Saturday, 16 October 2010

Ulaanbaatar again (28th of August)

Having a day to spend in Ulaanbaatar before our train left for China we thought we’d explore the city's ‘Black Market’. It is about 45 minutes walk from the centre, but being among the largest markets in Asia we thought we really had to go and see it. Continuing, as though we were still on our roadtrip, we woke up at six and tried to kill time till we could eat breakfast at 8:00. Our Lonely Planet informed us that the market opens at 9:00. This however is a Mongolian nine and the market was not exactly open for business. We managed to save the 2.5p entry because the person manning the entrance had not yet arrived, along with lots of the stall holders. We weren’t really sure if we were allowed in. All around us people were pushing large wooden crates with their wares into their stalls where they were busily unpacking. People steered their wooden crates in a similar fashion to their cars, going as fast as possible avoiding potholes and expecting pedestrians to jump out the way. As we came in we walked past a row of what would be stalls of jeans. After a wander we came to the rucksacks and since I really needed a rucksack we had a long look. The choice was wide, so it took a while. The fake North Face bag got more expensive when we came back a second time, so I opted for a less fake Jack Wolfskin one. At least there weren’t spelling mistakes on the label.

Soon the market had become alive and people were streaming in. Everything you could need (and a lot more stuff you never would need) was for sale. There were carpets, tablecloths, sweets, bottles and bottles of coca cola, crockery, cutlery, chainsaws, knives, shoes and clothes galore, sofas, materials, other furniture, traditional boots, ger components and a lot more. You could buy photovoltaic panels and satellite dishes for your ger, the nice orange furniture for inside it, the stoves and chimneys, the insulation and the canvas coverings. The furniture was still arriving. The circle for the top of a ger did arrive, but we were very tempted by one of the orange stools we’d been sitting on for the last few weeks. At £3.50 it was quite a bargain, but even though we can take up to 100kg on the freighter the practicalities of taking it through China and South Korea put us off. Alongside rows and rows of Nike and Adidas trainers were the traditional boots, some having very pretty embroidered patterns on them. There were t-shirts with English slogans, some that didn’t make much sense or misspelt – such as “Nestle Chocolete Malk”. Walking back to what we’d seen first of all, the scene had changed, almost everyone was set up and there were a lot more stalls. There were exercise books, pens, the tea flasks that we’d got our hot water from in the gers, rice cookers, and many cheap bowls, mugs, and plates. Most were chipped or faded and probably not fit for the European market, including the stripy mugs from tesco. On our way out we heard the exact same Mongolian music that Gana (the driver) had played on our tour. We pointed to the loudspeakers and hope we got the message across and are now the proud owners of a Mongolian music tape. The masses were descending upon the market as we left. In the street there was a van where there were lots of bodiless sheep's heads with all their teeth glaring out at me.

Next to the university was a large shopping centre with floors named after fruit where the students were flooding in to buy some new clothes or electronic devices. On the orange floor we found ourselves a supermarket where a man with rather a large video camera was taking close up shots of packets of rice and biscuits.

In the afternoon we went on a mad dash around the Natural History Museum where we saw some of the animals and plants we’d seen on the tour and thankfully some we didn’t. The dinosaur skeletons were huge, and there were only the front legs of one of them and these were massive. It’s incredible to think how big it would have been.

Afterwards a search ensued for a felt shop and workshop run by an NGO. The map on the advertisement in the street did not actually resemble anything in reality and we couldn’t find it, even with the help of a Mongolian tv journalist. Jenny narrowly avoided being pushed into the sewer by a homeless child and then we had a mad rush to the post office to send our purchases home. I forgot the postcards in the hostel and we only just managed to get our parcel sent off before they closed.

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