There is much more to say about my trip than I can pump out of the world's largest Samsung "laptop" on borrowed time at an internet kiosk in Incheon International Airport, where I wait for the last leg of my flight back to NYC to start boarding (seriously, this computer is ridiculous), but let's reverse-engineer The Trek with today. The last day.
Day 12: Anne heads home.
My flight to Seoul is scheduled to leave from Ulan Baatar at 6:45am, so I need to arrange for a cab to pick me up at 4am. I need to go to the lobby of my 3-star hotel. You would not be remiss to assume the three stars represent how many things worked in the room. 1. The door, 2. the refrigerator, and 3. the phone. My bed was missing one of four legs and hobbled. The ceiling had shit stains (not making this up), and our door was half-broken. The floor, pieced together with what felt like driftwood and rope, was covered in a vomit-stained carpet (still not making this up), and the shower dribbled lukewarm water for only a minute at a time. Not complaining, really. Just funny.
I go to the lobby and ask the receptionist first if she speaks English. She does. I request a reservation for a taxi to take me to the airport the following morning at 4. I have to be explicit about it because the taxi that was ostensibly reserved to pick me up from the same airport had never showed up. While I'm talking to her the phone rings. She picks up the receiver and gently hangs it up. Like she doesn't want to interrupt our conversation. I pause incredulously and look at the phone before repeating my taxi request a second and third time. I think she got it. I wonder who called.
3:50 am, I saunter down the stairs (elevator doesn't work now, naturally) with my heavy luggage, and the noise I'm making wakes up the receptionist and doorman who are both sleeping on the couch in the lobby. Doorman doesn't bother opening his eyes or standing up, but the receptionist quickly tucks her shirt into her suit-skirt and pulls down the matching vest to align her gig.
She gestures out the door to the cab waiting for me. Turns on one lamp and unlocks the front door.
Cab takes me to Chingghis Khan airport 60km/hour over the speed limit. Mongolians drive like they want to die.
Chingghis Khan airport has all of 2 gates. Neither of them have signs. Yet it miraculously has one of the only real coffee machines in possibly all of Mongolia (all the coffee here is freeze-dried powder. Again, not complaining. Just an observation). The real coffee is surprisingly OK. I'm beginning to feel like a bourgeois cunt again. I start checking email. 50, 60, 100, 300 new emails... ugh.
I hear a sound on the PA.
"Ishii, Anne Makiko what sits in 16F please go to Gate 1 please."
(repeat at 2 minute intervals for ten minutes)
(repeat consecutively for another ten)
Thing is, I am AT Gate 1. There is not one employee there. I try to flag anyone wearing a suit with pins on it. None of them want to help me, or they don't understand my sign language. I enunciate to a confused woman in a suit with pins:
Someone is paging me.
She says, "Bejing you! OK," and points at the mob of people standing between gate 1 and 2 (which are really only ten yards apart). I walk away from her and try someone else, who says in broken English to follow her. She opens a door and points down. It's a stairwell. I walk down it.
I walk down the stairwell directly to a storage closet full of stacked plastic chairs and a woodscreen. I feel cold air leaking through broken windows and someone behind the wall talking loudly over clanging metal (probably cooking). So now I'm in a storage closet. Alone.
I run back up convinced I just escaped a Mongolian airport gang rape, to what I thought was Gate 1. Still no one there, still my name being paged. I flag someone else down and say, "someone is calling me" and point at the speaker in the ceiling two feet above my head. Miraculously, he speaks solid English and knows what's going on, but the explanation is still disconcerting.
"Don't worry. Your bag being checked at customs. Ignore naming."
It's 6:45 now and our flight's supposed to have taken off, so now I'm worried I'm actually on the wrong planet. I ask the people around me where they're going.
I run into a couple Hungarians Michelle and I happened to meet on the last day of our wildnerness trek. They are apparently boarding a plane at the same time out of the same gate as me. I don't try to unravel the logical impossibility of three flights boarding at the same time out of the same gate, and just push my way to the front of the "line" (more like the trading floor of the NYSE). I get on a plane following the snippets of Korean and Japanese I hear (all equally confused as me).
It's the first time in my life I actually feel safer on the plane than on the ground.
The flight attendants welcome us to "Flight 501 to Tokyo via Seoul" so I rest easy and fall asleep through the three hours it takes to get out of Mars.
It's a beautiful place.