Life in Ulaanbaatar

Every day, my wife, Frances, and I walk home from the office and then climb the stairs to the 8th floor apartment where we live — not bad for a couple of septuagenarians!  The walk from the office takes about 45 minutes.  And get this . . . Frances has never even been in the elevator of our apartment building! She fears the electricity will go out and she will be left in a tiny box hanging from a cable.  Given where we live, I suppose that is not an unreasonable fear!

From September of one year into the first few months of the following year, we watch as the mercury crawls ever-farther down the glass tube on our thermometer. You might think that the cold would be unbearable, but the body has an amazing ability to adapt.  Although the winter chill is difficult to accept in the beginning, by the end of the year 20-30 degrees below zero starts to feel pretty normal. And did you know that Centigrade and Fahrenheit are the same at minus 40 degrees? At that temperature, the C and F indicators become irrelevant!

Several times each winter, Frances and I undergo what we jokingly call our unofficial osteoporosis testing on the streets of Ulaanbaatar. During much of the winter, the sidewalks are covered with ice.  Invariably — and with surprising regularity —  we end up flat on our backs.  The falls happen so fast, and it’s only after we pick ourselves up off the frozen walkway that we establish whether we have passed the annual testing!

To add to our winter woes, the air in the Mongolian capital city is among the worst in the world. Although the air outside the city is pristine, within the city limits the coal smoke is stifling. Some years ago, I developed bronchitis and hacked constantly. We seriously considered that we might not be unable to continue our mission in Mongolia. Fortunately, I was able to work out a solution: First, we purchased an air purifier for the apartment.  Second, we started wearing face masks and hooded jackets.  Although we would likely be arrested if we dressed like that in an American mini-mart, the simple face and head coverings cured me and allowed me to continue my work for the Lord in Mongolia.

“Is it really cold at 30 or 40 below?” you might ask.  Well, one day somebody dropped a whole carton of eggs on the sidewalk along the route we walk to work every day. The eggs froze instantly on contact, and we walked on sunny-side-ups for the rest of the winter.   Don’t try that at home!