Monthly Archives: August 2011

The parents take Mongolia, part II: Things go to crap

Just a couple things!  A couple character-building things.  Let’s put this in terms of Lessons Learned.

Lesson Learned #1: Organize your transportation to Kharkhorin ahead of time, you idiot

Here’s the thing.  I made reservations out the wazoo before my parents got here.  Reservations at a swanky hotel in Ulaanbaatar.  Reservations at a ger camp in Kharkhorin.  Reservations for a private jeep from Tsetserleg.  Reservations for the city of Erdenet to turn off the hot water as soon as we got there.  Et cetera.

What I failed to do, however, was organize transportation from UB to Kharkhorin.  No need, I thought!  Our swanky hotel and/or the ger camp could surely help us find a private car!  And, failing that, we could just take a bus, and getting tickets would be no big deal!

Oh lolz.  So here is my mom, taking a Grumpy Dad photo at the transportation center, after these things happened:

1. We ask the ger camp people whether they know any drivers who can pick us up in Ulaanbaatar.  They say no.

2.  We decide, as a group, to just take the bus.  I assure everybody that this is for the best: It’ll be cheaper, and more of an adventure!  And getting tickets will be no problem at all.  No need to get them ahead of time.

3.  We arrive at Dragon center at around 9 am with all our stuff.  Dad and Ryan sit down with the stuff in the parking lot; Mom and I go inside to the ticket window and get in line.

4.   After 20 minutes, I reach the front of the line and ask for four tickets on the 11 am bus to Kharkhorin.

5.  I am told there are only two tickets left.  And there are no other buses until tomorrow.

6.  Whaaaaaaaaaatthefuuuuuuuck oh my god oh shit

  • HOW and
  • WHY and
  • JESUS and
  • MY PARENTS ARE GOING TO KILL ME

7.  I break the news to the fam.  They say, “Well, we’ll wait here with the bags! We’re sure you guys will figure it out.”  I hear, “Great planning, you stupid bonehead!  What a great idea this was, putting our idiot daughter in charge of our vacation.”

8.  Ryan and I talk with the bus driver.  I play it real smooth, saying such calm, detached things as “MY FAMILY MUST GO TO KHARKHORIN TODAY” and “TOMORROW IS IMPOSSIBLE, IMPOSSIBLE! OH GOD!”  Ryan stares at me and is like, “You probably shouldn’t act so desperate?” but he cannot deter me, the master negotiator.

9.  One of the gym teachers from my school wanders by.  Deus Ex Coworker-a!

10.  My gym teacher, the bus driver, and some other random dude get together and decide that we should buy those last two legit tickets for my parents.  Ryan and I can then pay the bus driver, under the table, for standing room in the aisle.  Okay!  Okay!  Sounds good!  Moving right along here!  Ryan goes inside and gets back in line.

11. My gym teacher has an intense conversation, with lots of gesturing toward the ticket area, with the random dude.  He then tells me that we should all go inside to see Ryan.  Okay?  We go inside; gym teacher tells me to get the money and passports from Ryan; I do; gym teacher takes these things and hands them to random dude, who then disappears into the crowd.  Gym teacher walks away.

12.  What!  What!  What!  Hey!  Fuck!  Hey!

13.  Random dude emerges, minutes later, with our tickets and passports.  I stop dying.

Lesson Learned #2: Thieves! Storms!  No real lesson here besides: They happen

The actual bus ride to Kharkhorin was uneventful enough — the driver even managed to score two extra seats for us, so nobody had to squat in the aisle, after all.  My favorite part was when we pulled over for a pit stop, and Mom and I struck up a conversation with a traveling couple from Los Angeles while in line for the outhouse.  More specifically, my favorite part was when they told us that a) they were about to embark on a five-day, multi-family homestay in the next town and b) they had to cut the conversation short, because, oh gosh, the outhouses looked pretty bad and the smell, my god! Ugh!  They needed to just go stand somewhere else, sorry.

Here’s hoping they enjoyed holding in their poops and pees for the next five days.

So!  We arrive at the ger camp, and everything is swell.  Here are Dad, Mom and Ryan, havin’ a post-dinner beer:

Here we are the next day, taking in a nice view of the Orkhon River valley:

And here is the lovely Erdene Zuu monastery:


Not pictured: The team of professional pickpockets who tailed us, then used the classic Push-and-Shove method to rip off my dad for huuuuuundreds of dollars; the inside of the Kharkhorin police station, where our driver insisted we file a report; the administrative offices of the monastery, where they told us that the same thing had happened to a group of tourists two weeks before.

So, internet, hear my cry: There are slick pickpockets outside of Ulaanbaatar!  Watch yo’ shit, even in Kharkhorin! Also please look out for stinging nettles, which will attack you when you wade through bushes to get your very own Clichéd Shot of Erdene Zuu:

Obviously, the theft took the wind out of our sails a little bit.  But it was okay: We hadn’t lost any passports, thank god, and at least we had an afternoon of horseback riding to look forward to back at the ger camp!


Oh wait just kidding!  There was to be no horseback riding that day.  Instead, a dark, evil-looking storm ripped across the steppe and kept us in our shuddering gers for at least 30 minutes.  The hurricane-force wind!  The horizontal rain!  The buckets of hail!  The very extensive property damage!

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(Pictures from my mom’s Flickr stream; thanks, Mom!)

It was insane.  Obviously, the ger camp employees spent the rest of the day trying to clean things up.  We spent the rest of the day in our (cold and soaked but uncollapsed) gers, trying to keep warm.  Summertime in Mongolia!  WTF.

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The parents take Mongolia, part I

We have been well rid of these people for over a week now:

And I think I’m finally ready to tell the tale of their tiresome, unwelcome, pain in the ass two-week-long invasion of our lives.

Just kidding, everybody!  Mom and Dad!  Just kidding.  We all had fun and, despite making many jokes about wanting to kill each other, did not kill each other.

When you look out our bedroom window, you can see the bright-orange Erdenet Hotel, the place my parents stayed during their time here.  This view used to signify nothing to me, but now whenever I see it I’m jolted by two little surprises: The first surprise is that my parents were actually there, in that building; the second surprise is that they aren’t anymore.  It’s weird to look out at concrete apartment blocks, ger districts and steppe, and somehow feel your family’s absence.

So how do you like the visual representation of our itinerary up there?  Thanks, I made it myself.  That puny circle gives you a pretty good idea of how little of this country you can comfortably see in two weeks, if you’re traveling exclusively by road (or by “road”).

There isn’t much to say about the Ulaanbaatar leg of our trip: We ate well and we saw all 5.3 of the sights you can see.  We also forced my poor, jetlagged, travel-addled parents to get off the plane and immediately go to Narantuul, the biggest, most stressful and most crime-ridden outdoor market in Mongolia.  While there, we wandered around, bought sun hats that we never ended up wearing, and tried a cup of квас, the mystery beverage sold out of gigantic drums in Mongolian markets everywhere (Ryan, to квас lady: “What is this?”  квас lady: “It’s a drink”).  It was ten cents, dark, and slightly fruit juice-like; turns out it’s an Eastern European beverage made from fermented bread.  Mystery solved!

Also, those 5.3 tourist sites all charge you for the privilege of taking photos, so please, I beg you, enjoy these more-expensive-than-usual pictures, and also guess which one will get Ryan reincarnated as a cow turd in his next life:

Before we left the capital, we made a day trip out to Nalaikh to visit my host family.  I had been dreading this for a while: Ryan and I visited them back in March, and it was one of the most awkward experiences I’ve had here in Mongolia, which is obviously saying quite a lot.  I mean:

1.  I exchange texts with Aaw and Eej, telling them Ryan and I are coming to UB and asking whether we can visit; they are super warm and loving and all “my daughter, we are waiting for you”

2. Ryan and I show up at the appointed time; Aaw and Eej sit us down, serve us tea, start heating up buuz.  The conversation is kind of slow and strained, but this is fine and to be expected and hey, at least we’re communicating better than we did last summer.

3.  The buuz are ready; Ryan and I are both served a heaping bowl, and then Aaw and Eej both start getting their coats on.  We ask where they’re going; we don’t understand the answer but they tell us that they’ll be right back.

4.  Ryan and I eat our buuz.  We stare at the TV, which is tuned to a Russian channel.  We play with Aaw and Eej’s new, psychotic Siamese cat, which is tied up inside the house on a pink leash.  A half hour passes.  We need to get back  on the bus to Ulaanbaatar soon.  An hour passes.

5.  Aaw comes back.  We ask where Eej is; he says she’s at work.  We say we have to go to the bus station.  Confusion all around!

6.  Still and all, Aaw gives us a ride to the bus stop and sees us off.  With a weird look on my face, I tell him we’ll see them this summer, when my parents come to visit; with a weird look on his face, he agrees.

THE END GOD SO AWKWARD

So obviously, I was really looking forward to repeating this whole process with my parents in tow.

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But it was fine!  It was fine, of course it was fine, what was wrong with me.  As you can see, Aaw opened a fine bottle of red wine with which we did (at least?) the traditional three shots.  There was carrot salad, pickles, bread, and mutton buuz.  My host sister showed off my old bedroom; my mom distributed her long-obsessed-over gifts to the family members that were there (my host sister and her kid immediately retired to the other side of the house to paw through their goody bags, so that was a good sign.  Mongolians don’t fuss over gifts in front of you; it ain’t polite).  We sat and we ate and we drank with Aaw, and everybody else either bustled around serving us or watched TV at the other end of the house.  I told my parents that this was a very accurate recreation of my life last summer.

Eej wasn’t there, which was too bad — with her gone, there was nobody to goad Aaw into breaking out his accordion.

But anyway. After cramming as many buuz as possible into our mouths, we shook hands and took pictures and took our leave.  It was a nice little visit.  I’ve said this a lot, and it’s true: I didn’t have the deep, crazy love-connection with my host family that some trainees had, and my family is kinda quiet and not the easiest people to make conversation with, and god did I ever sit at that table last summer, rotting, wishing they would take me somewhere, anywhere, but!  They’re decent people and they’re mine.  So there.

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