That was pretty much every everyone’s reaction when Emma or I said that we were moving to Mongolia. Emma got really tired of it after a while, especially since when she gave her honest answer – “sort of” – people responded by either trying to get her excited about it or telling her, “Well, it’ll go fast!” She doesn’t want it to go fast, but she also had real reasons for not being excited. She was leaving a school she loves and lots of very close friends to follow her mom into the unknown. (I’m still trying to get her to write a post, folks, but it’s not really her thing.)
Moving to Mongolia is an adventure, ultimately, but what a lot of people don’t get is how much of it just really isn’t, especially in the beginning. Getting here was an adventure, for sure (see the post on our layover in Beijing), but once we were here, we had to hit the ground running. We arrived on a Friday, and Emma started school on Tuesday. Our entire first weekend was getting our apartment set up so we could function on a basic level. It came furnished (beds, wardrobes, a small table and stools, a desk and chair, a bookshelf, a refrigerator, a washing machine, a hot plate, and an electric kettle). But we had to supply dishes, pots, pans, sheets, pillows, and other necessities, and get a supply of food. So from the start, our stay here was about setting up a functioning household and establishing a routine so that Emma’s school year would start out well.
Settling in has gone more easily here than it has in some of the other countries I’ve lived in. Living on the university campus helps – there’s a built-in community of people I can ask about where to go for what or how to do things. The Media and Communication Department secretary, Gerelee, has been extremely helpful in getting us set up. She was going to take us shopping on our first day, but immigration procedures prevailed, so she came to campus on our first Saturday morning to help us with initial shopping for household goods and food. Because we couldn’t go shopping that Friday, our first night was a little rough, but I had planned ahead. I had brought a couple of sheets and pillowcases for us to use; we just stuffed the pillowcases with clothes for the first night. I had also brought a few boxes of Emma’s staple food, Annie’s Mac’n’Cheese, and the person who had occupied our apartment before us had fortunately left behind a pot and some plates, so I cooked the macaroni without the cheese sauce (no butter or milk), and we had some of the snacks left over from the plane as side dishes. Hey, it worked.
Saturday morning, Gerelee met us on campus and we walked first to the Nomin Wholesale store around the corner from the university to buy pillows, sheets, towels, and kitchen stuff. It was like walking into Costco. A lot smaller, but…Costco. The store was set up exactly the same way – televisions and other electronics in the front, housewares down one side, food down the other, clothes and other stuff in the middle. Welcome to Mongolia! Of course, the labels were not all in English, and the prices were in tugrik; with an exchange rate of about 2500 to the dollar, it takes a bit of mental gymnastics to figure out how much something costs. But the initial impression was familiar. We managed to pick out a pot (Zebra stainless steel from Thailand), a frying pan (Tefal from France), a rice cooker (Monel from South Korea), sheet sets (Queenly from China), pillows (also Queenly), a comforter (Erdenet Home from Mongolia), and a couple of plates, bowls, glasses, and mugs. Then we carried it all back to the dorm before setting off to buy food.
The nearest supermarket is across the street in the other direction, but also very close. It’s in a building called Tengel Plaza, which also has a small Daiso and other small shops upstairs (plus the ATM machine that later ate my ATM card). The supermarket was fun. One of my favorite things about visiting or living in other countries is seeing the supermarkets – the mix of familiar and exotic, local and imported, mundane and bizarre. I will write about our supermarket in another post (I couldn’t fully explore it until Emma was away on her school camping trip, because food shopping isn’t her thing). But we got some staples, and then headed home to set up house.
So much of getting started in a new country is this. Setting up a household. Figuring out the basic aspects of daily life. Where to go to get what. How to do basic things. Getting SIM cards. Figuring out how to re-load the SIM cards. Getting bus passes. Figuring out the bus routes. Figuring out how to use the bus passes. Figuring out how to reload the bus passes. Figuring out transportation to and from school for your kid because the buses don’t go all the way to her school (she’ll be taking taxis). Finding a can opener. Finding things your kid likes to eat. Figuring out how to cook meals on a single hot plate. Figuring out the right settings on your Turkish washing machine. Finding notebooks and sketchbooks. Buying a sofa so you have something comfortable to sit on. Waiting to get your passport back from Immigration so you can open a bank account and get back your American ATM card that was eaten by an ATM machine. The usual stuff.
So yes, eventually moving to Mongolia may seem like an adventure to us. But for now we are preoccupied by the details of daily life. Once we get that down, we’ll be open for more exciting things.