First Few Days in Mongolia

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This is a statue of the buddha near the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

Dorothy is not in Kansas anymore.  The dust storms during the day have irritated my sinuses and I’m spending my second day in Mongolia with puffy eyes, runny nose, and a sore throat.  Therefore I haven’t seen much of the city.

I spent a couple hours my first day running some errands such as changing my currency, going to the overlook to have a better view of the city (this trip is where all my pictures came from), and unsuccessfully trying to find a winter coat since I left my Columbia jacket in Moscow where it was a sunny 30 degrees Celsius (in contrast it snowed today in Mongolia).

This is my assessment of the city so far: it is a developing country with poor infrastructure compared to Western’s standards, but are exceedingly good for most Mongolians.  The Ger district rings the city, which is the traditional circle tent that the nomadic Mongols lived in during their growth into the modern state and are now used in the “gypsy towns” (as my host Lia calls them).  These gypsy towns are from Mongolians in the countryside moving into the city limits to find a job because of the severe 2009 winter that killed 8 million livestock (there is about 40 million livestock in Mongolia).  In addition, the water shortage because of the arid environment has caused a decline in agriculture resulting in an influx in those moving to the Ulaanbaatar City.

This places the population of UB at about 1.8 million people (roughly half the population of the entire country).  Spring weather in Mongolia is “disgusting” described Lia as we drove back to her apartment from the airport.  This was not necessarily comforting words, but I quickly learned its meanings.  UB (and I expect the entire country) have two seasons, the wet and the dry, although the people still differentiate between the Western’s four seasons of winter, spring, summer, and fall.  The dry season is very long and the wet season occurs during the summer, turning the acres of steppe and hills in Mongolia a lush green.  This was not the season I arrived to.

It was a dusty, gravel road from the airport to the city.  I quickly learned this is the model for most roads in Mongolia.  There are no neatly painted lines, driving here is a lesson in defensive driving 599.  There are no crosswalks and pedestrians cross the street at their own risk.  There are no taxis either.  When Lia first said we should get a taxi to go to work because MNB headquarters are near the gypsy towns, which can be unsafe, I was confused.  A taxi in Mongolia is bona fide hitchhiking.  You stick out your hand until some random stranger pulls up that is going in your same direction.  Then said person will drop you off at your request in exchange for money.  Taxi driving is not a profession but a happenchance.  However, looking back at how I described taxis in Mongolia, it is very similar to Western taxis minus the licensing policies and the eye-catching, bright yellow color.

My impression is that UB is a half built city like a construction project that ran out of money and is left unfinished.  For instance, you bring your own toilet paper to work b/c the facilities offered by MNB lack sanitation or toilet paper.  On the other hand, there are some buildings that are very well constructed and look like a modern glass cage that can be found in any developed city.

The contrast between the two extremes I hope can be seen in my photos.  You’ll also notice the fogginess of some of the pictures.  It is not smog covering the city but a dust cloud that is blown around by 20 mph winds.

This dust is a result of the lack of ground cover within the city.  The government has not invested in beautification projects and I did not see any grass or trees within the city.  No ground cover means bad erosion and runoff from the unfinished construction projects and dust storms during the dry season.  I spent the first two days in Mongolia mostly holed up inside because of the dust.  However, on the third day, it rained.  Today it rained, snowed and the temperature dropped to 5 degrees Celsius.  (Why did I leave my jacket in Moscow!)

Despite the cold temperatures, the rain meant no more dust storms.  Tomorrow’s weather forecast should be sunny at 18 degrees Celsius (65 degrees Fahrenheit).  I could not survive a Mongolian winter, good thing I leave in the middle of August before the temperatures drop severely.

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