Monday, March 29, 2010

Day 1 in Mongolia (Recap) - First Impressions

Reached mongolia this morning (22nd March) at 10am. The Chinggis Khaan Airport is much smaller than I thought and the people at customs couldn't understand me. But a nice Mongolian family that was returning home after spending 4 years in US helped me get through.

It wasn't until I got out of the airport that I realised how crazy the weather is here... -10deg C in the morning and then it snowed twice :) ... its beautiful though and I am lovin the snow!

After I settled in at the backpackers the owner advised me not to walk in town at night due to high crime in streets. The backpackers itself has many locks on the front door and nobody i
s allowed to open the main door at night as there are apparently many robberies at night! Just to orientate myself I walked around town for 8 hours today so that I don't feel too confused when I start work tomorrow at the hospital.

Ulaan Bataar is surrounded on ALL sides by mountains and it's made on flat land in between the four mountain ranges. The city looks like an old soviet town with lots of worn out buildings and bumpy roads (imagine India if you are trying to make a mental picture). There are stray dogs all around and many dodgy looking people. Many neighborhoods have parks that are not well maintained but I guess in this temperature its not that easy.

Wouldn't call it a modern city from outside but as soon as you go through dodgy alleyways into buildings with broken doors and glasses there are big showrooms inside!! Never thought you could find Giorgio Armani , Louis Vuitton and Hugo Boss stores here!! (We only have one LV in lil NZ and the Hugo Boss store only opened up 6months ago so it was a bit of a surprise to see these high end stores in UB... not that I can afford one but just an observation). In summary... there are quite poor people on the street but at the same time there seem to be quite rich people too. The prices depend on where you go I guess.. the well known State Department Store (biggest mall in Mongolia) has prices that rival NZ rates and gave me a bit of a heart attack at first... I never thought Mongolia would have supermarkets and that too so expensive!

I have managed to get a new cellphone number here (+976 95032332) for those who have asked about contacting me. It was kind of hard to try and buy a sim card without knowing a single word of Mongolian language but this nice Mongolian guy called 'Tamir' who works for the Cellphone comany came to my rescue and helped me buy a new simcard and an international calling card. Unfortunately after I bought the calling card it wouldn't work and after making a few enquiries Tamir told me that the company that sells the calling card split into two last week and there were issues around who was supposed to be providing the calling card service to those people who had bought their product! So there go my 11,000 Tugriks (exchange rate 1USD = 1400 tugriks) :( but Tamir took down my cell number and said he would sort it out and give me a ring tomorrow regarding the calling card.

It was a good first day in UB and I am looking forward to starting work at the hospital tomorrow morning. Will write more as and when I get access to internet.

[Pic 1: Driving from airport to UB city. Pic 2: The neighbourhood my backpacker is at]