One of the great things about working outside the embassy bubble is that I get to meet more Mongolians. And meeting more Mongolians means I get to learn more about Mongolia and its customs.
For instance, the first classroom our university used for teaching had a heating problem; not a good thing to have in Mongolia where winter was upon us. Our staff went back and forth with each other and the building property managers to find solutions and I learned many valuable things like “why don’t you just add another layer on top of that sweater?”
It soon became a running joke that since I was not Mongolian, I was the one who was constantly freezing – which, just to be clear – was not the case as the room was literally freezing so that we sometimes needed to wear gloves to avoid cold fingers while typing (see? I successfully managed to add another layer of clothing). I was then told, over and over again, by colleagues that I simply needed to stock up on cashmere if I wanted to stay warm during winter in Mongolia.
And then a co-worker spoke those sweet magical words “I’ll take you to my friend’s cashmere factory” to which the only proper replies are “yes, please!” and “can we go NOW?”
And so we went – by Mongolian taxi, of course, you know the ones that are not metered or regulated but literally consist of Mongolians driving around in their (often beat up) cars looking to make a little extra cash on the side (actually, this is a main source of income for some so something else to ponder).
To hail a Mongolian taxi, all you do is stand at the side of the road, wave your hand (pointed down), wait a minute for a car to stop, and then discuss where you’d like to go and then the driver (usually a man but there are a few women drivers out there) drives you to your destination for a nominal Mongolian-agreed upon fee (about 1,000 MNT/ km ~ 50 US cents/kilometre).
So once you get over the fear of getting into a car with a complete stranger who may or may not be a good, safe driver and who may or may not have been drinking prior to picking you up or might not even have a driver’s license, this is actually a super convenient system. So much in fact, that many Mongolians don’t drive in UB as they rely on these informal taxi systems for transport.
And no, of course, this mode of transport is not recommended by any means for us (so don’t follow my lead!). I generally take Mongolian taxis only when I am with a native Mongolian speaker and for work-related travel although last week a non-Mongolian friend and I hailed a taxi to escape the frigid cold after a long march around town to find a particular shop selling sheep fur coats and boots (it was a successful mission if you must know so well worth the walk). We wanted to stop to commemorate this moment with a picture of us getting out of the cab but were afraid of loosing precious fingers to the temperatures – I did mention how cold it was last week, right?! Yes, we were very proud we made all transactions in our very limited Mongolian and successfully ended up where we intended to go but this type of traveling is best reserved in company with fluent speakers.
Anyways, back to cashmere. So yesterday after drilling my students on systems of equations and echelon row matrices (note to self: look into booking Keanu Reeves for a guest appearance to talk about The Matrix), my co-teacher and I hailed a cab to take us to her friend’s factory. Apparently the factory just moved this past summer and my friend had not been to the new site so we took full advantage of Mongolian studies which required not one but two taxis to get us to the right place (the first guy gave up and dropped us off on a main road so that we could hail another cab; yup, this also happens; life in Mongolia is full of these types of adventures). Yes, the factory was a bit out in the middle of nowhere and hard to find – have I mentioned that signs are not a thing here?
See this is what it looked like from the outside ….
Once inside, we were excitedly greeted by the owner who was thrilled to show her factory to the first foreigner to visit. It’s a small undertaking – the house consists of merely 2 small floors with three people working the machines and a handful sewing the final touches.
Ok, fine, so I technically did not get a step by step run down of how the process works and how beautiful yarn transforms itself into amazingly beautiful and soft clothing because we may have spent a bit too much time chatting and trying on cashmere sweaters, cardigans, and hats and scarves. All I have to say about that …..Oh.So.Freaking.Warm.And.Fluffy.
I am no stranger to cashmere products – after all, I live and shop in Mongolia the home of huge cashmere factories. I have to say though that in all my (very hard) research at other factories and shops, I had yet to find a place that offered such soft and beautiful products.
And then I learned that they can make custom orders – oh my goodness – you know I’ll be going back, right? (no worries, embassy friends, the CLO team is in on the loop of this cashmere goodness).
And yes, dear readers, you’ll be pleased to know that the university has since moved classrooms and offices and we are now all warm and toasty in our new space – and because of the new awesome cashmere goodies I now own – I am almost guaranteed by Mongolian standard not to freeze this winter…