Mongolian Mumbles 3
The time just seems to be flying past. It is hard to believe that I have already been here nearly 3 months - sometimes it seems like years and at other times it’s as if we have only just arrived.
This MM really is just a ‘mumble’ giving you a little more information on Mongolia.
Traffic in UB is the most unusual I have seen in any country that I’ve ever been to. There seems to be an equal number of right hand & left hand drive vehicles but thankfully most of them seem to drive on the right-hand-side of the road – even though they frequently meander across the width of the track like a drunken rider on an unbroken horse. Certainly it is a little disconcerting when you are getting into the front seat - you have to really look for that steering wheel and which side it is. You also have to watch when crossing the road as presumably you are more difficult to see. Mind you, even if you are on a pedestrian crossing in the middle of the road they appear not to see you and I’ve nearly been bowled over a couple of times. I gather the reason for the equal number of left & right drives is they have equal number of Russian & Japanese cars sold here – many of them second-hand imports.
I tried to do a little survey on a street corner but failed miserably because I couldn’t tell what vehicle came from where. Now, they tell me, that the Japanese sell both left & right-hand-drive cars to Mongolia, I guess because they will take them!!!
We visited ‘Choijin Lama Temple Museum’ one Sunday, after a delightful breakfast at a more traditional western restaurant called Millie’s. Millie herself has become a friend whose cultural heritage is Ethiopian. She has a home in California, is married to an American and they also have a home in Kenya with flat and a business in Mongolia. Very typical, actually, of many of the people here in Mongolia. Another girl we met is from Reno, Nevada, an international lawyer here in UB while her husband works in Uzbekistan.
But back to the museum - it was built of wood over 100 years ago with that typical sort of oriental ‘Chinese- type of roof and with hundreds of figures and faces along the eaves and the ridges. There are several buildings in the walled grounds and one of these has to be the most macabre temple I have ever been in to. Supposedly the first temple is ‘Hell’ and to see the number of skulls, eyes gouged, body parts & just sheer brutality in many of the pictures makes you really think about just what ‘Hell’ is and who visited there before he drew all these pictures. Thank heavens the next temple was calm, peace & love which is much more in tune with what I know of the Buddhist religion. There are many similarities here in these temples to the temple figures we saw in India. I have posted pictures of the Temple on ‘Facebook’, for anyone interested.
Shopping & cooking is proving a little bit of a challenge but nothing I can’t overcome with time & a few disasters!! For example – I bought what I assumed was a packet of soup with all sorts of squiggles on it that were only meaningful to Mongolians, Koreans or some long dead tribe and added a litre of water - then nearly choked when I tasted a drop. It was saltier than the Dead Sea and if you’ve ever tasted that you know exactly how ghastly it was. I took the empty packet into Nigel’s work & discovered I only needed a teaspoon of the mixture per litre of water and the whole packet was 40 serves! It is a learning curve & hopefully it won’t happen again - but knowing is different to remembering!!
I was standing outside a shop the other day waiting for Nigel when I heard a child cry & it was such an odd sound here in Mongolia that it set me wondering why you don’t hear children crying or even grizzling. At the moment I believe one of the reasons is that I don’t think I have seen a baby or a young child in a pram. If they can’t walk, all the children are carried one way or another by somebody. I would guess that many of them can’t afford strollers for their children but even the more well-off are carried. It is amazing that you just don’t hear children cry and then I really started looking around and realised all the children we have seen are very happy little cherubs.
There are very few street lights here in UB and, after the Middle East (where even highways hundreds of kilometres from the city are lit), having none in central UB is a little disconcerting. Walking round at night we have to carry a torch because of the large number of open man-holes (on pavements and roads ) and you become conscious of being so much more vulnerable without street lighting. Thank heavens our new apartment is close to some very good restaurants, department stores and a supermarket. Not that I have ever felt threatened at all, as a matter of fact very much the opposite, but we have been warned by people that have been here for some time that the main problem is in the ‘ger camps’ on the outskirts of the city but ‘pickpockets’ are a problem everywhere so you become much more aware of your personal space. Hopefully it will never happen & we just try to be careful & aware!!
Our new apartment is heaven with views from every window (as opposed to the imposing proximity of the decrepit communist block from our first home here). Mostly we see the mountains which surround UB (covered in snow as I write) and lots of light plus it is very warm which will be great when the temperatures start to drop very soon to those horrific minus numbers I have only heard about – like -45oC. We have three bedrooms, three bathrooms and a big open lounge-dining-kitchen that suits us very well. When we finally have our things all in place I will post some photos.
I thought our belongings wouldn’t be here ‘til the end of September but they arrived on the 12th September and I flew out on the 15th leaving Nigel to do the majority of the unpacking although I had the lounge fairly well set up. I had a trip to Aus to spend time with my Mum & attend the 40th reunion of when I started my nursing career… can’t believe it has been 40 years.
We didn’t have hot water in the taps for the first nearly three weeks that we were in the apartment as the whole area had their heat turned off. The hot water all comes from a central boiler on the outskirts of town, a little bizarre I know but that is how it is done here. So they turn off different sections of the city during the summer to do repairs so, in theory, we will have hot water all winter. It seems that the hot water is also used to heat all the heaters, as well, which are turned on from a central place when someone in authority feels it is cool enough!! Visitors who are coming to Mongolia to experience something very special can now relax, though because we have an immersion heater which heats the cold water as it comes through so all will be fine and dandy…. and clean and we should never be without hot water in our flat again. Technology is wonderful isn’t it? Aaah….. did I mention the colour of the water after it has gone through all the various pipes?
And now a few facts on Mongolia that you may or may not know with the self-examination test at the end of this mumble….!
Mongolia has 3,811 rivers,
3,500 fresh & saltwater lakes with the largest lake covering 3,350km²,
1.5 million hectares of wetland,
3,000 species of flowering plants,
136 species of mammals,
436 species of birds,
75 species of fish & molluscs.
That surprises you, doesn’t it, as you thought it was just the Gobi desert here but, in fact, it covers only 42% of Mongolia? And I bet you didn’t know that ‘Gobi’ means ‘desert’ in Mongolian hence it is really the ‘desert desert’!
Ulaanbaatar has been the site of a city since 1788 but only became the official capital and so named Ulaanbaatar (Red Herd) in 1924. UB is on the Tuul River where many birds can be seen and fish caught I gather but we haven’t been down on the river yet – perhaps we’ll go this morning.
Mongolians call themselves ‘Asian by ethnicity but Western by culture’. They certainly don’t have the Asian psyche, more like the Israeli!! All the Mongolians we have met are very confident and, although not brash, there is no subservient attitude. They are good humoured, obviously adaptable living in the harsh conditions that they do but there is also humbleness as they live so closely related to the earth and what it provides.
The Mongolian diet is basically meat & wheat and wherever we have been they get very worried as to whether we can cope with their diet and try to get us to eat more western orientated food. Obviously that very quickly creates a divide when you’re working with a team which doesn’t help at all, so when travelling with them we now try & eat what they do and have to say have survived quite well so far.
There are plenty of fruit & vegetables available here in the markets as a lot comes from China and apparently in winter there are always tomatoes available with potatoes, cabbage, onions, & carrots – not too sure what else yet but no doubt will find out. Fresh herbs (except coriander, for some reason) are difficult to get at the best of time but we hope to able to grow some on our balcony as they are like little hot houses, as well as rocket & whatever else grows quickly & relatively easily…. watch this space! We have already started our compost bin and worm farm with a few Aussie tiger worms imported among the roots of some mint!!
There are also some normal-type supermarkets but they don’t seem to be very well stocked & I have had more luck in finding things at the covered market where you go from one little area to the next. Most people are selling similar things in their little space but you can always find something a little different and surprising. You have to treat each shopping trip as its own little treasure hunt as you never know just what might turn up.
There are hundreds of restaurant in UB with virtually every culture represented so we are spoilt for choice when we decide to dine out. Two of the best are only 100 feet from our front door and for a lovely steak & a bottle of wine we are paying only $40 Aus for us both!
We went to one restaurant in the Terelj Hotel some 45 klms outside UB one Friday with some new friends and it was stunning. It is the sort of place you go to for a retreat - true R&R. It has a 25 metre indoor pool, spa, sauna, massage rooms, 3 restaurants, a golf course plus it is on the banks of a river. Have a look at the website as it really is gorgeous. Mind you, we spent more on our meal there than what it would cost to live for a week in UB!! http://www.tereljhotel.com/
We have at least six TV channels on a regular basis in English although sometimes there are eight that we can watch, so are really spoilt for choice!! BBC, CNN, 2 movie channels, one sports channel sometimes two, and a cartoon channel… fortunately for us TV is not a priority and Nigel has now re-constructed the Bose Music system so we can enjoy our music once again.
Will close at this point as I certainly don’t want it as long as the last one. If you have any questions I would be happy to answer them. Meanwhile both Nigel and I are very happy, healthy and working hard …. more about that in the next MM.