Changing it up a little with this post. Instead of my usual thousand or fifteen-hundred words, I thought I’d try to take you on a virtual tour of Bayankhongor, the town where I live. One of the many things I’ve been reminded of here in Mongolia is just how quickly the brain adapts to new environments. In the span of no more than a few months, many of the sights of this place have become commonplace, even ordinary, to me. Horses sleeping standing up outside the gates of the police station? Seen ’em. Whole sheep hanging up at the meat market, with tufts of wool still on the tail? What else is new?
On the one hand, this ability of the brain to adapt has been a great thing; it’s allowed me to settle into life here, get into a groove, and feel like I’m living a normal life. On the other hand, it scares me to think that after such a short period of time, I might already be falling into the trap of taking many of my experiences for granted.
So although I’m far from the world’s greatest photographer, for the past two weekends I’ve decided to venture out and take photos of the places I pass by every day on my walk to and from school. It took just a few hours altogether, but it was so satisfying to really look. It not only forced me to refresh my vision, but also helped me discover new things about this strange and beautiful place that I hadn’t noticed before.
It was great fun, and I hope you enjoy the results. I’d also love to know what you see in the pictures—things you notice that I may very well have missed, or questions the photos raise for you. If you feel so inclined, please share in the comments.
Click any of the images below to start the slideshow:
Welcome to Bayankhongor Aimag!
I loved watching these two brothers in matching jackets. I think kids are just the same all around the world. I’m not sure where these two were headed, but what you can’t hear in the photo is the older (slightly annoyed) brother shouting at his younger sibling to hurry up.
This is our Town Square, which I’m told was completely refurbished just before my arrival in August. I’m growing to love the stark, brown view of the mountains in the back.
Men raising up the stage in the Square. On many evenings last summer, there were concerts and dance parties here. But don’t just think disco – most Mongolians actually know how to waltz, and it’s the most popular form of dance here.
The seat of power in Bayankhongor Aimag – the main government building and the governor’s office.
The Bayankhongor Theater flanks the east side of the Square.
The park next to the theater: I’ve asked several people to explain the symbolism of the fist crushing the egg…but no luck so far.
According to Lonely Planet, this is the nicest hotel in town.
Bayankhongor High Street. We have three supermarkets on the town’s main thoroughfare, each right next door to the other. Жинчин (Jinchin) in the center usually has the best prices, but Их Номгон (Ix Nomgon) next door sells housewares on the second floor.
The Bayankhongor department store. There’s a nice coffee shop inside that I sometimes frequent – but don’t think Starbucks. The instant coffee comes in packets.
Lounge. I used to think this place was abandoned but I occasionally see lights on and people going in and out. I haven’t had the guts yet to go inside myself.
I call this Boot Alley. There are two ‘open air’ markets in Bayankhongor, and the smaller one (the ‘Middle Market’) is next to my school. Each of the buildings in this picture specialize in boot and shoe repair.
While it might look like this woman was angry at me for taking her picture, she actually gave me permission. Typically, Mongolians don’t smile for pictures, preferring more stoic expressions. That seems to be changing for the younger generation, though.
If I want a quick, cheap lunch, I can go to this restaurant in the Middle Market for khuushuur (fried meat dumplings) and milk tea…
…or I can go two doors down to the Bayankaraoke Hotel. As of last week, it’s my new favorite restaurant with the hottest, crispiest khuushuur, tasty meatball soup, and the best milk tea I’ve had by far (I think they put a little butter in it).
Inside Bayankaraoke. The thing I’m learning over and over again about Mongolia is that outside appearances can be deceiving. The most run-down looking place can house some of the brightest, most beautiful restaurants (and yes, this is totally beautiful to me). My favorite part of the décor is the billiards clock above the bar – the staff explained that after 8 PM, the Bayankaraoke stops being a mere restaurant, and instead transforms itself into a pub.
Another aisle at the Middle Market. It’s common in Bayankhongor (and I imagine in other aimag centers as well) to see a row of small sheds (called ‘pings’) or shipping containers that have been converted into permanent storefronts. Some are open regularly, some aren’t.
Middle Market convenience store. During the week, this place is flooded by kids from my school, who like to get candy and other snacks in between classes.
While there are newer, more modern clothes stores in Bayankhongor, shops like this one are still quite popular.
Just around the corner in the market, I spied a business deal going on, and these two gentleman haggling over the price of the pelts in the pickup. I’ve also seen whole, frozen cows pulled out of the trunk of a car in this very spot, on their way to the meat market.
The Vegetable Ladies. My site mate April introduced me to these women, and I get my eggs and produce from them every weekend. During my first visit, the woman in purple told me she already knew who I was – that her daughter had called from school to say she had a new American English teacher, and that we’d had our picture taken together. But I still couldn’t get her to look at the camera.
Typical view on my walk to school.
According to the sign, these fine establishments refer to themselves collectively as a shopping center. After stopping in the pub/café/karaoke place on the left, you can duck into the ‘delguur,’ or store, on the right for one-stop-shopping of meat, milk, and other ‘white foods,’ or dairy products.
Erdenemandal Secondary School. There’s a primary school in the back, but given space constraints, we have kids from all different grades attending school in our building.
Girls walking home from volleyball practice. Every day, I see kids wearing t-shirts and sweatshirts with the names of American teams or schools on them. Sometimes the teams are real, and sometimes I’ve never ever heard of them. (Colorado Bulls, anyone?)
Home sweet home. My host family owns the Mini Market on the left, though my host dad also manages one of the local filling stations, and my host mom is a Mongolian language teacher at Erdenemandal. We live next door, at #47. Mom, Dad, and their three girls live upstairs, with a baby boy due in February. I live downstairs next door to my host mother’s mother and her husband. Above the #47, you can see my host grandmother (or ’emee’) has hung a shingle out for her dental services.