Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Hong Kong to Seoul to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Dear Family & Friends,                                                                                Tuesday, September 17, 2013

We departed from the Hong Kong airport hotel Monday morning and checked into our Korean Air flight on our journey to Mongolia.  Jim secured bulkhead seats for us on both flights (about 3 ½ hrs. each), which made it a pretty pleasant trip to Seoul and then on to Ulaanbaatar.  When we tried to get our donation bag checked for free, we had no luck.  When we discovered that this third bag was going to cost $100, we told them that maybe we’d leave our donations with them to pass out.  This helped them to ‘get creative’.  They said that our luggage was less than the weight limit so we stuffed the donations into our two suitcases.  We still had a small bag’s worth left though and again tried to give it to them.  They found a better way and had us add it back into the soft bag and told us to carry it on—problem solved, although it was a hot and sweaty exercise.

We were interested in seeing the ‘#1 airport in the world’ in Seoul.  It was huge and full of expensive looking shops, a majority of which seemed to be selling women’s handbags.  Once again they seem to like shiny, hard floors and glass—quite modern.  The Internet was free no matter where you were sitting in the airport, and there were several charging stations among the seats.  There was a Hello Kitty store, selling typical little girl things and kiddy foods, with a colorful play area for the children right next door.

Shiny & modern, Seoul, Korea Airport waiting area. 

We arrived just after 10:30 PM in Ulaanbaatar and got through customs and picked up our luggage in fairly rapid time, spotting the missionary couple, Elder & Sister Nay, waiting for us.  It is always good to see a friendly face in the crowd and not have to worry about taking a taxi.  The road was partially paved from the airport, but much of it was torn up, being under construction, full of gullied pot holes.  Sister Nay, after being here for 2 ½ months, still seems a bit out of sorts about the roads, traffic, and local driving habits.  Even this late at night it was crowded, but it didn’t seem all that long till we reached our destination.

The Chinggis Khaan Hotel is right across from the apartments that the couples stay in and within a few minutes’ walk to the office.  Their mission president is rather young, in his mid-30’s, and has 4 young children.  They live in the upper stories of the office building.  He and his wife speak the language, both having served their missions here as young adults. 

The lovely Chinggis Khaan Hotel.

When we arrived at our hotel last night it was a cool evening, but I was not cold.  The stewardesses from the Korean Air flight though thought it was really, really cold, as they shivered and danced, trying to keep warm in the lobby.  The hotel is really very nice.  We are on the 7th floor, and it is one with a window that opens.  We thought that the hot rooms (complained about online from summertime visitors) would not apply to us, but they must have central heating and it is hot and stuffy in the room.  Only the upper rooms have push-out windows—this allowed us to breathe, the air conditioning not working.  Who would have thought I’d be too hot?  The hotel has a nice breakfast buffet and the room was so pretty that I took a picture.  I have no idea why, but some guy told me I couldn’t take a picture till I told him why I was doing so.  Who did he think I was--a spy?  The young man trainee at the door that morning couldn’t tell me why either.  Our room is nice and roomy and the shower is really great and we have all the amenities including a good Internet.  Even the bed is comfortable—I’m in heaven.  Why do I feel so guilty?  Shouldn’t we be suffering?

We met the Nays at the office and planned what to do while waiting for our 24-year-old translator.  I will call her Mugi.  That is what it sounds like.  The alphabet here is unreadable to us, so I’ll be making up a lot of names of things and people so it will be a ‘sounds like’ translation.  Mugi speaks English very well, not just because she studied it for years in school, but because she served a mission in San Bernardino, CA.  She is so pleasant and fun--we enjoyed really her. 

The church has a number of cars in their parking lot and when someone needs a car they check it out for use that day.  We traveled a ways out of town in some traffic, but it seemed pretty normal to us since all countries we’ve worked in have massive traffic problems.  It took us a while to find what we were looking for--a kiosk that covered a borehole that pumped water into a tank so that people could come and fill their jugs without pumping water—it just flows in.  They either have boreholes that pump water into a tank, or they have what they call dump stations.  They put in a tank in a dispensing hut (nicely built); then water trucks get city water and dump it in these tanks.  This particular hut had become a corrupted project.  The contractor had not only done a horrible construction job that hardly resembled the plans, but he also took the rest of the money and didn’t finish the job.  Someone (obviously a trusting soul) gave him the money before he was finished at the request of the local elected leader who claimed he would stand behind it and make sure it got done (can you believe this?).  Obviously the elected leader and the contractor took the money and left, never to return.  The project does work somewhat, but many things were not done, leaving it ‘sort of working.’

One of the Church’s kiosks where water is dispensed.  It looks pretty cute till you see the workmanship, and the fact that it was not completed, leaving it only partially working. 

We checked out some good water points constructed by other organizations and then went to see the newly elected leader of the area.  This woman was so very concerned about what had gone on that she really tried to help us.  Elder & Sister Nay are trying to reach the contractor, even though if they do, he will surely deny everything; we will try to get the government involved to expose his corruption and force his hand.   

It was two hours after lunch when we decided to call it a day.  Our translator took us to a great restaurant—it was reasonable and really good food.
This is a traditional hut or home.  The little attachment is also typical, allowing the home to be warmer as it gives an extra opening that can keep the cold away from entering the main hut.  Inside is a stove for heating and cooking, but these are dangerous and can burn the place down.   These dwellings are set in and around the more modern homes. 

Our first day here was pleasant as the temperature probably reached 65 degrees.  Unfortunately, it will be cooling off each day that we are here, perhaps ending in snow by Sunday. 

More pictures to follow.

Love, from Mongolia

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