Off the Deep End

On August 16th, Erin and I will be boarding a plane for Mongolia. I'm in a weird place about it. On the one hand... holy crap, we're going to Mongolia! I know we won't be living out of a ger, but what will our apartment look like? Will the grocery store stock anything other than yak's milk and horse steaks? Will we be able to survive the winter with all our toes intact? On the other hand... we've kind of done this before. Not Mongolia, obviously, but moving to a new, totally unfamiliar culture. It feels strangely like old hat. Pack the bags. Bring plenty of deodorant. And this time? Thermal underwear!

But Mongolia remains an unknown. So let's try and learn a few facts.

  • Mongolia is one of the few nations on earth that does not have either a McDonald's or a Starbucks anywhere inside its borders. I know. Color me shocked. When I found the golden arches in Việt Nam, I figured the damn things were everywhere. But in Mongolia? Nope!
    • FUN FACT TIME! Mongolia shares this distinction with such luminaries as Greenland, Cuba, Bolivia, Iran, and most of continental Africa.
  • Mongolia is roughly the size of Alaska, in pure square mileage. Although a better comparison might be to say it's slightly smaller than California, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico combined.
  • Mongolia has a population of about 3 million people. That gives it a population density lower than Montana, and only cows live there. Those four states from the previous entry have a combined population of over 73 million.
  • Ulaanbaatar, the capital city, has 1.4 million people living in it. That's just under half the citizens. It's also the ONLY city of any size. The next largest, Darkhan, doesn't even top 200,000.
  • Only about 16% of the population has internet access. And that's mostly dial-up. About 3.6 % of the country has broadband. And of those, the vast, vast, majority of browsers are in Ulaanbaatar. It's hard to get YouTube in a ger.
  • Speaking of which, a hefty chunk of the population is nomadic. Almost a million people live an untethered life, out on the great and endless steppe.
  • But don't let me make it sound romantic. Mongolia is COLD. It's a northern country, getting a lot of its weather from Siberia. Discover Mongolia lists the average temperature for each month of the year. Notice how 6 of those entries are below zero? And of the rest, only 3 could really be described as warm? With an annual average temperature of -1.3 C, Ulaanbaatar is literally the world's coldest capital.
  • Large chunks of the country are desert. And a hefty percentage of the rest is mountain. Sandwiched between? Steppe, with the occasional farm for good measure.
  • The three biggest sports in the country are archery, horse racing, and wrestling. Yes, THAT wrestling. And don't think the horse racing happens in some track. No, this is wind in your hair, pounding across the plains horse racing. I'm actually eager to see it.

Feel educated? Neither do I. But that's what reading the internet will get you. It's nothing quite like going there.

Speaking of which... we definitely need to pack.