Monday 4th December 2006
Either I slept through my alarm or it didn’t go off. So I didn’t get up until well after eight and was barely ready for school until 9am - shortly before which the sun had risen, a deathly red crescent over the vaporous horizon. Today was probably another overcast day - but I didn’t see much of it. Took a brisk walk to the school, toting the banjer so’s to be off for the Great Khan Irish Pub straight after work. As I’d be spending the day indoors I had dispensed with the thermals, and my legs felt the chill. I made every effort to combat the pollution by breathing through my nose - nature’s filter mask. I was rewarded a little later in the day with a nose bleed.
The next eight hours were pretty much occupied by the same task, which, surprisingly enough I found to be quite engaging. Namely, I sat on a kiddie stool and marked English essay questions for the 8th, 9th and 10th grades. Uniformly pretty bad as far as content and grammar, but the spelling I am sure was above the UK average. I scored very strictly and left snidey but hopefully also mildly encouraging comments. The essays about ‘What makes a successful school’ were often quite entertaining and witty - the essays about 'The problems Mongolia faces' predictable and dull - but some nationalistic responses were quite enlightening (“We are the sons of Chinggis. Think - only think!!” after lamenting that once other nations were "scare of Mongolia, now Mongolia is scare of other Nations.”) Lots of students wrote of the national characteristic being laziness - curiously, all students whose work displayed more than a fair share of the alleged Mongolian national character...
I didn’t manage to get away from exam marking until 5.45pm. Fellow teachers said a taxi to the pub shouldn’t cost more than T700 and no one offered me a lift, so I headed out into the freezing cold and before too long a cab stopped. The driver, a burly fellow, did not seem overjoyed (altho was by no means antagonistic) at my lack of Mongolian language. I repeated "Irish Pub" in as Mongolian an accent as I could manage and tried pronouncing the name of the central square (Sukhbaatar) a few times, all to much shaking of his head as we weaved through the traffic. It was, at least, warm in the cab. We passed what I was pretty sure should be the turn off for the centre - the driver indicated I was not to worry. He pulled over the cab and started bellowing out to passing students - presumably saying "Can anyone find out where it is this foreign fuckwit wants to go so I can get on with my job?” He was mostly ignored. Eventually a few students came over, but they also seemed to have trouble understanding me, even though I kept pointing at my map of UB. Finally, he drove on further round what proved to be the Baga Toiru - an inner-ring road (it actually turned out that my sense of direction had proven pretty good, in conjunction with the map and I had a fairly good idea where we were). Well, a bunch of students at the Uni understoond and explained and off we roared, changing lanes alarmingly to rush through junctions. There was heavy traffic at the centre so the driver and I were able to nod confirmingly to each other as we approached the Grand Khan. I paid magnaminously with T2000 largely out of guilt at having failed to learn enough Mongolian to give simple directions, and was rewarded by surprised gratitude.
In the Grand Khan Irish Pub of course I was an hour late for my appointment with the manager/band leader. Feeling foolish and out of place I asked if he might still be around and was told that he could be summoned in 10 minutes. Sat there feeling rather nervous , overawed by the sheer size of the place, and the many tables of well dressed young people and wealthy American businessmen. I rehearsed suggesting that it might be more appropriate for me to come back on Sunday afternoon, or when I’ve got a bit of a band together. However, the manager proved to be happily unconcerned about hearing me play tonight - we chatted a bit and he suggested I come down tomorrow at 10.30pm when his band would be playing. I said that would be great.
Lured by enticing aromas I decided I would get some food - ordered a burger and fries that I’d seen someone else get and was rewarded with an (inevitably) monstrously meaty burger and delicious but few fries. Amazingly, the meat all vanished - possibly, as with the school meal, because I have somehow hypnotised myself into believing that the cold means my cells are just absorbing the stuff up.
Then met up with a Mongolian family I knew from Liverpool. They chastised me for having already eaten but I gamely volunteered to try and cram in a bit more so they drove us to an upmarket traditional Mongolian restaurant, called Modern Nomads. The food was great - I had a selection plate from the children’s menu which was very substantial - meat and veg boiled dumplings, miniature fried meat pasties, little meat pastry balls, oh, and a bit of meat. There may have been more meat - there was also a bit of salty chopped carrot.
They drove me home and the family became the first guests in my humble apartment for a pot of tea. Fond farewells and, falling asleep as I tried to write up this blog entry, I got to bed about 10pm. 1am I woke up, somewhat having difficulty with digestion, but not quite enough to warrant raiding my heartburn pills and, my mind turning with this and that, did not fall back to sleep until after 3am.