My dad’s travel journal part 2
This will pick up steam after a while. We are just now starting to experience the country.
Thursday, August 19, 2010:
…the record continues…It is now 12:25 AM and still about 1 ½ hours before our boarding time. Carol is having her devotions…doing her “daily readings” in her Bible. It’s hard to know what to read when you don’t know what day it is…if you are using a chart.
We went into a small chapel here in the airport earlier tonight. I bowed my head and prayed…long enough that she thought I had gone to sleep. As we sit here at the boarding gate, I notice that kids are running around, laughing, and playing. Most of the children behaved so very well on the long flight from the US to Korea. About 150 of us remain in this big, quiet airport. During the daytime, thousands will descend upon its corridors and gates.
About 1 AM, we boarded our final jet airplane and taxied for what seemed like forever. Now, we have flown up into the dark, morning sky. We could see very little out the window, but maybe saw the lights of a couple of ships below. Cabin attendants soon provided us with immigration papers to fill out and then brought us “refreshing towels” to use before eating our meal. This plane is an “Airbus“…still large…8 seats across, but not as nice as on our previous flight segment. We still get pillows, blankets, and headphones, but share a large “community” TV screen. Our meal is very interesting…for 2:30 AM. Carol is having “fatty pork”, spinach, and rice. I am having some kind of seafood, veggies, and rice. We both have rolls, a strange tasting fruit, and a large dish of bean curd with some sort of awful oriental sauce. Without the sauce, it has zero taste. With it,…it is tolerable…barely! I am now writing …at 3 AM and we are just north of Beijing, China and flying at 547 mph and at 11,000 feet. Somewhere during this jaunt, we gain an hour. We are touching down now…in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia…at a bit after 3:30 AM.
How can I tell you about the next 24 hours? As I write the notes, it is all a mish-mash of events…in my head. I am journaling at 6:10 AM on Friday. We de-planed in Ulaanbaatar, went into their small “arrivals” terminal, and got a customs form and filled it out. At home (USA), we had spent hours itemizing the $960 worth of stuff that we were transporting to Mongolia. Now, this form wanted us to tell them how much foreign currency we were carrying. We also were to report any other items that were “dutiable”. We decided that since most items were gifts, we had nothing to report. Once the forms were filled out, we got into a line to go through “Customs / Immigration“. I soon realized that I had chosen a line with a stern-looking woman checking documents…and wondered if I had made a mistake. Carol went first and didn’t volunteer her customs form…just presented her passport and the small form that we’d filled out on the plane. Her passport got stamped and she went on through. I followed her example and was soon cleared. Next, we had to choose either the “red” or the “green” exit. Because Chris had previously instructed me, we took the “green” (nothing to declare) exit. The customs agents who stood at that exit, just looked at us as we went by…and apparently decided that we had nothing to hide. We retrieved our luggage from the baggage carousel (one piece had an “inspected” sticker on it) and headed out the door. Chris was waiting for us and took us out into the chilly Mongolian air (maybe in the 40’s …???). It was dark as he led us to a microbus (mini-van with lots of seats). As we left the airport, we immediately were made aware the character of Mongolia…signs that we couldn’t read, very rough and broken concrete roadways, people trying to flag down a vehicle (for a ride) at 4 AM, industries that no longer manufacture goods. Etc. We had no idea where we were or where we were going. Impatient drivers would flash their headlights and pass us…sometimes in ways that we thought were very unsafe. In about 20-30 minutes, Chris took several turns and drove into a darkened parking lot, behind his apartment building. This particular building is a multi-family unit, but the Wesleyan Church in Ulaanbaatar owns the unit that the missionaries stay in. Chris calculates the rent price for his family at $300 (US) per month.
We unloaded our luggage and headed up the 3 flights of stairs to their apartment. Once inside, we were greeted by Tiffany, learned all that we needed to know about the restroom facilities,and then decided that it was time for all of us to try and get some sleep…though it was nearing 5 AM. After only about 2 hours of sleep, we got up and decided to face the day. Chris & Tiff had given up their bedroom and were sleeping on the floor of the office. We learned later that they had given up their small closet to us…throwing their clothes on the floor under a desk in the office. We looked out our window…and could see the city of Ulaanbaatar in front of us. It is the capitol city of Mongolia. Below our window a series of ugly, concrete and steel garages, and a trash-laden parking lot. The boys, Elijah & Joel soon awakened and greeted us with smiles and excitement. Even Joel, who left the USA when only 6 months old…greeted us and began to accept us almost immediately. Tiffany served us a tasty American breakfast of eggs, toast, Hawthorne jelly, etc. From this point on, the day became the “mish-mash” that I mentioned earlier. We were operating from a position of “jet-lag” that we couldn’t really feel…but that was probably affecting us greatly. After breakfast, we left the apartment numerous times…on adventures…and to complete chores. Our first was a walking trip (seemed to be several miles). Chris had warned us to come prepared for much walking (they have no car of their own). We walked to the downtown area of UB (Ulaanbaatar). Our eyes were besieged by the seeming poverty and the unkemptness of this city. Broken glass and litter were frequent sights. The roads and sidewalks were broken and uneven. Three of us tripped in the space of 10 minutes. It was necessary to walk around patches of mud and puddles of water. We were advised to watch for open manholes. Frequently the covers would be missing. One could quickly disappear down into the sewer below. In the bitter Mongolian winters, homeless people find easy access to the warmth of this subterranean part of the city. We went into a number of stores, some small and down in basements, and others part of 5-story shopping malls. Chris and Tiff had told us that during an earlier visit to Mongolia (while missionaries to the Philippines) they had a hard time knowing what a store sold. If you don’t understand the Mongolian language, there is little evidence on the outside of the stores to even tell you that they are a store. That isn’t necessarily true in the downtown area, but in the thousands of other stores across the country, you may have to guess at their purpose. Traffic, though not as crazy as we had experienced in Manilla,…was nonetheless…daunting! We walked against red lights, jay-walked, stood between lanes of passing cars, and darted quickly in front of them. Each trip seemed to be a death-defying experience…often accompanied by drivers honking at you as they missed your legs by inches. We visited Sukhbaatar Square (baatar means “hero”). On the way to it, we passed embassy after embassy, India, China, etc….and later, the U.S. embassy (not far from where Chris & Tiff and the boys live). The square ia a huge, tiled, open plaza that sits in front of their main government building. A statue of one of their liberating heroes is in the center. Nearby are gardens (poorly kept…as we would often observe). On the steps of the govt. building is a statue of Ghengis Khan. In Mongolia, this is spelled and pronounced as Chinggis…we would see that name often. He is one of their greatest heroes. Many buildings surround the plaza, including those that house the Democratic and the Communist parties, a stock exchange, and a new office building that is shaped like a shark’s fin. The Mongolians think that it is shaped like a knife blade and that it is poised to fall onto the govt. building. It is a huge glass and steel skyscraper. Chris said that it symbolizes much that is wrong with Mongolia…it has been being built for a long time, but corruption, inefficiency, etc. hinders its completion. We visited the Natural History Museum next. It was very well done, filled with animals of every type. It had many species that are native to Mongolia, but also dinosaurs, and animals from around the world. We saw examples of a special breed of wild Mongolian horses that were nearly extinct, but that have been preserved and are now found in several countries of the world. By now, we were tiring. After a bit more of the downtown exploration, we entered a nice restaurant with white tablecloths. While in Mongolia, we would see time and again that in the midst of the dirt and filth, the people knew how to be elegant. Carol had a Chicken & Apple Salad. I had Beef Stroganoff over noodles. I’m not sure what the rest of the family ate.
At this point, my journaling broke down. Hence, my note about it being confusing.
I think we hired a car to take us back to the house, but not sure. That would be in character with what we did many times after that. However, another part of me remembers walking up the hill and seeing children’s carnival rides behind a department store…so who knows. In addition to that, I don’t have notes about what else we did that evening. Some of our evening was no doubt given to planning for the next day…as we would be making an extended trip to the “countryside”. Our brains were full of sights, sounds, and smells that were very foreign to us. More would be coming in the days ahead.