© 2007 jim

Too much Mongolia

Since my last post I’ve been to Mongolia two more times, each time for over three weeks. I am on my way back home today, and will be returning to Mongoland in one week for another three week stint.

These stints have been more difficult than before in some ways, and less in others. It is now summer in Mongolia, which means it is the high tourist season. The streets of UB are packed more than ever before with Italians, Germans, French, Brits, Aussies, and Americans. I even thought I heard someone speaking Portuguese the other day. The biting -25 C cold from before is gone, replaced by steamy 38 C heat now. (Although semi-desert, there is still enough humidity in UB to make one miserable). But whereas buildings are well-heated in the wintertime, Mongolians are doing their bit to fight global warming by not using air conditioning anywhere!

(Of course, if they didn’t heat their hundreds of thousands of gers (yurts) with coal every winter they would have a better impact on global warming….)

Being here in the high season of course means that hotels are full and expensive. Since I was never very happy with the hotel situation in UB anyway, this time I decided to rent an apartment.

My first apartment was in the building you see below. It is about two or three years old, though from the common hallways inside the building you would have thought it was actually more than 10. The infrastructure for the building is already crumbling, the overhanging bits seem to actually hang over some other property, the cement steps going from floor to floor slant every which way. In other words, it was very sloppily built, with little attention to finishing details, much like many other Mongolian buildings.

Apartment Building

Right inside the door is the building ‘concierge’, actualy a very poor Mongolian family that seems to live in a small office about 8 feet by 20 feet. There is a table that they can lie on, and a small TV, and that’s it! A smell of sour milk always seems to emanate from this booth, most likely the smell of airag, the Mongolian fermented horse milk beverage that is so popular!

The apartment itself is not bad; fairly spacious, though sparsely furnished. Mongolians don’t seem to be big on comfortable chairs and sofas, so both in this apartment are the type that force you to sit up and make it almost impossible to relax. But there is a living room, kitchen, bathroom,and bedroom, so what else could you want?

Hot water would be nice. Mongolia, like Russia, has central hot water as a utility. In other words, unlike in the US and other countries where the water company serves cold water to the house and hot water is provided by the house’s hot water heater, in Mongolia hot water comes from the street, and is metered the same as cold water. The problem is that during the summer months (i.e., now) Mongolia takes advantage of the weather to perform maintenance on the pipes. At the same time, deficiencies in one of the two coal-burning power plants in town sometimes causes cuts in the hot water supply.

As a consequence, almost every other day there was no hot water in the flat, and I had to take cold showers. On top of that, the internet connection in the flat (“high speed broadband” 64 Kbps) didn’t work the other half the time. To resolve that issue, the landlord promised to upgrade the connection to 128Kbps, presumably under theory that at least when it was up it would be faster!

Needless to say, apartment living in Ulaanbaatar is very frustrating, as illustrated by this graffito I found written on the wall across the alley from the apartment building:

This how Jim feel when internet down

The good news is that there is a very good French restaurant just around the corner with good food and a fast(ish) internet connection. The owner, Guy, is a former Alcatel project manager who’s gone native. I highly recommend it. It’s called (imaginatively enough) Le Bistrot Française.

Next time: Meet the Mormons in Mongolia

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