by Tara Munch
So I accidentally went on a tour of a cashmere factory today. Yes, accidentally. I thought that it was a Mongolian cashmere shopping trip. This is what happens when you get your information third hand. I hadn’t been shopping for cashmere yet. I am still easily lost going around the city and hadn’t gotten around to coordinating a trip with anyone else. My friend Liz (who I work with) has a husband with the US embassy. Long story short there was a trip planned with embassy people carpooling and I got to tag along. And by carpool I mean we shared a driver as no one here has a car.
I think that there are a ton of factories all over Mongolia. China produces more cashmere but apparently the stuff from Mongolia is better. They sure are thorough. I will never again take cashmere for granted as there are about 23 steps to take cashmere from raw wool to the fished product. Actually there are 6 main steps after collection (getting the hair off the animal). Sorting, scouring, dehairing, spinning and weaving or knitting. Of course there were tons of little steps in between.
There were huge mystifying machine all through the factory. They were doing something important to the cashmere but I couldn’t tell you what that was. The information was a bit sketchy as it had to be translated about three times before it got to be. A great international game of telephone. One of the more interesting aspects of the tour was that they let you touch everything. You walk through the factory at free will right along with the employee’s. I am sure that some of the machines were very dangerous but nothing was partitioned off. If the tour had been given in the US there would have been a window looking into each room with a guide telling all sorts of useless information. This way was much more visceral and authentic. You really felt part of the process. You could see the details.
Like many things here the Gobi factory that I was touring used to be government run but is not private. This company alone makes about a fifth of all the cashmere sold in the world. Actually, there are still some things here that are government run that confuse me. My heat for example is government provided. There are huge steam pipes all over the city. In most places they are underground but once you get to the edge of the city they rise out of ground. It doesn’t exactly beautify Ulaanbaatar.
The centralized heating also means that there is no way to control the heat in
your apartment. It switched on September 15 and apparently it is going to stay on until April 15 and there is nothing that can change that. I have had to have the window open the last few weeks as it is way too warm for heat right now. Or at least this much heat. The down side to that (aside from the fact that it is wasteful is that the gers have already started burning coal to heat. I am probably going to come back to the US with black lung or some other such 19th century ailment. However I have been told that this is the good time. At the end of the winder when there is no more coal and people are burning whatever they can find, then I will probably be thinking back fondly on the coal smoke. Of course, I waited in a car for almost a half hour today
as a train completely filled with coal went by so I might now be the best source of information on this today!
Which leads me to my very exciting news. I have hot water! I have actually had it for a couple of weeks now but still get that warm glow every time that I turn on the tap and hot water comes out (as opposed to nothing at all or ice water). I don’t know if you have ever tried to live without hot water but I have to tell you it made me crabby. I have a water heater (buffalo) that is supposed to heat the water. The problem is that when the water is heated it comes out at barely a trickle. This of course makes getting clean a real chore. Now I not only have hot water I have great water pressure as well! Oh the small small things that makes me happy.
The hot water is provided by the government like the heat but it is shut off all summer almost everywhere and for two weeks in every district in the fall. Why, I still haven’t figured out… I was told that it has something to do with the pipes but that doesn’t make all that much sense. Why would every district have to have their water shut off every year? Chalk that one down to the mystery that is Mongolia…
I have this week of for Fall break. I should be doing something super exciting. You know, a trip to Korea or a tour of the Gobi but that is not to be. I guess I am just going to have to see how much trouble and adventure I get into in Ulaanbaatar! Stay tuned!