Toya’s brother in law, a Swiss guy, visited UB with his wife and the family took him to all the right places. “if you can’t find me,” he said after his first visit, “I’m at the black market.”
The black market is not a tourist bazaar. This is where Mongolians go for cheap and probably stolen goods. Socks for 30 cents a pair. The elfin looking boots that country and elderly Mongolians still wear. I went with Toya today. I got a knife and flashlight to hang on my keychain alongside the mace. An extension cord, and orange lamp, a thermos. Toya and I got there late enough in the day to be there when dark started falling. We exited through the shoe booths where the traditional Elvin style pointy nomad boots are still sold (with considerable frequency) and step over building materials and the carts used to transport them. The black market is the only place I’ve been in Mongolia where guys have touched my ass as they walk by. It reminds me negatively of South America.
Outside the air was chilly and it fell dark quickly but the sky stayed violent. The sky was overreal as though chemicals dictated the sunset—but then, I remembered, they do; the more wintry it gets. Pollution reportedly gets so bad in Ulaanbaatar when the cold presses and holds it down it becomes impossible not only to see the moon but to see the buildings across the street. No, more than that:
Ulaanbaatar, for the coldest three months out of the year, is the most polluted city on the planet.
Last year it got so bad they declared it a national emergency. Scores of people were coming into hospitals with lung problems; it was like living in a mine.