Fierce eyed in their filmy black dresses and off-the-shoulder numbers, the girls of Ulaanbaatar were strutting down the corridors of the gleaming new Shangri-La Hotel last August as if in Bangkok or Shanghai. Some were carrying bags from the shiny Vuitton outlet down the street; others had no doubt been pastoralists on the grasslands just years before. Every time the branch train of the Trans-Siberian Railway stops in the Mongolian capital, fresh faces—new thoughts of faraway worlds—flood out to transform a world of horses and heart-stopping emptiness. “You know,” a Mongolian friend said to me just before heading to the bar Naadam, “Genghis Khan was the WTO of the thirteenth century.” What he didn’t need to say was that what used to be a trade of spices and tea is now very often one of promises and dreams.
Arrivals and Departures Along the Trans-Siberian Railway
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