Talking About About Time, part II

Lost Nomad noted that the Korean Police were going to crackdown on motorcyclists (and other vehicles I guess) riding on the footpaths.

I first went to Korea about 15 years ago now (gosh, is it really that long ago?) and lived for a year in Chon Ju (now Jeon Ju) for a year, Incheon for a year and Seoul for many years up to 2005. In that entire time I never saw much respect for the pedestrian on the footpath (side walk) from any drivers, with the exception of the times that a pedestrian did not give way to a car or bike. The result of that was generally a broken wing mirror and a lot of serious eye contact between the driver and the pedestrian.

Still there is no respect and even in Seoul at peak pedestrian periods motorcycles can be seen whizzing up and down the footpath.

At least these days pedestrian crossings are a little better respected than they were back then. Back in the 1990s the white lines on the zebra-crossings just made it easier for the driver to line the pedestrians up. 🙂

Driving in Mongolia at Night

Or more to the point, driving in the countryside at night – and in our case, the Gobi.

In the headlights, everything appears the same colour so the track that you are driving on disappears into the surrounding terrain. At times you have to stop and look carefully to see where the road goes.

Driving at night in the Mongolian countryside where there is no asphalt road (which is most of the country) is really quite dangerous. I can see why most locals stop and camp for the night rather than keep pressing on.

Mind you, those yellow eyes reflecting back at you from the dark are a bit spooky too – so I guess in the Gobi I saw my first wild wolves, er, in the dark.

More tales and entries from the Gobi Trip coming up soon, along with some photographs.

Ulaanbaatar Then and Now – Part 1

Scott in 2000 Notes: Well life in UlaanBataar (UB) Outer Mongolia is certainly different to what I am used to in Australia or for that matter what I have experienced through all of my travels. It is definitely 3rd world in just about every respect. The closest I have come to experiencing a similar lifestyle & living environment would have been when I was in Saudi Arabia & Kuwait in the Middle East – however at least in the Middle East there were 5 star hotels etc.  One thing though, at least in UB one can openly buy & enjoy a beer or two whereas in the Middle East you couldn’t.

Thomo Notes: Scott arrived in Ulaanbaatar in the Summer and it was a warm summer. In the past five years though there has been a lot of development in Ulaanbaatar, new buildings, new roads, other infrastructure improvement so that whilst Mongolia is still a developing country, it is a developing country moving forward – perhaps not fast enough for some but in the right direction at least. And yes Scott, beer is still freely available here.

The Circus in Ulaanbaatar - click for closer look
The Circus from my Apartment in Ulaanbaatar

As for five-star hotels, Shangri-la Hotels are building a hotel in Ulaanbaatar in partnership with MCS, a local firm.

Scott in 2000 Notes: The buildings in UB reminds me very much of the country cities in Russia during the mid seventies. The only difference being that they are even more run down. It would appear that very little has been spent on infrastructure maintenance since the Russians left 10 years ago as the country itself is broke. This is also reflected in the state of the roads, the vehicles used and the energy supply. For example the roads are in a terrible state, so much so that vehicles cannot travel faster than 30 km/h due to the large cracks & pot holes. Mind you, in 99% of cases it would be very dangerous driving any of the vehicles here faster than 30kmh due to their age & condition. In Australia most would have been banned from the roads years ago as death bombs. The energy supply here is apparently improving but is still subject to frequent breakdowns. Most buildings are only 3 floors high at most & very few of them have lifts. None of the residential apartments have lifts and the stairwells do not have lights. Given that the stairs themselves are uneven and in some cases broken, one has to be careful when coming home & climbing stairs in the dark.

Thomo Notes: Yep, many of the roads are still as bad as described, whilst others are a lot better, the South Road next to the railway line for example is in pretty good condition. Road crews get around more frequently now and fix many of the problems. There is a fair mix as well of old vehicles, vehicles that are sort of falling apart and new vehicles. I must admit that Ulaanbaatar is one city where I would suggest a 4WD vehicle is necessary in town.Mind you, I have seen cars driving around with one nut missing from each wheel, as well as seeing a number of cars and trucks that have lost their wheel. And there are a lot of breakdowns. Also it is rare to see a car with a full fuel tank. Most are driven on quarter full or less. I guess this prevents loss of petrol if stolen at night when the car is parked. My favourite Mongolian family had the wing mirrors stolen from their car the other evening (and it was not even the depth of night, rather about 8:00 or so). I mean, who bothers to steal wing mirrors? Cracked windscreens are seen a lot as well, although I cannot make out if that is the result of stones or just extremely cold weather. As far as energy supply goes, it is getting better. There were a few blackouts around the office in the summer although these appear to have gone in the autumn and power has been very stable around Ulaanbaatar at least over recent weeks. As for the buildings, yes, there are a lot of 3 to 5 storey old Russian style apartment buildings around with uneven stairs and floors. There is now a lot of new buidling going on with many newer apartment buildings being built. These have elevators, security and are very modern – and they are also earthquake resistant, I believe to Richter 8.0 … but I will happily be corrected on that point. I live on the 11th floor and the elevator here runs 24×7. And if Asiel is reading this, yes, [in best Russian accent] “soviet apartment is like soviet woman … big, strong, ugly … but not Russian woman!” 🙂

Old Cars and Autumn Days

The Citroën Traction Avant outside the apartment building

I believe that the delightful car is an old German car. It looks like it is straight from a 30s or 40s movie, a black car with doors that open the opposite way to cars today. It could have been in a scene from the movie Casablanca maybe. But there is was, parked outside the apartment building today.I was strolling out to buy some music, have a strawberry milkshake with a slice of rare cheesecake and generally just stretch the legs in the autumn sunshine. It was, after all, a pleasant 19 degrees today. So, as I strolled out of the building this beautiful old machine was sitting there. It had driven in. I shall see if I can get some more pictures later as well as find out exactly what it is – but I have never seen one like this in Australia.

Update Note: Jim, a friend from the US, sent me an email today (30 September 2005) letting me know that one of his friends thought he identified the car as a Citroën Traction Avant, although he was not sure of the year.

Another Water Spot of Chinggis’

Baggy adds some stones and a prayer to the ovoo at the Chinggis Monument in Dadal

I did not mention it earlier but when we were doing our four Aimag, 2,500 kilometre, 4 1/2 day off road jaunt around the Khan Bank branches earlier this year, one of the places we stopped at was in Khentii Aimag and it was the soum of Dadal. Dadal is famous for being the area that Chinggis Khaan was supposed to have been born in. It is a really beautiful area full of trees, mountains, valleys and fresh mountain streams.Near the soum of Dadal is a spring that issues forth from the side of a hill. The water from this spring is clear and cold and really quite refreshing. The spring is famous in the area for being the spring that Chinggis drank at. Local legend has it that the water now has a curative effect, being particularly good for your stomach. I must admit to having felt worse for wear before drinking the water and feeling a lot better later that day.

Baggy gets me some water from the stream that appears from the mountain at this point

I must also report that Baggy, my ever faithful translator and aide confidante, found the opposite to be the case, and his condition deteriorated during the day. Mind you, Baggy always maintains that whatever bad happens to me happens to him two days later.

Confluence of the Selenge and Orkhon Rivers

The Selenge and Orkhon rivers join in northern Mongolia
A view of the joined river, on the edge of Russia with a local train passing through

Selenge murun and Orkhon gol (the Selenge and Orkhon rivers).The rivers join up a few kilometres from the border then flow into Russia, into Siberia. The countryside around this area is quite superb – mountains, rolling hills, forests and open areas all combine to form a spectacular piece of countryside.

We were fortunate to be able to get so close to the border, thank you for organising that Puujee.

Horse Poo

and cow poo, and yak poo. Living out on the Steppe, where there are no fences, are many horses, cows, yaks, sheep and goats. Now horses, cows and yaks in particular leave sizeable poos. Mongolia is generally a fairly dry country so these pads dry out very quickly and form a good source of fire fuel. When my favourite Mongolian family travels to the countryside and needs to make a fire to cook, fuel is collected. First thing collected is wood. The wood, however, must be laying on the ground to be used, otherwise it is left. Also collected is dried Poo. In the picture you can see Tseye, plastic bag in hand, collecting poo for the fire whilst the rest of us pitch tents (well, except Thomo who was taking the picture of course).

The poo works really well as a fuel, generating a lot of heat. A few twigs, some dried poo and a match and the fire is started. Add some river rocks in there, wait, then add the rocks to the pot along with meat, potatoes and carrots and hey presto, Khorkhog 🙂

Tuul Gol Bridge

We had gone here once before. Unfortunately, the first time we came here, I did not have my digital camera with me. We were trying to decide where to go last Sunday and my favourite Mongolian family suggested coming back to here as I had mentioned wanting to photgraph the bridge. They also noted that as summer was rapidly departing, it would be better to do it now whilst the weather was still OK.

So, we went out there again and I managed to get stung by nettles (Khalgai) – as well as getting terribly drunk on vodka. Must suggest to famly that vodka is perhaps not the best drink for Thomo on picnics.

There is a picture of the bridge with this blog. Yes, it looks that dilapidated in real life. We have driven across the bridge twice and I have walked over it now – it is as rickety as it looks and the whole bridge shakes and wobbles when vehicles drive over it.

I will do a separate website, perhaps elsewhere in Thomo’s Hole Proper, devoted to the bridges of Mongolia. Having seen a couple now I shall keep photographing them.

Stinging Nettles

There I was, in shorts and thongs (flip flops for the English). Taking photographs of the bridge over the Tuul gol (Tuul River) outside of Ulaanbaatar when as chance would have it, I stepped through a small plant. Hmm, thinks Thomo, there is something hot and itchy on my left leg. I naturally then rubbed the left leg with the right leg. Damn, hot and itchy on both legs now. I photographed the plant, photographed the bridge and then came back to the car. I showed my favourite Mongolian Family the picture of the plant on the digital camera and they all laughed. Thomo had stumbled through a patch of stinging nettles. In Mongolian, these are called khalgai (thank you for that name Alimaa).

I can report, however, that standing in the cold, fast moving waters of the Tuul gol relieved the stinging feeling from my legs. Er, the beer helped as well 😉

The Praying Man

Near Terelj National Park is a rock formation known as the Praying Man. When driving from Ulaanbaatar to Terelj, if you are lucky you can make out the rocks that form the Praying Man. However, it is travelling from Terelj back to Ulaanbaatar that the praying man is most visible.There are many rock formations across Mongolia that look like other things, this is one of them.