Dear London: A Love Letter

Dear London,

As I sit here next to my suitcases, reflecting on the past eight months spent living and working in this city, I can’t help but recall that wise, temperate, philosophical medium called Tumblr where once was said:

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Then I remember that Tumblr is where the pre-teens of the economic aristocracy go to validate the ever-living fuck out of one another’s nonsensical, cocaine-fueled bullshit—because London is the most repulsive, most malignant, most contemptible, most desperate, debased, and wretched tumefaction to ever take cancerous root in the North Atlantic.

Perhaps I should not be so harsh. There is of course, much to love about London. Weekends are an intriguing and inspiring investigation into the multitudinous colors the human body is capable of regurgitating, such that any rainbow in the sky must hear news of the Camden streets and weep at its own inadequacy. The smug callousness of the populace cautions that in the ineffable scheme of all things, we are but balls of dust whose self-importance is dwarfed only by our marvelous insignificance—while the stratospheric cost of living gently reminds us that resistance is, dare I say, feudal. And how could one properly contemplate the soul-crushing ceaselessness of the rain without the hours of meditation spent on public buses crawling through the tide of traffic like twigs in a choked-up stream?

But perhaps the most admirable and remarkable thing about London is that it is the sole place in all of my life where overly social me has spent more than a few hours and befriended…virtually no one. This was particularly impressive in the light of prior accomplishments in friend making which saw me effortlessly gathering large social groups in Western Mongolia, suburban New Jersey, and a small town in Northern Germany in which the major feature of interest was a maximum-security prison.

My lack of success in this area was certainly not for want of effort on my part. I went to language and social meet-ups, I joined clubs, I volunteered at animal shelters—and yet, the people with whom I spent my spare time interacting stubbornly refused to become anything other than familiar faces in a crowd of people with better things to do than socialize with me. Occasionally I got as far as organizing a get-together with people who seemed fun and cool and interesting and interested in being my friend—until they canceled on me, generally as I walking out the door to meet them, and always while citing some platonic incarnation of “it’s not you, it’s me” right before being permanently swallowed up by the social sinkhole that is London. If I hadn’t at least had nice people at dance and work, I’m pretty sure I would have thrown myself off Tower Bridge back in November out of sheer loneliness.

Where did I go wrong? Two problems: 1) I didn’t grow up here, and 2) I didn’t go to uni here. Turns out Londoners as a general rule only make friends when they’re shoving crayons up their noses or shoving crayons up their noses while their stomachs are being pumped. Of my little group of friends, exactly 0% of them are from London. We bonded over how difficult it is to make friends here unless you’re 19 and have spent at least twenty minutes taking turns vomiting into a sink with someone who used to be your classmate but is now your BFF.

So it is with a great sigh of relief that I excuse myself from the absolute, sweeping loneliness of this urban hellhole and make for more social climes. My suitcase is a little fuller than it was eight months ago, but the rest of me is tired and empty. London, knowing me and knowing my life, I have no doubt our paths will cross again. But with any luck, our future encounter will only be for as long as it takes to catch my connecting flight at Heathrow on my way to some place that doesn’t suck gangrenous monkeyballs.

Goodbye and good riddance,
Tina

More Adventures in Central Mongolia: Kharkhorin

After our absolutely amazing horse trekking trip to some hot springs, Swiss Friend and I decided to check another piece of Central Mongolian awesomeness off our list, this time heading to Kharkhorin in Övörkhangai aimag. Kharkhorin is the site of the ancient Mongol city of Karakorum, which at one point was the capital of the Mongol empire. As a result, every tour bus doing the close-to-Ulaanbaatar route stops here.

We said a legitimately sad goodbye to the absolutely amazing Fairfield Guesthouse in Tsetserleg, and after much struggle, did eventually find the one man in the whole town who would take us to Kharkhorin for the going rate, rather than the going rate x 5 in foreigner tax. That guy also turned out to be an absolutely terrifying driver, so instead of relaxing for four hours, we spent two white-knuckle hours planning our funerals. In our eagerness to get out of the car, we forgot that we had absolutely no idea where we were staying that night, and as a result had him let us out nowhere near…anything.DSC01099
Cue several hours of 1) us wandering around looking for the ger camp we had arbitrarily picked out of Lonely Planet, 2) not finding said ger camp, 3) finding a hotel playing terrible karaoke music that wanted to charge us exorbitant prices, 4) leaving said hotel, 5) me sitting alone on the side of the road throwing rocks at dogs while Swiss Friend tried to (unsuccessfully) find some other ger camp, 6) me eventually remembering that in our trek to the ass-end of nowhere, we had passed a sign in English advertising Gaya’s Guest House, 7) Swiss friend sitting alone on the side of the road throwing rocks at dogs while I trekked back to the sign; 8) prayers to Zeus that the number on the sign would work, 9) talking to the owner of the camp’s 12-year-old daughter whose English was weirdly excellent, and 10) getting picked up by the pre-teen ten minutes later in a cab she had wrangled for us.

That in combination with Kharkhorin’s relatively unspectacular scenery  (Western Mongolia snobs that we are) lead us to initially regret our decision to bother with this godforsaken, ugly, tourist-trap corner of Mongolia. We made a deal: we’d give ourselves 24 hours, and if Kharkhorin continued to suck, we’d jet.
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We arrived at the ger camp mid-afternoon-ish, so we were all alone and really not feeling the place. So we went exploring–and discovered some pretty interesting things on our hike. These included:

Ovoos:
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The skeletal heads of Naadam horse race winners:
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A turtle rock, which apparently marked the borders of ancient Karakorum.DSC01106
And a giant rock carved to look like a goat, and by goat I mean penis.
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According to the internet, this monument to manhood was put here to remind the monks at the nearby monastery to stay celibate. To me, erecting (ha) a giant statue of a penis to remind you not to use yours sounds less like Buddhism and more like a sex ed class in Clayhatchee, Alabama. What I can say is that right as we were playing on the rock penis, the sun came out, so Swiss Friend and I decided then would be as good a time as any to practice some yoga…because where else are you going to do it?

That evening we headed back to Gaya’s ger camp to eat dinner, get acquainted with Gaya (who turned out to be just as lovely as her daughter), and befriend…everyone who was staying there. After getting off to a bad start, our opinion of Kharkhorin was finally starting to turn around.

The next day we caught a ride down the hill with some ger camp buddies to go explore Erdene Zuu Khiid, the oldest surviving monastery in Mongolia.
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It was huge and lovely and neat!DSC01124DSC01119DSC01122
We explored all the temples we were allowed in and may or may not have snuck into a few we weren’t.DSC01116DSC01121
We also got to hang out and listen to some chanting. We had a wonderful day walking around the grounds and making more friends.

Later the afternoon, Swiss Friend and I decided to explore in town, where we made even more friends and convinced some particularly awesome ones–two French women, two French children, and two Mongol dogs they’d picked up in their travels–to come back to Gaya’s with us.
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That evening, after having a big group dinner at Gaya’s, Swiss Friend and I roped our ger camp friends into going on a walk with us:
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Nothing like travel friends, kids, dogs, and a walk in the Mongol twilight to remind you how amazing your life is.

Yay, Kharkhoriin!