Into the Great Wide Open

Me, in the morning!Ok, so, it’s 5:00AM and there’s a rip-roaring party going on next door at the Eros Hotel (yes, they rent rooms by the hour). For some reason I just couldn’t sleep with the barking dogs, the band playing Mongolian rap music and the lovers quarrel going on outside. Oh well, had to get up and pack the laundry we did yesterday afternoon. We had hung everything out to dry and luckily we accomplished that goal.

A Mongolian, a Dutch woman and an American walk into a grocery store… There’s no punchline for this, but there should be. I wish I had a video of the three of us shopping for our trip. Shombodon is typical Mongolian, all he wants is meat. Maaike is a vegetarian and I just want anything that’s easy. I did manage to find some noodle cup and the makings for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (for those times when we are nowhere near a restaurant). Along with all of our supplies, Shombodon and Maaike buy  2.5 kilos of candy for the children we’ll encounter and 2 cases of vodka to give to the village folks in return for their stories. The cashier looked at us like we were out of our minds. The good thing is, if we get stuck out in the middle of nowhere we’ll have a great time waiting for assistance.

Didn’t get a chance to eat at either the beer garden or American Burgers and Fries. We had an appointment back at Shombodon’s office for me to interview a couple of college kids for the video piece I’m doing and we ran out of time with all that shopping. Aaargh. We ordered in pizza for lunch from Mr. Pizza. The interviews were interesting. The girl, a 20-year-old college student was very politically aware, had voted in the last election and was only mildly satisfied with the government. The pitiful state of their infrastructure is a real concern for her. She doesn’t understand why there are so many luxury cars in UB now driving on roads that are in horrible condition. She is hopeful that, after this election things will improve. She is of the opinion that they should not be doing any mining because of her environmental concerns. The guy, 19 years old, had very few opinions about anything. I’ll give him a pass since he attends university in Moscow and is, well, a guy.

I love this photo. They built this wall in line with the main corridor of the temple because evil spirits can only travel inSpirit Barrier a straight line and keeps them from entering.  There are massive statues of angry-looking beings just inside the first door in case an evil spirit tries to do an end run around the wall. I think we should start incorporating that into the designs of our homes. Couldn’t hurt. It would, at the very least, keep politicians and solicitors away.

Went to a new restaurant right around the corner from us. If you didn’t look out the windows of the Rosewood you’d never know you weren’t in a very nice restaurant in any major city in the U.S. Great Mediterranean fare and a really cool decor. The American owner has done a great job with the place. There was a group of about 20 or so 20 somethings having a going away party for one of their friends. A wonderfully eclectic mix of people from all over the world either working or volunteering in Mongolia. They were having a great time, but I interrupted them anyways. They were a bright, friendly group and very enthusiastic about living and working here.

I should probably go pack. We’ll be leaving in a couple of hours so I’d, literally, better get my stuff together. I believe we’ll be in an Aimag center (kinda of a county seat) tonight, but nobody’s sure if well have internet access. I’ll report in the next chance I get.



Wednesday, 7/18

Maaike and Shombodon

Planning route and logistics

Last night we ate at The Shangri-La Indian restaurant on the Top floor of the self proclaimed 5-star Hotel Mongolia. Very good food and the Chinggis Beer hit the spot. When asked “how hot?” for my Chicken Tikki Masala I said “very hot”. Turned out to be rather wimpy. “Hot” is a relative term I guess. I wanted pain! Ate with Maaike and Neil, a long time friend of Maaike. Neil is from New York and has no plans for leaving here any time soon. She works as a consultant for one of the bigger banks here in UB. She is very politically savvy and it was great to get her perspective on the economy and politics of Mongolia.

I have two interviews to conduct for the video project. The interviewees are college students who, apparently, speak English very well. That will certainly make things a lot easier! The video production company wants the opinions of younger Mongolians about such things as their government, the international mining companies, elections, and the changes going on in their country. They want to hear mostly about the simmering nationalist movement and how the younger generation feels about it. I have good connections here and should be able to contact some of the “leaders” of this faction.

Also, we will spend the day making preparations for the first road trip. Shopping, laundry, packing, etc. Shombodon’s son (and our driver), Engthbier, spent yesterday getting the vehicle ready for the trek. Maaike and Shombodon spent part of the day planning our route and discussing all the things we need to see and where we will stop for the night. They are a little nervous about the route since there has been so much rain during the last two weeks. A lot of the roads that we will be taking are nothing more than tire tracks thru vast swaths of steppes and meadows. The problem with these roads is that you might not see another car for days if not weeks. Cell coverage is spotty at best so if you break down you had better be prepared to stay there for a while.

Not sure what time we are leaving tomorrow but once we do the updates will become much more infrequent and, hopefully, a lot more interesting. We will be well off the beaten path and everybody I’ve talked to says the photo opportunities are phenomenal.

It’s going to be a toss up between The Bavarian Beer Garten and American Burgers and Fries for the last lunch in the big city. The Mongolians don’t have any coins for currency so I guess I’ll have to find something else to flip for it.


Captain’s Log, Supplemental

UB is an interesting mash-up of cultures and styles. The mode of dress can range from traditional robes to very modern/hip/chic. Casual dress is a weird mix of Japanese and western fashion. Teenagers look like teenagers the world over. Both men’s and women’s professional dress is your standard biz suit. Ads are definitely influenced by Japanese style and I’m not sure where they get the stuff they put on TV. Architecture is a mix of old and new, but the building that were built just 10 years ago look like they’ve been here since the fifties. This is the apartment building we are staying in for the next couple of nights. It’s only 10 years old. The building on the right are luxury condos, the buildings on the left are Soviet era apartments.

Went thru the liquor aisle of the grocery store yesterday looking for a small bottle of Jack Daniels. No small bottles, but they did have a 3 liter bottle of the stuff. I didn’t even look at the price. Never seen a 3 liter bottle of Jack.

Walking down the street today some kids saw that I was listening to an MP3 player. They pointed at it and then pointed to their ears. I served them up a dose of Green Day and then some Foo FIghters. I thought they were going to jump out of their skin. They didn’t speak a word of English, but music is universal, especially for teenagers and rock and roll.

Had Huevos Rancheros for breakfast this AM. We’re leaving Thursday AM for the first road trip. I guess we’ll start on the Mongolian food then. Oh, and by the way, all those Mongolian BBQs you see all over the place? That ain’t how they do things here.

Tues, 7/17

If you are trying to wrap your head around the time difference, for me trying to figure out the time in Colorado I subtract two hours and flip from night to day or vice versa. So, it’s 8:30AM here and that makes it 6:30PM Mountain time in the U.S.

Went to get registered with the Mongolian immigration office. Bureaucracy is truly the glue that holds the world together. Thankfully we had Shombodon, our main Mongolian contact person, there to guide us thru the process. WIll have to write to Lonely PLanet guide books and let them know they need to be a little more detailed in their description and the requirements.

Had Korean for lunch. Pretty good. Glad that we don’t have to worry about the food here. We will get our fill of Mongolian food once we leave the city.

Was stuck in rush hour traffic yesterday evening. Traffic here is everything you’d expect from a crowded, third world city. What a hoot! The craziest part is the pedestrians crossing the streets with little more than faith that the city bus bearing down on them will not flatten them. Boulevards that are marked for six lanes can easily accommodate 5 or six cars abreast in each direction and traffic lights are merely suggestions.

Sorry for the lack of photos today. It rained most of yesterday and we were running errands in preparation for the first road trip. We leave on Thursday and head east. I will walk around town and try to snag some photos and video today. Might even stop at the Bavarian Beer Garten for lunch.


Monday 7/16

Walked around UB yesterday. Fascinating mix of old and new. Maaike, my traveling companion, is amazed at the changes that have taken place since she was here 7 years ago. A lot of the old buildings have been torn down and replaced by gleaming new high rises. Went to the winter palace of Bogd Khan, a ruler from the turn of the 19th century.

Wanted to go to lunch and American Burgers and Fries, but it was closed since it was Sunday. That must be because it has an American owner. Nothing else in UB is closed. Went to Cafe Amsterdam instead. Had a salami sandwich and an orange Fanta. Walked around a little more and saw some interesting juxtapositions such as this Hummer, Spideman and Lenin in fron the the luxurious, Soviet era Hotel Mongolia (no affiliation with Hotel California). 

Had dinner at The Veranda. Another popular spot with dips and ex-pats. Good food and a pleasant place to eat. A fair walk from the hotel so I had a good appetite when we got there. Breakfast this morning was interesting. An egg, over hard, some sort of slaw made with an orange vegetable (maybe carrot?), a thick slab of fried bologna and a bowl of mushroom soup along with a cup of hot Lipton tea. Atypical of most third world countries, you don’t really have to worry about what you eat. You still want to stick with bottled water, but if you boil that you can drink it too, if you can get past the slight brown tinge to it. We’re getting ready to move into and apartment for a few days before we take off on our first road trip. It belongs to a friend of Maaike’s, but it was being used by somebody else the first few nights we were here. Today we go and register with the Mongolian immigration office so we don’t get detained or fined on the way out of the country.


The Long and Winding Road

First full day in Ulaan Bataar. Arrived yesterday at 10:50 AM. It certainly was an ordeal getting here. Nothing out of the ordinary, just a REALLY long trip. I thought the hardest part was going to be getting thru security. With 3 metal joints in my body, 35 pounds of camera gear and half of a Walgreens pharmacy in my bag I thought it would take forever for them to dig thru all of that. Nothing, they didn’t look in my bag or even wand any of my fake body parts. Popped a couple of Dalmane once I got on the flight to China and was asleep before we took off. Woke up about an hour before we landed. Both of my checked bags made it, much to my amazement. Had lunch at Millie’s, a fave hangout for diplomats and ex-pats. My first meal in Mongolia was a cheeseburger and fries. The place is owned by a Cuban so the hamburger had a distinct Cuban flavoring to it. Had Mongolian for dinner. Mutton noodle soup. Not bad. Not much going on today. Maaike, the author got in the day before me so we both need a day to to rest up and adjust to the new zone. Will walk around town for a bit and hopefully get some photos. Have yet to find the cord to plug in card reader so no photos today. Hopefully will be able to post some tomorrow.