Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Hot Damn!

It is freakin' hot today. I mean, as my friend Jackie would say, Africa hot. Except it's Mongolia hot. I am sitting at the office doing some emailing and such because the computers that have my work on them are being used and there's not much work I can do now since I finished all I really can on the Web site until I get additional information.

Did I mention how hot it is? (By the way, I checked the weather report, and it must have cooled down because it's only 91 deg F right now, and it has become partly cloudy.) I think if it's this hot HERE, I think my decision to not go to the Gobi is probably a good one because it would be downright horrifically hot there. With the sun and the sand for miles as far as the eye can see. The sun! The sand! (Oh, I am reminded of "L'etranger" now!) Anyway, I like to challenge myself, but torture is another matter. Instead, I am hoping to go to Lake Khovsgol, which is up in the north and has what guidebooks call "alpine scenery". We'll see if that works out. I think I could arrange a trip, but it costs $$$ and the more people you have, the lower the cost. So, if I find some peeps or even strangers who are game to go, then it could work out. I thought before I came here that the Gobi was like my Mecca and I wanted to go there more than anything. But, funny how things just sometimes change. I am all about riding a camel on the desert, and I think the Gobi would be cool someday, but the best I'll get is riding through it on the train. If I ever actually get my ticket.

Here's the train ticketing scenario: Apparently it's not so easy to get a train ticket here in Mongolia. For the transmongolian railway trains that go from Moscow, stop in UB, and then terminate in Beijing, you can only get a ticket to embark in UB the day before (because they don't know how many seats will be available.) There is a direct UB-Beijing train that you can get in advance, but you can't buy the ticket more than a month before the departure date. Apparently, with an advanced reservation fee, you can reserve the seat, however. To avoid this hassle myself, I had recruited the help of Durzii, a travel agent, who studied in Germany, btw, and also speaks totally respectable English. He has experienced the travails of this train ticketing situation on my behalf. This is what he has done since the day I met him and enlisted his help.

1) He goes to the train office to see if tickets were available. They said yes, they were.
2) The next day, he brings the money I gave him to the train station to buy the ticket.
3) He finds out he could not buy the ticket because they won't sell them; has an argument and arranges to come the next day to speak with the manager.
4) The next day, he learns the train and ticket price he previously was told was available was not. He calls to tell me the ticket would cost about $30 more because it was a Chinese train, but he could get that ticket for me
5) After my approval, he goes to train ticket office to buy ticket. Finds out he can only "reserve" ticket, can't actually purchase it until after July 2. But, he reserves the seat for me.
6) On July 3, goes to train ticket office to purchase ticket and is told he can't because the manager, apparently the only person who can actually sell/issue the tickets, is not there. She is in the hospital. They tell him to come back Friday.

WHAT KIND OF SHODDY OPERATION ARE THEY RUNNING HERE??????

Because Durzii paid the reservation fee, he is certain that they won't give away my seat. But the poor guy is really frustrated now. I have to shrug my shoulders and thank god I'm not the one trying to communicate with the people at the train ticketing office. Oh, and hope that I do actually get that ticket soon so I have it in my hands and can rest assured that I will make it to Beijing before my flight to London leaves. (I'm giving myself 5 days in Beijing, so it should be enough lee-way, but if something happens and I don't get the train ticket, I guess I better get a plane ticket!)

I sometimes think this place is crazy. And, in my eyes, it pretty much is. But, of course, there are its wonderful attributes as well. Some of the people here that I have met are really A-1. Near my apartment is a hotel, called "Topaz Hotel", that has an attached mini mart, which I started frequenting about 2 weeks after I got here. It sells some snacks and a few more substantial food items, drinks, piv (beer), etc. The second time I went in, there were two girls, sisters, who worked there helping their mother during summer. After that, every time I went there, they were so excited to see me, would wave and smile as soon as they saw me coming, and were very helpful. They both spoke decent English (the older one a little more), and were so friendly that I would often stop at the store to buy something on my way home just to see them. (I think they are around 9 and 11, but I never found out.) One day about a week ago, they said they were leaving the next day for the countryside for the rest of the summer, and I was so crushed! I couldn't believe I would not see them again. But...what ya gonna do? Well, a couple of days later, they still hadn't gone. And the day after that, they were still there. As I was purchasing my drink, the younger girl, said, "Wait", and I did as she went inside her apartment. She came back a couple of minutes later with two little photo albums. One contained photos of her and the other of her sister. They showed me their pictures and then offered me one. I felt bad to take it, as if I shouldn't take one of their precious photos. But they insisted. They ended up giving me a picture of the two of them quite a bit younger (4 and 6 maybe) in front of the statue in Sukhbaatar Square, the main square in UB. It might be my favorite photo I have of anything in Mongolia, even though I didn't take it. Well...it's a toss up with the photo of the Mongolian wrestler pulling out a wedgie.

I think they are gone now because I haven't seen them the last few days I've been at the store. That's the thing that bums me out. You meet all these great people, and the reality is, you'll likely never see them again. And, in some cases, never even be able to communicate with them again.

Speaking (or writing) of communication... last night at 11:30 pm the woman who takes care of my apartment building was knocking on my door to tell me, with assistance of a girl and boy (her kids maybe), "No water tomorrow." She mimed brushing teeth and drinking and shook her head. It was cute. Much like the way I communicate with her. Hand gestures, funny sound effects, etc. She must have learned how to say "No water tomorrow" in English especially so she could inform me because last time when I needed to ask her when the hot water would come back on, she didn't know those words. She had to tell me "tomorrow" by putting her hands together and putting them to the side of her face and cocking her head, as if she were going to sleep.

The hand gesture thing seems to be very effective, though. Yesterday I got some ointment to put on my mosquito bites at a pharmacy by showing the woman at the counter the bites on my back, then making a flying bug gesture, biting gesture, scratching gesture, and rubbing in lotion gesture. Well, at least I think the ointment is meant to help that. I don't really know for sure. It seems like it helps.

In two days my roommate arrives. This should be a new and welcome change. We have had email communication and she seems very nice. She has been interning in Italy. Next week is Naadam, and the celebration should be great fun. I hope. If it sucks, that would be a crying shame. After that, with any luck, travel out of the city. More work on the Web site. Going away celebration. Then...in three weeks from this Friday, I think I get on that train to Beijing.

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