I was pleasantly surprised about how smooth the flight was to Mongolia. I flew the leg from Seoul to Ulaan Baator on MIAT, the national Mongolian airline. I’d heard awful things about it (for example MIAT standing for “Maybe It Arrives Today”), but it was a normal flight on a 737. The food was decent western beef stew, but for some reason the in flight entertainment was a repeating videotape of the Eagles on their last tour.
I was met at the arrival gate by a representative from the US Embassy and the gentleman who I’d be working with for the next four months. Immediately they decided that we had to go shopping which considering that I had just come from the tropics and didn’t have any cold weather clothing was a good idea!
The ride from the airport was surreal. I’d never seen anything like Ulaan Baator. The city was covered with snow, but it was all a depressing grey color. We drove past old soviet memorials, underneath flaking heat pipes, and past a neighborhood where everyone lived in gers with electric wires running haphazardly through the streets. Finally we arrived at the main downtown area where I’d be living. The apartment blocks were in better shape here, but still based on the soviet concrete block model.
We stopped at the main department store called “Ik Del Guul” which basically means state department store. It has recently been privatized but the name has stuck. It’s got everything you might need there…a grocery store on the bottom floor, electronics on the 2nd, clothing on the third, and tourist stuff on the top. I found a decent coat for about 30 US dollars(expensive I thought!), and then we headed to my apartment. It turns out that it was right across the street from the store in a very central location. I was amazed at the size of the apartment. It might have looked ugly from the outside, but the inside was obviously well cared for. Geekcorps was renting the apartment from a family who was out of town for the summer, and it was furnished with all their stuff. Everything from graduation pictures of children to non perishable food was waiting for me just the way they’d left it. I knew I’d have a roommate in the next couple of days from the program, but it was nice to have a day or so to myself to get used to the area.