The Hilarious and Terrifying State of Mongolian Electricity

Hey all! So I figured I’d take a short break from detailing the many adventures of my Mongol road trip to talk about something else today.

But first, a story.

As many of you may recall, my shower used to look like this:
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I say “used to” because that lovely little electrical box you see? The one five inches from the shower head? Well, first it started sparking (while I was in the shower, as detailed in this post). And then it exploded. The resulting small fire was my introduction to the hilarious and terrifying beast that is Mongolian electric work.

When Ben Franklin made the connection between lightning and electricity, he said “Son, wilst thou take this kyte and keye, I’ve a halfe-undress’d womane of the nyght in the Coate Closete and we’ll be wanting to have conjugale relaytions inne every roome, including thine owne.” When Tesla discovered alternating currents, he called up Tom Edison and said, “Suck it, bitch.” When the first Mongol came into contact with electricity, he did four shots of vodka and stuck his hand in the socket, and thus the field of Mongolian electrical engineering was born.

As a non-electrician, one of the most annoying aspects of Mongolian electrical engineering that you are likely to face is the fact that the electrical sockets are terrifying. In fact, electrical sockets in this country are so uniformly terrible that the Peace Corps stipulates that volunteers must live in places where sockets are up to snuff (or so I’ve been told, at least). But I’m not Peace Corps, so my electrical sockets look like this:
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And this:
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And this:
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But let’s say you’ve gotten lucky and your electrical socket hasn’t completely lost the will to live. Your next problem is that your sad socket is most likely the only socket–if you have one socket per room, even if that socket is suicidal, you’re doing pretty well. Which means you’re going to have to “when in Rome” it and start practicing the ancient Mongolian art of strategically arranging extension cords–a practice which has been elevated to a national art form and cultural treasure. Rumor has it that the UN sent a delegation out to document this art, but they couldn’t find a place to charge their cameras.

Once you’ve got your extension chords beautifully draped around the room like calm, peaceful death snakes, now you’ve got to hope those extension chords actually work, which they only do…sometimes. Or only certain ports work. Or nothing works, and you send one of your students to go get another one, and they return with a ten-inch knife that they use to pry off the back of the extension cord in order to re-wire it by hand while you bury your head in your arms and wonder how much you’ll have to pay off the cop to let you call the embassy after you get arrested for letting your students get electrocuted.

So, what happened after my electrical box exploded? I called up a Mongolian friend, who sent out an electrician. Who smelled like vodka, but this is Mongolia, that in itself isn’t weird. What was weird, I thought, was that he never actually touched the electrical box–all he did was turn the shower on and off, then call my friend. “He says he fixed it,” said Mongol phone friend. “What do you mean ‘fixed it?’ He turned the water on and that was it.” “Okay, I send out another electrician.”

Electrician number 2 arrived an hour later, and this one, thankfully, opened the electrical box for a peek inside. And promptly pulled out this monstrosity:
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That’s right. Some electrical genius, who was good enough at his job to recognize that a shower is a bad place for an electrical box (but not good enough to, you know, not put it there), had solved the problem by stuffing the box full of plastic bag in an attempt to keep the wires from getting wet. Said plastic bag went up in dramatic flames when the half-assed wiring job it was protecting started sparking, and thus the explosion of the entire box.
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But it’s cool. The electrician removed the box and hung the wiring from a nail, so…it’s fixed now.
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So, if you ever find yourself in Mongolia staring at an exploded electrical socket or nine million extension chords, just remember: Mongolia is a harsh climate and the fields in which they used to grow their fucks are barren. So when it comes to “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” they give so few fucks that they extend the sentiment to things that are actually broken. In Mongolia, it’s more like: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And if it is broke, don’t fix it until the white girl calls a lot of people in a panic when there are flames shooting out of her wall.”

Because that happened. Twice.
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Happy Tuesday, everyone! Don’t get electrocuted!

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