First days in Ulaanbaatar

by sumpteretc

It’s 5:45 AM, and Elijah and I have been up since about 3:15. That’s an improvement over our 2:00 rising time the two previous mornings, but we still have a bit to go before jetlag is conquered. Elijah’s watching a movie, and I’m trying to do some things on the internet. The connection keeps going down, so I decided to just blog and then post when I get a connection again.

Let me back up to Wednesday morning. We arrived at Beijing on time and deplaned, expecting to have a three-hour layover. We were apparently the first flight arriving that morning, because immigration wasn’t really set up yet. We asked a police officer where we were supposed to go, and he walked over to a booth and processed our papers. We walked through security and into the airport proper. The new terminal that they built for the Olympics was beautiful and huge. It’s also apparently very difficult to heat, so they don’t bother trying. We looked at the departure board and noticed that our flight was leaving at 12:55 rather than at 8:55 as our itinerary had stated. The nice ladies at the information booth could give us no gate information at that time, so we wandered around until we found a spot with an electrical outlet in the floor. I powered up the laptop, found a free wireless connection and managed to get a few emails off. The airport had a couple of kids’ play areas so we spent some time there and then headed over to Pizza Hut for breakfast. They were out of toast, but we got eggs, bacon and instant coffee for about $5 per person.

Finally, after 7 hours of waiting, we were able to get on our flight to Mongolia. The gate was just a door leading out to a road, where we boarded a bus and drove out on the tarmac to the plane. We were really struggling with the boys and all the carry-ons. I dropped a roll-on suitcase on a guy’s head while I was trying to put it in the overhead bin; I was mortified.

We eventually got settled in and Elijah went right to sleep. I was sitting next to a Mongolian doctor who lives out in the countryside, and we chatted a bit. The flight was fairly short and uneventful. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, Elijah was deep in sleep, very hard to rouse, and extremely cranky. The doctor ended up carrying him into the airport. All of our bags were waiting on the carrousel. (We forgot to check for the car seat, since it was a last minute decision to take it.) We were glad to see Pastor Naraa and a number of others waiting for us. We weren’t sure if they would know about the later flight or not. Apparently, it’s standard practice to call the airport before heading out there.

Naraa and her husband drove us to “our” apartment. (It actually belongs to another missionary couple who are on furlough in Switzerland currently, but they are being gracious enough to allow us to live here while we work on our apartment. Shortly after we arrived and got our bags inside, another missionary, Liz, showed up to help us get situated. She had bought a couple days’ worth of groceries for us and offered her assistance in whatever we needed.

Soon, everyone cleared out to let us get some rest. We were in bed well before midnight, so other than watching a few early fireworks, we let the New Year show itself in.

As I mentioned, Elijah was up at 2:00, so I was too. Because it was a holiday, there wasn’t much that we could do. I did take a walk in the afternoon, looking for the Black Market. I took a couple of wrong turns and never found it, but I did manage to buy a few things at a supermarket and make it back home so that should count for something. It’s an interesting time to be in Ulaanbaatar. High rise apartments are being built all over the city. Actually, we learned yesterday that the construction is stalled because the banks are not lending money anymore. It seems likely that the area was being overbuilt as well.

The streets and sidewalks are covered with ice, so you really have to watch your step. This is also important because there are lots of open manholes. Tiff teases me about walking around looking at my GPS receiver; it would be especially dangerous here. Streets are difficult to cross, too; traffic is fairly heavy and vehicles aren’t likely to give way to pedestrians. Speaking of vehicles, there is quite a variety. I have mostly seen imports from Korea and Japan, but I’ve also seen a Cadillac Escalade and a Hummer H1, so somebody has some money around here.

Yesterday, Liz came by to try to help us with our internet connection. Naturally, it worked perfectly when she was here and for a number of hours thereafter. This morning has been a vastly different story. I’ll have internet access for a few seconds or minutes and then it’s gone. There has been some problem in the past with another tenant in the building cutting into the line and stealing the DSL connection. Since I started having problems at 3:30 am, I’m guessing that‘s not the issue this time. While Liz was here, she gave us lots of valuable information about where to buy things, about the home school cooperative, about a playgroup that meets weekly at her apartment, etc.

At 4:00, Uranchimeg, owner of Friends Language School, sent her husband to help me get some work done on our visas and show me the way to the school. I thought he might come by car but we were on foot the rest of the afternoon. It took us a while to find a place to get photocopies made of our passports and the quality was pretty lousy. By the time, we got to the microdistrict director’s (?) office, he had taken off for the day, even though he had just promised to wait for our arrival. So it looks like visa processing will have to wait until Monday. Then we walked to the school. It’s a good 17 or 18 minute walk, even with my relatively brisk pace.

Uranchimeg was very apologetic about the difficulties we encountered in getting to Mongolia. She said she had made a number of angry phone calls and visits to get things straightened out and that she would work on getting our visas extended by a month because of all the delay. She informed me that we would begin classes on Monday. I will go to school from 9:00 to 12:15 each day; Tiffany will attend from 3:15 to 4:45. She asked how we would be paying for our tuition, and I pulled $4,560 in cash from my money belt. She was startled (appalled?) that I was carrying that much cash. She warned me that Mongolian men might suddenly just attack me without cause. In all honesty, that was why I was anxious to get the money out of my hands and into hers. After picking up a student handbook and a few other forms, I walked back to the apartment alone, more or less without incident.

It was already dark by time I arrived home, which meant temperatures were dropping. We decided to try to make it to a restaurant down the street. Joel did not take well to being bundled up, but he did okay once we got out into the cold. Walking on slick streets with Elijah slows things down considerably, but we made it to BBQ Chicken without much difficulty. This is a Korean-owned (I think) fried-chicken restaurant. BBQ, in this case, stands for Best Believable Quality, and the placemats advertised the restaurant as “the world best family restaurant.” I thought it was a little pricey and nothing tasted quite right, except for the Pepsis. It was alright but I don’t think we’ll make it a weekly tradition. For some reason, we got a hand towel with the company logo on it when we paid for our meal.

We stopped at a supermarket on the way home, since Tiff had not had a chance to do that yet. We didn’t find everything we were looking for, but she picked up a few things. The meat and produce sections did not look too promising. We have not had any of either in our diets yet, so we’ll see how that goes.

Well, this is getting as long as some of my dad’s travel journals so I’ll wrap it up here and wait for a chance to post it. I’m happy to give more details about our adventure, but I don’t want to drive people crazy with all the minutiae of daily life. So, if you read this, leave me a comment or ask a question and I’ll try to gear my material to the audience.