I begin by noting that in December Mongolian people told me over and over that it was unusually warm. I continue by noting that the Polar Vortex caused unusual cold in many parts of the US and Canada.
But still, it’s WINTER IN MONGOLIA, people.
The idea of winter in Mongolia is scary, and this post is about trying to handle the uncertainty and intimidation associated with winter in Mongolia. Much of our apartment search was oriented around being close enough to walk places in -30 temperatures: could we get to work easily? Were there restaurants close by for times we’d want to eat out? How far would we have to carry groceries? In warmer weather, central Ulaanbaatar is very easy to walk around, but how far are we willing walk in midwinter?
Once we had an apartment and I’d found all those grocery stores, I started filling the freezer with supplies. By mid-November we had four different kinds of homemade soup, plus homemade bread, plus carried-from-San Francisco tamales and tortillas. Planning for food runs like the Amazon through my maternal line — one of my New York mother’s first comments on the phone 9/11 was that she had salmon in the freezer so she could feed anyone who came to their apartment — so stockpiling food was my first, strongest response to prepare for the unknown cold.
We also discussed whether or not to get a car, to eliminate an excuse for not going out of the city during the winter. Because maintaining cars is so hard in the cold, many people sell their cars in October and November, and we considered getting a used car. Which meant we’d also need a parking space — heated garage space strongly preferred, because an unheated space would mean having to keep all the car’s fluids and parts from freezing. I pictured having to get out of bed at 5:00 am to turn on the car, and where would that car even be, in a garage three blocks away? In the end, we decided the good apartment was not worth giving up to get a garage space.
The good apartment was equipped with all the other amenities we thought we’d need to get through the winter: a good, fast internet connection to power our two computers, iPad and Apple TV, seeds to grow our own fresh herbs, nice smelling candles and soap, and a huge supply of books for me. Never mind that I can borrow e-books online from our local US library; I need to see actual books on shelves around me in order to feel … what? Prepared? Secure?
It’s all about facing something unknown and trying to control that unknown thing. Expat life is all about living outside the familiar, and that’s what’s great about it, but something about this intense cold seems harder. The new culture/can’t speak the language stuff is challenging, of course, but we are used to that from Malaysia. Cold, -30 cold, has seemed like a whole new kind of scary.