Sorry for not putting anything up on here yet. Needless to say, the past three days have been full-on, and I am very sleep-deprived! I hope to establish a routine soon though, and then I can get to writing some blog posts.
For a start, here is a description of my first day in Mongolia:
The frosted windows of the plane blazed gold as we descended through the clouds above Mongolia. As we came in to land at 7:10am, all that could be seen for miles around were snow-dusted mountains glowing orange under the morning sun. It was breathtaking. So was the air upon stepping out of the plane – minus 14 degrees when we landed at Chinggis Khaan Airport.
Ulaanbaatar, which translates as ‘Red Hero’, is an intriguing city – ambivalently modern and dated. Interspersed between the dilapidated high-rise blocks lie small pagoda-style huts and bronze statues. The city is surrounded by snow-capped mountains on all sides.
Stray dogs wander the slush-covered roads, pawing away at the ice, and the name ‘Genghis Khan’ is everywhere. The Mongolians can be seen wearing a variety of styles of clothing, from the traditional ‘deel’ (long silk robes in vibrant colours, tied at the waist with a sash), to leather jackets and jeans. As I was driven through the city, I noticed huge icicles cascading over the rooftops of the run-down shop-fronts. Walking to work this morning I could have come to a very grisly end, as one gigantic icicle fell and smashed right in front of me on the pavement.
Road rules in Ulaanbaatar are non-existent. Cars swerve to the left and right, blaring their horns at each other and at the pedestrians weaving between them. Thankfully, there are a few traffic lights and pedestrian crossings which show not only the green man symbol, but also a clock counting down from 20 to 0. This is handy, as you know exactly how long you’ve got to get across before you are annihilated by a crazy taxi driver.
The apartment block where I’m living pokes up from behind the wrestling palace. From the outside, it looks quite intimidating – huge mounds of rubbish burst out from the ground-floor windows and the doors are made of thick steel and guarded by barred gates. But inside, it is warm and pleasant. I have a lovely view of a children’s playground from my window, and every morning so far I have seen the same little boy arduously doing his laps around the snow-covered basketball court.
My host family, sisters Saruul and Enkhzul, couldn’t be nicer. As soon as I arrived on Saturday I was served the traditional Mongolian tea, made with hot milk, butter and salt. It tastes just like popcorn, and is insanely delicious. Seconds later, a dish of the traditional ‘buuz’ (steamed dumplings) was served up in front of me – again, surprisingly tasty. Dumplings are a staple in the Mongolian diet, along with bread, chicken, tomatoes (which are green and pickled and taste like gherkins) and eggs.
A few hours after arriving, I heard a timid knock at my door. It was Enkzhul, wondering if I wanted to eat bananas together.
Enkzhul asked me what we usually have for breakfast in England and, spotting a bag of muesli on the table, I pointed to that. Immediately, the packet was opened and offered to me. Not wishing to offend, I sat politely consuming a handful of dried oats for the next quarter of an hour.
Just before bed, I was presented with my own pair of blue rubber slip-on shoes to wear around the apartment, of lotus flower design. If I have left them lying around somewhere, I usually find that one of the sisters has picked them up and placed them next to their own pink and red ones by the door in a neat little row.