Mongolia Week 3: Anxiety

    On the fifth floor of my combined office/living space is a little fenced-off area on the building’s dropped rooftop, where someone had laid out several strips of astroturf and left behind a few rickety metal tables and chairs. While it is an area most frequently occupied at night by small contingents of teens and young adults huddled together smoking cigarettes, if one waits late enough into the night and braves the cold that is so typical of a Mongolian night even deep into the summer, they are treated to an uninterrupted and uniquely isolated view of the city and sky.

    Mongolia is often called the “Land of Eternal Blue Sky” by its residents, but to me, I feel as if I’ve become far more aware of its unending blackness in the nighttime. During the day, I am often relegated to the indoors due to work, or am keeping my eyes rooted firmly at ground level as to not bump into others on crowded walkways throughout the capital, or to avoid being hit by a car on the chaotic, congested roadways of the city. Not even the distant glimmer of stars that I usually am treated to on frequent star-gazing sessions back in the states is terribly present here; what stretches out as far as the eye can see is a darkness only infrequently speckled by a star here or there, underlit by a faint reddish glow from the lights of the city below.

    What I ultimately mean by all of this is that I hold within me a growing uncertainty as to how I am experiencing Mongolia and my time here. When one is given an opportunity such as this to spend time in a place they so deeply wanted to visit, it almost feels as if they are a bit spoiled for choice. With every decision to go do something, it is almost as if I am closing out so many other opportunities. This holds especially true in a city like Ulaanbaatar, which oftens feels incredibly spontaneous, shifting in a way untenable to a foreigner like myself. Every weekend that I have had thus far in the city, I have been treated to a different holiday that has in turn dramatically shifted my plans. My first weekend here, I found myself being kicked out of a taxi a mile from my destination due to the roads being closed for a marathon through the streets of the city. On my second weekend, I found myself unable to go to any of the museums that I had meticulously scheduled and planned out due to a multitude of graduations and state-sponsored cultural events occurring out front of them. The third weekend was home to Women and Children’s Day, and was an occasion that was accompanied by a continuation of street-level events. While in each of these cases I was provided with ample opportunity and entertainment, it still felt as if once again I was shifted away or boxed out of some things.

    Perhaps all of these concerns simply stem from the fact that I am unaccustomed to travel. In turn, take this as a notice and statement of purpose: I will be taking active measures to reduce this sort of anxiety, and shift towards exploring and loving my time in Ulaanbaatar, with its spontaneity as part of its charm.