From Russia (no love) to the land of mutton

A few drops of greasy mutton juice dribbled onto my clothes as I bit into the buuz dumpling, but I didn't care. I was officially back in Mongolia. In fact, it was just a few minutes after my passport was stamped at the Sukhbaatar train station that a young Mongolian girl boarded the train with a canister of steaming hot buuz for sale. And, I just couldn't get out of Russia fast enough.

I try not to hold any generalized prejudices against any country but Russia left me with a sour taste in my mouth after my first visit there in 2001. On that occasion, I was only in the country for a few minutes before being shaken down for money by the Russian police in a dingy jail cell. This year, in order to avoid any unpleasantness, I booked a ticket from Helsinki to Ulaan Baatar, with just a half-day stopover in Moscow.

But that was still time enough for the slimy policemen at the Yaroslavsky train station to drag me down into a jail cell and empty the contents of my backpack and money belt. While a burly police thug yelled Russian gibberish at me, two others slipped several high-value notes from my money belt to their desk. There is something completely hopeless about being robbed by the police. Options are limited. Recourse is nonexistent. Incredulity, disgust, and anger were to sit in the pit of my stomach like a bad potato piroshki for my remaining five days on the train to Mongolia. And thus, when I finally crossed the border, I couldn't have been happier to see that thermos-bucket of hot, fatty mutton dumplings for sale in the hands of a smiling Mongolian girl. I bought ten.

It was with equal joy that I was finally reunited with my 3-iron. Safely stored away for the winter in my friend Andy's apartment in Ulaan Baatar, I could tell it was itching to get back out onto the steppe. With still a chance of snow existing here in Mongolia, I'm acclimatizing to the country for the next couple weeks before resuming the longest-ever round of golf in late May. Until then, the mutton grease stains on my clothing are a comforting reminder of how wonderful it is to be back in this country.

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