Saturday, 9 December 2006

Banks, Banjo, Beef Stew and Beer

Saturday 2nd December 2006
Spent much of my day tramping back and forth across UB spending a lot of time waiting in banks to find I couldn’t use a card and also being directed to ATMs that only take VISA. Discovered a curious Mongolian approach to queueing in the banks. People form a neat orderly line, or something close to that, and then one after another people come into the bank and go straight to the front of the queue without so much as an 'excuse me.' It was later explained to me that these people are 'in a hurry.' Found a ramshackle market area fascinating: men in traditional dress tramping about, three dogs taking the sun at the edge of their hole into the underground pipe network. My eyes are swimming, either from fatigue or the polluted air.

Outside a bank just off UB's main square a large number of the employees were putting up a Christmas tree, of which I snapped the pleasant photo at the top. I understand that Christmas is a fairly new concept to Mongolians, which is being heartily embraced in a city that loves to shop.

At the State Department Store bought a teapot and knife fork and spoon for approx 3000T and a stack of traditional watercolours and oil paintings which I was blown away by for 44000T. The paintings inevitably display variations on the same scene: steppe, mountains in the background, a ger, and horsemen leading herds of horses. Some shows camels and sand dunes. The brush strokes are deft and the choices of colour very pleasing.

Arriving back at the apartment block with a big bag of groceries, a small girl came out of what I assume to be the building supervisor’s room. She smiled and held up 6 fingers and I nodded and said, “Yes, six,” then she, with another smaller girl ran ahead and called the lift. She pressed the floor button for me and they followed me to the door. I had some trouble with the luck and so put my groceries down - when I opened the door the girl carried my bag across the threshold. Felt confused as to whether it would be appropriate to tip say 100T (I had, I’m afraid, given 500T to a young boy begging in the centre - there was no one around to see. He very politely said thankyou) but as she didn’t ask I didn’t and nodded and thanked her a few times - in English of course as I have yet dared to try any Mongolian.

Cooked a very passable beef stew (using some of the pound of prime beef I bought today at the supermarket in the State Department store - unless I'm very much mistaken it cost about 25p)[Edit - I was very much mistaken. It probably cost about £1] and settled down to some Mongolian TV. On a music channel was somewhat surprised to see a very slickly produced Mongolian rap video by some feller called Golog, featuring Mongolians in Nazi uniform, living a sort of gangsta rap lifestyle in beerhalls with fur and jewelry-wearing women draped over them. I am later informed that young Mongolians find the swastika (which I believe, in common with many cultures, to be a symbol of ancient usage in Mongolia) and Nazi uniforms 'cool' and assuredly don't mean anything ominous or racist by it. Hmm. Actually, the comparison between the 'cool' use of Nazi and pimp imagery is worth considering.

Sunday 3rd December 2007
Didn’t get up until nearly 11 and after breakfast practised some Banjo in the kitchen, which, being in the middle of the flat I figured to be least likely to cause annoyance. Got a bit carried away with my picking and there was a pretty loud tapping (I won’t say banging) from the floor above, which was a bit embarassing. Stuffed teatowel under bridge and carried on pickless for a while, but felt guilty and self conscious.

Walked the long way into town, along a frozen river. The day was overcast and seemed considerably warmer than the previous days. People appeared to be using generators in some capacity to draw water from a deep hole in the ice, or into the earth beneath the ice, as it doesn’t look like much of a river, tho hard to tell in its present state. There was also a wall built of cut slabs of ice across the river - for what purpose if any I could not fathom. Bought 5 hand painted Christmas cards (Mongolian horsemen crossing snowy steppes) from a pleasant old feller in the street. He may have overcharged me at 1000T a card but its hard to haggle when something is so fine and so cheap already.

At first I walked past and then went back and in to the “Grand Khan Irish Pub” - a very smart joint near the central square. I asked about the possibility of playing there and was told to come back tomorrow before 5pm to see some guy who may be the owner or a performer. Anyhow, they were polite and encouraging so I’ll give it a go. Explained I’d be teaching at school but would get there as close to 5pm as possible.

Walking home I also stopped at the "Bavarian Bar", enticed by the advertised Happy Hour and Chinggis Beer at 1800T a 1/2l - served cold in a thick tankard the beer was extremely refreshing. The bar not remotely Mongolian in appearance although also not much like the beer keller it strove to be - the only other customers in the bar were a young couple at a table together. Tipped the guy 200T which seemed fair and well received. Bed as early as I could make it under circumstances I had 15 years ago thought never to be in again: school tomorrow. Groan.


patrick said...

think you have the dates wrong on this post...2006, surely?

ulaanbaanjo said...

In order to keep my time machine secret, I have edited the date of this post to fit your suggestion.