A teacher sat at the blue table in the lounge, her wares spread in front of her.
“Мынау қанша?” My CP broke away from our conversation to point at a glass baking dish.
“Жирма бес,” said the other teacher.
I glanced up from my locker and made a beeline for the table. “Жирма бес па?” 25,000 tugriks?
“Ертең алғам бола ма?”
“You can take it today,” said my CP, “and pay her tomorrow.”
I snatched up the dish and carefully, reverently, stored it in my locker. We sat down at a different table.
My CP asked, “What is that for?”
Bayan-Ulgii sits on a trade route between Russia and China. A fair number of odds and ends find their way to stores here — Mongolian, Russian, Chinese, Korean, Kazakh, even the occasional ware from Lithuania, Poland, or Germany. But you never know when those things will appear. Right now we have chicken thighs and mozzerella in the supermarket. Last month, only one store in town had garlic.
There are two big supermarkets in Ulgii. I do the majority of my shopping at these; by and large, I know what’s available in each of them. Small дэлгүүрs carrying a fraction as much sit on every street corner.
If you want cheap and unusual, though, you go to the market. Ulgii has an open-air bazaar open six days a week. Individuals buy (or grow) goods and sell them — some from stalls, some from small stores, and some from tables they’ve brought in the back of their van to set up before the market proper. Because the wares are locally grown or bought for an individual’s profit, they tend to be cheaper than stuff brought in by major stores.
About once a week, you can walk into the teacher’s lounge and find one of the tables turned into a minimarket. I’ve seen food, beauty products, household goods, dresses and skirts, and even children’s clothing on sale. Teachers work this the same way as market-sellers: they buy or order out-of-town goods, sell them cheaper than shop (or even market) prices, and turn a nice profit on the stuff that can’t be found locally.
Some sellers get their goods by mail order; Faberlic, for example, is a popular Russian beauty catalog. Some have family in business and take advantage of a seasonal trip to Seoul or Beijing. But most people go to Kosagash. Kosagash is a Russian border town a few hours out from Ulgii. The salespeople-to-be split the cost of gas, make the hour trip, and spend the day wandering from shop to shop looking for appealing things to sell.
Last weekend my site celebrated one year in Mongolia — a month early on account of scheduling difficulties. We’d been planning the menu for weeks, with every intention of making the most of my sitemate’s oven
But there was been the problem of a baking dish. They’re available in the capital, but hard to find, and expensive. We had seen nothing when we’d looked around town.
In Kosagash, apparently, people use ovens. Maybe they even make casseroles. And that means last weekend, we got to eat a Buffalo chicken bake.