Ulaanbaatar Sunday May 20

Walked from our apartment block to the Ghingis Hotel to use Wifi and look around. Australia should never complain about about our streets or infrastructure. The sharp contrast between our cities is apparent when walking the streets. The pavement is generally broken due as much as anything by the extreme weather conditions the country suffers. Great lumps of concrete or blocks are raised, holes and pieces of steel rio jut from buildings and paths. Edges of buildings often are sharp and it is up to the individual to be careful when going about. Man holes are often without covers and may or may not have lumps of concrete lossless covering them. This is not a wheelchair friendly city. The paths are often broken by a concrete curbing you need to step over. And yet these streets are walked by elegantly dressed women wearing the highest fashion heels. For me, flat shoes are still awkward.

Walking along the river path this morning we notices great shells of ice formed on the cool underside of the bridges. these must have been at leat one and a half meters thick, left over from the frozen winter river freeze. A homeless persons camp was made beside the ice under the bridge.

The city is in an obvious state of change as new apartment blocks rise all around the city. The old soviet apartment blocks are tired and looking shabby as the paint work and iron grills covering the windows stress from the harsh climate. Cracks and lumps of concrete loosen and fall with age.
New apartment walled enclaves are developed with grand gates and gleam with fresh paint; in waiting of the new Ulaanbaatar that is sure to come.

We are living in an older part of town where the Soviet style apartment blocks are built on a regular grid with a park of shorts in the centre of each apartment tower. A children’s playground with painted steel equipment for residents is provided. This equipment would have been removed years ago from our parks; deemed unsafe. Here they are used constantly by happy laughing children. On bench seats outside the apartment blocks sit older residents in an array of traditional dell and western clothing.

Some happy children are riding bikes clearly delighted with the new road surface that was laid yesterday. The black tar is a bright addition to the dusty block.

We met up with Lkhamma and her husband in the evening. Lkhamma stayed with us in Melbourne on her vist last year. Lkhamma is the Foreign Arts contact for the Union of Mongolian Artists where our second exhibition will be displayed in there beautiful gallery in the centre of town.

We were taken to dinner at a fine Indian Restraunt in a fine hotel. Her husband, Tugi owns a printing business and will be able to print my photography for the exhibition. He explained he has a very good Japanese printing machine exported recently. He also has a Chinese machine. If the Chinese machine breaks down they need to bring in a Chinese technician. This requires first contacting the makers, organizing a visa for the Chinese to enter Mongolia, organizing accommodation and a process and down time of at least two weeks for the business. It makes it very difficult to compete in business as there are many printing shops in UB.

We were woken in the evening by the sound of shouting emanating from the apartment next door. Alcohol is a problem here, as anywhere. Tugi explained vodka was the problem here and not so much with illicit drugs as in other places. Vodka is cheap, as little as four dollars a bottle, up to maybe $20. I asked if there was any difference in the quality of the taste between the cheap and the more expensive. Tugi says no, only in the quality of the glass and the labels. In the countryside where vodka is fermented by the country people is there a marked difference. The country vodka is much softer. Togi owns a ger camp and has promised to take us out to his camp for a weekend.

Ulaanbaatar, Day Two

Last night, our second sleep was a little more difficult as we are getting used to our space and the first exhaustion was wearing out. Have I mention the towns water supply heating has been turned off? In Ulaanbaatar the apartments and housing heating is controlled by the state; a left over from the socialist days. It is a good system in many ways, except when it is still cold and the state has decided to switch off the heating for everyone on a set day: May 15! That was yesterday. And sometimes, when the housing to the people is turned off, so is the hot water. This is the case for us. I had only been enjoying the exceptional hot water and my bath the day before. ‘surely, I thought the water would be back on in a day or two or three… There is a notice saying the hot water in this district 11 will not be turned on again until June 1. Hmm. No hot water for shower. And then the power went out. Togsoo has told us that the power goes out regularly. Fortunately that has come back on. And did I mention the toilet has been leaking, but that too has been fixed. A man was called and he rocked up about 11pm and took no more than three minutes to ‘fix’ the leaking tap. The tap is not leaking now, but the water still keeps on running into the toilet. This, for drought stricken Australians is a little distressing… To see all that water lost.

Last evening we met our landlord and paid our first months’s rent. This is a pretty good apartment and we think we are fortunate to be here; and on the ground floor. Two years ago we had an apartment on the 5th floor, no lift, no lights.

First trip this morning was to the Canon shop. Yesterday had no success in finding spare battery for my canon camera or extra memory cards. Found address for canon shop and left very happy with my extra cards and batteries. Last trip here I had my lap top with me and spent hours each evening downloading photographs to computer and then saving to disk and portable storage device. This time I wanted to take less technology and save time in the evenings for other things. More memory cards seem to be the simple solution, though not the cheapest perhaps.

Most importantly today we had our visas renewed for another 30 days, until July 15. This will cover our two exhibitions and trip to the Gobi.

There is some sorting out to renew visas. We knew we had to go to immigration to renew. We had picked up a leaflet at the airport also explaining where to go. There was a phone number but no address. The office used to be in town. Now the immigration office has moved out of town near the airport. Without a car this is not easy to get to. Unench drove us out in the morning. Without our Mongolian friends to speak for us I would hate to think how we could manage the communications needed to explain what and how long we needed an extension. From Australia it os only possible to have a 30 day visa which can be extended once only another 30 days.

There were many people seeking extensions and other needs. Many Chinese come to Mongolia on tourist visas; like us and then work and try to have a better life here. One can only imagine how it must be in china. We saw many small buses with Chinese men. There were many men lined up outside the gate; security guards watching over them. Chinese labour is cheaper here than Mongolian.

An Australian with dreadlocks heard our voices and wanted to speak to a fellow country person. He was off to the steppe to ‘ride a horse on a crusade and conquer the lands’ he went on to run down our governments and the multi nationals and say how frightened he was of what everyone was doing… Now what is the difference of his attitude to say he wants to crusade and conquer . I thought this land was already ‘owned and populated’… By Mongolians. I think there is no place on earth anymore that is not already claimed as home by man or beast. The concept of claiming land has to represent pushing something or person from it. Even the Antarctic and the oceans are home to a living entity.

… After some time of queue hopping, form filling and signing, money exchanged and papers stopped we finally had new stamps issued in our passports and were free to leave with another 30 days.

Togsoo and Unech next took us to the National Gallery to meet her artist friends and view a group exhibition of their work. We met about six of her friends. One of her friends was also a poet with several books.

It was lovely to meet the group; though none of us could really speak to each other but seemed to get our thoughts to each other with Togsoo and Unech translating. One of the men painted I thought in a similar style of landscape as I do. The subject matter too is similar when we looked at the desert works. There are truly parallels with Australia and Mongolia and I felt quite excited to see their work and show Mervyn and my works on the iPad. Togsoo said one of the men lived in the Gobi and another is the central parts of Mongolia. Very interesting. We then went to view an extraordinary exhibition of photographic work from 1913; early Mongolia with many traditional gets and people. Early movies were also shown of the journeys the photographer took over several years. The catalogue is all written in Mongolian and it was a father and daugher team. Нэгэн ЗууньI Тэртээх- Монгол Улс, франц ГОЭЛРО зурагчньI Дуранд.

Mervyn has just read officially now there are thirteen horses to one person in Mongolia.

And the day was not over. We came home afterward for a rest before heading out to the Opera in the evening with the Togsoo’s family. We were the only apparent foreigners. It was a stunning dance performance by the several groups which included a sort of military history. Superb choreography with stunning costumes and wild music. The dances were traditional and contemporary with a large quote of military marches and story telling. I was intrigued by the sensitive emotion portrayed by the women and the uniforms of the soldiers. Later we discovered many of the dancers are from the police and the military and from now I will think of the energetic and frenetic movements, wild back flips and rollovers, elegance and grace when I next see a man in uniform.

These dancers with such precision, passion, and earnestness play for only one day! This is staggering! I cannot believe with the intensity and dedication of training needed to put on such a performance that there is not at least a ‘season’. If this performance were to be at the opera house or in a Melbourne theatre it would command large money and a long play and rave reviews. I had the same thoughts two years ago when we were taken to the theatre to watch traditional dancers and musicians. These are more than world class performers.

Tomorrow we will be seeing another show, a Mongolian rendition of Andrew Lloyd Webers Cats. Again, I understand it will be only playing for one night! THis is not yet the tourist season and I guess the population of Ulaanbaatar does not support more performances. I will try to get around to posting a photograph of the beautiful pink ballet theatre where we were tonight. Reminiscent of the Moscow ballet building I remember from my visit back in 1979!

Now to bed with a note to say my apologies for long posts… This has now become my journal for now. It seems again I have run out of data for my iPad and the phone, well that’s a non event here this time.