So, whilst sitting on the sofa staring out of the window at the familiar view that has become home I realise that I haven’t ‘blogged’ for a while. Not because of a lack of time, or due to a lack of events to write about, I just haven’t felt very inspired. Hoping some inspiration comes in the next few minutes or you’re all in for a dull read!
That familiar view that I can see out of all the windows in our apartment originally filled us with small amounts of concern and maybe even horror. Pete recalls that when we first arrived and were driven from the airport to the school, his overwhelming feeling when seeing that view was, ‘What have I done?’ He didn’t vocalise this to me for a few weeks but seeing not one, not two but three power stations spread across the city vista, along with a sprawling area of soviet tower blocks, fringed by huge swathes of the ger districts is probably not the best view to help you think you’ve done the right thing for your family. The apartments on the back of the staff block look out over the mountains behind school, a complete contrast to our view. But would I change it or indeed our decision to come here? …… No.
In a strange way I quite like the view, so much so that I have been trying to catch and photograph it at various times of day and year because although it is not a beautiful view in some people’s eyes, it has played a big part in our lives for the last 18 months. Every morning I wake up and look out and usually think one of 2 things: has it snowed again? (I was caught out this week – had a real spring feeling in the air, only -3 in the day – and forgot that as the temperature rises, just as most of the snow has evaporated and disappeared in a mysterious non slushy way, it starts to snow again. On Monday morning we awoke to a fresh snowfall!) My other thought is: how is the pollution looking? From November to March the pollution is not great, apparently the city is referred to as an ‘ashtray’ by some. It is surrounded by mountains and combined with the lack of wind, the cold and fact that over 600,000 people who live in the Ger districts need to burn some fuel to keep warm, pollution is one of the biggest issues facing the modern Ulaanbaatar. Thankfully the school is slightly out of the city and we usually escape the worst of it but the statistics are frightening. One of the statistics that people look at is the PM 2.5. In Beijing when its over 400 they start closing schools and factories, when it reaches over 350 it is officially hazardous, well, in some of the Ger districts, this figure regularly peaked at over 1000. It is literally choking the city and its inhabitants, the only respite is the fact that during the summer months it is not a huge issue. At the worst times, I have worried about the long term effects on our children and when you are walking along the corridor at work and you can see and smell the pollution it’s bad. My guage as to whether we have outdoor play is no longer the temperature, it’s whether we can see the cooling towers of the power station through the pollution, if we can, we go out. The people I fear for are the inhabitants of the ger districts. Once a month or so myself or Pete along with some colleagues visit a hospital in the city to entertain some of the younger patients with crafts, games and dance activities, this is where it can begin to hit home. Generally over the winter they are hit with an influx of children with various breathing issues, bronchitis, pneumonia, etc and are so over run, the children often sleep 3 to a bed in a hospital that brings tears to our eyes. The doctors and nurses do their best but when you compare it to the care that is given when we just walk into a UK hospital or the expat private one here in UB it is scary. The little respite we offer the children on a Saturday afternoon once every 6 weeks or so is our little contribution to giving a little back to the society that has made us so welcome.
Despite the pollution I will never forget our view over the city. I will also never forget Mongolian hospitality over Tsagaan Sar. Last week we had a 3 day break from school and with several colleagues spent a few nights at our favourite ger camp, getting some fresh air and sleeping in comfy beds. Following that we returned to UB with 2 invitations to share in the Tsagaan Sar celebrations with Mongolian colleagues. It was, as tradition dictates it all, very similar to last year. Greet the eldest person in the room first, drink some vodka and milk tea, and eat some buuz, but this is where I become unstuck. Vodka is fine, I can deal with that but as someone who doesn’t eat vast quantities of meat, sadly my days of eating buuz have been very limited and are now at an end. Mongolians love buuz, my TA made over 1000 to feed all the visitors to her house over Tsagaan Sar but I only managed a half and struggled with that. There are not many foods that I physically cannot eat due to the thought, texture and smell but buuz is one of them and I’m sorry Mongolia, I know your residents can eat 20 in one sitting and I’ve probably had less than the fingers on one hand but that’s enough for my entire lifetime. I’ve probably had my vodka quota for this entire month in those 2 days too, and Pete probably consumed his quota for 2 months so we’ll be staying off that for a while as well.
The title of this blog, ‘a blog or a book?’ is written because although, work is crazy as ever in terms of the decisions that are being made and the problems that have to be dealt with on a day to day basis (more of that in another blog) I actually have spare time on my hands. For those of you that know me you will know that I can’t just sit around reading or watching films, I have to achieve things in my ‘down’ time. I have no garden to weed, no room to decorate, no cards to make (I let Moonpig do the hard work whilst living here), no clubs to take children to so my latest plan is that before I leave Mongolia, I want to write a book. I’m up to about 1000 words so far, only about 59,000 to go so in true Mary Norton style I have been procrastinating and went for the blog option today. I could have doubled my book word count but will save that for another day. I am hoping you enjoyed today’s inspiration or there is no chance of you reading my book!