The Belly Button Window Details

About Belly Button Window

The Semi-Regular Newsletter

Travels in Mongolia


Mongolia, September 20, 1999

UB in the crowd in Ulaan Baatar

Don't mind the air pollution, Ulaan Baatar is making a move!

Looking for the middle path in Mongolia
Think we can wear blue now?
I'm gonna teach you to laugh at my boots!
Love those shorts!
You gonna mess with this bad-ass mama?
Not one to laugh at
Oddly enough, his accented Russian was worse than mine, but I had to give the Czech guy credit as we rolled through this town's nightlife last Saturday. He was heading out of Ulaan Baatar the next day to see the Gobi Desert up close. I'm not so adventurous, especially in the beginning of the Mongolian winter and with the childhood memories of gerbils biting me. If that little rodent was bad-assed enough to take an oversized human on, I surely didn't want to go to his homeland and be chased around by wild yaks or crazy camels. I'll stick to my hotel, hot running water, and decent restaurants in the city, thank you very much!

So here I stay, in the capital of Mongolia, to check out the scene. Strangely, I am not alone. For the past four or five months, I was virtually alone as I wandered around provincial and Siberian Russia. Yes, there were the random Americans in the South and way too many missionaries in Siberia, but in general, I would go several days without seeing another Westerner.

That sure isn't the case in UB. Mainly cuz we sure look different than the locals, the tourists here really stand out and shock me in our numbers. I see at least ten Westerners a day, as I try not to cross the street to say 'Hi.'

Also, springing from the very soil I guess, is the traveler circuit. I've met the same two Aussies in the last three towns and now we are sharing a hostel together. We're splitting up, they are joining the Czech in the desert, but I'm not worried. Tomorrow morning another train from Russia is arriving, and I know our hostel owner will be meeting the train to grab a few fresh faces.

Whoever gets off, especially if they stopped in Russia for a while, will be in for a shock. Unlike Atheist Russia, Mongolia is Buddhist, and today's trip to the local monastery surprised me by the number of followers, especially young kids, who were openly displaying their religious beliefs. Although Russia was a strong ally, and their imprint is on everything, they were not able to break the historically nomadic Mongols from their religious ways.

Looking into the hills around the city, I can see that the Russians didn't manage to break the Mongols of much. The hills are still covered by gers, the round tents favored on the steppe, just as in Kublai Khaan's day. The men still practice wrestling maneuvers in the streets, archery is still a national sport, and the kids learn to ride horses somewhere just after birth.

Unfortunately, the kids are not learning Russian any more. As I wander around, I'm finding that the older generation is quite fluent in my second language, but the kids have given up on such ways. They rarely know anything but Mongolian, though the quick ones are learning English fast. For me, Mongolia is a nice, slow transition from where I knew what was happening, to China, where I'm gonna be just another lost tourist. Oh joy!

Enter your email for Belly Button Window updates: