Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Additional Notes on Cold (& Pollution)

Flowers require insulation for transport!
The thing I find challenging about living in this harsh winter climate is deciding how to dress for evening events. The school day is easy, I wear whatever I want to work (usually regular trousers and either a blouse or sweater) and then I throw on what Michiganders would call snow pants, but what I've grown to call "outer pants" as we really get less snow here in UB. By the time December arrives, it is often too cold for precipitation. So this outer shell simply protects against the cold I encounter briefly in the morning when I leave the apartment and get into our hired car, and again protects me after school when I walk to the bus stop and ride it home. 

The hard part is attending a dinner with family or friends, or going to a performance or evening event. It's not so easy to de-robe outer pants in those situations/places. Then one is left to calculate how late one will be exposed to the elements and for how long. Will walking be involved? Public transport or taxis? Will it only be 0 at 11 pm, or will it be -20? Most Mongolians I know spend their entire day wearing two layers--some sort of long underwear or leggings underneath their pants. I can do this if/when I'm going to be in the outdoors for an extended period of time, but I am NOT comfortable to wear them inside. I get too hot and don't like the extra layer. But to lose that layer, one has to find a restroom or changing room, take most everything off and then put back on the other layer. Then before you depart, the process must be repeated in reverse. This is TOO MUCH for me. The middle ground? Well, if I can't wear the easy outer pants, and I know I will be INSIDE for a couple or more hours, then I usually pair my LONG Eddie Bauer coat (Thanks Elaine!) which goes down to my calves, with TALL wool socks that go at least to my knee, or sometimes the mid thigh ones. These are easier to take off and NOT wear at the event. The coat is hung at coat check. I can be comfortable for a few hours and then pretty comfortable going home with those items on.

As we were walking to our evening dinner plans this past Friday I was a little shocked at the sight passing me on the street. It was 0 degrees Fahrenheit or -18 Celsius. As I crossed a major intersection, I passed four or five Mongolians--I would estimate in their early 20s--and each of them was sucking on a Popsicle!!! No Joke! Mongolians LOVE their ice cream and eat it all year round. I'm more of a seasonal ice cream enthusiast--mostly summer time qualifies. But then I also can't eat steaming soup in the summer while Zorig prefers it all year round. 

As I finish this post (I've been adding to it over a few days) on Thursday, November 23rd, it is Thanksgiving. The American Wives Club is gathering tonight to share a real and true American-style Thanksgiving meal. There will be nearly 30 of us in attendance. The seven of us and as many husbands and children as possible. This is the first time we've done something like this and it will be after a full day of work for most of us--it is NOT a holiday in Mongolia and the fact that I work at the American School of UB doesn't matter. 

The pollution this morning is also, perhaps, the worst I've seen it yet this season. I've discovered this new app (airvisual, featured here) for air pollution that shows a man's face adorned with the appropriate level of mask required to address the pollution level. The really unsettling thing about Ulaanbaatar is that you can have a huge diversity of readings throughout the city. This first image shows the airport (Nisekh) in purple and MNB which I have no idea what it stands for but I can tell you it is closer to my school, near Zaisan area of the city. 

But now I will also add this image (right) that shows the air as "good" at Misheel Expo which is basically UB's version of Furniture Row, though it's all housed in one HUGE warehouse. Below that is Zuun Ail which is the district of the city where one can buy home improvement and renovation items. That's north of the US Embassy (which is the RED reading just above). I appreciate the color coding--I believe it goes from Green-->Yellow-->Orange-->Red-->Brown. 

Okay, enough of this pollution talk! Hope this post finds you doing well and enjoying your Turkey Day with great food, football, and family and/or friends. I'll be watching all your posts of DELICIOUSNESS.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Winter has Descended

Winter has descended upon UB. I believe that ice began to form on the Tuul River about two weeks ago. I shot this picture yesterday on my walk home after work. You can see the ice is inching it's way across the width of the channel. It won't be long before one can walk across it. It was about 18 degrees Fahrenheit for the walk. But I was in the mood for one. It occurred to me on that walk that I do feel comfortable and at home in this cold and sometimes brutal landscape. I have visited warm places and I do not feel similarly about them. I remember reading Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses a few years back--it was a book club selection--and I loved the sense of place in it. It took place in Norway. Even in books, the cold speaks to me. I did not know this about myself before living in Mongolia. 

On my previous post I forgot one very important habit--wearing clothes more than once before washing. In fact, I sometimes wear a pair of jeans or trousers for bits and parts of an entire week BEFORE sending it to the clothes hamper to be washed.

As I believe I have mentioned before, Mongolians have clothes washers, but very few have dryers. Here you hang your clean clothes on a rack to air dry. It's a dry climate and rarely takes more than half a day to dry most things. While I initially found this lifestyle habit to be odd (it was new to me!), it has become normal. I DO miss the feel of dryer-tightened jeans and SOFT fluffy towels. However, as a good friend told me, "A crunchy towel means you know it's clean!"

Yes, I've come to see that Americans are a little over-zealous with the cleaning habits. Both for clothing and for body. My guys are yet astonished that I shower EVERY day. This especially bothers my husband in the winter months and I have been repeatedly scolded for not allowing my bodily oils to congregate and protect me from infection and disease. I confess that every once in a while, I skip a day. This is always on a weekend. And I now generally wash my hair only every other day. And you know what, it's all very normal to me now. 

I wish I could say that I thought my clothing would last longer because they aren't being bumped around in a dryer. But the clothes washers here seem to be especially brutal on clothing!

I'll depart with this image, also taken on yesterday's sojourn, of a truck stacked high with hay which will help someone's herds makes it through the bitter months of cold that are imminent. I'm fairly confident that Mongolia does not have laws that stipulate the maximum height of stacking done on a truck!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Mongolian Habits to Adopt

In the countryside 
Sometimes I like to think about what aspects of the Mongolian lifestyle I would take home with me to the U.S. I don't yet know when that will be, but I know at some point I will relocate back to my home country. 

First, I LOVE that people take their shoes off at the entry door. I cringe when I reflect on all the years I walked IN SHOES throughout my homes/apartments ON CARPET. Oh...so nasty! Here, and I expect in most of Asia, you take your shoes off at the door. In my own apartment I wear slippers around and even offer extra slippers to visitors. Most people are comfortable moving around in their stocking feet. But I appreciate that this keeps my home CLEAN longer. If you think about it, our shoes go EVERYWHERE. They are covered in dirt, grime, oil and other auto fluids, and here in Mongolia, I know they are also coated in urine. Animal and human. Oh, and lots of concrete dust. So yes, I LOVE that we take our shoes off at the door. 

Secondly, I've noticed that upon entering the apartment the first thing that Zorig and Enji do is to wash their hands. My friend Doogii and her daughter Zaya did the same thing when they visited me. This makes sense because we've been outside riding on a public bus or a taxi and who knows what our hands have been touching. I've adopted this habit and plan to do it the rest of my life. It makes perfect sense. 

Thirdly, and I will have NO ability to make this change in the U.S., but I want to discuss it anyway. When you purchase electronics in Mongolia, you generally make payment to a cashier then take your receipt to the first floor (remember that Malls in Mongolia are built UP and not out) where you show your receipt. An employee goes to collect your appliance or electronic from storage and then they unpack it, plug it in, and show you that it functions. This ensures that you don't have to return the item. Granted, this means more work up front; but avoids that LONG line of returns at the front of Walmart. Strangely, it's proactive--which is not generally Mongolian imho! 

Additionally, because many of us are walking the item to our home, the employee creates a  handy-dandy handle from fat scotch tape so that it's easy to carry the item home. They do this free of charge, of course. I think it's brilliant!

There are certainly other habits or ways of life I'd like to take with me....but these are a few to get started with that I've been reflecting on recently. 

I'll end with this original store exterior that I happened by on the way to visit my in-laws recently. I love coming across random things like this on the streets of Ulaanbaatar. I confess that this week has shifted us into winter. It was cold and blustery for the last few days. The days are getting shorter. Now I look forward to Dec 20 and the shift to days getting longer again. While the cold is extreme and the pollution will get bad, it is the darkness that gets me down. But when the new year arrives, we'll be climbing out of the darkness. It's been a great week off for Fall Break. Back to work on Monday!! Cheers!