20 August, 2005

Three guesses what it says.

Yes, it's a stripper in the middle of a busy Mongolian intersection. Nobody here seemed in the least bit shocked.

Both names sound good. Or maybe it's two competing companies in the same building.

A view of Sukhbaatar Square from the top of a neighboring building.

One of the more attractive views of Ulaan Baatar.

Some telecommunications equipment including GSM antennas.

This is a payphone. No kidding. They sit around wearing masks holding desk phones connected by CDMA to a network. You pay them and make a call. I'd like to know if there's anyplace else on earth that has a system like this.

20 August, 2005

Day 35. For some reason our ger was infested with beetles during the night. We didn't do anything differently than the night before but inexplicably they were everywhere and it was a royal pain in the ass. Even while we were recording the show, I was noticing them dropping from the ceiling and crawling over everything including our beds. It's never pleasant going to sleep when you know you're going to be crawled upon by hordes of insects.

I think they must have been attracted by our light although why they weren't the night before was anybody's guess. When we turned it out, we could hear them dropping and hitting various objects as they fell. Miraculously, I only had a single encounter with an errant beetle and he was quickly dispensed with. Dawn arrived and it was just about time to go.

Both our driver and guide had gotten sick from dinner the night before, which to us had seemed perfectly fine. But people who are native to this part of the world often have trouble with Western-style food just as we often have trouble with theirs. When you get accustomed to something, you can't just switch without side effects. That's why if you choose a vegetarian diet you'll often get physically ill if you ingest meat in the future. Many people wrongly assume this is just a psychological reaction. Often it's more than that.

So we drove away from the camp and headed back towards Ulaan Baatar. (Incidentally, the official spelling is now Ulaanbaatar. I had been used to writing it as Ulan Bator so I'm partially cut over. However there is a move to rename the city Chenghis City - Chenghis being the proper way to write Genghis as in Genghis Khan - so the whole effort may be a waste of time.) As always, when you're in a place you become more familiar with it and things you've seen only once become comforting when you see them again. The dirt road that we drove out on no longer was in the least bit intimidating and at one point it even resembled a four lane highway to me. And once we hit the pavement, it was like being on an expressway. And then seeing the city again which had been so alien only a couple of days earlier was like going back to our old neighborhood. I find that's always the best way to get to know someplace strange: go to a city, explore it a bit, then go someplace else, and return to that city. You'll be surprised how comfortable you feel.

We went back to the Peace Bridge Hotel and made arrangements to meet Todd later in the evening as it would be our last night in Ulaan Baatar. We walked around the city a bit and took in some sights. One of them was a stripper in the middle of a major intersection. We concluded that it was a man dressed in women's clothing. What was amazing was that traffic just continued, occasionally honking but then traffic here is always honking. Pedestrians were pretty entertained by the whole thing. And oddly enough, not a single cop was anywhere to be seen. It was yet another Mongolian surprise.

We had dinner in a decent Thai place and said our goodbyes. I leave Ulaan Baatar with a great deal of affection. This is a city that doesn't put on any airs. It is what it is. dirty, extremely scary for pedestrians, incredibly loud with cars honking at each other every couple of seconds, and still completely Mongolian. While I hope to see the infrastructure improve and the air get cleaner, I pray that this place won't be transformed into yet another Mecca for Western commercial interests. So far there are no McDonald's, Starbucks, or chains of any sort. Let's keep our fingers crossed.