Ready for Winter in Mongolia?

IMG_0963I 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?


(Stock photo, not taken by me)

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.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Ready for Winter in Mongolia?

  1. Gretchen

    Happy new year to all three of you! Just so you know how I feel your pain: it’s been down to MINUS 25 C in Vermont recently. Ridiculous.
    Fun to read your posts — please keep writing.

  2. Joan and Wally MacDonald

    So, how are you managing so far? Walking to work? And to and from the grocery store? So good that you’ve squirreled away soups and tamales and tortillas. Sounds like a great start since hibernation isn’t an option. Or is it?

    Aren’t you concerned about the air pollution? That frankly worries us.

    Have you thought about the possibility of taking your annual visit here during winter?

  3. Dayna

    Same comment as Joan and Wally. How are you doing? Polar vortex was no picnic. I had some pipes freeze. Bathtubs were out of commission for three days, but somehow, the separate shower, laundry and dishwasher continued working. Plumbers were so booked up, we couldn’t get one to come. 3 days later, the pipe problem melted, and all is back to normal. I was absolutely unwilling to walk the 1 block to trader joe’s to resupply. Even driving and parking in the open air parking lot was too much to get my head around. And, full disclosure, I had scheduled a trip to SF on Day #2 of polar vortex, so I got to get out (plane took off after a minor delay because they could not separate the retractable walkway from the plane after everyone had boarded, due to the cold). I went from -15 to 55 in 4 hours and got to thaw out. It felt like Maui!

    I love your soup comments. Reminds me of when you filled my freezer with soups and other yummy dinners before Jack was born. That was indeed the BEST shower present ever! Hope you are well and warm. Lots of warm wishes!

  4. Pingback: GREAT COMPOSERS/COMPOSITIONS: In the Steppes of Central Asia – Borodin – Mongolia | euzicasa

  5. Can I just say, once again, how happy I am to have found this blog? 🙂 I keep wondering about Mongolian winters and worrying. Seattle winters are so mild–for the most part–and I’m mostly used to them, but I also grew up in equatorial Africa, so Mongolian winters intimidate the heck out of me. What is it like to commute in the cold? We have yet to decide if a vehicle is a good idea/necessary, and currently, we are leaning away from getting a vehicle.

    • Thanks for reading! Totally get it about the worrying — that anxiety is what I was trying to convey in this post. But the reality is not nearly as bad as you might think 🙂

      You’ll have a better idea about the car when you’re settled in here and have a sense of where you’ll want to go: distance from home to work, stores, restaurants, etc. Generally, it’s very easy to walk everywhere in central UB, but a car, or access to a car, is useful for getting out of the city on weekends.

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