Monday, July 10, 2017

Sidewalk Stories

Tuul River full after rains
I spend a lot of time on the sidewalks of Ulaanbaatar. When the weather is good, I often walk the 5 km or 3 mi from ASU to our home. I walk to grocery shop and let's get real, when you don't have a car trunk to fill and transport with, it can take multiple trips. I walk or run for exercise in the early morning and I walk to hunt for new restaurants or shops and to just plain be outside and moving around. I've never been much of a homebody and 75 square meters (800 sq feet) can seem small with three people living in it. So....I walk the sidewalks of the city. 


Disrepair
I had an earlier post about the sidewalks of UB in which I talked about how most of them have a combination of two types of blocks/bricks. Some are like cobblestone. Compared to sidewalks in America, Mongolia's can seem like an obstacle course. Because they are not made of a continuous pouring of concrete, they fall into disrepair and have to be redone periodically. You may walk home one day on a disintegrating sidewalk, and the next day it's been torn up completely. If they aren't also messing with the lines underneath (water? electricity? I don't know!), then you might have a completely NEW sidewalk two days later. They are speedy about it! 


Diversity of blocks/bricks
But this is NOT the place where you can walk and not keep an eye on your footfalls. You could end up jarring yourself with an unexpected drop, or catch your toe on a block gone askew, or simply trip up on a different material. I imagine if these types of sidewalks were discovered in America someone would be on the phone complaining in no time. I admit that it sometimes annoys me. However, I've found the silver lining. Navigating the sidewalks of my city keeps my core muscles strong. Walking on smooth pavement or concrete requires no work from our smaller leg muscles and certainly not our core to maintain our balance. Well, it's the opposite here. I get plenty of practice on maintaining footholds, stepping over obstacles (remember about the manholes!), and holding my core tight and sound. 

While walking or jogging in the early morning hours the sidewalks reveal tales of the UB night life that aren't so pretty. If you are eating while reading this, I'd pause at this point and come back when you are finished. I don't mean to offend anyone, but what I share next initially shocked/disturbed me, but now it has become common and normal to observe.


If I walk to the bus stop or go for a morning jog I almost always encounter two specific kinds of evidence that share about the evening before. On a Saturday or Sunday morning, I normally count between one and five vomit splatters. Yes, I am for real. Sometimes they are surrounded by birds picking at the bits. Gross. I know. But hey, it's already been regurgitated, I guess. I've certainly had nights where I drank too much and had to expel the poison. However, I feel I was more often home at that point and not out on the streets. And to be honest, maybe this is common experience for anyone living in a big city. Before moving to UB, I always lived in the suburbs.


Additionally, I sometimes observe drops of blood on the sidewalks of UB. With the dry air and climate here it IS possible that they could be from spontaneous nose bleeds. However, I've observed numerous scuffles and fights--outside restaurants and bars, on the sidewalk, and even at 6 am between a small group of taxi drivers. So I suspect that the blood drops I find are from physical fights. Mongolian men do tend to like to solve their problems with their hands if/when their words do not get the result they desire. Again, maybe the streets of Chicago or New York or Los Angeles would reveal much of the same evidence of what happens in the midnight hours. I only have my experience in Ulaanbaatar to draw from. If you have lived in or currently live in a large city, please comment below and tell me if you've found the same evidence or not. What do the sidewalks of your city reveal about it or about its people or culture? 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Eve of Presidential Election

Tomorrow Mongolians will elect their fifth president. Here are the three candidates, from left to right: Enkhbold (Mongolian People's Party), Battulga (Democratic Party), and Ganbaatar (Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party). I'm not informed well enough to give much information about any of them. I'll only say that most Mongolians seem to think or feel that each of the candidates is corrupted in some way and will not be strong enough to create the Mongolia that so many of them wish for and want. 

What I will comment on is the duration of the election season. Signs and advertisements starting going up just after the first of June. I read there was a presidential debate last night on TV (initially was supposed to be one a little over a week ago--but it got canceled). The election is tomorrow. That's less than a month spent on serious campaigning. While I'd argue that may not be enough time, it's certainly preferable to the YEARS of campaigning that happen in the U.S. The mayor of UB has declared the next two days as alcohol free and has prohibited public events. 

Friday marked the end of my second school year at ASU. However, I'm working our summer camp which starts tomorrow and runs for two weeks. We have nearly 40 students ages 6-13 and will spend five hours each day with them. Our theme this year is: Every Hero has a Story! I'll be starting with Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are and have a variety of fun activities plan for the two weeks. We take a field trip one day each week as well. After summer camp I'll be heading home to the US for a quick visit to see my mom and to attend an AP Summer Institute. Summer is already passing TOO FAST!

Sorry for the silence on my blog lately. I have a number of topics I want to discuss and hope to be posting more very soon. Hope each of you is enjoying your summer!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Expat Exercise Challenges

10,000 steps a day is easy!
I remember hearing people complain about the "over 40 metabolism slowdown" when I was younger. Now it's happening and it's no fun. According to this article by on Huffington Post, it has to do with changes in hormones, loss of muscle mass, and insulin resistance. Whatever it is, I don't like it. Diet and exercise continue to be the frustrating components of living life as an expat. The last few years I lived in Colorado Springs, I attended a CrossFit gym and ate a primarily Paleo diet. Believe it or not, I got up at 4:30 am, did the 5 AM WOD, then it was home, shower, and off to work. I loved knocking out my workout first thing in the morning. I was feeling and looking good.

With spring/summer in the air, I'm getting back into working out more regularly. By the nature of how much I walk as a part of my average day, I do get my 10,000 steps/day easily. Most days I'm in the 12,000 to 15,000 step range. With the weather improving, I enjoy walking home from work (5k/3 miles). But I have been riding the exercise roller coaster since arrival. When it's so dark and cold in the winter time--motivation can be tough to scrounge up. There are a few aspects that contribute to the up and down experience, the on-the-wagon, off-the-wagon reality of making/keeping exercise a part of my every day life. 

  • Location and Accessibility.
    I'd LOVE to go to a gym, but without a car (which I do NOT want to acquire, nor do I want to drive in UB) it limits my options. I'd LOVE to have "Crossfit UB" within a 10 minute walk from my apartment. I'd be willing to pay a solid membership fee for that kind of workout and having it close to home. Of course I'd want a qualified trainer/coach employed at said Box. But alas, Crossfit hasn't officially made it to UB yet. I *could* use the gym at my school. It has weights and cardio machines, a gymnasium, mats, everything really. But I am deterred by the need to lug around shower stuff and/or a change of clothing. I already carry a steady backpack to and from work for everyday necessities. I don't want to shower and get ready AT school, and traveling home sweaty and gross doesn't appeal to me either. (I know....these are MY choices!) SO.....I've settled for working out in my apartment.

  • Time of Day.
    I prefer to work out in the morning. Starting a day with a workout is ideal for my body and spirit. It kick starts my muscles and metabolism and there is something exceptional about knowing you've already checked that item off one's list. However, because I live in a 75 sq. meter apartment (about 800 sq. feet) with only two rooms that offer enough space to work out--both of which are bedrooms--I can't workout before school as it would disturb my husband and son's sleep. Therefore, I have to force myself to work out in the evening. Not ideal for me, but as they say, you make time for what's important. And a workout anytime of day is better than NO workout at all. 

  • Equipment.
    One has two options: (a) join a gym where the equipment is provided, or (b) purchase/supply your own equipment to create a home gym. I came with a few things--exercise mat, jumprope, resistance band, workout clothing. Since arrival I've added weights as I LOVE strength training. As a woman, this is important towards maintaining muscle mass and to keeping my bones strong as I age. I absolutely love having sore quads and hamstrings from doing squats and lunges! In the beginning, I could only find 1-10 lb dumbbells. Then they jumped pretty drastically, from 10 to 15 to 20. As a woman, I need smaller increments. When we came back from our holiday visit to the U.S. I brought home my big investment--a set of PowerBlock adjustable dumbbells. Together they weighed 50 lbs. I had to divide them up, placing a few parts in each of our 6 bags. One of them I transported in my carry-on. You should have seen the security personnel in the Beijing airport inspecting that!! Hilarious. BUT.....these are a brilliant investment. I'm so glad I bought them and worked out how to get them here. 


From 3 to 24 lbs in 3 lb increments. Brilliant!!


  • Trainer and/or Workout program.Since I'm not attending a Crossfit gym where a trainer/coach decides and guides the day's workout, I have to make or find my own. I have some books on weightlifting and brought some DVD programs as well. However, in this era of streaming online media, I've grown to use and love FitnessBlender. They offer hundreds of free, online workouts. Stand alone, 5 day challenges, or multi-week plans with a focus (strength, fat loss, flexibility, etc). I've also become a fan of Yoga with Adrienne. Yoga can be surprisingly difficult. I struggle to clear my mind during these sessions--doesn't help that I'm watching intensely trying to figure out the moves--but I do feel that my muscles get a serious workout even if I'm not huffing and puffing at the end. :)

I try to workout 3-5 times a week. On the weekends I sometimes go for a run in the morning when the air is yet cool. I usually do a 3 mile loop, from home to the Wrestling Palace (where I do step-ups and squats) and then around the Square on the way home. I wish I could run dirt trails (I so miss the Fountain Valley Regional Trail system!) and they do exist, but then there is the transportation issue to tackle. So I find a way to work with I got! Urban running it is! 

As for diet, that's a whole other conversation. One would think that with Mongolia's obsession with MEAT it would be easy to be Paleo. It is, and it isn't. They do have lots of meat. However, it's often tough and hidden by a crapload of wheat (NOT paleo) in some form. Mongolia is known for two food groups--meat and dairy. Dairy is NOT Paleo. So this is another on-again, off-again battle--trying to eat Paleo in a land that puts LOADS of refined carbs and often gluten in every dish (rice, noodles, bread, etc). Bottom line...you have to shop around and do lots of planning. 

I'll wrap this up for now. Time to get outside for a walk in the 70+ degree sunshine to get my vitamin D allotment. :)