This is a longer Chapter, since I first give the backstory about my experience with Instagram Meetups, and then tell you all about the very first Ulaanbaatar Instagram Meetup.
Backstory – Instagram in San Francisco
About a month before traveling to Mongolia I attended an Instagram Meetup (Instameet) event in the USA. I’d recently started posting photos on Instagram, and was in the beginner phase of using hashtags and finding photos I actually enjoyed looking at. (I recommend following National Geographic and all of their photographers.)
Everyone at the Instameet was super friendly, although I was shy and didn’t approach anyone. It helped that I had my dog along, since people came over just to pet her, and therefore also greeted me.
This gave me the idea to reach out to Mongolians on Instagram and have an Instameet in Ulaan Baatar. At the very end of the San Francisco meetup I finally had the guts and approached the Joby camera gear representative who had been passing out stickers and giveaway items.
I waited until other people were done talking to him and asked if he had a moment, and he advised that he was just leaving for another appointment. So, I quickly asked if I could have some of his leftover stickers for my trip to Mongolia, since they were cool. They combined the Joby and Instagram logos. (I didn’t tell him that I mostly needed the Instagram logo.) And, that’s when time stopped.
Zach set his gear bag on the ground and knelt down re-opening it. All the while he asked me: Do you have a tripod? What kind of camera do you have? What are your plans in Mongolia? Who are you going with?
Rummaging through his bag, he was only able to find a few stickers, so he gave me his email address to officially request sponsorship of an Instagram meetup. Oh, and did I have a handstrap for my camera? Hell, I didn’t even know what a handstrap was, so “No, I don’t have one,” I answered politely. In fact, I had just bought my first DSLR, and was still learning its full functionality.
He showed me the handstrap on his camera while explaining how great it was, and then turned to his girlfriend asking for an allen wrench (at least I know what an allen wrench is!). “We need to go,” she replied with ‘the look’ that girlfriends give their boyfriends at times.
Rushing, he explained that since he didn’t have an extra handstrap in his bag, he’d give me his and replace it at his office tomorrow. Anyhow, they got out the allen wrench, and he took the handstrap off of his camera, and handed them to me. Whoa! Then, they were off and away.
Zach was really psyched about my trip, and I learned about his recent trip across the USA by motorcycle. Here’s the link to the trailer of his movie. A few weeks after the Instagram meetup we arranged to meet up at his office. To my surprise, not only did he give me a stack of stickers, but also a bunch of little gorillapods suitable for phones to pass out at the Instameet in Mongolia, assuming I could arrange one. He also gave me a big tripod for my SLR. Wow!!! I had to remove all the items from their packaging in order to fit it all in my backpack. He asked that I provide a few photos in exchange.
Getting in Touch with Ulaanbaator’s Instagram Community
When I reached out to the Ulaan Baatar Instagram community, I received just one response, and it was from Ochma, who I met up with 2 days ago. Of course, to be safe we met in a public place, since we both agreed the other one could possibly be a scary bad person. So now, today, I’m meeting up with her and other Instagrammers at 4pm in front of a restaurant. It is going to be the first ever official Ulaan Baatar Instagram meetup!
It turns out that Ochma and I are the only women. Everyone is really friendly, and I learn that they are all friends or acquaintances, but this is the first official meetup. I’m glad I instigated something positive!
One of the guys told me that he had received a message from me, too. (I hadn’t known it was him, since Instagram’s usernames don’t correlate to a person’s name necessarily.) He said the reason he had ignored my message was that he was worried I might be one of those kidnappers who steals people’s organs. He illustrated why it’s so hard to meet people online!
UPDATE: Ulaanbaatar now has an Instagram account! If you’re visiting, reach out to them, and they’ll let you know about any upcoming Instameets. Many of them speak English, and several have lived in the USA. instameetulaanbaatar
First things first, I pass out the Joby mini gorillapods, and show everyone how the magnetic legs stick to a metal sign post and wrap around things. Everyone looks a bit wary of the concept. During the walk they start using their new tripods, though. We take tons of photos together and it’s really fun.
First we went to a train museum. It was closed, but we went in anyway.
Then the cops came and told us we had to leave.
Graffiti Along the Road
We took jump shots. The guys learned that I really don’t understand Mongolian, because for the first shot everyone jumped except me, since I didn’t hear the plan and had no idea they were doing a count down. So, they reconvened and translated the plan for me. They also had to teach me how to count to 3, so I’d know when to jump. After that, I kept up just fine!
And, here are some shots I took:
We got hungry and decided to go for pizza. We went to one place first, but when we put in our order we found out the pizza wouldn’t be ready for an hour! So, we ended up eating at Domino’s Pizza.
Domino’s was fine, but the cheese in Mongolia is different, so it didn’t taste quite the same as at home. Also, I’d been really looking forward to trying Mongolian food. Yes, I know that Mongolian barbecue is not actually Mongolian (invented in Japan, I think).
We exchanged Instagram usernames and ‘followed’ each other while eating our pizza and soda. And, I found out that Ulaanbaatar really does like the Beatles. Quotes, a monument… I wonder what else there is.
Next Chapter: Fortunes & Family
Previous Chapter: Children’s Day in Mongolia
Is Learning the Basics of Travel Photography Important?
Shopping at the Black Market Bazaar, Mongolia
Photographer’s Itinerary: Machu Picchu, Peru
Step-by-Step Guide: set up the grid on your phone or camera + Rule of Thirds