Posts Tagged With: Weather

July Comes to Mongolia

When we were visiting Mongolia for the first time last August, we met an expat who told us there are two seasons in Mongolia: winter and July. Well, July is here, and summer is in full swing. The photo above is one of many flower beds planted around the central city, and there are new benches and sidewalk paintings as well. More people are out selling things, too, not just at the little tables that are out almost all year round, but kiosks selling ice cream and camping gear — summer stuff.IMG_1266

Mongolia’s biggest national holiday, Naadam, starts at the end of next week. I’ll write more about that later, when we actually get to see some events; for now, it’s enough to say that this is the beginning of the national vacation, similar to Europe in August. Only our two most junior staff will be working after next week, and the poor dears will just be organizing the files and answering the phone (if it rings). There’s a giddiness in the office now, way more joking around than usual, and it feels like the last few days of the school year. The husband reports that many men in his government office have stopped wearing jackets and ties and started wearing short-sleeved shirts to work. One of them is even wearing a baseball cap in the office! Around here it’s all flowery sundresses, sandals and two-hour lunch breaks.

The other common sight/street hazard is rain puddles. Big ones. This time of year, it rains for a little while most days. Most of Mongolia’s precipitation happens in July and August, and average total rainfall for these two months is 161 mm/6.3 inches, which is not much but enough to stress the stormwater drainage system. The photo below shows a typical scene: three kiosks and a puddle that was at 2/3 capacity when I took the photo. People place rocks and bricks to step across, which is fine if you can creep along against the wall of a building. There’s NO WAY I’m going to risk stepping through the middle.


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“Spring Sky,” Mongolia

7:00 am, May 9

7:00 am, May 9

“Spring Sky” is a Mongolian expression for changeable weather and also to describe a person whose moods change often. It’s May, and yes, we’ve seen a full range of weather in just the last few days. The picture above was taken early in the morning; by 9:00 am the snow had become rain, and it rained all day.

Then yesterday, it turned into another version of spring, the warm, sunny version:


And look what I found at the market! Asparagus!

IMG_1108 There on the near left, gleaming spring-ly, is my first successful batch of homemade mayonnaise in many years. I made aioli eight or so years ago for a family gathering of the in-laws and used half the amount of garlic specified in the recipe. No matter — it was still too garlicky and sadly unpopular on the buffet table. And even though they’re among the nicest people I know, someone at that party cursed me, like the uninvited godmother in the fairy tale, because… from that day forward, my mayonnaise ALWAYS broke.

Until yesterday.

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IMG_0962It’s definitely colder these days, unusually for February. “Colder” meaning don’t want to go out cold. In December and January people kept saying that it was warmer than usual; now, when it should be getting a little warmer, it’s colder. “Colder” meaning highs in the -20’s C/-10F in the middle of the day, and bits of things freeze on your face. My eyes water, which then causes my eyelashes to form little icicles, and the condensation on my scarf freezes and sticks to wet patches on my face.

We’ve made our home as comfortable as possible to get through the winter, and we have a well-stocked library, pantry, bar and Apple TV. (Just discovered “True Detective” last night — wow.) We make our own bread and yogurt, plus we’re growing herbs from seeds that my mother-in-law very thoughtfully gave us last summer. It’s like “Little House on the Steppe” here with all the DIY projects.

The problem is that staying at home, even for people as physically lazy as we can be, gets old after awhile. I just bundled up to go for a walk around town, and it felt good to move around and get some air. But there’s not much to do. The city set up a little skating rink in the main square, which I tried and won’t do again without some decent skates. And there’s a small ski area about an hour outside the city. Some people go hiking and horse riding, too. Maybe I’m too soft, too lazy or not desperate enough, but being outside for more than, oh, 45 minutes seems really unpleasant.

I guess what I’m saying is that we’ve created such a cosy little interior life that we don’t have much incentive to go out. And so we don’t, much, except for work and running errands. Mongolia has an amazing outdoor life and landscapes, but we’re not hardcore enough to enjoy that during the winter, and the urban life is fine, but fairly limited (I’ll write about some of the arts and performances another time). So, we’re hibernating comfortably and it works, except when I get restless and a bit stir-crazy. You Polar-Vortex sufferers probably know the feeling.

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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.

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Winter Visit to Khustai National Park


8:00 on a December Morning

We had a much-appreciated visit from my parents recently, who braved the onset of Mongolian winter to check out our new home. They had a trip scheduled to Japan, so we met there for a day in Kyoto, followed by two days at Naoshima, and then we all came back to UB. Showing them around was my opportunity to visit the Zanabazar Fine Art Museum and the National Museum of Mongolia, both of which are excellent.

We then headed out to see the countryside and spend the night in a ger camp. Khustai (there are multiple spellings; this is my version) National Park is close to UB, extremely beautiful AND has herds of wild horses. The takhi, as they’re known in Mongolian, “Przewalski’s horse” to other parts of the world, are an ancient wild horse that were reintroduced to Mongolia after becoming extinct in the wild. Wikipedia has a good overview here that explains the horses’ history and how they differ from domestic horses and their descendents — the wild horses of the western U.S., for example, are descended from domestic horses. Takhi have a different number of chromosomes, so they separated from other horses a LONG time ago.

IMG_0893Winter is a good time to see them, as they’re not as far up into the hills. We were able to get quite close, as you can (sort of) see from this photo. And yes, the fixed photo at the top of the blog is also takhi, taken when we visited UB in August before moving here.

The other adventure was spending the night in a traditional ger, a.k.a. yurt. IMG_0897 Here’s view of my accommodation. Very colorful and nice for tourists, but the same size and configuration as what a family would use. The stove is in the center, beds/couches on the periphery. The doors always face south, and it also is traditional, I just learned, to enter the doorway and head to the left, the area for guests. (I have noticed in stores that I instinctively head right, whereas Mongolian people are more likely to go left. Now I know why.) The walls are lined with carpet, which provides some insulation, but in the middle of the night when the fire had gone out, IT WAS COLD. We all had a good time, though, and there was something really satisfying about being there with no other tourists and seeing the landscape in the snow. The picture at the top of this post was taken in the morning as I went for breakfast. Stunningly beautiful.

NOTE A bit of self-promotion here: I am very pleased to be a new featured blog on, and the badge on the right side of this blog will take you to the Mongolia page there, where this blog is listed. Expats Blog is running a writing contest starting on December 16, for which I entered a post of tips for people moving from Malaysia to Mongolia. Because that’s a very small subset of people, the list is quite tongue-in-cheek, but please take a look, and if you like it, leave a comment there. And thanks for reading.

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