Surviving Week One in Outer Mongolia

Well, we have been in Ulaanbaatar (UB) just over a week and I would say we are almost up to speed with how things are done in the city.  Here are some of our discoveries.

1) Crossing Roads

Crossing the road in UB is pretty dangerous.  There are pelican crossings and green lights for pedestrians but, and here’s the catch, very few people take any notice of them.  Some drivers speed up when nearing people crossing,  some beep and/or flash you to notify you of your imminent death if you don’t move and others just drive like a bat out of hell the entire time.  When a rare but helpful driver stops to let one cross, often the driver behind swerves out and carries on along the road.

2) Food

The local food is meat pancake, meat dumpling, meat soup, meat noodles, meat noodle soup…… you get the picture.  In preparation for the countryside, where non meat eaters are met with “Really!  If I don’t eat meat every day I will die”, I decided to try some Buuz; a mutton filled dumpling ooozing mutton flavored grease.  Having not eaten meat for around seven years, I found this vile!  I managed to eat one & a half and then squeezed the mutton out of the remaining two & a half and ate the dumpling casing.

We have eaten Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, Western  (a cheese roll), Korean and even at two vegan restaurants.  It is quite expensive to eat out so tomorrow we are heading off to a local market to buy supplies to cook with.

Mongolian lesson number four taught us foods.  Tim discovered the meat dumplings he’d been enjoying were camel dumplings.

3) The Weather

The temperature is very changeable during March & April.  We have had highs of 10°C and lows of -15°C, excluding windchill.  The nights are often super cold going down to -20°C at some points.  Our room is cold as although we have heating in it it is part of the central, central heating system.  The city heating has been turned down recently and will apparently get turned off in May – can’t wait!  The other thing with our room is that we have five very light sheets to cover us, thankfully we brought our down sleeping bags so we’re using these as a duvet.

For those of you, like me until now, who have never experienced weather this cold, let me try and give you an idea of how it feels.  When around -10°C downwards any moisture in ones nostril freezes and the spit (of which there is loads) on the pavement freezes.  This morning I went out with wet hair & it froze within two minuets.  I commented to Tim that it might snap off & he made me put my coat hood up.

Sounds horrible but although it does get very cold, the skies are clear blue and the air is dry and we even had snow yesterday.

4) Yoga and a Hangover

Hangover + Hatha Yoga = A bad idea.

Tim & I celebrated completing our first week of Mongolian language lessons at the Grand Khan Irish Pub and then had to get up for a 2 & a half hour yoga lesson starting at 10am this morning.

One move was designed to purify the blood.  I found it bloody painful; needless to say my blood was teaming with Chinggis beer.  I didn’t mention this to the teacher.  Tim got manipulated into a correct position and blew a Chakra.

The lesson was tough, but fun with meditation at the end.  When asked to find one’s inner being I saw a curled up wretch sobbing with shame.

5) Finding an Apartment

Add $200 – $400 to the actual rent and you have the foreigner’s price per month for an apartment.  We have viewed three apartments so far, nothing suitable found yet.  We are off to view one tomorrow and have a couple of leads in the pipeline.  The decor has been varied.  One was modern Mongolian, one old school soviet and the last was nice but reminiscent of the late 70’s early 80’s decor in the UK – remembered by those of us old enough!

6) Learning a New Language

Wow! What a steep learning curve this week has been.  We started at school on Monday and will have lessons five days a week for three hours plus homework for the next three months.  The class consists of me and Tim.  We have two teachers; Odnoo and Alta, both female and really good teachers.  Odnoo is quite serious but lovely and Alta is wacky!

The language is tough; not surprising when you consider it is full of vowel harmony and makes extensive use of agglutinated affixes.  Don’t worry, I have no idea what I have just written either.

We met another English lady at the school called Nikki who is also learning Mongolian as her boyfriend is Mongolian.  Nikki is a linguist, speaking French, Spanish and Mandarin.   Nikki has not been back to the UK for four years as she has been living in China and studying in Taiwan.  We went for a meal together on Thursday and she is interesting and good fun.

We were chatting about Mongolians and their nature and Nikki recollected a story about an American friend who, having just arrived in UB in mid winter (temperatures often get down to -30°C and -40°C during the day), found a new born puppy.  It was shivering badly so the American picked it up, wrapped it in her coat while she decided what to do next.  She wondered around the city for a while looking for a vet’s or an animal rescue center.  Finding none, she approached a Policeman to ask his advice.  They had a confused conversation of sorts about the puppy, with the Policeman  gesturing to her to just put the dog down.  The American expressed her fears of what will happen if she pops the puppy down and the conversation ended in him saying, in perfect English “Don’t worry.  It will die.”

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The city has changed in many ways since we visited in 2006.  There are more shops, people are richer and there are loads more cars.  Last November a law was put in place to help traffic management.   One day a week people can’t use their car to cut back on traffic.  Each person has a different day they cannot drive on.  To get round this, people buy a second car.

Tim & I have felt homesick this week and to combat this we listened to The Archers Omnibus.  I had a bad day on Thursday – there were tears, but the day ended well; we went for a meal with Nikki and CuChullaine (The Long Rider’s Guild Co Founder) asked us to undertake a research project to understand how prolific Laminitis/Founder is in Mongolian horses.  We are both really excited about this opportunity and being able to provide helpful information to The Long Rider’s Guild.

To end this entry I will share with you an item that can be purchased in our local mini mart.  A lime green, toweling Korean toilet seat warmer. The packaging advertises the fact it will keep you warm, but ask yourself “Will it keep you dry?”

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