Let’s Call It The Bucket List

Hi everyone.

Been a little while.  Had a few things to do – like become a grandmother (thanks kids).

Again, if you prefer not to get these mails just let me know.  Actually, I am trying to set up my blog.  A friend of mine did all the hard work, but the problem is that I have no idea how to post to it.  Gonna focus on that when I have a moment.

Anyhoo – greetings from Mongolia.  It is 4:30AM, I woke about 3 hours ago and STILL cannot go back to sleep (yes – there is a reason for this).  So please keep this in mind, and do forgive, if I sound more irrational than usual.

This little missive is going to be titled “The Bucket List”.

I have always wanted to go to Mongolia.  Seriously.  Always.  Since I was a young girl.  I remember watching a show on TV when I was about 10 years old about the people and lifestyle in Mongolia.  I never wanted to run away and join the circus.  Nope.  I wanted to run away and join the NOMADS!  What a cool life.  You can ride a horse or camel everywhere, live in a tent, have a campfire every single night and wear these really cool hats.  And you got to race the horses (or camels, your preference) and use these really big swords.  Sometimes even at the same time.  And the tents.  These are NOT your run of the mill Coleman style tents.  These are HUGE and beautiful and they even have rugs.  And your whole family and even some neighbors get to live in them – together.  Every night is just one big slumber party.  I was fascinated after that show and read some books about the mighty Khans (and even learned the proper name is “Chinggis” – which by the way spellcheck tries to change to “cringes” – appropriate no? as in he who makes people…nevermind).  I remember fantasizing about being a Nomad and fashioned a sword out of cardboard and foil (boy did I get in trouble for that one – who knew she needed the foil for dinner).  I remember stalking my dad when he was working in the backyard and assaulting him with my sword and my entire made-up Mongolian language.  I still don’t get why he didn’t know I was a Mongolian Nomad – seemed obvious to me.  And by the way, truly proper made-up Mongolian requires a lot of grunting and yelling.  This is a long way of saying, Mongolia has been at the top of my bucket list since I learned what a bucket list is.

This went on for some time until I read “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn” and then tried to build a stoop outside of my bedroom window (like Frannie Nolan – you read the book right?).  They don’t have stoops in Manhattan Beach, California.  But I digress.

So you can only imagine how excited I was when we won a big project in Mongolia and I HAVE TO COME!!!!!!  WOOHOO.  I tried to keep the enthusiasm to a low roar because I did not want everyone jealous.  I mean after all, who doesn’t want to go to Mongolia right?

My first inkling of a doubt came from an email from Wallace which told me to “bring many extra clothes because it is -26 degrees today”.  Hm.  -26?  BELOW zero?  Hey – I live in Houston.  I no longer own true cold weather clothes.  But I figured I could buy one of those really cool hats in the airport on arrival, so no problem right?

When we descended over Mongolia the site literally took my breath away.  It was really gorgeous.  This sweeping vista of plains and mountains and plateaus.  All covered in snow.  And from the looks of it, LOTS of snow.  Then the windows froze up and you could not see out any more.  How does that happen?

Have any of you ever experienced true cold?  No – I mean REALLY FREAKING COLD?  The kind where your eyes hurt, your nose bleeds and it feels like tiny knives are piercing any exposed skin when the wind hits you?  I have once before, but seems that I had sort of forgotten about that.  And you want to know the worst part?  The part that seriously and completely pissed me off?

No really cool hats on sale at the airport.

Not one.  Not even a stupid hat.  In fact, not even a shop in sight.  Nothing.  I think I lost the tip of an ear on the way to the car.

We raced along the – um – road – from the airport to town.  There were these totally awesome beasts (not really sure what they were – maybe a weird cow) with this really long shaggy hair.  And I thought – I have arrived.  A few minor wardrobe adjustments and I am going to live out my Nomad fantasy.

Intellectually I realized that Ulaanbaatar is a city.  But when I read up about it I learned that it had been moved 3 times in history.  The last in 1924.  Nomadarama right?  What I did not fully appreciate is that since the last time it was moved was in 1924, the building would be NEWER than that.

When we crossed the bridge that enters Ulaanbaatar, I felt – really underwhelmed.  Nary a camel or horse in sight.  My childhood fantasy came crashing down around me and I was dumbstruck looking at what Pittsburgh probably looked like 25 years ago.  But hey – this is just one road right?

We arrive at the hotel.  Now to Wallace’s credit, he had told me the hotel was fine but the best part is the Indian restaurant (understanding completely that Indian food is the way to my heart).  We arrived at the Puma Imperial Hotel.  Too cool right?  Cool country and a hotel named after a pretty cool cat.  Now – before I go on, I want to say that the hotel is just fine.  Really.  I mean it.  I have had MUCH worse (remember Lianyungang and the unidentifiable mini-bar products and the – um – men’s and ladies – um – comfort products ((in multipacks)) in the bathroom?  I still have the card that a woman – a very nice woman I am sure – slid under my door offering me in room – um – services.).  Anyhow – this is my lifelong dream and I am not going to prejudge anything.  Although I have to admit was a little relieved that they were unable to arrange the tent hotel that I requested.  Seriously – you can do that.  It just seems that you cannot in the middle of Ulaanbaatar.  In the middle of winter.

And Wallace was right.  The best thing IS the Indian restaurant.  The buildings here were built with no heat or cooling.  Really – not kidding.  If you live in arctic conditions you seriously don’t have heat?  That is not 100% correct – I am exaggerating.  There is a fan in the room for summer and a space heater for winter that you can plug in.  The problem, apparently, is that when too many people plug in the heater, the electric goes out.  And it kind of gives me the creeps.  I mean in USA (the world of warning labels) doesn’t it say NOT to sleep with the space heater on?

Hence the reason that I am up at 1:30AM.

So I need to make a nighttime visit to the loo.  I am in the (really freaking cold) loo and the lights go out.  Completely.  I feel my way back to the bed and click the Dumb Phone (it is still NOT in my good graces) and check my light next to the bed.  Because it is completely rational that the light next to the bed might work when the rest of the hotel is in complete darkness.  So now I am completely awake.  The power actually came back on about an hour later, but no internet.  And speaking of no internet, I tried to call the front desk to ask them to reboot the server.  It was closed.

So I have meetings tomorrow on about 4 hours of sleep.  No way to do mails.  No way to even post (if I actually knew how to do that) or send this.

I am sitting in my pajamas, heavy sweater and the bed blanket.

Oh – forgot to mention the pillows.  Too funny.  You know those itsy bitsy pillows you can buy to put on a very small chair for an accent?  Well those are the ones they have here – on the beds.  Before dinner (tasty Indian) I test drove the bed.  Not gonna work.  So after dinner I asked the man at reception if I could have 1 more pillow please.  Lots of charades later he pointed to the elevator which I took to mean – GO TO YOUR ROOM.  Off I went thinking I had lost the pillow battle.  Lo and behold – 15 minutes later there is a knock on my door.  Could it be?  A pillow?  Yes it was, in the hand of the man from reception who then pushed into my room and looked around.  Seriously.  What kind of crazy Kama Sutra did he think I was planning?  With 1 extra pillow?  Alone?  He even looked in my bathroom to see if anyone was there.  Of course I was completely embarrassed and tried to express through gestures that I have a sore neck and shoulder and that did not go well at all.  I have no clue what he thought I was trying to say, but his eyes got wide and I am sure the words he said translate into something like “She Devil”.


I closed my door (the one with no lock – will attach a photo of my “key” – need to come in? – just stick something steel like a dogtag in my door – no problem) and laughed my freaking butt off.  You know when you look at your dog, and you think – I wish I knew what you were thinking right now?  That happens to me a lot in my travels for sure.  Not that I am saying these wonderful people I meet around the world are dogs, but with the language barrier and looks I get sometimes I really have to wonder what they are thinking.

And the language.  Firstly, Chinese does not work here.  Not even MY Chinese.  The writing is in Cyrillic.  But apparently not really Russian and apparently the local people (I know this because one told me) do not accept the written language as it is not theirs.  The native language is not the same as the written language.  It is completely different and now the children are being taught this in school.  Although I still really wish I had gotten past the “A”s those many years ago when I tried to learn Russian.  Have not yet had a use for Astronomika or Agronomika.  I have spent some time considering this in the past few hours (nothing better to do even with the additional pillow).  I think it is a way to control immigration.  I mean, Mongolia does not have an immigration problem.  There are only 2.9 million people in the entire country.  1.7 of them live here in Ulaanbaatar.  Nothing else makes sense.  And they are not the only ones nobody can understand.  Look at Finland.  No immigration problem there either (sorry Kari).  I think I am on to something.  If I ever win that dinner with Obama I think I should bring this up.  Might solve a few things around the homestead.  Not that I am saying immigration is bad.  But just imagine if you had this crazy written language that nobody knows, combined with a spoken language that is completely different that the written language – that nobody knows, and you made people at least learn basic communications.  I’m just saying.  They would move to France instead.

Time to hit the shower to defrost and then try to get some coffee.  I have a long day and night ahead of me.

If anyone has a really thick winter hat with flaps that come down over the ears and maybe some fur and maybe long around the neck, I am at the Puma Imperial hotel in Ulaanbaatar.  Please send it to me.

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