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Finding Boxes

by Tara

My goal for the day is a deceptively simple one: find cardboard boxes. We've already failed at this once. Yesterday, we asked at the local outdoor supply shop, a camping outlet, and the huge State Department Store, all in vain. If I can't find cardboard today, we'll probably have to spend our evening dumpster diving.

It is warmer today than it has been lately. Instead of an occasional snow flurry drifting to Ulaan Baatar's dusty pavement, the city is bathed in warm sunlight. Walking through town on the hunt, I'm enjoying the heat, and daydreaming about being in the tropics. Just a few more days to go.

Several blocks from our hostel, I move on to more practical fantasies, like a specialty cardboard supplier magically appearing from thin air and producing exactly what we need. Of course that's impossible, so I continue my scan for more likely suspects: a warehouse, or the dumpster of an appliance store?

A little further down, I see a tiny little shop boasting stickers for North Face, Marmot, and Columbia in the window. Another camping outlet? Maybe they'll have bike boxes. Marching into the establishment with purpose, I am met with an indifferent stare by the lone Mongolian woman inside.

I smile, saying "sanbanu" to break the ice, and then begin attempting to convey what I need. Do you have any (miming) boxes? For (miming) bicycles? No, no, she says. No bicycles. Yes, but do you have any (miming) boxes? This is not working; I need a new approach.

Just then, I see a cardboard display, and I point to it, asking if she has any of that. The light goes off and she nods her head, yes, yes she does. For some reason, she seems to be as excited as I am! She beckons me follow her with a flip of her hand, and we stomp up the stairs together. There, on a landing among other disused packing material is a three-foot high stack of huge, broken down boxes! Success!

I rummage around until I find four ex-sleeping bag containers, all in pretty good condition. One has a smashed corner, but it should be repairable with a good roll of tape. I thank the woman, beaming from ear to ear, and ask how much I owe her. She just shakes her head with a smile and sends me on my way.

You wouldn't think it to look at them, but cardboard boxes can be heavy. Worse yet, they are extremely awkward to hold on your own. What would normally be a brisk fifteen minute walk back to our hostel becomes an hour long crawl, with four giant, slippery pieces of cardboard in tow.

At first, I have to stop every fifty meters to readjust and rest my arms, but then I find a stable position: hoisting them over my head, back slumped over, one hand holding the boxes together in front, the other hand underneath them for support. And thus, under the strange gaze of many a mystified Mongolian, I make it back to our hostel. Success!!

While I am schlepping cardboard around town, Tyler is walking to the local Lenovo dealer a few kilometers away. He has been hoping to replace my netbook with a Lenovo x201s, providing a much needed backup for our primary workhorse, a well worn x200s. If he is successful, Rob and Neisha will be taking my old computer for the duration of their trip, and I will be taking his.

An hour or so later, Tyler returns from his mission, also successful! To celebrate our victories, we spend the evening with Neisha and Rob. After a goodbye drink at the Finish Line Bar to say farewell to Matt and Gem who are flying to China, we meet our cycle touring friends at a restaurant called California Burger.

There, we laugh and and talk and scarf down enormous burgers with such sorely missed delights as real bacon, fresh tomato, and honest-to-goodness cheddar cheese. Tyler's favorite part is the chocolate milkshake (his most-missed food item from home), which, though not quite authentic, is still the closest thing he's had to the real thing since we left the US.

After we're all happy and stuffed, we waddle over to the Amsterdam Cafe for a showing of the movie, "Everest: Sea to Summit". In this cute documentary, Tim Macartney-Snape and his then wife, Dr. Ann Ward, dorkily tromp around India together, from sea level, up to the south base camp of Mt. Everest.

After a few days of acclimatization, Tim leaves on his own to climb the mountain, making him the first person to do a sea-to-summit ascent under his own power, without oxygen. He has since gone on to create the Sea to Summit outdoor supply company from whom we bought our awesome collapsible bowls.

Back at our hostel, it's time to say some more goodbyes. Alex and Tom are leaving early in the morning to take the train to China, where they'll meet back up with Matt and Gem. Our convoy has almost completely dissolved; only Tyler and Mette and I remain.