I like Mongolians …they enjoy sleeping in. Hawaiian-time, Mongolian-style…
Opening hours for most shops are 10am-ish until whenever, it is a lovely pace of life in the middle to the country’s largeset city.
We are staying within walking distance from the heart of the city, and there is a distinctly laid-back feel to the place. There are no street vendors hawking their wares in your face, or beggars clutching at your feet. No open stares or glares. No garish souvenir shops. By 1am the streets are quiet. And on Thursdays, they don’t serve beer. Or any alcohol, for that matter.
It seems that hardly anyone notices foreigners.
The mission for today is more research – get to a market to check out the produce, herbs and spices that are available. Our reconassaince yesterday to the local supermarket showed 100% of the fresh produce section imported from China ( and featuring Phillipine-grown bananas)… so it was off to the Naran Tuul, a.k.a. зах (pronounced: zach), a.k.a. ‘The Black Market’.
Think more Queen Victoria Market rather than shady underworld dealings; The Black Market of Ulanbaataar is a massive indoor / outdoor complex of two massive quondset hut-type warehouses surrounded by a sea of market stalls under tent cloth.
We walk past what seems like an acre of shoes, then an acre of rip-off designer tshirts, another acre of leather wallets, jackets and belts, we stumble onto a gem: Mongolian fishing tackle. Furry lures desiged to mimic small rodents feeding at the water’s edge, or perhaps swimming their way innocently to the other side of a Mongolian river… one the size of a puppy. Imagine the monsters that feed on these small mammals!
It is quite hot today, north of 26°C and the sun’s glare whitewashes everything. Modern Mongolians are in love with all things American, and we can’t find a single traditional-looking garment for sale, if they are present they are drowned in a sea od Addidas, Nike and G-STAR logos.
A small group has gathered in one of these tent stalls, surrounding a birthday cake and cheerfully passing around shots of CHINGGIS vodka. A baby-faced Mongol with a tiger tattooed on his forearm is pouring the shots and laughing with each swig – it’s his birthday.
One of the women notice Rick and I enjoying the spectacle and motions for us to come join them; we shrug our shoulders and accept the invitation! The vodka is …less than smooth, but it goes down with a smile and Rick starts singing to the birthday boy. The rest of the group join in, and there we are, under a tent in the middle of the famous Black Market singing a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday – IN ENGLISH – with our newfound friends.
You know that part where we sing: “Happy Birthday, dear So-and-So”… well that was the best part… no idea what BirthdayBoy’s name is, so when in doubt …murmur:
“Happy Birth-day, dear murmurmurmurmurmur…
Happpy Birth-day, toooooooooooooooooooooo… youuuuuuuuuuuuu…
We have to search pretty hard to finally find Mongolian-grown produce: potatoes, turnips, a few carrots …slim pickings. Not that there isn’t fresh produce available; there are capsicums, tomatoes, cucmbers, more potatoes, asian greens, apples turning soft from age, quartered watermelon, bananas… all imported.
The research continues, we’ll be headed to the countryside in two days…