winter starts…

It’s November now, and my jokes about the frozen north don’t seem quite so entertaining anymore, as the temperatures sit consistently below freezing.  I decided I wouldn’t break out my winter parka until the temps dropped below zero (fahrenheit), which they have started to do in the evenings/nights.

So out it comes, and god bless Marmot for making the warmest coat I have ever worn.  We’re still above zero in the day time, but the coat is worn almost constantly now.   It is quite the wind block, and with the hood up, I’m toasty all over, except where the wind blows around my legs.  But I haven’t pulled out the long underwear just yet.

Winter is not nearly as bad as I was expecting, but then again, single digits (again, fahrenheit) are what I grew up with.  It’s been a while, still, but it shouldn’t be unbearable.  When we go below zero in the daytime (thus double digits below at night), then I’ll be truly cold.

In the midst of this, I think about Mongolians who live off the grid (and the few expats, ie, PCVs, who do too).  I am lucky, in my apartment so warm, I almost never actually have the heat on, and my running hot water.  I wake to warmth, and if I wanted, I could wear tank tops and shorts and sit on my couch and watch TV.

Off the grid, people live in buildings, occasionally, but more often in gers.  True, a well-constructed ger can be incredibly insulated.  But the cloth felt and latticed wood is still no match for concrete bricks when it comes to keeping out the cold.  Worse, off the grid means no heat or electricity or plumbing.  That is, mornings are sharply cold until someone ventures out from under heavy blankets to light a fire in the ger stove.  Nights are dark. And all together, bathroom breaks mean leaving the ger in the middle of the cold night. I periodically think that I should experience this, and then I venture outside and the sharp winds remind me why I live in relative luxury.

On the other hand, a ger in the countryside has one significant advantage over an apartment in the city: far less pollution.  The haze and black smoke hangs over UB constantly now, powered by the burning of trash, plastic bottles, raw coal, dung, and whatever else, in hundreds of thousands of ger stoves.  And as the ger districts surround the city (further ringed by mountains), the pollutions drifts lazily towards the center and lingers, often it seems, in my parking lot.  The particulate matter is visible, and at night, my cold breath hangs in the air for a moment, suspended, before blowing away.

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