The sunshine and amazing weather we had yesterday was replaced by cold winds and grey skies. The original plan was to head out to the Zaisan Soviet monument on the south of the city for a panoramic view of UB. But, with the weather the way it was, we thought it was probably a waste of time.
We did make it to the Choijin Monk Museum, juxtaposed next to the shiny high rise we’d drunk beers in last night. We glimpsed the aftermath of a rather large traffic accident, featuring a 4WD van rolled onto its side. The traffic always seems chaotic, but I always figured that people had the whole thing under control. It was both surprising and not to see that car lying like that in the middle of the road.
The monk museum really did look out of place in central UB, surrounded by new glass-clad high rises (and the skeletons of yet to be completed ones). The complex looked like it was in serious need of some conservation and renovations – something that many people deride other attractions for doing, since it is no longer original. But, these buildings look to be in serious risk of ruin in the not too distant future. The paint is fading, and the timber is weathering. It was T5000 ($3) entry to the museum, but T25000 ($15) to take photos (I snuck one or two while no one was watching). After walking though the main gate with the four maharajas looking over us, we were in the beautiful courtyard. We looked at the decorations of the main building, shocked at how graphic and brutal some of the images were. The door to the building was closed, and unknown to us at the time, staff open the buildings and escort tourists in as they arrive. We saw the lady open the doors as we were walking off, but assumed that it was just a co-incidence and didn’t head back. It wasn’t until we arrived at the next building did we realise our mistake. Each of the buildings served different purposes, from relaxation and meditation, to the performance of sacred rituals. They were all incredibly detailed and it really made me wish I could photograph it to remember for later. It seems like a weird thing to balk at after spending so much money to get here.
However, it was the main building that was the gem in the collection. The main room was covered in incredible carvings, paintings and statues. There was even a surprise room at the back of the main room, and this is when things really got medieval. The faded paintings of disembowelled people outside of the building were inside, too. However away from the elements, they were still very clear and easy to see all the graphic depictions of removed genitals, eyes hanging from sockets on decapitated heads, and hearts and lungs hanging like washing on a clothes line. It wasn’t just paintings, there were stuffed silk versions, too.
It was a really interesting place to visit, and we’re glad to have taken the time to enjoy it.
It was more walking to get to the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan, which was near the outdoor stadium we celebrated Buddha’s birthday a few days earlier. As usual, we were hungry, so did our best to find some food. We were probably in a strange part of town, so it was quite difficult to find a restaurant, but after a little while walking around the soviet-style back streets, we found a small café. As an added bonus, they also had an English menu! Though, they didn’t have my first choices, and the two dishes that Risa and I ordered ended up looking basically the same – though, mine was slightly more tomato-ey. Similarities aside, it was both cheap and tasty, so it was considered a win.
As we were crossing the bridge to the Winter Palace, we passed by some German tourists who told us that the palace was shut – though they said it was because the power was out, and I didn’t really understand how that would affect an outdoor attraction. Not wanting to walk all the way there to confirm their advice, we turned around and headed towards the Naraan Tuul Markets (aka Black Markets) to do a little shopping Mongol style.
The walk was deceptively far, and after 45 minutes of walking alongside busy and congested roads, my back was ready for a rest. But, the enormity and the energy of the markets gave me some energy to get lost in them in the name of exploration.
I thought that I had seen a lot of sunglasses for sale at the multi-story complex in Beijing, but there would have been almost as many here. There were stalls as far as I could see, some indoors, some outdoors underneath makeshift tarpaulins – and even the car parks were filled with vendors selling their wares from the boots of their cars. Dozens (maybe even hundreds) of shoe stalls, all with Nike Air Max, and other brand name shoes. It was amazing, and I felt like a kid in a candy shop, until I realised that they didn’t stock anything over a 44 (~US10). It was cruel. The awesome retro tracksuits were also too small for my lanky arms.
But, we did manage to pick up a few random things, including several pairs of leggings and pants and shoes for Risa, and a souvenir Mongol t-shirt, and a cheap hiking backpack for me. Oh, and an airbed for our host.
The best thing about the market were the shop keepers. In China they yell at you as you approach, and follow you around trying to sell their products. They also make you start with a ridiculous price, or ask what you are willing to pay. Here the vendors seem more interested in playing cards with their neighbours. That’s not to say they aren’t helpful – a simple hello was all that was needed to get their attention, and a competitive price for the products they were selling. Most of the things we bought we didn’t bother haggling as it already seemed far too cheap, however for the hell of it, on the larger items we played hard ball and brought the price down. Some of the older men working there either wanted to play with my camera, or wanted me to take photos of them (
It was still a 45-minute walk back to our friend’s inner-city apartment, back along the noisy and busy roads. By the time we arrived we were ready to collapse, however, we were joining them and their friends for an enormous Indian birthday feast. It seems that the ex-pat volunteer community (which our friends here in UB are part of) is quite a tight-knit group. It really reminded me of my time as an English teacher in Japan – we were also quite a tight group, with frequent social get togethers. Oh, in case you are wondering, they had a ‘J’ theme, matching the birthday girl’s initial.
Good Indian food, good Mongolian beers, good chatting with other people at the dinner. We couldn’t make it out clubbing though. It was an effort just to stand up after the amount of food we’d consumed – however, there is always room for ice cream from a convenience store!