Downside in Mongolia

by Tara Munch
(UB, Mongolia)

Downside in Mongolia

Downside in Mongolia

Downside in Mongolia... Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrghhhh! That is the sound of Tara banging her head on a wall Charlie Brown style. It hasn’t been a very good couple of days to live in Mongolia. Although I love living here and am having lots of fun adventures the last couple of days have reminded me that living in a developing country also has its downsides. Brace yourself people, it is time for a rant!


I decided to buy a ticket back to New York for Christmas this week. I have time off and can get to the travel agency during working hours and really waiting any longer to book a flight would be silly. Not only would it cost more but there is a significant expat population in Ulaanbaatar and only a limited amount of seats to get out of here so the flight fill up fast! Now I have chose my flight and confirmed a couple of times that I definitely want this choice of flights and all that before I get to the travel agency. I just have to go there to pick up my tickets and pay for the flights.

The first twinge I get that this is probably not going to go as smoothly as I would like was the fact that “my” travel agent wasn’t at that particular office. Okay I can handle that I sit down at this long counter with a woman who speaks a bit of English and try to pay. Unfortunately, before I can do that she has to find my booking. This of course take the internet. “Very slow” I am told. Okay, I can wait. I don’t have anywhere to be. “Can’t find you”. This is more alarming but she calls my travel agent who appears to clear things up.

While I am waiting for this (I think it was for that. I was waiting for some reason… Actually the whole experience was full of waiting for unknown reasons) the travel agent I am working with motions of the very impatient man who is standing behind me and starts to wait on him. This confused me but I have been in Asia long enough to know that being pushed in front of is par for the course but not long enough to start fighting with people about it. My friend Trudi however has been here long enough. She calls both the man and the travel agent on cutting in front of not only me but also of her (she was going to reconfirm a reservation).

The man is apologetic but the travel agent gets all snotty and asks if she speaks the Mongolian language. I am not sure what that had to do with anything but after that she was lucky that Trudi didn’t dive over that silly counter and take her out. It was the wrong thing to say. I waited for a wrestle mania showdown but Trudi takes a couple of deep breaths and the travel agent decides to wait on me again. I finally get to pay for my ticket but don’t get the actual tickets as they are e-tickets. We go about our business for the day and I am very glad that I have that little chore over with.

Five seconds after I get in the door I get a call from y travel agent telling me that there is a problem with my ticket and that she needs me to come to her office to fix it. I agree to meet her there the next day having no idea where this office is located but hoping that my friend Trudi would help me find it (to take away any suspense that might be felt at this point, she did). Two hours of walking around the general area of the German Embassy (you may ask: “Why would you know where the German Embassy is?” and the answers is I didn’t).

Finally, we find the German Embassy but can’t find the travel agents office. By this time we have called the travel agent about four times for directions and are ready to scream. We call once more and tell her where we are and that she needs to come ans get us. It is at this point that she finally informs us that the sign (until the other offices with this travel company) is in Mongolian and that there is no logo next to it. Arrrrrrrrgh! But we hustle in and after five minutes and a sixty dollar increase to my bill we are done.

I then make the mistake of trying to pay. “Oh, no. This is new office and cannot accept monies.” What? I try to pay again. I have US Money, Mongolian Money, a US bank card and a Mongolian bank card all of which are useless. I have to go to the first office to pay for my ticket and then they will email me my e-tickets. So for the third day in a row “go to travel agency” is on my to do list… I feel like one of those stupid cartoons that end with wah-wah…

There was a girls night out planned tonight. Several teacher friends and I got together to have pizza and then see Mamma Mia! (In English with Mongolian Subtitles!) On our way to the restaurant we see an old lady get her bag snatched. Fortunately, she cause up with the little punk got her bag back and whaled on him until he ran away. I hope that he was embarrassed enough never to try that again. We have dinner but when we go to pay for it we discover that Pam has had her backpack stolen. We are not sure who did it but it was gone. It was awful. She was crying and none of us knew what to do. Trudi looked all up and down the street to see if the creeps (there was a group of people who came into the restaurant but who never sat down and we think it was them) had at least dumped the bag so that things wouldn’t be a total loss. No such luck and Pam went home having not had the relaxing evening as planned.

We get to the movie theater and the drama just keeps on going. There are seat numbers on our tickets. We tramp in to find our seat only to discover that someone is already sitting there. No problem we think. Sometimes seat numbers get printed without there ever being a need to use them. We find somewhere else to sit and all is well. Or so we think! Ten minutes into the movie to Mongolian chicks come over and want us to move. What? There are seats for two people very where but none for a group of five. They keep waving their tickets and refusing to sit down. Our miming of “Let it go and sit down, dammit” did not go over very well.

Finally they go to get an usher. (no, we were not kicked out of the theater). He tried to get us to move but we managed to communicate that our seats were already occupied. Have I mentioned that the movie was already in progress at this time? He finally goes and moves people from the seats that we are supposed to be in and we move. However, this opens up a whole can of worms as he then has to find the seats of the people who were in our seats. And then those people’s seats… This lasted about halfway through the movie until everyone was in the seat that they were supposed to be in. I guess it was just no our night!

I was going to start in on the random potholes and glass around the city but I think that I will leave that topic for a time when I have a better sense of humor. I am going to bed now with the hope that sleeping on things makes them look brighter in the morning. Updates will come when I am less pouty…

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Nov 24, 2010
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Wow
by: Anonymous

Tara, I have read your post with keen interest and I gotta tell you that I can't blame you for venting. I am a Mongolian living in the US for more than a decade and planning on moving back for a few months or more, hence the interest in ex-pats' perspectives and experiences in UB. It sounds like you had yourself a nightmare day. I hope you won't have too many of these going forward. I recommend that you get yourself some local friends (other than work-related), perhaps things will get better.

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