Thursday 7th, Friday 8th & Saturday 9th December 2006
Thursday it snowed: a light powdery snow which was almost invisible even walking out in it, but which fell all day and compacted hard on the pavements. I think I have already mentioned a significant hazard of walking out on the streets of UB: that there are manholes left uncovered presumably by people living down in the sewers and amongst the city's hot water pipes. Steam rises from many but not all. Walking to the nearby supermarket after school in the snow I spotted a further hazard: one manhole had been covered, presumably by the inhabitants, with a doormat, on which a centimetre of snow now lay, turning it into a pretty effective pitfall for the unwary. I haven't had a really good look down any of the holes, being well brought-up I am always reluctant to gawp into people's homes, but the drop seems to usually be only a few feet, and so unlikely to cause instant death. I will report further when I inevitably take a fall.
Friday of course I could have faced just about anything, the weekend being upon me. I even managed to get the 4th graders talking about the weather in the past, present and future tenses.
Saturday morning was another cold and mostly cloudy day. Ate sweet pastries and chocolate biscuits for breakfast, washed down by tea. Headed out around lunchtime, determined to 1) post christmas cards and 2) get an Internet phonecard. Slippery out on the ice, particularly at Sukhbaatar square. Lot of people milling about as usual in very sociable groups, entirely impervious to the chill which may be deduced from the photograph I took. Although there has been less sun than my first two days may have led me to expect (this being the first really sunny day since), there still has been no wind to speak of so the weather is quite easily tolerated, and when moving simply feels fresh and crisp. I bought a couple more hand-painted cards from a dishevelled old guy outside the central Post Office. Swapped a few Russian phrases (“Ya iz Liverpoolya”, “Mnya za voot Jimi” and “Rusky, err, ya n’panyemai-oo”). He was only asking T500 for his cards - again, there was no way I could refuse. In the post office, fairly run-of-the-mill printed Christmas cards are T1000 - T2000. Browsed through the small selection of English books in the State Department Store - which I am told is the largest selection in Mongolia. Not an enormous range of choice but there are quite a few Wordsworth Classics at T9000 of which I may return for ‘Tender is the Night’ and maybe ‘Nicholas Nickelby’ after payday. Most of the other books I would read there are very short, and I’m reluctant to shell out T9000 unless I’m guaranteed a decent length read, goddammit.
Back to the Post Office to address my envelopes and write out the new cards. Quite a few homeless people hanging around in the Post Office - one guy going through the bin next to me as I wrote and slurping the remains of coleslaw from a food carton. Not that you won’t find the same thing happening in any British town, and furthermore I wasn’t directly harassed in any way. It may be that they are allowed to hang around but not to harass people, and so instead play up on the guilt of wealthy westerners. Or it may be that he was hungry - well, indeed, he must have been.
Managed to get myself an internet pre-payment card and so get online at home - hence this blog.
Around 9.45pm packed up the old banjo, wrapped up, and again marched off across the centre to the Grand Khan. Place busy as expected. The manager wasn’t around, I got a beer and watched some Man U v Man City. The band were setting up when he did finally arrive. He uncomfortably explained that he needed to find a band I could play with, like a Jazz band, as the banjo didn’t really go with their music. I heartily agreed with the latter but suggested that instead I’d like to play a few tunes solo before the main band, mainly for the hell of it. He agreed to this and said I should come down tomorrow. Stuck around to watch his band: he didn’t play with them tonight, instead there was a slim sunglassed rocker type singing and the band played Mongolian rock - either covers or songs of theirs that were famous as people often joined in with the singing.
I got home shortly after one, after a ride in one of the unlicensed taxis. He took a minor detour before heading towards the house and then shook his heaed no when I, in my typical magnanimous fashion, offered T1000 in payment - had to shell out another T500: very disappointing.
The front door to my building was locked, to my alarm. I rattled on it a bit and was considering what my next step would be other than freezing to death, when movements sounded within, and the door (which had been padlocked) was opened by the young girl who helps me with my shopping. I felt very guiltily ashamed, even though it wasn't so late really, at having disturbed her, maybe because she looked a bit reproachful, as one does on getting woken up from sleep. Glanced into the window of the super's room as I passed and it appeared she had been asleep in there on her own on night door duty. [Edit: actually, her entire family of four live in the tiny 'super's room' beneath the stairs.]