She wasn’t hard to find, as she was the only white lady walking around with a dog. Brigitte is the founder and member of the Rotary Club of BayanZurkh, which my Rotary club (West Bloomfield, Michigan) had partnered with in order to assist in building a kindergarten in rural Mongolia. Munich-born, Brigitte attained U.S. citizenship decades ago and then went to Hong Kong to live with her husband before he passed away. After that she took a huge step in moving to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia by herself and opening up her own business. Having lived in Ulaanbaatar for over twelve years she is now the owner of Sacher’s Cafe, a German Cafe & Bakery in the middle of town, and is one of the most prominent socialites in the city with a diverse set of friends ranging from the president of the country to ambassadors from all over the world to the high lama of Mongolia. When we first met in person at the 100th Annual Rotary International Conference in Birmingham, England some months prior she had been gracious enough the offer up use of her residence to me during my stay, and I of course accepted.
We got in her car and she started introducing me to the city as we drove towards her cafe to grab a spot of breakfast. I filled her in as to how my journey had been going and she continued to tell me more about my new surroundings while I snacked on some soup and a sandwich. While conversing we happened to meet a couple of guys that had finished the Mongol Rally a few days earlier and had stopped in for some food. After breakfast we took a quick drive to her apartment, which was right around the corner. After a quick tour of the place she let me rest up a bit while she went out and ran some errands. That night we had a wonderful dinner at the North Korean restaurant off to the east side of Sukhbaatar Square.
The next few days were interspersed with being introduced to a bunch of new people, eating out at various restaurants, and going our to explore the city on my own. I usually spent the afternoons alone at the apartment with my computer, trying my best to get up to date with work and the blog posts. Although the city still has a very communist feel to it, with lots of old apartment blocks and wide open squares, you can see new construction everywhere–the result of a recent economic upswing owing primarily with mining industry profits. I had to be very careful walking around as Mongolian drivers turned out to be the worst of any country I had thus far encountered–no one seemed to give a damn about inconsequential things such as traffic regulations, pedestrians, or stoplights.
Two events that really stick out are the Hash Harriers Run and the night some visiting doctors from Los Angeles and myself met and had dinner with the high lama. The Hash House Harriers are often described as “A Running Club with a Drinking Problem” or “A Drinking Club with a Running Problem”. People basically get together to socialize, get some exercise, and then go drinking afterward (or sometimes even during). After being formed by some British army lads prior to the second world war there are now thousands of these organizations in cities throughout the world. No surprise, Brigitte was also the founder and organizer of the local Hash club. The day after I arrived was the weekly run, so we along with dozens of others gathered at Bayangol Hotel around 6:30PM to board a minibus that would take us to the outskirts of the city. Once there we proceeded to climb up a hill that gave us a great view of the city illuminated by the setting sun. Then we all climbed back down and gathered around to share sandwiches, beer, and introduce ourselves. It was a nice way to meet some new people and it gave many of us our first chance to get out of Ulaanbaatar.
The next night Brigitte and I went back to the Bayangol Hotel to meet up with some of the people we had met the previous night. There happened to be a group of doctors and medical professionals in town for the week to donate their time and expertise to the local pediatric hospital. Knowing that some of them were interested in alternative medicines she arranged for them to meet and have dinner with Khamba Lama Professor Doctor Damdinsuren Natsagdorj–one of the most revered buddhist lamas in the country and a friend of the Dalai Lama. I was lucky enough to tag along. We visited the Manba Datsan Clinic/Temple and Center for Traditional Medicine, where his holiness had an office. Sitting down at his meeting table we talked for about an hour about traditional Mongolian and Tibetan healing techniques and medicines (his English was proficient if a bit slow), and discussed his future plans to open a boutique natural healing clinic outside of the city. At the end of our meeting he passed out small packets of powder that he said had to power to make the surrounding environment pure when sprinkled in bodies of water. After that we went and had Mongolian Hot Pot together at The Bull restaurant in the middle of town. Fabulous dinner with a lot of laughs. I and a few others even had the special opportunity to try ox testicles! They weren’t all that bad (once you had a few beers).
During the rally Brigitte had e-mailed me about a marathon she wanted to participate in that was located in the Gobi Desert. She said I could stay in Ulaanbaatar by myself and look after her animals or choose to go along. I of course chose to participate as well, and that’s where I spent my first weekend (Friday morning-Tuesday night) in Mongolia. But that story is coming up in a following post…
Pictures have been posted in the gallery.