Weather in UB

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Strange affirmations and wolves

"I love to have fun. I love my family and friends. I love this beautiful planet earth. The reason why I chose this car is because it will totally satisfy my requirements for outdoor living. Well...tomorrow where shall we go?" I took a picture of this car outside my apartment the other day. I've seen it a couple times and was hoping to catch a picture of it. It's just too funny and ironic.
I was lucky enough to still have my camera on me to catch the next 2 shots. Look closely...what is that ball of fur curled up under the balcony? Look! Just to the right of the "hot pot" sign.... It's a wolf carcass. That's right, a wolf. It's not the first dead wolf I've seen in Mongolia, it's just the first on I've seen in UB (on the building next to 2 ministry offices). In Choibalsan I used to see wolf carcasses for sale at the market, and once or twice a carcass from a recent hunt tied to a car hood or roof. Mongolians have an interesting relationship with the wolf. They see the wolf as this cunning, trickster character that they respect, but as a herding society, they also view the wolf as an enemy. Additionally, parts of the wolf's body are used in traditional medicine. I've heard of wolf's tongue being wrapped around the throat of a person with chronic sore throats, and wolf's lung being eaten to treat TB. I wonder what this one was used for? Maybe the hot pot.
In other news, it was really cold here today. I think the temperature only got to about 12F, but with the wind it felt colder. I was out in the ger districts today doing research and the variety of living conditions that I can be observed in such a small space here never ceases to amaze me. I took the bus for the first time since I've been back. The bus prices recently went up 100 to 200 tugrics. That's a huge amount for some people. I guess there will be a lot more people walking around this winter.
Settling into winter life has been hard for me this time around. I guess I know what's to come and I'm not looking forward to it! I am looking forward to going to Choibalsan next week to see my old friends and get out of the pollution!

Friday, October 26, 2007

I thought it would be nice to share some pictures of things I see everyday. They are kind of random, but I hate walking around the city with my camera out. As you can tell from these shots, I was very stealthy when I took them, not paying much attention to angle or shade. I took em' quick! They do offer a small glimpse into my life here:
These are the kids in my courtyard that hoop it up everyday after their classes. They are generally a friendly bunch, but every once in awhile they like to try out a swear word to see what I do. I either ignore them, or throw some Mongolian back at em.
This is big pink school #5 right in my neighborhood. A testament to the beauty of Russian architecture.
Here is a good shot of "The Burger House". It's on my way to the National University. I've never eaten there, but apparently babies and Paris Hilton like it, so it must be good. A testament to the globalization of the hamburger.
This is building #4 of the National University of Mongolia. This building and the college kids who live/attend classes in it, greet me every day on my way to the office.

This is a picture of the plaque outside the Cuban Embassy. I walk past this building everyday. I think I saw a Cuban guy once. I'm assuming this is the least desirable country for an ambassador from Cuba to be sent to. I'm sure that guy keeps a low profile. I felt really guilty taking this picture, like I was committing a crime. I mean, you can't get this close the US embassy! I literally could have gone and knocked on the door. Instead, I left our Cuban friends alone.

I must confess, I decided to take these pictures today after seeing my friend J's pictures of his research site in Kyrgyzstan. My pictures aren't nearly as beautiful, but they are probably just as interesting to people who have never been to this part of the world. In a few weeks I'll be off to the Mongolian coutryside for my own research and I'll be sure to take some breathtaking photos (In addition to the very serious, very important data collection)!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Pollution, Sickness, Remedies and Ulaana

"Winter" is setting in here in Mongolia. I say "winter" because the temperature has been fluctuating so much that is un-winter like. The day will start at 20F and it'll heat up to 55F. How do you dress for that? Whatever you leave your house wearing will eventually get peeled off over the course of the day as you begin to heat up and sweat. This is probably one of the factors contributing to my current sore throat. The other main problem contributing to my sore throat (and persistent headache) is the pollution. I know I keep talking about it, and this sure as hell ain't Beijing, but my poor, unarmed, Midwestern body was not prepared for the pollution. My Mongolian friend best described the headache that the pollution can give you as "a hangover that won't go away."
I did some searching online and I found this report given by Ch. Bat-Director of the Economy and Strategy Policy Department. It outlined these as the most important environmental issues in UB:
The three most visible environmental issues in UB are:
- air pollution from domestic burning of coal, wood and dung for heating and
cooking, particularly in the informal Ger Areas. A recent study in the Dari-Ekh Khoroo of UB estimated air pollution levels to be 16 times accepted international levels.
- lack of adequate solid waste management;
- land degradation through an absence of urban planning, land management and infrastructure development:
-unplanned Ger Area sprawl has encroached on land subject to erosion;
- lack of protection of critical urban drainage courses increases erosion, pollutes downstream water courses, and helps spread disease from poor sanitation facilities and improperly handled solid waste;
-urban sprawl is reducing immediately available grazing land;
-rural deforestation contributes to the increasing severity of seasonal dust storms.
Perhaps less visible, but equally critical is the poor condition of residential sanitation facilities, again primarily in the Ger Areas.

I'm sorry, does that say 16 times accepted international levels of air pollution???
I suppose I should quit complaining about my headaches and just be happy to be alive! The dust storm thing is crazy too. Apparently dust storms in Mongolia carry pollution and dust all the way to Seattle, and have on occasion caused pollution levels to rise in South Korea. I was once caught in a dust storm in Choibalsan where I could not see my hand in front of my face. Here is a picture of me after a walk in the countryside that ended in a dust storm that you could see coming like a tornado (circa 2005) and a picture of a dust storm in Choibalsan (circa 2004).

Enough about dust, because I have no real beef with that at the moment, just pollution. Everyone around me is getting sick, and I have fallen victim too. I had a meeting last week with some Western doctors who work here in UB, who noted an acceptionally high amount of respiratory issues. So, what, you may ask is being done about the pollution? As far as I can see, not much. Unlucky for me, it'll only get worse as it gets colder and people burn all kinds of things to keep warm, and the government keeps burns unwashed coal in the power plants that surround me.

Since everyone I know is sick, or just was sick, or is on their way to being sick, I've received plenty of advice on herbal remedies. One such remedy is to drink the juice of the Sea Buckthorn berry. Apparently it has loads of vitamin C. I'm gonna head to the pharmacy and bypass all the crazy drugs I can buy over the counter here and get some Sea Buckthorn hopefully from Russia or Mongolia (I have this crazy fear of medicine from China!) I'll let you know how it pans out. Perhaps I should also purchase an air filtering mask!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Missing Gobi Pictures

I finally procured some pics of the ice cold night I spent under the stars somewhere in the Gobi (Thanks Kathleen, for the pics!) I was way too grumpy and cold to take pictures.
A. Conti on the left, me in the middle, and J the silver medal winner of the Gobi Marathon
Rise and Shine! J exclaiming the wonderful experience of sleeping in the freezing cold. That's me laying down
This is me, cold, and shocked at where I woke up. Since we found the middle of nowhere in the dead of night, I was surprised at the beauty my surroundings.
Sun just about to rise as the "Asia Pleasure Bus" still snoozes

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Couple Crazy Things...

Here are a couple crazy things I bet you didn’t know about Ulaanbataar. I should preface this by saying this is not a social commentary, just things I’ve heard or observed.
Apparently there are 300 cars registered in UB EVERYDAY!!! Mongolia has about 2.5 million people in it, and just over half of them live in UB. 300 cars a day! Isn't that mind blowing? No wonder I can’t cross the street! Soon, I won’t be able to breathe either!
Second thing, with cold weather comes a variety of cold weather surprises like frozen vomit. I’m not kidding. I’m not trying to be mean, but the amount of frozen vomit that can be found on the street here is alarming to me. This was noted by another foreigner just last week, so I know it’s not just me. What’s the deal? I asked my Mongolian teacher and she noted that Mongolians have very weak stomachs. She also said that vodka may have something to do with it. Using my vomit-o-meter, I can tell that people have been eating tsuivan, a “quick” Mongolian dish made with noodles, meat, fat, oil, carrots and cabbage. Seeing this regurgitated and frozen on the ground all over town makes me never want to eat tsuivan again. I guess I just have a different cultural construction about appropriate places to puke. For that matter, urinating or pooping are also differently constructed and handled here. UB has this weird convergence of city and countryside, and consequently very few public toilets (the ones that do exist you have to pay for) so I see kids (4 years old or younger) pooping in street at least once a week. It’s customary to pretend like you don’t see it and just keep walking. I even saw a kid, with his mothers assurance, poop about 30 feet from the Sukhbataar statue on the square. Oddly, I was the only one who was even acknowledging this scene. All of this gets me thinking about how we determine what is or is not acceptable, and for whom at what age. I'm obviously the odd man out in this context. I would love for a Mongolian in the States to tell me about all the strange observations that they have about Americans. There is one thing that Mongolians always tell me they think is weird: blowing your nose into a tissue and putting it in your pocket. The whole idea of blowing your nose indoors is strange to Mongolians. Ergo, notions of acceptability vary based on time and place. (ZING!)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Extreme Weather

The UB Post had a lead article this week about a snow storm taking 7 lives (UB Post article). It's always shocking to me when things like this happen. Even though The herders know the weather patterns so well, the trend in global warming has thrown things off. Sukhbataar Aimag in southeastern Mongolia usually doesn't get that much snow or extreme weather. It's just flat, dusty, and cold. I've mentioned this before, but the weather is really strange this year. It's not nearly as cold in UB as it should be. I'm not complaining because once it gets cold, the pollution from the ger districts burning unwashed coal and plastics, will be unbearable. When it starts to get cold here I'm heading out to carcinogen free air, for my fieldwork in the countryside. For now, I'm off to enjoy the sunshine and balmy 41F!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Chest picture

Eminem got his passport photo (chest picture in Mongolian) done at this shop, so you should too. I pass this sign everyday, and today I brought my camera. There were only a few people around so I felt ok taking the picture! God forbid anyone think I'm a tourist! I'd rather have them think I'm a Russian or a German! I'm pretty sure everyone was wondering why I was taking a picture of the advertisement for having your picture taken. Foreigners are really weird.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Snowy pictures

The snow settling over UB (just northwest of Sukhbataar Square)
Ovoo (Buddhist offertory site) just South of UB
The Tuul river and the first snow

Power Plant #3, working hard

Saturday, October 6, 2007

I went to the Mongolian Video Music Awards last night. In true Mongolian fashion, the tickets said 7pm, but nothing really happened until 8pm (people in "the know" call this "mongol tsag"). At 8pm all the people who were in the auditorium got to watch the "red carpet" on huge video screens. We got to see what most of our favorite stars were wearing. However, most of them were wearing coats because it was so cold in the UB Palace. My friends joked that the fashion scene here is a little bit different that in the States. If you asked a Mongolian star what they were wearing the correct response might be "fake Versace and Chinese Jimmy Choo shoes". Nonetheless, the stars dressed to impress, and impress they did. The award portion of the show was pretty slow and arduous. They had people from the companies that sponsored the show give the awards (boring!), but the performances were great. They also had 2 young DJs mixing on stage. I got to see my new favorite band, The Lemons, the cool rocker chic Otgoo, and the sexy girl group my neighbor is in, Kiwi. There were other good performers too, including the guy who opened. He had dancers from Chingis Khan's horde. We had no idea that the horde could dance so well! On the intellectual side, I went to a lecture a few weeks ago that concerned the issue of the misrepresentation of Chingis Khan in modern depictions and modern art. I think the lecturer would have agreed that the performance was completely historically inaccurate. These are all the clips I could upload. The internet is too slow. They are short, but they give you a taste of what it was like. Enjoy!
Chingis (Mis)represented

Ogtoo-Alternatively rockin'!

I (Heart) The Lemons!

One more thing. When I woke up this morning, it was snowing. I took a picture to prove it. It's a month later than last year. The snow is nice because it covers the dirt, but that also means that the marble slabs that designers have chosen to pave parts of UB which are going to be very slippery!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Amusing Musings

People silently judge me everyday. For the last month I thought everyone was looking at my crotch when they talked by. It dawned on am a week or two ago that they are looking at my shoes. Shoes are very important here. It’s the first thing everyone sees. If your shoes are the slightest big scuffed or dirty, everyone looks down on you. Now, anyone who has ever lived in Mongolia knows that the entire country is dusty, dirty and generally hard to navigate. So, I take a laid back approach…why clean em if you know they are just gonna get dirty, right? WRONG! I saw a man walking down the street actually stop every 10 feet to dust off his shoes. I couldn’t believe it. This leads me to another point. People here had a tendency to walk very slowly, as if they have no place to go. Now, maybe that’s true, maybe they have no where to be, but the sidewalks are so small and crowded, it forces the people who do have somewhere to be to walk slower. I suppose concepts of time are very different here than they are in the states. It some ways this is refreshing, in other ways it’s completely frustrating. When you add the fact that this is a culture that likes to link arms while walking, you could be stuck walking at a turtle-like pace for blocks with no way to get around someone! Unless you give em the old nudge in the back, or hit their legs with a cane like the old ladies do.
On a completely different note, I’m going to the Mongolian Music Awards tonight. A friend of mine is friends with Deegi, the famous, hip, Mongolian violinist, and she got a group of us tickets. It should be a hoot. I’ll take lots of pics!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Gobi Marathon Trip

The Asia "Pleasure Bus"-Photo credit (A.Conti)

Preface: things you need to know before reading this: 5km=3.1 miles (you do the math) and distances that you might consider short, like 400km, can take 12hours to several days to complete in Fungolia!
So a few old folks and some twenty-something’s boarded the Asia “Pleasure” bus for what was billed as 12 hour trip to the Gobi. Being the experienced Mongolia traveler that I am, I know that you should go on a trip with no expectations, especially about time. Additionally, most of my companions were ill prepared for the ruggedness of the adventure. Some of you have seen Ewan McGregor’s “Long Way Round” documentary, so you can at least visualize what I mean when I say “no roads”. It’s not like “off roading” in a field in the suburbs, this is the real deal. Mongolia has very few paved roads, just paths in the dirt...extremely rutted, bumpy, paths in the dirt. As you can imagine, this is difficult for the driver and passengers alike. When one path wears out, the cars just make new paths. Soon enough, this track in the middle of nowhere has the look of a 6 lane highway.
Photo: "All roads lead somewhere"- a pit stop on the way. That's me on the left. Photo credit: A.Conti
Photo: "Downward facing dogs"-Bella, the cockerspaniel and I stretching at a rest stop. Photo credit: A.Conti
The first leg of the trip was from UB to Mandalgovi (For a map, see Omnogovi Province). As I was the lone Mongolian speaker, I had the privilege and challenge of negotiating hotel rooms and talking to our driver. I defiantly sugar coated some of the things I was supposed to say to the driver, and gently comforted him along the way when certain miscommunications arose (and arise they did!). We got to Madalgovi at night and stayed in a pretty nice hotel (less than $10 per person). No complications aside from a few vodka drinking men who were very impressed with my Mongolian skills and offered to buy me a few drinks. I politely declined, sighting early morning travel as my reason.
The next morning we started out for Dalanzadgad. The roads were so over used, that driving on them was like driving a tricycle on a washboard. I mean literally, if you can imagine driving a car on a washboard that was that it was like. Of course our driver, Tugso, was driving super fast just to get on to some better roads. However, he failed to see these two, back to back, 3 foot drops. Yeah, we almost died…but the worst times make the best stories.
Photo: the drop that almost killed us
Miraculously, we only had car trouble a hand full of times and it never ceases to amaze me how some chewing gum, a rusty pipe, scotch tape, and a plastic cup can fix just about any car in Mongolia. Photo: "What's in yer grill" Photo credit: A. Conti!
We made it to Dalanzadgad, but then we had the added challenge of finding the ger camp that we were going to stay in. Oddly, Dalanzadgad, a town of 12,000 people has 2 airports. Why that is, is still a mystery. We knew that the ger camp we were to stay in, with all the Gobi marathon participants, was located down, outside of the new airport. I believe the directions we had read something like this: “down past the new airport, there will be a fork in the road. At the fork, go right and follow the telephone poles 20 km.” Somehow, we missed that fork, perhaps took another one, and we were off course. At this point everyone was getting hungry and antsy. Our poor driver stopped a couple times at some random gers to ask directions. Before we knew it we were taking off across the open Gobi steppe when we found a car that was out looking for us. We eventually made it to the ger camp just as the sun went to bed.
There were about 30 race participants staying at the ger camp. We all had dinner and the race “route” was explained to us. We drank some vodka, ate, and slept. Photo: Annie and Attila.
Bright and early the next day, we all got up, packed up the cars, and took off. That morning was when I met the Spanish Ultra-marathoner. He had just popped down to the Gobi to do the marathon while on a 5 day trip to Mongolia. He was also going to climb “The 5 peaks” out in Bayan-Ulgii (Kaz-golia) the next day.
The race route was marked by red ribbons that seemed to strewn across the Gobi haphazardly. However, Joachim, the organizer of the race, claims the ribbons were marking every kilometer. I have failed to mention, that we went as a team of sorts. We even had heinously ugly matching shirts! My friend dubbed us” Win er’ Wear Orange”. Only one guy on our team ran the entire marathon (AND he got lost doing it), one girl ran the ½ (with no training, which I’m sure she is regretting today), another guy ran 10km and walked 11km, my fellow “researcher” and I, ran 5 km and walked 16km. The rest of the team (The Aging Amblers) walked most of the ½ marathon, but they got a little of track. (See preface for metric conversion). Photo: The start of the race. Photo credit: A. Conti
The race started in a flat open place and was marked by a banner help up by 2 Feurgons (see UAZ). The 4 marathoners (A Spaniard, a German (My “teammate”), and 2 Mongolians) took off.
Photo: J in orange (my teammate, the ultra-marathoner in the yellow cap, and the 2 Mongolians at the side)
The rest of us hopped in the cars to race ahead of them and set up water stations every 5 km. When we reached the sand dunes (at about 10km) everyone got out and took pictures and looked around. To our surprise, the Ultra Marathoner caught up to us, and ran over the dunes like it was a walk in the park. Then, our car got stuck in the sand and we all got out to dig and push it out, and chase the Ultra-marathoner.
Photo: Ultra-Marathoner leaves us in the dust. (A.Conti cheers him on!)
Photo: Pushing the Pleasure bus
Photo: Annie and the dunes. Photo credit: A.Conti

Photo: 1/2 Marathoners
After another 10km, all the people who were running/walking the ½ got out to start. My friend and I ran together and finished the 5km with no problems. Then we walked the rest of the 16 km together. The terrain was amazing and diverse. We couldn’t believe that there are so many beautiful plants in the desert. Mind you, the area we were in is the place where people have found completely in-tack dinosaur bones, and dinosaur eggs. We went through steppe land, sand dunes, stark desert, and finished at the “Flaming Cliffs”. We finished in less than 4 hours, just in time to see 2 out of 4 marathoners finish. The Ultra-marathon guy did it in 3 hours. I felt a great sense of accomplishment.
Photo: The beginning of the 1/2 marathon (strong start)
Photo: Me and A.Conti breaking records with our 5km

Photo: At the finish line Photo: The Flaming Cliffs-at the finish line
All of us jumped back in the car around 3pm to start back to UB. We were on a pretty tight schedule, due to everyone having to be back at work in the city. We drove and drove until we came to a soum (village) and stopped to get directions and gas. They offered us a place to stay, but it was sill light out and our driver said he wasn’t tired and could make it to the next town. I wasn’t too keen on staying in that soum because within 30 seconds of our arrival, the drunks we all around. One guy kept calling me “Madonna”.
Photo: Crank start, Mandal-Ovoo SoumSo, after filling the gas for 30 minutes (crank powered), we pushed on. Sure enough, night fell, and finding the correct roads in this vast, open landscape became more difficult. We kept stopping and flagging down other cars to make sure we were going the right way, but who knows which way we were really going? At about 1:30am we pulled into a town and asked the gas station lady if there were any hotels. She sent us around to a bunch of places. One place even had its light on, but when or bus stopped, they quickly turned out the light. NO ROOM IN THE INNE! Our driver was concerned about us, and he didn’t want to get in trouble. He was ready to drive the other 250km to UB in the middle of the night! I conferred with my teammates and then told the driver to drive about 5 km outside of town and some of us would sleep in the car and some of us outside. We had to get away from town if we were gonna sleep outside because of the dogs. I wasn’t about to get mauled by a ravenous dog in the middle of the night!
Four of us youngsters slept outside in our sleeping bags. I had borrowed a sleeping bag from a friend of mine who is much larger than me. I failed to think about how the cold air would get in through the head hole no matter how tight I secured it. I was freezing all night. I think it was 32F/0C, but this is debatable. It was however, a beautiful night, with a big shiny moon, and stars you could reach. We could hear dogs barking in the distance and a horse snoring nearby, but it was so dark, we couldn’t see any of our surroundings We watched the sun rise somewhere around 6am. That’s when we were really able to soak in the beauty of the place we had slept in. There was a ger nearby (the barking dogs) and we were surrounded by rolling hills and vast landscapes. I wish I had been more awake to appreciate it. We got everyone up and did our morning routine and headed out around 8am.
Photo: A mountain on the way back to UB
The ride back was gruelingly slow at times, but I think that was mostly because everyone was tired and stinky (no showers, post marathon, lots of dust!). It took 7 hours to get back to UB. I think at least one of those hours was spent trying to buy oil for the car (side note: motor oil is translated as “car butter” in Mongolian). We went to a small soum that had 2 gas stations. I have no idea why they had 2 gas stations considering the town maybe had about 400 people in it. We went back and forth between the 2 gas stations, each station claiming the other station had the oil we wanted. I think this is a good example of a cultural difference. There is no knowledge of the saying “the customer is King” here in Mongolia. When you are purchasing something here (goods or a service) it’s almost like the shopkeeper is doing you a favor. I’m pretty used to this, but for the other foreigners who haven’t been in Mongolia long, they have trouble understanding this mentality after coming from the West. Nonetheless, we got the oil, but not from a gas station, from some guys ger. We carried on and got to see some more vast, uninhabited, expansive landscapes. When we were about 1 hour outside UB the air started to change and there was more and more garbage and homes. We actually drove through the garbage dump here. It’s an open land fill system. So the garbage just gets dumped outside of town and then blows around all over the place. The traffic in UB was the first thing that bothered me, but I couldn't’t wait to take a hot shower and get some Indian food. Those were the first things I did!
There are a few more pics that I might add later. Hopefully you all enjoyed this post, because it took me nearly 2 days to assemble!