While nowhere near as challenging as living in a ger during the most frigid of months, apartment living can be a bit problematic, especially if you’re not in one of the larger cities in Mongolia. Infrastructure problems can be challenging. Let’s see if any of you apartment dwellers out there outside of Mongolia face similar issues.
Heating is a priority. You have no control over your heating, as there is usually a centralized company that decides when the heat is turned on and off, and at what temperature it will operate. It usually comes on in October and shuts off sometime in April or May. This all depends on the city you live in, of course. The worst times for heat are right before they turn on and right before they shut off. Before your radiators start radiating, if it’s brisk and cold outside, your apartment will be nice and frosty. You simply have to wait. Conversely, if spring gets warm and summer starts creeping in a little early, you find yourself in a sweat lodge (or hot yoga studio, if that’s your thing).
I recall some volunteers in smaller cities experiencing winter with little to no heat in their apartments. Everything froze, and there was no respite from the chill unless they left their homes. The ones who managed to stick through it merely shrugged and said “It is what it is.” If Mongolia teaches you anything, it’s how to adapt.
There are also issues with water and electricity. You experience blackouts often, and sometimes, your power will go out and you will be left scratching your head as to why. I’ve had my apartment’s power, and only my apartment’s power, go out several times this winter. Everyone tells me to not plug in so many electrical things, but when I inform them that I wasn’t home, and therefore not using any electrical appliances, when the power went out, they reply with an “Oh” and save the advice for the next time the same thing happens.
Water goes on and off. It all depends on what work is going on in the city. Last year, I lost water frequently. This year, not so much. Most apartments have running water, but not all have it running hot. Even if they do, it can go out every now and again, as I discovered while living in Darkhan. Someone speculated that the hot water was on a schedule for different districts in the city. I never bothered to ask and find out, but it’s an interesting thought.
Overall, winter in an apartment isn’t too shabby. The apartments are cozy, and if you have well insulated windows, it will pass with you experiencing relatively little stress. If you don’t get your windows winterized, however, you’re in for a rough time. Older wooden windows need to be sealed– usually with newspaper or styrofoam and a layer of plaster– to keep the cold out and the heat in. Make sure you get on that.