Oh, the weather outside is frightful …. no, it’s not entirely frightful (just) yet but let’s say that it has been getting a little chilly in this part of the world. For the past few weeks, we’ve been more or less around the -20C (~ -4F) mark. Give or take a few. So yeah, it’s been time to get out those boots, hats, mittens, and … well, you name it.
Sure, we knew we’d be in for some tough temperatures and shopped oh so wisely to prepare ourselves. Of course, I researched every item to death while shopping last year and I think some of the retail staff at REI knew me by name at one point. But that’s a good thing since we have been able to test the temperature ratings on most of the items we have acquired and I am happy to report that, so far, nothing has disappointed.
The Kamik boots have been keeping the kids’ feet nice and toasty as have our smart wool socks and our warm parkas (Columbia and Lands End brands if you’re in the market) have stood up the test of Mongolian “autumn” (I did mention that winter has not officially started, right?).
Of course we haven’t passed up the opportunity to shop local; oh no! I mean how can you resist adding local flair to your wardrobe? Thus far we have added a sheep fur coat (for John – it’s literally like being wrapped around and snuggling with Baa Baa Black Sheep), awesome sheep fur boots (me, of course, can you ever have too many shoes?!!?), and the best kept secret to keeping warm – thigh high yak wool leg warmers (me, of course, I can’t quite see John wearing them under his suits to work). Oh they are so nice and toasty so, of course, I had to go back and buy another pair – in sheep wool – to test out the temperature difference. I think I might be adding another pair in cashmere or camel wool when the time is right… you simply cannot pass up the opportunity to shop local and stimulate the local economy.
So what’s it really like to be exposed to the cold temperatures, you ask? Well, you kind of get used to it. Yes, it’s cold, there’s no denying that but you can prepare yourself by dressing appropriately (hello layers). I think all of us are more or less “fine” now in the -20C temperature range (of course that doesn’t mean that the little people of the household don’t complain about being oh so cold). No, we’re not standing outside all day but both John and I walk to work and the kids have recess outside until the mercury reports -25C or below. Also, it helps to keep moving – and we “may” have noticed that we walk a lot quicker when it’s “chilly”…
Some readers have asked whether you feel the temperature difference when it’s that cold and to me, right now, I feel a big difference when the temperature drops below -20C.
You know why? Because that’s when your hair – and not just the hair on your head but also eyelids and men’s facial hair – starts to freeze. Yes, your hair literally freezes. It’s a funny feeling because all of a sudden you feel like you applied way too much mascara and you feel the ice on your face when you blink. Yes, it’s weird.
Speaking of make-up, it’s best to go “au natural” when it’s that cold. Not just because our your previously (carefully) applied eye shadow and make-up will freeze but also because it will all start to melt – oh so beautifully – when you go into a building and essentially thaw out. Yes, it’s a pretty picture. And forget about wearing lipstick because you are going to end up smearing it somewhere between your scarf and your pollution mask.
Right, the pollution mask. I haven’t mentioned that yet. This is the part of the season you simply cannot adequately prepare for. The pollution here is not mainly attributed to industry like in other cities but due to the fact that many, many people here burn coal to stay warm. You know what happens when tens of thousands of people burn coal? The city quickly transforms itself into a thick layer a fog that smells like a campfire and does not leave. You smell and see the pollution – every day; more or less all the time (depending on where you are in relation to the city’s ger district).
Sadly, UB has one of the highest air pollution levels worldwide. That is not a good record to have. Sure, some norms are beginning to change and Mongolians are open to outsiders’ help with this issue like recording an air quality index but change is – as we can all imagine – slow at such a level. While you will see virtually every expat sport a pollution mask, many locals do not wear one or just wrap a scarf around their face (probably more in an effort to keep warm rather than to escape pollution). I also learned from my co-teacher that it’s really difficult for Mongolians to buy pollution masks – they are either expensive or not available. I had not thought about that since we brought a few boxes for us and didn’t need to go out and buy a mask here; so we started passing masks out to colleagues requesting one.
Another bonus of the pollution mask – it keeps your face warm, especially the nose as that was the first part of my face that began to hurt when we reached -35C last week (that’s -30F for my Fahrenheit loving readers!). Holy smokes it was cold that day. Even our front door froze – from the inside. See?
Actually, our door has been frozen for about two weeks now – we just take the extra ice as a new cultural immersion present!
So that’s our “winter” update for the moment …. we shall see what the next few months of “real” winter brings – I guess it’s a good thing that the cold never bothered me anyway (where have I heard that before???).