Tuesday, August 31, 2010:
Our last day! Elijah’s 6th birthday!. The high temperature today is to be 22 degrees Celsius (72 degrees, the way I understand it). Seven AM found us up and beginning to pack for the trip home. Actually, it was Elijah who got us up today. After a breakfast of pancakes, we had a mini-birthday affair for him. He opened all of his smaller gifts first: a ball glove, Army set, video games, clothes, a knight set, various medieval figurines, etc. Then, we took him to the bedroom and unveiled the castle (we had a sheet over it to keep it secret). He was quite surprised, but I think maybe he had been expecting to receive a computer. Not sure if I’m to blame for that. In trying to build up excitement, and yet deceive him, I may have led him down that path. We had brought an old laptop to Chris & Tiff…and I thought it was going to be for his use. It may yet serve that purpose. We moved the castle to the dining room table, so that he could get to it from three sides and begin to play with it. Space is an issue in the apartment, so finding a permanent home for it, while do-able, would be challenging. Leaving him to be entertained by his new gifts, Carol & I headed back to the bedroom to resume preparations for our trip home. Around 11:30 AM, we all left the boys with Tseggie (the helper), and went to the two Sora stores. We bought candy & pastries to share with friends back in the U.S., treats for Chris, Tiff, and the boys (including a $7 box of Fruit Loops, juice packets, pudding, and birthday noisemakers), Dr. Pepper for Carol, etc. We got back to the apt. about 12:30 and watched part of a ceremony at a school, off in the distance. I kept hearing a loudspeaker, so looked out the window and saw people performing (dance, marching, etc) in front of a school. Chris went to get the microbus from Pastor Otgonbayar, so that he would have it to take us to the airport. When he returned from that venture, we all loaded up and headed for Elijah’s favorite restaurant, B.B.Q. Chicken,…or something like that. The abbreviation does not stand for barbeque, as we would expect. It stands for “Best Believable Quality”.
They feature chicken…we had a 20-piece chicken strip meal. It came with salad, potatoes, turnip-like items, and then tall ice-cream cones. Elijah had his favorite, a “cold pop chicken”. I think I could sell a million of them in the U.S. It is a paper cup with the lower half filled with Coke. The upper half has another paper cup inside it, and contains chicken nuggets. A straw sneaks down the side of the top cup and dispenses drink from below. Pretty cool! We had some time left after lunch (it was 2 PM), so we went to a department store to look around and for Tiff to purchase sewing bobbins. We had taken her sewing machine to her, but failed to bring the bobbins. Downstairs, we went to a supermarket and purchased two large cases of bottled water. We then drove to Ewen & Pia Kiddo’s high-rise apartment, and played/relaxed in a park as the people invited to Elijah’s party,…gathered. We had met Ewen at church, but were now meeting Pia for the first time. We had met Sarah Meckler at church,…met Chris today. Chris sometimes performs as a clown and he does balloon art. He had created an awesome Superman from red & blue balloons. I think Elijah was pretty impressed by that,…as were we all. We also met a lady named Ruth. Her husband is Mongolian; she is German. Another couple arrived in their new (used) Land Rover. He was Josh, and hailed from Hutchinson, KS. His wife was Mongolian. When he & she married, neither could speak the other person’s language. Not sure how that worked, but apparently it did. Soon after marrying, they went to India as missionaries. Wow! They are back in Mongolia now, doing missionary work, and trying to find ways to wean themselves from the financial resources in the U.S. For 9 years, they have tried various business plans in an effort to make the Mongolian church self-supporting. He said that they might make a tiny profit, for the first time, this year. They tried exporting leather, selling cashmere, etc. At one point, a supplier ripped them off and they lost a large sum of their money. Now, they supply an industrial use oil to construction companies. I am amazed at the resourcefulness of these people. Each missionary (from different faith groups) attempt to spread the Gospel in many different ways. At one point in the day, I was having a conversation with Chris Meckler about the Ulaanbaatar traffic.
He told me that about 8 years before, a man had run for Police Chief of UB, and that he had promised to make changes that would improve the terrible traffic conditions at that time. Apparently, people believed him, and wanted change, so he was elected. He put a police officer at almost every major intersection, even at -40 degrees temperatures. It worked (though it’s hard for an American to see the improvement). People will now stop if a cop signals them to do so, because if you don’t and they catch you, it will be a difficult chore to get your impounded car back. Eventually, everyone had gathered for the party, so we loaded into 2 vehicles and headed for the river…at a location not far from the Zaison WWII memorial, which we had visited earlier. This location is often the destination for “play dates” for 13 missionary kids. Their moms get together to visit and to allow the kids to have “friends” from their own cultural setting. On the way to the river, we passed the new children’s amusement park, in the city. It has been under construction for many months. The missionaries were getting antsy for it to open. Some thought that they might be leaving before getting to visit it. We had seen people on the rides the day before…a trial run for the park, before opening day. This caused a degree of excitement among all of them. Later, we read a blog of Chris’s about going to it during the Grand Opening days. It was a huge mistake…because of the crowds. They have nothing like it in Mongolia, so it will be very popular among those who can afford its pleasures. Traffic was a bit heavy as we neared the river. At one point, we were so close to the car beside us that our mirror struck theirs. Their mirror just folded in, and both cars proceeded on down the road. At the river, we climbed down a very steep bank at the edge of the roadway, and then spread blankets on some open land nearby. The water was around 40 degrees, but the children were wading in it within minutes. One little girl was buck-naked, except for a hat (a decision made by the Swiss lady missionary). Actually, I think her mom had left, and this lady was watching her. She didn’t have other clothes along, so this was a solution. One couple asked the others to watch their child, as they had not had a “date” for a long time. This was an opportunity for them to go into the city and have some time alone together. About 3:30, I tired of watching the kids, and decided to give in to the urge to climb a nearby mountain. Within a few minutes, my heart was pumping strongly enough that I could feel it in my chest. I looked down on the party below and saw Chris heading to the vehicle to get Elijah’s birthday dessert, so I abandoned the idea of making it to the peak, and headed back down. Tiff had baked three large sheets of oatmeal/chocolate chip cookies and had cut them into squares. Then she stacked them all into a large pyramid, and put decorations all over it. Pretty impressive dessert! When I got down to the riverbank, I saw that the children were gathered around Elijah, and he was opening gifts from them. We gave out noisemakers and tiny cans of fizz-candy, and prepared for the cake portion of the affair. It was breezy, and Chris had a really tough time getting 6 candles all lighted at the same time. Joel, who recently had his 2nd birthday, was practiced up on blowing out candles, so what the natural wind didn’t extinguish…Joel did. Eventually, he was removed (by Grandma Carol), the candles were re-lighted, we sang, and Elijah quickly blew the little flames out. Everyone got bottled water and we began devouring the cookie pyramid. Some of the young boys decided that they wanted to climb a different mountain (down the road 1/4 mile), and had already set out for it. Chris & I decided that some supervision was in order, so quickly headed down the road after them. They had some ambitious plans, and I tried to modify them without being a total spoil-sport. Eventually, they tired of the climb…and we all headed back. Around 5:30 PM, we returned to the river, and all prepared to head home. Just before departing, a big herd of goats came scrambling down the steep rock face of the mountain beside us. They went to the river, and got a drink and then headed back up. One poor goat didn’t think he/she could make the trip down, so remained on the mountaintop…probably quite thirsty. A couple of us were bemoaning the fact that we didn’t have our cameras ready. It was a once-in-a-lifetime sight! After dropping off some of our passengers, we headed back home…arriving there around 6:00 PM. Tiff had roast, potatoes, carrots, etc for our final dinner together. After cleaning up a bit, and completing our packing, we headed for the hallway and began to say our goodbyes. I’m tearing up now, as I type these notes (men hate to admit to that). It was a bit emotional. Elijah had to flee to the bathroom. We had bonded…more than ever before. The boys had learned to love us, and we felt closer to the entire family than we had in some time. We were leaving our “kids” on the other side of the world. But…we know that they are gifted for the task that they are attempting, and we know that the God, who controls everything in the Universe, has them in His hand. They are where they ought to be! So…we quickly gave hugs and said goodbye, and hurried out the door and down the stairs. Chris drove us through the dusk…toward UBs Chingghis Khan International Airport….arriving there at 9:30 PM. He helped us unload and told us goodbye. We went inside and were immediately greeted by 3 Mongolian men, who wanted to shrink-wrap our suitcases (for a 12,000 tugrik fee). Chris had told us that it would happen, so we allowed it…wondering at the time what would happen if customs needed to inspect them. We checked in at the Korean Airlines desk, gave them our luggage, and went exploring. We could not find any signs that indicated our departure gate, but found one waiting area that looked promising. There were several gift shops, and we had kept out enough Mongolian currency to be able to get some last-minute souvenirs. After making some purchases, we went back to our seats. I did some more journaling. At 10:40 PM, boarding began. Departure was to be at 11:10 PM, but we taxied for what seemed to be 15 minutes. By 11:25, we were lifting off the runway and heading for the Korea. I watched the lights of Ulaanbaatar, saw the 3/4 moon pass our wingtip, and began to pray for the family we were leaving behind…their task…to spread the message of salvation…to introduce Jesus to a land that has long forgotten God. I am now catching up on my journal notes for today as we speed through the skies. I have questioned Carol about our time schedule, and still find it puzzling. Here’s why: We left on August 31st at 11:10 PM (Mongolia time). In a few minutes, it will be Sept. 1st (Mongolia time). We will arrive in Seoul, Korea around 3 AM, but will have gained an hour (so, it will be 4 AM in Mongolia). Around 11:30 AM (Korea time), we will head East…toward the U.S. Somewhere along the way, we’ll cross the International Date Line, which will make it the day before. But, we’ll be in the air so long that we won’t be home until the next day…which may or may not be…the day we left ??? I guess that maybe the airplane pilot, on one of the legs of the flight; will let me know where I’m at, and what time it is….they usually do. As long as we get there…who cares? Without their guidance, this journal becomes “out of whack”.
I am jotting notes now, at 11:50 Pm and we have received our headphones and some orange juice. We are supposed to get dinner soon after midnight. Go figure!
……Okay, it happened! I had seafood (whitefish, shrimp, and maybe squid)). The latter was really chewy…nothing to write home about. Carol had some (tough) beef. I am miserable…was bloated when trip started, and this meal was not the solution to that problem. I have already mentioned the amenities in the Korean Airlines bathrooms, so won’t reiterate them here, but a trip to one of them allowed me to come up with a razor, so I could get a shave during our long layover in Seoul. Tried to read a mystery book that I had brought along, but got sleepy and they turned off most of the lights. Had some restless sleep until 3:05 AM. As I resume my note taking, we are over water, just outside of the Incheon Airport in Seoul, South Korea. Now…our wheels are being lowered. We are only 3 minutes from touchdown. Looking outside, we can see that the ground is wet…rain has been falling. Our landing is flawless. You try hitting wet pavement at 200 mph. I am grateful for an experienced pilot. I put my notebook away as we taxi to the terminal.
Hours later,…we walked the darkened hallways of this great airport for a little while, not immediately finding the traveler’s lounge that we had seen before. Finally, Carol got us straightened out. We needed to find Asiana Airlines lounge, not KAL. There was a girl on duty at a 24-hour information booth, so I left my boarding pass with her and got a locker key. We left our carry-on luggage, and then went upstairs. A number of people were sleeping in the lounge, but we found two side-by-side reclining chairs and lay across them. Both of us slept soundly for 2-3 hours. The airport had begun to get busy by 7 AM, so we got up and faced the day, though our night had been kind of messy. We were somewhat rested. We had fruit smoothies for breakfast, and then, went to a “cultural experience”. They provided us with fans, paint, and some design samples. It was way tougher than we had imagined, so we spent the better part of an hour painting away. Next, we re-claimed our luggage from the lockers and my boarding pass from the info. booth. We had some left-over kwon (Korean currency), so we did some shopping for souvenirs.
Bought some milk chocolate candy with orange centers and a set of souvenir pens with little Korean people on them. By then, it was time to get to our departure gate for a 10:30 AM (Wed…Sept 1st) flight. Security was a bit tighter, now that we were headed for the U.S. Carol lost a sealed cup of water that we had saved from the prior flight. We sat in row 37 of this huge 747…right over the wings. I kind of dozed off while awaiting take-off. After about 30 minutes, I awakened to find that we still weren’t moving. Carol said that we were waiting for other planes to land. As we finally began our take-off, our plane shuddered and shook terribly,…as if we were driving over a highway rumble-strip. Since we were off the ground; that was an unlikely reason. Although worrisome for a bit, the plane soon smoothed out, and we were on our way home. I looked at my watch, and it said that it was 11:36 AM, but I think my watch is already off by an hour. As I am writing, we appear to be over the ocean. They have given us our slippers, toothbrush set, headphones, etc. (found blankets & pillows in our seats as we entered). Carol is seated next to a very slim, young Korean man, so not at all crowded. I note that she is having her devotions. Not sure when I wrote the next part, but my journal says, “…a long, grueling flight has now been going on forever”. Almost everyone turns out their lights, shuts their window shades, and naps. I don’t like shutting out the sun. I attempted to watch numerous movies, but slept through most of them. They fed us a couple of times…fish, beef, etc. We had honey-roasted peanuts (tasty) and another snack that was like a rice Cheeto. Strange!
I have now decided to change my watch to the current time in Atlanta, Georgia, so I have no idea what day or time it really is here. A cabinet attendant just brought us hot towels, so food must be coming again. The sky map shows us still over the ocean, west of Alaska. I noticed a while ago that we were up to 710 mph. At one point, I noted that we had a tailwind of 149 mph. That helps! I made some notes in the margins of my notebook…not sure when. One says that we are 7,860 miles from Atlanta. Another says that we are going northeast, up past Vladivostok, Russia. At one point, I noted that we were at 22,365 feet in altitude. While awaiting the pending meal, I decided to work on the U.S. Customs form that had been provided to us. It is now 6 PM in Atlanta, by my watch, …so it must be around 3 PM where we are now. Okay…I stand corrected…by my wife….maybe! We left at noon, from Seoul. So, there was daylight for several hours. However, the day/night map shows that at the date-line, it changes (maybe). It shows dark on one side and light on the other, but I can’t believe that there is anywhere on earth where that actually happens. Anyhow, based upon the fact that I’m sure it’s currently 7 AM in Atlanta, it must be 3 AM here. (Do you sense the confusion)? Enough of that nonsense! We had chicken/rice and beef/noodles for our meal. Mine had a hot sauce that you squeeze from a toothpaste tube. It wasn’t exceptionally good, but not horrible. Our seatmate just got up and went to the bathroom for the first time in 10 hours. We watched a few more short features on our little TV. Carol became ill. She was chilling and having pain in her neck. That is of concern when you are in the air, but at least we were now over the U.S., and could probably do an emergency landing, if necessary. We watched as we passed Kansas & Missouri on our way to the Deep South….DUMB! That’s what they do though, when they can save money by flying in to their own “hub”…in this case Delta Airlines. Now, we are 36 minutes from landing. I’m hoping that we can make it home without a side-trip to the hospital.
At 1:07 PM, we are sitting in a Delta Airlines MD88, in Atlanta…listening to a high-pitched squeal. This airplane is nothing like the ones we were on earlier. We should be airborne soon, on a 1 hour 37 minute trip to Kansas City, Missouri. However, let me go back in time for a brief moment. We arrived at the Hartfell Jackson Airport, in Atlanta, and had about a 1 1/2 hour layover for our connecting flight. As we were arriving, I was amazed to see a Delta plane leaving about every minute or so. A whole line of them was waiting to take off. Entering the airport, we lined up at immigration, to have our passport stamped. Then, we went down to get our luggage. That ate up most of a half hour. Then, it was off to the Customs area. One of the questions on our form was a query about whether we had been on any land that had livestock. In Mongolia, that’s most of the country. So…while our luggage was going through x-ray, a man took us to a basin, over which we held our feet, while he sprayed disinfectant on our shoes. We did not tell him that our suitcase contained the shoes that I’d worn 90 % of my Mongolian stay. No way did I want him detaining us in order to cut open the shrink-wrap and spray those shoes.
While the customs man was thus employed, he wasn’t watching his equipment, something he normally would have been doing. One of our suitcases stood up on the conveyor belt and became jammed in the tunnel. It stopped the machine, and was so jammed that we had to kick it to get it loose. In the process, it damaged the suitcase so badly that we discarded it when we got home. I didn’t make an issue of it there. What? Sue U.S. Customs? It was a suitcase that an airline had damaged on a prior trip, so I just considered it to have lived its life. Next, it was time to go through a security check. Whereas, the customs employee had been friendly, and had asked about our trip,…these people were a bit more serious. They didn’t joke around, but treated us okay. The lady had hollered at enough people, so I knew what she wanted…and did my best to make her happy. Because of the new body scanning equipment, we had to take off our shoes, belt, every item (even paper) from our pockets, etc. You’d think maybe that such sophisticated machinery would eliminate the need for some of that. Who wants to argue with them…just get me home! After clearing security, it was time to catch a train that would take us to Concourse C. (Keep in mind that we only have 1 1/2 hour layover). In Concourse C, we are surrounded by American-style food vendors. There was 15 minutes until boarding time, so we hurried to a Checker’s burger booth. We split a cheeseburger and fries and purchased that all-important, MR. PIBB! Now, Carol was in heaven! We hurried to Gate 9 and were on the plane about 10 minutes later.
As I continue to take notes, we are taxiing down the runway and headed for home, sweet home. I looked to see if maybe I could call Chris, and tell him that we’ve made it, but it is 3 AM in Mongolia. Carol had turned on her cell phone and found 3 messages (two were political ads…welcome to America). Delta’s in-flight magazine seemed to indicate that they had abandoned “free” snacks, but after a bit, they served us pretzels, peanuts, or cookies,…and a beverage. I looked around and began “profiling” people. There was a guy sitting nearby that looked a bit “Arabic”. He took out a laptop computer and started flipping through pages of a document. They had captions that indicated something about IBM security, and they had tiny pictures of the Twin Towers. I conjectured that he was actually studying something that had to do with his job, rather than posing a danger to us. He seemed harmless enough. During our uneventful flight to Kansas City, we stayed low enough in altitude to see the ground most of the time. Around 2:45 PM, our pilot announced that we were descending to KC International Airport.
As so often happens, my journal notes ended there. It is now over a month after our trip, and I am realizing that I’ll have to reconstruct, in my mind, any other portion of the trip that I want to report on. There is actually little to tell, but we did land safely, retrieved our luggage, called the hotel shuttle, and went to the island in front of the terminal, to await our ride. Within half an hour, we were at our car and headed for Overland Park. We stopped for a cheeseburger and a large drink. It was time to attack piles of laundry, a stack of mail, unpaid bills….and of course…return to work! We weren’t expecting jetlag to be an issue, as it hadn’t plagued us too much on our outward trip. Boy, were we wrong. We got up at 2 AM one morning. I think we were messed up for about 3 days. We passed out souvenirs, printed several hundred photos, and procrastinated at getting this thing (journal) printed. Time has passed. I’ve finally bitten the bullet and this is done. Those of you who thought it would never end…it did. We have had one more opportunity to see a portion of God’s great world…and we are thankful!
(For those of you who have been reading this in email form…thanks for your interest…and your comments. It has been gratifying to know that you have found this account to be interesting enough to be worthy of your time. Sorry for the bad grammar. Yes,…I know that I used fragments, split infinitives, various incorrect voices, and tenses. Spell-check informed me of that. If I was really going to be a published travel-writer, I’d have to work on that. Should you like to see our pictures…come see us sometime. We’d love to have you do that. It only took me a month to do the journal, so it will probably only take a year for me to complete the scrapbook. However, I have scrapbooks waiting to be finished…from decades ago…so who can tell? Seriously though, the pics are here. Love to share them with you. If you truly enjoyed the journal….send money…and I’ll go on another trip (smile).