Visiting The Black Market
I probably should have stayed inside the guesthouse and laid down, but I was in Mongolia, my dream country. I needed to go out and explore!
I went into my room and started to layer my clothing. I am a month late getting to Mongolia and I am completely unprepared for the weather here. It’s super cold -although it’s a dry cold, which is fantastic- and all I have is a lightweight running jacket, a wool beanie, mittens and a scarf. It’s not exactly an ideal outfit in -20C weather. After putting on a long sleeve shirt, followed by two t-shirts, my jacket, scarf, hat and mitts, I bent down and pulled on my boots -Man, I am so happy that I brought my boots with me- and cringed at the fact that I was wearing black Capri jogging pants that barely touched the top of my boots. With my money belt secured around my waist and money hidden in my bra, I left the hostel and went in search of the bus stop.
Unlike China, the stares I receive in Ulaanbaatar are more along the lines of “Holy crap, look at that crazy white girl!”. Those are stares I understand. In fact, I would stand at the bus stop and laugh with them. After all, I was dressed for a yoga class, while they are dressed for winter (furs and all). I can just imagine the conversations I created as I paraded my underdressed self through Ulaanbaatar.
As bus 32 approached, I step aboard. Similar to home, I boarded up front and looked for the fare box. There wasn’t one. I stood there as the bus moved along and wondered how I was supposed to pay, while I looked around and tried to figure out where I was going. I knew bus 32 went to the market, but this is Mongolia, signs are not in English here. I had no clue what the market looked like. The only information I had was (Follow the crowd). While back home we’re taught to not follow the crowd, I have found that in travel, following the crowd is the key to good times. So, when the bus stopped 15 minutes later and Â¾ of the passengers left, I rushed to get out the door. The market had to be nearby; I could feel it.
As the bus left and I stood on the sidewalk, there it was across the street, the black market. I judged the speed and distance of the oncoming traffic and hurried across the large street to the gates. The market looked nothing like I had imagined. I had read (or I am pretty sure I had) that the market was covered. However, I was standing in a parking lot with old rusty train containers making a surrounding wall. As I wandered towards the ones on the right side of the parking lot, I noticed that the containers were shops. The items on sale here were mostly for gers. They had everything from canvas, to ropes, pulleys, wooden accents and door curtains. As I walked by, Mongolians would stop what they were doing, point at my outfit and chuckle. I couldn’t blame them. The wind was unforgiving and the chilly air was whipping against my face making my nose cold and wet and my cheeks a deep red that matched the colour of my jacket.
As I continued my walk along the perimeter, I came across blankets on the ground filled with items, none of which were new. If I had to wager a guess, this small area was the actual black market part of the market. Most of the items looked old and used and as if they had been lifted off some poor unsuspecting soul. Naturally, I snapped a photo or two and continued towards the gate to the larger market.
After being ripped off at the gate by not having exact change, I entered the larger market. As I walked through the gate and to my right, I was wandering through stalls selling tools and anything needed for home improvement. I continued to walk and found myself wandering through stationary stalls, housewares, tacky plastic toys, and candy. This place seemed to have everything. It was weird and not anything like I had thought.
When I found a very small section selling antiques and trinkets, I was in heaven. I wandered around slowly, looking at the items on sale. When I saw brightly coloured beads I couldn’t help but think that they would make cool jewelry. When I realized they were Buddhist prayer beads I figured karma would kick me in the arse if I bought the necklaces and destroyed them for the beads, so I left them alone and continued to window shop as I entered into an area selling saddles, handmade rope, and leather riding whips.
As my fingers began to numb out, I wandered into a concrete building with a dome like roof. Inside were beauty shops as well as food vendors. The stalls sold everything from fresh bread to meat, salted fish, fruits, vegetables and freshly ground flour. I walked around and took mental notes as to what I should come back and pick-up before leaving the market. When I could once again feel my finger tips, I walked back outside and wandered through rows and rows of fabrics, jeans, sweaters and fake designer clothes. I walked quickly through these areas, but slowed down as I found the boots.
I’m a girl. I love shoes. Although there were plenty of stalls selling designer knock-offs, I was drawn to the stalls selling authentic Mongolian boots. I was drooling as I walked by and touched the leather. I wanted them in a bad way. The only thing keeping me from buying a bunch of funky Mongolian leather boots were my lack of money and space.
While walking through the boots, I was in the thick of the crowd. I was being pushed and shoved. I was cold. My fingers were numb and my camera had stopped working because it was too cold out. The cold was starting to wear me out and I decided it was time to leave. As I walked back to the street I looked around for the bus station, but there wasn’t one. So, I started walking. I knew the way the bus had taken and it didn’t seem that long of a bus ride. I really should learn that things are not always as easy as I perceive them to be. My walk back to the hostel was an incredibly chilly one. It took me well over an hour and by the time I found my way back certain parts of my body had started to ache. As I walked back through the front door of the Golden Gobi Guesthouse, the staff chuckled at my outfit. I couldn’t blame them. It was a freezing cold day!