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. 

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? 

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