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Modern Nomads

The next morning we checkout out of the Sunny Motel, thanking them, and storing our luggage in one if the rooms that was currently being renovated.

Always in search of internet, we headed to a certain café that had been recommended very highly by the lonely planet, a place by the name of Michelle’s French Bakery. We had every reason to expect it to be therefore mundane. We were pleasantly surprised, though. It was probably the highest concentration of foreigners that we’d experienced since Hong Kong, but the food was decent, the baked goods better than decent, and the coffee not bad either. The internet was fast enough to get things done, though the owner seemed to think that if he typed the wifi password in for you there was no way for you to retrieve it later (shame on you! just change your password from time to time…) and we felt just fine about biding our time there and waiting for a call from the Chinese business hotel.

Before we got a call from the Chinese business hotel, however, we got a call from a woman by the name of Ariunna.

She had been one of my father’s students at Grinnell College and had returned to Ulaanbaatar after graduating. We were in luck, she would be around during our time here and was more than happy to show us around. She sounded sweet as pie, and as I headed back to deliver the good news to Scott he was on the phone with the Chinese business hotel, which I might start from now on more properly referring to as the Wen Zhou Hotel. We were doubly happy  (to reference Chinese ligature 囍), for they also would be able to accommodate us.

Knowing now that in-room ethernet was in our future, we closed up the laptops, and were just about to blow this cafe we ran into some more Mongol Ralliers, they too just having completed a trip from London to Mongolia in a little micro machine. They directed us to their website, four stans and a pole, which told their story. This driving across post Soviet countries business looked like fun, and the more we chatted, the more Scott and I began having parallel dreams of driving across Siberia…

Back in reality, it was high time to wheel over to the Wen Zhou. The ride was quick, and we were checked in and feeling Chinese-business-good in no time.  Then we got a call from Ariunna. “I’m coming to your hotel, and we’re going out to lunch. I’ll see you in five minutes.”

We would learn soon that this was Ariunna’s style, the 11th hour call. And we were ready to roll with it.

We changed our shirts and ran outside the hotel. Ariunna pulled up in a Silver Chevrolet, which was being driven by her cousin, whom she called her “brother.” We had run into this too in Buryatya. In these Mongol cultures, the distinction between cousins and siblings is essentially disregarded in casual conversation.

Ariunna’s brother-cousin drove us to a restaurant called The Modern Nomad, where we proceeded to pour over the gigantic menu filled mostly with traditional Mongolian fare, and looking to Ariunna to recommend. She was happy to step up to that challenge, and soon we were digging into some deep fried, meat stuffed pockets, a bowl of lamb broth with thick noodles, another soup made of coarsely chopped heart, and a few salads.

The food was good and hearty. The Mongols are into a gamey, meaty flavor, which is a recurring theme throughout their culinary cannon. It was a loud and interesting flavor and we were eager to study it further.

We exited the restaurant just in time to see a dish dash wearing Emeriti fellow roll by in a Hummvee with Abu Dhabi plates, bumping some really hot sounding Middle Eastern beats. Ariunna’s brother-cousin was still outside, and we were shocked. “Has he been waiting here the whole time? Why did he not eat with us?”

“He’s working for my dad, running errands, he’s just back to pick us up.”

Now it was making more sense. This cousin-brother was working for Ariunna’s dad as a driver. We decided it might be better to give him the day off, and stroll a but.  So from there we headed out on foot, checking out monuments like this man trapped in a metal box.

or this fantastic and gigantic statue of Chenghis Khan the parliament building.

We were very much enjoying this tour of modern Mongolian architecture. I just couldn’t help thinking about Klingons.  I am now absolutely certain that the entire idea for the Klingon race in Star Trek, especially the next generation was directly influenced by Mongolian culture, history, dress, and architecture.

We parted ways with Ariunna and headed out for it little late afternoon wheeling, heading for the hills, though this time instead of towards the Ger district in the east, we headed towards the super posh housing development hills in the south. Traffic was once again terrible, and we found ourselves in a snarling jam that stretched forward for kilometers, and so be began weaving among the cars, working our way towards the hills, which we could see in the distance. Even this proved harrowing, and impossible without choking down lungful after lungful of sooty exhaust. So eventually we just started riding on the median.

Eventually the traffic broke and we were out in the open. And the first thing I noticed was the air. The air here was much cleaner than in the city, no doubt part of why this was where they were building the newest and poshest housing developments in all of Mongolia.

The road got worse and worse as we continued on, but wheeling out here were there was no traffic felt great, and we wanted to keep going further.

One of the housing developments reminded me of a certain ”hard-scrabble town in Iowa” , where I’d spent many an hour.

Finally, the road petered out into a giant construction site, and we had to turn back. The traffic on the way home was just as bad as it had been coming out, which was puzzling. One would assume that Ulaanbaatar followed some kind of a daily morning peak in influx and evening peak in outflux based problem, but every direction here seemed to be equally doomed to immobility.

We rolled past the Well Mart Supercenter on our way back to find dinner at a very strange Korean restaurant called Red and Black. The walls were load, the use of Helvetica was rampant, and everything felt new and shiny. We ordered a large bowl of noodle soup, a plate for fried spicy glass noodles, a basket of deep fried everything, and a Kim Bab roll. It all looked beautiful, but was somehow lacking a certain something… salt perhaps…

That evening we wandered out into the night, taking a break from our furious work on correspondence for you, dear reader, and found the air to be thick with the added smoke of hundreds of outdoor food sellers, all roasting meat on charcoal grills.


  1. Joshtown | January 17th, 2011 | 12:44 pm

    Marshall Town? Well-Mart? Ok, it’s becoming quite clear that Asia Wheeling is a hoax. You just biked around Iowa.

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