© 2006 jim

On to Mongolia

Beijing has a serious air pollution problem. As the plane taxied to its take-off position, I could see very vague shapes in the near distance that appeared to be massive new terminals under construction. Without having done any research on the matter, I am going to guess that these are brand-new facilities being built for the Olympics in 2008. These terminals looked huge, yet I could barely see them through the smog.

From my window seat I looked out as the plane took off and could see nothing but the milky-white smog below. About five minutes into the flight, however, the smog cleared and I could finally see the terrain below, and incredibly, snaking along the tops of mountains, there was the Great Wall! It streched off into the distance, following the ridge lines for mile after mile.

Alas, that was the last exciting thing I saw out the window, because shortly beyond the Wall lays the Gobi Desert, desolate and featureless.

I wound up flying over the Gobi, on my way to Ulaanbaatar, due to a last-minute call to head up a project in Mongolia. A short hop from Salt Lake to LA, a longer one (12 hours on Air China, not to be confused with China Air!) to Beijing, and then this flight, three hours from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar. Not bad by the standards of some trips I have taken in the last few years, practically a commuter hop! A mere 24 hours door-to-door.
Three hours of flying over the desert and then the plane starts its descent. The only sign of civilization (apart from the occasional ger) is a large smog bank with several smokestacks poking out. Yes, it turns out Ulaanbaatar is also polluted, but not as badly as Beijing. We land under what seems from the ground to be a clear blue sky, the temperature a balmy (for Mongolia in November) -9 C.

The immigration and customs formalities are straightforward and simple (no visa required, just fill out the arrival card and go through passport control) and in a short time I am on my way into town. On which, more tomorrow.

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