As usual I thought I’d have plenty of time to update you in the holidays with news of life in Mongolia but once again time has flown. End of term here was just as manic as in England with the Christmas Fair, whole school Christmas concert, staff Christmas do, Christmas parties, primary swimming gala, you know the score. We managed to get a Christmas tree – plastic as here in Mongolia the real thing is scarce and I had to break my rule of reindeer decorations only as it would have looked a little sparse. I clearly didn’t pack as many in July as I thought although I have managed to add to the reindeer collection. The children like the fact that it constantly flashed in multi colour, the paper chains were made, tinsel added to every surface that I could manage and the place looked very festive.
We had 5 days in Ulaanbaatar before flying off to Hong Kong for Christmas and new year. These were spent generally not doing much – except a little last minute shopping, sledging on the hills, swimming in the pool, watching Christmas films and eating lots of lovely food. We had a fun games afternoon with the staff who hadn’t flown to destinations all around the world as soon as the final bell rang. We also had a mini Christmas Day on the 23rd which involved taking the children to a kids play area whilst Mummy and Daddy had a browse of the shops and a coffee, followed by a Christmas dinner (note that next year I need to get stuffing posted to me!) and a family Christmas movie. Lovely.
On Christmas Eve we set off at 6am in temperatures of -31 (so the taxi driver informed us) for the 10 minute journey to the airport. One of the bonuses of being in a country that not many people visit is that the airport is a very laid back, simple, quiet affair. There are 4 gates I think all within a 2 minute walk of each other, a handful of shops and no queues at security. We boarded the plane and set about making ourselves comfy for the 4 1/2 hour flight. Noah as usual was very excited about the speed at which the airplane travels on the runway during take off, I was just crossing my fingers and convincing myself that everything would be fine, even if a plane at Heathrow would never take off in these temperatures, they do it every day here. A smooth flight with beautiful views over Mongolia’s snowy, mountainous landscape at the start and a rather scary landing at Hong Kong followed – I should just keep reading my book rather than look out of the window at the mountains we fly between to land on a rather short runway with sea at either end. But as I said earlier, they do it every day here too.
The first thing that hit me was the busi-ness of Hong Kong airport. Mongolia is like a little bubble, you feel so far away from everything that is going on in the rest of the world and except for the crowded buses in the city, it never feels like a busy place. Once we were through security the next thing that hit me – or rather the children – was the presence of McDonalds. ‘No we are not going there now’. We quickly found the correct bus that should take us right to the door of our hotel. The 45 minute journey was a feast for the eyes. I felt like I had been starved of such sights, even despite having seen so much since moving abroad. My senses were on overload. The roads were clear, smooth and fast, the bus top of the range, the container port we passed was vast and looked like hundreds of little lego bricks- how does anyone know what is in all of those boxes? – the bridges that we crossed were huge, the tunnels easing our journey through mountains so clean, the sea so welcoming, all around us lush, green trees and plants and the air clean, fresh and damp. In Mongolia the air is so dry, like on the plane, but all the time, electric shocks are the norm and we can often smell the pollution even though we are a little way out of the city. Very quickly I sensed we were in a very efficient place where everything runs like clockwork. I think I might like it here! After about 20 minutes we crossed to Hong Kong Island where we were staying for the first part of our holiday, we passed shopping mall after shopping mall, we travelled along roads that had roads above them, roads that had roads below them, roads that travelled over the sea as there was no land left to build on, some with pavements above and below them, all surrounded by huge, glossy skyscrapers and all within sight of the sea one way and mountains the other. The island held so much promise for an amazing holiday, it was clearly an amazing city.
The Peak Tram coming into view.
I’d like to say it was an amazing holiday but this time 3 little people made it a little harder than usual. They found being in the city difficult and demonstrated this through their moods and behaviour. We had some great moments: walking around the Botanical Gardens; going on the Peak Tram to stand in the rain and look at a view that was actually disguised by the mist; watching the Nutcracker Ballet, riding on trams, buses, the MTR, in a taxi, shopping in M and S; visiting the maritime museum but generally we were treading on eggshells wondering whose turn it would be next to have a tantrum or moan. We enjoyed several meals out especially on Christmas Day when we managed to find the equivalent of a trendy London Bar for a meal where the staff were great and very attentive to our children.
Pete and I agreed we could have spent hours people watching and just wandering the streets observing the fascinating scenes but this is not the favourite pastime of our 6, 9 and 10 year old. Who knows why the holiday started as it did. We live on the outskirts of a city, Noah’s favourite place is London, we hadn’t foreseen it as an issue. Personally I think it was a combination of factors, including pressure I put on myself to make this great because we were away from home and it was Christmas. Thankfully we had split our holiday in 2 and for the second 5 days we moved to a new hotel on a different island, right next to a sandy beach….