May 18, 2006
The drive to Choibalsan was gorgeous. It had snowed (tsas, snow) the night before and there was a very gorgeous, what’s the opposite of sunset? Sun…. where the sun comes up, anyway, whatever that is. I learned the Mongolian for pretty much every noun we could see from the car window. When we arrived in Choibalsan we were too early for the flight so we headed to the company apartment. There were lots of puppies around. I took pictured of them of course, PUPPIES! When we got into the apartment the World Championship of Hockey was on. Hockey is popular in Mongolia, probably the Russian influence. They love Team Russia… They remind me of the Canadian men’s performance at the Olympics.
I finally found a reason to say ama tat (shut up). They watch the NHL as well. The flight was late from winds, surprise surprise, damn Siberia, etc etc, didn’t really matter. I got to see the company’s brand spanking new office in Ulaanbaatar. Its pretty nice. Laminate floors and new paint.
That was where work ended for me. I went to the hotel, showered, napped, and met some friends for dinner. We went to the Genghis Khan Irish Pub. No really. I couldn’t make that up. Really good fish and chips. I’d recommend it to anyone.
They even had a vegetarian menu, though one of the suggestions was eggs…. We met a guy named Tom from Alabama who is on days off from the Saudi oil fields, riding around the country on a motorcycle. He learned 5 words in two weeks (hello, goodbye, thank you, dog, and big), 4 of which were horribly pronounced, one of which was dead wrong (dog, they meant wolf) and one of which is his name (Tom means big, he was very impressed with that).
Afterwards we all went out to a club called Strings. They have a live Philipino band that covers all the pop hits from the 1970s to today. There were a bunch of songs I disliked but danced anyway. Me and Tom made a two person mosh pit for a bit, it was generally not appreciated.
I tried to teach Tom, bi bomborchin bolohiig husdeg, I want to be a drummer. No luck, but he was impressed that I learned it in a couple minutes in a noisy bar. Either I have a good teacher or I’m a good student.
I really couldn’t tell you when the bars in UB close. After 3am anyway. And they allow smoking everywhere unrestricted. It was lots of fun.
My second day in the city was a paid day of shopping and chilling in coffee shops. There’s an awesome coffee shop in UB called Millies. Its owned by an Ethiopian-American woman named Millie. It was heaven. Americanos and all day breakfast. Ahhhhh. I had my friend Degi as a guide. She’s the best guide. She was touring one of the other guys around a week ago and someone tried to pick his pocket, so she hit him and yelled at him. No pickpockets targeted me. She was making me show off my Mongolian to all her friends. She taught me to say, bi Mongol hel surch, I’m learning Mongolian.
The money here is very complicated. Essentially, $1 US is $1,000 togriks. But they have bills down to $10 T, a one cent bill. No coins. And the numbers on the bills are in old Mongolian as well as modern numbers. The biggest bill I got was $10,000 T ($10 US). It all adds up to a big ass stack of money. They only accept credit cards in the bigger stores, like the State Department Centre and the brand new western-style shopping centre.
Everything here is dead cheap. A bottle of Coke is 50 cents, and you can get a good meal for $5-10. Leather goods, cashmere, and camel wool sweaters are the big tourist shopping items, as they produce them here so they’re dead cheap. You can get a top quality cashmere sweater for ~$50. They custom make leather boots and jackets for a reasonable amount.
Still in Ulaanbaatar as I write this, should be back in Canada in 15 or so hours :) Winds are calm today so I probably won't get stuck in Beijing (fingers crossed), though it is raining (boroo, rain).