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August 15th, 2003

Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia

The firewood that the Mongolian family had left for us was wet from the rain, so when I rose at three in the morning to restart the fire and thereby banish the sleep-depriving chill, my efforts were repeatedly unsuccessful. The rain fell throughout the night, sometimes as a drizzle, sometimes more forcefully. A short time after the four of us had pulled ourselves out of bed, our taxi arrived.

The previously benign dirt roads were now flanked and crossed by streams and ponds. Our taxi fishtailed left and right for the first few minutes, and at one point did a half spin. Sighs of relief were emitted when we reached tarmac.

I took a quick shower back at the hostel, then headed to a nearby fine arts museum. Although there were a few other Ulaan Bataar sights that were on my list, the rain dimmed my enthusiasm for any ambitious excursions, especially since the city streets and sidewalks had become lakes. Ulaan Bataar is probably the worst city I've ever seen when it comes to flood control. I spent the rest of the afternoon idly surfing the web at a warm and dry internet cafe.

I met up with Thembi in the evening to catch a "cultural show" at a theatre. A troupe of singers, dancers, and contortionists entertained us for a few hours, the highlight being the performance by a Buddha-esque throat singer. I had never heard such sounds from the human voice. He sang as if he had a vibrating voice box attached to his throat.

Thembi had proved to be one of those people who makes friends wherever they go. She had chatted up two expats sitting next to us, and after the show they invited us to join them for the expat happy hour at the British Embassy. Ryan, a tall, curly-haired New Yorker resembling Ben Affleck; and Claudia, a Dutch girl with short, auburn hair and an innocent smile, had been in Mongolia for three months volunteering for an IT project that had just terminated. They were leaving Ulaan Bataar in two days, and would spend some time travelling through China and Southeast Asia before heading home to find work. After a few drinks at the "Steppe Inn" -- the pub inside the British Embassy -- we headed to a nearby Thai restaurant to escape the chill and the rain.



Photos:
Horse-head fiddlers
The troupe
Female dancer
Throat singer
Female singer
Another male dancer
All in a line
Female contortionist, in a pretzel
Female contortionist, in an unusual handstand
Don't try this at home
Methuselah dancing
Tsam mask dancers


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