Something magical happened since I last wrote.
So recently our cozy little apartment had turned a bit less cozy on account of the hot water disappearing. It was understandable – we could peer out our window and see men tearing pipes (lead pipes) apart on the street below. We could also hear them working, working, working away…all day and all night. The labor here is incredible. It is so less reliant upon machinery and so more dependent upon manual labor that it amazes me. The men work so hard and do the vast majority of work by hand. In the case of our hot water problem, by the looks of things they had turned the road below into a giant game of Operation. The street was dug up (by hand) in a big U-shaped manner, a U-shaped pipe was soddered together and carried to the U-shaped hole, and then deposited within. It became more Operation-like in that they then covered and buried the pipe only to uncover it, remove it, sodder a bit more, replace it and recover it. Voila. And all without any type of safety equipment whatsoever. I don’t even want to mention the construction workers building the new tall buildings…gulp.
Anyways, Operation game complete, the magical occurence was that our hot water finally returned after a 16 day hiatus (with the exception of two days of hot water in the middle). Needless to say my reunion with the bar of soap was glorious. Someone asked me if I got a haircut. I felt foolish replying that no, I had simply washed my hair properly. Such is life.
The money here is funny. The exchange rate is 1350 tugrugs or there abouts to one dollar. The largest bill they circulate is 20,000 tugrugs…less than twenty US dollars. When you bring US Dollars to a bank or money exchange, they carefully sort through the money and then hand you back any bills with the slighest tear, fold, crinkle, anything. Along with your returned cash, they hand you Mongolian Tugrugs that are torn, taped, destroyed, and in all sorts of disarray. We find great pleasure in handing back the torn bills and requesting perfect ones. An eye for an eye…
Oh, I don’t have photos to go with all these odd little tid-bits, but photos make reading more fun, so I’m including some random ones just to give you little glimpses of Mongolia. In all of its quirkiness, it is quite a pretty place (once you get outside the city). That said, sometimes the city itself is quite pretty too. Mind you, looks can be deceiving as the Sail Building, as it’s called, is not functional due to a problem with the foundation (it sure does look pretty though).
Food…what do we eat? Well…CRAP. That’s not entirely true, but it does just about sum up how the food makes me feel. I’ve been eating lunch with co-workers recently, so we go to little Mongolian cafes here and there. Really it doesn’t matter which one you walk into because the food will be the same wherever you go. It’s all mutton, noodles or rice, and fat. Fat, fat, fat. You have the get the flavor somewhere.
At home we’ve done a pretty good job of finding some nutritious things to eat. Cabbage is everywhere, as are potatoes, carrots and onions. Other vegetables are growing a bit more scarce as it gets colder, but peppers and tomatoes are still around sometimes. Sweet potatoes are popping up and little pumpkins too.
The market behind our home is where we get most of our produce and meat. The produce there is much fresher than in stores, and the meat…well…the meat…you buy it in a room of meat. Women sit at little tables with massive hunks of animal in front of them. There’s all different kinds: sheep, goat, cow, sometimes pig, and always horse. Mongolians love horsemeat. We haven’t tried it yet, but I imagine at some point we will. Anyways, you walk up to the woman of your choosing, select a slab of meat and ask for whatever quantity you would like. We usually go for hagas kg, about a pound. She slices you a slab, weighs it (and is always right on the dot in terms of her slice and how much you asked for), and tosses it in a bag. You then bring it to the meat grinder room and pay a man 50 tugrugs (next to nothing) to send it through a grinder that has been running all day and you don’t want to ask if it is ever cleaned. That said, we haven’t gotten sick…yet.
Speaking of meat, here’s how they dry it in their gers. You can understand why they have horrible problems with food poisoning in the gers in summertime.
What else? The weather has grown a bit colder and it’s actually raining a bit outside right now. The rain feels more honest here than the sun does…somehow it fits in with the drab city. I’m not sure if the same holds true in the countryside…somehow I imagine it doesn’t.
As for the weekend we have little on the docket. We might venture back to the Black Market, a market that sells anything and everything but that is not, as the name suggests, a place for contraband. We went last weekend too to buy some things for our home. It’s pretty amazing…you can buy an entire get if you would like. The tricky bit though is that you cannot buy it all from one man. You buy each bit from a different person. That includes the chimney for your stove. Stoves do not come with chimneys, but that guy over there might be able to help.
Oh, one more funny bit. So this week I was traveling around to the FGPs (small clinics) in Bayanzurkh. We got to one, and a girl and her dad were waiting in the hall for their turn with the doctor. The girl – probably age 3 or so – stared, stared, stared at this weird white woman in her FGP, and then turned to her dad and said something. My interpreter instantly started laughing, and when I asked her what the girl said, she replied, “Daddy, that woman looks like Jesus!”
We got a good chuckle out of that one.
Off I go for now…here’s one more photo of a man driving his kid around the Square in a big remote control car. Sweet.