to market, to market


Shrouded in a cloud of steam and petrol fumes, a rusted white sedan carries its load of meat to a local market in Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar.

An array of legs and rumps wedge the boot open and wave stiffly at the cars behind. Shoulders and elbows jostle for prime window spots, pressing their flesh against glass from the back-seat. Proud chests and torsos, steadied on the roof by aging rope, sun themselves in the weak winter rays as they reminisce about great races that once set them heaving with exertion.

A series of muddied potholes filled with melted snow, throw themselves at the sedan’s tyres. The vehicle lurches, sending a pair of over-excited legs flying into the air and thudding heavily to earth. The driver stops, shakes his head, and gets out to stuff the limbs back in place. The slow journey continues.

Eventually the market gates present themselves, nestled among towering Soviet apartment blocks. The gateway draws in people and vehicles alike – in past the rusty play equipment, around the scavenging dogs, and through the concrete walls with their chipped paint and faded colours, peeling off in giant flakes.

More potholes rock the sedan and again impatient limbs leap skyward and then hit the ground. The driver doesn’t notice and they’re scooped up by a keen-eyed pedestrian, with worn clothes and a grumbling belly.

The vehicle grinds to a halt near a squat wooden building with windows patched with cardboard and tape. The driver heads to the boot – a passenger is missing. He shrugs, mutters and unloads his remaining charges onto a well-used metal trolley. Groaning under the weight, it is pushed across partly frozen, muddy ground towards the closest door of the market.

Soon the lumps of meat are sitting proudly on a worn, wooden bench, ready to be carved and presented for sale.


Published in The Age Travel section, 7 May 2005.

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