Mongolia, Day 1: Steve Shares

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DAY 1: Sunday, July 1

After arriving late yesterday night (and having a couple of our bags not make it to Ulaanbaatar), we checked into our hotel and slept as best we could.

After we had eaten a hearty breakfast at the hotel, Dr. Rita Browning, our contact here in Mongolia, met us in the hotel lobby. She had hired a driver for us (driving in UB is quite the adventure, with pothole-pocked roads and virtually no driving rules to speak of) and took us on a brief tour of the city. Highlights included:

-A climb to the top of a nearby mountain, complete with an old Soviet-style monument, with amazing views over the city. I’ve never been anywhere like UB. We could see decaying Soviet-era apartment blocks, sparkling new high rises that are part of UB’s booming economy, all interspersed with ger camps of people attempting to live in the traditional Mongolian style in the burgeoning city.

-The primary Buddhist monastery in the city. It includes a 40-foot tall statue of the Buddha, and on the grounds we encountered monks chanting and interacting with worshipers. We even got stopped by some delightful young Mongolians who wanted to practice their English.

-A visit to a downtown shopping center so that Sally and Eric could get some clothes to wear ( theirs were the missing bags), along with a trip to an ATM to get some Mongolian currency, which banks in the US do not exchange.

-Most emotionally for me, our first visit to the orphanage. Rita–who, by the way, is amazing, but more on that in a later post–guided the driver down unmarked streets to the orphanage, and took us on a brief tour. First she showed us the common rooms, then took us to the door of the residential unit. She knocked and a young boy of about 10 years opened the door. I was immediately struck by him–his shy smile, gentle spirit, and personal warmth–and tears soon welled into my eyes. I asked Rita his name– Usukhbayar (a not uncommon Mongolian name). She then took us upstairs to see more of the children, and as we entered the common room were were met by maybe 15 children, ranging in ages from infant to 12 years, who were all sitting down and munching on what looked like Funyons accompanied by a couple of the orphanage’s Mongolian caregivers. Rita even introduced us to a one-month-old baby who had just come to the orphanage from a mother living on the streets of Ulaanbaatar. The entire experience was quite moving, and it gives us an even greater sense of purpose for our trip.

-A performance of the ballet Giselle at the National Ballet, just steps from our hotel. It was charming.

After the ballet and anxious to find some functioning wifi, our group of seven retreated the 23rd-floor lounge of the brand new Blue Sky Hotel, which boasts spectacular views of the city and the surrounding mountains. Though the construction of the hotel probably has its roots in political corruption, it is nevertheless an amazing architectural specimen that in its name pays homage to the Eternal Blue Sky worshiped by Genghis Khan and the early Mongols. While the rest of the party enjoyed non-alcoholic drinks (we also learned that the first day of each month in Mongolia is No Alcohol Day), I spent a bit of time trying to trace our lost luggage and (hopefully!) made some progress.

Rita then led us to a lovely restaurant overlooking an apparently disused Buddhist monastery, and we enjoyed a filling meal before retiring to the hotel.

-Steve Soud

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3 Comments

  1. Cathy Soud

     /  July 3, 2012

    So excited to read this since our telephone/Skype communications have been iffy. Want to see a picture of that young man! Love to all! Cathy (or Mom)

    Reply
  2. Vincent Kolb

     /  July 3, 2012

    Steve, mybprayers are with you on this very important pilgrimage.

    Reply
  3. Helena Gutierrez Richards

     /  July 6, 2012

    What a wonderful journey – We look forward to your posting.

    Reply

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