The pilot came on and announced we had been cleared to land at Chinggis Khaan (Ghengas Khan in my history classes) International Airport. We were clear all right, as we were the only plane at the airport the whole time I was there. Besides Korean Air only Mongolian Airlines, China Airlines and Aeroflot service Ulaanbaatar. I quickly learned that Ulan Bator (as it is spelled on maps, western schedules and on the internet) is the old Russian spelling and Ulaanbaatar is the "real" spelling.
As I wove my way through the throng after clearing customs I saw a sign with a familiar name - mine. Munkhtsetseg was there to greet me and introduced herself as Karen. Mongolians have names that make mine look easy so if they work with westerners they adopt a western first name just as many Chinese do. First order of business was to dig my jacket out of my suitcase as it was absolutely necessary. They were having a brief heat wave and it had warmed up to a balmy 28 degrees. I am told it may not be above freezing for another 4 months.
The main road into Ulaanbaatar was 2 lanes and a bit the worse for wear. We seemed to be in a bit of a valley. Karen told me the population of Ulaanbaatar was about a million or 40% of the total 2.5 million in Mongolia. Chicago has 3 million within the city limits and Mongolia is a huge country in landmass with limited transportation.
We drove past Shukhbaatar square which held a monument to the leader who forged an alliance with the Russians and gained Mongolia's independence from China. there was also a recently completed monument to Chingaas Khaan which covered the complete front of the parliment building.Traffic was heavy and erratic and the driver made a few wrong turns before we found the Puma Imperial Hotel tucked behind a bank building. They told me the good news was that the hotel should have heat before the next morning. Since it is hot water heating my concern was not for the room temperature but for my morning shower. But they did get it fixed and there was hot water, it just took a while for it to make it's way to the 4th floor.
The Puma is legitimately a three star hotel and the same price as the five star hotel I stayed at in Kathmandu with one additional difference, hardly anyone on the hotel staff speaks English. In the restaurant I have adopted the point and hope method of ordering. It works OK unless they are out of something in which case they substitute without telling me and I find out when the final bill is higher than expected. Overall the costs are low anyway so we get along.
On Friday Karen took me to the office which is 5 minutes by cab or 20 minutes to walk. Schedules have changed and the team was not here, one had left already and two will return on Monday. Our office was a mostly empty room with one desk and computer which was being used by an FRC guy who was not part of our project. The equipment, phone line and Internet connection (due in October) had not yet arrived so communications could be problematic. The good news is that Karen took me to Mobilcomm where I bought a SIM for my Nokia travel phone and now have a working cell phone which will be invaluable.
The people are nice and friendly but the concept of "on time" has already been redefined so we will see how much can get accomplished. This is already shaping up to be a different kind of adventure.