23 September 2007

One Month In/Homestay/Bogd Khaan/Countryside3

Posted by JonHaley under: Mongolia .

1st month down, can’t say whether it went particularly fast or slow; some things are a blur. others are in painful detail. Lifestyle was not sustainable–too much drinking, eating out and general errors in judgment–but that’s okay for the first month. Done my 5 week language course; can’t really do much with it, but I feel like I’ve at least been exposed to a lot and might be able to make something happen eventually. The fact is though, one can almost get by without knowing the language here, and I’m only around for a short time so it’s harder to make the effort to learn.

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Generally Mongolia is Mongolia, with it’s vast array of quirks and quarks, I don’t pretend to understand and I won’t pretend to be able to “break it down” for you. I miss being able to talk to people in English–asking directions, buying things–ironically, stuff I would probably almost never do in Canada. I miss the fresher air and some of the rain, and I miss my own cooking, though that’s obviously my own fault. In short, I don’t really want to be home, but home is becoming more & more a distorted, rosy memory I can no longer trust. I don’t miss the stupid news, the stupid media, or the pretentiousness of North America.

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Home Stay. I as mentioned before one of the more awesome parts of my language training was the chance to go on a 4 day home stay with a Mongolian family to practice my language and to get a feel for how things work in a family environment. Some of the other new volunteers got matched up with super excited Mongolian families who packed the days with activities, I was with an easy going young couple of about 30. My (I guess) “father”, Azaa, was a consultant for ADRA, another aid agency, and spoke basic English. He also had his sister and her toddler son around quite a bit. It was definitely an interesting experience even though I didn’t end up having to speak much Mongolian, except for good sessions. Azaa and I talked quite a bit on a variety of subjects including “The Chinese Invasion” (cheap labor coming from China to work in construction), Russia, Germany, xenophobia, universal morality and racism, etc. He was a very interesting guy, though maybe not a perfect representation of Mongolia, and he did make an effort to show me around the city and introduce me to his family and friends. If I was in that situation for any considerable amount of time my language skills would be much more developed and I would be exposed to a lot of stuff I might not otherwise see. Not sure how the relationship will continue, however, as we didn’t seem to make any real connections.

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The Winter Palace of the Bogd Khaan. The Bogd Khaan was the dude in charge of Mongolia between the end of the Qing Dynasty and the Soviet era. He was both the head of state and the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolian, besides that he had a big palace. I have never seen such crazy stuff in my life: every square inch of every surface was embellished, embossed, carved, and painted amazing colors. And that was just the buildings, the art inside was even more serious. Wild tapestries with god’s with hundreds of arms, legs, eyes, and what not; some amazing sculptures and religious icons; and other related art. In the historical part they had the furniture and clothing of the king, including a fur coat, as big as a car, made from the skins of 600 ferrets, a del made with gold thread, and quite a collection of taxidermy. Didn’t get a chance to see the whole thing as they were closing, but it’s definitely a place to come back to and spend the day.

Countryside3. What! three trips outside the city in 5 weeks this is the dream. Probably won’t happen much once the weather cools down, so it’s good to make the most of it. This trip was organized by the language school and was another chance to practice our Mongolian “skillz” and see how things are done in the country. There was a group of English speakers learning Mongolian, Koreans with some English learning Mongolian and Mongolians learning English. I was able to get chatty with a group of Mongolian girls, but after I had delivered my spiel about being called Jon, coming from Canada, and dangerously loving meat pancakes, the conversation kinda fizzled out. No matter though because the meal preparations were underway and the universal point-and-make-faces language took over. Hot stone mutton, ?????? or “horhog”, was the order of the day. Made by hacking up a sheep, putting the parts in a large metal canister, adding hot stones fished out of the fire, then topping the whole thing off with big hunks of potato and carrots and sticking the works back into the fire. This is the real “Mongolian Barbeque”, the stuff they have in North America with the stir-frying on a shield is a completely Chinese fabrication. The result is a greasy, fatty, smoky mix of well cooked meat and vegetables. The cooking stones are again fished out of the barrel and held in the hands for good health. I didn’t partake, because by this point the level of hygiene was getting seriously out of hand, and I figured I’d have better health not playing with the rocks.

After lunch, I finally got to ride a real Mongolian horse. Mine was a bit recalcitrant and didn’t speak English, but we had a good walk around, and at the end we broke into a pretty solid canter or gallop or whatever. The experience was truly a life memory and no matter how bad the pollution and cold is in the city and no matter how crappy other things might get, I’ll always remember rippin’ around the vast Mongolian steppe on a half wild steed, the wind in my hair, stringy bits of mutton in my teeth, and the smell of horse and dust in my nostrils. Effin’ eh!

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4 Comments so far...

Ruth Richardson Says:

27 September 2007 at 4:29 am.

Hey Jon! Looked like you guys had an ‘ace’ time in the countryside! Wish I could of been there but hopefully we’ll get a few more opportunities to get out there and ride horses and there’s definately going to be opportunities to eat mutton! Missing you guys lots and lots, hope your apartments nice!

KK Says:

2 October 2007 at 11:50 pm.

Oh, jon ur so funny! lol.

granma D Says:

4 October 2007 at 3:36 am.

Just as I thought we were irrevocably separed by the Digital Divide, along comes your real honest-to-gosh postcard. Thanks, Jon. Now I can imagine all the places that bit of cardboard has been.
At this moment I’m down at Scott’s house catching up on your writing. You have a great style. I can “relate” to much of it–your experiences are quite similar in ways to a typical AFS kid’s. The pictures certainly remind of my trip to China in 1971 (before all the huge changes), Years ago, I saw a documentary on Mongolia depicting the lifestyle changes even then, from the nomadic way. On a horse with the wind in your hair is definitely the way to go.
Keep up the good work! with love, dsh

riv Says:

9 October 2007 at 2:42 am.

So good to hear ur voice on the phone last night …u sound great and th experience so a magical mystery tour. Post some more goos stuff for us stay at homes…love mah

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