Sunday, June 12, 2016

345 Days....more Assorted Observations

Walking home as sun sets @ 9 PM
It's been quite some time since I offered up a random assortment of observations (two posts about it last year--one in July, another in August) about life in a new land. I've been living in Mongolia for 345 days. We will celebrate my first year of life here with a trip to South Africa where we will join my father and cousin on a hunting safari. Dad and I's epic trip to Mongolia (2014) seems to be the gift that keeps on giving. But at the moment, I'm enjoying the warmer weather (it's into the 60s and 70s most days) and the long days (16+ hours of daylight) and looking forward to being DONE with my first school year in five more days. 

So in no particular order, here is my list of observations:

Windowsill in background is just below waist
  • Buying sheets is frustrating! It doesn't seem that having a fitted sheet is standard in Asia. I can buy sheets at any number of department stores OR at the Korean houseware stores that are smattered across the city. Most "sets" seem to come with a flat sheet and a duvet cover. This will NEVER feel normal to me. I will have to add sheets to my next shipment from the States!
  • The brooms and dustpans seemed strange and bizarre to me when I first arrived. Why did they make a half-sized broom? While people of Asian descent *tend* to be shorter, did they really need a small broom? As time passed and I used our broom and dustpan set, it became clear to me that these are BRILLIANT and the tall brooms we have in the U.S.--though good for sweeping off porches and walkways--are NOT built for indoor use. I remembered using my full-size broom to create a pile of dust and debris, then awkwardly trying to hold the bottom part of the broom to sweep the pile into the hand-held dustpan. Awkward and not effective. Now, if you have a partner or child on hand, one can hold the dustpan while you sweep, but this isn't always the case. I LOVE my half-height broom AND the waist-height dustpan that accompanies it. 
  • There ARE snakes in Mongolia. I saw my first one, strangely enough, at the bus stop in Zaisan. I believe it was a Siberian pit viper based on input from friends and research online. I have NO idea where he came from--he was trapped in the middle of a concrete jungle.

  • There does not seem to be a "walk to the right" rule here. When walking down the sidewalks in UB and approaching an oncoming fellow pedestrian, I never know what will happen. Will they go to my left? Or will they juke right? In the U.S. it always felt like there was an unspoken etiquette for sidewalk or trail walking. You walk to the right. This seemed to exist for two reasons: (1) no worry of collision with on-coming traffic, and (2) people on bikes or those traveling faster were able to pass on the left and still see oncoming fellow pedestrians. There is NO understood or expected or common way to walk in this country. Also, it's not uncommon for two or more people to walk abreast on the sidewalk taking up all of the space. I miss the courtesies and known general usage expectations from my home country.
  • People are PUSHY when getting on the bus! And I'm not always sure why. In Zaisan, the buses are generally empty and there are more than enough seats for everyone that wants to ride. I've had an older woman (I'd guess upper 50s or early 60s) literally elbow her way in front of me. I wanted to elbow back--but refrained for two reasons. First, pushing back doesn't show her that her behavior is wrong, it only validates it. And secondly, I don't want to be the rude foreigner pushing around an older lady. Strange experience. 
  • Most apartment complexes have an outdoor playground just outside their access doors. Some are brand new installations, others are a blend of old and new (like the one pictured). Now that the days are longer, I'm trying alternate routes around town. Cutting through any large city block usually uncovers a park and they are nearly all overrun with kids at play. In the one pictured here you can see the old metal slides in the foreground and the newer play are in the background. While I like to sleep with our bedroom window open for the fresh air, I sometimes have to close it because the children out playing at midnight (or after) are loud. A general observation (NOT true of all) is that Mongolians do not adhere to a daily routine or schedule with their kids. I heard numerous students talk about not going to bed until 12 or 1 am, or even later. And if it's not small children, then it's teens or 20-somethings that are chatting and laughing at 3 or 4 in the morning. No joke. It is the LAND of night owls, it seems. 
Alright then, that sums up a few random thoughts for now. I am off to clean house before some more furniture is delivered this afternoon. Bit by bit I make this apartment a little more like home. Today--it's another bookcase. With no closets (and VERY limited cabinet space in the kitchen) it's a challenge to find places to store and put everything. From kitchen appliances (small ones like a blender) to books and art supplies. My winter clothes are stored in some of the original rubbermaid containers that I used to ship my life here a year ago. They are stacked in the bedroom and out of view of visitors. Useful, yes, but certainly not part of the architecture and no crawl space to stash them in. While I agree that *space* in America can contribute to our consumerism, here I find that there are useful everyday or every week things that would make my life better--but no space to store or place them. So I make what adjustments I can.


  1. These observations are quite interesting. Thank you for sharing. I feel like with each new post I know a little more about UB and its people. I will be joining the ASU this fall, and your blog (which I accidentally stumbled upon on Google when searching for 'shopping for western goods in UB') has been most helpful in preparing myself to the move to UB mentally. Thank you. :)

    1. Hello Dilafruz! Now I know why your name seemed familiar--there is a picture of you up in our Secondary school. I'm moving up there in the Fall--so we will soon be colleagues. Welcome Aboard! Let me know if you have any questions before departing (feel free to find me on fb). Also...thanks for sharing how you stumbled upon my blog--always interesting to learn how that happens. Thanks for reading!