TV Gods and Secret Doors

Sorry we didn't post last week, but it was No Internet Week.

That’s not a Mongolian holiday or a power crisis; the stupid foreigners didn't pay their bill. In our defense, we wanted to pay it. We would have paid in a second had anyone told us how much or to whom. But good intentions are no substitute for cash. Not knowing that the bill is delivered magically via TV (???) was not considered an excuse for being overdue. Nor was the fact that our TV hasn’t worked since we moved in. We visited every bank and office in the neighborhood trying to make amends and ended up throwing money at random passersby in the hopes that someone might be tangentially related to our internet provider—no dice. So the wifi remained off and the foreigners were sad. (Still, it was way better than No Electricity Week or No Toilet Week.)

This is more or less how we've spent the last month and a half. We have done nothing remotely cool or Mongolian - no ger tents, no horseback riding, no throat singing, no amazing hats. There hasn't been time to regret this, though, because every day is its own epic tangle of chaos, culture shock, and comedy. It's what normal people call daily life.

You know those boring chores that everyone hates but has to do? Laundry, banking, grocery shopping, calling a plumber, picking up dry-cleaning... All of them become intensely exciting when you're in a strange land. We experienced this in Korea, where using the microwave was an insurmountable challenge. Here in Mongolia we’ve been outfoxed by dish detergent, bank accounts, and utility bills.

Generally, I love having adventure where my mundanity should be. I’ve crossed dozens of items off the old Bucket List since our arrival, which is doubly impressive since none of them were on the list in the first place.

  • Discover baggie of human hair in the fridge – check.
  • Pee by miner’s lamp in a luxury apartment – check.
  • Get medical treatment from an acclaimed pediatrician – check.
  • Cadge a ride with a driver of a UN representative – check.
  • Be allergic to air – check.

But the utility bills are just bat-butt crazy. In the US, your energy bill arrives in your mailbox with info on how and what to pay. In Korea, you get a print out with the utility company’s bank info so you can wire them money. In Mongolia, you might get a post-it stuck to your door, but more likely you need to do something baffling oblique like commune with the TV gods.

Supposedly, there is a Super Secret Magic Door in our apartment tower that leads to Narnia, where you can access your monthly water bill. So help me, I have opened every door in the building and I still can’t find it. I did, however, stumble upon an East-Asian import business, an IKEA of dubious veracity, and a Mongolian call center. (The employees were very nice, but no one could direct me to the mystical door I sought.)

Which means we’re coming up on No Water Week! We have a stash of bottled water, so there's less suspense this time. And maybe by next month I’ll have found my way through the secret door.



PS – Long-term expats assure us that bill paying will get easier over time. Once we've scraped together all the balance totals and code numbers (and presumably learned the secret handshake), we might even be able to pay everything in one go. If this turns out to be true, we might have time to explore Mongolia soon!