Day 50: Ulaanbaatar , The black market

The sprawling Naran Tuul 'black' market.
The sprawling Naran Tuul ‘black’ market.

Feeling recovered enough to resume my usual junk food intake, I buy a mochaccino, a chocolate chip biscuit, a peanut afghan and a salty bagel-like thing.

I’ve always battled with low energy. Sugar and caffeine have been critical for maintaining my energy levels and sense of wellbeing over the years.

I remember popping caffeine pills in my twenties, to go clubbing. They were really rough on my stomach, but it was worth it to stay up past 1am, when the best underground tunes were played. In the working years that followed, fake food highs propped me up through many late nights on my laptop.

For better or worse, they’re a necessity. But in my idealism I haven’t budgeted for this level of luxury eating and I can’t help but cringe at how much money I’m spending now. I’m earning enough with the web contract to cover my costs, but my reliance on junk food highlights chronic issues that food can’t solve – I’m as unhappy here as I am anywhere – and being unhappy is just plain expensive.

I talk to my parents before my language class. It’s nice to hear from them, but it doesn’t magically cheer me up. Hopefully my retreating illness will take this black cloud with it.

After class, I take a walk down to Naran Tuul (the black market).

It’s a beautiful day which feels fresh and clean after last night’s light snowfall.

The ‘black’ market is a sprawling place where everyone comes to buy everything.

It’s likely cheaper than the international supermarket too.

With my field recorder at the ready, I capture a transient cacophony of sound. Megaphone announcements, sellers advertising their wares and moving them around on trolleys, haggling voices, guttural tones, excited kids, laughing, Chinese music and the distant sound of trains, and traffic in the surrounding streets.

I thought that a black market was somewhere where goods were sold illegally. But the stalls seems to be well organised and it’s not obvious that anyone is doing anything wrong.

Some of the lanes are narrow and clogged, with people loitering and ‘window’ shopping.

When I apologetically squeeze past a cluster of women, I feel one of them fiddling with the zip of my trouser leg pocket. I slowly realise that she’s trying to steal my wallet! I’m relieved when I make it through to the other side with my finances still intact.

It’s a good lesson for beginners. I quickly exit the market, vowing to leave my wallet at home next time. Perhaps I should just hide some cash in my shoe.