15 September 2007

BYOBuuz!/Smoozin’ at the British Embassy/Countryside2

Posted by JonHaley under: Mongolia .

As things are starting to blur and turn into the selective, indeterminate memories of life, I’m just going to relate some of the big events over the past week(s). Also, since no one is able to corroborate the accuracy of the details, you will all just have to except them as fact, (or at least the best “fact” available through an often unreliable narrator.)

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Now firmly established in the post-arrival, pre-work stage of things, patterns are beginning to emerge from within the chaos and the faintest outlines of an underlying order are gradually coming into focus. There is tons of info coming in from all around, lots of which is in Mongolian, but you only take in what you can and adopt a feel good policy of nihilism and procrastination for the rest. For example, there is no way I’m going to “learn” Mongolian in 5 weeks, but I can learn the things that I find interesting or funny, (Nemeg Jon gedeg, Bi huushuur aimaar dyrtay! = My name is Jon and I “dangerously” like meat pancakes!). Works in a surprising number of situations!

I have one more week of language training left, including a four day homestay with a Mongolian family, which I’m totally stoked for, and then I move to a new apartment and begin my job (more later). After that, things should start to calm down and I’ll get a nice rhythm going, and probably won’t have a whole lot to write about…

Highlights from the week of Sept 2-8th:

Night out at “Strings” night club/bar. Decided to miss the asinine English trivia night at the Dave’s place bar, for a chance to see a live Mongolian band play pop covers on traditional instruments. Unfortunately, the band’s summer contract was up so they were rescheduled to a not so sought after weeknight time slot… What we got, however, was even more cross-cultural: A Filipino/Malaysian/Columbian band playing Jamaican, Latin, etc. dance music in a Mongolian club modeled off the Hard Rock Cafe in Bejing, in turn modeled after the American institution. Was a great time in general, but obviously will have to go back and try to see the actual Mongolian band.

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BYOBuuZ! Partay! buuz is the national dish of Mongolian, but its hardly a shining example culinary sophistication. Basically a ground mutton ball with onions and salt, covered with sticky dough and steamed. Tastes like sheep! We had an impromptu cook off to try them out since they’re such a big deal around here: you can buy bags of them frozen and there are cafes every five meters. Later on we went to the  Khaan Buuz = King Dumplings, fast food chain to try out some of their famed 200 Tugrug (10¢) buuz and huushuur (meat pancake). Interestingly enough, the prevalence and ubiquity of these super-low cost fast food cafes has prevented Mcdonalds, Burger King, etc. from so far setting up shop in Mongolia. This is definitely a testament to Mongolia’s quick grasp and exploitation of the hitherto unknown capitalist concept of “predatory pricing”, used in this case, ironically, against the capitalist Big Boys themselves.

Friday night we head on down to the British Embassy’s “Steppe Inne” pub which operates Friday nights out of the back of the embassy. It serves, primarily, as a meeting place for the expats in the city; mainly British, with a few Americans, Australians and Indians. We meet the Ambassador, nice guy named Chris, who’s been pulling the pints behind the bar for something like 8 years (not sure what other official duties he performs).

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Finally, on Saturday we went out to the “countryside” outside of UB for a visit to a real live herder family and a talk with a Mongolian ethnologist on various aspects of Mongolian culture and the traditional nomadic lifestyle. It was definitely a huge relief to get out of the smog and noise of the city for a while and we got some interesting insights into the practical side of living on the move. The word “countryside” (always said with a wistful smile and a pause) is used to describe pretty much everything outside the city of UB. It has also become sort of a idealized nebulous concept of peace, history, and national pride, as going into the countryside is like going back in time. Practically, however, everyone who lives in the country knows someone who lives in the city or would like to move to the city for a better job, and everyone who lives in the city can’t wait to get the hell out of here and visit the country, so things are still somewhat nomadic, in a way.

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For our visit we basically just piled into a van and drove out in a random direction until we got fairly far from the city and into the mountains. From there, on the advise of the ethnologist, we just dropped in on a random ger and met the family, which consisted of a older women and here husband. Since everyone drops in on everyone else in Mongolia, and hospitality is not something that can be used up or exhausted, this was fine with them, and we moved right in. The women was in charge of some flocks of sheep and looking out for illegal logging and poaching on the mountain side for the government, while the husband was off racing his horse for most of the day. Their children were grown up and living in the city, so they we’re basically retired and taking it slow, not that there is any other way “taking it” around here. (Women generally run the herding show, while the children take care of the ger, leaving men ample time for riding horses around. The practical value of a few horses for riding I can see, but why a country with 300,000 herders needs almost 2 million horses, still is very unclear to me – I guess they just like horses!

All said and done it was a great trip out and a nice break from the city. There are so many places to visit and check out in Mongolia, but you can find some very interesting stuff just about anywhere you go.

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5 Comments so far...

Sara Leung Says:

19 September 2007 at 3:09 am.

Glad to hear procrastination still applies after college 🙂 Alan and I are slowly trying to learn Swahili before we get there. (Ni kiasi gani? = How much is that?) Definitely going to need that one. So, who won the cook off?

Alan Says:

19 September 2007 at 8:39 am.

Jon,

Cool post. Keep it coming. I heard that Tracy made it to Malawi, and my blog got a hit from the Philippines (I think Victoria must be there by now). You guys are all getting settled in, it’s awesome. I’m jealous, though!

ps, lets hope that the McDonald’s and Burger Kings stay out of Mongolia. I want to have somewhere to go when I get sick of America/rampant capitalism/consumerism in the future. 😉

-Alan
http://sarainkenya.org

Mark Says:

19 September 2007 at 11:52 am.

fyi from Znet:

Number of nations that have withdrawn their troops from the Bush administration’s “coalition of the willing” in Iraq: At least 17, according to Globalsecurity.org. Poland is expected to withdraw its drawn-down forces by year’s end and other countries have been drawing down their minimal forces as well. Among the remaining powers in the “coalition”: Albania, Azerbaijian, Bulgaria, El Salvador, Estonia, Mongolia, and Ukraine.

Mongo troops helpin the gringoimperialists in Iraq??? What’s YOUR comment on dat?? Are the peeps you meet aware of this?? What is their reaction???

Yeah the city/country thing is similar all over no? Mongo country music??
Love the blog Jon Keep it upI told Dorothy to checkit @ Scott’s

Anonymous Says:

23 September 2007 at 2:11 am.

giddy-up Jona, KK, the creatures and I are fine…now… the computer broke and I stuffed it in a box after the guys down the street didn’t fix it. May be you can fix it someday. Ok i’m admitting I jumped at the chance to get a new one… a cool Mac desktop that is so fast 20 inch screen and just a mouse and keyboard I can carry whole thing with one hand.

I hope you get to gallop across the Steppes one of these days. So sorry about the endless supply of mutton. When you get an address I’ll send u a care package of soybeans. How’d u do that cazy pic of 2? The rag is just about finished. we love ya … Mah

jonhaley Says:

25 September 2007 at 9:48 am.

About what Mark was saying about the Mongolian troops in Iraq. From what I gather Mongolia had about a 171 troops in Iraq at the peak and they were only involved with “logistics and support”. There is some kind of conscription deal in the country for both men and women, but most people are able to get out of it or instead become one of the hundreds of unarmed police officers who line the streets when the presidential motorcade goes through town. I also heard from somebody that the life of the troops was pretty bad, with some cases of starvation in the past. Never the less the government claims to have 15,000 “volunteer” troops and the Iraq mission is the first out of country deployment since the country gained independence from China in 1921. I think the main reason they sent the troops was to get support from the Americans for “protection” against the Russian and Chinese superpowers. Interestingly enough, this is not the first time Mongolians have been in Iraq. In 1258 Mongolian forces, led by the great warrior Prince Hulagu, grandson of Genghis Khan, sacked Baghdad, killed an estimated 800,000 people, brought to a bloody end the Abbasid caliphate and destroyed a vast array of ornate public buildings and a sophisticated irrigation system. Puts an interesting perspective on things.

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