47.5427° N ,106.5259° E
One thing I love about being in a new place is the feeling of being a complete stranger to everyone there. No one knows you. No one has pre-existing ideas about you, you can just completely be yourself! And coming to this new beautiful country is a reminder of that.
Every country is a little different in it’s own way, we notice little things about how we are treated by being foreigners. Here, people like to look at us as we walk by, because lets face it….Robin and I stick out like sore thumbs. (okay, Robin sticks out more so…we can all agree on that) But it’s never in a rude way, people are just genuinely curious about us. In Moscow it was slightly different, people were coming up to us frequently and speaking to us in Russian, and we would have to do this awkward thing where we look really confused and have to interrupt them and just say “Izvineeti!! No Russian!!” but here in Ulaanbaatar, people can obviously see that we are not locals. Everyone here is wearing these beautiful fur coats, all brown and black, lots of leather and fur to keep warm…lots of neutral tones. And here Robin and I rock up wearing green and red down filled jackets, bright hats and clothes…not to mention Robins not-so-subtle red beard…we certainly don’t look the part.
We had one man come up to us yesterday on the street trying to sell us a newspaper…I couldn’t help but think that old man was walking around all day carrying an english newspaper, waiting for tourists and travellers to sell to…We’ve been walking around the city quite a bit the last few days and we haven’t seen many other foreigners at all that we know of!
Our first two days here in UlaanBaatar were very bright and sunny, not a cloud in the sky. You could just see in the far distance that there was a little bit of air pollution, but there was just a hint of it. But today is different. The city is completely surrounded and engulfed in thick smog, you can barely see the surrounding mountains, and some of the tall buildings just disappear into the smog. It certainly is eye-opening – this is the first time I’ve been in a city with air pollution this bad.
UlaanBaatar rates extremely high on the Air Quality Index.
The six levels on the Index are:
0-50 Good (Oslo, Norway and NS, Canada are in this level)
101-150 Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups
201-300 Very Unhealthy
UlaanBaatar is in the “Hazardous’ section, and right now is sitting at about 382. Above 300, the index states “Health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected.”
(Source: http://aqicn.org/city/ulaanbaatar/mnb/ )
We went on a tour today to the Genghis Khan Statue which was about an hour drive from our hostel in the middle of UlaanBaatar. We were able to see what it was like just outside the city, and it was shocking. Every country we’ve been to obviously makes us think, but something about Mongolia has really intrigued me. I’m not sure if it’s because we have met a few people, locals and foreigners, who are all working in fields to get the air pollution under control; or if its simply because I am becoming less and less blissfully unaware (like the true North-American that I am) with each new place we come to and experience. Either way, it’s very important to leave the safety of our home and see how other cultures are living. It really makes me appreciate even more what we have in Canada, and Norway, but it’s so sad to see it first hand as well.
Anyway, we absolutely love everything else about Mongolia so far! We’ve done some sightseeing, went to Chinggis Square and saw the amazing Parliament Building and statues of Genghis Khan, Ögedei Khan and Kublai Khan.
Also today ,as I said, we went on a tour to the Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue. It was amazing! A 40 metre high, 250 tonne statue made out of stainless steel. There was a museum inside, with lots of ancient artifacts from the old Mongolian Empire. We were able to take an elevator up to the head of the horse of the statue which was really amazing as well.
It really shows how absolutely massive it is when you’re that close to it. We were even able to dress up in some old traditional Mongolian clothing. I dressed up as en empress and Robin as a warrior, and we took some pictures in the Mongolian Ger.
We also got to see the world largest boot, it is a staggering size 7,700 in Mongolian shoe size, and is estimated to fit a person who is 147 feet (45m) tall and weighs 4.4 tonnes!!
Although its been quite cold in the evenings, we’ve even been able to take advantage of some nightlife here in UlaanBaatar. Last night, we went to a jazz club with a friend and were able to enjoy some really amazing young musicians. It was really fun- and they even served Scandinavian style sandwiches! Don’t see that too often! The night before, we met up with a few friends again and were able to sit at the bar and meet and talk with some really amazing locals, and also a few Americans who were here doing some journalism work.
Overall, we really enjoyed our short stay here in UlaanBaatar, Mongolia. We are already thinking of what else we want to do and see when we come back at some point. We’d love to come in the summer, because it is supposed to be absolutely beautiful. (Also spending a few days here in the winter were probably enough, daily temperatures were around 20°!) We want to stay in a Ger, which is the traditional Mongolian dwelling. A tour on the Gobi desert is on the list as well. I think this short stopover was really great for us to get our bearings in this city and to see what it has to offer. I’m so excited that we got to experience it in winter, so it will just be that much better in the warmer months. But as for now- we have a few other plans on the agenda…tomorrow morning we will be getting back on the Trans-Mongolian train and head for Beijing for the Chinese New Year! We will be sad to be leaving Mongolia, but excited to move on to the next place.
We’ll be back!