Here is a first installment on the hub of Khovd's economy, one fenced city block bounded by two east-west and two north-south roads, just less than a quarter mile on a side. Although I've heard it called several names, including the Black Market
and the Big Market
, most people here just call it the market
. It's where people here find most of what they need, from keys to cars and cabbage to coal. On this quick tour my goal is show you that The Market
here comes much closer to being a commodities market rather than a super market or shopping mall. Although there are many vendors, there is not a very big distinction between one and another, and yet a few, through a slightly different product line or better presentation, get to claim us as repeat customers. Some have bigger carrots than others, some have firmer turnips. But is is also true that some are much more friendly to us, and make it easier for us to buy from them.
is divided into two halves, the Free Market
(in this former Soviet satellite, I'm already treading on political territory, though not as much as at home) and the Pay-50₮-To-Get-In-Market
. The Pay Market
has housewares, clothing, office supplies, custom tailors, hardware, building supplies, lots of candy, and imported cosmetics. The Free Market
has most everything else, along with housewares, clothing, office supplies, custom tailors, hardware, building supplies, lots of candy, and imported cosmetics, though not with quite as good of a selection as the Pay Market
. The Free Market
also has animal skins, car parts, coal, cow dung, fresh vegetables, furniture, lumber, meat, and wholesale flour and rice. And much more. The Pay Market is also usually more crowded. Each has a separate entrance.
On our first day in Khovd, our English-speaking hosts brought us to The Market because, frankly, there is no way to avoid it. "Just be careful is all I'm saying..." is the advice one of them gave me, as well as "You should really get better with Mongoian money." It took several weeks to get to the point where we could even find our way around, and a couple more before handling tugrugs, tens of thousands of them at a time, did not cause some level of panic. This collection of images won't convey the size or maze-like character of the market. It may help you when you start to say to us "Surely you can find a..." Among the things we have not found here are table knives, salt or pepper shakers, and right now, peanut butter.