A Mongolian Saturday

Hurrah!! Saturday morning so at last a lie-in.

This is especially enjoyed over the winter months when the temps are so cold outside and itís with gritted teeth we plunge out into the subzero temps at 8.00am every work morning. Yesterday we had a light snowfall and this morning when I checked our inside/outside thermometer it was +16C inside/-18C outside.

But the first and most important event of each morning is to log on to our e-mail and see if "We've got Mail".... It's always nice when we have messages from home, either from friends or family. Makes the distance between us seem not so far. There are always several work-related messages.

A leisurely breakfast of home-made yoghurt, muesli and banana, with toast and coffee while we watch the latest world news on Cable Television. Looks like parts of USA are also experiencing a late winter snow storm. We appreciate being able to keep up with what is happening in the wider world each day.

Do a few household chores, which being such a small apartment, one bedroom, lounge and kitchen doesn't take too long. Our kind Mongolian landlord had supplied us with a nice twin tub washing machine so we don't have to break our backs doing the washing in the bath anymore. Of course we canít hang the washing outside as it would be frozen solid within minutes so we dry it inside on a line over the bath or on the radiators. Very efficient and most is dry by lunchtime.

Living and working in heated buildings and being such a dry climate, we find we need to make sure we drink lots of water each day. It is unsafe to drink the water straight from the taps here because of the possibility of contacting hepatitis, so boiling and filtering drinking water is necessary.

Being apartment dwellers we have no lawns or gardens to maintain, don't own a car so no car-cleaning etc. Don't even have a pet, which I miss actually. Mongolians like their dogs and we see many well cared for different breeds around but they do not like cats.

We write e-mails, do some administration type work, while listening to music or short wave BBC programmes until lunchtime. After lunch we venture out to one of several indoor markets around the city, the closest a 20 minute walk away, to stock up on our weekly needs. Most shops don't open here until 10.00am-11.00am. We always hope the temps have risen a little by midday but alas today they have gone down a couple of degrees. No sun and the snow is turning to ice so after dressing up very warmly in our heavy coats, scarves, gloves, and hats, we grab our backpacks and set out to the market, linking arms and walking slowly and with care. Many a limb is broken by falling on these treacherous streets and we sure don't want that to happen to us.

Mongolians celebrate Tsargaan Saar (White Month) for almost a week during February. Itís a bit like our Christmas with lots of eating, drinking and visiting of friends and relations. Last week when we went for our weekly shop there was very little available as the week of celebrations had depleted the markets.

Happily today we were able to get most of what we needed. A good supply of fresh vegetables, and fresh meat again. A lot of goods, especially vegetables, are being imported from China. Trudge back home, heavily laden, unload our supplies, have a hot drink and warm up again before setting out once more to meet a Kiwi who is arriving on the 4.00pm flight from Beijing. The plane is over an hour late and it is a rather cold wait even in the airport lounge. We don't know what this person looks like so as the passengers disembark we are scanning the few European faces for one which may look like a N.Zr. How do Kiwi's look different from Russians, Americans, French, English etc.??

We ask a few likely prospects until we see a very friendly man trying to chat with the local airport officials. We thought that may be him and as it turns out we were right. We had taken and extra coat and scarf to the airport as often visitors are not dressed heavily enough for this climate. By the time we left the airport the temperature was down to -23C, so all extra clothing was needed.

After getting him settled into his apartment from which he will conduct his business for the next week we spend a very pleasant meal and evening chatting in our own language to our newly found friend.