‘I have heard of your paintings too, well enough. God has given you one face and you make yourselves another.’ (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 6)
A word of warning. This brief update does not include the words ‘vast’, ‘steppe’, or ‘yak’. There are no odes to Mongolia’s beautiful landscapes, no eagles circling overhead. No, sweetie darlings, this update is about fashion. Matt and I are, after all, living in an urban environment. Escape to the countryside is not difficult, but high-rises and city people are our every day mis en scene.
UB women are, as a general rule, incredibly stylish. Think Jackie O sunglasses, high hair and even higher heels. Or cool grunge t-shirts and cute striped sneakers. There is the odd male hipster or dandy in a three piece suit. There are also delightful older herder couples who walk around arm in arm while wearing traditional dress. For the most part though, it’s the women that are holding up UB in the sartorial stakes. Where they shop, I don’t know.
Purely in the interests of enhancing my Mongolian studies, I purchased a local fashion magazine. Unfortunately the only article I am able to comprehend is a think piece entitled ‘Would you like my job?’, which includes phrases such as ‘I am a barista’, ‘I really like coffee’ and ‘I start work at 8am’. Looking at the brands worn by the models in the magazine, one would assume that there are only two shops in UB that sell women’s clothes. While this may once have been the case, the country moved from communism to a free market economy over 20 years ago. Nonetheless, where the women of UB purchase their clothes remains a mystery to me. If I ever find out, I’ll provide an update.
Not so shoes. UB is the city of shoes, as I have learnt via a dedicated search over the last two weeks. This is because before leaving Australia, my key mantra when packing was ‘winter is coming’. Hence, I brought:
- hiking boots (warm, practical)
- MTB shoes (fun, practical)
- running shoes (not so fun, practical)
- winter dress boots (warm, practical)
- very high heels (for cocktails on lido deck. Definitely not practical.)
I failed to notice the sections in my Lonely Planet guide that referred to temperatures in excess of 30 degrees, and even 40 degrees in the south. The acquisition of some kind of sandal was in order. What I have learnt in my searching is that shoes are certainly available. The State Department Store stocks a small range of good quality Italian and German ones, while places like Sunday Plaza and Narantuul (the black market) dedicate significant real estate to cheap versions of the things. In the course of my search I have been laughed at by sales assistants, avoided by sales assistants, and handed shoes 3 sizes to small and asked ‘will they do?’ My suggestion is that if you are visiting from overseas, you can get yourself well shod if you have little mountain goat hooves. If, however, you have been blessed with the kind of sturdy instruments that would have been appreciated in Jotunheim, (say, anything above a European size 40), bring your shoes from home.
Matt and I have had the good fortune to be invited to the wedding of one of Matt’s colleagues this weekend. In the interests of looking respectable at the upcoming nuptials, and perhaps because I’m keen on ‘keeping up with the Khans’, I decide it’s time to get a haircut. And perhaps a wee touch of colour to keep the blonde roots sparkling.
There seems to be a hair or nail salon on every corner. I manage to find one where the salon owner speaks English. She’s nice. She trained in the UK. Despite this, we still manage a lost-in-translation moment. Which is always dangerous when one of you is wielding a large tub of bleach. Suffice to say we have agreed to disagree on the meaning of the word ‘blonde’. Which is why there are no photographs this time around.
Oh, ok. Here’s one:
On the upside, I don’t have to stress about confessing to Matt just how much of our mutual volunteer’s wage I have spent on my hair. I am lucky to be married to a man who is kind and understanding and as much a feminist as I am, but I don’t think he can be expected to understand why in Australia, women’s haircuts cost the same as a small nation’s GDP. In UB, however, dinner at our local Indian place would cost more.
So I guess that means I can spend the rest on a cashmere scarf.
 For more on the compatibility of Feminism with a good haircut, see Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to be a Woman’—witty and wise and well worth the read.