Mongolian Mumbles 1
Ulaanbaatar known as UB.
First week impressions.
Ulaanbaatar (UB in future) has a very similar feel to it as to when we were here in 1996, but it has grown enormously and I am hardly able to recognise the places we visited and stayed all those years ago. The other thing I was aware of was the height above sea level that we are, 1,600 metres and after living at sea level for many years I wondered at first why I was so puffed walking around!
Architecturally UB is not much different from a typical "soviet" city with its gray high-rise apartment blocks, Russian made cars, and a few remaining monuments of soviet era but there is now very modern buildings that would not be out of place in Dubai and what appears to be many, many more going up. How much difference the world wide downturn will affect Mongolia, remains to be seen.
Nigel greeted me on my arrival with champagne, caviar & chocolates – so gorgeous of him and a lovely welcome.
‘The flat‘, where Nigel has been staying since his arrival is relatively new but just one bedroom, a lounge, kitchen & bathroom. It is in a 9 floor block & we do have lifts which is a bonus. Our flat is OK although we are having great difficulty getting in & out as the key is a little bent & the door, which is like Fort Knox with 4 big dead bolts going into place when you can turn the key & have to get the security guard to let us in each time as he seems to have the knack to open which we don’t. We had somebody working on it for over an hour yesterday but it still gave Nigel trouble this morning. We also had no power in the power points from last night, so no hot tea this morning although we were able to have a hot shower.
Last night while trying to cook a ’Frittata’ I turned the oven on to grill the top of the frittata & then wondered why the stove top didn't work, so have now realised you can't cook in the oven & on the stove top at the same time & if you do you will probably blow the fuses as well!! Brand new stove as well. The block of flats is new and only Marcus from Germany has stayed in the flat before but there is such poor workmanship all around that it is not surprising those things don’t work & it all becomes a little frustrating.
Hopefully we will be able to find something a little larger very soon. Have looked at a few that were boxed apartments and there is no way I could live in them long term. Hopefully one is becoming available this weekend that I will see it early next week which is more open plan so I keep my fingers crossed.
Our first meal together was in one of the local cafes, where I have yet to see any westerners dining but with a huge turnover of Mongolians. The huge meal cost us 3,800 Tugrik’s which is equal to ₤1.56, $2.60 - US, $3.13 - Aus, BD 1, not bad when it was soup with meat & veggies, something like a Cornish pasty with meat, a dumpling with meat & veggies, a meat casserole with rice plus pickled cabbage & potato salad and a drink, I had a coke & Nigel had a tea. I couldn’t quite face the ‘tea’ but have done so since and enjoyed it.
The tea goes back to when we arrived in Mongolia in 1996 and were invited in for a cup of tea at this lovely little café. I was dying for a cup of tea as we had been travelling in the back of a truck for nearly 8 hours and had many break downs, so a cup of tea seemed like a ‘manna from heaven’! Then I watched them make the tea & couldn’t believe they had the audacity to call it tea.
First they boiled the water in a big wok on a wood burning stove in the middle of the room, like you should, then they threw in sticks of tea that they carved off this huge brick of pressed tea sticks (no tea leaves to be seen), then came the handful of salt…. at this stage I was aghast at ‘my cup of tea’…, on with the procedure. After this had boiled away for awhile they then threw in a few cupfuls of yak milk with the rich fatty cream still obvious which quickly turned to oily like sludge’s on the top of this concoction. There was no way I was going to be able to drink this ‘cup of tea’. I then had this revelation (which I have occasionally) and said to myself its’ ‘soup’ & I will enjoy it & I did. I was then able to drink it with ease for the rest of our time in Mongolia and it was the ‘tea’ I was now facing again now, so, once again I drank my ‘soup’. Be warned when you pay us a visit!!
After our delicious lunch I went with Nigel to his office to meet the staff.
Ian Leach - team leader, approx 55 British married to a young Mongolian woman with a 1 year old son.
Fuji (real name Anaga Purevdavaa) Mongolian & is Finance Officer, very pleasant and speaks good English & is helping me to find somewhere nice to live.
Baaggi (A. Bat-Erdene) is Livestock Expert, Mongolian.
Gara (Ganchimeg Gombodorj) SME - Short Term Expert Ingo Wurzbacher - German & Logistics Expert who is only here for a short time.
In the next office there is two Translators/Interpreters Uuri & Ulsi both very pleasant & both have worked in the UK for a few years plus Peter Boswell who is the Marketing Expert, British - verynice man. His wife hasn't come out here yet but maybe the next time he comes back she will come with him. He has done his 6.5 months this year but may take a month or so from the last year of the project as there is so much work to do. This is something Nigel may do as well which will help swell the coffers a little.
Then there is another office further up the corridor with more Mongolians having such titles as Project Director; Pasture & Fodder Expert; Finance Officer; Project Provincial Manager; Provincial Manager Darkhan-Uul; Procurement Officer; Junior Short-Term Expert Selenge; Junior Short-Term Expert Orkhon!!
Now you know as much as I do. Lots to learn about everyone but I guess I will in time.
The first night Nigel asked the staff of the office to join us for a drink at the local watering hole which just happens to be a student Nazi bar. Swastikas all over the place and life size figures of Nazi sympathizers. A little disconcerting but good cheap beer and quite pleasant wine & when the bill for 8 beers and 4 wines plus hot chips, peanuts and fruit dishes is only about $10US it is understandable why you drink there.
Nigel & I then went on to have dinner at a very nice India restaurant and once again with beer & a lovely meal we spent only $10. Living is definitely cheap here if you go to the right place but we went out to dinner two nights later at a very nice Japanese restaurant with masses of food we paid $23.00 per head. It was well worth it mind you and anywhere else that I have visited lately you would probably have be paying in the vicinity of $50 to $100 plus a head.
Went to the Steppe Inn at the British Embassy on Friday night before our Japanese meal where we met a few Aussies who are working here, one lot building a thoroughbred racecourse plus a few other characters who I will have to discover more about as they were certainly are interesting in not only their behaviour but what they were wearing as well, a little intriguing… more about those people in future MM’s & hopefully I will be able to get some photos. I guess it is not surprising that a place like Mongolia will draw some odd characters from around the world, out for a little adventure.
Of the population of 2 plus million that live in Mongolia, half of that population live here in UB. There are ger camps’ all around the city where the herders try to eke out an existence with their livestock which die in large numbers during the bitterly cold winters and many are also living in the dilapidated Russian style buildings that are seen everywhere here.
I haven’t been out & seen the ‘ger’ areas but they are clearly visible on Google and from the air when I flew in. The city is growing rapidly with many modern buildings going up alongside the lovely old buildings that still stand such as the Opera House and Parliament House.
I look forward to getting round to see some of the sights in UB as there is a considerable number of things to see plus many, many shops. Went in to what I thought was a small supermarket no bigger that a small bedroom & quickly found myself in a huge underground area with masses of shops all selling similar things in their own little area. Some had tins, some were selling bread as well, some selling fancy cakes others selling cigarettes etc. Couldn’t find fly spray or fly swat so will have to keep looking for those items. It went on for nearly half a block & I am sure there are many of these areas throughout the city so I will really have to look when I see small shop in future.
Traffic is busy with trams, buses, masses of SUV’s plus your normal run of the mill cars you see around the world. I expected to see more run down cars as we did in 1996 plus the horse & carts & yaks & carts but they are no longer on the road it seems so you take your life into your own hands when you cross the road. Every other car seems to be a acting as a taxi so you just put your hand out & wait for someone, anyone to stop, although there are proper taxi’s the only night we have used one was when we left the Japanese Rest in the Kempinski Hotel. There is a set rate of Tugrik’s 500 = US$0.34 per kilometre so it is not very expensive to get around via taxi’s but generally we walk everywhere unless it is pouring down with rain.
There are a few large shops including the State Department Store & Sky shopping Centre which is 5 floors & sells pretty well anything. Obviously there are loads of Chinese products that seem to fall to pieces the minute you are out of the store but there are also shops that import goods in from America. Felt products & cashmere are two of the main tourist exports from Mongolia.
When we were here in 1996 there were apparently nearly 6,000 people living underground in the sewer system but over 20 homes have been established for these people so there are considerably less numbers living underground but you still see many young boys on the streets who obviously live somewhere like the sewers. Pick pocketing seems to be there main source of income so you have to be careful and when I had left some food on my plate the first day I was here they were quick to come in and ask if they could have it which of course I was delighted to do. If I had known they would come in I would have left more.
There has been major discoveries of vast reserves of gold & copper found here, plus other minerals and semi precious stones have also been found so there is considerable dealings going on at the moment & companies vying for the right to extract it but like many places I feel the graft & corruption will leave little for the local people as two thirds of the population live below the poverty line. The agreement with Rio Tinto & Ivanhoe has been going to be signed for months but if reports are to be believed it is getting closer. The mines value is in the billions of dollars so let us hope it will also help improve the infrastructure of Mongolia.
On the weekend we visited a huge market called Narantuul Market mostly uncovered but there is also some hangar size indoor areas which is reported to be the biggest in Asia. Once again you could buy almost anything there although we didn’t find a can opener but we probably just didn’t look in the right place. We only saw one other westerner there so it is very popular with the locals and apparently pick pocketing and bag slashing is common but we didn’t have any problems, thank heavens.
We have a few Aussies here with one woman being Tracy Naughton whose grandmother was born in Bombala and was a Helmer then married a Ruxton, what a small world? Ring any bells? Also met another lovely American woman who has been here 15 years and she took me around the places where she shops & it was fantastic as I think it would have taken me months to find them on my own. Could see I could get most things but there still seems to be a dearth of herbs & spices. I will just have to keep looking as I am sure they will be here somewhere.
So the first week has flown by & I feel as if I have been here for a much longer time. We head out into the country for a week on the 17th August so that will be a fantastic photo opportunity and it will be good to see a little more of the area.