Let's go shopping!: Getting What You Need as an Expat in Mongolia

The view from my apartment. Just in case you were interested.

Shopping in Mongolia takes a whole lot of energy. A whole lot of energy. Finding anything means lots of walking, three or four taxi rides, 10 stores and the ability to compromise about what you want. I am still learning my way around and how to shop hear so I am hoping that eventually it won’t take me nine hours to get groceries! Of course it isn’t just that I have to go to at least five stores that is the problem. There is also the small matter that nothing is in English. I know that I have vowed not to complain about my sad sad Mongolian skills but this just has to be mentioned. And by mentioned I mean of course complained about… I am learning which products I like and which are fairly nasty. Russian milk, yes (it was Chinese until the small milk scare here in the country), Chinese soy sauce (so good!), and random bits of meat that are literally cut with a saw. I wish I had had a camera when I saw that. 

There are three major places to do your shopping here in town. There is the State Department Store which used to be government run back when Mongolia was still communist. You can buy lots of things there. I think that it is the only place in the country where you can buy lamps, curtains, or carpets. The interesting thing about shopping there is that there you have to line up three times to buy something. You line up to tell them what you want to buy. This of course is cause of much pointing, face making and miming on my part. After that you get to line up to pay. Lots of fun and pushing! Then you get to go to the basement with the little card that they give you. This is where you actually get to pick up the item s that you bought. They get it for you take it out of the box and demonstrate that it works before you get to take it home. You probably get a small glimmer of the “unpredictability” shall we saw of electronics here in Mongolia. 

The State department store. Doesn't it look normal?

The Sky Store is the closest thing here to a “normal” store. Of course there are still interesting Mongolian things about it. You have to pay for everything right where you find it which means that sometimes you have to pay six or seven times before you leave. It also means that Tara occasionally gets chased because she hasn’t paid. Yes, I am just that much of a genius. The fact that you have to pay the individual vendors also means that occasionally you aren’t able to buy something because you can’t find the vendor. I have been trying to buy a painting there since I got to Mongolia but I have yet to catch the vendor there. Like I said shopping here takes work! 

Maybe not my best impulse buy.

The Black Market or Naruun Tuul (which as far as I can figure out really means River Market) is the outdoor flea market like place where you can but pretty much anything. Well, sort of anything g. You don’t have to bargain as hard as when you are in China but you get much better prices if you go with a Mongolian friend. This week at the Back Market I also learned the dangers of impulse buying. While shopping with a couple of friends and we came across kittens. There were about seven in a little cage and I couldn’t just leave them all there. Which is how I found myself bringing home a kitten. Yes, a kitten. She is cute as hell and lots of fun. Of course I couldn’t keep her. I had over looked the fact that Tara is violently allergic to cats. I kept telling myself that they were all in my head. They weren’t. My head almost exploded! She ended up going home with the receptionist of my school who lives just upstairs from me. I suppose that all’s well that ends well. 

So the next time that you are shopping at that great mega mart just picture me standing in one of the random stores here with a box with Russian on it in one hand and a box with Chinese in the other all the while wondering what in the world I am really buying…