, I ran into a puddle of mud and lost control of my bike as I crashed into the ground. I was riding fast so I hit the ground with speed as the handlebar stabbed into the left side of my chest. The clutch broke off as a result. When I got up to examine the damage and look for Jones, I had lost my sense of direction. I went out calling for Jones from the wrong side. I guess when I crashed, my bike spun hard to the left causing it to reverse direction without me realizing it by the time I hit the ground. I was confused for a second because I didn’t know which way we had come from. The path looked the same either way until Jones finally came back, realizing something had happened to me. He attached another clutch to my bike and off we went.

Tripped up in this mud patch when I rounded the corner.

Tripped up in this mud patch when I rounded the corner.

As I’m lying in bed right now typing, when I blow out my left nostril my chest hurts. But if I blow out my right nostril it doesn’t as much. I’m guessing the lungs operate laterally with our nostrils. I’m not sure.


Looks kinda like a big hickey.

This last leg of our trip back to Pokhara would end up being the most challenging. The first couple hours were going great and I noticed a good amount of improvement from yesterday. Except for one thing. I ended up riding off a cliff, about seventeen feet high. It was a challenging area and Jones told me to stop and he’d do it for me. But I wanted to do it myself. So I revved it before he could get me off my bike. The trail was narrow and goes left. I went right. Right off the trail and onto some rocks below. Fortunately, my bike didn’t land on top of me. I’m not sure exactly what happened but it felt like I did a 360 off the drop and landed with my body still on my bike. Unfortunately, the weight of the bike fell onto my right knee, as I smashed my bike against a rock face.

The bike is facing left. But I was riding from the opposite direction. I did some type of tumble.

Locals helping me pull my bike back to the top. The bike is facing left. But I was riding from the opposite direction. I did some type of tumble.

The first thing I did after I fell was wiggle my hands and toes. Everything moved. I felt relieved. No permanent damage. The next thing I felt was pain coming from two areas of my body: my back and my right knee. I couldn’t believe I rode off the fucking trail. It was quite the adrenaline rush.

The locals are very nice here. I guess a few saw me ride off the drop. Four of them ended up helping me push my bike back up to a flat surface. Very good people. They didn’t care at all about getting their clothes or shoes dirty. They just immediately helped as if it was second nature.

Once we got my bike to a smooth surface, Jones tried starting the engine. It didn’t work. The front and rear taillight had broken off as well, along with parts of the body. Jones told me I was very lucky and he estimated the fall to be around 5 meters, which was close to my proximation.

Jones said we’d probably have to call a tow-truck to take the bike all the way back to Pokhara. This got me very disappointed and I asked if we could just take it to a local repair shop instead. He agreed to give it a shot. We hollered over a passing truck and they agreed to take us to a mechanic for a nominal fee. We got my bike strapped onto the back and off we went.


As I was riding in the truck, I got very disappointed in myself. I didn’t care that I crashed. I just didn’t want to stop. We spent about 45 minutes at the bike shop and grabbed some food. I wasn’t really hungry. I was just hoping they could fix the bike. I have this thing about me in which, if I start something, I have to finish it. If I had to take a tow-truck into town, that would mean I failed.

Fortunately, the mechanic was able to fix my bike. And, soon, we were on the road again. My hands felt sore and had tightened from my fall and my right knee hurt most. The whole time I was riding back to Pokhara I was thinking, Biting Through. I remembered the I Ching hexagram I had received before this trip and it reminded me to keep going thru obstacles. My bike’s headlight and taillight broke off but the bike was still operational and so was my body. We rode on for five more hours. I was surprised that I wasn’t more injured. Even without a bike, falling off a seventeen-foot rocky ridge can be dangerous.

About an hour before hitting Pokhara it started raining, raining hard. It’s impossible to keep it from entering your mouth if your lips are open. It feels like little needles are stabbing at your face as you’re riding fast. This was around 6PM. Our goal was to make it back to Pokhara before nightfall but it didn’t look likely. As I was strafing thru turns of wet pavement, I began thinking about what Nate had posted on my Facebook. He wrote, “Don’t eat shit like you did in Thailand bro.”

In Thailand, on a scooter, I had taken a pretty slick crash in the rain when turning a corner downhill. I slid for about fifty feet. As I was riding now, I told myself, “Thailand is not going to happen. You are not going to fall. Biting Through.” The rain was pouring down hard and I could feel between the open space of my shirt and my jacket a puddle forming around my waist. And, sure enough, it soon turned dark and now I’m riding without any lights in the rain, doing my best to follow Jones’ trail in front of me. He was riding faster so we could get home quicker. But I’m trying to ride slow cause I can’t see anything in front of me. It’s tricky because there are a number of potholes on the road and you can’t see them without light. Add in the rain and you can easily slip. Plus, due to the rain, it makes it hard for oncoming vehicles to see me while their lights blind my vision momentarily. We’re riding on a narrow two-lane road. This experience may not have been difficult for a more advanced rider, but this is just my fifth day motorcycling. It makes for a unique memory; one I know I’ll never forget.

Once we finally got into town, my bike ended up stalling. I ran out of gas, one moment getting more surreal than the next. Fortunately the gas station was only a hundred feet away so it wasn’t bad. As I’m on my bike, using my feet to push it forward to get to the gas station, I’m stepping in mounds of water ankle high. My boots are literally soaked with water and each kick I make with my right leg hurts cause of my knee injury.

Once we got into town, it wasn’t as bad not having headlights cause the lights from the stores helps you see the road. And, literally, after five minutes of finally arriving to Jones’ bike shop, the rain stopped. What dumb luck.



Shiva, Jones’ employee, offered to take me to the hospital after seeing my back. I told her it’s okay. She insisted that I at least go to a pharmacy to get some medicine. I didn’t really feel too hurt, except my knee.

Once I got to my hotel, I realized my room is on the top floor. There’s no elevator. Fuck. “Biting Through,” I said to myself as I slowly took one step after another and crept up to the sixth floor.

It wasn’t until I was in the shower that I finally saw the extent of my injuries. I started counting how many bruises I had and once I hit the number twenty I stopped counting after that. Some of these bruises are large, seven of them the size of my fist or bigger. I thought to myself, “Ahh yea… now it looks like I rode off a cliff.”


Legs and back.

Nothing too terrible though. My only sense of regret is that I wanted to go canyoning in two days. Canyoning is an activity in which you slide and rope down waterfalls. I’m also supposed to go on a kayaking trip in a few days. I’m not sure if my body will have enough mobility by then. We’ll see.

5/11  10:12PM

I spent the 9th in my room resting during the daytime. For dinner I wanted to treat Jones and Shiva to a meal. Jones couldn’t make it cause he was busy so it was just Shiva and me. It turns out its her birthday. We had an enjoyable meal outdoors by the lake and I ordered about five entrees and appetizers out of curiosity. It’s her birthday and I figure it’s important to celebrate these occasions. She barely eats though. The hummus and chicken curry were the most delicious in my opinion, along with my Chimay beer. As we were eating, Shiva told me she used to watch Korean soap opera’s in her late teens. She laughed in amusement, surprised that now she’s sharing a meal sitting across from a Korean. Moments like these make life interesting. We had an enjoyable conversation.

On the 10th, I organized my plans for canyoning and ultralighting. I went canyoning today and will go ultralighting tomorrow. Two of the workers advised me against canyoning because of my condition, but I wanted to try it out.

I had to be ready by 6:00AM this morning. When I got ready I didn’t feel too bad. I tested my right knee and it felt good to start off with. But I’m still relying more on my left leg. You basically jump or rope down a variety of waterfalls. It’s pretty fun.


I was doing fine canyoning until I had to make my way down this waterfall.


While stepping down, my knee buckled and I couldn’t move it without feeling pain. It was the same knee as the bike accident, on the right side. I had to slide down the waterfall as a result.

It was a strange sensation. While making my way down, I was using my mind to tell my right knee to extend so I could put some weight on it to get down more easily. However, my knee did not listen. Literally, it would not move. That’s the first time a body part has not listened to me before. Very strange. It’s like the nerves in my knee knew to stop moving and were overriding the signals sent from my brain.

To make matters worse, once I finally made it down the waterfall, my knee buckled again. While I was walking down a ledge of rocks to get to the next waterfall, my knee collapsed and completely lost power, causing me to slide down a rocky slope for about 60 feet. As I was tumbling, I grabbed onto some branches sticking out of the ground with my left hand but they broke off too. Fortunately, my right leg got tangled in some vines and, together, the branches and vines helped break my fall into a mound of rocks. I basically went canyoning without the water or ropes on that fall. It was quite the unexpected tumble.

Right now, my body is fine. Everything feels okay except the pain in my chest from my first bike fall when I broke off the clutch. My chest pain is back in full force. I think grabbing the branches with my left hand as I was falling hyperextended whatever is damaged in my chest. If I sneeze or breathe through my nose, my chest hurts (especially the left side). This trip is fucking me up. I continued canyoning though.


More than anything else, this experience served as a mental challenge. On the one hand, you don’t want to overexert your body. On the other, you don’t want to quit. It’s a delicate balance. I didn’t enjoy this activity as much as I could have. Canyoning is a safe activity in itself, my body just wasn’t up to it cause of my knee.

To make matters worse, I’m also dealing with stress from the banks. I went to an ATM machine two days ago to withdraw $350 but no money came out. I received a receipt but no money. The canyoning company said they would take care of this issue but they never did. To make matters even worser, today I lost that ATM card. To top it off, my American ATM card isn’t working either. Whenever I travel, Bank of America never ceases to make it an exasperating experience for me. When they’re not shutting down your transactions, they tell you you’re using the incorrect pin number when this is not possible.

Tomorrow is another busy day. I am going ultralighting at 7:00AM. I’ll explain what that means later.

My back after canyoning:


5/12  12:49PM

This is ultralighting:


It was a fun flight and it’s cold up in the mountainous regions. You’re flying at around 10,000 meters I believe. It’s a breathtaking experience, which is good for me cause it still hurts to breathe. My chest pain got worse overnight. Still was a good experience.


Here is the one-hour flight path we went on for those interested. We’re flying by the Himalayas, notably passing by Mt. Fishtail:


Bottom picture is an image of the pilot and Pokhara Stupa.

My chest pain is on the left side, my back pain on the right. When I woke up this morning, I didn’t know which side of the bed I wanted to get up from because both sides hurt, along with my right knee.

Afterwards, I headed out to the bank to retrieve the $350 I was never given. This took about thirty minutes. As the manager was dealing with my paperwork, an employee happened to walk by him and he had my Korean ATM card in his hand. I was shocked. I told him, “Hey, that’s my card!” He told me what happened was that my card got stuck yesterday in a machine. I just wasn’t aware of it after I had taken the cash out. I’m very absent-minded. Yesterday, I received my cash but not my card from the ATM. Two days ago, I got my card but not my cash. It was the same ATM machine. It’s fucking with me. After I got my card back I felt relieved but this led to another issue.

Now I had to call my Korean bank to reactivate my card. It’s not a difficult process except for one problem. My Korean speaking abilities are horrendous. I had this back-and-forth chat for twenty minutes with a bank employee and it’s like we’re playing a guessing game. She couldn’t understand what I needed and I couldn’t understand her explanation. We first started our conversation in English. That led nowhere. I then used my broken Korean and she began piecing together my intentions. Now I have finally reactivated my card, a card I hadn’t even really lost in the first place. My chest still hurts. I want to lie down but it’s difficult. It’s been a long day and it’s not even 1:00PM yet. It never ceases to amaze me how my vacations often turn out much more difficult than my job. At work, I rarely ever encounter difficulties. I enjoy my job. My vacations on the other hand — due to my haphazard and absentminded nature — become quite difficult to bear at times. I lose stuff frequently and get injured often.

On a down note, I cannot go on my kayaking trip tomorrow. I wanted to go on a three-day trip but it is not possible with my chest pain. I can’t move my left hand above my ribs. There’s this sharp pain in my chest cavity when I try holding that hand up. Plus, the wound on my back could get contaminated from the river water. That seemed like the bigger concern to the Paddle Nepal team. On a positive note, I ate lunch today with one of the managers of the hotel I’m staying at and he told me he’ll reduce the price of my stay to $20 a night. I have the best room in the hotel with the nicest view and that’s a bargain rate. You win some. You lose some.

On another note, let me provide some clarification to those of you who may not understand why I do what I do. Though I can understand the sentiment of those who may question me and think it foolish that I continued biking or went canyoning after going thru my falls, here’s an explanation for why I keep going. It’s not so much because I enjoy motorcycling or really want to go canyoning. I don’t care much for either activity.

To provide better context, what I observe about others is that when they quit something in one aspect of their life, this makes it much more likely they won’t follow through in other areas as well. Does this make sense? In other words, when they face another future unrelated difficulty, their natural inclination will be to quit because it’s become habit for them. For me, before heading to Nepal, it was a goal of mine to complete a rugged biking trip and go off-roading. I didn’t care for how many days; I just wanted to do it. If I had given up after my fall, however, then this means I would have failed in accomplishing my goal. I don’t want to make it habit forming for me to not complete my objectives. So I knew I had to ride on.

By finishing my biking trip, this makes it much more likely that the next time I encounter a challenging scenario — be it physical or mental — I’ll likely complete that as well. That’s also why I continued canyoning. It’s become habit forming for me to accomplish what I set out to do because that’s what my past experience has taught me. To keep going. Make sense? If I am physically able, I will do it.

In life, there’s no such thing as an isolated incident. One experience always sets up the next one. Hence, if there’s anything you can take away from reading this short excerpt, I strongly urge you to follow through on whatever goals you have. If you set your mind to do something, then do it. No excuses. Even if it’s something as simple as doing ten push-ups a day, if that’s what you said you would do, then do it. That experience will carry you into the next one. And, soon, you will become a man (or woman) of your word. People respect those who follow through. And life — when it comes down to it — is all about following through.

In life, nothing occurs in a vacuum. One failure always leads to the next one. One achievement always sets up the next one. Patterns always repeat in cycles. Life is habit.

So make sure to follow through. And don’t complain.

5/14  8:54PM

I’ve been spending the past few days recuperating. I went to Jones’ store yesterday and had a chat with a few ladies there. The lady who works at the masseuse store told me of a Nepali saying. After she heard of my fall and how I left it mostly unscathed, she said that for people like me who encounter danger but don’t get hurt, we’re not going to die easily. My friend, Jerry, texted me something similar. He told me I’m too stubborn to die.

I don’t want to test their statements, but in my heart, I feel something similar. Even after the fall or when the rain was pouring as I was riding back into town at night with no headlights, I never felt a sense that I was in any danger. I feel that when it is my time to go, I will go. Until then I’m going to continue pushing myself to make the most of my life. Though I’ve traveled a lot, I feel there is still much I have to learn about the world. In this regard, I feel like a teenager who has yet to fully explore his curiosities. Since I am still relatively young and healthy, I will spend these next few years traveling. Then, when I am old, I will have many stories to reflect upon and will be better able to educate young people. I know I can’t travel like this when I’m old. My body will be too frail. So I must cease these moments now.

After talking with the ladies yesterday, I walked south of the lakeside street only to hear a procession of instruments and chanting. I asked one of the waiters of a restaurant what the commotion was about and he told me there was a wedding going on.


When I travel I engage in lots of conversations with locals. They could be a waiter, a stranger, a tour operator; I don’t care. Sometimes, we’ll talk for hours even though I just met them. I like to talk. That’s how I learn. I don’t like learning from reading or watching other people do stuff. I have to be engaged to learn. And when I’m most engaged is when I’m having conversation.

The gusts of wind are strong in Nepal. Now I understand why there were so many rocks on the rooftops of the shaggy buildings when I first got here. The winds blow very strongly and heavily. You’ll see trees twenty-feet tall blowing at right angles from the wind. The rocks are necessary to hold the tin roofs in place.

Today, I didn’t do much. I looked into hotels to stay at in Kathmandu and I have to buy my plane ticket there soon. I plan on heading there two days from now. Jones was supposed to call his agent today to book me a ticket but I think he’s either forgotten or gotten lazy. I don’t like that. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Keep your fucking word.

I stopped by an orphanage today. It’s run by the owner of a restaurant here. Though I haven’t met the man, it’s great to hear stories like this of people helping others. The orphanage houses forty-two kids and they appear healthy. I gave them some of the extra shirts I had packed.

Some new, Some old, All fresh.

Some new, Some old, All fresh.

Afterwards, I went to get a haircut. The barber only uses scissors and a razor, no electric clippers. The haircut wasn’t bad. The guy who cut my hair operates out of a store the size of an American closet. He’s been cutting hair since he was thirteen. Now he’s twenty-six. He found his career young. He used to cut hair back in his village but he said it’s too poor so he moved out here. He’s a friendly fellow and greets people passing by, offering them a shave or a haircut.


I’m starting to get accustomed to this town. In random places, people are starting to recognize me and they’ll honk their horns as they see me walking by on the street. I like that feeling. Two weeks ago I was a stranger in a strange land. Now I know where the good restaurants are and I have people here to call my friends. In every neighborhood, regardless of the country, things tend to operate similarly.

Here’s a picture of my favorite restaurant so far:


Aankhi Jhyal Restaurant. Table for one. Below picture is the outside patio, chicken and curry dish.

Tomorrow I will go paragliding. I can’t run yet and my right knee and chest still hurt. But paragliding looks tame compared to what I’ve gone through so far.

5/16  3:27AM

I woke up today to go paragliding at 11:00AM.


It was a greater thrill than I expected. Also comfortable. You sit back in this seat and are buckled in. It’s akin to taking a seat on a spinning swing at a carnival if you know what I’m talking about. It kind of feels like that except you’re around 5000 feet in the air. I asked her to take me as high as she could.


When you’re up high, the other paraglide’s look like little bugs you’d squish. We also did a maneuver in which you pull down the chute on one side. This causes you to start spinning in circles. It gets dizzying. The weather conditions were windy so the paraglide speed was fast. It feels like you’re on a rollercoaster in the air. I think this experience is more memorable than ultralighting. But that’s just me. I like doing adventurous stuff. Paragliding is also cheaper too. It cost around $85 to paraglide for half an hour while an hour ultralighting cost $230. That’s with a 20% discount. Ultralighting isn’t cheap.

I was feeling a little motion sickness in the air while paragliding. My stomach’s still adjusting to life in Nepal and paragliding didn’t help the cause. Overall, it was a unique experience and I’d recommend everyone to try it at least once just for the experience. It’s a very safe ride and you don’t have to be in great physical condition or anything.

After paragliding, I went back to the Avia Club offices and hung out with the local staff for thirty minutes. We engaged in some playful banter.

Demanding a discount.

Demanding a discount.

Nepalese people are very friendly and easy to talk to. They have genuine smiles. I then went back to my hotel to rest. Since today was my last day I wanted to take a walk around the lake. The sky was overcast and the mood relatively calm. I then went to a restaurant called Chilly’s to grab a mango smoothie. The owner of Chilly’s runs the orphanage I stopped by earlier. It started pouring rain while I was here.


The rain comes hard and fast. I don’t know if it’s due to the rain, the mud, or Pokhara’s sewage system — probably a combination of all — but the rain turns into a river on the streets within minutes, very quickly. It reminded me of my motorcycle ride back into town a few days ago. The conditions were much worse than this. What a ride.

After the rain ceased, I dropped by the Northface store. It looked like an authentic store. Why I say this is because the streets are filled with vendors who sell fake merchandise. This store stood out on Lakeside road as the only one that looks real. And it is. I asked the workers how they feel about all the fake merchandise sold on the streets. Surprisingly, they said they didn’t mind and they support the vendors. One of the workers said that if the government kicked those people off the streets, then how could they survive? He even went so far as saying that if this Northface shop closes down it’s no problem, only four or five workers will suffer. However, if all the fake vendors were out of a job then this would lead to thousands suffering. He made a reasonable argument that I couldn’t disagree with. But it made me think, “Who would buy the real stuff when the fake stuff is sold at a tenth of the price next door?” I asked the two workers how business was doing and they responded, “Not so well.” It makes sense. I spent about thirty minutes in the store and in that time I only saw two other customers breeze through. They bought nothing. The owner of the store is Nepalese. He wasn’t present but I thought I should support these guys so I went ahead and made a small purchase:



Got me a beanie. It cost $30. Out on the streets you can buy a backpack, jacket, or pants for that price, all with the same Northface logo. Funny world we live in.

I then stopped by the motorcycle shop to say goodbye to everyone. Jones wasn’t there but Shiva and a few of the other girls were. We chatted for an hour. Afterwards, I took one last look at my bike…

Can't believe I fell 17-feet. What a drop.

Can’t believe I fell 17-feet. What a drop.

I finished packing my things and now I’m ready to leave. The staff at Family Home Hotel is very kind but I suggested one thing to them after an employee asked me what he thinks of the hotel. I replied, “The place needs a women’s touch.” You can tell this hotel is run by a group of guys in their mid-twenties because it’s styled that way. It’s not dirty or messy. They have workers here to clean the place. The place just lacks décor. There’s nothing in the lobby or your room to suggest that you’re vacationing in Pokhara, next to a giant lake, the Himalayas, paragliding, ultralighting, canyoning, kayaking, and motorcycling. They need paintings or pictures on these walls to add some color. It would brighten up the place a lot. But for $20 a night in a comfortable room with balcony view I can’t complain. The guys here are cool and they hook it up.

Tomorrow it’s off to Kathmandu. I have a 9:20AM flight. I don’t think I’m going to sleep much.

5/17  2:06AM

It was a long day. I’ve slept six hours total the past two nights. It’s difficult for me to sleep early. Today was filled with activities. At the airport this morning I was browsing thru Reddit and saw two links on the front page that caught my eye. The first was about how young people today feel they have nothing to live for. The second link discussed how crime rates have dropped 45% in America since 1990, yet incarceration rates have risen 222% within that same timespan. In discussing the former link, I think it is important for young people to understand that in life you have to create the meaning. Don’t expect the world to hand you purpose. It’s on you to find it. That’s what makes it meaningful. As for the latter link, this is a much more difficult quandary to bear. America houses the most prisoners per capita in the world and due to the privatization of prisons it looks like things are only going to get worse. Regardless, it’s on us as individuals to create change and spur progress.

Once I arrived in Kathmandu, I stayed at a place called Friend’s Home. I found the name appropriate since I stayed at Family Home in Pokhara. Friend’s Home was ranked very high on TripAdvisor.com as well. When I called their reception desk the previous day, however, they told me they had no rooms available. Yet it stated on TripAdvisor.com that there were still rooms. So I went ahead and booked a room online yesterday. And, sure enough, I got a room once I arrived in Kathmandu. I ran into a similar problem when I was in Kyoto last year, only the situation was reversed. It said online there were no rooms available, however, once I walked directly into the hotel I got a room. Things can sometimes appear fuzzy. Due to this, when trying to solve a problem approach it from multiple fronts. That’s one thing traveling on the spur of the moment has taught me. Another tactic that works well is that I always check out the price of a hotel room online first. I then physically walk into the hotel to see what the rates are. Sometimes, these two prices will differ by a large margin so it’s best to proceed accordingly.

At around 2:00PM, I left my hotel to check out the sites of Kathmandu. It was a busy day. I first walked to the Garden of Dreams, which is located nearby my hotel. It has a tranquil atmosphere which is a nice contrast to the chaos of Kathmandu.


Dotting around the place you can spot several couples here sharing a romantic afternoon, doing the types of things I never did with my girlfriends when I was younger.

The street traffic here is chaotic. You drive past a sea of motorbikes, people, cars, cattle, whatever, amidst a constant vacuum of honking. My taxi driver had one hand on the wheel and the other on his horn. The vehicles here don’t go through smog checks, making the streets smell like a gas station. My second destination was to Basantapur. It’s also called Hanumandhoka Durbar Square. I don’t know the difference between the two names. You pay $7.50 to get in but locals don’t pay anything. They just walk in and you see them hanging around, sitting on the steps everywhere. It makes for a unique scene, one that doesn’t make this place feel so antique even though the architecture here is centuries old.

IMG_2173While walking around I saw a director filming a fight scene for a movie as onlookers watched.

fight scene

Also saw this interesting statue. My oldest brother is into these types of designs so it caught my attention. Strange how things that aren’t correlated remind you of each other.


The next spot I headed to was Swayambhu. It’s a Buddhist temple of sorts and located below it is a monkey pond. You’ll see monkey after monkey jumping into the pond. The more adventurous ones jump from the top while the less daring jump from the bottom. It cost only $2 to enter here.


At the top of the monkey pond is this temple head and viewpoint.


Keep your eyes to the horizon young fellas.

My cabdriver told me he’d meet here at 4:00PM but he wasn’t around so I rode with another guy. He was a nice fellow. I headed east to make my way to Bouddhanath Stupa. It was similar to Swayambhu but bigger. The locals here walk around the center monument clockwise as they engage in prayer. The cost is only $1.50 to enter.


Buddhists passing by will inhale the incest billowing from that bowl. Guessing it provides good luck.

As I was making my way around this monument, a female caught my eye from above. She was looking out a window for several minutes, gazing not so much below but more at the horizon. She stood out amidst the sea of people talking and walking around, standing motionless above the chaos. For some reason, I felt compelled to take her picture. She held a furtive glance, one in which holds secrets I’ll never know.


At the advice of my cabdriver, he told me to check out Pashupatinath Temple. In contrast to the previous two places, this place is Hindu. It serves as a funeral grounds in which they burn the dead. Here, you see Holy Men practicing their rituals and families are gathered to pay homage to the dead. Of all the places so far, this place was the most fascinating. This surprised me because on TripAdvisor Bouddhanath and Swayambhu were ranked as the #1 and #2 of attractions to see in Kathmandu, with thousands of votes. Though those places were unique, I found Basantapur and Pashupatinath Temple far more interesting. I think the reason behind these rankings is because Bouddhanath and Swayambhu are both only around $2 to enter whereas Basantapur cost $7.50 and Pashupatinath $10. Due to the slightly higher prices, I think this drives many travelers away from visiting these spots. It’s the only reason why I could fathom that the latter two places didn’t get as many votes on TripAdvisor.

Though it may not sound logical, I’ve seen this type of situation occur time and time again when traveling. People will spend thousands of dollars on booking a plane ticket and hotels, yet when it comes to spending a few more dollars on going sightseeing or engaging in activities, they’ll all of a sudden go cheap. Here’s my take on traveling: either go all the way or don’t go at all. There’s no point in trying to save a few dollars here and there. It’s not worth the money and time you’re spending. You’re going to go back home with bad memories if you view everything from a financial angle. I encountered this type of issue last year when I went scuba diving in Sipidan. It’s considered one of the best spots in the world for diving, but it costs around $100 a day for the permit. The Malaysian government only authorizes 35 diving permits a day, giving you an idea of how exclusive it is. They want to keep the coral reefs pristine. Depending on the hotel you’re staying at, they might charge you more as well. This group of tourists I encountered didn’t want to spend that extra cash for the permit so they just went diving off of Mabul Island instead to save that $100. Mabul is nice but in no shape or form can it compare to Sipidan, where you swim amongst thousands of jackfish and barracuda, turtles and sharks. It’s like a tourist booking a plane ticket to California and staying in Riverside because the hotels in Hollywood are too expensive. Doesn’t make sense. As I said previously, either go all the way or don’t go at all. The middle path is for cowards.

At Pashupatinath, you’ll see guys shaving their heads. A local worker told me they do it to honor the deceased. After burning the dead, they then go off to this room located in Pashupatinath and stay there for thirteen days mourning the dead.



The right picture is a view opposite of the pyres, in which onlookers gaze with their still mortal thoughts.

As you walk around, you’ll see the occasional Holy Man. These men are responsible for performing funeral rites. They have no friends or family members. Some of them look very otherworldly.


That picture on the bottom left is my favorite photo of this trip thus far. The holy man looks ethereal, as if he’s transcended human form and turned to a painting; toeing the fine line between the real and surreal. The picture to the right is inside a room of Holy Men. The fire is kept lit 24/7 and the sticks are used to conduct funeral rites to burn the dead. If you look two photos above at the man dressed in white you can see what I mean.

When I got back to my hotel, I reached into my pocket only to discover I lost my last $30. I was saving this money for dinner tonight. While chatting with the hotel staff, the owner walked by and told me not to worry about dinner. It’s on him. What a cool guy. He gave me a free beer too. In this regard, one thing I realize about myself is that I’m a very lucky unlucky person. I lost my cash but got a free dinner. I rode off a seventeen-foot rocky ledge but didn’t get seriously injured. I got charged $350 at an ATM without receiving my cash and lost my card only to go to the bank to see a worker holding my card in his hand when I got there. My life is full of ups and downs. I’m rarely steady.

While eating dinner, an Irish female passed by and invited me to join her and her two friends for drinks later. Why not? So I went.


Riding on a rickshaw heading to a club.

It was a random night as I perused through the local hotspots in Kathmandu on a Friday night. We ended up checking out three spots, one of them a gay club. The drinks are relatively cheap and the bars have a Southeast Asia feel to them, albeit with less people.

By 1:00AM, the girl who invited me out was feeling too drunk and wanted to go home. She also got into an argument with a European guy who, in my opinion, wasn’t really being rude. Since I was seated with three females, these two guys asked if they could join our table. I didn’t mind. Then, out of nowhere, an argument breaks out between her and one of the guys. She went off on him as he just sat there taking it. I found it amusing. We called it a night soon after and got into a cab only to realize the cabdriver doesn’t know where our hotel is. None of us have maps. We tried speaking to the cabdriver but he doesn’t understand English. It took him over thirty minutes to finally find our hotel. While we were in the cab the girls started getting hungry. None of the spots we passed by were open though. It was a random clusterfuck of an evening. Tis the life of a backpacker.

I can’t believe I’m flying out to Tibet tomorrow.

5/17  5:29PM

I’m in Tibet now. The plane ride only took an hour but Tibet is three hours ahead of Nepal in time. Here’s a view from my plane of the Himalayas.


And here’s a view of my police ID once I entered the Lhasa Airport. Nice to know.


After I exited customs, my guide greeted me at the airport. I thought I was going on this trip solo but another traveler is with me as well. She’s a female from Sweden on her gap year. She’s quiet but congenial. We traveled along a new road that opened in 2011 to get to our hotel.


Tibet isn’t what you’d expect it to be like from the airport. The roads are newly paved and there’s lots of development going on. From what my guide told me, China’s dumping billions of dollars into its development. Our guide, Dharma, shared with us a bit about Tibet’s history and also his own. According to him, in the 1950s Mao took Tibet for China under the pretense of friendship when he was really after Tibet’s resources. Because the Chinese were subjugating Tibetans, many took off to India for sanctuary. India granted free land and education to Tibetan immigrants. However, India is in a precarious situation itself because its government doesn’t want to upset relations with China. These protests are still ongoing to this day. Dharma’s an interesting figure, Tibetan by blood and around his early thirties. He spent his twenties in India, looks clean-cut and westernized in appearance, and his English is fluent. A few years ago, Dharma spent a year in jail for wearing a ‘Free Tibet’ shirt while protesting. Upon release, Chinese spies monitored him for three years. In 2008, Chinese authorities placed security cameras on top of Tibetan buildings to monitor activities here in general.

5/18  11:51PM

The hotel is nicer than I expected it. After arriving yesterday I ate a meal at the restaurant here. It was very, very salty, like eating a meal of food-flavored salt. I was surprised because the food in Nepal was delicious. I ate a banana afterwards to rid the salty aftertaste in my mouth.

Afterwards, I took a leisurely stroll around the streets. I thought I would need to be with my guide at all times if I wanted to walk around but the law, at least in this regard, isn’t as strict as I imagined. The streets here really feel foreign and there isn’t much written in English. The architecture of these buildings is different as well.


A day in the life..

As I was walking, it finally struck me I’m in Tibet. It felt so foreign as I asked myself, “What the fuck am I doing here?” It’s the first time in several years in which I actually felt like a foreigner in a country. Much of the world is pretty westernized by now. Tibet still has lots of its historical legacy intact and there is hardly much English written on any signs. I did walk by a couple giant department stores as I got closer to the city center though. They have a very 1980s feel to them.

While strolling through town I came upon this sight:



I had no idea it was only a fifteen-minute walk from my hotel. It’s the highest ancient palace in the world, with over 1,000 rooms and 200,000 statues. The Dalai Llama used to live here until he fled to India during the 1959 Tibetan uprising. I had read briefly about Potala Palace on the web before flying into Tibet. It was very surreal stumbling upon it now that I’m here. I enjoyed a leisurely two-hour stroll around the palace. It was great being by myself to check out the place. I like traveling alone.


View from the opposite side.

As I was making my way around, I came upon the sight of these two young men who would take three steps, then kneel down in prayer. I watched them for about 10 minutes repeat this sequence and was amazed by their spiritual devotion. I’m assuming they’ll do this the entire way around the palace. It must take a few hours. You’ll see many Buddhists kneeling in prayer around here. I’ve never seen anything like this before so it leaves an impression.


Two teens to the right.

I ate dinner at a random restaurant nearby the palace once it started getting dark. The food was again very salty. Afterwards, I took a rickshaw back to my hotel at a little past 8:00PM. Our guide is chill and didn’t explain much to me when I arrived here. All I know is that there will be three more travelers joining us tomorrow.

On a side note, this morning I woke up with incredible back pain. I’m not sure if it’s due to a combination of the altitude and my motorcycle injury, but my back was in intense pain, pain I’ve never felt before. Usually when my back aches it’s relegated to a particular location. This morning, from my shoulders to my lower back, everything was stiff. I couldn’t believe it. It’s like I woke up to find a piece of wood attached to my back. That’s how stiff it was.

5/19  Time Uncertain

Today was our first day of actual sightseeing as a group. We hopped into a shitty van and made our way to the Jokhang Temple. It was built in the 7th century. There are many Buddhist journeymen here fulfilling their spiritual quest as they pray before entering Jokhang’s doors.


Most of them come from China or India and some will stay here for up to a year on their pilgrimage. Jokhang Temple is particularly important to Chinese Buddhists because it was built for the Chinese Princess Wencheng. It was also built in part for Nepalese Princess Bhrikuti. The temple has survived several raids by the Mongols and also attempts by the Red Guards to destroy it during China’s cultural revolution in the 1960s. What makes this temple unique is that it was built atop a lake. Though it’s hot outside, the temple is naturally well ventilated and was constructed very well. No pictures are to be taken once inside.


Jokhang Temple rooftop view

After this temple, we headed out to Potala Palace. This time we headed inside. You climb several stairways to get to this point.


Upon climbing, you feel the altitude hit you as you start gasping for air. We’ve done a lot of walking today. No pictures are to be taken inside here as well, but I did take a photo of a centuries old toilet they used back in the day:


Found this amusing.

And here is a photo of a monk handing some cash to an impoverished child outside the Potala Palace.


We can all use a little help.

Afterwards, we headed to a park which was empty and serene.


By this point the group was tired. We had done nine hours of sightseeing today. My personal preference is to not travel in organized tours. It was good meeting the other individuals though. There are five of us total, all traveling solo. What you realize about going to obscure destinations is that you meet people from diverse walks of life who share a personal history as eclectic as yours. It makes sense though. After all, only atypical individuals would travel solo to a place like Tibet.

The most conventional individual in our group is the British guy. He’s in his late twenties and has lived in the southeast of China for the past three years. He works in the shoe industry designing lasts and wanted to take a road trip thru China before moving back to England. Jameson has a more conservative mindset than the rest of us and, overall, he’s had a great many difficulties adjusting to working in China. He says the Chinese lie and cheat constantly. I’ve heard this said about living in China from other people so I don’t question his experiences. At the same time, I also wonder if his attitude may be contributing to his problems living here.

In contrast to Jameson is Samuel. He’s been in China for three months now and loves his experience so far. He’s from Columbia and, of all things, he’s an acupuncturist back home. So it makes sense why he would like China. Samuel says his experience with the Chinese has been hospitable and they’re glad to help. It’s interesting to hear their divergent opinions. At the same time, working in China as Jameson has must be an entirely different experience than just traveling thru as Samuel has.

The fourth member of our crew is Chaver. While the other guys are around my age, Chaver is in his forties and from Israel. He has a very interesting personal history and has dabbled in shamanism due to his experiences with ayahuesca. He’s lived in South America before and has a doctorate degree, but I forget for what. Of all the individuals so far he strikes me as the most interesting. I plan on going to South America within the next few years to try ayaheusca myself. In this regard, we must be quite likeminded to wish to engage in these types of experiences.

The last member of our group is the youngest. Her name’s Anska and she’s from Sweden. Out of all of us, she’s the most adventurous I’d have to surmise. Only nineteen, yet out traveling the world on her own. That’s amazing. When traveling, the people I tend to find the most laid back and sincere are Scandinavians. Though private in nature, they possess a warmth and calm demeanor to them that is often lacking among other nationalities. This is just my opinion.

We all add our own bit of color to the group and it’ll be interesting to see how our journey unfolds since we’ll be spending so much time together in the upcoming week. Out of courtesy, I will not include any pictures of them in this blog. They may not want the attention.

5/20  Time Uncertain

Today we visited the Drepung (founded in 1416) and Sera Monastery (1419), both of which are located in Lhasa (where I flew in). At the Drepung Monastery pictures are allowed to be taken inside and I have uploaded several below so you can get a better idea of how the inside of these places looks like. For simple living, there sure are lots of golden statues lying around, very ornate and colorful.


These ward off negative spirits.

These ward off negative spirits.


Walls and tupperware.


In the 1930s over 7,000 monks lived here, but this place has lost some of its spiritual allure & independence since its under heavy Chinese surveillance. As recently as 2008, Drepung was shutdown due to monk-led protests.


Outside Drepung Monastery.

After visiting Drepung, we headed over to Sera Monastery. Here it’s notable because you see monks engaging in lively debate and discourse in the courtyard as they slap their hands together and stomp their feet to make their point. The monks roam around posing questions to each other and they have to defend their arguments, each physical gesture signifying a specific point according to their rules of engagement. It was fascinating to watch, simply for the fact that you have no idea what they’re talking about and can only guess.


Where once roamed over 5,000 monks in the early half of the 20th century, the streets are now spare with only around 300 currently residing here. The 1959 Tibetan uprising against the Communist government left hundreds dead here and the monastery was almost beyond repair.

I would describe the two monasteries above in greater detail but cannot because I’m feeling nauseous. My stomach maladies are getting worse and I’m not sleeping much so it’s difficult to get the rest I need to allow my body to recuperate.

Only thing really notable is that Samuel shared with us his jail stories back home. I forget the details but he talked about the horrendous conditions of jails in Colombia while we were in the car. He’s a talkative individual.

Over lunch, instead of sitting next to the tourists, I was more interested in talking to Dharma. Our driver and him always sit at a different table from us when we eat. Since he’s the local here I was interested in hearing his stories. I like hanging out with locals when traveling. And Dharma indeed has some interesting stories. I asked him how it’s like working for a Tibetan tourist company and if he’s ever met any interesting travelers. He told me about how an Australian she-male tried hooking up with him while another time an Italian guy invited him to his room to hang out. When he got there, the guy was lying in bed naked so Dharma quickly got out. We laughed as he shared his stories. From what I can infer, he has an appetite for women and since he’s not a bad-looking guy, I don’t think he’d have much trouble hooking up with tourists. I asked him which girls he likes best and he told me the British. This is what I like about traveling. The more I travel the more I realize people are generally the same. We all have our idiosyncratic behaviors that make us unique. At the same time, we all possess similar drives as human beings. In my opinion, culture is surface level. Underneath it all, we share the same fundamental human elements.

To end the day, we stopped by the offices of Explore Tibet and got a view of the route we’re going to take in the next several days as we travel to Mount Everest base camp.


We are currently in Lhasa (northern part of map partially obscured by camera flash). Tomorrow we will make our way southwest to Shigatse, spend the night there, then head south to Everest Base Camp (EBC). Afterwards, we’ll spend another night in Shigatse before heading back to Lhasa. Along the way we’ll stop by various viewpoints and monasteries.

Once we got back to the hotel, while the others went to a cultural show in the evening, I stayed in because of stomach troubles. When I went out for a walk, I had a terrible steak for dinner. While in the hotel lobby around 9PM, I came across Chaver and we shared an intimate conversation about our past, mostly mine. I explained to him a bit about my background and what my future plans are. He told me he could sense I have a very stable demeanor, that I don’t get rattled easily. I think it’s because of the manner in which I speak. We had a good conversation, lasting a little over an hour.

5/21  10:03PM

My stomach is still upset. I woke up today and had to go to the toilet three times before heading out the door. Thankfully, when I’m out sightseeing or in the car I can control my bowel movements better. We met at 8:00AM today to head to the town of Shigatsae. It took us a 5-6 hour drive to get there. The drive wasn’t bad though because of the unique view of the hills, plants, and Yellow River rolling alongside you.


Upon arriving to Shigatse, we ate lunch and headed to a local monastery, Tashilhunpo.



The young man in the bottom corner appears to be having a rough day. Hope he learns to keep his smile as these elders have:


I can sense that the group is tiring of monasteries and wanting to see more natural stuff like glaciers, Everest, and lakes. So do I. Going around the monasteries the past three days made me feel like I was in Egypt again. You go from one monument to the next and, after awhile, they all begin looking the same to a foreigner. At first the experience is mesmerizing cause it’s new. But after walking into room after room seeing the same type of stuff the experience wears on you. You have to really be into history and culture to like this kind of stuff.

The group went out to eat dinner after but I didn’t join them. My stomach problems are in full force. Due to this, Samuel offered to treat me with acupuncture. I was surprised at how accurate he was in diagnosing my symptoms. He could tell just by looking at my tongue and feeling my pulse that I’ve had lower back pain, blurred vision, feelings of restlessness, and sinus issues. He charges $70 per session back in Colombia but he treated me for free. He’s a very eccentric individual and into Hindu, Buddhist, and astrological beliefs. Though I don’t have much knowledge in these fields, he appears like he knows what he’s doing. He also told me it’s likely I have parasites in my stomach and that my motorcycle fall has weakened my immune system, thereby making it difficult for me to combat these parasites.

This is what’s interesting about traveling. Never did I imagine beforehand that I would get acupuncture treatment by a Colombian on my trip to Tibet. We make for a motley crew. But it’s bound that you’re going to meet some interesting personalities on a trip to Tibet. After all, how many people would actually follow through on going on a solo trip like this? It takes an interesting personality and personal history to go out and do such things.

After receiving the acupuncture session, for the first time on my trip, I feel placid. My natural personality is very driven. Due to this, I tire myself quickly and rarely do I sleep deeply. Samuel’s treatment has really made my body and, perhaps more importantly, my mind, feel at ease. I am thankful.

5/22  Time Uncertain

My stomach issues are worsening. I mostly slept in the car as we made a ten-hour drive to Mount Everest. There are several governmental checkpoints on the way. Not wanting to have stomach troubles while driving, I skipped out on breakfast and lunch. All I’ve had for nourishment is liquor. I picked up a bottle of Glenfiddich back at duty free before flying into Tibet. My stomach pain is worse than experiencing my back and chest pain. Physical pain I can tolerate. Stomach issues are a different story. I’m in a foul mood but don’t want to bring bad vibes to the group. Every hour, we’re stopping by the road to take pictures. While I was taking a shit at a rest stop toilet (which is basically a hole in the ground) my toilet paper fell into the hole. Fuck! It was a 20-foot drop as I clung onto the end of my toilet paper and slowly dragged up whatever was left so I could finish wiping my ass. This experience reminded me of being in Mongolia. They have similar toilet systems out there and I was reminded of the story of my friend, Nate, taking a shit when a bird came flying up between his legs. Thinking of this story while I was pulling up the remnants of my toilet paper made me laugh. In any situation, you gotta find the humor. Makes life more enjoyable.

At another pit stop our driver rammed into my back while he was driving the van in reverse. It’s been one of those days for me.


Drive to Everest.

On a positive note, today we hung out at the highest monastery in the world and I got to drink tea with the local monks.


Rongbuk Monastery (16,340 ft). You climb up those ladder steps to make your way in.


Tea Time.

I also walked for about an hour towards Everest from its base camp.



We would have kept going but this Chinese Army Humvee stopped us, telling us we can’t go any further. They offered us a ride back down to base camp, which was pretty cool. I’ve never rode in a Humvee this size before. It’s huge and can fit around 20 people.


5/23  Time Uncertain

We spent the night in tents located at Everest Base Camp. They’re roomy in size and can comfortably fit seven people. Chavra couldn’t join us on our walk to Everest due to breathing difficulties. It can take awhile to acclimate being up here and he experienced altitude sickness. Our driver brought out the oxygen tank from our van to help him breathe. I tried it out afterwards to see how it feels. First time ever trying one and I didn’t really feel much of a difference. But I think you have to use it for a few minutes first.

Our tent.

Spending the night at Everest’s doorstep. Everything in Tibet is colorful.

Before we went to sleep, in the middle of the night, I experienced my own bout of dizziness. In the complete blackness of the tent, I started hallucinating. I couldn’t figure which way was up or down as my mind drifted in and out of reality. All of a sudden, I began having a panic attack. My chest caved in on me as I felt pain and was having trouble breathing. My chest still hurts. I felt like I was going to die. I wanted to scream and run out the tent. I knew I couldn’t do this though. Instead, I yelled at myself in my head, “Calm the fuck down! You’re not gonna trip out!” And slowly, after around fifteen minutes, my feelings of nausea began to drift and my mind stabilized. This experience is akin to having a bad trip on hallucinogens. While you’re having negative thoughts, there comes a certain point where you just have to snap yourself out of it.

We woke up at 6:00AM to start our day. I went out to take a piss. It was an odd feeling. As I’m taking a piss I’m staring up at Everest. After eating breakfast, it took us a ten-hour drive to get back to our hotel in Shigatsae. This is part of the reason why I don’t like organized tours. I would have preferred to spend another day at base camp or at least leave a few hours later. What’s the point of spending twenty hours driving both ways to get to Everest when we only spend a couple hours actually enjoying it? I dislike operating on a schedule.

Once we arrived at our hotel, Samuel provided me another acupuncture session in my room. While eating at a restaurant for dinner, Jameson started going off on the Chinese. He thinks the locals sitting at the table next to us are talking shit about us since we’re foreigners. It’s some funny shit. We had asked them what they were eating because their meal looked tasty but they ignored us. I don’t think it was personal, but more so they couldn’t understand what we meant. Either way, Jameson got upset.

This is what I’ve learned about any situation. Even if they did purposefully want us to fuck off, who really cares? If you allow others to upset you too easily, the only one who ends up the worst of it is you. Don’t allow any situation or person to mess with your mental frame. Like how I was experiencing diarrhea yesterday and had my toilet paper fall into a mound of shit below, you gotta find humor in the situation. Neither of these scenarios is something to really get mad about. This is what I think Chavra meant when he said I look like I have a stable disposition. I don’t allow things to bother me much unless I’m really being wronged. Then I react with vehemence. But, soon after, I let it go and I’m back to being who I am. Life is full of ups and downs. The only thing we can control is how we react to these situations.

5/25  2:24AM

Today was the best day so far of my stay in Tibet. One was because for the first time I did not experience any major stomach problems. In other words, no diarrhea. Yay. The other reason was because the weather was nice outside and it was a very scenic drive, probably the best I’ve experienced in my life. I wasn’t expecting the drive to be so majestic.

Our first stop was to the town of Gyantse, where around 8,000 people reside.


To the left is the town Kumbum, to the right fortress.


On the Kumbum. Behind me is a monastery.

Afterwards, we drove to Karola Glacier. It offers a spectacular view, the snow of the mountaintop clashing with the clouds above.


Pitstop before heading to the glacier.

As we drove back to Lhasa, we came across various checkpoints in which the Chinese government checks if we have the right permits. There’s also these plastic traffic cops to make sure we drive at a safe speed.


Our last stop was to Yamdrok Lake.

Dharma noticed a famous monk here. He has reached the 2nd highest level a monk can attain and offered me his blessings.

Dharma noticed a famous monk here. He has attained the 2nd highest level a monk can reach and offered me his blessings.

There were other various pitstops we made but the above spots were the most notable. As we were making our way back to Lhasa, somehow the conversation in the van geared towards me. They asked me various questions about my past and I told to them my goal is to be a writer. I also discussed my upcoming trip in which I plan to travel thru Africa and South America for a couple years. The group was overall supportive of my actions as I revealed to them some personal details about my past. They were also curious about my story. I explained to them it’s already written but I won’t publish it until I reach South America.

We had a dialogue covering various topics, ranging from gun violence in America to what will become of future Chinese and Western relations. Most of all, we just talked about traveling. It was a good conversation and my first time actually opening up to the group. I had been rather quiet the whole trip due to my stomach illness. Today was the most enjoyable day by far and I’m glad I got to reveal a little about myself to them. We had become a unit by now but, as things go in life, this unit will disband tomorrow.

Until then, we had one last dinner to share. For dinner, I recommended we eat at the place where we had lunch on the first day we met. The food at that restaurant was good. However, to my surprise, no one else remembered eating there, let alone where the restaurant was. We had only eaten there a few days ago but because we’ve done so many activities within that span of time the group had forgotten it. I remembered the restaurant however because it was the only meal I enjoyed in my first few days here.

It’s amazing what a road trip does to a group. Where once we were strangers, now we’re friends. Everyone has their role in the group and provides their own unique dynamic. I like observing group dynamics and how individuals affect each other. It’s interesting to watch the interplay unfold and the little jousting contests that sometimes occurs between newfound individuals. I also found out Chaver is gay. He has a child so I presumed he was straight. It turns out he had a child through artificial insemination. I was unaware of that. Whatever. All good.

Dharma wanted me to leave with Samuel at 9:30AM tomorrow but my flight’s not till 12:55PM. I do not want to wait at the airport that long so I pushed to have a different driver drop me off at the airport at 11:00AM. The tour company complied. I’m not sure if I’m acting like an ass but I believe I’m within my rights and I’ll leave a tip. Sometimes, all you have to do to get what you want in life is ask. At the same time, the group told me they’re meeting for breakfast tomorrow at 9:00AM. Waking up so early to meet them somewhat defeats the purpose of me asking to leave at 11:00AM. Whatever. All good.

I have four transfer flights tomorrow that will take me near 24 hours to complete before I reach my next destination: Boracay. I’m a bit concerned because the weather in Boracay may be rainy. Monsoon season arrives beginning in June in Boracay so I’ll be making my way right before it starts. I hope it doesn’t rain, at the same time, I’ll accept it if it does. I control what I can. I’m flexible about everything else.

Arriving back in Lhasa, we did a last bit of tourist shopping on the streets.


I rarely buy things for myself. I’m not into souvenirs because I frequently lose them. I treasure my memories more. I did buy a bunch of stuff for people back home though. I also got a free upgrade to a suite at our Lhasa hotel. Sweet.


5/25  8:59PM

Took this photo on the way to the airport. Goodbye Tibet. Don’t ever change.


Today has been the most frustrating day yet. I woke up at 9:20AM to say goodbye to the rest of the group. I then left at 11:00AM for the airport. A minor inconvenience was that Dharma forgot to give me my visa. This would serve as a harbinger of how this day would unfold for me. A day of blunders. Dharma told me it takes only an hour to get to the airport but it took me an hour and twenty minutes. The Lhasa airport has a policy in which you must arrive fifty minutes before your flight departure. My flight was at 12:55PM but I had arrived at 12:20PM.

To my frustration, the lady at the counter told me it’s too late to board my plane. I could understand if this was a busy airport but there’re probably only a 1000 people in the entire building. I have no check-in luggage. It’s a small airport. I knew I could make it on the plane if she just printed me my ticket. She told me to go speak with the Air China representatives. Upon arriving at the Air China counter, however, there were two guys eating who didn’t understand English. I can deal with the language barrier. I accept I’m in their country. The difficult thing to handle was their lack of concern whatsoever about my situation. I then spoke to a few other check-in attendees until one finally helped me out. Luckily, my flight got delayed so I was able to get onboard. We left a half-hour late. Throughout the entire experience I was doing my best to stay calm. I get volatile in these types of situations once I unleash my anger.

I flew into the city of Chengdu then had to transfer to Beijing. The flight to Beijing got delayed as well, by an hour. I’m starting to notice a pattern here. Air China reeks of incompetence. I arrived in Beijing at 7:40PM. My flight to Manila was at 8:00PM. There was no way I could board the flight. I try to be flexible in these types of situations and I’m glad I didn’t book a hotel in Boracay yet. The thing that upsets me most about today’s entire episode is how incompetently Air China is run. The staff lacks organization. A representative told me they could arrange a free hotel for me but she didn’t give me the name of the hotel or any idea of how I could arrange another plane ticket for Manila. She told me to follow one of their staff members outside. Upon following this guy for a few minutes, he looked like he had no clue what was going on. We also had a language barrier. I realized this was pointless so I went back to the Air China ticketing booth to get more information.

Unfortunately, there’s only one flight per day to Manila. It’s at 8:00PM everyday so I have to spend an entire 24 hours in Beijing. I have nothing against this city but I would much rather be on a plane to Manila right now. I also realized that now I have to cancel my ticket from Manila to Boracay. It was booked through a different company, Philippines Airlines. The lady at Air China told me that they would change my Boracay ticket for me so I won’t have to pay a penalty, yet she gave me no details on how she would go about doing this. When I asked her, she said, “When you arrive in Manila, look for an Air China employee.” That’s a very vague response. I then asked her if there’s a name of an employee I can contact to assist me once I arrive in Manila. She said she doesn’t know. At my request, she then provided me a voucher for a free plane ticket to Boracay. I’m a bit skeptical however. It’s mainly in Chinese and I have no idea what it says.

I could understand if this was a small operation, but this is Air China, one of the major airlines of the most populated country in the world. I was befuddled by how haphazardly it was run. I’ve traveled quite a bit through developing nations, yet never have I encountered such incompetency. It’s one thing if the employees showed they at least cared or were trying to help you. There’s a sincere lack of professionalism here. Upon arriving at the hotel, there was a group of twenty of us that had delayed flights. I was surprised there were so many of us. I asked the hotel manager if Air China experiences frequent flight delays, and she responded with a nervous smile as she nodded, signaling, “Yes, they do.” She then told me that I would have to share my room with another individual who had missed his flight as well. This got me outraged. It was Air China’s fault I missed my transfer to Manila, and then they go about making up for this by having their customer share a room with a stranger? How cheap is that? They offered no compensation for my wasted time.

I’m now in my room. There’s no one else here and I don’t have to share it. The room has a foul cigarette odor. No one either at the hotel or at Air China seems like they have any idea what’s going on. This hotel doesn’t even have any tourist maps of Beijing I can peruse. When organizations are run this poorly, it usually starts at the top. The employees of Air China lack accountability, both here in Beijing and also in Lhasa. I can better understand now Jameson’s perspective and why he holds the negative views he does about working in China.

Having said all this, I am just one person and maybe this was a bad day at Air China. I don’t know what to make of the situation and I try not to blame others. Yet, I would have to say this may be the worst experience I’ve ever encountered with a company. I can deal with physical pain, tolerate stomach illness, yet one thing I cannot stand is incompetency.

This is my situation however. I don’t know what else I can do. We’ll see how tomorrow goes. I try to view everything as a learning experience.

Biting Through…

5/26  9:33PM

I’m finally on the plane now heading to Manila. I reminded myself last night to control what I can while leaving everything else flexible. I woke up a bit late today, around 10:00AM. I then spent a few more hours in my room and in the hotel lobby using the Internet.

At around 1:00PM I decided to head to the Summer Palace which is about an hour’s drive away from my hotel. If I had headed out earlier I could have gone to the Great Wall. Oh well. My cabdriver was cool, very enthusiastic. In his forties but he began blasting some Chinese pop music. We couldn’t understand each other but we could jam. I needed that. He refreshed my energy.

While getting my ticket to enter the Summer Palace, a woman caught my eye. She was wearing a short dress and had designer sunglasses on, traveling alone. She didn’t appear like a backpacker or someone who lives in Beijing so I was wondering why she was visiting the Summer Palace alone. She stood out. Regardless, I had lost sight of her once she entered because I had misplaced my ticket so had to get another one.

After walking around an hour looking at the various scenes of the Summer Palace, it reminded me of New York’s Central Park. The two parks are very different in their makeup, but the similarity lies in there being a giant park located within a major city. I found that amusing.


Upon entering into the highest point of the park, the Buddha Incest Plaza, you can look across the river to see a view of Beijing’s high-rises. It was a unique contrast between old and new.

While making my way down the Plaza, I had caught her eye again, the female. She was making her way across a bridge and when she entered the midpoint of it, I walked alongside her. We exchanged glances as I introduced myself. Her name is Lucia and she’s from Slovakia. She’s been in China for a week now and we started our conversation off mildly. However, the more we talked the more personal our conversation became. We talked about our futures and, after thirty minutes, I finally asked her why she was here alone. She replied that the original reason why she came to China was to visit her boyfriend but they had broken up a week before she came to Beijing. He studies abroad here. She didn’t want to cancel her flight so she decided to come to China anyway. In an odd twist, she’s staying at her ex-boyfriend’s home, in separate rooms. She just finished studying a year abroad in France and she seems to be taking the breakup well, even though she said she’s in a mess. She was a genial and conservative type individual, yet she likes to drink. She said she’s been going out at night and getting free drinks wherever she goes. I’m not surprised. She has a voluptuous figure and is overall attractive. We discussed various topics as we walked through the Summer Palace and made our way around its lake. I kept one eye on my watch however since I had to fly out to Manila at 8:00PM.

Life is full of strange twists. Just yesterday I did not want to be Beijing, and now, 12 hours later, I was wishing to stay here one more night so I could spend more time chatting with this woman. From a male perspective, Lucia represents a perfect opportunity. She’s visiting China on vacation, just broke up with her boyfriend, has no friends here, and is spending her nights going out alone. If that’s not a perfect pickup opportunity I don’t what is. Yet, from a human perspective, I couldn’t help but feel bad for her. Her boyfriend pulled a dick move in breaking up with her a week before she was coming to visit him in China. She doesn’t want to stay at his place, yet she doesn’t want to waste the money of spending two weeks at hotels. She doesn’t have a job yet; she’s still a student. I know how it is to be at that age. Money is a precious commodity.

More than anything, I was surprised by her forthrightness. She was very candid and honest, qualities I appreciate in individuals. She’s an economics major and has a somewhat practical mindset, yet she’s done off-the-beat ventures such as volunteering in Taiwan and Switzerland, helping the disabled in the former and asylum refugees in the latter. She has an interesting backstory and her parents now live in Pittsburgh, yet she’s very true to her Slovakian roots.

I felt like I was on the set of the movie, Before Sunrise. It’s a movie about two people who meet each other while traveling and they spark a conversation that goes for hours. That’s how I felt like. We were two strangers, both in Beijing for separate reasons. One to visit a boyfriend she no longer dates and the other because his flight to the Philippines got delayed after visiting Tibet. This is the random nature of traveling. I like meeting women when abroad. The dynamic is far different and more memorable than engaging in the random fling back home. It leaves a greater impression in one’s mind. But, at last, it wasn’t meant to be. I had a flight to catch. So, after walking around the Summer Palace for an hour and a half talking to her, spending most of our time seated on a bench, it was time for me to leave. We said our goodbyes and I wished her luck on enjoying the rest of her trip.

Meanwhile, it was past 5:00PM now and I had to rush back to my hotel to pick up the stuff I had left in the lobby. Once again, I was running on a tight schedule. We hit a bit of traffic on the way to my hotel and it took us over an hour to get there. After picking up my stuff, my taxi driver asked me what terminal am I leaving from. Somewhere along the way I had lost the printout of my ticket so I told him, “I don’t know. The one for international flights.” He didn’t understand my English. I kept repeating to him, “Air China. International terminal,” as I made stupid hand gestures trying to describe my intentions. This didn’t end up doing anything. I got angry at myself for losing my ticket. It was now 20 minutes before 7:00PM and I began getting stressed. I didn’t want to miss my flight again. We chose to head to terminal three and, fortunately, it turned out to be the right one. Once I arrived to the ticketing counter there was no one there except one employee. Once I gave him my name, he told me he had heard about me. I guess the workers from Air China yesterday notified him of me. Due to this, it didn’t matter that I lost the printout of my ticket. He quickly printed me a boarding pass and I was off. Before reaching my terminal, I walked by a duty free store to pickup another bottle. Surprisingly, bottles for Glenfiddich 12-year only cost $30 here. It cost me $60 to buy one at both the Kathmandu and Seoul airport. I was going to get a bottle, but the duty free representative told me I can’t bring my bottle from Manila to Boracay. If I bought it I would have to finish it in Manila. This got me sad. Oh well, this is life.

So here I am now on the plane getting ready to fly out to Manila. I will arrive there around 1:00AM, then my transfer flight is at 6:00AM to Boracay.

I wonder what the Slovakian girl is up to. She’s only 22 but mature for her age. I notice that about women. They mature faster than men. The reason being because young men are always trying to prove themselves whereas young women are far more comfortable with who they are. When people try unnecessarily to prove themselves, this reflects immaturity.

This was Lucia’s first major breakup. Her and her boyfriend had been together for three years. I wonder if they’ll get back together by the end of this trip. Of all the factors vital for a relationship to succeed, I learned in my psychology classes in college that physical proximity ranks as most important. It makes sense if you think about it. After all, you can’t date someone you can’t see. Eyes will wander.

In ten hours time I will be in Boracay. I don’t plan on partying much once there. I just want to chill out on the beach and relax. I hope it’s not raining. I hope I meet interesting people. Yet if neither turns out to be the case I do not mind. Like in Beijing, I’ll take events as they come.

 5/28  1:45AM

Air China lied to me. I arrived in Manila at 12:30AM, then proceeded to terminal three which required a ten-minute bus ride. The ticketing counter for Air Philippines didn’t open until 1:30AM and there were many travelers on the floor sprawled out sleeping.


Once I got to the check-in counter at around 2:00AM and showed the workers there my Air China voucher, they told me this wouldn’t work and I have to go back to the Air China offices located at the original terminal I had flown in from. So I got in a cab and headed back to that terminal. The Air China offices were located on the third or fourth floor and, fortunately, there were a few workers starting their shift. They were all Filipino in background and I spoke with one of the more senior staff members. She was very professional and empathized with my situation. Unfortunately, she told me Air China hands out these vouchers all the time and they’re useless. She said her offices have contacted the one in Beijing several times to tell them to stop handing these out because they don’t do anything. We talked for over an hour as I was holding in my frustration.

Back when I was in China, I had a feeling that those Beijing workers were lying to me about this voucher. Since I missed my flight to Boracay yesterday, the only option I have now is to buy another ticket. I still couldn’t believe those workers in Beijing would just lie to me like that and hand a customer a voucher they knew was invalid. How could they treat foreign visitors with such irresponsible disdain? Where is their sense of human decency and pride?

My only option now was to head out to Terminal 2 so I could purchase another ticket. They gave me around a $50 discount. Though I had only been in Manila for a couple hours, there was such a marked difference in terms of customer service between here and Beijing. It was night and day. Going through this whole ordeal took me until 4:30AM. I was hoping to catch some sleep at the airport once I arrived here but I couldn’t cause I had to deal with this bullshit.

I finally flew into Boracay at around 8:00AM.


On a side note, I should mention to future travelers that there are no flights entering directly to the island of Boracay. The closest airport (MPH) is on a neighboring island. From there it only takes around a thirty-minute ferry ride to reach Boracay. From the ferry drop point, there are a line of taxi’s waiting for you. They do it Southeast Asian style. Basically, their taxis consist of a motorcycle that has a rickshaw attached to it. I didn’t have a hotel yet so when the motorcycle driver asked me where I wanted to go, I told him take me to the city center.

Once I arrived there, it immediately started raining. Nothing compared to Nepal’s rain, nonetheless it was still depressing. I was feeling tired.

I don’t think the driver dropped me off at the city center either. There weren’t many restaurants around and I needed to use wifi so I could go on Tripadvisor.com to look for hotels. This may sound eccentric but this is how I travel. I don’t plan anything in advance. I just go and figure it out. I allow my mood and intuition to guide me in my travels. It adds a sense of adventure. Depending on my mood I decide which hotel I want to stay at. I then like to physically go to these hotels to see if I like them and if I can negotiate a better price. Though this doesn’t work in developed countries as well, it works great in less developed areas. They’re always willing to negotiate, especially if you go during non-peak travel seasons.

I went and checked out two hotels that were ranked in the top ten on TripAdvisor’s website. Both are reasonably priced, at a little over $100 a night. I ended up getting a room at the second place I visited. It’s ranked #2 on TripAdvisor but, to be honest, it doesn’t really look like anything special. It’s clean though. They were charging a bit of a higher walk-in rate so I busted out my laptop and showed them the online price. After conversing, the manager agreed to knock down the rate of my room a further 20%.

When I travel, I negotiate a lot. What I’ve learned is don’t be demanding. Be pleasant. Generally, people like making others feel good. And, so far, the hospitality in the Philippines has been amiable. These people are very genuine and understand customer service. Though I got nothing but love for Chinese culture, I’m glad to be in the Philippines. I’m in Boracay, the rain has stopped, and now I got nothing but sun and beaches. I was tired though and slept until around 4:00PM after checking into my hotel.

When I awoke, I went on TripAdvisor to see what the best restaurant recommendations are on this island. To my surprise, a sushi place was ranked number one so I went there. I ordered one of the pricier set meals on the menu, yet the food only tasted average. I was disappointed. From my experiences, TripAdvisor is generally a good gauge for recommending hotels, however, its restaurant recommendations can be hit or miss. I’m generally very picky when it comes to food though. I’ll eat anything but I’ve been to enough restaurants around the world to know the difference between what tastes great and what tastes like food. If you want something great, go to Japan. Quality control is superb and the flavors and texture really burst into your mouth when eating. An underrated aspect of a meal is its texture. Texture shows a chef’s attention to detail.

Across from me at the restaurant was this group of three boys chilling:

Middle kid's got panache.

Middle kid’s got panache. Naked and don’t give a fuck.

After eating and walking around Boracay to get an understanding of its layout, I headed to the shores at sunset. It’s quite a view, making you feel small in comparison to its vast horizon. I took a mental picture of the entire scene, knowing that I may never see another sunset along these shores once I leave.


Afterwards, I went home for an intermission, drank some shots, then headed out to the nightspots along the shore. It was a bit odd. The people look weird here. I don’t mean the Filipino’s necessarily, I mean all the westerners here too. They look weird. Even if I was really drunk I’m not certain if I could have fun at these spots. The foreign guys look grimy while the local females here look like prostitutes. When I came back home, I looked down to my right arm and saw it marked red from scratches. When walking by in the clubs, girls will grab at you to get your attention. I’m guessing a few left their imprint. I did walk by a nice hotel on the shore I want to stay at though. I think I’ll come back again tomorrow and check it out.

I was perusing through the tourist map earlier today and there’s a shitload of alcohol-related activities to do out here. Being here is such a marked contrast from Tibet. I like contrast. A few days ago I was drinking tea with Buddhist monks in ancient monasteries, now I’m getting grabbed by prostitutes along the shores of one of the finest beaches in the world. My life is surreal. Contrast makes life more vivid.

5/28  6:46PM

I woke up today and grabbed a breakfast burrito at around 11:00AM. Breakfast is free at the place I’m staying at. And the mango shake was delicious.


I then changed hotels to book a room at this one right here:


It’s the one I passed by last night when I was out barhopping. I was out till pretty late last night and walked back to this hotel at around 4:30AM to see if I could book a room. Unfortunately, only a security guard was up at that hour. So I came back early this afternoon to grab it. After switching rooms, I went over to a market to buy some beers. Now my fridge is stocked. As I was chilling out on the patio, it finally felt like I was on vacation. These past few days have been stressful.

To pass the time, I drank with my neighbor. He’s a lightweight.


After drinking a few beers and shots, I made my way to go jet skiing at around 3:00PM. I’ve never been before but always wanted to try. One of the ladies told me her company just got some new Yamaha 1200CC jet skis in so I booked a reservation from her. It cost roughly $50 for thirty-minutes. All the rates here are standard but I got her to throw in a 20% price reduction on dune bugging afterwards. One cool thing about the location of my place is that it’s right in the center of things, both for nightlife and daytime activities, located in station one of Boracay Island. I really like my room. It’s spacious enough where you don’t feel like you’re staying at a hotel. At the same time it’s very private, with only seven rooms total here to rent. It feels kind of like a vacation home, if I ever had one. I negotiated over 60% off the walk-in rate as well. Not bad.

Once I got on my jet ski, it was a thrill. It felt like I was motorcycling on water. And I started flooring it, seeing how fast this baby could go. It was hovering around a constant speed of over 70 kph. I don’t know if that’s fast or not but it felt good to me. Riding a jet ski is very easy. All you do is keep your left forefinger pressed down on the lever and off you go. My hand was glued down to that lever as I felt my body riding through wave after wave, leaping off my seat while I crashed into oncoming waves. I was lapping every rider there. As I was cruising, I screamed out to no one in particular, “Yea… Fuck yea! Fuck Air China! This is why I came here!” as I sported a big grin on my face.

When I was spending the night at the Manila Airport, I started having doubts about whether I should’ve come out to the Philippines or not. I was thinking maybe it would have been better if I just flew back home to Korea instead. Once I was in the water on that jet ski, however, I knew I had made the right decision. “This is why I travel,” I thought to myself as I was boning out, “I love to fucking travel!”


Heading back to the dock.

Once I docked my jet ski, the locals told me I go fast so they gave me the nickname ‘Poe’. Apparently, he’s a famous action star out here. They smiled as they called me, “Poe.” After jet skiing, I went out dune bugging. When I got there it looked like riding a go-cart would be more fun so I switched it up. This activity wasn’t nearly as fun. I joined a group of four and the girl ahead of me had a great deal of trouble along the dirt path. I found her amusing. She did fine once we were on the road.


The whole dune bug thing isn’t adventurous at all. You basically take a ride to a viewpoint that’s about a ten-minute drive away. The viewpoint is scenic however, giving you better perspective of the overall size of the island, which is quite small.


Went gliding on the way down. Why not.

5/29  TIme Uncertain

I went out to Ariel’s Point today. I heard from some of the locals it’s a fun activity and the most popular thing for tourists to do. Basically, you get on a boat in the morning to head out to a separate island in which you chill for a couple hours eating lunch and grabbing all-you-can-drink beers and cocktails. There were around fifty of us total and I got pretty trashed.


While drinking, you jump off several diving boards into the ocean, the highest one being 50 feet.

Drink a shot before I drop.

Drink a shot before I drop.

I did three dives off the 50-ft plank and on the last one jumped with two locals. We went back-back-back. They got in a bit of trouble because they’re not supposed to jump with tourists I guess.


I also convinced this girl on the right to jump too. I like how she’s centered on the horizon.

After a few dives, the left side of my chest began hurting again and I had trouble breathing. With us are a group of over 20 Canadians. They kind of have a herd mentality and they don’t really interact with anyone else. I spoke with the guy who operates these tours for them. He looks like Russell Brand. He’s a chill guy and I understand what he’s doing is good in the sense that he’s enabling people to travel more. I think that’s important. If there’s anything anyone can take away from reading my journals, I hope it’s to serve that purpose: to travel. I have one critique however.

In observing the behavior of this young Canadian group (they’re all in their 20’s), it stood in such stark contrast to that of the Swedish girl, Anska. She’s only 19 but out traveling the world alone. Meanwhile, this group from Canada goes on a trip to Asia in which the tour and accommodations are preplanned for them by the Russell Brand-guy. They then spend the majority of their time abroad with people from their own home country. Though I understand their goal is to have fun, I believe the main purpose of traveling for young people should be about adventure. By going on a trip in which everything is taken care of for you and you’re hanging out with people from your own background, this really seeps out a lot of the adventure. Boracay might as well be a beach in Southern California if that was my approach.

This is only my opinion. But, in five years from now, I’d have to say that Anska is going to be more advanced in terms of her maturity and wisdom than her Canadian counterparts. Their approach to life is far different. It takes initiative and courage to travel alone for a long period of time. Most people don’t get past the initiative phase. I still have friends in my thirties who tell me about the backpacking trips and business ventures they’re planning to do. They’ve been telling me for over five years. I know they’re not going to follow through. It’s not money they lack, it’s conviction.

In this regard, I give credit to the Canadians here. At least they still went out and are here traveling. Here’s a piece of advice to all young adults: Don’t put your dreams and ambitions off for tomorrow. Do what you want today. As you get older, it only gets harder to do what you want. You’ll likely have a career and marriage by then. Do what you want now. Your twenties is the best age to travel and engage in risky ventures. Those memories will also leave the most lasting impressions and the confidence gained will carry you forward into future endeavors.

Here’s another, broader piece of advice: Regardless of what it is, if you tell others what you’re future plans are, make sure you possess the conviction to go out and actually pursue them. Otherwise, there’s no point in talking. You’re a bluffer. You may be able to fool strangers but not those who know you. After a point, your words are meaningless and everyone knows it. Never judge individuals by what they say, always observe what they do. Actions will always speak louder than words because it takes much more willpower to act than it does to speak.

5/30  On the plane home

On my last day here, I grabbed a late lunch. The food here is delicious. I ate at a barbecue spot. The two females who sat next to me left all this food at their table. I thought it was a waste so I grabbed one of their chicken sticks and ate it. I also noticed they left their phone here. Low and behold, they came back five minutes later. It turns out they didn’t leave, they had just went to the restroom. I basically ate their food while they were gone. This made me laugh as I tried apologizing. They’re from Hong Kong and I felt terrible. I offered to buy them a new meal but they were cool about it. So I offered the girls my wetnap instead. It’s all I had on me.

Afterwards, I perused through the Boracay tourist pamphlet to see what else I wanted to do. It was already late in the afternoon so I only had time for one activity. I really wanted to go skyboosting but the machine’s currently out of operation. My options were to go paragliding, yachting, or on a helicopter. Fuck it. I decided to jet ski again. I had fun the first go around and I wanted to ride for at least a full hour this time. I arrived with four other tourists to the jet ski dock. Upon getting there, an older worker asked in an upset tone, “Who’s been drinking alcohol?” I had taken a few shots of Glenfiddich back at my hotel after lunch and was like, “Oh shit,” as I pointed at one of the German girls. He gave her a look of disgust. Smooth move.

Other than my arrival to Boracay, the weather’s been perfect here and I enjoyed the ride. It wasn’t as fun as the first time around though. Like a drug, you can never recapture that first high. That’s why I always like doing new activities. The first time is almost always the most memorable. After an hour jet skiing, my hands started blistering and I felt it was time to go as the sun was setting in the background.

Once I ate dinner and grabbed my things back at my hotel, I got on a taxi and made my way to the jetty port. It was then I realized, “Oh shit, my jacket. Where’s my jacket?” It’s the jacket I wore motorcycling and to Everest. I had left it in the closet of the first hotel I stayed at here in Boracay. I knew I had to go back to get it. Filipino’s are very helpful. I left my bag at the jetty then hopped onto the back of a stranger’s motorcycle to go back to the hotel. He charged me a nominal fee. Fortunately, the hotel indeed had my jacket. I grabbed it then got back on the bike. As we were cruising fast in the dark of the night, I felt like I was back in Nepal. My trip started on a motorcycle and to have it end that way felt very fitting. As I was cruising, all these flashbacks of my trip so far swept across my mind, entering and departing as quickly as the scenes we were passing through.

In the back of my mind, I would have liked to stay in Boracay longer. At the same time, I realized it’s time to go. Like a tryst, it’s always better to leave wanting more than leave because you stayed too long.

At the jetty, I got on the last ferry leaving for the island where the airport is located. The ferry felt sweaty and cramped. When I checked in my stuff at the airport, the lady told me I couldn’t bring in an open bottle of whisky. I still had around half a bottle left. I did the only thing I could think of: I went outside and started swigging it. As I was, the staff started looking over at me and gave me a smile. After my sixth swig, I began thinking, “What am I doing? Do I really want to get drunk right now?” No, I don’t. So I gave what remained of my bottle to one of the staffers, he was a younger guy and he told me earlier he likes Glenfiddich. By this time I was kind of tipsy and started joking around with the security staff. They allowed me into their cubicle area and asked me about my background. We engaged in some playful banter and I thought this was a fitting end to my trip as well. I like meeting strangers wherever I go and I don’t care much for your background. I’m open to meeting all sorts of personalities. And the personalities I encountered in the Philippines were beautiful. Truly, I got nothing but love for the Philippines.

On the plane currently are 36 people. It’s a little past 2:00AM and I’m heading straight for Seoul.

With each trip I take I view them as lessons to teach me. To be honest, there aren’t many people I’ve met in my life who have really taught me anything. Mother Nature has been my greatest teacher. My traveling experiences have really expanded my horizons and my knowledge. And what I learned from this trip is this: When faced with obstacles, don’t shy away. Instead, embrace them. This is what I believe is the meaning behind Biting Through…

With time

With time, wounds and pains eventually go away. The memory of overcoming them doesn’t.