Donkey Crossing

Welcome to Donkey Crossing! Donkey Crossing is an on-line account of one Limey and one Yank living one Dream. From September 2006 until the end of 2007, we plan to visit friends and family on five continents and immerse ourselves into various cultures, natural phenomena and ways of life. We hope you enjoy our tales and visit often! Cheers, Jason and Rachel Napoli

Sunday, July 29, 2007

My name's Ulaanbaatar, but my friends call me UB

After several days on Olkhon Island, followed by another long haul train journey through Siberia, we were excited to arrive in our first Asian capital city: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. I was particularly excited to visit UB, as I had got to know many Mongolians during my five year tenure with my former employer, Intrax International Institute-Chicago. Our Chicago school attracted numerous Mongolians, and at any given time there were at least 10-15 Mongolians enrolled at Intrax.

We had a very pleasant welcome to UB, as we were once again met by our hotel manager at the train station. There's nothing better than getting off a long haul train and being picked up at the station by a friendly local. On arrival, our top priorities were finding a few good restaurants, a room with a reliably hot shower and cheap internet access. UB delivered on all of these.

Although many Midwestern American families think authentic Mongolian cuisine is an all-you-can-eat stir fry buffet, the real Mongolian BBQ is prepared like this mutton.
An image of Chinggis Khan can be found in nearly every corner of Mongolia; however this gigantic statue on the steps of the new parliament building is far more impressive than any other.The new facade of the parliament building from the far end of Sukhbaatar Square.
The physical impression of Mongolia that for so long had been in my mind was of grassy, open steppe for as far as the eye can see. Although this is true for the vast majority of the country, UB is surprisingly surrounded by pleasant green mountains. A view from the rooftop of our accommodation: Gana's Guest House

The most negative aspect of UB was by far the traffic and conditions of the sidewalks. With the absence of anything resembling a crosswalk, and motorists having no regard for pedestrians, we found ourselves in a cruel, real-life version of Frogger. As for the sidewalks, one truly needs to memorize the missing manhole covers during daylight, because with virtually no streetlights, walking the streets becomes a hazardous pursuit at night.

The story behind this photo is that I twisted my ankle earlier in the day en route to the Naadam Festival. The severe pain took a few hours to kick in and we realized it was time to find some ice later in the day. Since ice is commercially unavailable in Mongolia, we searched for a cold pack instead. After being shut out by our third pharmacy, and limping toward a taxi, I stepped on a manhole cover and it flipped open, landing directly on my previously uninjured ankle. Thankfully Rachel ignored the laughing public surrounding the incident, lifted the manhole cover off my leg and waved down the nearest taxi to the scene.

A major highlight of UB are the historic Buddhist buildings that have been restored since the fall of Communism in the early 1990s. The city is full of traditional temples and statues, the most important being the Gandantegchinling Monastery.

This 26 meter statue of Migjed Chenrezig is the focal point of the monastery, although we found the praying and chanting monks we saw in some of the smaller temples just as interesting.

Thousands of these tiny Buddhas are lined high and wide around the grand statue of Migjed Chenrezig.

This structure, along with dozens of ornate stupas, are located around the monastery. Visitors can witness scores of monks and lay people circumambulating, focusing all their attention on their practice.

We certainly enjoyed everything UB had to offer, from the Eastern & Western restaurants, the abundance of cheap internet access and the Buddhist culture. The main reason for visiting, however, in mid-July is for the Naadam Festival. Our next posting will take a look at our experiences at Mongolia's annual sport and culture phenomenon.

A big thanks to Rich, Matt and Chris for posting comments on a couple of our previous postings. Although we hear from many loved ones via personal e-mails, it is very exciting to receive a comment or two on Donkey Crossing!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jason! I'm so sorry that you hurt your ankles! I like that the little Buddhas actually look Mongolian! How cool. It's neat to see your impressions of Mongolia. Did you meet anyone named Ula, Una, Bimba or Sukkhi? ;)


8:56 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...


Beware of Man Hole Covers!!!!

Incredible Blog as per usual guys.

Clapton and friends blew up the south side yesterday.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

I'm horribly behind on my commenting, especially after that nice shout out! No fear, I'm back in the fold.

Hope the ankle is recovered by now. But what form of Buddhism is that they practice? Looks like a Tibetan-type stuff, but I'm sure there's a local spin.

Also, you should've done a series of Jason posing in front of all possible Chinggis Khan statues--the likeness is uncanny!

Inspiring to imagine Jason, horseback, riding roughshod over the medevial world!

12:55 PM  
Blogger AQUAMAN said...

I am more concerned about how poor Rachael survived the foot juice? I have been in a hot car with the teva removd from that same dirty dog.

The horror......

The horror......

1:51 PM  

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