Cultural Connections

Musings about my experiences, art, and life in Mongolia and beyond.

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Location: Ulaanbaatar, Tuv aimag, Mongolia

Native Chicagoan currently teaching in Mongolia.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Life in Ulaanbaatar (or UB for short)

Stardate: Week 5, 10/14/2006, 2:15 pm, 50F, Long. 107, Lat. 48 - too many references to Star Wars and Carl Sagan on TV last night! ;)

I had always wanted to work in the field of anthropology, but it always seemed a bit… self-aggrandizing and they were always trying to pigeonhole people and cultures. While working with a variety of people and cultures at the Field museum, I had a couple of enlightening experiences. One day,
I overheard a Tibetan friend tell another friend about my archaeology job at the museum. He said something like, “can you believe such a rich country as the U.S., pays people to study other people’s garbage?” Another time,
a Native American asked me, “So are you going to become one of those fancy anthropologists and sit behind a big desk too?” That was it, I couldn’t just take from a culture, I had to give something back. Instead, I worked with Tibetan friends in the U.S., trying to promote their culture. Same with Mongolian friends. Infact, the two share a great deal of history. More on that at a later date. So here I am, playing anthropologist anyway through this blog, but hopefully, promoting some understanding of Mongolia, as well as other peoples and cultures, along the way.

So…my apartment – I admit I wasn’t thrilled when we pulled up in front of the row of Soviet-built, cement block buildings after arriving very late at night. They remind me of some of the Projects in large cities throughout the U.S. Just as we were heading up to my 3rd floor apartment, a small door under the stairs opened and a middle-aged woman popped out. It was the building custodian. I introduced myself in the few words of Mongolian I know. She was all smiles and nodding her head. Apparently, she maintains the halls and stairs. We are not sent utility bills, so she also collects payment for the water and electricity.

The décor is a bit fancy for my taste. However, the next morning, when the sun shone in, I realized it was kind of cozy and a lot nicer than what many Mongolians have. Each room has just one electrical outlet, which can be challenging when you need to plug in a TV, telephone, and computer. My two burner electrical stove/oven looks like something from the 1950’s. Only one burner works and I’m not sure what temperature the oven will go to. Electrical appliances don’t always have the same plug. Things made in Korea for example, seem to have three prongs, where the standard outlet is made for two. Our heat is by radiator and is controlled by the government. They decide when it gets turned on and off.

Standards or standardization as a whole seem to be lacking in Mongolia. Another example is cars – some have the driver’s seat on the left, others on the right. However, traffic stays to the right side as in the U.S. ...most of the time. Driving in Mongolia is a whole other topic. My first experience was driving in the countryside, which was fun. You can’t drive in the countryside unless you know where you are going – there are absolutely no signs and few paved roads. Most roads in the countryside are simply tire tracks. You have to be sure you choose the correct set of tire tracks or you could end up lost in the middle of nowhere. Even an experienced driver can get lost. However, driving in UB has got to be worse than NYC. It’s even more challenging for pedestrians. As it is, pedestrians have to watch where they are walking on the sidewalk – from broken concrete, to construction, missing manhole covers, and then the cars that own the street. Walking itself can be an adventure!

Ok, all about school in the next segment!


Anonymous Timmo said...

So, how's life in UB? Here in DP, it's pretty much buisiness as ususal. The Lutefisk Lodege is still standing and undergoing an interior makeover. Got some snow but it didn't last.

How's the local biker scene? Maybe we could trade t-shirts.

Stay warm. Miss you.


Thursday, October 19, 2006 8:08:00 PM  

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