WELCOME TO MONGOLIA Mark Johnston July 14 China, Round the World Trip, Travel Like in a classic James Bond film, we were riding in style, first class aboard the Trans-Mongolian Railway from Beijing to Ulan Bator. Inside our private sleeper cabin, surrounded by deep red wood paneling and sitting comfortably across from each other, Britnee and I gazed out the window as the open expanse of northern China passed us by. I would drift into day dreams of the drive from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Browning, Montana, a trip that my wife and I had made the previous summer. A familiar landscape of endless rolling hills with a thin layer of green grass stretched out as far as the eye could see while popcorn clouds dotted the wide, blue sky above. I could have sworn I was staring at the American West until large Chinese characters painted beside a remote housing project brought me back to the North China Plain. We were still far from our destination but in no hurry to get there as our swank accommodations on the train were much more comfortable than our last four nights in Beijing. It had come as a bit of a surprise when we found our carriage on the platform at the Beijing Railway Station as we’d forgotten what class was booked for this first leg of our long journey to Moscow. When the conductor led us on board we both tried to play it cool, suppressing our excitement as we followed him down the wood-paneled gangway with paisley-patterned, brown and gold carpet underfoot. Soon he stopped at lucky number VII and left us inside, broad smiles on our faces as we admired our accommodations for the next 27 hours. Pulling out of the station, passengers from the second class coaches started passing by our door on their way to the restaurant car, all pausing, snapping photos and exclaiming at what must be two rich, spoiled young travelers in all their first class fanciness. Two bunks filled the left wall of our berth while a comfortable chair and private washroom took up the right side. Closing our sliding door provided us with peace and quiet and two free meals awaited us at lunch and dinner in the restaurant car. Hard to believe that in previous weeks we had traveled throughout China in much less comfort—traveling on sleeper trains with noisy, nosey neighbors on dirty linen for hours on end, praying for the end of the line. Now we didn’t want the journey to end. By 9 p.m. we had arrived in Erlian where Chinese border guards boarded our train, searched our cabs and left with our passports for inspection. The train moved to a hanger where the bogies were swapped, (because of the break of gauge between China and Mongolia), and then returned to the station where our passports were handed back before continuing northward, well after midnight. Sometime between 1-2 a.m. we stopped at our first station in a strange, new land where we handed over our passports once again and patiently waited for approval to continue. By this point both Britnee and I were nodding off in our bunks, exhaustion getting the best of both of us despite the noise of the welcoming party–passport and customs control. Finally, around 3 a.m. a short, round woman in military dress entered our cabin, asked us if we were carrying any restricted items—to which we both replied with a sleepy “no”—then stamped our customs forms. “Welome to Mongolia,” she said before leaving us in the dark to fall asleep and dream of both familiar and foreign landscapes passing us by.