Day 56: Town Yard to Dinner , Oh, Celine!

Students study with their earphones in, while music plays through a television.
Earphones in, Celine out.

Home is not the best place to work today.

The dog across the way has enlisted some help and the terrible trio are now attempting to bark and howl their way to the top of the canine charts.

Concentration is impossible, so I decide to give cafe co-working another go.

This time I head to the Uni Coffee House, which is located opposite the sprawling National University of Mongolia.

Inside, twenty-somethings lay their school books out on the cafe tables, or zone out with their phones. The dress code is casual and even coffee seems to be optional.

If the students are stressed with assignments and deadlines, it’s not obvious. Compared to the synthetic vibe of the Camino Cafe, the vibe here is relaxed and refreshingly real. The only downside is that the television is locked to the Celine Dion channel. Celine Dion!

She’s possibly my least favourite artist, but no-one else seems to mind. Or perhaps that’s the reason why most people have their earphones in?

After a while, however, I stop noticing my peculiar predicament. Perhaps this is how it starts?

After my regular language class I head down past Big boulevard to get a Japanese Full Body Massage.

I'm excited about getting rid of my aches and pains, and restoring my body to optimum condition before embarking on my big ride.

Although the price is relatively expensive by local standards (₮ 38,000 / NZD 29), I always feel great after a massage and have never regretted getting one.

At SiSi I meet the friendly professional staff, undress and lie down.

The ensuing rub down is enjoyable and everything I hoped for, until..

The end. The young lady seems to think that it should be a happy one, and her wandering hands wander over to my happy place. But it's an unsolicited shock and the resulting lack of movement makes the moment even more awkward. Apparently discouraged, she stops and leaves - leaving me with the unrequited shame and a large moral surcharge which I didn't budget for. And now I can't stop wondering whether I missed the signs, whether this actually is that kind of place, and if so if I actually am that kind of guy.

Dinner is at yet another upstairs restaurant, and consists of a basket of toast, a healthy salad and a not-so-healthy beer.

The dining booths have tall backs embroidered in paisley patterns. A table-top television provides the impression that I’m sitting in someone’s living room, though thankfully Ms Dion is nowhere to be seen. Instead an inoffensive Mongolian romcom is playing, punctuated with advertisements for baby products – subtle!

Back at the hostel, I catch up with Simon, the fellow traveller I met at the tourist information centre in Irkutsk.

He’s the one who convinced me to walk the great Great Baikal Trail. But he’s just surpassed that achievement by visiting Olgii, the Altay mountains in the west, and the reindeer people in the north. It was a dream come true, he says.

Describing his route in more detail, he casually states that of the 27 days on tour, over half of them were spent in transit. That’s Mongolia!