Weather in UB

Thursday, August 30, 2007

I know I said I wouldn't talk much about my research, but this isn't exactly related, just in the general topic area. Perhaps I've become more perceptive, or there are more people in wheelchairs here than before. Granted, it is summer and I suppose this might be the only time of year when you can be outside comfortably in a wheelchair in Mongolia. However, there are still significant road blocks (literally) to your mobility here, wheelchair or not. For example, the curbs on the sidewalks are nearly one foot high, all of the sidewalks are crumbling (if there is a sidewalk at all), and there are no codes for buildings so they are virtually all inaccessible. Yet, I saw at least 4 people in a couple block radius, in wheelchairs. Two of those people were begging and the other two were selling nuts and candy. When I passed by them, no one seemed to be making any money. The anthropologist inside me would love to interview these people, and begin to break the surface of what it means to be physically disabled in the Mongolian context. I guess I should start with my research and see how that goes before I start planning other projects! The picture above was taken in the 11th district of UB outside a small health care facility. It's the only wheelchair sign I've seen here. It's ironic because it doesn't mean that the building is accessible, I think it's meant to alert cars that people in wheelchairs might be in the street, as that is the only place they can be.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sukhbaatar Square

In case you have no idea what Sukhbaatar Square is, at least you know what it looks like now. The square commemorates the general, Sukhbaatar, who helped fight for Mongolian independence in 1921.

Monday, August 27, 2007

my view

This picture is a view from my balcony. In the distance you can see at least 4 cranes( building boom!). All in all, not a bad view. The pollution was minimal the day I took this, so you can actually see the hills :)

I was out and about early this morning. I looked up at the balconies in the buildings around mine and I was happy to see older Mongolians doing their morning prayers. Part of morning prayers in throwing milk from a bowl to the sky, earth , wind. One older woman was quite shocked to see me looking up at her (usually people are looking down here, trying not to fall in a manhole). I greeted her with a sunny “Ta saina baina uu?” (literally “is good there?” but it means “how are you”) We chatted about the beautiful weather and I moved on. Hopefully she liked me enough to include me in her prayers.
Another photo of the UB building boom. Taken next to Sukhbaatar Square.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Mongol/Amerk Wedding

Yesterday I went to Alec and Tosca’s wedding. For me it started at the Wedding Palace in UB. For them, it started over a week ago. Alec's family and friends came from the States and there was tons of preparation. Tosca’s mom made their wedding apparel. It was a perfect mix between American and Mongolian fashion. Since Tosca is from the countryside, Alec and his family made a trip out there to formally ask for Tosca’s hand and to assure her family that Tosca would be accepted into their family and vice versa.
I had never been to a Mongolian wedding. Folk tradition in Mongolia says that single women should not attend weddings because they are “energy sucking” events and may curse un-married women. Consequently, funerals are seen as “energy giving” events. Usually when Mongolians see a wedding car passing by, they turn their heads and don’t acknowledge it.
Anyway, the wedding palace in UB is quite the place! It has a long, beautiful stairway that leads to the room where they signed the marriage documents. The bride and groom led the way up the stairs and everyone followed them into the room. The judge then announced the wedding, documents were signed, children give the bride and groom flowers, and we proceeded to a different room. This room had a long table. With bowls of vodka and candy. An old women led us in the traditional ceremony in which the bride lights a pyramid of sticks on fire to purify the marriage. Everyone in the room took a shot of vodka and some candy (to make it official). This was all follwed by an hours of picture taking with the bride and groom because everyone wanted their picture with them!
Then, we all piled into a bus to go to the swanky Hotel Mongolia for the reception. Of course we were stuck in UB traffic for a while before we could finally get out of the city and into the countryside. Out in the “countryside” (20 km outside the city) we saw a bunch of gorgeous, huge, new houses. My friends and I guessed that these were vacation homes for the rich. I heard that UB is one of the fasting growing real estate markets in the world (source unknown), so buy your property now!
When we got to the Hotel Mongolia I was immediately surprised by the structure itself.
It is designed to look like the ancient Mongolian capital, Khar Khoriin. It was amazing. All the guests assembled and Alec and Tosca then rode in on horseback (lots of pomp and circumstance!). Then we all filed into the reception hall. Several vodka toasts were made, bowls of airag (see also "Kymyz")were also passed around. Someone in Tosca’s family had gotten the airag from Dundgovi the day before. Dundgovi is known for having some of the finest airag in the land! Alec hired some performers which included singers, dancers, and contortionists. The rest of the evening was a series of toasts and songs. It is customary for each table at the wedding to congratulate the bride and groom, sing a song, and present them with gifts. Once the people at the table realized that I could speak Mongolian AND that I knew an acceptable song, they told me I would lead our tables song. The 2 other RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) I was sitting with didn’t seem to mind me stealing the spotlight. In addition to the song I led, I helped a table of Americans overcome their inhibitions and sing the first verse of “Amazing Grace.” Needless to say, both songs were a great success. After all the singing, we did a few waltzes and “circle dances” (those of you familiar with Central Asian discos know the circle dance well). I got down to my favorite group “Boney M”. All in all, the wedding was absolutely gorgeous and a great time!

Mongolian music

Since expats and Mongols alike are excited that one of the girls from the ultra-popular Mongolian girl group, Kiwi, lives in my building, I decided to include this in the blog. The blond is my neighbor and we've exchanged "hello's" in the hallway. Hence, I have yet to learn her name. My father has already requested an autograph. The big thing about this group is that they are all half Mongolian. They are groundbreaking in that way, and they are one of the first groups to sing a song about HIV/AIDS prevention, a topic that is often seen as a non-issue in Mongolia (even though it's sandwiched between China and Russia, 2 countries with rapidly increasing HIV/AIDS rates). Additionally, they sing in English and Mongolian. I'll be sure to post an update when and if I meet this woman.
On a side note, the music industry has really expanded in Mongolia. There seems to be a resurgence of traditional music and some new groups hitting the scene. The Lemons- Mongolian Indy rock and Deegii-extreme violin playing, just to name a few. The music video (clip) culture here has become huge. All the national TV stations have a program where people can request videos and write messages to their friends using SMS. All the messages and requests then appear on TV. As you can see, after not having a TV for nearly 4 years, I have one now. I was amazed as to what things you can find on cable TV in UB! The most interesting for me is XJTV in which the programming is in Uighur or Kazakh. Because I'm generally fascinated with Central Asian culture, I find myself watching Uighur dombra players. I actually found a place in UB (with the help of my friend that makes traditionally Mongolian instruments like the Moriin Khuur. It was really cool to see the craftsmen making the instruments. Perhaps I'll invest in one and some lessons!

Saina baina uu?

I decided to start this blog to document my time living and conducting research in Mongolia. I'm a graduate student looking at Mongolian teachers perceptions of disability in the classroom. My love of Mongolia started when I was in Peace Corps in eastern Mongolia (Choibalsan xot) from 2003-2005. So I'm back here, re-learning the language and culture, and marveling over how much has changed; BMW's now share the road with the odd horse n' cart, buildings are popping up everywhere (Hilton), and you can now find spinach in the market (this is a VERY recent addition). Things in the countryside seem to stay about the same. Officially the government acknowledges about 700,000 people living in UB, however, other estimates range from 1 to 1.5 million. As more people move here from the countryside this puts tremendous pressure on social services. As part of my research I will be out in different provincial centers. I will be sure to post pictures, and comment on what I see.