Here I am in, Ulaan Baddah
And here’s where I’ll stay for another year! What we thought would take about 48 hours turned into six weeks of Byzantine residency permit approval-gittin’ but finally I got the big ol’ zugeer (okey-dokey) I’d been waiting for. So go on and pop a couple of bottles of…sparkling apple cider and bring on the dancing…poodles? Um, OK, forget it, it’s not much of a party when monks are your hosts. But raise a glass of whatever with me anyway, especially to my gal Erka, who indefatigably wielded equal parts flirt and threat on some grumbly schlub in the Foreign Citizens’ Office to keep the process moving. Once again, it doesn’t hurt to have the Defense Minister’s wife in your corner. Poor thing’s sick right now, but as soon as she’s better I promised her lunch at her favorite restaurant to thank her.
Now, my own muddah’s moping about this a bit, but pay no attention. Due to some rhapsodic waxing from my cousin Susan during a recent Maine family reunion, Ma’s proposed, and I’ve enthusiastically accepted, that we meet this December for my 40th birthday in (cue game show grand prize winning music) …scintillating, fabulous Istanbul! My only condition is that once we take in the Hagia Sophia and narf some Turkish Delight, we rent a car and get out of the noisy city and meander through preposterously picturesque Mediterranean fishing villages toward Izmir, because after nine months in Mongolia I’m going to need some special R&R, which for me means silently squinting at winter plumage sandpipers (Tom? John? Rog? What’s the first thing I did? That’s right. Fire up the ‘puter, google “birding western Turkey”, and follow links for two hours. The rest of you? All the “turkey” jokes have already been made). The only thing that would make this more perfect is if somehow my beloved niece Mary, who shares my birthday and will be Sweet Sixteen this year, can join us. Now, just in case you don’t hate me yet, this will probably be followed by a hop over to Provence (hmm…wonder if I could take a boat to Marseilles…the seabirds’d be off the hook) for my faddah’s 80th, a little toodle over to the Pyrenees to swap Mongolia stories with Sean and Ariane Jones in their cozy villa (and, hopefully, finally see a Wallcreeper) and then back to Mongolia, possibly through India.
And they say we’ll have some fun if it stops raining
(Apologies to Allan Sherman, whose records, I'm afraid, helped make me who I am today.)
Palzang and I were interviewed today for a feature on religion in Mongolia that will air sometime on German national radio. As we left we saw some fairly impressive thunderheads blooming over the horizon but went ‘bout our bidness, picking up a secret, completely stupendous offering we’ll make to Jetsunma on an auspicious occasion during her visit here, and then popping by to visit with Glenn Mullin, who’s back in Mongolia for a couple of months. He clicked us through a PowerPoint rough cut of the Buddhist art treasures from the Zanabazar Museum he intends to exhibit next year in Europe and the Americas. Run, don’t walk, if these masterpieces will be exhibited near you. Even on his computer screen they were breathtaking.
As we wandered back down our street, Palzang asked me if I wanted to stop somewhere for supper. “Nah,” I said, “I’ll eat leftovers at home.” Then we both silently looked up the street at a sky resembling the one in Twister just before cattle and oil tankers started hurtling past Helen Hunt’s head. Then drip. Dripdrip. Dripdripdripdrip. Chez Bernard just to our right. “Here?” “Yeah.”
Then a sizzling hiss like a fajita platter approaching your table, young Mongol women scattering in ridiculous, prancy high-heel dashes for awning cover, and, just as I finished my best Taxi Driver Bobby DeNiro “someday a real rain will come and wash all the scum off the streets” voom! UB was in for its first major deluge of the year. I mean, maybe not of Bombay proportions, thank goodness, but that city might have a street drain or two that serves its function (hmm, reading the caption for the photo next to this article, maybe not there either). Palzang and I lingered over our quiche until the storm abated but, along with the rest of the stranded masses, finally had to say “the heck with it, the curl was almost out of this perm anyway” and wade to mid-shin, weaving around cabbies gripped in futile honking fits at other cars hydro-locked in intersection lakes, picking our way just in line behind others in case they helpfully demonstrated where the now-submerged open street holes were, until, in the sudden company of yet another Altangerel, a chatty young lad who’d been liberally tattooed and pierced by my very own artist, we slopped up our stairs to see if lightning had incinerated our computers (obviously hadn’t).
Now, I’m making light because that was the mood downtown. But I’m really worried about the huge numbers of people in UB’s outskirts who have illegally pitched their gers on the Tuul River floodplains. I’ve been told that all it takes is thirty minutes of hard rain to turn those areas into potentially fatal torrents. Like those poor guys need one more catastrophe. I pray it wasn’t so, and we’ll do what we can should the need arise tomorrow.