In Praise of Lukewarm Water

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September 2008. Yesterday, suddenly, our apartment got lukewarm water the color of weak tea. I was delighted.

In Ulaanbaatar, as in cities of the former Soviet Union, hot water and heat for buildings is produced in a power plant and piped throughout the city. You can still see thick, insulated pipes running above ground, and arching up and over roads. Very ugly, but cheaper than putting them underground.

Every year, the hot water supply is shut off for maintenance and cleaning of pipes. This usually lasts a few weeks in major cities, and can last for months in smaller ones. In my district, there was major pipe work done. Because of this I have never had hot water in Mongolia. They promised it in June, then August. Then in mid-September, when the heat is supposed to go on. It makes me long for the simple bak mandi bathing system I had in Aceh.


At this point, the city has done its job in getting the central pipe up and running. But my building has not yet been connected to the city system. Our building still has no heating, and nighttime temperatures are below freezing. The water is ice cold. You can get hypothermia from washing the dishes.

Our landlord, who got both his education and customer service philosophy from the Soviet Union, has been difficult to deal with. After a Soviet-style shouting match, he finally put in an electrical device in one of the bathrooms that brings ice water to a temperature that you can bathe a child in without blood-curdling screams. Later, his heart softened, and be brought us space heaters. This may have saved my marriage.

Soon we will have piping-hot water which you can boil eggs in. But it’s lukewarm now, and I am already happy.


David Lawrence

International Development Consultant

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