Tuesday night I walked 25 minutes home from Yoga (or was it skated?) and the temperature was -31° F with a windchill of -40° F. Also found out that a heating pipe to my apartment building was broken so had no heat in my apartment. They have no snowplows or salt so the landscape is a sheet of ice. Add to that the smog from pollution, masses of automobiles spinning their tires on the icy pavement and you have the captial city of Mongolia. Several people here have claimed it is the coldest capital city in the world, which seems credible to me right now. After all our northern neighbor is Siberia.
I grew up in Wisconsin so have one of those Arctic parkas and also dress in layers as most people here do, but....... I am stunned to see people out in the street with no hat and a few with their coats hanging open. No Linda some of them are female. Seems they believe in the old adage "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger". Maybe this is why the Mongolians are so tough and resilient.
In most countries I have worked in I get a balance of local and expat friends but often the expat community is hard to get into. Here in UB I have met many Expats and it seems a welcoming (although fluid as many stay a year or less) group. Lots of things going on and they even invite me (the in & outer) to tag along. Short term stays in countries cause one to rethink relationships. They have to form quicker and you know the face to face part will be for a limited time. There are people I met here in 2006 I still connect to even if they are not physically here. It is especially important for the newcomers landing in what I have described as the urban wild west. UB is a rough and tough place at night and learning your street smarts early is wise.
In 2007 I gave a presentation to a local UB Rotary club based on the book the Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. He describes on catagory of people as the "connectors" or as we often refer to them the "networkers". My strategy is any new country is to try to find one or more local networkers who can quickly connect you and help you get oriented. It is an interesting phenomenon that I find myself being a connector for the Newbies here and connecting them to Brigitte and the Steppe Inne so that they can get started. It is very easy for the consultants who drift in and out to stay in their hotel after work and rarely venture out. One has to make a consious decison to reach out and socialize.
This year the new British Ambassador built an Ice Bar at the Steppe Inne. It even has a Vodka Luge. You take a chunk of ice molded into the shape of a cup and hold it at the bottom of the Luge track while the Ambassador pours the vodka into the top of the track and it swirls it's way down and cascades into the cup. Then the person drinks it before their hand freezes. The other option is to put your mouth at the botton of the luge and drink it straight. The majority of the attendees are not British but virtually all are English speaking. Steppe Inne is a great service to the Expat community. The Friday before Tsagaan Sar the Steppe Inne hosted a Mongolian group doing throat singing for us.
Mergen (a Mongolian who spent many years in Colorado and now has a web design business here) hosts the Mongolia Business Blog which features a Podcast of Business related topics. Being the shy creature I am I agreed to do a podcast on What is it like to be a Consultant in Mongolia. But then thought about a few new friends and lined them up to do a Podcast on Microfinance in 2 parts (part 2) in Mongolia. The side benefit of becoming friends with Mergen was an invite to his apartment for a "real" Mongolian dinner of boiled horse meat and vegetables.
Tsagaan Sar (White Moon) is the celebration of the Lunar New Year in Mongolia which this year falls on Valentines day. People are busy making buuz (small meat dumplings) and buying Boov (to create a pile of ceremonial bread) for the Holidays with the traditional family gatherings. Tsagaan Sar falls on a weekend this year but the following Monday & Tuesday have been declared a holiday. One lady in the office told me her family had made over 2,600 buuz and expected up to 200 people to visit them. Was awakened at midnight by the fireworks, it is now the year of the Tiger.