11 January 2008

In the Heart of the Nine Nines

Posted by JonHaley under: Mongolia .

A subject of anthropological and cultural, as well as environmental concern that I’ve yet to fully address is the fact that it is freakin’ cold out here. Not that that should come as a surprise to me or anybody else, and to be honest it’s pretty manageable. In fact I only mention it now because it is apparently colder than normal, and it’s also is an interesting part of the whole ‘experience’.

Exactly how cold it is is a matter of significant debate and discussion, and one can get widely different answers asking different people at different times. Even the Great Decider, empirical, quantitative measurement, provides no clear answer. Internet weather reports can have discrepancies as large as 15C, and public thermometers are few and far between in this city. My own Japanese bi-metallic strip technology unit craps out around -25C (-13F) and displays a disconcerting latency in measurement.

So what can one do, when, for some the primal need to “put a number on things” is a matter of grave psychological import? What do the Mongolians do for that matter? How do they describe things?

The answer maybe the Yecn Yec or the Nine Nines of Winter. According to ancient knowledge, the winter is divided into 9 blocks of 9 days beginning on the first moon of mid-November (the first day of winter) and lasting 81 days until the lunar new year, sometime around early February (no lame Groundhog Day crap around here!). Each “9” is characterized by qualitative, measurable indicator that neatly incorporates ambiguity and leaves plenty of room for enhancement and embellished in future years.

I’ve heard about 5 or 6 versions of this, so this is my aggregation:

  • First nine (Negdugeer Yec) – Fermented (alcoholic) milk (shimijn arkhi ) freezes.
  • Second nine (Hoyordugaar Yec) – Vodka (arkhi) freezes (Unverifiable at this time, see below).
  • Third nine (Guravdugaar Yec) – The tail of a young cow becomes frozen.
  • Fourth nine (Duruvdugeer Yec) – The horns of a four year-old cow freeze (not sure how you can tell).
  • Fifth nine ( Tavdugaap Yec) – Boiled rice no longer freezes.
  • Sixth nine (Zurgadugaar Yec) – The snow and ice starts to clear and the roads blacken.
  • Seventh nine (Doldugaar Yec) – The hilltops and mountains began to blacken.
  • Eighth nine (Naimdugaar Yec) – The ground unfreezes and becomes damp.
  • Ninth nine (Yecdugeer Yec) -Spring arrives! (Though it can still freeze, snow, and be generally unsettled)

I personally think this is a way better system for describing the winter as it coincides with the actually climate, unlike the solar-based Western system where winter doesn’t start until mid-way through all the cold weather.

So, anyways here we are in the middle of the Nines with no cows tails or horns to test (not so sure how the cows feel about being used as living thermometers!). But the common speculation is that it’s around -30 to -35C (-22 to -31 F) at night and in the mid-20’s (-13F) during the day. A quick look at the temperatures in Canada put us slightly better than Edmonton and about in the same league as Iqaluit (Canada’s Norhernmost territorial capital).

In general, life goes on without too much adjustment around here. Dog’s covered with white frost still root around in the garbage with slightly more desperation; little chickadee birds, with antifreeze in their blood, flutter about and somehow manage not to turn into little brown ice cubes; and too-tough-for-their-own-good men walk around without any scarves or hats (the machismo much be having a bio-thermo effect on the brain). For me it doesn’t cause too many problems as I’m lucky enough to be able to move from one warm, comfortable, well-lit place to the next, stay well stoked with calories, have lots of warm clothes to wear, and generally remain sober (easier these days as a devastating ‘food poisioning’ incident involving methylated vodka has rocked the country and cause quite a number of deaths in the past two weeks). Life definitely could be much, much worst. The tenacity and sheer toughness needed to get through these few hard week, for both humans and animals, is truly inspiring and at times even amazing. But then again quitting has never been an option, the only thing you can do is fight and keep the little flame going as long as possible.

2 Comments so far...

Silk Road Freeways Says:

19 January 2008 at 9:36 am.

[…] http://www.jonhaley.org/mongolia/2008/01/11/33) In a few days, we’ll enter the fourth nine, the most bitter of them all. Those poor […]

marcos Says:

20 January 2008 at 2:19 pm.

carry the flame…..or perish. Glad to hear you have the fighting spirit re elemental forces! your macho bio-thermal theory seems supported by much int’l evidence above +50 lat. What is the recipe for that fermented milk drink?? Sounds way more organic than vodka. Will camera operate at -x or do you still have one? to change top page shot to winter scene? Lunar new yr (Feb 6) is known as a Spring Festival so light the chalice and carry the flame!

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