Thursday, August 18, 2011

[CHINGELTREI] If Only I Bought A Cashmere Coat

I guess I’ve already warned you about the spitting. Again, this seems normal on this side of Asia. On our side, however, we usually raise our eyebrows when someone does this, especially without warning. When in UB, it’s time to practice your Patintero skills, not just with spitting locals, but with motorists as well. A blog I’ve read somewhere has stated that crossing a street in UB is like an exercise for suicide. I kind of agree with that statement. He does, however, also say that tourists must be ready for the Mongolian car driver. As a Filipino, I don’t agree with this one. For someone who has been taking the daily commute around Metro Manila all his life, I’d say that it should be the Mongolian driving his vehicle who should get ready for me, the Pinoy pedestrian. Haha. Hahahaha.

Chingeltrei is another district occupying some parts northwest of the city. Again, I just placed the district name on the title to give readers an idea of the different zones. When you are busy window shopping and observing the daily happenings around you, you won’t notice that you’ve already crossed district borders. Let’s not get too technical here. Moving on, let me narrate what I did for the day.

I was supposed to try my luck and catch the 4 PM bus to Terelj which is said to go back the next day at 8 AM, early enough for me to catch my 4 PM train ride back to Zamyn Uud, but then I got lost and found no bus, so no Terelj for me. Instead, I walked around the northwest part of the city up to the area of the Gandantegchinleng monastery. Pardon the spelling errors, hard to remember. Please don’t ask me why I always get lost. I like getting lost! My travels are not complete without it. What else did I do then? Shopping, or maybe just “buying”. Let’s not exaggerate. Despite the low tourist arrivals, UB has no shortage of souvenir shops which sell a lot of things from national costumes to boots to the typical souvenir plates and shirts.

They have this black market they call Naranthul. I did not go there because: a) I hate haggling; b) I’m really gullible; and c) I think I’ve reached my quota in getting ripped off for this year. So no, thanks. Instead I went to the State Department Store which claims to have the biggest souvenir shop in the city. They are not lying. They sell some books in there like the kiddie Mongolian phrase book I bought complete with illustrations. I never used it while I was in UB. It’s just a souvenir and an addition to my book collection. Mongolian seems to be an interesting language but I have no more room for another foreign language in my languages-to-learn queue. They also have picture books and guide books, travel books about Mongolia auf Deutsch and en français. And then you have the table top souvenirs: dolls in Mongolian costumes; black plates with golden linings; etc. You can also buy keychains, wallets, boots, winter wear (fur, leather, cashmere, name it they have it) and a lot more!

I walked out of there with a book, mother’s souvenir plate, one t-shirt each for me and my brother, and two keychains. Since it is a department store, expect that they will be selling the goods for a little bit more than the price somewhere else. Think Filipino cultural shop at any SM branch. It’s similar to that. Anyway, this department store, I think, is the oldest in UB, and is the one that closely resembles an SM Department Store. There is a food court on one of the upper floors next to the bookstore. The other floors have the usual department store goods like furniture, appliances, and clothes.

Walk out of the State Department Store and go straight. You’ll see a round building from afar. That’s the Mongolia National Circus. Along the way you will be walking down an avenue with a monument for the Beatles and a statue of God knows who. You’ll see a gazebo upon crossing the street before reaching the circus. Looking from the outside in you’d think that it is a grocery store. I went in and found out that the circus was closed. The red curtains were down and the outer surrounding area is occupied by stalls selling some clothes and school supplies. I don’t know if the circus has been permanently shut down or if they only have weekend shows. You might want to check with the Tourism Bureau.

I went back north after my little circus detour. I saw a German café so I decided to pause for a snack. The cake was delicious. The chocolate shake was a bit bitter but it worked for me. Back on track I saw a modern building or two before passing by some Buddhism Meditation Center with a stupa in front and the Zanazabar Museum, which I called “Zanzibar” in the video. Sorry about that. I’m just human. My wandering feet took me next to Freedom Square which is not as impressive as Sukhbaatar’s but also spacious. There are two cinemas nearby, one to the north and one to the east.

I stood there frozen for a while listening to Katy Perry’s Firework (the cinema to the east was playing it) as the sun baked me alive. The weather here is much freakier than the one we have in the Philippines. One minute it will freeze you only to toast you the next. I suggest bringing long sleeves with you. It is not uncommon to see some Mongolians wearing them. It makes sense. It can keep you warm when it’s cold and protect your skin when the sun is being KSP. Oh, cashmere coat, the warm feel you had when you brushed against my skin at the Altai Cashmere store. But you cost a hundred dollars, damn it. I really suggest buying one. This would probably be the best souvenir you could buy here. And they come in green!

The day ended early, way too early at 5 PM. I was back at the guest house and only came out again to eat at around 6 PM. But my trip around the city did not end at Freedom Square. I went west after that for some temple hopping, or “temple sightings” to be more apt. Just follow the road going west. When you reach the intersection you’ll see a temple/monastery (sorry, I can’t distinguish one from the other, definition please?) to your left, to your far right, and in front of you, all of them across the street. You can take pictures from where you are if your camera has powerful zoom lens. If not, a little bit of walking won’t hurt.

You’ll also see some sort of slum area to the northwest (across the street from the temple on your left). Honestly, I don’t know if it was a slum area. It looked like one, although it did look unique because of the gers. If you are not Buddhist, I don’t know what business you’ll have in a temple. As a tourist you can probably admire the architecture or the arts through the sculptures or satisfy your curiosity by hearing the chants or observing the worshipers. I don’t know. As for me I am usually amazed by the structure of the buildings and religious sculptures. The chanting creeps me out, though, no offense.

If you follow the street going south of the temple to your left, you will reach Peace Avenue which is the main artery of the city. Don’t love it though; traffic is always heavy there. This is also the part of the avenue where you will see the Naranthul Hotel, in front of which the bus to Terelj is allegedly stationed. I don’t know if the bus is invisible or I’m just an idiot with no sense of direction. The sad thing is I believe more in the second theory. Back on topic! Look north! It’s a bird! No, it’s a plane! No. It’s the road going straight up to the Gandantegchinleng Monastery! Tongue twister of the day, linguistic practice!

The hill going up is not steep and the road is paved, so don’t be such a wuss and just head north. There are two or three temples on the way up. Some of the shops also look like temples so again, I apologize for my lack of skills when it comes to identifying structures built for worship. There’s a Grab and Go by the main gate if you need some refreshments. The ticket booth to the left is actually a food stall. The one to the right is the correct one. Pay 3,500 Tugriks and you receive a leaflet which serves as your entrance ticket. You can go straight ahead if you want to see the main temple housing the tall golden Buddha. You must to take a picture or a video so I just opted not to. If you want to see the other temples, head right from the ticket booth and enter the other gate. The area is small and has a lot pigeons.

I walked all the way back to the guest house because I didn’t have an idea which bus to take, which wouldn’t have been that hard since they all traverse Peace Avenue, duh. I didn’t know where else to go! I wanted to check the very big park near the guest house but I thought I've already seen enough and I was bored so I thought I’d walk and maybe find an interesting place to see. Unfortunately I found none. So there, Hello guest house. We still have tomorrow.

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