Tuesday 19th December
Yesterday I went for a meal at a Chinese restaurant with one of the school’s Chinese teachers, Yuan Yuan, and her friend. On Friday Yuan Yuan had asked if I could help her friend by checking over her dissertation for her Masters degree. I would be very happy to help, I said, but it might take some time to check through it all. Oh, that was not a problem, her friend had “19 day” before she had to hand the work in. “19 days to do the work?” I asked. “No, 19 day, 12 month,” Yuan replied with a smile. “The 19th of December?” I asked, reluctant to hear the reply. Yuan smiled again and nodded: “Yes, 19 December.” “Next Tuesday, the 19th of December?” although by now the question was purely rhetorical. “Yes.”
The dissertation turned out to be 50 turgid pages of economics; the subject being the advantages and benefits of China’s membership of the WTO. Most of the english was passable, however there was a slight problem with inconsistencies in the text. I made a brief check on the internet and confirmed that China has been a member of the WTO since 2001; all the material that the student had lifted from the internet spoke of China’s future membership: almost the entire paper was written about possible outcomes of something that had already happened. I spent a good four hours of Friday night drinking vodka and orange and changing the tense of what seemed to be every sentence in the paper - and resisting the temptation to spice up the dissertation by turning it into a reckless argument in favour of democracy sprinkled with a few choice phrases about the beloved Chairman Mao or the ideological bankruptcy of the ruling Communist regime.
Anyhow, as thanks for my selfless generosity, Yuan and her friend treated me to a meal at one of their favourite restaurants. It was 10 minutes walk from school in the opposite direction from my apartment; just next-door to the Wrestling Palace. Disappointingly, no be-diapered Mongolian wrestlers were catching a quick snack between bouts - maybe next time. The food was very nice - Szechuan, I believe, and a welcome relief from the school meals and my own uninspired cooking ; which are between them now starting to grind me down a little. Not nearly as good as Beijing, of course, but far closer to Beijing than Chinese food in the UK. I have no idea how much it cost because I didn’t make even a token suggestion that I pay anything. During the meal (and very happily after we had already been served) I had the excitement of experiencing my first Ulaanbaatar power-outage. It seems that it was only our building affected as light still came in from the street, and in about 15 minutes the power was back on. Yuan Yuan also kindly taught me essential Mongolian taxi driver speak (if memory serves me correctly): “tsu “(left), “balong”(right) and tchigili (straight on). I now have about a half dozen things I can say, which at this rate I should have the vocabulary of an underachieving dullard by the end of my stay.
While we're on the subject of my selfless generosity, I somehow neglected to boast that after being paid Friday (joy), I took a walk down to the old State Department Store and bought my two very good friends and helpers (whose names I still don’t know - must remember to learn how to ask) from the apartment building a colouring book and pencils each - which I was able to give them when they called round early that evening to see if I needed any chores doing. I took a photograph as evidence of my joy-bringing generosity, which, while it may know bounds, is at any rate now proven.