Weather in UB

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Nothing says "Christmas" like end of the season airag

Brian pouring the airag
Christmas is a hard time of year to be away from family, but somehow we managed to celebrate in style. I made some Christmas cookies which my family calls "snowballs" but apparently are also called, "sandies" and "russian tea cakes". We had tons of food, egg nog (homemade), and loads of libations. The best cultural fusion came when Brian brought out the old oil canister that was full of end of the season airag. End of the season airag is a bit tangier than airag you get at other times of year. Nearly all of us partook in a bowl of the delicious, fermented mare's milk. This airag was given to Brian as a gift from a friend...lucky him! This was definitly not your average Christmas party. We also sang Christmas carols, accompanied by Mike on the Morin khuur. It was a hybrid, cosmopolitan, party for sure with people of several ethnicities and nationalities represented. All in all it was a good time, and a lovely way to spend Christmas. The perfect Mongolian gingerbread house

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Central Asian Jam Session

Rocking, cross-culturally
A former Fulbright Fellow, Mike, came back to Mongolia for work and a visit...we were all lucky he did! Mike is a musician and ethnomusicologist. When he was here before he studied the Mongolian Moriin Khuur, or horse head fiddle. He called up some of his old teachers, friends, and some students that he knows from Hohot (the capital of Inner Mongolia where he is currently residing) and had a jam session. Some of the students are from Xinjiang, Western China. They are Chahar Mongols, a different tribe from the Khalkha Mongols that live here in Outer Mongolia. Because two of the young men grew up in Xinjiang, they speak Uighur, Kazakh, Mongolian and Chinese. They also play the dombra, a famous Kazakh instrument. One of the guys is great at Khoomi , Mongolian throat singing. All of these young men are students at the Dance and Music University here in Ulaanbataar, and the older men are teachers of Mongolian traditional instruments.
The jam session was such a wonderful fusion of Central Asian culture, with a little bit of twangy American rock and blues thrown in. I took some clips, hopefully they will load up for your listening and viewing pleasure.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Come on Dalai light my fire (bad joke)

The 14th Dalai Lama (Dalai meaning: Ocean or infinite in Mongolian) is on my matchbox. When I saw these matches in the store, I wondered if they were officially sanctioned by the Dalai Lama, or if he even knew that his picture graces the cover of matchboxes in Mongolia. I heard the Dalai Lama speak last year, and something tells me he would find this really amusing. He seemed to laugh about everything!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

It's a small world afterall

Making "big bird" prints in HovdYou know it's cold when the cat, who is covered in fur, sleeps on the radiator.
This is a P.S. to other other part of the Hovd story. I forgot to mention that in Hovd I met a guy who lives in UB and works for a prominent NGO that happens to have grown up in a neighborhood about 10 minutes from mine in Chicago. It was a strange discovery especially when we realized that we actually know some of the same people. There we were, meeting for the first time in a town of 35,000 people in Western Mongolia. CRAZY!
The other strange thing that happened was on the plane back to UB. I was sitting next to Kazakh woman who was with an Iranian bussinessman. We exchanged pleasantries (In several languages), talked about Sharon Stone and Denzel Washington and went our separate ways. Yesterday I was at the "Ikh Delguur", directly translated: BIG Store, but people call it The State Department Store, and I ran into the Iranian guy, and the Kazakh woman. The man walked right up to me and said "You are from America? We are friends." I agreed that we were in fact friends. He continued by saying "the politics are between Bush and Ahmadinejad" I agreed again and wished him well. Upon reflection I guess that really was the elephant in the room. As an American, you never know how yer gonna be received by people aboard, luck for me this guy separated policy and people!
And now, some more pictures of Hovd:
Winter Meat- the people in the distance are slaughtering a cow for winter meat
The Hovd Theater
Cow in the gutter and (upper left corner) "Bakery King" sign based on the Burger King logo

"X-Men" Mini-market and store

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Rocking the Trader Joe's bag outside the Hovd Theater
I just got back from Hovd, Western Mongolia, one of my research sites. The one thing that really differentiates Hovd from the rest of Mongolia is that fact that most of the restaurants serve "haluun chinjew" paste. Mongolian food is generally salty and bland, but this stuff can spice up anything! As my father would say, "it makes a rabbit spit in a bulldogs face."
Red Pepper Paste-Thank you China!
This was my first trip to Hovd and I was lucky enough to have some Peace Corps connections. As an RPCV, I was able to contact the volunteers who were staying in Hovd and stay with them in exchange for green vegetables which I purchased in UB and brought out to Hovd. In the winter Hovd has a very limited fruit and vegetable selection, so the volunteers were so excited to eat fresh veggies. They were also very helpful in setting up connections and interviews with locals.
Hovd is "considered remote even by Mongolian standards" according to Wikipedia! That's really amusing. I would say that it's a pretty standard Mongolian aimag (provinical) center. In the summer it's know for it's watermelons and cantaloupe, unfortunately I saw none of that. One notable thing is that there are some Kazakh people who live in Hovd, and I must say that hearing Kazakh was refreshing as I am usually surrounded by Mongolian speakers. Plus, I got to buy some beautiful Kazakh wallhangings, purses and pillowcases! The fun fact I learned about Hovd is that the rich families (all 2 of them) spend their weekends in Urumqi (Western China). I heard that with 2 drivers you can make it there in 24 hours! I bet that's where the red pepper paste comes from.
It snowed 3 of the days that I was in Hovd which is really unusual for such a dry place. It was really cold (to be expected) and the remarkable thing is that even though the power plant seems to be chugging coal, none of the buildings were warm inside...bad insulation. I was just happy that the hot water was working.
My research went really well and I got to check out the "city". The most insane (aside from the usual insanity) part came at 7:45 this morning when I airline called and said that check-in was over and the plane was leaving at 8am. It was supposed to leave at 10:20, but they pushed it up, and some how the foreigners never got the message. Some of the Peace Corps volunteers were also going to UB and we all hurried to make the flight. One guy lives in a Mongolian ger, so he had a variety of chores he had to complete to "close up" the ger. We got a local car on the street and with the airport in sight, the car started to fail, it was almost out of gas. So we sat in this car, going at a snails pace hoping the airplane didn't take off. Once we got to the airport, it became apparent that we weren't the only ones who hadn't gotten the message. Needless to say, we made the flight and made it safely to UB.
I took some photos in Hovd and here are the ones you might enjoy.
Downtown Hovd

An ass outside the Freedom Disco. Photo credit: S. WedlakeOne of the Secondary Schools in Hovd

Play time in the courtyard

The "Vibrator" Bar

I'll post some more pictures later when the internet speeds up!