Julie's Travels Across Asia

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Thursday 1st June 11.52am

Za Internet Center, UB, Mongolia

Er...!! Well...!! I know i should be on a train at the moment, on my way to Beijing, but had a bit of a change of plan...!!! Decided Tuesday night/Wednesday morning that maybe I should stay a bit longer, so although i only picked up my train ticket on Monday, I trotted back to where i got it, and asked if it would be possible to change it for the 8th June instead, and to extend my visa..!!

So yesterday afternoon i got the phone call to say that it was ok, and here i am - homeless with all my worldly belonging at the Internet Center in the centre of town!

Had my leaving drink on Tuesday night, which turned into a should i stay or should i go evening, (as it is i'm staying...!!), was quite a late one (2.30am - i know nothing compared to my usual 5am finishes..!!).

Yesterday was my last day at work (and it was wet and horrible most of the day), went to change my ticket first thing, then into work, where Mogee told me that something was happening at 5pm, and to be here (that ruined my plan of leaving early and packing..!), so went home about 1pm, to pack my ruck sack, and to sort out what i was posting home - god knows what crap i have bought in UB - all i know is it weighs 10 kg! Must be all those fluffy camels...!!!

Conned Naska into helping me to post it all home, and we went down to the post office, was worrying how much it was going to cost - having read in the LP some of the prices from FedEX for a small letter..!! But only cost 72,000T (35 pound) to post home..!!

Felt totally guilty shortly afterwards when Naska said that was expensive, i commented that it was less than i thought it would be, and he said that he earnt 72,000T a month...!! Decided to shut up at that point!

At 5pm, the director of the center came out and thanked me for my time at the centre and they gave me presents (a felt hat with green flowers - very fetching, can see me wearing it lots back home....!!!, and a felt christmas stocking (which is very nice), then they all took me out for a meal to a Chinese restaurant!

Then off home for my last night at my host family (stopped off the State Department Store to buy chocolates and flowers!, which went down well!), when i got home, my host mum decided to show me how to make buuz (now i know why my efforts back home to make momo's was so bad, there is an art to it...!!, and i just don't have that art...!!), which we then had to eat - my poor stomach, it isn't feeling great at the moment anyway, but it can't cope with two meals in the evening at the moment!

Felt a bit strange, i have eaten all my meals by myself, and when i'm in, i normally spend all my time on my own, and suddenly the night before i leave, the host family are making this huge effort..., then the host son, got the book out where all the other volunteers they had, had stay, had written a few words and there was some photos! And asked me to write a piece, and said we would have photos in the morning!

Caught the minibus down to Dave's Place, and met up with Jo (my saviour, who has very kindly offered me a bed over the weekend) and Moni for a drink, and to buy my Dave's Place polo shirt! (and one for Catriona). Only had one drink, then home to bed before 12!

Had a nice lie in this morning, before my final host family Mongolian breakfast of rice, meat and potatoes! Then a photo session, and they gave me some Apricot juice and some nice looking Mongolian sweets. Had a lovely hot shower, and i must have lost some weight this week, with not being very well, then off i went with ruck sack on!

Maybe catching the number 29 bus wasn't the most intelligent way of getting into town, but sure it was more interesting than catching a taxi...., was packed, and when we went round the corner onto Peace Avenue, i didn't have much control of the ruck sack, and nearly went round with the bus!

Off to meet Jo at Dave's Place in a little while, and to lose the ruck sack again!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Monkhuin, my guide on Saturday at Hotel Mongolia - she's so sweet!
The Buddha International Park, that's one big Buddha...!! Not as impressive as the one at Gandan Khiid though!
Tuesday 30th May 4.18pm

ADC (aka work!), UB, Mongolia

It's a miracle! Internet is working the day before i leave (although keyboard is awful!).

Not much to report, got absolutely soaked walking home last night (not a taxi in sight, and the traffic was going so slow, it was quicker walking..!!). An interesting walk, rivers ran down the roads and paths, and had an interesting moment when i had to balance along some railings to avoid having to swim along a path...!!

Decided to stay in, in the warm and dry out!

This morning, host family were late up! Had nice hot shower and then had a confusing conversation with my host dad over the note I left on Sunday about not having dinner, which he confused for tonight, so looks like I'm eating out tonight! My iron guts are beginning to erode, must be bad if i'm looking forward to chinese food...!!

Still a little rain today, but going to go home and get changed before my last night out, very sad!

Met Peter (volunteer at UB Post) for a hot chocolate and cake, at a great little cafe (not been there before and very reasonably priced - not in the Lonely Planet), had good gossip about stuff in general, and places to stay in Beijing!

Then went for a quick wander around the Zanabar Museum of Fine Arts, lots of thangka's (silk paintings) and tsams (masks), was quite interesting, then back to work - again no lesson!

On my way back, i was waiting to cross a road and a little dog came and stood beside me, and when i crossed he came with me - reminded of a story from the UB Post the other week, which i did cut out and keep!

Now going to post this, and touch wood if the computer doesn't crash, will type up the article!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Monday 29th May 4pm

Za Internet Center, UB, Mongolia

Am gutted, Tatu are playing in UB tonight, and all the tickets are sold out - ok that's any street cred i actually had gone straight out of the window...!!

Is wet and horrible here at the moment, with thunder and lightening, as in the UK when it's raining, the traffic comes to a total standstill! However it was a boiling hot weekend (even got my legs out to catch a few rays..!!)

Saturday, I turned up to leave for "camp" just before 12, although really shouldn't have bothered, we eventually left at 1.30pm! Camp was near Gachuurt, on the way to Terelj, we had our own ger, and it was right near the river, very nice and peaceful. But no games for the girls...! No, it was boiling hot, and there they were digging a trench in rock hard soil to plant seeds, then hauling water up from the river to water them in!

I went for a paddle in the river with Monkhuin (Mogee's daughter who's 10 and lovely!), and Ganaa and her son. Then Monkhuin and I went for a walk into the village to Hotel Mongolia (which looked like a monastery, very posh hotel, the rooms are in the walls, in "temples" or in very fancy gers. We had a bottle of water each in the hotel restaurant, on the balcony! Then up the hill in front of the hotel, before walking back to camp. Mogee cooked soup for everyone in the ger, then it was time to head back.

Got back about 8.30pm, but was dirty and grimy, so it was a shower, then off to bed (although now i wish i had gone out, it was after all my last weekend in UB!).

Sunday, decided to go up to the Zaisan Memorial, was a lovely day, and it was a nice walk, was pretty interesting, walked back past the Buddha International Park, with the enormous buddha in, then into town.

Joined some people outside Dave's Place for a drink, and arranged to meet up again later, headed home, but no one in, so got changed and went straight back out again and had fish and chips for tea!

Ended up going to the cinema to see Big Momma's home 2 (or something like that), could have been anywhere in the world!!!

Collected my train ticket today, I leave on Thursday morning at 8.50am. Now it's actually here, not sure if i want to go, met a lot of interesting people, and still a lot of Mongolia to see - maybe i'll have to come back....!!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Saturday 27th May 11.17am

Za Internet Center, UB, Mongolia

Feeling much better today, was in bed by 8pm last night, for a much needed good night's sleep!

Met Catriona for lunch yesterday and went to the French cafe round the corner (getting to be a bit of a favourite now), for something to eat to soak up the alcohol and a vitamin C kick!

Then off to the State Department Store for some serious present shopping for Catriona as she flew home this morning (sob, sob!!), also did some shopping as well (although not sure where i will ever wear that Mongolian hat I bought....!!!), although very fetching...!!

Then it was time to say goodbye..! A very sad moment, Mongolia wouldn't have been the same without Catriona here! What am I going to do til next Thursday now...!!!

Ok, sure I'll cope, don't panic!

Am off to camp today (well out for the afternoon, had interesting conversation with Mogee yesterday, asking if i needed to bring my toothbrush....!! but no just for the afternoon! - they are strange like that here..!!) with 15 girls from the center (didn't realise that we had 15 girls, must keep them locked in a cupboard somewhere, i've never seen them...!!) out to the countryside near Terelj, got to be at the center by 12, better think about heading off!

Think I've been invited to a Mongolian party tonight (but not sure)! Will have to wait and see! All good fun!
Me outside the Khan Brau in the new jacket and cashmere jumper! Just before pizza and beer!
The village I went to with Ganaa, was so quiet and peaceful...! We went to all the ger's at the top of the hills...!!! And it was hot!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Friday 26th May 10.27am

Internet Center (near home), UB, Mongolia

Feeling a little on the sensitive side this morning, managed to get away with disposing of my breakfast this morning without eating it (it was one of my favourites (fried pancakes with meat inside), but it was from a packet and smelt processed and was probably nuked in the microwave), and as I still feel drunk (i probably am...!!) and no one about, it seemed a better idea not even to go there...!!!

Yesterday was a good day(and very hot!), it was soup day at work again, and the girls all got some again this week! After lunch Ganaa took me to a village on the outskirts of UB to go and meet some girls and their families who will be doing the next project.

Getting there was eventful, in the first minibus we got in, it got a flat tyre, and we had to get out and change minibus, and then the next one about 5 minutes, had a blow out...!! How unlucky am i..!!

The first village we went to was very interesting (and quite pretty), met quite a few girls and their families, and saw varying levels of poverty, some you could tell were really poor. Mainly they were living in ger's here, there was a Russian man with four daughters, he had no wife there, and he was severely disabled, and his daughters look after him - the 8 year old doesn't go to school, but stays home and looks after her younger sister, and cooks and cleans for him. He was trying to learn English for a book he had, and asked me to help him - so i read the Intelligent Dog!

In the second village, it was a lot poorer, we went into one shack, and the 15 year old daughter and mother were asleep as they are working in a factory all night making camel jumpers, and earn 60,000T a month (30 pounds) - even here that's bad, and the father can't work because he has a "bad back". In another place, there was a mother (the father was dead), three daughters, the oldest pregnant, the 18 year old again works in the camel factory all night, a 14 year old and a younger brother who was at school. The money the 18 year old makes has to keep all of them, and they all lived in this tiny ger together.

Although living in poverty, some of them had better tv's than me..!! Not sure how that happens, maybe they are given them? I don't know, it makes you wonder on their priorities. Why doesn't the mother with all the children, go out to work? I guess this is the sort of family, who would push their daughters into prositution to feed the others - using resources available but not doing anything themselves. It doesn't bear thinking about.

Ok that's getting a bit deep!

When i got back to work, Catriona was there, we went back to the Khan Brau for dinner of pizza and beer! (had crepes with bacon for starter) - very good. It was so hot and nice, we sat outside! Then off to Dave's Place (we must be practically regulars by now...!!), the quiz was starting and we ended up joining the wrong team (it was the geeks who are volunteering team - this one guy was a total jerk!) and we didn't come in the bottom 2, or the top 4, i say no more!

Catriona and I quickly left our fellow teammates and went over to (as described by Catriona), the "hottie" table - where some guys we had met last week were sitting, and joined them! There was two Canadian guys, both from Edmonton, and one worked in Calgary!

After a hot debate two weeks ago with a guy called Ceri (who lives here and looks a bit like Jim Carey), about the year Marc Bolan died - he said 1978, i said 1977 (obviously i was right..!), he was back in this week, and got my drink we bet on!

As Catriona leaves on Saturday, this was her leaving party, and everyone's going to be on Tuesday night for my leaving party! Dave (of Dave's Place - who looks like Agent Smith in The Matrix) is getting in t-shirts with Dave's Place, UB, Mongolia on - must have one, he promised if they aren't in, I can have the protype! The party went on til almost 5am - and then Ceri decided he would escort us both home (was great, as he spoke Mongolian and we didn't get ripped off by the taxi driver, in fact it was the cheapest one yet!)

Catriona coming to have lunch with the girls from work today, then we are off shopping (again!) to the State Department Store. Hope this all makes sense - really must consider giving up alcohol! Ah well, after next Thursday, I won't be doing nowhere near as much drinking..!!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Thursday 25th May 10.51am

Internet Center (near home), UB, Mongolia

Had a busy day or so, after writing last time, Catriona and I decided to go for one drink, before walking home (all this walking, the backs of my legs are beginning to get muscles on muscles...!! Unfortunately the same can't be said for my stomach, am eating far too much - just seem to be permanently hungry, i mean i've just had a huge breakfast of noodles, meat, potatoes, carrots and cucumber..!, and now i'm starving again!). Anyway I digress, our one drink...., we went to Leo Cafe next door to Chez Bernard, and decided to have a vodka each (fair enough), only a measure of vodka here is 100ml....!!! (Obviously straight!). Followed it off with some buuz in an all night cafe, staggered home about 1.30am!

Yesterday, was in work early, as Mogee said Jagaa was coming in to see me, saw him outside and waved to him, but he never came and spoke to me! Left just before 12, to meet Catriona for lunch.

Decided to see if I could get us any theatre tickets to see the Chinnigis Khaan drama at the Drama Theater for that night, and after much exploring (tried to get in everyone in the building, and it's a huge place), eventually found the ticket office - because we were foreigners had to have the leather tickets, but very good seats!

Went to the Silk Road Grill for lunch, and had tandoori chicken kebabs (very good), we were going to have Mongolian cheese cake but they had sold out, so we were good, and left!

Caught the bus to Naran Tuul (black market) to go and collect my traditional Mongolian jacket, i ordered last week - it was there, and fitted perfectly - am very happy with it, also got a green cashmere jumper, a camel cardi (very tasteful honest..!!) and some lovely material for cushions and maybe a top! Everything so cheap here!

In the evening, we went to the Drama Theater to see the Chinnigis Khaan drama, although all in Mongolian (we had guide books in English to explain what was happening), the costumes, music and battle scenes were fantastic, really glad we went to see it!

Afterwards we went to Khaan Brau bar (apparently the hangover for the Mongolian rich and famous (not that we would have known even if we have been sitting next to them...!!), was quite a cool place, from the outside doesn't look much, but there is a middle bit set out like a giant ger with a live music band (we decided that they were like a Mongolian version of Bon Jovi...!!), was a good way to end the evening - early night in bed by 12.30am!

Hot water back on this morning (been off for two days), dash for the shower this morning (i lost, so had to wait an hour, for the son to get out of the bathroom, god knows what was taking so long, i washed my hair, and my socks (i know again...!!), and was out quicker than he was!).

Now on way to work, should be going to a village with Ganaa this afternoon to look for girls who are potentially at risk of becoming prostitutes, to invite them to join the project.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Tuesday 23rd May 9.24pm

Za Internet Center, UB, Mongolia

As predicted awoke this morning, and it was freezing cold (although no snow as yet today), walked into work, getting there around 11.30am! Had lunch with Mogee, she had bought in something which I think she was trying to tell me was a stomach of some animal – but it looked and tasted like pate…!!

The director of the centre was back from her hols to Czech Republic today, and my English lesson was cut short this afternoon for a meeting to discuss what was happening (as all in Mongolian, I grasped very little…!!) Naska explained some of it to me, and apparently I’m helping with getting funding for a project, we are going to write to all the embassies in Mongolia! The meeting went on forever, didn’t get home until 7pm, and was starving! But my host mum was entertaining a friend in the kitchen, so had to wait until nearly 8 to eat!!

Met Catriona this evening, going for a drink, once updated my blog and amazingly have managed to upload some pictures on as well!!

Amazing fact for the day: did you know that Mongolia has the highest percentage of male smokers than any other country in the world?? 67% of Mongolian men smoke – looked at the prices today, and the most expensive pack I could find was Parliament cigarettes at 1600T = 80p! The cheapest 350T = 17p…!!! Guess that’s why they all smoke!

And my house would cost around 15,000 pounds if it was here!
For all Eddie Teddie's fans - here he is studying his Lonely Planet guide to Mongolia,
sitting outside our ger at the weekend!

Our host's ger at the weekend (in sepia - was playing with the camera!)What can I say, we had no glasses, just had to drink it from the bottle - inside our ger at Terelj at the weekend
Catriona - my partner in crime on the Steppes

In the lap of luxury - our remote and peaceful ger - everything you could need!

Me (obviously) at the Manzushir Khiid (monastery) - it was very hot,
and we'd just scrambled up a rock face!

Migjid Janraisig Sum at the Gandan Khiid, inside here is the 26.5 metre buddha - Avalokitesvara (the Dalai Lama is said to be a reincarnation of this buddha!)

A view of UB from the top of the Ferris Wheel in the "park"!

A room with a View....!!! The view from my bedroom window!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Monday 22nd May 8.23pm

Internet Centre (near home), UB, Mongolia

Well, had a fantastic weekend, met Catriona on Friday afternoon, and we went to Millie's for a late lunch in the end (wasn't sure what the food would be like at the ger camp, or what time we would be eating), followed by a piece of lemon pie...!!! Yummy!!

We met Ganaa and Bert (Ganaa is Mongolian and Bert is dutch) and their two children outside a hotel in UB, and piled in their four wheel drive (Catriona on a board in the back, me in the front). It took about an hour to get to the tourist part of Terelj (it looked like legoland, lots of brightly coloured houses, and sparkling gers!), was lots of strange rock formations the most famous i think being the turtle. But we kept a going....

We came to the first river, and drove straight through (would have been up to our waists at least, if we had had to wade through it...!), then up and down, through trees, through another river... (that one didn't get a mention in the Lonely Planet), then out onto the steppes, and wow! our home for the next two days!!

Our ger was great, it had everything, well lit (candlelight, no electricity), heated (our own fire, very toasty after about 5 mins, quicker than gas...!), a drinking and gambling den (we took our own wine and cards..!), and at least a 3 rosette restaurant a 1 minute walk away (our host's family ger, where we ate all our meals, and they were good!). The toilet (hole in the ground) was a good few minutes walk away (but at night, was as easy to pee behind the back of the ger...!!)

Our Meals:
Friday dinner Homemade Soup, followed by Medium steak, with new potatoes and cauliflower cheese (heavenly, the steak was perfect!)
Saturday dinner Homemade Soup, followed by homemade beef burger with homemade chips and coleslaw and salad, followed by homemade soft creamy cheese (a bit like yoghurt) with homemade jam (Absolutely fantastic!)
Breakfasts Of homemade cheese, hams, bread and soft boiled egg (after two weeks of noodles and meatballs for breakfast or custard - trust me this is heaven!!!)
On Sunday lunch, we had some traditional Mongolian food, which I think was called Bing (or something like that, but was like a pastry with meat inside then fried, and we had some with cheese and tomato inside.

After dinner on Friday, we went almost straight to bed, tired after our long day, and being bumped up and down!

On Saturday, we went for a walk up the hill, and down the steppe and along the river, and relaxed at our ger, played some cards and had a swig of wine (we didn't have any glasses...!!) out of the bottle!

After dinner on Saturday, we were invited to play volleyball with the family (which we were both particularly bad at), so it was changed to football! We played til it was dark - was really good fun - this is what I came to Mongolian for, to see this lifestyle, and to be included. It really was a perfect end to a perfect day.

On Sunday, we lounged around our ger, and in the afternoon, watched as another ger was started to be put up, ready for some people coming next week. Bert ran us back into Terelj in the afternoon, and we caught out lift home.

After a beer at Chez Bernard we walked home, and it was early to bed!!

This morning, yet another sweltering hot day - am going to have seriously reconsider my wardrobe at this rate! Went to the post office and bought the last of my postcards to send (all 20!), and went to work (internet down again), so wrote my postcards, went to lunch with Mogee and the girls - giant buuz again - yummy! Then went for a wander, found some nice pashmina's, nice cashmere tops, and camel cardi's (although i think it will back to the "Black Market" for those!).

Met Catriona after work in the souvenir department of the State Department Store (a pretty huge building, it has 6 floors, and sells EVERYTHING!) It's 4th floor is totally full of mongolian souvenir type things, lots to choose from. Catriona got a dress for a wedding she is off to when she gets home, I tried on a dress, but the largest size was too tight on my hips - i am officially a heffer in Asian terms! Consoled myself with the purchase of a fur scarf to wear with my fur hat i got the other day! (at least my neck wasn't too big....!!)

Been home and done my washing before i came to the internet centre, my hands are so rough, maybe i should wash my clothes in Fairy...., i suddenly realise how fortunate i have been in the past to have had such great travel companions as Jess and Natalie, who have happily washed my socks - where are you now...???

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Friday 19th May 2.30pm

Za Internet Center, UB, Mongolia

Oo! Had heavy night last night....!!! Feeling a little on the tender side, must have been all those straight Mongolian Vodka shots...!!!

Had a good day at work yesterday, it was soup day, and the girls all got it straight away (maybe because the boss wasn't there!), spend some time with the girls chatting (well sign language and pigeon English - which i am getting very good at now!), about the work they are doing. Mogee has them making some mats for me to take home, they do make some lovely feltwork stuff - hats...., bags, keyrings (really cute one's of ger's!), and some lovely little shoes.

Went to the National Museum of Mongolia in the afternoon, was really interesting, in fact almost ran out of time, have to rush the last bit to get back in time for my English lesson - which then started late! But was good!

Catriona came and met me after work, and we went to the Chinnigis Club (brewery and pub) for a Chinnigis beer (obviously), pinched a beer mat - according to the old LP this is expected of us tourist types! Had a mongolian dinner in the Modern Nomads restaurant, I had like a crispy pancake with meat inside - was very tasty!!

Then down to Dave's Place for the quiz night - not so good this week, we cheered cause we didn't come last (but only one point off it...!! Oops!). Some very hard questions, like name of the riders of these 1o horses...!! And name that naked person picture round!

We met up with a load of people from the US Peace Core, who are normally out volunteering in the villages, but were all in UB for their medicals, and went to the Sweet Night Club (v dodgy nightclub), but a good laugh - lots of beer and vodka shots...!! Left at about 5am and got a taxi home - hopefully cheaper than last week, but not seen Catriona to find out yet...!! We asked and we were ripped off last week (a lesson learnt, only use the Yellow City Cab's and not any dodgy person who stops....!!!)

Today it is raining, but quite warm, the traffic is a total nightmare, the roads are all blocked up, and people are just driving all over the place, some total git, jumped up on to the pavement in his car, skidded, and sprayed my clean trousers with mud - thanks for that!

Meeting Catriona at 3pm for a coffee and maybe a nice piece of cake....!! Meeting the people who own the ger camp we are staying at, at 6pm, and they are giving us a lift out - was slightly worried about how we would find the bus stop (Naska's maybe it's here, didn't inspire all that much confidence!).

Don't think they is any Internet in Terelj, will be back in UB Sunday night.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Thursday 18th May 10.50am

Za Internet Center, Centre of UB, Mongolia

Been busy since last update - Tuesday night, met up with Catriona, we were going to the UB Palace for a drink (now we've found it!), but when we got there, it was open, but the pub inside was shut, so we caught the No. 26 bus into town.

Went to the Irish Grand Khaan Bar for a drink - tried Chinggis Khaan beer, was really busy, then suddenly all the lights went out..!! Power cut knocked out the whole of downtown UB! Finished our beer by candlelight, then went to another Mongolian bar, before walking home - luckily the lights came back on about 2 hours later.

Got home and woke in the night thinking it was cold - in the morning, my host family told me the heating wasn't working, had been turned off for maintenance! Great!

On Wednesday, Catriona came to work about 2pm, and we went to the Naran Tuul Market (also known as the "Black Market", we caught a minibus there, was huge, mainly clothes ands shoes, there was stall after stall just selling shoes and boots! Catriona bought a pair of traditional Mongolian boots and a camel cardigan (very nice, think i may well go back and get one next week), and I bought myself a mink fur hat - in the same style as my green one, great for those cold winter mornings!

We managed to get a lift back into town (with some difficulty), need to have the State Department Store written down in Mongolian for me, so can show the minibus / taxi driver.

Everything is really cheap here - 1 pound is about 2100T. My minibus to work costs 200T (10p), decent hot chocolate is between 1200T and 2000T (60p and 1 pound), 0.5l Mongolian beer is 1200T (60p). You can buy a 2 bedroom apartment here for 5,000 pounds! But because it sounds a lot - it's like how much for a drink..! Then you realise that you have spent like 3 pound for a night out!

Better get to work before i'm missed...!!! Off to Dave's Place tonight for the Quiz Night - going to try and better on our 4th place last week!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Tuesday 16th May 5pm

Internet Centre (near home), UB, Mongolia

Not much happened today, well only after a boiling hot weekend and Monday, when i woke this morning, it was SNOWING..!! Walked to the bus in the freezing cold wind and snow, and when i got to work, they were watering the ground outside the centre to turn into a flower bed - so yep, that's what we did this morning - boy it was cold!

Went for lunch with the girls, had giant buuz (very similar to momo's for those of you who have been to Tibet, or sampled my poor effort (but with meat - although not sure what the meat was...!! Sometimes this language barrier can be a real issue!) or for the rest of you, like dim sums only 100 times better! Also tried Mongolian traditional tea, a mixture of green tea, salt and milk (not sure what milk, but it wasn't cows!) - 1 or 2 sips were ok, but no more! Slightly like yak butter tea (only not as rancid!), so better!

Mogee and Ganaa took me to Mogee's feltwork teacher's gallery, some very nice feltwork pictures - asked Mogee about prices, and unless i'm mistaken quite reasonable, and it is traditional Mongolian....!! Well, i can't come home without something for the house from Mongolia!

Naska took me to the Natural History Museum this afternoon, lots of stuffed animals and birds, and loads of dinosaur bones, including a large T-Rex (well it had a different name, but that's what it looked to me!) and the "famous" (well they get a mention in the old Lonely Planet book) two fighting dinosaurs, who must have died mid fight!

Am off out tonight to meet Catriona for a drink, so home early for my dinner!

One thing about Mongolia is when the Russians were here, they gave them all free water and heating, so at least all the houses are warm (in fact too warm sometimes!), can always open a window!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Monday 15th May 8pm

Internet Centre (near home), UB, Mongolia

Pretty uneventful day today, caught the minibus to work (it was empty - shock! - normally jammed in with 15 other people - could almost stretch my legs out til the next stop...!!) as usual, the people here are so sweet, I have written down where i have to go, and show this to the guy or girl shouting out the door, and then they tell me if its the right minibus! Today, a girl got off the minibus with me at my stop, and took me to show me where i had to go! Can you imagine someone doing that for you in say London (or Norwich for that matter..??).

Naska promised to take me to a museum this afternoon, only it never happened, so was a tad unhappy, went for a walk and found the cinema instead (Tatu is really big here, heard it loads of places!).

Have new outlook on my volunteer work, yes I have paid to come here to volunteer, I have complained once, and the only real positive contribution i am making is the English lessons, but i am a volunteer, so am going to come and please as I like, go in for a couple of hours in the morning - update my journal, chat with the women in the office, see how the ground lies for the day (asked about previous volunteers, and apparently all been the same), then go out sightseeing (either a museum, market, coffee, internet or meet up with Catriona if she is free), then back to the office by 4pm for English lesson!

I would have paid more if had stayed in Mongolia for a month with the cost of my accommodation and meals, so basically my host family is my hotel! The office is my interaction with the locals (have been invited to a party already...!!, and the rest is free time!

Quiet night this evening, have my washing to do...! I hate handwashing, going to find a launderette before i leave Mongolia and wash everything properly, or with what i don't need post it home for mum to do....!!!

One thing about Mongolians is some of their bad habits, such as spitting and emptying the contents of their nose onto the pavement (how do they do that, is it taught when they are children...??) - pretty disgusting though - was behind a business man today and he did it! Not nice!

Am trying to plan and book this weekend away for Catriona and I, we are planning on going to Terelj National Park, to be at one with nature - well we will be if I can book the ger camp we want to stay in! You have to wade across a river, then hike for an hour to get there...!! Sounds like great fun..!!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Sunday 14th May 5.30pm

BNB Internet Centre, 3/4 Micro-district, UB, Mongolia

Had a busy couple of days, on Friday, no English lesson, as there was no one there at 4!

Catriona came in about 4.30pm, and after 5, we went for coffee/hot chocolate at Le Bistro Francais, along with an Apple Croissant (much cheaper than Millie's and very nice).

We decided to catch the No.26 big bus (my first big bus experience!), and after waiting ages behind the Government Building, we started walking, then picked it up on Peace Avenue (the main road through UB) - it was absolutely crowded, and we had to stand, there must have been over 100 people on this bus, and it was so hot! Everytime the bus braked, we were all thrown forwards - agreed that buses in rush hour - v bad idea, better to walk...!!!

Early night as exhausted after all those 2am bedtimes!

Saturday - arranged to meet Catriona at 1pm outside the State Department Store, and we headed down to the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khaan - was pretty interesting, the palace was in European style, but then decorated to look more like a temple after the locals got upset about it! There was a very impressive looking robe, made from the furs of 80 unfortunate black foxes, and a ger lined on the outside with the skins of 150 snow leopards! The Bogs Khaan also used to own his own elephant!

We thought we would have a quick look around a centre about Mongolian Art - which took over an hour, after the guide in the centre decided to practice his English on us, and guided us round every piece of art...! Then we ended up buying the most expensive postcards.... how did that happen!

Followed by hot chocolate and cheesecake at the Grand Khaan Irish Bar! Was so stuffed afterwards! Went off for long walk, found the Ger Restaurant by the American Embassy, but only opens for tour groups, and was shut (but we did get a look inside!) Big black bear rug on the floor!

Then to Chez Bernard, for a cheese burger and a couple of Mongolian beers to finish the day - by the time I walked home it was 10.30pm!

Sunday - planned trip today, organised by the organisation I'm volunteering with, off to the country to visit Manzushir Khiid (a monastery south of UB), met Caroline a volunteer from Taiwan, who came on the trip, along with Catriona and myself, and two Mongolian guides.

The landscape is so open and i guess empty (although that's not a particularly good word), the monastery was in a valley, with some amazing views. There was only one monastery building left which is now a museum, but it showed photos of what it had been like before Stalin's purges in 1937. Was once a huge place with over 20 temples. There was some interesting Buddhist rock paintings on the rocks behind the building, which we clambered up to.

On the way back, we stopped at a frozen river (even though it was boiling hot, it was still frozen), and I walked onto it, and had my photo taken!

I asked if we could stop on the side of the road to take some photos of the landscape, and they drove off the road, to the top of a nearby mountain, then stopped for photos! V surreal, but fantastic views!

After we got back, Catriona and I went for ice-cream, then Catriona went back to prepare for her lessons for tomorrow, and I decided to go and visit the Gandan Khiid (the largest monastery in Mongolia - described in the Lonely Planet as one of UB's most impressive sights.

The highlight for me was the Migrid Janraisig Statue of Avalokitesvara, standing at 26.5 metres high made from copper gilded with gold it was pretty much WOW...!! It really did take your breathe away!

Back to work tomorrow morning, hoping will have more to do this week! Already have planned, writing postcards tomorrow morning, and email to arrange our trip to the country next weekend!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Friday 12th May 2.00pm

Za Internet Centre (opposite State Department Store), Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Can't believe it's been a week already, must be having fun, time is flying by! Met Catriona last night after work (actually hailed a taxi, and got to where i wanted to go..! - which is impressive, as on Sunday I vowed to walk everywhere - and here i am 5 days on, catching taxi's and minibuses to work!), I digress..!

Catriona and I went to Millie's for dinner (normal western food), as Catriona hadn't seen the park, which is right near, so we popped into the park (loose term for large area of dead grass and dead trees, and "Disneyland Mongolia"...!), and the Ferris Wheel was going round, so we were feeling brave and on we went - great views over the city and the park!

Then we decided on a drink in Dave's Place (an English bar on the main square), had read in the Lonely Planet it was Quiz Night on Thursday's - so hey why not! We paired up with an American guy and a dutch girl - and came 4th! Well we were impressed...!!

After lots of beer, we got a taxi back to our host families - which was interesting, the driver seemed to have no idea where we wanted to go, ended up with the Lonely Planet map out, telling him left or right (in Mongolian), then "zogs" (Stop!) when we got there - fairly sure he ripped us off - I know it was 2am but even so!

Been into "work" this morning, still no internet, and nothing to do, once i realised that i was actually getting quite good at Spider Solitaire (completed it three times in a row..!!), thought it was time to escape... - been to Monastery-Museum of Choijin Lama, bought the local papers - UB Post and the Mongol Messenger (good crossword in UB Post will keep me occupied..!) and checked my emails!

Was trying to work out whether i think Mongolian are very good drivers, or very bad drivers - and come to the conclusion they are very bad drivers, who are very quick on their brakes...!! Crossing the road in Mongolia can be very dangerous for your health - cars actually swerve towards you when you are crossing..! It's a bit of an art - but getting there! Even walking on the "pavement" is dangerous - apart from the holes everywhere, leading to the underground heating pipes, if there is a queue at a junction, instead of waiting, cars go over the central reservation, mount the "pavement" regardless of if anyone is walking on it, and cut on to the next road...!! Very scary...!!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Thursday 11th May 3:55pm

A random Internet Centre, somewhere near the Centre, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Still no internet at work - a real pain, managed to escape (with Ganaa) to a local internet centre to check my emails. Not many today, my mum bless her (who is interesting) and Sammy (who even wrote a few words, well letters, think his paw may have slipped on the keyboard, typing lessons for him when i get back..!!) - i am missing my little boy. Maybe no one loves me back home..!!

Was out on my 2nd night of "night research" last night - started earlier (well sort of, Naska collected me at 10, only Garna (who was driving) thought it was 11! We went back to the hotel with the locked karoke room, but they wouldn't let us in again, said it was a private party. Did some more driving around, then went for a drink in "Forbidden Fruits" - what a good name! It resembled a night club on the stairs, but when we went in it reminded me of a cabaret bar on a caravan park....!! Music was a mixture of Western Pop and Mongolian (they really like West Life, Boyzone and Backstreet Boys here...!!), but they only played half a song then changed it for another one!

Another 2am finish, and as yet, not really seen all that much to see why they go out. Should be out again tonight and Friday night!

Today was Hot Soup project day, and Ganaa and I went to a restaurant in the city and collected a large container of soup (which they donate), then we went back, and the staff ate theirs first...., i asked if the girls got theirs now, and was told that it was up to the boss - he could say yes or no! I asked what happened if he said NO, would he eat it all???? Luckily, the girls all got soup. But I'm sure the restaurant doesn't donate soup to feed the staff at the centre! For some of the girls here, it could be their only proper meal in a week!

Am now officially late for my third English lesson (everything laid back here, so not a problem!). Took in the Cosmopolitan magazine i had on the journey in today and gave to the women in the office, which resulted in an interesting conversation about plastic surgery...!!

Am meeting Catriona tonight after work (have told host family, i don't want any dinner - i feel Millie's calling....!!), and we are going for something to eat and drink, and to plan some sightseeing!
Wednesday 10th May 7.28pm

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia - same Internet Centre as last night...!

The day after the night before... well not as exciting as all that. Bearing in mind that Mongolian's are late for everything, Naska turning at 11.30pm, wasn't too bad - although I was ready for my bed, rather than going out in the freezing cold, and yes it was freezing!

Had cheated a little about what to expect as I'd read a report Margaret had written when her and Pete (her husband) had gone out with Naska on a "night research mission" - basically the aim of the activity (as far as i could gather), was to go out looking for young girls (between 12 and 18) who are being used for prostitution and invite them to come to the unit to be educated about AIDS and other STD's, to be medically checked, and to taught a craft, such as feltwork (traditional Mongolian craftwork) and cooking, so hopefully they will be able to gain an income from another source rather than prostitution. (Not all that easy, when you consider that alot of these girls, are forced into prostitution by their own parents to help feed their younger brothers and sisters).

Although talking to people today at the centre, it has a very high success rate, and many girls go back into full time education.

However, the night research methods of "gathering" girls, is on the risky side, and doesn't appear to have alot of thought gone in to it. (The centre also gets girls in through district social workers, so they don't rely on this method, thank goodness!).

Firstly we went to a park outside the the largest hotel in Ulaanbaatar, which is a very common haunt for girls looking for business (bit like going down Rouen Road on an evening...!), apparently the hotel don't have a problem with them being there (funny that, probably listed as an additional extra in the hotel guide..!). Naska and Garna (the men!) went into the park looking for girls, and left Ganaa and I in the car (she explained what was happening), but came back with nothing to report, only some older women there.

We then drove round to various places, and went into one hotel which had a locked karoke bar, which they wouldn't let us in (possibly we looking suspicious) - i'm sure we did! Naska said that there was a lot of underage girls in there, and we should go back another night, but earlier on!

Eventually got "home" at 2am, and crawled into bed, only to be awoken by my host family for yet another breakfast of custard powder and milk with butter (good job i have iron guts...!)

So last night was I guess interesting, not really sure the whole purpose, and it really could have done with being done better.

Today was Margaret's last day at the unit, the internet was still down, so after helping out with some stuff, we went for a long lunch to Millie's (Margaret's favourite haunt whilst she was here, and now most definitely mine!), they did better hot chocolate that the Irish Bar..., and very western food! (The amount of food i'm eating is huge, will have to starve myself when i leave my host family!).

Then done my second English lesson this afternoon - i don't think i would have made a good teacher - i have no control over my class...!! We discussed the differences between English and Mongolian education systems (well i told them what happens in England, and they told me what happens in Mongolia). Very similar, although if you don't get good grades you leave school at 14!

So I guess tonight will be very much the same as last night, although earlier, so hopefully back to my bed earlier as well! Doing this four days in a row! Also need to arrange to meet Catriona (who's been at the school with Pete) who's emailed me today. And need to do some washing, running out of clean socks!

Oh yes, and Ganaa gave me a Mongolian sim card to use, so i'm now contactable! All very exciting, although the only person who's texted me is mum!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Tuesday 9th May 6.32pm

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Well, obviously complaining done the trick, when i arrived at the centre this morning, Naska was already there, and Jagga came in shortly afterwards. He has arranged a trip to a monastary at the weekend for volunteers.

Naska has written me a work programme for the next few weeks - including time off, working on projects, teaching some of the staff english, spending some time with the girls, and i'm off out tonight to go with them to do some research on girls on the streets who are being used for prostitution.

Took my first English lesson today, a daunting job - had done no preparation..! And the internet was down in the office, but it went ok, tomorrow we are going to look at the education system in England and compare with Mongolia..(!!!), could be interesting, hope the internet is up and running so I can prepare properly.

Feeling much more positive about things now, couldn't have beared to have sat there for the next four weeks, with hardly anything to do!

Must go, my tea will be waiting!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Monday 8th May - 9.09pm

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Been working on the old character building today - went to the day care centre today for my
first day, and it was pretty crap really - Naska (who i was supposed to meet at 10am this
morning) never came in at all, the director at the centre is away until the end of May, if it hadn't
been for another English volunteer, Margaret, coming in, I would have been totally lost and
bewildered all day - instead i'm angry, because that could have been me or some other poor sod!

Also Margaret said she's done nothing for the past 4 weeks (she leaves on Thursday morning for
Beijing), apart from checking her personal emails, and she's grammar checked a couple of letters
and emails - she's had no interaction with the children at all! So really not impressed - what is
the point - i came here to do something worthwhile.

Have written an email of complaint to Real Gap Year for Grown Ups and apparently, Jagga is
going to come and sort it out - did tell them on my email that if things didn't improve then i
would be expecting a refund, and i'd do my own thing. Don't expect to see him until tomorrow
now though.

I was hoping that this morning would have improved (i knew everyone busy at the weekend),
but this is just ridiculous - if i know i have to provide my own focus that's fine, i can do, but when
it's supposed to be all organised... i have had no orientation, language training (Margaret taught
me some words today), no guided tour of the city (did it myself).

My host family is lovely, they don't speak very much English, but very nice, and dinner tonight
was noodles, with friend potatoes and carrots and mutton - very nice!

Luckily i'm going to be introduced to a Scottish girl who arrived last week, who is volunteering
teaching in a school with Margaret's husband (perhaps i will get my placement moved to the
school - sounds much more rewarding, and they get the afternoon's off!)

I'm not sure where the poor mongolians are, but my host family must be loaded, they have
every eletrical kitchen gagdet going - i keep waiting for the George Foreman Lean Mean Fat
Reducing Grilling Machine to come out of the cupboard - it wouldn't surprise me..!!

Been snowing here all day today, was really strange waking up and looking out on snow!

Hoping tomorrow things will go smoother - all else I will spending my days checking my emails -
and let's me honest I don't need to be in Mongolia to do that..!!
Monday 8th May 2006 - 8.23pm

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Well ok i'm a few days late starting, but it only occurred to me today, that I could write a blog, so here we are! Going to back track, so it's good and proper from the beginning!

So how did it all begin and why i'm currently sitting in an internet centre in Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia;

It all started from when I came from Tibet really, let's be honest, I never settled back into "normal" life after that, I tried, I really did, but whatever happened it all came back to me being restless and unsettled - I tried to have a relationship and (as usual) that all went badly wrong, really before it even had a chance to start to be fair on the guy, but that's usual when it comes to my love life...!!

You can't have an experience like Tibet, and not come back changed (well i don't think so, and I think i speak for some of the people i was there with), I know it changed me, and I hope for the better.

Since I've been back i've read alot on Tibetan Buddhism (it is didn't the same as normal Buddhism), and if I can follow some of the belief's I've read about and saw in Tibet, I would like to think it would make me a better person - even with all the crap the Tibetan's get from the Chinese, they are still happy warm people.

Ok, I digress, I could happily waffle on about Tibet for hours - please don't get me started!

How did I get to Mongolia??

So at the end of March, a Real Gap Year for Grown Ups brochure landed on my doormat, and as I flicked through it, i came across working in an Orphange Day Care Centre in Mongolia, and that was it for me really. After ensuring it was possible to put my affairs in order (monetary one's that is....!!), I contacted Paul at Real Gap Year for Grown Ups and it sorted everything out, arranging all my travel arrangements, everything really...!

So it was all booked for my flight on 3rd May.......!

Wednesday 3rd May

Off i flew to Seoul in Korea, on the Wednesday evening - an uneventful flight, no horrific story to tell of delays - almost disappointing really....!!

Thursday 4th May

After 4 hours in Seoul, off i went again, this time ending for my final destination (for this month anyway), Ulaanbaatar...!! What was I letting myself in for!

After spending almost an hour, waiting for my luggage to come off, I did wonder whether Mongolian owned suitcases, as it seems like the only things coming round were hundreds and hundreds of boxes....!! A guy from South Carolina informed me this was normal...!!!

Picked up fine from the airport, by from first impressions looked like a young boy (but he drove so he must be older...??!!), only to discover he was the co-ordinator for the organisation in Mongolia who organises volunteer placements... oops! i must be getting old..!! (in daylight he does look a bit older - it was after midnight, and i had flown a long way in my defence!)

Jagga then took me to my host family (eventually, we did walk around the outside of several blocks of apartments, before deciding we were in the wrong place and ended up going back to the car, and driving to another block - by this time 1am - and I was tired!)

Friday 5th May

Not such a good day, felt very much like I was in the way, and everyone too busy to have to deal with me. Jagga left me with Naska (a very young 23 year old, but is very senior at the Orphanage Day Care Centre), who took me for lunch, then left me back at my host's originally promising to see me over the weekend to show me the city (part of my induction i guessed), then when he dropped me off, he said he would see me Monday!

Saturday 6th May

A bit of a low morning, feeling pretty neglected, according to my "Pre-departure notes" i should have a 3 day orientation/induction, and I start "work" on Monday at the Orphange Day Care Centre, and I haven't been told anything! Felt pretty homesick, only my mum was thousands of miles away. Decided that the only option was to pull myself together and get on with things - so i did! Left the safety on my host family home, and set off into the unknown (no one had shown me on the map where i lived..!), luckily i came across the State Department Store, and from there i worked out from my Lonely Planet Guide where i'd come from, and that was me away really..!

Found shops, the post office (and postcards..!), the park (well a grassless god forsaken looking place with a Disneyland in it...! let's not go there....!!), and my best find of the day, an Irish Bar which sold Hot Chocolate..!!

Sunday 7th May

Another day of exploring, decided to try and find the Palace (which originally i thought was a "real" palace only to discover it was actually a bar/disco/karoke/internet place, but looked like a big place on the map), got totally lost, but eventually ended up down by the railway, and headed towards the station. The Trans-Mongolian train was in! How exciting..! That's one part of my journey i am really looking forward to.

Then headed towards the "Golden Buddha" on the hill and the Russian memorial, went miles (well it felt like it..!), only to discover that I was stopped at the bridge and couldn't get there! (Apparently something to do with foot and mouth, I've seen discovered!).

Finished the day back at my Irish Bar for a hot chocolate!

So that's up to today! Sorry it's so long..!!!