Getting Back in the Game

by achuggabug

I cannot report that I am as well as I’d like to be, but I am at least partially recovered and have used the improvement to see at least some of this amazing city in which I find myself. Two days ago I, again, did little; I had made plans with Stefen, our German hitchhiker, to see the Gandan Monastery, but I got tied up in the State Department Store and missed our meeting (I assume. I haven’t seen him since, so I don’t know if he went or got caught up as well). Yesterday, however I managed to get out to the Narantuul Market, informally known as the Black Market.

Before you start worrying that I ran the risk of finding myself on the wrong side of the law, let me explain the market in the most relatable terms I can. It is the largest flea market in the world (according to the guidebook); for anyone who remembers the Memphis Flea Market, the Narantuul is easily five times as large, but it’s hard to gauge the full size of the thing from within it. I expect an aerial shot of the grounds would do a much better job expressing the sheer magnitude of this open air bazar. Unlike the State Department Store near central Ulan Bator, the market is filled with individual stalls selling Chinese knockoff (and rarely authentic) goods of all sorts. If you need a new pair of jeans, there’s a row of booths for that: if you need enough Turkish style carpet to cover a cornfield, there’s enough to do the job ten times over: fake sunglasses, purses, shoes, etc… not a problem.

We arrived by bus around 10:30 yesterday morning to the concrete and grit and dust of the market. Crossing the line of a fence made entirely of scrap metal, we payed our 50MNT (about 35 cents) to enter and immediately thought we’d made a huge mistake; we’d been warned to avoid the weekend crowds as they are havens for pickpockets, but, on this Wednesday morning, we were worried that there wouldn’t be any vendors. Most of the stands stood abandoned, with the few there only just beginning to open. The four of us (we were joined by one of the Scots from the rolled car) decided on a meeting time and place in case we got separated, and we immediately proceeded to get separated.

I and the Scot wandered aimlessly; he needed a pair of riding boots, and I was looking for a hat so we had a bit of direction, but no more than the average browser. It took us about 45 minutes to make our first circle of the place, only because most of the shops were still closed and there was still room to move. We spotted a few booths in the distance that we knew we’d like to visit, but, once the vendors had set up in force we were thrown into a completely new and foreign world; there was nothing to be seen but the merchandise directly in front of you, and the raucous din had risen to a fevered pitch. It truly felt as though it was an old world market place as wagons of food and drinks were pushed down the aisles and goods and money changed hands everywhere. It was an amazing experience, and I’m so glad we made it out there before having to leave the city. In the end, I bought a felt hat, Chase and Michael bought duffel bags, and the Scot cam away empty-handed.

Chase was feeling a bit sickly as well by the afternoon, so we convalesced at the finish line bar before heading back to the hostel. I finished my ninth book of the trip, The Mysterious Island by Verne, but otherwise, not much was accomplished yesterday afternoon. I’m hoping to get to the Lotus Children’s Center today, but, as I’ve neglected to put my name on the list, I’m afraid I may not have a seat on the bus. If I miss the trip, I think I’ll try to see the National History Museum and maybe the General Intelligence Museum since they’re so close together. I suppose I’ll spend much of the day coughing up flegm, but it’s a sign that the end of my illness is near; I only hope it comes before I leave.