Last post was mostly about IST and there wasn’t much written about the wonders of Ulaanbaatar. In this post, I will detail all the nooks and crannies of the gem of a city that is UB. To put it simply, for PCVs that do not live in the capital, coming into UB is like diving into an orgy of fantastic delights. For most of us, food is the number one pleasure! Most soum-ers’ (small town-ers) basic diet consists of mutton, potatoes, onions, and if they are lucky, carrots. For me living in a ‘large’ city like Choibalsan, I have access to other goods such as beef, horse, carrots, cabbage, pears, and a variety of other perishable goods on a daily basis. Though I have access to these goods, most restaurants can do so much with these basic ingredients, so most “western foods” are sub-par or is greatly influenced by Mongolian tastes (mayonnaise on everything.) UB my friends is a whole different story! The restaurants actually serve pizzas that tastes like American pizzas, hamburgers that has barbecue sauce and bacon with French fries as a side, and milk shakes that are do die for. For the limited amount of time that I was there, I feasted on hamburgers, BBQ chick pizza, Philly cheese steaks, sushi, udon noodles, Korean food, and the most delicious chicken tenders that I’ve ever tasted in my life.
After food, we went to bars for mixed cocktails and beer on draft. There, one almost felt as if he/she is in America, transported just for a few days to all the access and excessive goods that America has to offer. And if we were in a dancing mood, the clubs were always open and were rocking to “apple bottom jeans”, “dangerous”, and all the hottest hits that the Billboard top 10 has to offer.
It was on such a night that I shall begin a story about our misadventure in UB. A good many PCVs were at Oasis, a favorite club of ours, first dancing to Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’, and then moving to the techno beat. It was getting late, around 1:30 AM, so Kristen (another PCV) and I decided it was wise to get some sleep so we can do this again another day. We left the club and got to our guest house around 2:00 or so. I inserted the key, turned, and to my surprise the door didn’t open. I tried again, reinserted the key, jiggled it about and turned, again nothing. The third time, turned it left, then right, heard the click clack of the lock, but yet again failed to open the door. Maybe it was me, so I gave the key to Kristen for her hand at it. She gave it a go, but all in vain. Having no luck, we texted the other people that were staying with us but was still at the club. In 30 minutes, and with 3 sets of keys, the other PCVs arrived. One by one they tried, and one by one they failed to unlatch the lock. By 2:30 or so, we were all tired and just wanted the comforts of our warm beds waiting for us on the other side of the door. In desperation we called the person that runs the guest house, we explained the problem, but got no help but an answer just to try again. We did, but all was futile as he door would not give in.
Surprisingly under these circumstances, we were all calm and decided that the best course of action would be to find another shelter. We didn’t want to pay for a night at another guest house, so we all went ahead with the plan to head to the Peace Corps office. Along the way we found the Kebab and Cola restaurant to be open, so we went in for some munchies and fight off the cold. The heat was a welcomed relief from the negative degrees weather and biting wind. We ate and talked and was all in a genial mood, well, as genial as we can be. After the quick meal we headed for the office which was a 5-10 minute walk further. When we got to the PC office, which was supposed to be open 24 hours a day, we were all shocked to find it closed. We banged on the door, rung the bell, but it was to no avail. There wasn’t anybody home. By this time (~4AM) the cold had taken its toll, some PCVs’ eyelashes were frozen and tempers were heated by the strings of bad luck. The next course of action was to find the nearest shelter, and luckily we knew of a place that was close by. The 7 of us continued our journey onward, some coughing, some wheezing, and some freezing their butts off. We made contact with another PCV that has an apartment nearby, and by his graces, we were saved from roaming around the city in -15F or so weather. Since the PCV was also hosting others, the extra 7 people turned his living room into a cramped hostel. I decided to stay awake, since I knew that 3 or 4 hours of sleep will only make me grumpy. And that I did, awake and reading the latest issue of The New Yorker. Where else but UB!