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Hunger - 11 November 2007

The rather dusty and slightly drowsy looking fellow sitting next to me turned, extended his hand, and said in clear English 'I am hungry'.

He had seen me get on the trolley bus and take a 1,000 tugrik note (42p) and hand it to the conductor. She removed my 100 tugrik fare in notes from a prepared 1,000 wad of change and gave me 900 in hundreds and fifties. It occurred to me that 900 would buy at least four khuushuur, the ubiqitous fried pasties people eat here, and my mind went back to last Sunday afternoon. We had been to a centrally located fast-food place for tea and a snack, and had been detained at the door by a group of urchins - small boys known locally as 'hundreds' because of their habit of selling 100 tugrik items such as tissues, tv programmes, matches etc. They were saying they were hungry and asking for money.

As we sat down and ordered, a few men left the restaurant and also left behind large plates of uneaten food. The boys swarmed to the table, to be beaten back by the young female waiters dressed in American-style uniforms. I ordered some takeaway khuushuur for the boys to eat outside, but by the time we left they wanted more. Hunger seemed a symbol of living here. I thought of the stray pup I had seen curled up by the bridge on my walk to work through the ger district. On Monday I pitied it shivering and convulsing, and on Wednesday it was a hundred metres away from the bridge, just a dusty lump.

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