Ulaanbaatar Then and Now – Part 3

Scott Notes in 2000: Due to the length of my stay in UB the client was kind enough to show me some apartments that I might consider moving into. The first few were in so much disrepair that I was resigned to stay in the Hotel for the remainder of my time here.  However they eventually showed me one that I agreed to as it was more spacious than the hotel room, and was certainly a lot cleaner than the others I had seen. So I moved on Saturday.

Thomo Notes in 2005: There are many apartment buildings in many of the districts of Ulaanbaatar now. Some are old, having been build back in the Communist times, others are newer. In fact, the apartment I live in is on the 11th floor of a building and has been up for about 18 months now. Out my windows I can see many more apartment buildings being built. Ulaanbaatar still also has a large ger district, where the traditional homes (gers) are built. These are not connected to water and such – water having to be carried in from a water station. They do, however, provide a living area for those unable to afford a newer apartment.

Scott Notes in 2000: The apartment has a bedroom, a lounge, small kitchen, bathroom & toilet and costs AUD 650 per month. Today (Sunday) I am wondering if I made the right decision. The lounge is next to useless as the TV does not have cable. The bedroom is large and has plenty of space and a TV with cable. So I have set up my working area in the bedroom. The kitchen is OK, the stove hotplates & Fridge work. However the cupboards, cookware & utensil leave a lot to be desired. But at least I can now cook something and have a cold drink. The hot water isn’t working at the moment, found out late yesterday that the apartment block’s hot water system is under repair at the moment & should be fixed within next few days – great! Just hope it doesn’t break down when it starts to get cold. The electrical wiring is suspect as I have already had a few light jolts when turning a switch on/off.

Thomo Notes in 2005: No Hot Water? See A Shower, my Kingdom for a Shower in my blog. Ulaanbaatar has the largest Central Heating System in the world, with pretty much all the hot water used in Ulaanbaatar coming from central boilers that service many, many buildings. These boilers provide the hot water for both showering and washing as well as for central heating. An apartment can be rented in Ulaanbaatar for from US $200 a month to $2000 a month, depending on the quality that is needed. My two bedroom apartment, with furniture, in a building with a lift (two actually) that is left running 24×7, with security, costs US $750 per month  and the landlady pays every bill for the apartment except telephone usage. Electrical wiring still leaves a little to be desired in UB, with a combination of old electrical implementations along with power surges and blackouts causing some more problems. There is no standard power point plug in Mongolia with US, European and Australian (Chinese) plugs common. Powerboards that take all plug types are therefore common.

However, one positive thing is that the infrastructure is improving, slowly by slowly.

Scott Notes in 2000: The phone number is 555555 (country & area code is 9761) however if you wish to call me do so between the hours 9am to 10am or around 8:30 pm. I cannot give an office number as I am actually working at three different sites and, like everything else in UB, telephones are a scarce resource & expensive. An advisor to one of the Banks here told me that she came across a country branch manager who actually locked the telephone in the safe.

Thomo Notes in 2005: Indeed, there are no public phones in Mongolia either. There are small single phone operators. Since Scott has been here the phone system has improved. There are now two mobile phone operators and even Mongolia Telecom has been making some small improvement. Country code is still 976 and Ulaanbaatar phone numbers are prefixed with a 11 these days. There are also satellite phones connecting the remoter regions with Ulaanbaatar but the transmission delay whilst passing to and from the satellite is a little frustrating. A third mobile phone operator will commence business later this year.

Scott Notes in 2000: So far I have not had much time to look around UB or the surrounding country, something that I intend to do when I get a chance. However I shall only be able to do so on Sundays as it is a 6 day, 8:30 to 6 working day week. I did go to the supermarket yesterday to stock up the pantry & fridge in the apartment. Although the cost of living is suppose to be cheap here, the cost of supermarket goods are not. For example 1 small packet of Kellogs Just Right cost AUD 6.50. At the same time there is not very much variety of items to choose from. At least I could buy some cans of Heineken at a reasonable price.

Shop in Erlian, Inner Mongolia - click for closer look
A shop front in Erlian with its sign in 4 written scripts - old Mongolian, English, Chinese and Cyrillic

Thomo Notes in 2005: I have had lots of time to look around after six months here and that including all of the summer. Almost every weekend I went to the countryside with my favourite Mongolian family. I had to travel as well with work so I have visited 9 Aimags (provinces or states) of the country so far. Look in the Photo Section of this blog under the Mongolian Landscapes folder for some pictures. As far as supermarkets go, there are many “corner stores” in and around the apartments. They tend to be called supermarkets, along with the larger ones elsewhere. There are a couple in town that stock western produce as well so this position has changed over the years.

Scott Notes in 2000: That’s all from now from your man in Outer Mongolia.

Thomo Notes in 2005: And for those unaware, there is an Outer and an Inner Mongolia. Outer Mongolia is, indeed, Mongolia, where I am sitting at the moment. Inner Mongolia, where the native population is ethnically Mongolian, is in China and is one of those special regions the Chinese have a fondness for. I have visited Erlian in that region. One thing I can say positively for that region is that is maintains to some extent, the use of the old Mongolian script. Mongolia itself uses a Cyrillic script. See the picture at right of a shop sign from Erlian.

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