Arrival in Ulaanbaatar
Saturday 18th + Sunday 19th June
The flight from Sydney to Beijing was uneventful. Landing in Guangzhou for a stopover, we got an aerial view of the massive development around the Pearl River delta, somewhere in the midst of which is or was my father's parents' village.
We were picked up at Beijing airport by an Air China bus and taken to our hotel, where we fitted in some sleep from 2am to 6am before grabbing a quick breakfast and catching the bus back to the airport. Checking-in was hectic, with lots of tour groups, but we managed to push our way to the counter eventually.
We were met at Ulaanbaatar airport by my aunt Gabi, who paid the right amount for the taxi into town (5,000 tögrög or less than US$5 — one of the people in the tour group we joined paid US$30) and even managed to find a driver who spoke some German! Her apartment was in a tower block to the east of the city centre. It seemed run-down but decent, and was apparently and older middle class neighborhood.
We went out for dinner in a nearby Indian restaurant, which was expensive (though cheap by Sydney standards) but had excellent food (as good as Sydney). I had a bad headache but felt much better after a lie-down. We borrowed money from Gabi, who had a suitcase full of US dollars and tögrög since she was being paid in local currency.
Walking into town to have drinks, we met a friend of Gabi's called Oggi, who'd studied conflict resolution but was (like most Mongolians who could speak foreign languages) doing some casual work as a tour guide. He'd been to Hungary, Spain, and Sweden and had a girlfriend in Latvia.
On the way back to the apartment we stopped at a supermarket. This had a remarkable range of eastern European foods: chocolates, preserved fruits, and so forth. At 10pm the park outside the apartment block was full of people: kids, grandparents, teenagers, you name it.
There was no hot water, so we just had a brief rinse down before making our beds on the floor.
Monday 20th June
We got a taxi to the hotel our tour started from and left our bags there, then walked to Gabi's office — in an English teaching college — and used the computers there to send email. Peter and I then walked to a map shop, bought a map of Khovsgol lake, check into our hotel, and had lunch with Gabi and her colleagues (mutton noodle soup).
Peter and I then visited Sükhbataar square and the Zanzabar fine arts museum. This has gilt bronzes, thangka paintings, applique (felt and silk), paintings by Sharav (depicting ordinary life with lots of details and little stories), procession masks, etc. I didn't take photos. We had some juice in a local fast food place, then went back to our hotel, visited an Internet cafe, and came back for dinner with our tour group.