There was a shower-house in my training site last summer but, as far as I know, my host family never used it, so I never used it. I learned to bathe in my tumpun and my host-mom or host-sister would help me wash my hair by pouring the warm water over my head while I lathered and rinsed. The bathing and the hair-washing didn’t necessarily coincide. I would bathe every 7-10 days (using baby-wipes in the interim); I’d wash my hair every 5-7 days. Much like clothes washing in the tumpun, tumpun bathing was complicated by the need to carry the one bucket of water to my bedroom, combine in my tumpun with water from the kettle, bathe and then pour from the wide tumpun into the dirty-water bucket—hopefully, executing neither step with excessive spillage—finally, emptying the dirty water into the special pit outside.

With this as my frame of reference, the indoor plumbing at my permanent site made tumpun bathing so much easier, that I didn’t immediately seek out the Altai shower-houses. At site, I could fill (fill=2-3 inches) my tumpun right from the sink and, after washing, pour it right into the toilet. Even better was when the heat came on and my running water wasn’t ice-cold; then, I didn’t need to use the kettle at all. I’d gotten into a routine of upper-body bathing (right from the sink!), lower-body bathing, and hair-washing two days a week. The baby-wipes remain a living-in-Mongolia, must-have item.

I think at this point I should mention that when I lived in the States, my habit was to shower every other day. I’d adopted this schedule when growing up in California, because of “the drought,” and even though I’m sure I was in the minority to skip a day, it stuck with me and I saw no reason to change when I left. Like many routines, it wasn’t a hard-and-fast rule and if I needed/wanted a shower off-schedule, I’d take one. No judgment! 😉

After the new year, I asked my site-mate to show me the shower house. I think it was because the weather was so cold that I wanted that all-over warmth. That first shower in Altai, on January 10th, was gloriously warm. And, I remember thinking, “it’s so pleasurable to wash my hair without bending over.”

There are several shower-houses in Altai, but I’ve only experienced the one. The cost is 1300 togrogs (just under a dollar) for 30 minutes. There are two attendants: one collects the money (from the usage fee and the sale of toiletries) and the other seems to be in charge of throwing a bucket of water on the shower floor in between guests, handing out communal shower slippers and locking you in. Yes, the attendant locks you in, and there is no secondary lock on the inside for the vulnerable person who is naked and preoccupied. There are about 12 rooms and none that I’ve used have been particularly nice, each showing the black of mildew and/or mold. There’s no doubt it wasn’t always a shower-house, though, as the rooms are different configurations and the water comes via PVC pipes literally strung up to the rafters. It turns out, the temps at the shower-house are unpredictable and, for the most part, unadjustable. Regardless, that weekly shower is a treat. When you’re done, you give a knock and the attendant comes and unlocks your door.


Oh, and by the way, it isn’t a lock with a key… just a simple slider. I want to think this is another example of trust built into things in Mongolia, but then I remembered, it’s like showering at a gym or a campground back home. Except for the whole gender-separation thing that is largely ignored here.

8 Responses to shower-house

  1. Priscilla A. Arsenault says:

    Once again you’ve reminded me of how much I take ordinary, every day things in my life for granted. When I shower tomorrow (I have today off from work and will be skipping my shower, not doing anything today that really warrants one), I will appreciate it much more when I recall your blog from today. Q: Those “communal” slippers, are those mandatory? Do you HAVE to use them or can you use your own? Do they get washed in between customers?

    • eelevol says:

      I think of the shower slippers provided as a service to the guest so that you don’t have to step on the floor. Therefore, I’m sure I could use my own slippers, if I had some, or go without any at all. I’m certain they aren’t washed in between customers, but I always use them.

  2. Kathy Willis says:

    So glad you’re able to get into a shower stall occasionally – I can’t imagine always having to bend over a sink to wash my hair. Yikes, I do that once a month when I add my color (shh, don’t tell anyone) & it’s such a pain. You’re so “go with the flow” – it’s really refreshing.

    I think Cilla’s questions are good – especially where you’ve already seen mold.

    Take care little niece. Love, Auntie Kathy ❤

  3. Priscilla A. Arsenault says:

    I told a coworker about this latest blog entry and he asked if you’ve ever used “no rinse” products, ie, no rinse shampoo and no rinse body wash. His parents (who’ve since passed away) used these products towards the end of their lives, when they could no longer physically get in and out of the shower. I googled them and lo and behold, they’re all kinds available! Who knew? Well, I’m sure some people did but not me. Anyway, he thought if you were ever interested in trying them, you might want to add them to your “wish list” and the next time someone asks what you need ’cause they’re sending you a package, you could mention those.

    • eelevol says:

      Yes, I’d heard of them, and no, I haven’t tried them. They would certainly be convenient. Especially in the winter when you don’t want to walk from the shower-house with wet hair. But, with packages being so expensive to send, and given that we have shampoo, I couldn’t justify asking anyone to mail no-rinse shampoo. (Besides, my winter coat has a nice hood and the walk is about 5 minutes.) I guess, it’s the kind of item to pack in your luggage.

  4. Crystal says:

    Well, i’m glad u are finally taking advantage of the showers there at the shower-house because it is nice to be able to let the water roll down ur back and give ur muscles the warmth they need during the winter. In basic training, i had to take showers w other women in the same room so at least u don’t have to do that. Oh but please continue to use the shower shoes because u do NOT want athletes foot, icky. Though, hey u could take a few wipes w u to the SH next time and wipe the shoes just in case they don’t. Or maybe, purell it. U mentioned, ‘gender-separation’, does this mean that men use the same shower house and can be in the next room over from u? Are the attendants male or female?

    • eelevol says:

      Yeah, men use the same shower house and probably half the time are in the room next to me.
      One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that there doesn’t seem to be the same sense of modesty that I would attribute to American culture. For example, breast-feeding is the standard here and you will see women in public places breast-feeding their child without any attempt to shield it from anyone.

    • eelevol says:

      Oh, the attendants have always been women where/when I’ve gone.

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