A Foreigner’s Guide to Riding the Bus in UB

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Every locale has a form of public transportation. NYC has the subway. Paris has the metro. Nairobi has matatus. San Francisco has the BART. Every transportation system has its quirks, and you can usually spot the local from the foreigner wherever you are. Learning how to use local public transportation is invaluable, yes?

In UB, there are three kinds of public transportation: the buses, taxis, and “micros.” For the sake of this post, I’ll focus on the buses. We’ve had more than our fair share of interesting stories that range from miscommunication with the fare-collector to winding up on the opposite side of the city to being pickpocketed. However, since we do not have a personal vehicle, we usually bus around town.

Here are some basics about the buses:

  • Cost: 500 tugrug for buses; 300 tugrug for trolleys (buses that run on electricity). Make sure you have small bills for your ticket, and try to have them out of your wallet before you get on the bus so you can leave your wallet safely tucked away to help prevent pickpocketing. (More about pickpockets below!)
bus receipt

This is from summer 2014 when the government temporarily implemented a single ticket for a whole day. Usually, you must pay per bus/trolley.

  • You will pay your fare to a person, not a box. Fare-collectors know exactly who gets on the bus at each stop–even when they are incredibly full–so s/he will find you.
  • Basic courtesy rules apply here. If a senior citizen, mother with small children, person with a disability, or a pregnant woman get on the bus, you should offer him or her your seat. More than likely, a Mongolian will beat you to it, but be willing to offer up your seat if you are young and/or able-bodied.
  • Be aware that personal space is different in the East than in the West.
For example: this bus could easily be more crowded than it is already.

For example: this bus could easily be more crowded than it is already.

  • A note about very crowded buses and trolleys: you are more easily robbed on crowded public transportation than on nearly empty public transportation, as is the case in any major city. In the jostling, it’s easy to overlook prying hands. Both Eric and I have been robbed on public transportation, even though we know better. It just takes one moment of not paying attention to lose your stuff. Always keep your bag in front of you and keep your hand over zipper(s) if possible. Don’t ever put your wallet or phone in a back pocket. Even front pockets are vulnerable, but they are less vulnerable than back pockets. If possible, avoid bringing large amounts of cash or credit cards on the bus unless you absolutely have no other choice.
The best advice I can give you. :)

The best advice I can give you. 🙂

Vehicular transportation in Mongolia is a bit of a wild ride. Traffic is pretty terrible–the government is constantly envisioning new ways of improving city traffic–but miraculously, it works. I have to give mad props to bus drivers for navigating this traffic, but it often results in abrupt starts and stops. So, if you aren’t lucky enough to get a seat, here are my suggestions for maintaining your balance on the bus.

  1. Stand facing the side of the bus, not forward. This will give you a little more stability.
  2. If you are taller (like us), hold on to the rail instead of the hanging hand-holds. I’m just tall enough that using a hand-hold will make me lurch forward and backward enough that I risk completely running over the shorter people around me.
  3. Stand with your feet a little farther apart than shoulder-width (unless the bus is REALLY crowded). Stagger your feet a bit.
  4. Tighten your core muscles and keep your legs loose. Basically, keeping your balance means you’ll more or less “surf” the bus, bending your knees and swaying with the movement. If you lock your knees and keep your legs stiff, you will lose your balance.
  5. Relax and enjoy the ride. 🙂

On a related note, this is what the bus is like in winter:

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10 Ways that being an In-Patient Changed Me

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Moving to a new country inevitably means change. When we moved here to Mongolia, we both anticipated change in many ways. We have more or less adjusted to those changes, which have ranged from new or available foods to different cultural values. Even if we haven’t fully embraced everything (Eric has yet to don a wrestling costume and get involved in one of Mongolia’s manly sports [but Naadam is coming!]), we have more or less found our new niche.

Lately, we’ve experienced a whole slough of changes. The weather has been changing (more snow!), for one, and we are still navigating the change in expectations that came with losing our first child. Related to that biggest of changes was our recent hospital stay which managed to affect a lot of personal changes–some are cultural adaptations, and others are just general perspective changes.

1. I no longer think being an in-patient would be “cool.”

Can you believe that I once that it would be a lot of fun to be an in-patient? You get to stay in a hospital overnight! You get three balanced meals a day! You get attention and visitors! Who wouldn’t want that?

The thing is, all of those cool or fun things are accompanied by not so cool and fun things. Things like the following: you don’t get to choose what is included in your balanced meals, your rest is constantly interrupted by various factors, and you’re probably in the hospital for a really serious, possibly overwhelming situation. Let’s just say that I don’t want to be back in the hospital again any time soon. (Although, if you have to be hospitalized in UB, I highly recommend Intermed Hospital. They are FANTASTIC.)

2. I often wear house slippers.

I had been bouncing around the idea of getting house slippers both for us and for guests and hadn’t gotten around to it yet. I was more or less ordered to wear slippers in the hospital (by nurses, doctors, and visitors alike). They make a big difference in keeping your feet warm–even in our overly warm apartment–especially for someone like me who has poor circulation. I actually brought our slippers back home from the hospital so I can keep wearing them until I can get some cozy wool felt slippers in town. Slippers FTW!

3. I have a penchant for drinking hot water.

Because of my poor circulation and tiny baby veins, my nurses kept giving me hot water to drink (yes, plain hot water) whenever they needed to draw blood or adjust my IV port. At first, I just kind of forced myself to drink it, but I acquired a taste for it while staying in the hospital and now drink it at home. When I confessed this to an expat friend who has already made this adjustment, she texted back, “One of us, one of us…”

4. Nurses are now my heroes.

I have always admired people who choose to work in the medical field because their jobs are so important and can literally be the difference in life or death situations. When you grow up in developing nations, you realize what a privilege medical care is. Doctors get a lot of respect, but nurses do the dirty work. Not only do nurses do the dirty work, but they do so with kindness, smiles, and occasional jokes.

Due to the length of our stay, we saw many of the same nurses and began to develop some rapport with them. These amazing women were working twelve hour shifts, leaving for twelve hours, and coming back for another twelve hour shift. That is rough, and they were all so amazing. Kudos to these nurses!

5. Needles are now my archenemies.

I’ve never been a big fan of needles. My mom will tell you about my kicking a nurse in the knee when I was getting an updated vaccination. I will tell you about all of the crying and fighting to get out of shots, blood draws, and finger pricks that I had to endure throughout my childhood. Somewhere along the way, I told myself to get over it–probably in late high school–and now I can handle shots and such just fine.

However.

However, I still have poor circulation in baby veins, which means that when you have things like IV ports, bad things happen. By the end of my time in the hospital, my arms made me look like a beginning junkie. I definitely don’t blame the nurses for this, but I did wind up with three different IV port locations over the course of my stay (with five attempts total). Those IV port insertions were possibly the worst part of being there. Add to that multiple shots, and let’s just say I don’t want to see another needle for awhile!

6. Meat has somehow moved further up on my list of favorite foods.

Almost every meal in the hospital included a meat in one form or another. I had stir fries and chicken noodle soup and something akin to pot roast, and I loved it all. Even breakfast sometimes included meat in the form of a meat porridge. Consider a porridge with pureed, well-stewed meat in it, and that’s about what the porridge was like. Apparently, it’s one of the ways that Mongolians introduce meat to youngsters. So yay meat!

7. I’m more motivated to learn Mongolian.

Eric and I have been taking Mongolian language lessons since November. He is good at learning and remembering the grammatical structures of the language, and I’m good at remembering the words. With our powers combined, we can sort of communicate in very limited, very broken Mongolian.

While in the hospital, almost everyone spoke at least some English, and we were able to communicate the basics between their English and our Mongolian. Remember those nurses? What I would have given to have been able to have real conversations with them! I would have liked to have been able to say more than “hello” and “thank you” in Mongolian. Anyhow, I did learn the word for “toilet paper” in Mongolian while we were there, which I think is a win. (But please don’t ask me what it is because I’m not sure that I remember it.)

8. I appreciate the small things more.

A kind smile goes a long way. A short visit can make my day. Add in a flower or a chocolate bar or a card, and you’ve radically affected my outlook on life. Seriously, every thing that people said or did for us while we were in the hospital turned a horrible situation into something that we could survive because of how loved we felt through it all. From washing my hair for me in the sink, to braiding my hair, to just sitting with us in our hospital room while we did our own introverted things, we were very loved. Small things become big things!

9. I realized that the gift of service is truly a gift.

Not everyone has this gift naturally–and that’s ok!–but to those who have it and use it to bless others: thank you!! Any time that someone would take time out of their busy schedules to do something for us or spend time with us in the hospital meant so much. We had friends bring us things in the hospital and bring us meals when we got home. One of our friends cleaned our bathroom for us when we got home because it’s our least favorite area of the apartment to clean. Another friend helped us figure out our hospital bill when we were discharged and insisted on carrying all of the heavy bags for us when we returned to our apartment. Bless you all!

10. I value relationships even more.

You can’t grow up in Africa or move to a place like Mongolia and not appreciate the value of relationships, but let me just say that I appreciate (and realize the responsibility of) good relationships even more. We were both blown away by just how much our friends and family–locally and around the world–have reached out to us and supported us through all of this. It has challenged me to love others around me in better ways, and I cannot express how grateful I am for having been surrounded by all of your wonderful people. If I believed in luck, I would say that we are very lucky to have you in our lives. I would say that it is providential, but I feel like that word doesn’t encompass the gratitude we feel (and the humbleness at receiving your abundant kindnesses).

Thank you. Баярлалаа.

Beth sig

farang

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It’s definitely been awhile since we’ve posted in our blog–blame the busy second term!–and we have much to say. Currently, we are in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in anticipation of our annual conference and taking a bit of a vacay. So far, we have enjoyed Mexican and Thai food (not at the same meals), Starbucks (Seattle, represent!), the warm weather, and a decent amount of walking and picture-taking. In spite of his reticence to leave the preferred frigidity of Mongolia, Eric is enjoying himself. 🙂

For awhile now, we have felt fairly confident in our abilities to travel and live overseas. After all, Ulaanbaatar is home now, and we can get around and communicate in limited Mongolian just fine there. We no longer feel like we are at risk of insulting people at every other moment and, generally speaking, feel like we are acceptable outsiders and not outright idiot foreigners. Yesterday, we felt like idiot foreigners again (or idiot farang, as we are in Thailand).

Last night, I had a doctor’s appointment about two and a half kilometers away from our hotel. We decided to save money and walk there instead of paying for a taxi/tuk-tuk/sung-tow. Google Maps predicted it would only take us a 30 minute walk to get to the clinic, but we gave ourselves an hour and a half just to be safe. (Hey, we weren’t total idiots.) You know how Google Maps gives you walking routes but oftentimes you think you can come up with a better route? Yeah…

So we walked alongside a busy arterial–not quite a freeway–until a wall blocked any sort of safe passage. At that point, we were unsure about what we should do, but then we noticed a walking path through some foliage about thirty feet to our right, saw a Thai man walking towards us on said path, and decided to press on. *shakes head* I wish now that I had taken pictures of our “path” because we ended up walking through tall grass and had to keep ducking under low-hanging electrical lines. The whole time, all I could think of was, “We are in the tropics. The tropics have poisonous snakes. I’m in flip flops. I’m going to die.” (Growing up in Africa will do that to a person…)

We finally made it through our pseudo-jungle trek and realized that the GPS on Eric’s phone was no longer picking up our location. So from that point on, we had to proceed based mostly on Eric’s intuition and our interpretation of the street signs. We took a wrong turn at one point, discovered the error while standing next to a street-side cafe (this is important later) and had to double back.

Miraculously, we made it to the clinic right on time, only to find out that the doctor I was supposed to meet was unable to come in that evening and that the nurse had tried to reschedule our appointment. Because we had a contact in Thailand make the appointment for us, they did not have our contact information, so they had been unable to confirm with us. Footsore and somewhat delirious, we thanked the nurse for the updated information and walked out, shaking our heads.

Because it was then dusk, we definitely wanted to hoof it back to our hotel so that we weren’t out too long after dark. (We make pretty obvious tourist targets.) We ended up taking the road that we had turned down in error earlier to get us back to a main road and avoid trekking through the tall grasses again. Now, I don’t speak Thai, but I am fairly certain that the folks chilling at the street-side cafe were laughing at the lost farang when we passed them for the second time in about 20 minutes. 🙂

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Still too tall

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Bethany and I had decided to go in to the Orgil on the way home from school. There were a few items we wanted to grab for our desks at school, and this particular Orgil had a pretty good selection of things to choose from (Orgils are supermarkets with additional things like cookware and office supplies). One of the items we wanted to grab was a folder organizer, one for Bethany and one for me so we could clean the papers off our desk and organize them by subject.

We had grabbed most of the other things on the list, and finally got to getting the organizers. They stand a bit over 12 inches tall and probably 10-12 inches wide. There was an aisle that had a number of office supplies on one side, but there were also a few people stocking things in that aisle, so we skirted around them and got to where the organizers stood, nicely arranged on the top shelf.

Both Bethany and I hummed and hawed over which one we wanted, and finally settled on the right ones – a grey one with a drawer for Bethany and a black one for myself. I grabbed them and we went over to the cashier, set our items on the belt, and watched as the cashier started scanning things. Almost as soon as she started scanning, another gal came over and grabbed the organizers, speaking quite a bit to the cashier as she did. This seemed most curious to us – why on earth would another cashier come from a different checkstand just to grab our organizers? She looked at them, set them down and walked away, came back with someone else and grabbed them again, set them back down, walked away, and finally came back with two boxes containing organizers just like ours.

We had grabbed the display models. The ones for sale were “assembly required” and were definitely not where the display models were. This was fortunate, as I wasn’t sure how we’d be able to carry those already assembled models home and back to school without it being a huge hassle; the boxed up version fit much nicer into our packs. It was only after we had grabbed our bags from the check counter and made our way upstairs that I realized…

The top shelf is out of reach for nearly everyone in this country. A normal person would’ve had to ask for help.

Yep. Still too tall.

ericsig

Crazy white guy

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I sat down on the stool and immediately second-guessed myself. Duma, the wonderful office assistant who had accompanied me to translate, had asked me earlier to peek in the room and see if it was the same eye doctor as last time; I had removed my contacts, but when I peeked in it looked like the same doctor. Now, sitting on the stool, I wasn’t so sure – the doctor last time hadn’t cracked a smile the entire visit, and really didn’t say much at all, yet this doctor was smiling from ear to ear and was talking Duma’s ear off as soon as I sat.

I was really hoping it would be the same doctor as last time. She was good, very direct and to-the-point even if she wasn’t very talkative or, seemingly, very happy. She definitely knew her stuff, and didn’t dilly-dally. I had been in to get my eyes checked because I have a blind spot just off-center in my right eye and, naturally, was concerned to be overseas and potentially losing my vision.

So when the gal I was seated across from, whom I couldn’t see well because I didn’t have my contacts in, started chatting with Duma with a huge grin, I seriously doubted myself and wondered if I would need to explain (through Duma, of course) all over again what the problem was. Interestingly, she didn’t even bother to start checking my eyes until after her conversation with Duma. I was a bit miffed. It was my appointment after all, not chat-with-the-interpreter-because-the-big-white-guy-can’t-understand hour.

Finally, the nice gal stopped smiling and turned to check a few notes. Then Duma explained what the conversation was about.

 

From what I understand, my beard and big frame stick out a bit in Mongolia. What perhaps has stuck out more, apparently, is my resistance to the cold. The reason the gal (who indeed was the same doctor from last time – she resumed her stoic antisocial nature promptly after the conversation) had been smiling and chatting was because she had recognized me; she lives in the same neighborhood as us, and she had taken note of the big white guy who stood at the bus stop without a jacket or coat in the morning when it was 14 degrees out as she rode the bus the opposite direction in to work. It is sorely out of place for a person not to be wearing a coat, let alone a foreigner, and she was entirely amused that this insane foreigner was now sitting in front of her for an examination.

I laughed. I’ve become famous in a city of over 1 million because I’m crazy, even by Mongolian standards.

ericsig