Mongolia Week 7: Departure

My departure from Mongolia was not a terribly sentimental one. I woke up in a bleary-eyed haze at three in the morning, stumbled around tossing the last few essentials I had back into my luggage, and before I knew it, I was on a flight heading towards Beijing. I did have one last moment of tranquility in Ulaanbaatar though. As my driver lazily pulled through the streets of the city in the very early morning, I rested my head against the passenger-side window and gazed out. The sodium-vapor street lamps that lined the run-down south side of the city provided a deeply yellow-orange glow to my surroundings, and as these old lights gave way to the newer, brighter LED road lights of the luxury car dealerships and towering financial centers of the north, I was reminded of that first real comparison I made of the city, the north-south divide. 

Since that time, I had learned much more about Ulaanbaatar and its inhabitants. The delineation between the regions was less concrete than I had originally surmised, partially due to my initial lack of understanding regarding the city’s scale. Moving away from Sukhbaatar Square, my home, and my immediate surroundings, the north-south divide became blurred and eventually vanished, a fact I learned while on a survey trip deep into the east side of the city, where a Ger district stretched far into the north side of town. 

As I traveled the half-constructed highway I had taken twice before, once upon my initial arrival to the city and again on nausea-inducing trip to the country’s immigration services, I felt no such onset of illness this time. If anything, I was seeing this road with a clarity that I had lacked in my previous encounters. I could now trace the skyline and point out landmarks that had over the weeks become familiar to me. I could now read out the Cyrillic signs that bombarded the senses all over the roadside and city. In my time of leaving, Ulaanbaatar felt the most like a home that it ever had. 

Arriving at the airport, I quickly ate my way through a platter of Buuz, or Mongolian dumplings, closing yet another loop in my time in the country, the first and last thing that I ate while abroad. My unfamiliarity with navigating Mongolian menus had now faded; no longer was I ordering a single dumpling with no clue of its cost or size. Similarly, my time with the baggage checking service and customs had likewise gone by with a fluidity that was not found upon my arrival to the country. 

And then I left. The six weeks I had spent abroad ended. I put on my headphones, settled into my seat on the airplane, and drifted off, ferried home. The lasting memory of Mongolia, of Ulaanbaatar, of the people I had met, that had served me food, that had taught me calligraphy, that had brought me all across their country, was just that now, a memory, forever compartmentalized and packaged for my occasional, fading recollection. It was only then did my sentimentality come forward, beading up at the corners of my eyes.