Weather in UB

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


The Lemons. Photo credit J. Sandhu
The Lemons play every Monday night here in UB at the Grand Khan Irish Pub. It's a real Irish pub (they even serve Guinness), but a hell of a lot cleaner than the pubs are in Ireland. The Lemons are my favorite Mongolian band. They are very hip, Indie rock guys. If you read my blog, you've read about them before. Judging by the looks on the faces of many in the crowd, I'm not sure Mongolians are really into this style of music. They seem to prefer slow songs about their homeland and mothers, like Javhlan sings. The Lemons managed to play a bunch of my favs and they covered Queen and Radiohead. It was cool to see them rocking out. It reminded me of home...except everyone at the pub was sitting down.

Friday, November 23, 2007


Delicious, home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner (Photo credits: S. Munson)
Being in UB has it's perks. For example, I got to eat green vegetables, go to combat class, and celebrate Thanksgiving with my friends! I hadn't planned on being in UB this week, but the flights were all booked up so I have to wait until December to finsh my research in the countryside. Currently there is only one airline flying domestically and the planes seat about 40 people. I'm not a glutton for punishment so I mentally said "no" to the possibility of taking a 3 days car ride (that might turn into 6 days if you factor in breakdowns and flat tires) to Hovd.
Yesterday my friends and I threw together a pretty good thanksgiving. My friend S and I went grocery shopping and found sweet potatoes, which are called "chikerte tomc" or potatoes with sugar in Mongolian. We even managed to find one can of cream of mushroom soup! This was a huge find because it was surrounded by 40 cans of chicken noodle soup and we didn't think we'd be able to find it anywhere. S and I cooked all day. We ended up with: mashed potatoes, biscuits, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, stuffing, biscotti, and apple crisp, all made from scratch. The boys brought fried chicken (closest you can get to turkey) from BBQ chicken (A Korean fast food chicken joint). One person brought Chinese chicken in a bag. Which has to be the most disgusting thing I've ever seen. It's literally a whole chicken, cooked and vacuum packed into a bag. When you take it out it's all slimy and you can seen the head. Minus turkey and pumpkin pie, it was still a great time, celebrated with good friends.
SICK-Chicken in a bag

SICKER-Chicken outta the bag

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Leaving Choibalsan

Choibalsan City!
I love the countryside. It never ceases to amaze me. It keeps you on yer toes. During my time in the Peace Corps here, I found a full porcupine back (the skin and quills) stuck into a window in my apartment. I was walking out of my friends apartment where I’m currently staying and I noticed a patch of porcupine quills above the door. My friends say that it protects them from evil. I asked around and many of my Mongolian friends have porcupine quills. It’s actually quite normal to have a few quills wrapped in red string in a safe place in your house. This is also a protectorate. I have no idea when this started, or who decided that the porcupine was special, so if you can fill in the gaps, please do. I run into these religious (Buddhist, Shamanistic) or traditional trinkets all over the place. While staying at my friend’s house I was asked to circle burning incense around my body 3 times. This incense was blessed by the Lamas and is supposed to keep my body healthy. Let’s hope it works!
I’m pretty excited to go back to the city for a few days so that I can eat something other than salt, mutton, and flour. I'm gonna miss everyone here. I promised to come back in the spring or summer to visit again. Soon I'm off to the western part of the country, Hovd Aimag.
Some Choibalsan pics for you to enjoy!
The sun coming up over the steppe in ChoibalsanThe main drag
Breakfast: Mutton bones, boov, and milk teaThe view from Bayaraa's window

Monday, November 19, 2007

Holy Days

Entrance to the Monastery in Choibalsan
The picture that was above me
Prayer flags and Buddha
After a Saturday night at the Disco spent dancing to Modern Talking, I woke up bright and early Sunday morning to go to the Monastery to celebrate Shiini Nam (New 8). It was explained to me that this is the most auspicious day in the Tibetan winter calendar. Basically, the monks have the worshippers light 108 candles and they chant from the scriptures until the candles go out. The mother-in-law of the people I’m staying with was in charge of making the candles and preparing the offerings for Buddha. The candles were made with “Shar toc” (yellow oil) which is basically this fatty, cheesy smelling product that looks like butter, but tastes and smells like rotting dairy products. She also bought cookies and candy bars (Buddha’s favorite). Because my family was part of the preparation, we went to the Monastery at 8am to set up. My friends set everything up while the grandma’s told them where to put everything.
Preparing everything for the ceremony
I had a chance to sit back and watch the Lama’s get everything in working order. The Lama’s varied in age. The youngest was around 10 and the oldest in his 70s. Around 9:30 everything was set and all the Lama’s had arrived, so we went outside to start the procession in.
The Procession into the Monastery
At this point the youngest Lama’s went and started the call to prayer. They blow into these big seashells to let everyone know it’s starting. We went inside, the Lama’s, started chanting, the faithful lit 108 candles and we prayed. As we sat there, lots of people were filing in and out of the ger monastery. One Lama sat on either side of the ger and people would come in, offer money, and hand over a list of prayers to the Lama who would then say a special prayer for them and bless them. Note: all of the scriptures are written in Sanskrit and read in Tibetan. So, no one has any idea what is being said. I imagine it’s how Catholics feel when the Latin mass is read. Nonetheless, the chanting is absolutely enchanting and I found myself getting lost and wrapped up in it.
The Lama's chanting
I stayed for 3 hours, at which point my friend and I left. His wife and mother-law-stayed for 3 more hours until the candles had burned out. I was actually surprised at how many young people I saw attending services at the Monastery. Generally people here aren't actively religious, but elements of Buddhism survived the Stalinst purges of the 1930s. During Socialist times people practiced in secert. Most of the Mongolians I know say they aren't religious, but they still have their homes blessed and purified by Lamas, and they keep other sacred things in their homes. Most of them confess to only going to the Monastery on the big holy days.
My stay in Choibalsan is coming to an end. It's been really great on the research front and being in the countryside again has been refreshing. It is funny though, my friends who live in Choibalsan don't actually consider this the countryside. They maintain that the countryside is 20km outside of Choibalsan. An interesting part of my research has been this idea of "the countryside" and where and how people define the "countryside" and the people who live in it. But that's a whole other lofty academic issue that I won't bore you with.
Here is a clip of the Lama's chanting

Friday, November 16, 2007

Don't hit your students!

I found this picture that tells teachers not to hit their pupils. I echo this sentiment and favor other types of punishment, and/or positive reinforcements.
There are a few cultural points to this picture that I'm certain anyone who has ever taught or attended school in Mongolia, Russia, or Central Asia can immediately identify. First is the "pot holder" looking thing hanging on the left side of the chalk board. This is used to erase the board, and/or to put water on the board. Sometimes the chalk has to be wet in order for it to write on the board. The second notable thing is the students uniforms. The girl has on the "french maid" uniform with large bows in her hair and the boy a suit. This is how students dress for school on special occasions, or if the class director tells them to do so.
Bottom line, don't hit kids!

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Wild West of the East

Kid getting water from the river with a little help from his friends
Me, friends, and cute 1/2 naked children
Freak snowstorm in Choibalsan: A place that's a little bit "country" and a little bit "rock n' roll"Camel carts share the road with cars
Mostly frozen Kherlen River in Choibalsan
The beautiful city of Choibalsan, as seen from the river in the morning.
Some things have changed in Choibalsan over the last 2 years. For example, there is now reliable, relatively high speed Internet. I can't watch Youtube videos, but it's just as good as my connection in UB.
Being here again is kind of strange. It's almost as if I never left. I surprised a bunch of friends who told me that they thought they would never see me again.It's been really nice to reconnect with people.
I've been pretty busy with interviews and research. I've really been employing some "high level" thinking skills out here. In addition to all of my academic endeavors, I was asked to judge the English competition at the Dornod Aimag Courthouse. consequently, I am staying with one of the judges. He organized the competition and as a favor to him I agreed to be the "foreign expert". There were 4 teams: North star, Five Fingers of a Hand, BINGO, and Venus. They chose the team names. They had to do an introduction, sing a song, Q and A, and name that word. Overall, it was pretty entertaining for me. I had adults trying to impress me with their English skills. Honestly, judging this competition of adults wasn't that far from the students competitions I used to judge when I was a teacher here. Competitions are very much a part of life here and that doesn't stop at grade 11. Additionally none of the competitors actually spoke English. They all studied Russian. That added another element of humor as I tried to decipher English words pronounced Russian style with Mongolian accents.
Annie and team "Bingo" the winners of the Courthouse English Competition
Me, laying down the law I've also been walking around the town and checking things out. Last week and this weekend have been pretty warm (in the 40sF), so I was able to go out running in the morning by the river and chat with the old folks as they do their morning exercises. There must have been an influx of missionaries here in the past 2 years, because nearly every person I met asks if I am a "Jesus person". I tell em I'm just a "zugeer" or "OK" person. that seems to settle it. A herder approached me here the other day. He was so curious about who I was and since he was staring at me I said "what?" Once he heard me speak Mongolian, I got 1000 questions concerning my availability, marriage status, and whether or not I had children. He made sure I knew what soum he lives in in case I wanted to come and see, and as we went our separate ways he shouted "I love you."
The cutest white bull in the whole aimag-"Tsaagana"

Friday, November 9, 2007

An Update from "the field"

Since Jaspal commented that I actually do have pretty good Internet out here, I'm gonna briefly update you all now and add the pics once I'm back in UB.
So this is my first time back to Choibalsan, the city I lived in for 2 years from 2003-2005. I must say, not a lot has changed. There are a few new buildings and stores, but the heart and soul of Choibalsan is the same. I think I forgot how "countryside" this place actually is. I think living in UB...Oh, i have to finish that thought later because a Mormon Elder interrupted to ask if I had "seen the light of Jesus Christ, our savior...." I told him that I can barely see any light through the smog in UB, but perhaps "the light" shines in Choibalsan. We then got into a discussion about "secret underwear", cultural reciprocity and paternalism. He invited me to spend 4 hours in church on Sunday, but I think I'll be worshipping at the church of mutton and vodka out by the river with my friends...."where one or 2 are gathered in my name, I am present."

Monday, November 5, 2007

I'm going to the countryside

In true researcher style, I'm taking off for 6 weeks to go into "the field". It's kinda funny because I'm really already in "the field", but it seems like when people talk about field research, they literally mean going into "the bush" (or field). A couple of people have recently said to me, "well, when are you goin into the field"? It's a hard question because technically, I'm already in "the field" doing interviews, observations, and other things that researchers do :) My "field" just happens to be an urban center at the moment. So, I like to say that I'm now entering the countryside portion of my fieldwork. Now that I'm done explaining that, I'd like you all to turn your attention to my friend Jaspal's blog ( Jaspal has documented his time in "the field" in Mongolia and offers really interesting and insightful comments about his research here. Plus, he takes great pictures! So I might be MIA for a few weeks. Check my blog now and again because I may have some access to decent Internet connections in "the field".