Trans-Siberian Railway: Part I – Beijing, China to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

It’s 7:44 AM, and we’re on the subway in Beijing.  We’ve staked out some space close to the door for our sleepy selves and all of our belongings: one roller-bag-that-turns-into-a-backpack for each of us, one small backpack on each of our backs, and one box-that-the-new-blanket-came-in that is currently filled with ramen noodles and other travel goodies.  We were supposed to be at the train station a solid 19 minutes ago, but the train leaves in 21 minutes still, so we both valiantly hang on to any optimistic and happy thoughts we can muster.  Personally, I am thinking about how great it is going to be when we are on our train and peacefully enjoying the bag of afore-mentioned cream puffs we bought last night for approximately 26 cents.

The subway stops, but it’s not our stop yet, and one or two people are getting off at a surprisingly slow pace for a Beijing subway.  A few others get on.  We all stare at the doors to our subway car as they don’t close for another 8 seconds.  8 ticks of the clock closer to our impending doom of missing our train.  Because even if we miraculously get to our stop at lightning speed once the subway starts moving again, we still have to get through the insane lines at the check-in gates that we saw yesterday when we came to scope this whole process out.  I decide that the time is right for me to adopt the local philosophy of “waiting in lines is for the foolish” — I am resolved that I will soon be the tall white man pushing his way through a swarming mass of Chinese folks, explaining/yelling to anyone who happens to be listening/understanding my English (not likely) that we simply loved being in China but also that our need to get on our train is much more important than their need to get to get on theirs since they are undoubtedly on time and we are late.  While maintaining my hopeless optimism that the cream puffs will be simply amazing, I prepare myself for this all out embodiment of hypocrisy.

7:47.  We’re at the next subway stop now, but somehow we still aren’t at our stop.  How did this happen?  We had this all planned out.  We really are going to miss our first train along the Trans-Siberian Railway….  No, no, we aren’t.  We’ll make it.  Because, cream puffs.

7:49.  Finally we get to our stop.  We get off the subway.  We find the exit signs.  We go up the escalators.  We get our bearings above ground.  We head over to the check-in area, where the swarming mass of humanity is undoubtedly waiting to check in for their trains so they can get to their important job interviews for dream jobs or so they can go to their great grandson’s wedding.  And we’re going to cut straight to the front of the line.  I am psyching up for this moment of unreasonable entitlement.  I’m ready to do this.  The authorities will understand if they’re called to the scene.  Anna doesn’t know about my plan yet, but she’ll understand and won’t judge me.

But what’s this?  We’re here, but there’s no crowd.  Where did all the people getting off the subway go?  Where are the throngs of people we saw yesterday?  Why are there only a few people waiting patiently in the 3 or 4 lines open for business?  Who cares… We get in line, hand over our tickets and passports, mumble what we’re pretty sure means “thank you” in Mandarin as we get our tickets and passports back, and bustle into the station.

7:53.  We go to the incorrect gate, but before we sit down thinking we’re home free, Anna in her infinite wisdom figures this out, and we head in the direction we think the employee points us toward.

7:57.  We’ve got this.  8 minutes to go, and we just showed our tickets and passports to the man at the correct gate.  We’re still hustling and getting much sweatier than you’d expect given the chilly temperature outside, but we’re on our way to the correct platform, and then we’ll just get on, even if it isn’t the correct carriage.  We’ll just make it work.  Our destiny includes us getting on this train.

8:02.  It’s a miracle!  Lightning has struck.  Team USA just beat the USSR at hockey.  Mary has been hailed, and she answered back.  The Detroit Lions just won the Super Bowl a playoff game.  We’re on the train, sitting in our compartment!  With 3 minutes to spare, yours truly looks out the window for a minute before diving into the bag of cream puffs.

8:05.  The whistle blows, and the train leaves.  We’re headed to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.  It’s a 30 hour journey, and it’s just the first leg of the larger train journey in store for us.  We wonder what types of fun we’ll find along the journey and while we’re there.  We wonder if we have enough clothes to keep ourselves warm.  We smile, and enjoy the ride.  We’re on the first leg of our Trans-Siberian Railway journey!

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6 Responses to Trans-Siberian Railway: Part I – Beijing, China to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

  1. Beautiful photos! Sending lots of love and warmth to you both!

  2. Love the write-up. I’d love to try this train one day.

    • Hey, thanks, BBL! I’d recommend it. We’ve already done another few legs of the Trans-Siberian (just haven’t gotten blog posts up about them yet), and the adventure level has only increased. As soon as I’ve got the time and energy, I’ll get our next part posted.

  3. Shannon S says:

    Garrison! You are awesome. I’m moving to China next year! I’m in India now! Let me know if you make it to India! My husband and I would love to host you!
    -Shannon (ex ADK Midwestern Staff)

    • Shannon! Great to hear from you! Super cool that you live in India (big move from Wisconsin!). What are you doing there and what will you do in China? Also congratulations on getting married! Wow, lots can change over 5 or 6 years… Sadly, we won’t make it to India on this trip. We thought about it, but decided it’s such a huge place it probably deserves its own trip one day. What do you recommend doing if we ever end up visiting India?

      Take care, and can’t wait until our paths cross again!

      -Garrison (

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