If you’re playing the “where in the world is Jessica?” game, I am currently in the capital city of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar (known to many as UB). It is the biggest city in Mongolia, and there are around 50,000 people here. Quite a bit different from Seoul…
I’ve been here almost two whole days now, and I think it’s going to be a very interesting month. Everyone’s living in a guest house (fancy name for hostel) now, and there are two bathrooms for the 27 of us, plus an additional 3 boarders. So that’s exciting. I also have 9 lovely roommates for the month in a room smaller than my freshman dorm. Like I said, this year is an adventure.
Anyway, when I got here I was a bit overwhelmed. The city is truly like nothing I’ve ever seen before. And Lisa and Aleisha (the business and health coordinators) gave us some serious warnings about pickpocketing, alcoholism in the city, and a very stern warning about dress code for us ladies. Needless to say, I was a bit scared before I even got here. When I got off the plane we were greeted by the abbot and a few monks from the monastery where we’ll be studying. They gave everyone blessing scarves, which was unexpected and pretty cool. I was feeling a bit better, but then we got in the car. Oh my god, if you thought Boston drivers were crazy, just try crossing the street in UB. Driving is more like a horse race. If a car can get ahead, he will, any way he can. Streets don’t always have lanes, and there don’t seem to be any directions about how to use them if there are. People here also buy cars all over, so they can have steering wheels on either side. The driver of our van frequently ended up on the wrong side of the road, and only moved back when he saw an oncoming car. Not knowing anything about the driving, I had volunteered to sit in the back of the van. Never again.
Eventually we all made it to the guest house in one piece, and we had learned that Mongolian drivers are crazy, but they know what they’re doing. I still don’t want to get back into a car. We settled into our new lodgings, had a few meetings about buying food, wandering around, and class. I was feeling a bit down, because the whole city feels so incredibly foreign and overwhelming. I went out for dinner with a few people, and the waitresses didn’t speak any English and really didn’t want to serve us. There were also no menus. But we were tired and really hungry, so Sarah eventually got us some food by pointing at what another person was eating. I think this is going to be a normal occurrence here. Anyway, the food turned out to be an amazingly delicious soup, and it made me feel much better. After a good night’s sleep on a bed as stiff as a board (not to mention a top bunk that squeaks and creaks like crazy), I was in a much better place.
Yesterday we had a brief meeting with Professor Benard, who is traveling with us and teaching this month’s course, and then we were free to do whatever we wanted. I went out with a few people and looked at the parliament building, post office, and something called the “half moon building”. The parliament building, as well as the currency and even the side of one mountain, had a huge figure of Genghis Khan. Though here he’s called Chinggis Han (the H being the same noise in hebrew, like in Hanukkah). It was pretty great. Next time I’m out I’ll be sure to get pictures. For now, I’m pulling them from Google (which has reset itself to Mongolian)
That’s all for today since I still have a bit of reading to do, and I want to watch movies with the group later. I’ll post up some pictures soon from my first day of “class.”