Friday, March 30, 2012

The day an alien took possession of an apartment

I went out early this morning to go to the bank. It's worth going to ATMs early here, as there can be queues. So a brisk 15min walk to a bank over near our language school, and then a 400,000T withdrawal (that's the max), and a brisk walk back. You have to layer up because of the cold, but then you can get really warm from the walking. Plus the 5 flights of stairs to the apartment, and so once you're inside the immediate tendency is to take of as many layers as you can.

Just one language class today (they are 90min classes), with Olonbayar. She is not as fantastic a teacher as Bayarmaa, but she pushes us a bit harder. Anyway, then we walked home again.

In the afternoon Rachel popped out to get some groceries for dinner, and I heard a knocking at the door. I answered it and an unfamiliar mongolian woman was talking to me unintelligibly and gave me some keys. Ah, the apartment keys! So I took them.

Here's a video tour of our empty apartment with ridiculous background music (the preview picture is sideways but not the video):

In the evening I made a brisk walk back to school to pick up my passport, returned from immigration, along with my 'certificate of alien registration' card. Someone needs to buy them a better laminating machine though. So that keeps me in the country for the next 12 months. One less obstacle.

Tomorrow: shopping and fitting our apartment. Also, maybe, boxes!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The day it snowed

I'm sure a lot of other days will snow, but this has been our first real snow day. I got up early for my Gaelic class online, currently 6-9am local time; sadly the internet didn't start working until 6:30. Oh well, I can get by missing things in class.

Temperatures today stayed below zero, but nothing really below -10, except after windchill. The snow was going sideways and upways past our 5th floor window. Here's Rachel rugged up in the snow on our way to class:

Anyway, it was snowing quite a bit. I put a very short video up on youtube. Class was good today, we learnt how to make simple noun-adjective predicate sentences, which is a nice new step. I wish there was for Mongolian. Oh well.

In response to questions about the money:

There are only notes, no coins; it's all paper stuff, though a bit sturdier than that dodgy US currency. Notes come in denominations of 20000, 10000, 5000, 1000, 500, 100, 50, 20, 10. The current exchange rate is 1 AUD = 1365.96 T (Togrog). Nobody likes changing 20K notes at any time. Prices for imported items are often comparable to Australia or elsewhere, so it's not unusual to be paying hundreds of thousands or millions of Togrogs for a larger item.

Here's a picture of the 20K and the 5000 note; most of the notes have either Chinggis Khaan on them, or Sukhbaatar (Axe-Hero, one of the key leaders of the 1921 revolution.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The day we signed for an apartment

Some of these posts could have quite a few alternate titles, it's hard to decide which one gets the cake.

Wednesday we have morning classes instead of afternoon ones. Yet today we only had one instead of two, so that gave us a little chance to do some homework in the morning before going out to class. It's a bit cooler today, but our language school is always warm inside, so it pays not to wear too much clothing. We are starting to get a hang of numbers, and we learnt some other words today; also we reviewed sounds and alphabet. Our teacher says that we will have to learn cursive, which is a shame since it is quite confusing.

After class we went to have lunch in Jukov cafe; originally we were meant to be going to the coffee house, but we ended up downstairs in this cafe. Really it's not a cafe since there is no coffee for sale. The menu was entirely unintelligible to us, so we ordered mostly at random. Many Mongolians came in for lunch, eating mostly small things - soup and soft bread and buuz. Our meal came and it was fairly large mince-steaks with egg on top and rice and salad. Oops. Edible (some would call it tasty I suppose), and a large filling meal. Paying involved the usual rigmarole of trying to find change. It's a problem in a country where the largest bill represents about $20, and everyone is keen to avoid using them (except banks and ATMs).

In the afternoon Seumas went to sign the contract for our new apartment. It's in the same building as the one we are currently staying in. It costs 320000T a month, about A$233. That makes it like 17% of our Sydney rental. So if the market is getting tight over there, consider moving here. We get a key on Friday, start our agreement on Sunday, but it will take a while before we move in - we need to get the kitchen done, and buy some key items: stove, refrigerator, washing machine, flooring.

Wednesday night is team meeting night. There are 6 adults (3 couples) currently in our team, and we meet weekly for fellowship, prayer, and to listen to teaching. We all currently live in the same block, and the apartment we meet in is in the next stairwell over. So it's down 5 flights and up 5 flights and there we are. At least that saves us rugging up against the cold. The temperature has dropped today quite a bit. We had a good time at team meeting, hearing from the Word and praying together.

On our way back home (short trip that it is), it has started snowing, which is a nice touch.
The menu from the cafe at which we ate.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The day we unexpectedly had to go back to immigration

It was a quiet morning in Mongolia for us, doing some homework and revision as well as some doctoral studies. Rachel popped out to pick up some groceries. Alas, our plans went awry after lunch with a phone call - there was some irregularity or technicality with our visas. So we trundled down to our language school again (such a warm day), and started catching some buses with our teacher. We catch the no. 6 trolley bus into Sukhbaatar square, and then the no. 11 bus out towards the airport; it takes about an hour. This was a good chance for Rachel to thoroughly practice counting in Mongolian with our teacher.

At immigration our teacher conversed with someone behind the counter - they were expecting us in. The problem was relayed to us. About a year ago they changed the laws so that only a student doing a Masters or higher could bring a spouse in on a family visa for more than 3 months. That is not us. No one had bothered to tell our teacher when she had applied for our visas and processed all our paperwork. The upshot is this, they extended Rachel's visa to 90 days (from 30 days), and she will need to leave the country in order to re-enter under a different visa, in this case her own student visa; this also means she will need to study full time. So they extended her current visa, and sometime in the next 3 months she'll pop over to a nearby asian country for a few days and come back.

It might sound all distressing, but it could have been much worse really - they might have just kicked us out for unknown reasons; so we're upbeat about it. You could certainly pray about it though, it is a rather non-insignificant hassle.

Then another hour on the buses back in; our teacher graciously gave us a lesson afterwards too, as we will miss one tomorrow morning.

Fun Mongolian fact of the day: Some people have names that translate as "not this one", "not that one" and "No-one", attempts to ward off the evil spirits by downplaying the child's importance.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The day of our first Mongolian class

In the morning we went to look at an apartment for rent in our building. It's small, and the kitchen needs work, but we later decided to take it. Mongolian apartments don't come with things Australians think apartments should come with. E.g. there are no kitchen units - no cupboards, no bench, sometimes no sink installed; ours has a sink but it's no good and will need to be ripped out anyway. But this is all okay, because this is just how things operate here - you just get someone to come and build your kitchen exactly how you say to fit your kitchen.

After visiting this apartment we went to the office for another building just nearby, having heard a rumour about a place that was fully furnished; they didn't know anything about it. Later it turned out that the apartment we had heard about was a sub-let. This wasn't a great option so we went with option 1.

In the afternoon we went to our first Mongolian classes. We have two teachers, Bayarmaa and Olonbayar. Bayarmaa is quite well known and really good. We went over the alphabet and sounds of Mongolian, and some basic greetings. There are four o/u sounds that all sound quite similar to Australian ears and are hard to pick up. Also, if you mispronounce 'Hi, how are you?' you might be telling someone to go to the bathroom. In the second lesson had the other teacher, who presumed we had mastered everything from lesson 1, and proceeded to teach us cursive Mongolian/Cyrillic, as well as the numbers. Her pronunciation was less crisp, and distinguishing vowel sounds was quite tough. Pray for us as we get going with this tricky language.

Rachel pointing to our language school
A special treat for dinner was home-made pizza. Pizza is a bit of a craze in Mongolia at the moment. You can even buy individually wrapped slices at the supermarket. But ours was tasty.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The day of going to two churches

Seumas' alarm was set for 8am, but it did some timezone tricks and went off at local time 7am. This left us a little more tired than we should have been.

First port of call today was a Mongolian-language church. We had visited this one once before the last time we were in country. We caught a taxi out there and were very blessed to have the pastor's wife doing translation for us and some other outsiders. There was a good deal of charismatic-style singing to start off with, and then the Nicene Creed. I've never had the Creed recited with a musical backdrop and clapping at the end. Good to see the true Nicene faith being celebrated! We also had Romans 13-16 read to us - no small bible readings here! The sermon was on Rev 3:14-22 and encouraged us to be living out our faith and not to be 'lukewarm'.  The translator helped greatly! A number of the people were going on a short term m-trip to a nearby country, so we prayed for them. Very exciting! We met a few other outsiders after the service and then walked home, with a stop at a local korean supermarket.

In the afternoon we went to the international church. This week was part of a focus on mission month, and many outsiders got up to share what they were doing. The talk urged us to consider Jesus' own ministry as a model for ours. I reconnected with an outsider we had met last time we were here, who is involved in a cafe/roasting business. So I now have a coffee bean supplier! Looking forward to my espresso machine arriving, but the flamecannon is doing fine. Rachel met two local girls who had come to church for the first time and she chatted with them and hopefully will have some more contact in the future - a point for petition.

Tomorrow is our first day of language class, we're looking forward to picking up some of the language.

The day we got Mongolian sim cards

Mongolian shops don't open early. In fact, most Mongolians run on a timetable about 3 hours behind western expectations. So we went down to a nearby shopping centre (that phrase has already given you the wrong idea), just after 11. And they opened the roller doors as we were arriving. That by no means meant that the phone-stall person was opening though. Instead we wandered around looking at other things, bought some groceries (including the renowned Genghis Khaan energy drink), and as we were thinking of leaving, the phone person turned up. So we both now have Mongolian sim cards. You can email us for the numbers if you want.

5kgs of Nutella, about A$70
We then trundled off to another shop to grab some more groceries before home for lunch.

In the afternoon Rachel went out on a hat-buying expedition by herself. It was quite successful and has led to a possible hat-craze taking off.

The new hat

Friday, March 23, 2012

The day we ate with a NASA engineer

Well it's easy to sleep in in Mongolia, on account of the sun, a north facing window, and not many places open until 10am anyway. So we slept in until 8 this morning. Porridge is rapidly becoming our staple breakfast, edging out the fading memory of Weetbix.

As you may have guessed, this week seems to involve a bit of schlepping around the house. That's how the morning panned out, though with some delightful Skype calls from Australia.

After lunch we walked to our language school. One of the latest trends in Mongolia is to wear fake ugg boots around. Anyway, we meet our teacher and headed off to Mongolian immigration. This involved two buses, first a trolley bus (7c per person), then a longer ride on a more regular bus (14c per person), virtually out to the airport. It was a nice trip overall, since you get out of the city a little bit.

Mongolian Immigration has a nice new office, and with the help of our teacher we were applying for residency permits. This mainly involves (a) bringing 5 items of paperwork, (b) your Mongolian friend traipsing between officials, (c) you handing over money, (d) fingerprinting and photography, (e) come back next week - btw we're keeping your passports.

It was all quite smooth, though giving up one's passport for the week is counter-intuitive to us. We also "met" some French travelers, young scruffy looking guys who appeared to be scamping all across the continent.

The trip back was the same, and then it was home. Oh, apparently our boxes might arrive in another week. No hurry, we don't have an apartment for them. Also, in Mongolia apartments don't come with all sorts of things - they might not have flooring, they probably have a sink, but no oven or kitchen. So even when we get one there will be some construction to be done.

On to the title of today's post. We have a lovely Korean/American couple on the team here, and they live 'next door', which actually means the next stairwell, so we went to visit them for dinner, down our 5 flights of stairs, up their five flights of stairs. We had a lovely time with them, and their four exuberant children, and were fascinated to learn that the husband was an engineer with NASA, and had planned to stay there working on the Constellation program, but had prayed that if God wanted him in Mongolia, God would shut down the Constellation program, which happened within the week thanks to Obama's slashing of the space program. So now he is here, teaching and sharing about Jesus.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The day we went to a local administration office

We have surprisingly little to do right now. You might think the first week would be all a whirlwind, but it's not. We have just a few key things that need to get done, and that's about it.

So this morning I (Seumas) woke up early for my online Gaelic class, which I had recalculated to start at 7. Unfortunately it started at 6, and so when I booted up at 6:45 they immediately called me and I was into the class! I think maybe they changed time zones as well as us. Anyway, all is well.

We didn't do a great deal for the rest of the morning. In the afternoon we went out to a local sub-district administration office, taking with us our host and a local Mongolian student. We needed to get a certain piece of paper that certifies that we do indeed live somewhere. This is so we can go tomorrow and get a residency permit that actually allows us to stay in the country. Anyway, since we haven't signed a rental agreement somewhere yet, there was some hesitation about how it might work out, but it actually went very quickly and smoothly, and the bargain basement processing fee was A$0.14.

The wind was quite strong today, and there was a little bit of snow. On the way back we did a little bit of shopping. Shopping without any local language is always a little difficult and embarrassing. Also, not having small enough denominations of notes doesn't help either. Anyway, we secured capsicums, carrots, tomatoes, and sultanas.

Not much else to say. You carnivores will be pleased to hear we ate meat last night - chicken and beef. So boring, I don't know why you think meat is so exciting.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The next stage of our Mongolian adventure

Well, we are here! After several years of consideration, prayer, planning, a survey visit, uncertainties, training, partnership development, mail-awaiting, sad farewells, and a full day of flying, we have arrived in Ulaanbaatar.

The flights were relatively good, for those wondering. Sydney to Seoul was pretty nice, and we both enjoyed some reading and some movie-watching. Only a 2hr layover in Incheon airport, time enough for a coffee, some wifi, snacks, and some additional layers, and then a 3hr flying from South Korea to Mongolia. We had one aborted landing at UB, due to high winds, and then a very lengthy wait to get through immigration. Another plane came in just after us, and being at the end of our plane put us at the end of our queue, and just when we got to the front of our line, the service staff finished up and we had to join another queue. We did have a chance to chat to another Aussie in the line though, a 4WD instructor over here doing some training for the mining boom.

Our lovely team leaders met us at the airport, this was about 11:30pm local time, about 17.5hrs from when we took off in Sydney, and we drove back to their apartment. It was good to get some rest.

This morning we have not done a great deal. David headed out to teach some classes, and Wendy is feeling a little unwell. So we have enjoyed a quiet morning at home. Rachel has just gone out for a stroll in the balmy -5, and I am blogging. On the cards for the rest of the day is a trip to our language school to sort out some papers, and tonight there may be a bit of a gathering - some other friends are transiting through UB on their way home for medical stuff, and it also happens to be my birthday!

p.s. looks like there are some good bars out front for possible rings workouts.