Saturday, August 25, 2012

We Ain't In Kansas Anymore

It's been a week and a half since I got to Ulaanbaatar. I thought, before I got here, that I was mentally prepared for Mongolia (or as I like to call it, the Wild East - yes, I know it doesn't have quite the same ring to it as "wild west," get over it). Who knows, maybe I was. Mentally. On a visceral level, though, I don't think I knew what I was getting myself into.
Let me start by saying this is one breathtakingly beautiful country. Even with the construction blocking out some of the scenery, I have to give myself a little shake now and again when I realize where I am. Mongolia's a country of wide open spaces, and the way the sun lights up those rolling hills is magic.
It's also - as I mentioned in passing - a country under construction. And the people doing that construction live in gers (aka: yurts - and remember that cause it's the last time I'm telling you!) And Ulaanbaatar, specifically, is a boomtown, which is funny, because it already has ridiculous traffic problems. I mean, completely fricking ridiculous. A drive that takes ten minutes in light traffic can - I've been told - take 3 hours at the wrong time of day. You could walk it faster than that, although of course, no one's going to want to once it's subzero out. Which it was earlier this week - we had a low of -1C and apparently there was snow, although I didn't see it. For those of you who are tuning in late, let me remind you I'm writing this in LATE AUGUST. But really, the most difficult, the most horrendous, the thing I had not and could not prepare myself for was the lack of Western chain restaurants. I thought every country in the world had McDonald's. Freaking INDIA has McDonald's. But not Mongolia. There are no Starbucks in Ulaanbaatar. We've got nothing. I'm not even sure how this is possible - there are three international schools here as of this fall - if UB can support 3 international schools, surely they merit a Pizza Hut! But whether it be because the government doesn't want them, or because the chains can't be bothered, they aren't here. This is probably a good thing for me - after all, I spent the last six months adding insulation to my body in preparation for the very harsh winter to come (that's my story and I'm sticking to it!) but food is one of the things I have already found myself missing about Shanghers (along with my friends and plentiful taxis). On the other hand, the best thing about Mongolia is, it ain't China! Stay tuned folks - I'll be back shortly with contortionists, wild horses, gers, and my first run-in with good old Soviet-era alcoholism.

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