Living in Mongolia – Getting Around
I’ve been living in Mongolia almost six weeks in this land of yurts and yak and have yet to befallen a painful demise due to either of those so things are coming up roses. There have been Mongolian high fives all around.
Looking out the window of my apartment, one of the things that continues to bewilder and strangely excite is how the Mongolians get around every day. There are many modes of transport: car, bus, horse, camel (granted I haven’t seen a whole lot of the latter from the perch on my windowsill) and along with these come all the transport nuances that make Mongolia
deadly (read: fascinating).
Traffic lights have been installed for a while and function on most main corners within the city. Function is a term used loosely in that technically they are lit up and change from red to green as per their packaging and money back guarantee. As to whether the Mongolians understand what they actually mean is a whole ‘nother kettle of buuz.
A red light seems to be more a gentle suggestion to consider pausing before mowing through a crowd of people crossing the road. A suggestion that 50% of the time is largely ignored. Just as someone once told me that when navigating the swirling streets of Rome, stepping out with a nun will ensure safe passage, here I sandwich myself between a crowd of Mongolians hoping the buffers on each side will ensure I retain at least some of my limbs.
And although traffic lights are non discriminatory devices designed to bring about order and regime, it appears the traffic does wait for the important people of Mongolia. While waiting to cross the road at the main intersection next to the Government Building, I noticed a policeman directing a consistent stream of traffic from the south, and blocking all other directions – despite the silent plea of the traffic lights for order.
Six long minutes later and the air was filled with a symphony of angry horns with people fed up with waiting. Turns out when the Prime Minister is coming to work he stops for no green man and the police carried on creating a self-imposed traffic jam to make sure he didn’t have to wait any longer than necessary.
Despite their shortcomings with the traffic lights, Aussie ingenuity could learn a thing or two from the Mongolians about strategies to combat congestion on the city streets. My first week in UB, I was driven to work by a colleague. During the drive I found out he was selected to come and pick me up because of his car’s number plate.
You see on Monday’s cars whose number plates end in 1 or 6 cannot drive. Like anywhere. Want to pop down to the supermarket to get some milk? Get your walking boots on. A similarly odd formula follows meaning there is always at least one day when your car cannot be driven, lest you receive a hefty fine. I congratulate them on installing such a rule and keeping up the enforcement: I don’t think it would go down so well down under.
To end my transport musings, I wanted to leave you on a brighter note. After returning to the carpark following a work lunch last week we arrived at my colleague’s car to see it was completely blocked into a deadend by no less than three different cars. Flummoxed as I was that these people even thought it plausible to park there, I was yet again surprised when my colleague calmly pulled out her phone and walked to each car noting down the numbers written on a scrap of paper on each dashboard. Turns out these were the mobile numbers of the owners of said three cars and within a jiffy they all appeared to move their cars and let us out.
Of course I had a million questions: “What if they were in the dentist chair at the time?” “What if they parked there and then got a cab to the airport to catch a flight to Bermuda?” “What if they were in a once in a lifetime meeting with Bono?”
But all of these questions died on my lips as I realised the futility of the situation.
I am living in Mongolia people, expect everything and nothing.
Yours with UB hugs and much love