"The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Mongolia"
[Note: On June 12th, 2015, I departed from Mongolia forever. And, this will probably be my last entry to my Mongolian Blog.]
FOREWORD: Every place and every country has both good and bad (and ugly). Mongolia is no different. Herein below I expose all the good, the bad, and the ugly of Mongolia, without holding anything back. If you want to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, then this is the blog for you.
There are a lot of good things about Mongolia. I call your attention to my article (entry of this blog) entitled "The 10 Reasons Why I Love Living in Mongolia." Overall, I had a good experience in Mongolia. Furthermore, my teaching experience was so lovely in Mongolia.
ORCHLON INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL
Orchlon was the best school that I have ever worked for. I stayed there for three years, and only left because I needed my son to be in a full-English curriculum. You see, Orchlon provides state-of-the-art bilingual education: Mongolian and Cambridge International Programme (including Cambridge International Primary Program, Checkpoint, IGCSE, and AS-levels). When my son finishes his education, perhaps I'd like to go back there and teach again.
Most of the people are nice and lovely. It's just those few bad apples that really put a bitter taste in one's mouth.
Unfortunately, many things happened in my final weeks in Mongolia that really chapped my hide, and left me with a very sour/bitter taste for Mongolia in general. Let me explain, and hopefully, it will help some of you travelers to Mongolia to avoid the same pitfalls that I fell into. (Also, for newcomers, I highly recommend my article entitled, "The 10 Dangers of Ulaanbaatar").
The really bad thing about Mongolia is the corruption. The Corruption Perceptions Index, 2014 (by Transparency International) ranks Mongolia at 80th out of 175 countries, 1 being least corrupt and most transparent. Corruption is a cultural thing in Mongolia. It pervades the culture in ALL levels and sectors of society. There is, of course, corruption in government. There is corruption in education, from teachers charging pupils for money (illegally) to teachers accepting bribes to change grades, to administrators changing grades for whatever reason (such as to keep kids in their school and thus keep revenues up). There is corruption in the police force (bribes are a common way of avoiding official charges from traffic tickets to jail time). There is corruption in the taxi industry (of course, right?). What I'd like to talk about it the corruption in the common people.
Most of the problems from the common people came from "gypsy taxi-drivers".
What is a "gypsy taxi"? Well, a gypsy taxi is a taxi ride given by a common person, who is not a legitimate taxi driver. Gypsy taxis are more common than actual, legitimate taxis in Mongolia. Just about anybody with an automobile may legally give a ride for a price in Mongolia. In order to hail a "gypsy taxi driver" you just stand on the side of the road and put your hand out. I'm pretty sure that gypsy taxis are completely legal in Mongolia, but the government sets the rate. Last I heard the legal rate was 1500 MNT for the first kilometer and 1000 MNT for every kilometer after that. After living in Mongolia for a few months you get used to what it should cost to go from your home to your favorite dens. And before I tell you what happened to me, please understand that I had been living in Ulaanbaatar for five years and was very familiar with the going rates for gypsy taxis.
...And The Ugly
So, let's start with the day was I going to the hospital to get a check-up for my work visa to China. I called "HELP TAXI" because they come to your door and pick up. They charge 6,000 MNT for the first kilometer, and I think 1,000 MNT for every kilometer after that, which is highway robbery, but I really needed to get that medical check-up done as soon as possible. It cost me 9,000 MNT the first time I went. The second time I went, with a different driver from "HELP TAXI" it cost me 15,000 MNT (see what mean when I say that the legitimate taxis are corrupt???) Well, that's not what really pissed me off. When we got out of the hospital, I didn't want to pay "HELP TAXI" prices, so I hailed a gypsy taxi. It wasn't more than 4 kilometers away and it was pretty much a straight shot on one road. He didn't even have to turn and the traffic wasn't bad at that time. Should have cost between 4,500 MNT to 5,000 MNT (and I'm being generous to the gypsy taxi driver).
Within minutes, we were at our destination. I said, "Zoksoroi," which means "Please stop." He pulled over. I asked, "Xeeden ve?" which means "How much?" He said, "Gochin myonk," which means 30,000; however, I heard "Goron myonk" which means 3,000. The reason I heard "Goron myunk" is because I never in my wildest nightmares would have thought he would have tried to charge me 30,000. Never in my five years of living in Mongolia was I overcharged so much. That's six times what it should have cost! I was actually quite pleased. 3,000 was cheaper than the 5,000 that I was planning on paying. So, I handed him 3,000 Turgriks.
He turned around with this fake insulted look on his face and repeated, "Gochin myonk!" I was appalled! I had been overcharged many, many times, but at most double price. NOT SIX TIMES the price!
I knew from experience that it does not good to argue with those people. They will defend themselves until the police come. I had one guy charge me 20,000 MNT (which was about 20 USD at the time) for a shoe shine. I was appalled! I offered him 2,000 MNT (about 2 USD), because that's what it should have cost. He would not accept it. So, I just walked away. He grabbed me and I yelled for the police for about two minutes, when someone stopped and said, "May I help you?" I said, "Yes! This guy is trying to charge me 20,000 MNT for a shoe shine, and I can buy new shoes for that price!" He said, "The police are over there in that building." I started walking toward that building with the guy still holding on to my arm. As we got close to the building, he said, "Okay, 5,000!" I paid him 5,000, but NEVER got a shoe shine from some maggot on the street ever again. I polished my own shoes from that point onward. But, back to my story about the most outrageous gypsy taxi driver ever.
I knew that it was no use arguing, and I don't like arguing anyways. I just handed him a 5,000 bill. He wouldn't take. I said, "Just take it!" He refused to take it. I said, "Titus, get out," (Titus is my son), and I tried to get out; but he had locked all the doors so we couldn't escape. My son tried to open the door, and the gypsy taxi driver (a man) leaned over the front seat and started hitting my son's arms and yelling at my son!
At that point, I raised my fist and was about to deck him in the face! (You don't hit my son!) He saw me with my fist raised and stopped hitting my son. They he turned back and started to drive away. I freaked, because I had heard recounts of gypsy taxi driver getting their friends to beat up the clients and taking their wallets. What would you have done?
Take a moment to think. What would you have done in that situation? The doors were locked. The windows were locked. We were trapped and he was driving to his friends to beat us up and steal ALL our money.
Well, here's what I did. I immediately climbed into the front, sat on the driver's lap, grabbed the steering wheel and turned it toward the curb. The driver braked. We stopped. I leaned over and flipped the switch that unlocked the doors and said, "Titus, get out and wait for me! Take our bags!" He did as I instructed. (My first priority was my son's safety.) Then, I reached over and opened the driver's door. I was going to make my escape over his lap, but the driver, somewhat shocked at my behavior, got out first, making it easy for me to get out.
At that point, I still hadn't paid the driver anything, because he wouldn't accept the 5,000 Tugriks that I had offered him. He was still demanding payment. I started yelling for the police. No police in sight, I started to pretend to call the police on my phone. At that point the driver got back into his car, but interestingly he did not drive away. He was still demanding payment. I handed him the 5,000 Tugriks (which was a fair fare), and I walked away with my son. We doubled back and crossed the street so that he couldn't follow us.
Now remember, we (Titus and I) were in our last week of living in Mongolia and I needed to mail some boxes (parcels) to China. We were at the bank. I closed my account and exchanged some of the currency to US dollars. Then, we hailed a gypsy taxi to go home, get the boxes and go to the post office. We got into the gypsy taxi. This time it was a woman. She looked and acted very nice and honest. I felt I could trust her. I asked her if it was okay after we went to our home, could she take us to the post office. She replied affirmatively, as if it was no problem.
When we arrived home, the fare should have been about 2,000 MNT, but I gave her a 20,000 MNT bill as a retainer, so that she would wait for us to get our boxes. I asked her to wait. She turned off the engine and got out of the vehicle, got out and made like she was waiting for us. When we came back downstairs with our boxes, she was gone! Took my money and ran! What a witch!
That's Not All; Oh, the Greed! (and the Lies)
Nope, that's not all. My next two recounts do not have to do with gypsy taxis; however they still have to do with the greedy Mongolians. Greedy, greedy, greedy! (And liars, too!)
So, due to my mistake, we arrived at the airport 15 hours early. And it costs 30,000 per taxi and we had to take two taxis to get to the airport. So we were walking around wondering what we were going to do for 12 hours (that we had left by the time that we found out how early we were), and some Mongolian guy approached us, asking if we had a place to stay. He said, "I've got a new hostel that I just opened."
I had not had time to think and I didn't want to be bothered. I just said, "We are not arriving. We are leaving." He said, "Oh, okay. Have a nice flight," in very good English, I might add.
The Mongolian Chinggis Khaan International Airport is very small. And, it's not very modern. There was only one restaurant and it didn't really cook. It had some cold sandwiches and some pre-cooked sausage dogs, which were cold. I suppose "restaurant" might not be the correct word to describe the place. We were hungry, so even though the food did NOT look appetizing we ate it. As we were eating some of the most disgusting food I've ever eaten, I thought about what we should do. I said, "Hey, Titus! I've got it. Remember that guy who owns the hostel?"
My son replied with a question: "What's a hostel?" Jeez! I had to explain to him what a hostel was.
Then, I said, "We can stay there for several hours, then come back to the airport." I knew it was going to cost me money that I would have rather not spent, but I didn't want to hang around that very boring and uncomfortable airport all day. So, I found the man and explained that we were early for our flight. I wanted to stay at his hostel for the day. I said, "If you will drive us to and from the hostel, I will pay full price for a day at your hostel.
Long story short (because I'm tired and I don't want to write the whole story): He didn't own the hostel (LIAR!!!!) and he charged us 30,000 MNT each way for his driving services. So, I ended up paying 100 USD for just a few hours at the hostel, plus the driver's fee of 60,000 MNT! Also, I wanted to take a shower, but they had no hot water at the hostel. I was NOT a happy camper, let me tell you. I am NOT going to mention the name of the hostel, because I don't want to give it free advertisement here on my website.
So, let this be a lesson to you. Don't trust anything anyone tells you at the airport. They might be LIARS!!!!
In summary, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Mongolia are:
Isn't it the same everywhere?
May 3rd, 2015 (Edited May 5th)
No-Selling-Alcohol Days in Mongolia
On May 1st, as with the first day of every month in Mongolia, vendors are prohibited by law to sell alcoholic beverages. If the first is on a day of the week when we have work the next day, it's generally not a problem (for the consumer who has to work the next day). However, May 1st 2015 was a Friday. It is quite a bummer for those of us who work hard all week and want to go out celebrate the freedom of the weekend on a Friday evening/night.
Those who are in favor of the law, probably don't drink; and even if they do occasionally drink they dislike all the drunks walking around, who occasionally cause problems. They like having at least one day a month when they don't have to hear/see drunks walking around, sometimes causing trouble, or passed out on the pavement somewhere.
Those who are opposed to the law, say that it only hurts businesses that sell alcoholic beverages, like bars, pubs, and night clubs. (It certainly doesn't hurt the supermarkets where people go to stock up the day before.
I would like to address both of the above arguments.
In Favor of the Law
Firstly, to those in favor of the law and agree with the above arguments for it, I would ask, "What are you doing out late at night on a school night (when your kids have to go to school the next morning) and/or a work night (when you have work the next morning)?" "What possible inconvenience is it to you that certain people opt to go out and drink?"
Against the Law
Nope! Those arguments don't work for me.
I'll tell you what does work for me!
As a professional, qualified teacher, I was taught that it is not right to punish the whole class for the misbehavior of the few. (And honestly, I agree that it is not right!). THEREFORE... the government has NO right to punish the WHOLE country for the offenses of a few. You see, I have been told over and over again that the reason for the law was because of excessive public disorderly conduct in Mongolia due to the excessive imbibing of a few reprobates that didn't give a rat's bottom about social decorum.
The government should punish those who commit crimes and leave the rest of the law-abiding citizens alone!
I ask you:
(1) Is it right that innocent vendors should be punished for the crimes of a few consumers?
If a person buys a gun and shoots somebody, is the vendor blamed (in countries that sell guns)? No!
If a person buys a knife and stabs somebody, is the vendor blamed? No!
If a person buys a pencil and stabs somebody, is the vendor blamed? No!
(2) Does alcohol kill?
No! People kill. People either kill themselves by drinking too much alcohol or kill others under the influence of alcohol (but the latter not often).
(3) Is alcohol to be blamed for people's indiscretion?
Partly yes and partly no. God knows I've made some stupid mistakes under the influence of alcohol, especially when drinking too much. But, the real issue is not the alcohol, but the person's deep-seated emotions. Alcohol is an enhancer of pre-existing emotions; AKA: a mood-enhancer.
Now, making a law that says: Sad or Angry people must NOT drink alcohol would be very hard to enforce.
The Answer to the Problem Is...
So, what is the answer?
The answer, my friend, is EDUCATION!!!!
Instead of a stupid law that prohibits the selling of alcohol once a month, the gov't of Mongolia should educate its population about the effects of alcohol, and let them govern themselves. People are not stupid (most of them)! If given the facts, they can make proper choices for their lives.
Caveat: The government should educate its population about BOTH the physical affects AND the emotional ones!
EMOTIONAL AFFECTS OF ALCOHOL
For instance, if you are angry at somebody, you probably shouldn't be drinking alcohol, because it will only make you more angry.
Most bar fights start because the person is ALREADY drunk, then gets angry, and the alcohol magnifies that anger proportional to the amount of alcohol consumed. I have witnessed three very big and very drunk Mongolians try to kill a single Auzzie because of some off-hand remark that the Auzzie made. No, if the 3 Mongolian men were sober, I'm pretty sure that they wouldn't have tried to kill the Auzzie. But, that wasn't a no-selling alcohol day, and the law of no-selling alcohol on the 1st of each month had NO power to stop it. I STOPPED IT!
I saved that Auzzie's life that day. And I was DRUNK!
So, are we to blame the alcohol for me saving that Auzzie's life?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Something to think about! Huh?
I also saved 3 Mongolian men from going to jail for murder.
Let's blame the alcohol that I was drinking for that, shall we?
Come on, people! Alcohol does not kill, people do.
I would contend that if the Mongolians did not already have deep-seated mal-content toward the foreigners in Mongolia, they never would have tried to kill that Auzzie, no matter how inebriated they were. There has to be some deep-seated emotion already there for the alcohol to have any such an effect.
I don't know the exact comment that was made, but let's just guess that the Auzzie said, "Your girlfriend is ugly."
Now, if a Mongolian had said, "Your girlfriend is ugly," do you think that the 3 Mongolian men would have tried to kill the other Mongolian? Probably not, right?
But, because a foreigner says, "Your girlfriend is ugly," they tried to kill the poor Auzzie! Why? Because there must have some deep-seated animosity toward foreigners. [Logic dictates].
And this brings me full round to EDUCATION!
The gov't of Mongolia knows full well that there are many of its population that is NOT fond of foreigners being in this country [for various reasons, some of which are wanting to maintain a "pure blood" race, which is a joke, because the Mongolians are the most ethnically diverse people in Asia (being in a cross-roads); and wanting to keep all the resources for itself].
Therefore the gov't of Mongolia needs to educate its population that without foreign investment, the country will NEVER grow, the economy will go into the toilet (which is pretty much there right now because all investors left the country).
Education! Education! Education!
Come on, Mongolia! Educate your people!
February 20th, 2015
"Tsagaan Sar and Aaruul"
If you would like to learn all about Tsagaan Sar (and traditions associated with it), just visit my other page:
One of the favourite treats of Tsagaan Sar is aaruul (pronounced: /ah-roll/). Herein below, I shall address the very common Mongolian old-wives' tale that aaruul is good for one's teeth.
Firstly, what is aaruul? It is a dried milk curd. It is high in fat, protein, lactose (a sugar) and lactic acid. It does contain calcium, but how much, I don't know.
Aaruul is pictured in the slide (below) purporting that the consumption of aaruul is good for teeth.
My review of above slide (By Matthew Wong)
Wait a minute! Isn't "Wong" a Chinese name???? What's wong with this picture? A Chinese (whom the Mongolians despise) is purporting that the consumption of aaruul is good for the teeth? "Can't you find any Mongolian sources?" you ask.
My answer: "Well, Yes! How about every Mongolian that I talk to and have talked with for the past five years?" Even my grade ones recently told me that it is good for their teeth (much to my chagrin).
Here is a quote from a Mongolian website: "Arul belongs to the most common travel provisions (next to Borts). The pieces are also a ready snack for the small (or larger) hunger at almost any time. Some sources cite Aaruul as the primary reason that traditionally living Mongolian people have very little troubles with their teeth. It is also one of the core vitamin sources for the nomads." (Source)
Well, writer of above comment, your comment seem to purport that if Mongolians didn't invent aaruul, they would have terrible teeth. I can go with you half way. Certainly, they needed the calcium for their teeth, but if they didn't wash off the lactose and lactic acid with some mutton, then they certainly would have experienced tooth decay.
Many Mongolians today will tell me that it's not the aaruul, but rather the advent of candy, chocolate and fizzy drinks that is causing so many Mongolian children to have tooth decay. My retort is that I don't think that the poor children in the rural areas could afford (let alone have access to) candy, chocolate and fizzy drinks. Take, for instance, the 2,016 children that were treated for tooth decay in 6 days in the province of Zavkhan by some humanitarian dentists. (Source)
My Witness To This Sad State of Affairs
Sadly, being a teacher of little children, I see hundreds of Mongolian children each year who have black teeth. (Not that all their teeth are black...no, no, no; Rather, many of their teeth have black caries (AKA: decay)).
It makes me sad to see it. Sometimes, the decay is so bad that baby teeth (what Mongolians call "milk teeth") have to be removed. Why Mongolian dentists will not drill out the decay and fill it is unknown to me. Many Mongolian dentists will just say, "Leave it. It's going to fall out soon anyway." That's so bad. If the infection gets into the blood stream, it can make the child sick and have lots of pain. Not to mention the fact that the black decay is an eye-soar.
I just don't understand why educated dentists do NOT try to dispel the common myth that aaruul is good for the outside of the teeth. [It might be good for the inside of the teeth].
You hear Mongolian dentists always saying, "You need to brush more," but you never hear them saying, "...especially after eating aaruul." Why not? They know very well that aaruul contains lactose and lactic acid, both of which are bad for the outside of the teeth.
Why is lactose bad?
Lactose is a sugar, and it is what the bacteria in the mouth eat. Then, they excrete lactic acid, which rots the enamel of the teeth, mostly when people are sleeping (and less saliva is being processed).
So! The bacteria create lactic acid. And what is naturally in the milk? Lactic acid!
Milk products are a doubly-whammy-bad-for-the-teeth food item (cheese excepted).
I am NOT making fun of the Mongolians!
The fact is that I'm out about 8000 USD due to milk! And, I don't want to see others make the same mistake that I made.
You see, US milk producers promote their product as "good for the teeth" because it has calcium in it.
That is SUCH propaganda! (a half-truth used to promote their product).
The TRUTH is that YES! calcium IS good for the teeth. However, it must be digested and absorbed from the small intestine into the blood stream, where it is carried to the bones. Inside the bones there are cells called osteocytes, which use the calcium to make bones. The calcium in the milk does NOT adhere to the outside of the teeth! Fluorine (and other halides) will adhere to the calcium in the enamel of the teeth. Milk, however, contains both lactose (food for bacteria in the mouth) and lactic acid.
After months of drinking warm milk right before going to bed (to help me sleep) and not brushing my teeth (because I thought that it was good for the outside of my teeth, I developed serious cavities in my molars. Four molars needed crowns (2000 USD each).
Here are some studies that back-up what I'm saying (in case you think I've lost it):
Happy New Year!
(Mongolian lessons, by me)
December 28, 2014
"Hoping for a Happier New Year in Mongolia!"
Well, here we are at the end of another year.
Let me give a little review of the year 2014 in Mongolia.
RE: The Mongolian Economy 2010-2014
Firstly, let me back up and give you a little recent history.
When I arrived in this lovely country, called Mongolia, in September of 2010, the exchange rate was approximately 1100 MNT to 1 USD (possibly a bit less than that); AND, it was considered to be the most stable and well-performing currency in the world. However, much to my chagrin, that didn't last long. Even though the economy was doing well, with lots of foreign investment, the MNT kept depreciating. Herein below, you will see what I mean:
In January of 2012, The Economist posted a very positive article, with very uplifting news for the mining industry in Mongolia. It stated that the economy had grown by 21% in the third quarter of 2011. The same article quoted IMF as saying that the economy was expected to grow by an average of 14% in the years from 2012-2016. HOWEVER, by December of 2012, the exchange rate had climbed to approximately 1300 MNT to 1 USD. Everyone I talked to assured me that that was because it was winter time and there were fewer US dollars coming into the country. I was hopeful that the exchange rate would go back down to 1100 MNT to 1 USD by the summer of 2013. Unfortunately, that did NOT happen!
In 2013, the proverbial feces hit the proverbial fan. The Mongolian gov't had some disputes with some of the mining companies, including "big player" Rio Tinto, which I don't fully understand. You see, there was this mine called Oyu Tolgoi (Turquoise Hill), which came to be partially owned by the Mongolian Gov't and partially owned by Rio Tinto. The Mongolian gov't suspected that it was being "stiffed" by Rio Tinto (in more ways than one, such as: asking for more money from the Mongolian gov't and alleged tax evasion).
It wasn't only a dispute with Rio Tinto, though. The Mongolian gov't revoked 106 mining licenses, effectively putting a halt to most of the mining in Mongolia. As a result, pretty much all the mining companies and all the companies that support the mining industry left the country in mass exodus, the likes of which I've only seen once before. [I saw a mass exodus of foreigners when the Korean Won tanked in 1997-8 and the IMF had to give a loan to the Korea]. But, that's another story.
By January of 2014 the MNT had devalued to 1600 MNT to 1 USD.
By the end of 2014 (now), the MNT is approximately at 1900 MNT to 1 USD.
To my knowledge, there is no solution to this problem on the horizon. So, I'm leaving Mongolia. Over the past 5 years, my rent has doubled, because my landlord wants a certain dollar amount and I pay in Tugriks. I get paid in Tugriks, and since my salary has not increased in the past 5 years, the USD-equivalent of my salary has nearly halved. Most of the food is imported, so the cost to feed my family has doubled. I can't take much more of this!!!!
RE: Mongolian Corruption
Did you know that Mongolia has a special agency called, "The Anti-corruption Agency of Mongolia"? Well, it does, and I find it very ironic that a couple of years ago, many of the members of that organization were fired for the very thing that they were to fight: i.e., corruption.
Also, did you know that the 2013 Global Corruption Barometer listed Mongolia as the second most corrupt nation on the planet?
Regarding corruption in Mongolia, 2014 takes the cake, though! Yep! Mongolia has outdone itself this time. As of November 2014, many news agencies around the world reported that the Mongolian Parliament fired the Prime Minister on charges of corruption. I like the Chinese Daily's report best, due to it's outlandish claim that the Mongolian gov't is heading for collapse.
In April of 2014, Bloomberg posted an article about how the Mongolian gov't is preventing many foreigners from leaving, they say, because of investigations into tax evasion of many companies, including mining companies. Some of the detainees are still here (since 2012) and they may not leave until the matters are settled.
I have always tried to be positive about my host country, but this is just getting too be too bad. I understand that every country has corruption, but in Mongolia, it seems to be a different kind of corruption.
Let me explain it this way:
Whenever the topic of sports comes up with my Mongolian acquaintances, I am told that Mongolians are not good at team sports, because in their culture, Mongolians only had individual sports, like wrestling, archery, and horse-racing. Furthermore, I am told that Mongolians traditionally look out for themselves and their family only. People were traditionally nomads that moved around in small family groups. It was and is a survival-of-the-fittest culture; and if you look at who has all the money and power in Mongolia, it is generally those large in stature (President Elbegdorj being the exception to the rule).
So, in line with that line of thinking, we can see that in Mongolia, the corruption is not to benefit any political group, any particular corporation, or any so-called faction of society. No, no, no! The corruption is purely individual. Individuals are corrupt, and do corrupt things that only benefit themselves and perhaps their families, as is the case with the Prime Minister who was recently fired by the Mongolian Parliament.
My conclusion is this: Mongolians are too selfish. They need to pull together and work for the benefit of the WHOLE society, not just their greedy selves. Since I don't see that happening any time soon, I'm leaving this country as soon as possible. Since it is not possible for me to leaven until July of 2015, I'm hoping for a happier new year in Mongolia.
To that end, I wish you all a "Happy New Year!" (See my posting about how to say "Happy New Year" in Mongolian)
RE: Where to EAT in UB (UB= Ulaanbaatar)
If you are new to UB, the question of "where to eat" would certainly be on your mind. If you are like me, you have traveled a lot and you have experienced one or more of these:
Montezuma's revenge (Mexico)
My guess is that you'd like to avoid those situations as much as possible. So, choosing the right restaurant is of paramount importance.
I recently learned that Mongolia has no laws requiring food-handlers to obtain any kind of training or permits (in order to handle food properly). Another HUGE problem is the storage and transportation of meat. The meat is not always stored properly (at proper temperatures). The restaurant/vendors must obtain a license, but that is just a matter of paying money to the gov't for the license. Therefore, I have repeatedly gotten very ill in Mongolia (from the meat at certain restaurants). I can tell you which places to avoid and which to visit.
FIRSTLY, where to avoid:
I was never (and I mean NEVER) so sick in my life as the day and week after I ate at the most expensive restaurant I've ever eaten at: Wang's Chinese Restaurant, located in the Chinggis Khan Hotel, in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. I can only describe the pain and suffering as being akin to a combination of acute meningitis and acute diarrhea. For one week straight, I slept, pooped diarrhea, and drank water. I couldn't do anything else.
I used to go there because it is the only place in Mongolia where one can get Jja Jang Myeon (a Korean version of the Chinese Ja Jiang Mian). It is a noodle dish, covered in a brown sauce with pork in it. I couldn't taste anything wrong with the meat, because it was thoroughly immersed in the brown sauce. I only tasted the sauce.
It had to be the meat. My son also had the same dish, but he only ate the noodles (as he doesn't like the tough, chewy meat), and he did not get sick. We always eat together and the ONLY thing that I had eaten, which he had not eaten, was the pork of the aforementioned dish.
With regard to the hole-in-the-wall, dingy, dirty, but cheap Mongolian restaurants, I was once served the most rancid piece of meat I have EVER tasted. I took one bite and immediately spit it out. It smelt and tasted putrid. I hoped I wouldn't get sick, but I did. The next day, I had diarrhea and a fever. (I image that I would be dead if I had actually eaten the meat, rather than merely tasted it.)
Please understand that I'm not referring to chain restaurants, such as Khaan Buuz. Freshly prepared khuushuur and buuz are perfectly safe to eat. I've NEVER gotten sick from either one. PLEASE UNDERSTAND that I wrote, "Freshly prepared." The khuushuur that is pre-cooked and sits on the self indefinitely (until someone buys it) is NOT safe!
***If you are a vegan / vegetarian, and you only eat vegetable matter, you should be fine wherever you go in Mongolia.
NOW, where to go:
I'll start with the Vegan / Vegetarian restaurants in Ulaanbaatar:
Note: The above information may be out-of-date, because I haven't lived in Mongolia for a few years.
June 04, 2014
Translation and Public Notary in Mongolia
Recently, I had to get my son's birth certificate translated and notarized. I was a bit trepidatious, because I live in a foreign country and I don't speak the language very well. In actuality, it was rather painless. I went to Double Check Translation. Chris speaks English. His company was fast and accurate. In fact, it was done within an hour and ready for pick up.
Then, I asked if they knew of any public notaries in the area. They did. They told me to go down Seoul Street heading West. It was right past the IT Zone building, on the left-hand side, just as they told me. There was a sign in green on the building that looked like this: Нотариат (Notariat). D.Delgermurun (the Notary) speaks a little English, enough. She works fast. The whole thing was done in minutes.
(The "H" is pronounced like an "N"; the "p" is pronounced like an "r"; the backwards "N" is pronounced like a short "i").
May 24, 2014
Do I (or does anybody) want to teach in Mongolia?
This entry is not for me, but rather for you. I will try to be objective.
(1) Salary-Cost of living ratio
If you are single, you can actually save money in Mongolia. If you have dependents, like I do, it's hard to get by.
Ulaanbaatar (affectionately referred to as "U-B") is the coldest capital city in the world. That's not to say that it is unbearable. It's not too bad. And the summers are absolutely wonderful (not too hot, like many other countries that I've been to).
(3) Things to see and do
There are a lot of things to see and do in Mongolia that you can't see and do anywhere else in the world. Most will have to be done when the weather is agreeable, but it's worth it!
(4) The People
The people are awesome! I love the Mongolian people, especially the children! The children are unlike any other children in the world. They are so well-adjusted, confident, and smiley. They have a great sense of humor, too! There are some caveats; such as if you are a man, you don't want to be approaching Mongolian women in the bars/pubs/night clubs, because the Mongolian men get jealous. (But that's pretty much the same for every foreign country I've lived in).
So, based upon my objective (and somewhat subjective) assessment of life in Mongolia, if you think you'd like to come here and teach, please visit "Teach Mongolia".
April 22, 2014 (Updated October 23, 2014. See below original article)
Mongolian Economic Update: The Mining Mystery set straight
So, what's happening in Mongolia economically?
All right, so I got the REAL scoop on what's going on in Mongolia from a guy who's in the know. (Thanks, Mende).
So, there are quite a few mining companies here, but the BIG one was RIO TINTO, a world-renowned mining company (Canadian-owned), but with headquarters somewhere in Europe, I believe. You could google it if you are interested (I'm not that interested in where their headquarters are).
So, RIO TINTO came to the Mongolian gov't and made a contract with the Mongolian gov't (which was majorly flawed from the beginning, said my contact). The contract said that RIO TINTO would incur all the costs of "set up" (which includes shipping in all the equipment, setting up camp, hiring personnel, food/cooks, blasting initial holes, etc. etc.) Then, after an agreed amount of time (this is the problem), RIO TINTO would give 34% of the sales of ore to the Mongolian gov't.
[Parenthetically, my student's father, who is a consultant for mining companies around the world, says that even that percentage is ridiculously high. No mining company in the world pays that much royalty to land owners.]
The pre-agreed set-up time ran out. RIO TINTO had not yet recouped the cost of setting up. (Why? Because shipping ANYTHING to Mongolia is EXPENSIVE, mostly because it is a land-locked country, but also because of the climate and terrain.) Clearly RIO TINTO wasn't thinking clearly and did not account for those things. So, RIO TINTO went to the Mongolian gov't and said, "We need more time."
Mongolian gov't said, "Show us your books."
RIO TINTO refused.
Mongolian gov't said, "Okay, we will give you more time, but then we want 51% of the sales in ore that is exported from Mongolia."
RIO TINTO said, "Screw you!" and left.
That's not entirely true. They didn't leave completely. They are still running the open-pit mine (under the name Oyu Tolgoi (O.T.)), but they have closed underground mining operations.
All personnel both local and expat have been laid off from the underground mining division.
Now, as a result, the lack of USD coming into the country now is the reason for the super-high inflation, going from 1100 MNT - 1 USD to 1800 MNT - 1 USD in less than two years.
I have linked to the article (above), but articles online do NOT last forever, so I have printed an excerpt of it here
Article written by B.Khash-Erdene, published in UB Post, April 20th, 2014.
The following is a letter sent by the prime minister of Mongolia to the president of RioTinto:
Update: October 23, 2014
I thought that my prayers had been answered when Altankhuyag Norov sent that letter (above). I thought that everything would be rectified, the mining companies and all companies associated with the mining industry would come back to Mongolia and our economic situation would improve. Oh, how wrong I was!
See the recent article from The Sydney Morning Herald, entitled:
Rio Tinto has withheld $US4.2 billion needed to push ahead with giant Mongolian copper venture.
No Whistling in a Ger!
April 15, 2014
Mongolian Superstitions and Western Superstitions Compared/Contrasted
Never, ever whistle in a ger!
Mongolians believe that if one whistles in a ger, it will incur the wrath
of the wind. The wind might blow
over the ger as a consequence of whistling in a ger.
Today, I’d like to compare and contrast Mongolian
superstitions with those in the English-speaking West.
Now, I must say upfront, that I am no expert in the area of
superstitions. My source for Western
superstitions is my own upbringing. My
sources about Mongolian superstitions come from various things that I have read
over the past year and a half, and mostly verified by my Mongolian friends,
colleagues, and acquaintances. I
wish to recognize them for their contribution to this article.
In the English-speaking West, the number 7 is
considered to be an especially propitious number, as is 11 (the master number).
Consequently, there is a nation-wide convenience store called 7/11 in the
U.S., which has done quite well. However,
I recently learned that 7 is considered a very, very unlucky and evil number in
Mongolia. Nobody seems to know why.
Interestingly, in the West we have a superstition that to break a mirror
will incur 7 years bad luck for the person who broke it.
In Mongolia, the numbers 3 and 9 are thought to be a
very lucky numbers. My Mongolian
colleague told me that 3 is the best number.
She didn’t know why. As far
as nine goes, most Mongolians attribute the popularity of the number nine to
Chinggis Khan, as Chinggis Khan had nine generals.
I personally think that it goes way back before Chinggis’s time.
The Mongolian ger is made with 81 ribs; that’s 9 x 9.
Furthermore, according to Mongolian myth, the gods constructed 99 pillars
to separate earth from heaven. That’s
9 x 11 (another propitious number).
Buddhism, which is the chief form of Buddhism in Mongolia, the number 11 refers
to enlightenment. Also, Mongolian
shamanism is making a strong come-back.
I remember visiting a shaman’s tent right here in Ulaanbaatar and I saw
11 sky-blue flags. Or was it 13?
Thirteen is another propitious number in Mongolia.
I’m not sure why. In the
West, 13 is deplored and abhorred. It
is the most unlucky number. Friday
the thirteenth is a most unlucky day. Nobody
really knows why, but some have speculated that it might because the Knights
Templar—a western religious cult—were ambushed by the King’s forces on the
Thirteenth of October, which just happened to be a Friday.
In the English-speaking West, it is said that if a
black cat crosses one’s path, that person will have very bad luck.
In Mongolia, it is said that if a cat enters one’s ger, death will come
to a member of the family. Even in
Korea, where I lived for 10 years, cats were feared.
What is it with cats? I
actually like black cats. They are
In the West we say that if our ear is itching, someone
somewhere is talking about us. Also,
if a soldier has an itchy trigger finger, he wants to kill somebody.
In Mongolia, if one’s palms are itching, money will come into hand.
In the West, it is traditional for the groom to carry
his bride over the threshold of their new home.
From wedding.theknot.com I learned why.
Apparently, anciently it was thought that evil spirits lurked in the
threshold of the home, and the groom had to carry his bride over the threshold
in order to prevent evil spirits from entering the bride through the soles of
her feet. In Mongolia, it is
generally considered very unlucky to step on any threshold of any building or
edifice. I’m not sure the reason
why. Perhaps it is the same reason.
While we’re on the topic of weddings, I’ve noticed
that Mongolians do have wedding rings, but they don’t always wear them.
In my culture, it is considered taboo to take off the wedding ring,
except for work, as some jobs require that the ring be removed for the job.
In the West, we tend to hate Mondays, and love our
weekends. In Mongolia, Tuesday is a
really, really bad day. Anciently,
Mongolians never got their hair cut on Tuesday.
From my research, it is because the soul is said to be seated in
different parts of the body on different days and on Tuesday it resides in the
hair. Therefore, to have one’s
hair cut on a Tuesday would mean cutting one’s soul.
Furthermore, special events, such as weddings and funerals, are never
held on a Tuesday. If you recall a
previous article of mine, Tuesday is the day of Mars.
Mars was the god of war. Perhaps
there is a connection there, too.
My colleague told me that Saturday is another bad day,
but not as bad as Tuesday. It think
it is interesting that Saturday is called, “Half-good Day” in Mongolian.
Now I know why.
In the West, to see a “falling star” is very lucky.
We were told when we were children that if one sees a “falling star,”
one gets to make a wish, and the wish will come true.
In Mongolia, a “falling star” means that someone will die, as each
star represents one person on Earth. It
is therefore a superstition that one should say, “It’s not mine!” to save
Similarly, to see a dead animal in Mongolia is not
good. If the animal’s spirit
suspects that you killed it, you will be haunted by that animal’s spirit.
It is therefore a superstition that one should declare out loud, “I
didn’t kill you!” As far as I
know, there are no superstitions regarding dead animals in the West, except I
read somewhere that there is a very old superstition that if a bird dies in
one’s house, death will come to a loved one.
To bring good luck, the elder Mongolians believe that
one must offer milk tea to the sky spirits/gods.
I wrote in a previous article about the old lady who lives two floors
above me always flicking milk tea into the sky from her balcony and getting
showered by it. It may have brought
her good luck, but bad luck for me. In
the West we ward off evil spirits with salt.
It is customary to take a pinch of salt and throw it over the shoulder in
order to keep evil spirits away.
In the West, it has been considered good luck to keep a
rabbit’s foot in one’s pocket. I’m
not sure why. I’ve heard it said
that because rabbits are very, very productive, as in re-productive.
In Mongolia, it is considered good luck to carry wolf ankle bones in
one’s pocket. I’m told by my
colleagues that this particularly applies to men.
In the West, we think it unlucky to walk under a
ladder. In Mongolia, it is
considered unlucky for two people to split up and each walk around a pole or
other stationary object on separate sides. Perhaps
the fear is that the two will split up permanently.
Finally, there are two customs in Mongolia that are
often included in the category of superstition, but they are not.
They are merely customs. The
first: when two people accidentally
bump feet or shoes, they should shake hands, to indicate that there are no
mal-intentions. I guess
traditionally to kick another’s shoes meant that a fight was wanted.
The second: always use your
right hand, especially when shaking hands, when handing something to another, or
when receiving something from another. It
is a sign of respect. To do
otherwise, would be a sign of disrespect.
Personally, I don’t believe in superstitions.
I think they’re all a bunch of hooey, but don’t park in my favourite
parking spot. Don’t sit in my
favorite chair, and by all means don’t say, “Good luck” when I’m about
to perform; for to do so, would make me have a very bad day.
Smile, and be happy, everyone!
January 31st, 2014
Tsagaan Sar (Mongolian Lunar New Year)
Today is the first day of the first month of the Mongolian
Lunar New Year! Mongolians call it, "Tsagaan Sar" or
The day before Tsagaan Sar is called, "Bituun," literally meaning, "Hidden"; It signifies the "hidden" or "new" moon. The so-called "Tsagaan Sar" (new year's day) is the FIRST day of the waxing crescent moon; hence the name "White Moon".
Tsagaan Sar, (or so I'm told), is celebrated for about 14 days
(until the full moon). It is celebrated by the eating of "white"
Also, since the introduction of vodka to the country, vodka is a major part of Tsagaan Sar festivities.
To say, "Happy Lunar New Year" in Mongolian, you say, "Tsagaan Sar Saikhan Shineleerei!" (which literally translates to, "Please make everything new at White Moon!"
May you laugh, and be happy this year!
December 6, 2013 (Origin of the X-mas Tree)
Origin of the Christmas Tree: Mongolia
Did you know that the Christmas Tree (not originally a Christian symbol) was from Mongolia?
My research suggests that Mongolia may be the origin of the first Christmas tree, and that it was spread throughout the world by Genghis Khan (AKA: Chinggis Khan).
This is part of an article that I wrote for the UB Post in December of 2011:
The Mongolian Winter Solstice & The Mongolian "Christmas Tree"
According to an article by Jade Wah’oo Grigori,
entitled: “A Time of the
Shaman’s Gift Bringing;” the traditional Mongolian winter solstice is a
very, very, meaningful and important time for all Mongolians who still follow
the old ways.
Now, when I use the word “Mongolian” I shall be referring to all the Mongol tribes collectively, including the Khalkhs and Buryats, and whichever others there are out there. According to Ms Grigori, the Mongolian village shaman was and still is very central and important to the winter solstice ritual. Villagers gather at the shaman’s ger, a circular tent or yurt. There is a central pole which represents the ‘mother tree’, “ej mod.” It is called other things too, like the “Tree of Life” and the “Pole of Ascension.” There are 81 ribs, representing the 9-times-9 pillars which hold the heavens apart from the earth. The ‘mother tree’ points to the North Star, (if you are standing on the south side of it; but since the door of the Mongolian ger [yurt] ALWAYS faces south, you must enter the ger/yurt from the south; so that makes sense, doesn't it?). So, at the top of the ‘Tree of Life’ sits the ‘Star’.
Hmmmm. Where have I seen that before? A tree with a star at the top. Sounds familiar.
According to Mongolian
tradition, each human’s spirit has a home on a different star; Yet, the
North Star is special. It is
metaphorically called the “Heart of the eagle” or the “Compassionate heart
The villagers gather in the shaman’s tent, having
brought gifts of local wares and placing them under the “tree”.
In return for the gifts, the shaman undertakes a spiritual journey to the
North Star (with the help of some mushrooms or other narcotic) on behalf of his
villagers are laden with spiritual burdens, which span the gamut from grudges to
guilt. They want their “sins” to
be cleansed from their souls. The
shaman acts as an intermediary between them and the Great Spirit of the
steadfast, unmoving, unchanging, eternal North Star.
He takes the spirits of the unclean to the Heart of Purification where
they are cleansed of all unrighteousness, then returned to Earth.
Then, the Tree of Life, or Mother Tree, shimmers with the light of each
purified soul, reawakened to or renewed by the light of the North Star.
Holy Mongolia! Truly fascinating stuff; is it not?
not the Shaman playing the role that a "saviour" would perform?
[Interesting correlation to the Christian tradition, is it not?]
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Riding Reindeer in Mongolia!
My son on a REAL reindeer in Mongolia at ESM (English School of Mongolia)!!!!
If you want to ride a REAL reindeer, you've
got to come to Mongolia!
Naadam Festival 2013
Okay, so this was my third summer in Mongolia and I was really looking forward to the Naadam Festival, as was my son. It is supposed to be three days, July 11th, 12th, and 13th. Well, unbeknownst to me, they started early! We missed half of it. Then, on the 13th, we went to Naadam Stadium and nobody was there! It was all over! Unbelievable!
The 9 Mongol Tribes?????????
According to tradition there is a big opening ceremony on the morning of the 11th (even though games started two days before that). We didn't go (because I was sleeping in), but allegedly 9 soldiers on 9 white horses, carrying 9 cylindrical banners made from horse or yak hair parade from the Parliament building to the Stadium. According to an article in the UB Post, those 9 banners represent the 9 Mongol Tribes. Try as I might, I can find no listing of those alleged 9 tribes on the net. My conclusion is that the number 9 is merely symbolic, because for some reason (that nobody really knows) the number 9 is sacred in Mongolia. Why do I say "symbolic", because there were a lot more than 9 Mongol tribes.
Here's a list of some of the Mongol tribes that I could find from various articles on Wikipedia:
Ironically "Khalkhs" were not mentioned in any of the Wikipedia articles but 98% of Mongolians today claim to be from that tribe. The other 2% are either Kazakh (in the West) or Buriyat (in the North).
What does 'khalkh' mean?
So, I got to thinking, "What exactly does 'khalkh' mean,
anyways?" I looked it up in the bi-lingual lexicon, Mongolian-English
Dictionary, Completely Revised Fourth Edition, by Ch.Ganhuyag, 2012. It
means "umbrella". So, clearly 'khalkh' is just an 'umbrella'
term for anyone living in Mongolia! And now it all makes sense!
UPDATE: POST-NAADAM update!
An article on the front page of the UB Post, July 15th, 2013, entitled, "Biyelgee dancers registered in Guinnness World Records," mentions the names of the Mongol Tribes thusly:
Khalkha, Buryat, Barga, Uzemchin, Dariganga, Tsaatan (Reindeer community), Darkhad, Khotgoid, Durvud, Bayad, Uriankhai, Khoton, Tuva, Zakhchin, Torguud, Uuld, Myangad, and Khazak.
That's 18 tribes still existing in Mongolia. So, I guess the number 9 was taking 18 and dividing by 2.
Every country that I have been in has beautiful and not-so-beautiful people in it. Mongolia is no exception. Recently I came across the cover of Top Info Magazine and fell in love at first sight with the girl on the right (see photo below). Her name is Bayartsatral, a model.
So, I did some research on her online. I found out that she got married in 2012. I am so bummed out; ...as if I had a chance.
Two years ago, I used to be infatuated with Uka from the Mongolian singing group called "Kiwi," featured on my Mongolian lessons page, until I found out she had an old, ugly, but rich boyfriend (I'm sure he's a really nice guy with a nice personality, Pphhhhhhhhhhht!). At least Bayartsatsral married a young, handsome, rich guy.
CAUTION: Lest you think me shallow, let me say that from my experience, the more beautiful a woman is on the outside, the more ugly she is on the inside. That's why I'm looking for a homely woman!
Mongolian Medical System
Please don't get me started on this issue! It makes me so mad!
July 1st, 2013
Okay, I've clamed down enough to explain what is going on in the picture above.
Beginning around the 1st of June, the Mongolian government began replacing major water pipes, which carry hot water to all the city's residents. You see, people don't have water heaters in their homes. The water is centrally heated by coal and then pumped all around the city. This is a system built by the communists and ensures that no one freezes to death in the long, cold, bitter, Mongolian winter. Not only does the hot water come out of the faucets and showerheads, but it also heats the homes via hydro-radiators. Well, systematically, section by section of town, the hot water was turned off. We still had water, but no hot water.
Interpolatively, I have been in UB, Mongolia for three summers (this is my third) and the same thing happens every summer. So, you'd think that Mongolians would be used to it, and to a great extent, they are; however, this year there were hundreds of babies (infants) which sustained hot water burns, filling the ONLY child-burn-trauma center in UB to beyond capacity. Why? Because people were boiling water in big pots and putting the pots in reach of their babies/infants. [I know! Stupid, right?] Thus, we have the current situation where patients are forced to sleep and reside on the floor of the ONLY child-burn-trauma center in all of UB.
I heard from my friend (pictured above) that one child even died because of the burns sustained. My friend's child stuck his hand in a pot of boiling water, and killed all the skin cells up to the elbow. The child is in need of a skin graft. He's been on antibiotics and pain-killer for ten days now.
Mongolia Summer "Snow"
Even in the Summer It Snows at 40 degrees centigrade!
Yesterday, my son and I were nearly choked to death by these white, snow-flake-like seeds falling from the trees and carried by the wind. It looked as if it was snowing, but getting those seeds in your eyes, nose, and mouth was definitely not pleasant.
We Ulaanbaatarites have put away our winter clothing and got them back out again about five times in the past month and a half. Since May first, we have experienced weather ranging from the 30's Centigrade to below Zero Centigrade. We have had shorts and T-shirts weather and we have had sleet and hail, not to forget the wind/dust storms with gusts up to 100k/h. The Mongolians have a saying, "There can be 4 seasons in a single day. I have experienced such a day. Not particularly in this Spring, but in previous Springs.
This Spring, while the weather was fairly consistent in a single day, one day could be warm and sunny (hot even), while the very next day could bring sleet and/or hail. And, the next day could bring wind/dust storms.
I have finally put away my winter stuff for good, but summer is not without the occasional thunderstorm, which can be wet and cold. The nights are still cold, but not freezing, at least not in UB (short for Ulaanbaatar). Yesterday, my son and I went shopping for seeds, soil, and pots. We planted. Some say, 'It's too late!" But, what can one do, when you live in Mongolia with only a three month-growing season? Most Mongolians start their little seedlings in green houses. However, I don't have one. I don't even have a patch of land on which to plant a garden. All I have is a balcony. It's a nice, big balcony facing West, so we get about 7 hours of afternoon sunshine (when the sun is shining).
Despite being a dessert in the past, UB gets quite a lot of precipitation. This is probably due to cloud-seeding that the Mongolian gov't has been doing since as long as I've been here (probably longer), and I've been here three years. Last summer was so wet that the weeds grew taller than my son, almost as tall as I, and there were tons of mosquitoes in our fields-turned-marshes around our apartment complex.
Speaking of mosquitoes and other pests. I don't understand how they survive the bitter-cold, long, harsh winters of Mongolia. They must go through some kind of suspended animation. The ants, I understand, because they work hard all spring and summer collecting food for the hive. Then, about this time of year, one can see thousands of what I call "Princess Ants" exiting their hives looking for places to become queens of their own hives. Yes, flying princess ants are just beginning to exit their hives.
And speaking of pests, the biggest and most annoying of them all are the flies. The flies in Mongolia are ubiquitous. The city flies are just annoying, especially when one wants to sleep in. However, the mountain flies BITE! And, they are not deterred by movement. My son and I went hiking in the mountains one summer and the flies kept attacking us. I wonder if mosquito repellent would deter the flies.
Despite the pests, this is the MOST beautiful time of year in Mongolia. The hills surrounding UB are all green, the flowers in the fields are blooming. I have seen plants (flowering and non-flowering) here that I have never seen anywhere else in the world. I'll bet the medicinal value of these plants is a mystery to modern science/botanists. There is some (a very few) who follow the ancient Mongolian traditions of healing, who use the local wildlife (both flora and fauna) to cure, but it is so rare that I have only heard about it.
Did you know that there is actually a coniferous tree, the needles of which turn yellow in the fall, and fall in the winter? These trees are all over Mongolia, and they survive better than pine trees. Many of the pine trees that people plant in UB die in the winter.
Mongolian Shamanism (Updated, June 15th, 2013)
I went out upon my balcony late one night to enjoy the fresh, cool summer-night air, when all of a sudden, something wet fell on me. I looked up and the old lady in the apartment above me was spooning out some liquid from a cup.
I later found out that people who still believe in the spirits will give offerings to the spirits, sometimes vodka and sometimes milk tea. Traditionally it was probably milk tea, (because vodka is not a traditional Mongolian drink). They might have used airak, which is fermented mare's milk, and is a traditional celebratory drink in Mongolia, especially during Naadam.
Traditionally, Shimin Arkhi (fermented and distilled cow's milk) was used by Shamans to induce physical states that are conducive to channeling spirits. Some still prefer that to vodka, however, vodka is more readily available (and probably cheaper). Also, to get rid of pesky spirits, one is supposed to wash one's body with vodka and discard the dirty vodka far away from one's dwelling.
While I do believe, wholeheartedly, in spirits; I don't know why one would trust the spirits, especially the spirits who have to inhabit a human body to communicate. I mean I communicate with my guardian angel all the time (well, not ALL the time), and I don't need a channeler. Nor do I need any spirits to communicate with the spirits (if you know what I mean).
After 44 years of life on this planet, I have finally concluded how one can know if the spirit is good or evil.
Please see my page entitled "Metaphysics 101" for further details.
What's in a Name? Mongolian Names
All names have meaning. Take my name for instance. Leon means "lion". In the West, we don't typically consider the meaning of the name we are choosing for our children. We simply choose the name because we like the way it sounds, or we like somebody else who has that name and we want to name our child after that person. However, just because we don't know what the name means, doesn't mean that it doesn't have a meaning.
Mongolians are different. They (most of them) choose names BECAUSE OF the meaning. Sometimes they will consult with Buddhists monks (for a fee) in choosing an appropriate name for their child. Those Buddhist names come from the Tibetan language, and the people with those names often don't know exactly what they mean. If their religious leader says it's a good name, that's good enough for them. Herein below is a list of Mongolian names and what they mean. My main source is the Chinggis Khan Bilingual Lexicon.
Firstly, you need to know that some Mongolian
names that are so OLD...
NOTE: I found these Mongolian names in
ancient Mesopotamian languages
Immortal [AmarUtu = Immortal Sun; condensed to aMarduk.
Source: Wikipedia article on Marduk.
To be fair:
Perhaps the Mongols had contact with the Sumerians a long, long
time ago, and borrowed some of the Sumerian names. (I think so!)
Secondly, Names to ward off evil spirits:
Thirdly, Names from Tibetan language:
Anand = sublime bliss
Fourthly, Names of Character
Amar (Possibly: Serenity; Tranquility; OR
> ancient Mesopotamian: immortal)
Fifthly, Names From Nature
Names From Famous Rivers
[The ONLY closely related word to Orkhon is "orkhikh" which means: to
give up, to abandon, to forsake, leave.]
CELENGE (Selenge) [The ONLY closely related word to Selenge is "celex" or "selekh", which means to swim.]
TVVL (Tuul) [possibly related to the word Tuulai meaing hare; or Tul meaning taimen (a giant relative of salmon)] I'm going with Tul (the fish)}.
Name From a Mythical Mountain: SUMBER
My student, named "Sumber," said that his father said it was the name of a Mountain. Then, I got to thinking, "Could it be Mt. Sumer?" I think so. My guess is that it is the Mongolian version of the Tibetan Buddhist's "Mt. Sumer", a mythical mountain (and village thereon) where the gods lived in peaceful bliss, where humans were created. (Basically it is the same as the mythical GARDEN of EDEN).
Interestingly, I think there very well could be a correlation
with the word "Sumeria", the cradle of human civilization!
Days of the Week
Mongolia Is For The Birds
(About the Birds of Mongolia)
Before coming to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, I was under the impression that all birds flew south for the winter. I mean that’s what we kids learned in school, right? Apparently, birds can endure the toughest of winters, providing they can obtain enough food, or so writes the Professor, Taylor McNeil (2008).
I didn’t know that, however; And imagine my surprise when I came to the coldest capital city in the world to find pigeons, ravens, crows, red-billed choughs, sparrows, swallows, and the occasional magpie ALL staying in town all winter long. It blew my mind.
Some of the birds mentioned above are a part of Mongolia’s rich folklore! I shall relate a bit of the folklore then give you some practical application of the lessons that can be learned from the timeless stories.
A long, long time ago, there lived a raven which had three feathers on his head. His feathers glowed with the light of the rainbow. Also, the raven had the most beautiful voice of all the birds.
Well one day, a magpie happened to drop by and said, “Let us build a nest together and live happily in harmony,” but the raven replied snobbishly: “I don’t need such a nest since I have beautiful, thick feathers.” So, the magpie built her own nest from fresh grass, laid her eggs into it and lived a happy life.
When the raven heard about the successful life of the magpie, he became very envious. He said, “It can’t be that the scrubby magpie lives in a nest more beautiful than mine. I will set her nest on fire!” With that very intention, he flew to the next nomadic Mongolian camp to find fire.
Sure enough, the last ember of the campfire had not gone out yet (because it is taboo in Mongolia to smother a fire). The raven eagerly picked up one of the still glowing sticks in his beak. He flew against the wind to set the magpie’s nest on fire, and as a result, the stick in the raven’s beak re-ignited burning the raven’s face and all his beautiful feathers.
The agitated and distressed raven let go of the burning stick and managed to land on a nearby rock. There he bemoaned his body which had become all black and burned.
As time went by, the raven wanted to sing an epic and poetic lamentation about its experience; and yet, he did not manage one clear tone. You could only hear a croaky, ugly noise that sounded like “waag! waag! waag!”. Moreover, because his beautiful rainbow-coloured fathers didn’t shine anymore either, the raven became very sad and went to the magpie to ask her if she knew the reason for his bad luck.
The magpie told him the following, “Because you were so mean and only meant everybody ill, your beautiful, beloved body has become like that. It is destined that you live your life this way and go into the world all black.”
The raven felt bad and penitent. Later, he apparently attempted to atone for his sins. The next tale is about how he tried to do so.
Father God Urdan had two sons, Ulgen Tenger the Elder and Erleg Khan. Ulgen Tenger is credited with creating land out of the oceans and with creating the first humans, but the second-born son was jealous of all Ulgen’s creations and tried to destroy each one. How he tried to destroy the land (but failed) is another story. This is how he tried to destroy the humans.
Uglen, knowing his brother’s evil intentions, had created the dog to protect the humans from Erleg. However, the dogs did not have any fur. Erleg approached the dogs one day and offered to give them fur to keep them warm in the winter, if they would let him pass. The dogs agreed. They were granted their fur, and the dogs let Erleg pass.
One version of the story says that Erleg spat upon the unsuspecting humans as they slept. Another version of the story says that Erleg urinated upon the humans. Either way, it is said that by so doing Erleg introduced all manner of disease upon the human race, which made them mortal.
Of all the animals on Earth, only the raven, who had previously been a pompous prick, had compassion upon the humans. He [the raven] flew to the sacred mountain, where the fountain of youth was, scooped up some water in its beak and attempted to deliver it to the suffering humans. However, when crossing a grove of needled trees, the raven was frightened by an owl’s cry. His beak opened spilling the life-preserving water all over the grove of trees. This is why the needled trees do not lose their leaves in the winter and stay green all year long. While the raven was unsuccessful in helping the humans, he holds a dear spot in my heart for trying to help us humans.
THE TREE SPARROW
One day, in Mongolia, a little tree sparrow had just finished filling its belly with winter food storage, when it sat upon a briar bush to rest. The briar bush pricked the little sparrow. The sparrow politely asked the briar bush not to do that, but the briar bush continued to attack the little sparrow because it was encumbered by the sparrow’s weight. That set off a chain of events involving the tree sparrow attempting to get even with the belligerent little briar bush. The sparrow asked the goat to eat the bush. He refused. Then, the sparrow asked the wolf to eat the goat. He refused. Then, the sparrow asked the hunter to kill the wolf. He refused. Then, the sparrow asked the mouse to eat the hunter’s bow string. He refused. Then, the sparrow asked a boy to flood the mouse’s hole. The boy refused. Then, the sparrow asked the boy’s parents to spank the boy. They said that they were too busy getting the fleece ready for market.
In the end, the tree sparrow decided to take matters into its own wings. He flew to a nearby hill and began to flap his tiny wings mightily. That action created a wind that began to blow the fleece away. The parents begged the sparrow to stop and promised to spank their boy. The boy saw his parents coming with the spanking stick and ran to put water in the mouse’s hole. The mouse saw the boy coming with the water and ran to the hunter’s ger [yurt]. Upon seeing the mouse chewing on his bow string, he grabbed the bow and went after the wolf. As the wolf saw the hunter coming, he ran to eat the goat. When the goat saw the wolf coming, he ran to eat the briar bush. As the goat began to eat the bush, the bush relented and said that it would never prick the little sparrow again.
I guess the moral of the story is: If you want something done, then do it yourself. Don’t depend upon others to get it done for you. The story also illustrated the power that a little sparrow could have, letting the reader understand that even if one is small, one can do great things.
LESSONS to be LEARNED
Furthermore, we can liken the unruly and belligerent bush unto out-of-control governments. We, the common people, can be liken unto the little tree sparrow. After trying to ask various NGO’s and government officials to help, we, the people, will begin to take matters into our own “wings” [hands]. In fact, it has already started happening. We, the people, should understand that even a single sparrow had mighty power in her wings to bring justice to the unruly bush. Imagine the power that a whole army of sparrows and magpies have!
Lastly, our friend the raven can be likened to government officials, who when pressed by the people for reformation, shall begin to repent of their greed and corruption. They will try to help the people; but, I wonder: will they be frightened by the illuminati owls of our globe and drop the life-giving water out of their beaks? Only time will tell.
Mongolia: The New North Pole?
In 2010, when I first heard about Gordon Michael Scallion’s prediction that Mongolia will become the new North Pole, I just laughed. I thought, “How could anyone possibly know that?” Per the title of this article, one can surmise that I am not laughing any more. There is evidence that the magnetic north pole is moving toward Mongolia.
Magnetic North Pole is different from the geographical North Pole. The geographic North Pole is the fixed, true north of the Earth’s axis. It has been stable since history (writing) began about six thousand years ago. However, the magnetic North Pole has been know to move. According to scientific measurements, the magnetic North Pole has moved 1102 kilometres (685 miles) from 1831 to 2005. That’s approximately an average of 6 kilometres per year. However, scientists in 2005 said that the North Pole was moving about 17 kilometres per year. As of 2007, scientists said that it was moving around 60 kilometres per year. As of 2011, magnetic North Pole was moving at 80 kilometres per year. Clearly the speed at which our magnetic North Pole is moving is increasing.
So, in which direction do scientists tell us that the magnetic North Pole is moving? Answer: Right toward Mongolia. In 1831, magnetic North Pole was located in Northern Canada. Since then, it has climbed toward geographic North Pole, right toward Siberia.
On January 6, 2011, Fox News reporter, Jeremy A. Kaplan, reported that Tampa International Airport was forced to re-adjust its runways due to the movement of the Earth's magnetic fields. It was reported that the Earth’s magnetic North Pole had moved three degrees. One degree of latitude is 111 kilometres, so magnetic North Pole had moved 333 kilometres in just a few days. Woah!
Wikipedia’s article on “Magnetic North Pole” states that as of 2012, magnetic North Pole has moved from Canadian territory into Russian territory. Of course, magnetic North still has 4,000 kilometres to go before it reaches the northern border of Mongolia; and, at the current rate of speed, 80 kilometres per year, it will take 50 years for magnetic north to reach Mongolia. However, with the speed of movement increasing, it may happen sooner than one might think.
How and why does magnetic north move? Scientists think that our planet planet's inner core is made of solid iron. Surrounding the inner core is a molten outer core. The next layer out is the mantle, which is solid but malleable, like plastic. Finally, the layer we see every day is called the crust. The Earth itself spins on its axis. The inner core spins as well, and it spins at a different rate than the outer core. This creates a dynamo effect, or convections and currents within the core. This is what creates the Earth's magnetic field. In essence, it's like a giant electromagnet.
So-called “Planet X” has been theorized by NASA scientist to explain the protuberances upon the outer planets. However, they haven’t yet been able to spot the “Beast”. They say that by 2013, they will be able to spot the “Behemoth” planet, which is estimated to be 2 to 3 times the size of Jupiter. Could “Planet X” be the culprit of our moving magnetic North Pole? And will Mongolia be the new magnetic North Pole? Only time will tell.
On October 1st, 2012, UB Post’s journalist, Byambadorj, published an interview with Ch.Biligsaikhan. In that interview, Ch.Biligsaikhan said, “We (Mongolians) brought the idea that the North Pole was a place where most humans lived a long time ago. It seemed that that place was the best place for a human to live in. But due to extremely cold temperatures, they had to migrate.”
Clearly, the ancient Mongolians were not talking about geographic North Pole, because there is no land there. They must have been talking about the magnetic North Pole. Perhaps the North Pole is searching for the Mongolian people, who migrated away from it so many millennia ago; Or, perhaps (better yet) the Mongolian people didn't move at all. Perhaps the North Pole moved away from Mongolia, and now it is moving back!
The Web Bot Project: The Shape of Things to Come
(Mongolia is mentioned)
Probably the greatest mystery of all is what will happen in the future. Everyone from scientists, with their predictions, to so-called psychics, with their prophecies, and even to astrologers, with their prognostications, have tried to give us humans a picture of future events. Scientists base their predictions upon current and past trends. They are perhaps the most accurate, but even they can be wrong sometimes. Psychics (which would include Shamans), have received a bad name, because of all the con-artists out there. I believe that some psychics and shamans really do receive messages from the other side. However, my concern is whether or not those messages can be trusted. Astrologers work in broad terms, so broad as to make them impractical. For instance, an astrologer might say, “Tomorrow will be a bad money day for you.” And then, you have an unexpected bill come. You say, “Yep, my astrologer was right.” Useless!
Halloween and Mongolian Shamanism (Similar Traditions)
Never seen anything like it! After weeks of asking around and searching on the internet for Halloween events in Mongolia, the best I could come up with was the haunted house at Children's Park. So, I took my son there. Unbelievable!
I saw thousands of upper elementary and teenage Mongolian kids running around in scary costumes, complete with gory face paint. We visited the haunted house, which was very impressive being in the middle of a continent surrounded by countries that don't celebrate Halloween.
Apparently, Halloween has been quite accepted in Mongolia. There's no mass trick-or-treating, but some of the expat communities will do trick-or-treating.
The word “Halloween” is a compound word composed of two words: “Hallowed,” which means holy and “Evening”. So, why do so many people think that it is the day of the devils, witches, and monsters? Well, that’s a common misconception perpetuated by people who don’t know the history of Halloween. Actually, Halloween is a very benign holiday (holy day), and one that millions of children love in the United States of America, however, it didn't start in America.
Fire to Combat Evil
Jack-o-lanterns & Mirrors
Masks and Costumes
Click here to learn more about Halloween & Halloween teaching/learning activities on Leon's Planet.
Mysteries of the World
Mother Nature Network, there is an article entitled, “10 of the World’s
Biggest Unsolved Mysteries.” They
are listed as follows, in no particular order.
Voynich Manuscript is named after the man in whose possession it came in 1912.
Carbon dating places the manuscript between 1404 and 1438 A.D.
The mystery is in the language. No
one has been able to interpret, decipher, or decode the language of the
manuscript. It is appears to be a
book of plants (with pictures), pharmaceutical recipes, and astrological data
(with pictures). It has been
suggested that the book was written in a kind of code, because the contents
would have been considered heretical in its day.
is a 12-foot high monument standing outside the CIA headquarters in Langley,
Virginia. The monument was made by
artist Jim Sanborn in 1990. The CIA
has decoded 3 of the 4 messages. Sanborn
has given a hint as to the meaning of the last message; It has something to do
something out of the movie “National Treasure” starring Nicolas Cage, the
Beale Ciphers are coded messages with allegedly reveal the location of the
largest treasure in America. Only
the second message has been decoded, but it does not reveal the location.
something out of an Indiana Jones movie, the Phaistos disk is a hardened clay
disk with undecipherable hieroglyphs. It
was discovered by Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier in 1908 in the Minoan
palace-site of Phaistos. It is
believed that it was made sometime in the second millennium BC.
The Shepherd’s Monument; located in Staffordshire, England; was built in the 1800 allegedly by Knights Templars. It depicts a mirror image of the famous painting by Nicolas Poussin, an alleged member of the order, entitled, “Et in Arcadia Ego,” which means, “And in Arcadia, I [too].” It is commonly know in English as the “Arcadian Shepherds”. Below the glyph is an undeciphered text which reads, “DOUOSVAVVM”. While many have tried, no one has successfully deciphered the code. Theories range from it being graffiti to it being the location of the Holy Grail.
Recently, I cracked the code. See it here.
is one of Australia’s biggest mysteries. In
December 1948, an unidentified man was found dead on the beach in Adelaide.
The only clue to his identity comes from a tiny piece of paper which was
hidden in a pocket sewn within the man’s trousers.
The piece of paper simply read “Tamam Shud,” which is a Persian
phrase meaning, “The End.” Some
have suggested that it was a suicide note. The
man never was identified and the case is still open as to how and why he died.
out of the movie “Contact” starring Jodie Foster, The Search for Extra
Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has actually received a message from outer
space. However, nobody knows what it
means. The signal lasted for 72
seconds, and came from a star in the constellation Sagittarius called Tau
Sagittarii, 120 light-years away.
Zodiac letters are a series of four encrypted messages believed to have been
written by the famous Zodiac Serial Killer, who terrorized residents of the San
Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The
letters were likely written as a way to taunt journalists and police, and though
one of the messages has been deciphered, the three others remain undeciphered.
The identity of the Zodiac Killer also remains a mystery.
1979; in Elbert County, Georgia, USA; four huge stones were erected displaying
10 new commandments for humankind, in eight languages:
English, Spanish, Swahili, Hindi, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, and Russian.
The county records say that they were built by a man named, R.C.
Christian; however, no such man really exists.
Clearly, R.C. Christian was not the man’s real name.
However, perhaps it was a clue. Some
people suggest that R.C. stands for “RosiCrucian”.
The 10 commandments sound really nice, except for the first one, which
admonishes humanity to maintain its numbers lower than 500 million, in order to
live in harmony with nature.
is a system of mysterious glyphs discovered written on various artifacts on
Easter Island. Many believe they represent a lost system of writing.
The glyphs remain undecipherable, and their true messages — which some
believe could offer hints about the perplexing collapse of the statue-building
Easter Island civilization — may be lost forever.
About Mongolian Mysteries?
the whereabouts of the Genghis Khan’s grave should rank up in the top ten
mysteries of all time. According to
legend, Genghis Khan asked to be buried without markings. After
he died, his body was returned to Mongolia and presumably to his birthplace in
the Khentii Aimag. The military
funeral escort killed anyone and anything across their path, to conceal where he
was finally buried. After Genghis
Khan was buried, soldiers rode their horses all over the area.
Then, trees were planted all around the unmarked gravesite.
Finally, a river was diverted to cover the area.
After the grave/tomb was completed, the slaves who built it were
massacred, and then the soldiers who killed them were also killed.
While no one is sure, rumour has it that Genghis Khan’s grave lies
somewhere under the Onon River.
Mongolia is a land of many mysteries. One
such mystery is that of the deer stones, called thusly because of the depictions
of flying deer. Nobody knows who
created them nor why. The tallest of
them is 15 feet high. They are the
mysterious megaliths of the Murun area of the Khuvsgul Aimag.
such mystery is that of the Mongolian Death Worm.
It has been reportedly seen by a few Mongolians in the Gobi Desert region
over the past centuries, last reported seen about 30 years ago.
It is described as the “Intestine Worm,” because it is the colour and
shape of a sausage. No eyes have
been seen on the creature, and it is clearly not a snake.
In folklore, the beast is said to spit yellow acid capable of corroding
metal and blinding a person. If
touched, it is said to emit an electric shock strong enough to bring down a
camel. In modern times, people
who’ve seen it have avoided it because of the folklore surrounding the
creature. Many foreigners have come
in search of the mysterious Mongolian Death Worm, and found nothing but stories.
Soyombo: The Mongolian National Icon
The image you see above is the Soyombo. According to Mogolus.net, the three branches of the flame represent the past, present, and future. The sun and moon represent the "eternal blue sky". The two triangles represent the arrow and the spear. They are facing downward to signify defeat of Mongolia's enemies. The yin-yang-like symbol in the center is not the same as the Taoist symbol. It symbolizes two fish with eyes wide open to corruption and impending danger. They also symbolize the male/female elements of nature. The horizontal bars keep the male/female elements in balance, as they can be a bit chaotic in nature due their opposition. The vertical bars stand for uprightness (puns intended). They also represent firmness and strength.
I think that the two vertical rectangles are interesting in that there is a possible correlation with the Hebrew pillars: Joachim (establishment) and Boaz (strength).
Mongolian Wind Horse
is on the Mongolian coat of arms a picture of a “Wind Horse” [or more
literally a “gas horse”, khiimori].
If you do your research, you will find that the concept of the Wind Horse
is clearly a very old concept that comes from Tibet and predates Buddhism.
To the Mongolians, the Wind Horse is a symbol of “good luck;” and it
is my guess that they have no idea why.
It is my guess that they’ve completely lost the whole original meaning
of the Wind Horse.
Even Mongolian shamans misunderstand the true meaning of Wind Horse.
To the Mongolian shaman, the wind-horse (or gas-horse) represents one’s
personal psychic power.
The shaman (or anybody) can increase his/her wind-horse by meditating,
praying, burning incense, drinking to natures’ spirits and the ancestors.
from my research, the Wind Horse was originally a spirit horse, which carried
the prayers of the people on its back to heaven.
In Tibet, to this day, people will write prayers on multi-coloured flags,
and either throw them or fly them in the wind for the Wind Horse to deliver.
But that is not all.
There is evidence from the American Indians (whom I like to refer to as
the American Aborigines), which suggest that Wind Horse also would deliver
spiritual travellers to their destination(s).
I’d like to relate a Choctaw legend, written and copyrighted by Teresa
Janice Pittman, of the Choctaw Nation.
I shall only give a summary in my own words.
May the spirit of Wind Horse bless you, Ms. Pittman, for sharing your
legend with us.
Choctaw Legend of Wind Horse
long, long time ago, there was a Choctaw boy, who was born lame on the Oklahoma
his legs were malformed, none of the other boys wanted to play with him.
Thus, he had no friends.
Since he had no friends, he would wander around the woods alone.
day, the lame boy accidentally stepped into a bear trap.
The bear trap was so powerful that it snapped the boy’s leg in two.
At first the boy didn’t feel anything, because his body had gone into
sat down and watched the blood gushing out of his leg.
Soon, he began to feel the pain.
He started to yell for help and cry in agony because of the pain.
Horse heard the boy’s cries and immediately went to help, if he could.
Wind Horse could see that the boy desperately needed help.
He felt sorry for the young boy.
Wind Horse snuggled up to the poor boy and the boy stopped crying.
He started to pet the horse.
Wind Horse knew that the boy was going to die.
He bent down and let the boy on his back.
Horse ran and ran.
At first, there was nothing unusual about the scenery.
There were lots of trees, like the woods that the boy had been exploring.
But, then the scenery began to become scenes from the boy’s life, only
in reverse. The
boy was astonished.
the boy began to see his pre-mortal life.
The boy hugged Wind Horse tightly, for now he was becoming afraid.
What did it all mean?
These memories were only now coming back to him.
He had not remembered them before.
He didn’t know that he had existed before he was born.
Horse had seen the boy’s life. He had felt the feelings of the boy, and how he
had always longed for a friend; and Wind Horse began to love the boy.
At this point, Wind Horse would usually stop and let his rider get off,
for to continue any further meant a deeper bond and a loss of freedom.
Yet, Wind Horse continued; and as he continued, he knew that this would
be his last rider.
came to a beautiful meadow, and Wind Horse stopped.
He let the boy down.
The boy was confused.
“Where are we?” he asked.
Wind Horse nodded for the boy to look ahead.
There in the distance were people.
Wind Horse and the boy walked toward the people.
Wind Horse was a bit afraid himself.
He had never gone this far before, but his love for the boy surmounted
any fear that he may have had.
they got closer to the people, some of the people saw the boy and Wind Horse.
They came running toward the boy and the horse.
The boy and the horse stopped.
The boy looked at the horse for encouragement.
The horse psychically said, “Do not fear little one.
They are your relatives.”
Slowly, he began to recognise some of the faces of those who’d gone
before: like his grandparents.
Horse and the boy were completely bonded now.
They each had found a friend, an eternal friend.
Wind Horse would never again return to the material world.
my way of thinking, the story should end with a huge welcome sign saying,
“Welcome to Shambhala.”
my research into the origins of Wind Horse, I came across Shambhala, or
I do hope you will forgive me for changing directions from Wind Horse to
was/is the mystical land of peace and harmony, a veritable city of golden
structures surrounded by mountains of pure crystal.
By Tibetan descriptions, it should be somewhere north of Tibet, near a
sandy desert, which some people have suggested might be in Kazakhstan or
have gone looking for it, never to return again.
Did they find it?
Or did they die trying?
is an old Tibetan story, which I like because it explains this mystery.
It tells of a young man who set off on a quest for Shambhala. After
crossing many mountains, he came to the cave of an old hermit, who asked him,
“Where are you going across these wastes of snow, young man?”
find Shambhala,” the youth replied.
well then, you need not travel far,” the hermit said. “The kingdom of
Shambhala is in your own heart.
my opinion, Shambhala, Shang-gri-la, El Dorado, and Heaven are all the same.
The Nazarene taught that the kingdom of heaven was right here on earth.
He taught us how to obtain it.
Be merciful, meek, pure in heart, and peacemakers.
That is the way to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
We must be born again, and it is harder for a rich man to enter the
kingdom of heaven, than for a camel to enter the eye of the needle.
Accordingly, we must not have attachments to material possessions.
We must love one another.
We must forgive.
If we do all those things, we can have heaven in our hearts.
Furthermore, Buddha gave us the 8-fold path to Shambhala.
conclusion, it is my wish and hope that we might not incur the wrath of the
may we be carried on the back of Wind Horse to the land of Shambhala.
Orgoli: The Mongolian Demon of
According to the United Nations Food
and Agriculture Organisation, only 7% of Mongolia is
forested. Between 1990 and 2000
Mongolia lost an average of 81,900 hectares or 0.65% of its forest per year. Between
2000 and 2010, Mongolia lost 13.1% of its forest, or around 1,638,000 hectares.
Deforestation is one of the biggest
problems facing our world today. However,
it is not the first time our world has faced this colossal problem.
According to one of the oldest and longest myths in the world, the Gesar
myth, it has happened before. The
Mongolian version of the Gesar myth teaches that in ancient times there was an
epic battle between the tenger, or sky
gods. At the end of the war, the god
Khormasta (Master-Over-Evil) destroyed his enemy, the god Ataa Ulaan (Red-Envy),
by cutting him into nine pieces. The
head of Red-Envy became the demonic dragon, Araatan Chutgur (Beastly Demon),
which tried to devour the sun and moon. The
neck of Red-Envy became the demon Gal-Nurma-Khan (King of Fire and Ash).
The right arm of Red-Envy became the beast Orgoli (Deforestation).
The right arm of Red-Envy, when it fell to earth, landed in Mongolia.
It was a gargantuan beast which devoured all the trees.
That is why Mongolia has so few trees to this day. On
and on the myth goes, but we shall stop there, because this article is about
Nowadays, it appears that the demon of
deforestation has spread out all over the world.
Not only are trees disappearing in Mongolia, but in every country in the
world. We often hear about the
world’s rain forests disappearing, either to produce lumber or to make way for
farm land. Yet, for the first time
in recorded history, we have reports that we are losing trees for reasons not
yet fully understood. They are not
dying from forest fires. They are
not dying from being chopped down. They
are dying on their feet, just dying for no apparent reason.
Jim Robins, in his book, The Man Who
Planted Trees, wrote about a man named David Milarch, who is cloning the
“champion trees of the world” and planting them all around the USA.
So far, he and his helpers have planted 20,000 baby trees around the USA.
The reason for this project is because millions of trees have died from
the Mexican border all the way up into Canada.
They suspect that the causes may include climate change, insects, and
disease. The climate these days is
hotter and drier in America. This
means that insect populations and bacterial infections are on the rise.
For all animals on this planet, this
presents a colossal problem, because trees use carbon-dioxide.
When the trees are gone, the amount of carbon-dioxide in the air
increases. This causes atmospheric
warming. It’s a vicious cycle, and
it’s only getting worse.
Linda Moulton Howe reported in May of
2012 on Coast to Coast AM radio broadcast that this phenomenon has reached
epidemic proportions. Some trees are
on the verge of extinction, like the oldest trees on the planet: the bristlecone
pine trees. “Either humans are
going to finally ‘get it’ and they’re going to move forward trying to
support life on this earth, …or we’re going to sink into our own
destruction,” said Linda Moulton
Many countries around the world have an
arbor day, when people are supposed to get out and plant trees, but from my
experience, very few people actually participate in such activities.
On the other hand, Mongolia recently
has instituted two, not one, two national tree-planting days: one on the second
Saturday of May and one on the second Saturday of October.
Mongolia may be the model for the world with its “One tree for every
person” movement. The idea has
caught on quickly. Many school
children around the country are organised each year to plant trees.
For instance, this year, Orchlon grade 6 and grade 7 students went to
Zunkharaa, Mongolia to plant trees. A
hundred students planted hundreds of trees over a five-day period in May 2012.
Such efforts are laudable. However
is it enough? Will it save the
planet? Will it save us?
According to the Gesar Myth, the sky
gods held a council to decide what should be done about all the problems on
Earth caused by the war of the gods. The
chief of all the gods, Etsege Malaan (All-caring Father), told Master-Over-Evil
that since he had caused all the problems, he must fix them.
He must go down, incarnate into a human body, and fix all the problems
that he had caused on Earth. Just
then, Master-Over-Evil’s second son, Bukhe Biligte Baatar (All-Gifted Hero),
stood up and pleaded with the gods to send him instead, for it would be better
if his father remained as leader of his family in the sky.
The gods all agreed and All-Caring Father acquiesced.
So, it was that All-Gifted Hero was born of a virgin princess.
His Earthly name came to be Gesar, and he became King.
To make a very long story short, King Gesar was a benevolent king, who
saved all humanity from the mess that his father had created when he chopped
Red-Envy into nine pieces.
This time, however, things are
different. We humans have created
this problem ourselves. Perhaps,
therefore, it is of no use to expect the gods to save us from our own problems.
Linda Moulton Howe is convinced the lack of living trees is now a global
problem, not just a Mongolian problem or an Amazon rain-forest problem.
People all over the world need to get into the act before it’s too
late. We need to plant trees, and
lots of them, all over the world. The
simple fact is that trees keep our planet from overheating.
They prevent erosion. They
provide habitats for thousands of endemic species which could go extinct without
the trees. They give us oxygen to
breathe. Tree hugging is not the
answer to the problem. Planting
trees is the answer.
Life in Mongolia
There is a
Mongolian proverb which goes like this: “When one drinks the water of another
land, one must follow the rules of that land.”
Clearly, this proverb is quite old and was initiated long before the
advent of bottled water. Only the
asinine foreigner in Mongolia would claim that since he drinks Hong Kong
produced Bonaqua or French produced Perrier he doesn’t have to follow the
rules of Mongolia. Clearly the
proverb is akin to the English proverb: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
We all know that proverb, yet we foreigners seem to have a hard time
following it, don’t we?
As a case
in point, while surfing the internet for new venues to visit, I recently read a
review of a specific restaurant/pub in Ulaanbaatar.
The review was quite negative, but only so, because it was written from
the viewpoint of a foreigner, who clearly imposed his culture’s rules upon the
unsuspecting and innocent Mongolian pub.
complaint was, and I quote: “No
one seemed to notice I had come in, let alone said hallo, when I walked through
the door. Some of the waiting staff were sitting on bar stools talking to each
other: clearly much more interesting than running round after the customers.”
I had to laugh when I read that. That
is so typical in Mongolia. I
remember the first time I went to a restaurant in Ulaanbaatar.
I stood at the door for about 15 minutes, waiting to be shown to my seat.
Finally, someone noticed me standing there and came to invite me to sit
down. I was given my choice.
I was told that I could sit anywhere I wanted.
It didn’t take me long to learn that in Mongolia, the customer just
walks in and seats him/herself. That’s
just the way it is here. I kind of
like it, actually.
complaint was, and I quote: “I found a table at the window and gestured to a
passing waiter that I would sit there. It was hidden from view, so when after
five minutes no one had brought me a menu, I went up to the bar and asked for
one. A waitress brought it over.” Again,
that is typical. I can’t tell you
how many times I’ve had to ask for a menu.
That’s just the way it is here.
complaint was, and I quote: “15
minutes later no one had returned to take an order, even though the table next
to me had been served twice.” Again,
I must say that that is typical. In
Mongolia, the customer must signal to the servers when ready to order, otherwise
they’ll just let you sit there all day. There
are different rules here in Mongolia. Get
used to it.
words were, and I quote: “Life is
too short. There is no excuse: the place was less than a quarter full.”
Er, pardon me, sir, but there is an excuse, and pretty darn good one; we
aren’t in Kansas anymore! This is
Mongolia! There are different rules
here and different ways of doing things. Open
your mind. Learn the culture.
Accept it. Live by it.
And perhaps, enjoy it.
door swings both ways. We foreigners
sometimes create our own little havens of refuge, where we can escape from the
“rules” of our host country, and be ourselves.
I don’t have a problem with that. It’s
kind of nice, actually. What I do
have a problem with is when we expatriates expect the locals, who’ve been
invited in to join our little havens, to completely abandon their rules in order
to follow ours. While it may be a
German Pub, a Czech Pub, a Russian Pub, or even an Irish Pub; the Pub does exist
in Mongolia. Since it is Mongolian
water that we use, it seems appropriate therefore to be tolerant of our
Mongolian hosts, and accommodate their “rules” once in a while.
had the unfortunate experience of being in a foreign-style restaurant/pub, which
shall remain nameless to protect the innocent, where respect of the locals was
severely lacking. It was quite
disconcerting to me that my Mongolian companions were treated with rudeness, by
foreign staff, because their English was lacking, or because they didn’t
particularly like the European food that was served.
What message does that send to our Mongolian hosts?
It sends the message that we are prejudiced, and that we’ve brought our
prejudices with us. I’m sure that
those Mongolians will not be back, and will retain a sour taste in their mouths,
both from the food AND the service.
no expert in psychology or sociology, but it seems counterintuitive for one, who
is clearly a minority, to be expressing his/her prejudices against the majority.
I am bereft of understanding. Where
is the logic? Why even come to
Mongolia if you have prejudices against the non-English speaking?
It’s like you’ve rode in here on your high horse and single-handedly
decided that Mongolian rules aren’t to your satisfaction and created a
personal little environment of intolerance.
Is that what globalization is all about?
Really? Thanks for
enlightening me. I didn’t know.
Now, that you’ve shared your ideas of globalization with me, let me
There was a
man, who in 1995, at the age of 26, went abroad to seek his fortune.
He was in debt up to his eyeballs and had been unsuccessful in securing a
career in his fatherland. He left
his home in Utah and boarded a plane for the Republic of Korea.
He had been offered a job to teach English.
He was trepid, but excited, for upon his departure, he really had no idea
what to expect. He wondered how the
people would be dressed. He wondered
what kind of food they ate. He
wondered if he would like the food. He
wondered if he would be able to communicate with the locals.
He wondered if the locals would be nice to him.
He wondered so many things. Of
course, when he arrived, nothing met his expectations.
Everything was different from the way he had imagined it would be.
And yet, that is precisely what made the experience so exciting and
adventuresome. Learning the language
became a game for him, like deciphering a secret code.
Each taste of a new food was like a scientific experiment.
Each new sight was indelibly logged into his memory; each new smell
registered for future reference. It
was simply awesome.
four years later, he fell in love with a Korean girl and married her.
They had a son together. He
was happier than he had been in his entire life.
He decided that he would stay in Korea forever.
plans change as circumstances change, but the point is that he immersed himself
in the culture, without passing judgment upon it.
He walked in their shoes, drank their water, learned their rules, and
followed them. In fact, he became so
thoroughly immersed in the culture that he actually thought that he was Korean.
He’d be on the subway train and wonder why people would stare at him.
That’s globalism, my friend. That’s
Friday, August 5, 2011 "Things
Fall Apart (in Mongolia)"
ever read, “Things Fall Apart”, by Chinua Achebe?
I haven’t, but I love the title. It’s
so true; things do fall apart. The
second law of thermo-dynamics calls it “entropy”.
In biology it is called “catabolism”.
In economics it is called, “collapse”.
In the vernacular, it is called, “Sh_t happens.”
Life is a daily battle against the forces that would tear us down or tear
the law of entropy more evident than in Mongolia.
The roads are falling apart faster than they can be repaired.
The economy is failing. The
government seems to be in disarray. Traditional
values are being abandoned and falling to the wayside.
Crime is on the rise. What
are we to do? Answer:
Don’t panic! Let me relate
a Mongolian story which illustrates my point.
A long time
ago, in the land which is known today as Inner Mongolia, there lived a man who
was well-respected by his community. One
day, for no reason, one of his mares ran away toward the nomads to the north.
Everyone tried to console him, but the man said, "No worries,
that’s just the way it is.”
later his mare returned, bringing a splendid nomad stallion. Everyone
congratulated him, but the man said, "No big deal; that’s just the way it
is." Their household was richer by a fine horse, which the man’s son
loved to ride. One day the man’s son fell off the stallion and broke his hip. Everyone
tried to console him, but the man said, “No worries; that’s just the way it
A year later
the nomads came from the north to do battle with the southern tribes, and every
able-bodied man was drafted into battle. The
man’s son was not drafted because of being maimed.
The southern tribes lost nine of every ten men. Only
because the son was lame did the father and son survive to take care of each
The point of
the story is to relate how sometimes what appears to be misfortune, is actually
a blessing in disguise. People,
especially Mongolians, ask me all the time, “What do you think about
Mongolia?” My reply is, “I like
it.” Inevitably and invariably the
next question is, “Why?!!!” And,
sometimes they point out that the streets are better in the West, that the
restaurants are better in the West, and that the hospitals are better in the
for me to convey in words, my complete and utter gratitude for the opportunity
to live and work in Mongolia, because it is hard to explain that streets without
pot holes mean little to the person who can’t afford a car.
It’s hard to explain that having a Sizzler and a Pizza Hut in every
town means little to a person who can’t even afford a steak or a slice of
pizza. It’s hard to make people
understand that having the best medical clinics in the world means little to a
person who can’t even afford to take his son in for a checkup, because he
can’t afford health insurance. You
see, one man’s paradise is another man’s prison.
I may have to endure the inconvenience of the extra 30 seconds that it takes to
walk around a gargantuan mud puddle, but that’s just the way it is.
I may have to be extra vigilant and watch my step due to uncovered
manholes, but that’s just the way it is. I
may have to deal with pesky pickpockets, but that’s just the way it is.
I may have to settle for mediocre medical treatment, but that’s just
the way it is. And you know what the
blessing in disguise is? The
blessing is that here, I can actually afford medical treatment for my son.
Now, I know
what some of you are thinking. Some
of you are thinking, “What on God’s green earth is the good fortune of
getting socked in the face for no reason other than being a foreigner in
Mongolia?” Honestly, I cannot
answer that question. I really
can’t. And, to be even more frank,
there may not be any good fortune that results from such an event.
I can say this, however: Every
great historical teacher that has ever lived, that I’ve read, has taught the
principle of what-goes-around-comes-around.
If someone does something bad to you, you can be assured that he/she will
get what’s coming to them. The
hard thing is that we usually never will find out what actually happens to our
assailants. Occasionally, however,
we do. The following is a Muslim
story, which illustrates my point very well.
of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad was hated by a particular woman.
The woman thought up a plot against him. She
prepared some sweets mixed with poison and sent them to him as a present. When
he received them, he went out of the city taking sweets with him. On
the way, he met two men who were returning home from a long journey. They
appeared tired and hungry, so he thought of doing them a good turn. He
offered them the sweets. Of course,
he was not aware that they were secretly mixed with poison. No
sooner had the two travelers taken the sweets, they collapsed and died.
the news of their death reached Medina, the city where the Prophet Muhammad
resided, the man was arrested. He
was brought in front of the Prophet Muhammad and he related what had actually
happened. The woman, who had mixed
poison with the sweets, was also brought to the court of the Prophet Muhammad. She
was stunned to see the two dead bodies of the travelers there. They in fact
turned out to be her two sons who had gone away on a journey.
admitted her evil intention before the Prophet Muhammad and all the people
present. Alas, the poison she had
mixed in the sweets to kill the companion of the Prophet Muhammad had instead
killed her own two sons.
says this, “If you do good, you do good to yourselves. Likewise, if you do
evil, you do evil to yourselves.” The
Christian Bible says this, “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also
reap.” The Hindu and Buddhist
scriptures say this, “If one sows goodness, one will reap goodness; if
one sows evil, one will reap evil.” The
Jewish Bible says this, “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt
find it after many days.”
I love the
metaphor of reaping and sowing. It
is called the “law of the harvest”. The
reaping part can happen within hours, or take as long as years, but it is the
inevitable result of what one has sown. If
someone punches you in the face, you have two choices:
(1) punch them back, in which case you’ll probably go to jail, or (2)
say, “That’s just the way it is,” and trust in the law of the harvest.
At the very least, be thankful that it was just a punch rather than a
mauling and/or a maiming. Things
could be a lot worse. Believe me.
The Mongolian Countryside
love their countryside, and now I know why.
For the first time, since coming to Mongolia, I got the opportunity to
visit the countryside. We
went to Tsevegmaa Camp in the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, tourist camps area,
located in the Terelj River Dale, near the somewhat famous Ayanchin Lodge.
On the way,
we stopped by the Chinngis Khan Monument, which is privately owned and operated,
with a museum of bronze-age artifacts collected by a private collector.
It was well worth the stop, and there were English-speaking personnel to
answer any questions.
really exciting thing was living in the countryside!
so awesome about it, Leon?” you ask.
Well, I’m glad you asked.
Firstly, I’ve never in my life seen so much variety of vegetation.
I saw flowers of blue, purple, pink, yellow, and white.
I actually saw trees!
Tons of aspen or birch (I can’t tell the difference) and pine trees.
Under the pine trees grew tons and tons of wild strawberries, which were
ripe for the picking. It
was a like a virgin forest, where few people had ever trod.
I like that. I
like being able to go where no-one has gone before, and I definitely like going
where one can experience nature, without other people around to ruin the
experience for me.
As far as
wildlife goes, there were eagles, squirrels, weasels, rabbits, tons of ants,
garden spiders, daddy-long-legs spiders, flies, bees, bumblebees, and some
insects that I cannot name.
I loved it! It
was a good sign of a healthy environment.
In the West, especially in America, the bees are dying off.
Snakes, fishes, and birds are dying off in record numbers.
But, here in Mongolia, they are thriving!
livestock were interesting, too.
We saw tons of happy, healthy horses, comfortable cows, yummy yaks,
clever camels, shy sheep and grumpy goats, all getting fat on the lush, green
grass. It was my
first time to see a yak in real time.
They look like a cross between and American bison and an ox.
I have only
one gripe about the trip.
It would have been nice to have more of the local food, freshly prepared,
from scratch. Instead,
we were served mostly city food that came out of bags or cans.
I would have loved to have tried yak’s milk form the local yaks, and
airak from the local mares.
I would have loved to have tried some local meat barbequed from the local
would have loved to have enjoyed salad made from the local, wild plants, which
were abundant. Have
Mongolians become so modernized that they’ve forgotten how to do these things?
If somebody knows where I can go to get such things, please, by all
means, let me know.
Oh, my gosh!
I have never seen so many stars in my life!
The nights were cool.
The air was fresh.
The stars were absolutely amazing.
I even saw a falling star.
“It wasn’t mine, though.”
That’s an inside joke, which if you are Mongolian, you should
Mongolians believe that each person on earth has a star.
When it falls or dies, the corresponding person dies.
So, when you see a falling star, you are supposed to say, “It’s not
When it came
time to leave, my son didn’t want to leave.
He said, “Dad, can’t we stay here until school starts?”
I said, “Son, you’ll have no computer, no Nintendo, no iPod, etc.”
He thought for moment, “Well, how about just a couple more days?”
I would NOT let my son play with his technology while we were there.
I kept telling him that we were there to get away from technology for a
while. And then
what happened? Some
Mongolian kids show up with a PSP and my son jumps up and says, “Can I
play?” Are you
kidding me? Are
you serious? Who
lets their kids play with PSP in the countryside? …where there is so much fun
stuff to do? What’s
wrong with that picture?
My son and I
whittled wood, caught grasshoppers, hunted for and ate wild strawberries, went
hiking and rock climbing, saw giant ant hills, chased squirrels, gazed at the
stars, and slept in a ger.
We rode camels, skipped rocks in the river, collected beautiful rocks for
our rock collection, walked around ovoos and tossed our three rocks there upon.
Who has time to play PSP when there is so much to do and explore and
what’s wrong with kids today?
is making them fat, lazy, and ignorant about nature and REAL life.
My son wants to go back next summer, and you know what?
I think we will, but for a whole month or two.
And we will leave the technology at home!
as always, I welcome reader input.
me and let me know your thoughts.
Culture Shock (in Korea and
first experience with "culture shock" was in South Korea, because that
was the first country that I went to work and live in outside my own.
Since I left Korea in 2006, culture shock has been less shocking, because I have
come to expect it. Let me first discuss my culture shock in Korea, which
is given in more detail on my website (click
first shock was when I stepped off the plane to discover that everyone wore
I was shocked and disappointed.
Did I come half-way around the world to see people wearing clothing just
second shock was to see tons of females walking hand in hand, very
affectionately, and tons of males walking arm in arm, almost too affectionately
for my culture.
Seriously, I thought that half the country was "gay". It
wasn't until later that I realized that friendly affections are publicly
displayed in their culture and that homosexuality is actually very severely
frowned upon, even to the point that some people will deny its existence.
third shock was at my job. My boss gave me no materials and no
instructions. He just said, "Go in and teach." Sure, I was
a certified teacher, and I knew the content well, but.... come on!
fourth shock was something called the "Ddong Chim" which means
"Poop Push". Little kids in my classes would think it funny to
push my pants into my butt hole, with their little fingers while I was writing
on the board. Talk about shock!
I about hit the ceiling! Figuratively, I did hit the ceiling.
I was furious. My privacy had been invaded. Over time, I
learned that in different cultures, people have different ideas about what is
way of another example, Koreans love to parade their newborn sons around nude,
to show all the world that they have succeeded in giving birth to a son.
They even proudly display nude photos of their son in their homes or places of
business to show off their procreative prowess.
Relatives greet the newborn son by grabbing his little penis and shaking
the penis in adoration. What was even more shocking was to learn why this
was done. Of course, it is because male progeny is so greatly valued in
Korean culture, almost to the point that some people have neglected and abused
Let me be clear; not all people neglect and abuse their daughters!
Please don’t write me and say it’s not true.
I’ve lived in Korea for ten years and I have met many females who’ve
told me their stories, including my ex-wife.
I know that it’s not true in all cases.
In fact, people are changing.
These days, more and more Koreans are seeing their ancient values as
out-dated and useless.
However, it is interesting that you see no photos of nude female infants.
course, one must understand the reason for such a cultural value.
In Korean culture, if a couple has no male child, there is no what we in
the U.S. would call, "social security" or "pension plan".
Well, there is now, but it doesn’t pay enough to survive. You
see, when a Korean couple become senior citizens and can no longer work, it is
the firstborn son who takes care of them, and in return, inherits everything the
couple has. Female offspring marry into OTHER families and take care of
the husband's parents. She is literally taken off of her original family
register and put on the husband's family register. When, you understand
the culture, it is not so easy to judge harshly the desire for male offspring,
food is part of any culture, it wouldn’t be right to omit my shock about the
things that Koreans put into their mouths and bodies. For instance, I was
mortified to find out that Koreans eat silk-worm pupae.
You can buy it on the street, boiling in the pot right in front of you,
or you can even buy it canned.
I was told that it is not as popular nowadays, because of all the Western
sweets on the shelves.
Who wants to eat silk-worm pupae when you can have candy, gum, or Choco-pies?
Also, I was mortified by all the dried squid hanging around in the
It looked like tons of aliens hanging out to dry.
I was NOT going to put that into my mouth!
And, then one day, my boss handed me some and said, “Try it!”
I didn’t want to be rude, so I tried some.
I actually quite liked it, and now it is one of my favourite foods.
I’ve tried silk-worm pupa, too, on a dare from a fellow expatriate.
I didn’t throw up, but I won’t do that again.
Oh yeah, there’s a dish of pig intestines.
It’s actually quite tasty, but gave me diarrhea for a week.
There’s a dish of chicken anuses.
There’s a dish of chicken feet.
And, let’s not forget dog meat. It’s
The only problem I have with dog meat is how it is prepared.
It is prepared by beating the feces out of the dog right before it is
This is to get as much adrenaline in the muscles as possible, allegedly
to give the consumer “stamina”.
Once I learned how dog meat is prepared, I stopped eating dog meat.
best food shock that I got from Korea was the first one.
It was my second day in Korea.
My boss had set me up in a very small studio apartment, and he graciously
brought over a tub of cooked rice and another huge tub of kimchi.
I had never tried Kimchi before.
He dished out some rice and an equal portion of kimchi.
Then, he sat down to watch me eat it.
It was probably the foulest thing I had put into my mouth in my entire
life, except that one time when I accidentally ate a bug.
My boss asked, “How is it?”
I smiled at said, “Mmmmm.
Good!” lying through my teeth.
He sat there and watched me eat the whole thing.
I was dying.
I wished he’d leave so that I could go out and get some “real”
the following weeks, I gradually plowed through the whole tub of kimchi, because
I hate to waste food.
By the time I was finished, I was begging for more.
My boss smiled and said, “Okay, one more tub.
Then, you’ll have to buy your own kimchi.”
Kimchi is now a staple in my diet, and my son’s diet.
is also part of any culture. My first "language shock" was when
I learned that Korean has four levels of speech. I was going around
saying, "Anyeonghashimnigga?" to all the children, until one day, a
Korean child told me that I was wrong. I should say, "Anyeong"
to little children, because I'm older. "Oh!" I thought.
The book didn't teach me that! Yeah. Get used to it. My
experience with language books that try to teach foreigner how to speak the
local lingo are VERY lacking.
second "language shock" was in learning that different languages have
different sounds that I had previously not been exposed to. It was quite
difficult to master those new sounds, but it was so important, because the wrong
sound can change the entire meaning of the word. It takes time and effort,
but it can be done. You can master those new sounds.
Korea, I went to China.
Then, I went to Poland, Turkey, Vietnam, and now Mongolia.
Culture shock just isn’t what it used to be.
Yeah, sure, once in a while I’ll witness or experience something
shocking, but it’s rare.
Mongolia, we see kids pulling down their pants and urinating or defecating
wherever the need arises.
It doesn’t shock me.
I’ve seen it in Korea, China, and Vietnam.
In Mongolia, we see women breast-feeding in public.
It doesn’t shock me.
I’ve seen that before.
In Mongolia, we see people expectorating all over the place.
It doesn’t shock me.
I’ve seen that before in Korea.
It shocks the heck out of my son, though.
He’s never seen that before.
At least not that he remembers.
He was too young when we left Korea.
Leon,” you query, “Hasn’t there been anything that has shocked you about
There was one thing that kind of shocked me.
On my second day in Mongolia, my boss, a woman, took me grocery shopping.
As we were leaving the super market, I held the door open for her.
Then, the five women who were walking behind her quickly scurried through
the door before I could close it.
After I caught up to my boss, who was clueless that I had been held up by
five women, I told her about what had just happened to me.
I asked, “Is that normal in Mongolia?”
She laughed and replied, “Yes, that’s normal.”
What does it mean?
I don’t know.
I’ve never had five women quickly rush to take advantage of me holding
a door open.
Do you have any ideas why that would happen?
I’d like to hear about your culture shock. Contact me.
Naadam Festival in Mongolia
It was my
first time to experience Naadam, which occurs on the 11th, 12th and 13th of
July, and I’ve written a poem about my first experience of Naadam.
I’d like to share it with you.
running to and fro.
pizza and people galore
skill at the cans and tosses.
attendants with T.P. handy
children in lovely dresses
feeding babies with milk
soaked by summer rain,
having a lot of money, my son and I had a great time at the Naadam festival
(held every July 11, 12, and 13).
My son’s favourite part was riding horses, and I’m not talking about
merely watching horse-racing; He actually mounted and rode a horse, twice!
My favourite part was the wrestling, because I was a wrestler in my
youth. It was
great fun; however, as I was perambulating around the place, I got to wondering
how this tradition began.
According to the UB Post’s journalists Oyundari and Nasaa, in their
article from Friday, June 24, 2011, Naadam was instituted as an annual national
festival in 1921 to celebrate the National Revolution’s victory of that same
year, and to celebrate the anniversary of the establishment of the Great Mongol
Empire 805 years ago from this year.
Naadam is recorded in history to go back to the Chinggis Khan era.
I wonder, though, if it doesn’t go back even further.
stumbled upon the Epic of Geser.
The Mongolian version of the epic is particularly interesting to me.
Wikipedia’s article on the Epic of Geser says that it probably is about
a man that lived in the 8th or 9th centuries A.D. in
Tibet. You can
believe that if you want.
I don’t. I’ve
read it. It was
set in a time when gods and men mingled on earth.
The gods were called “Tenger”, which means, “Sky beings.”
There were two factions of gods who lived on earth in peace.
The 5 Western Tenger obviously lived in the West.
The 4 Eastern Tenger obviously lived in the East.
They ruled as Khans both in the sky and on earth.
But, there was one above them all: Father Esege Malaan Tenger.
It is written that he controlled the course of the history of earth.
So, one day,
the chief god of the Western 5 and the chief god of the Eastern 4 had a dispute.
They decided to settle the dispute with an epic battle.
The battle involved three manly competitions:
riding horses (that could fly), shooting arrows (that sparkled), and
wrestling (which ended with the death of the loser).
Interestingly, these are the same three manly competitions that still
exist in Naadam today. After
that, all the Eastern gods decided that they didn’t like the Western gods and
there was a Great War in the skies above earth.
In that Great War, the Western Tenger triumphed.
They drove the Eastern Tenger further to the East, to a desolate land
(which sounds a lot like Mongolia, actually).
was that the battle of the gods created a huge mess down here on earth.
When the battle was over, humans were all producing still-births, animals
were all dying, and the crops/plants likewise were all dying.
To top it off, humans were plagued with all manner of disease.
The prayers of the humans went up to father god, and he called a council
meeting of all the gods.
He said that the one responsible for causing the problem, should fix the
problem, and the culprit was none other than the chief of the Western gods.
All the gods agreed.
So, to make
a long epic short, the leader of the Western gods was sent to earth and was born
into humanity as Geser, the hero, who would save all humankind from utter
tales of his deeds are legendary.
I find it
fascinating that there are similar stories all over the world of a god-savior,
or demi-god savior that saved human beings from destruction.
Maybe, just maybe, there is some truth in all these stories, you think?
But, what really disturbs me is the cause of the war of the gods.
Did they fight over land?
they fight over power? No.
Did they fight over status?
won’t believe this. They
fought over a woman.
I could be
way off base here, but I propose that Naadam goes all the way to the time of
gods on earth, and the Epic of Geser.
In support of this proposition, I would present the evidence that
Chinggis Khan chose 9 of his bravest warriors, to be his leaders.
Notice the correlation with the 9 original gods in the Geser Epic.
In conclusion, I’ve heard it said, that wars have been fought over
women, but you’d think that the gods would be above that, wouldn’t you?
I guess they’re only human after all.
And, I can’t help myself, but I just have to mention here that in the
Mayan prophesy which accompanies its calendar, the nine gods of old will return
in 2012. What
will they do when they get here?
Who knows? I
just hope that they don’t fall for any of our earth women!
Mongolian Calendar vs. Mayan Calendar and
have e-mailed me with interest in Mongolian shamanism, and eschatology, so by
popular demand, I have re-doubled my research and have obtained loads of
information for you today.
article, regarding Mongolian shamanism and eschatology, I mentioned that there
is some evidence that the Mayans got their calendar from Mongolians, as the
Mongolian calendar is similar.
Let me expound upon that assertion and present the evidence.
Most of my
information comes from researcher Erdenechimeg Ish’s book Diverse Word and
2012 IV. It
is a hard read, because the translation is lacking and it presupposes a lot of
background knowledge on the part of the reader.
Luckily, I have the necessary background knowledge.
me bring you up to speed.
Do you know what the number 25,920 represents?
It is the number of years that make up the Platonic Year, or exactly one
precession of the equinoxes.
Now, according to Mayan researchers, the Mayans have recorded that 4
‘suns’, or eras, have ended and that we are in the fifth ‘sun’.
While it IS true that we are in the fifth ‘sun’, Mayan researchers
either fail to mention the period just prior to the first sun, or that
information has been destroyed by the conquistadors.
Mayan researchers say that the first sun lasted 4008 years, the second:
4010 years, the third: 4081 years, the fourth: 5026 years, and the fifth (which
we are in now) will have lasted 5126 years, ending in 2012 A.D.
If you do the math, the five ‘suns’ only add up to 22,251 years,
short of a complete Platonic year.
Erdenechimeg fills in the gap.
She asserts that there was a period of sunlessness, or “total
darkness”, which preceded the first sun and lasted for 3669 years.
It was time of the Great Ice Age, when humans had to live underneath the
ice, which is why it was dark.
[It wasn’t because there was no sun; rather it was because humans could
not see the sun.] If
you add 3669 to 22251, you get exactly 25,920 years, or one Platonic year.
Also, it is
very interesting to note that the fifth ‘sun’ will not be the last.
Erdenechimeg asserts that the Wheel of History will end on December 21,
2012, and on December 22, 2012, the sixth ‘sun’ will rise, lasting forever.
I find this fascinating.
It jives with Terrance McKenna’s work, which he calls “Time Wave
Zero”. It is
based upon the I-Ching, which McKenna used to graph a “wave” of time.
When he mapped the wave over a timeline, he found that it ends in 2012.
think not. At
that point, when the wave ends, it hits the “zero” line on the graph, which
he interprets as time no longer exists.
What is forever?
It is timelessness!
Mongolian calendar does NOT have an end date like the Mayan calendar does,
Erdenechimeg attests that it is basically the same calendar, working upon the
same numbers of 13 and 20.
If you are
observant, you will see how the number 13 is so prevalent in Mongolian society,
especially in Mongolian religions.
I have visited several Buddhist monasteries in Ulaanbaatar, and all of
the stupas have exactly 13 levels.
Then, I went the shaman’s tent, called the Center of Shaman and Eternal
Sky Sophistication. Inside
there were exactly 13 sky-blue flags displayed.
Finally, the Mongolian calendar has 13 months of 28 days.
The 365th day is considered the “day out of time”, and is
added to the end of the calendar.
According to Erdenechimeg’s research, the ancient Mongolians considered
the number 13 to signify the number of intellectual skill, or of intellectual
example, when one reaches the age of 13, one reaches the first ‘leap’ in
human intellectual development.
Thereafter the ‘leaps’ are 12 years each.
20 cannot be observed with one’s eyes.
According to Erdenechimeg, it is a number of great significance to
ancient Mongolians. She
claims that the number 20 means “stop” or “end of a cycle”.
She writes that according to the ancient Mongolians, the universe
operates upon cycles of 20, such as:
20 minutes, 20 quarters of an hour, 20 hours, 20 days, 20 years, and so
take the numbers 20 and 13, multiply them together and get a 260-year cycle of
time. I must
admit that the similarities are uncanny, but what does Erdenechimeg have to say
about the end of the fifth ‘sun’, which we are rapidly approaching?
She says that we keep having apocalypse after apocalypse, because the
humans have no ‘cheu’.
‘Cheu’ is a Mongolian word that means core or marrow.
We humans are divided into 4 races with no core, which may be by design;
hence, the title of her book, “Diverse World”.
Other reasons are that we humans have no Chin-gis.
That means we have neither ‘chin’ nor any ‘gis’.
From what I can gather, ‘chin’ means courage of truth, and ‘gis’
means enlightenment. Chinggis
Khan (not his real name) tried to unite the world with a central ‘cheu’,
i.e., one sun in the sky and one ‘khan’ on earth.
He tried to bring ‘chin’ and ‘gis’ to the world.
However, he failed.
tries to answer the question as to why Chinggis Khan failed.
In her opinion, it was because Chinggis Khan and Mongolian shamanism both
have lost their way. They
have believed that we humans are subject to spirits, both Tenger (sky spirits)
and Cheutgeur (underworld spirits), not to mention a plethora of nature spirits.
beginning of the fifth ‘sun’, it seems that there has always been somebody
trying to unite the world under a central ‘cheu’ or core.
And they’ve all failed.
The latest efforts to do so seem to be made by the global conspiracy
group, referred to as the illuminati, to form a “New World Order”.
It will fail, too, because there is neither ‘chin’ nor ‘gis’.
However, the good news is that both the Mayans and Erdenechimeg are
confident that by December 21, 2012, we, as a human race, will achieve our ‘cheu’,
‘chin’, and ‘gis’.
Personally, I can’t wait.
Websites of Erdenechimeg
Strategic Advocacy of Mongolia
Sparrow on My Balcony
[FOREWORD: You may be wondering what a Mongolian Ovoo has to do with a dead sparrow. Well, read this recount and find out!]
Before I went to sleep last Friday night, I lay on the bed thinking about what my next article would be about. When I awoke, I went out on my balcony to water my plants. There was a dead baby Eurasian tree sparrow lying on my balcony. I freaked out! I thought, “Oh, my heavens! What kind of omen is this?”
am I superstitious?
Yes! I am superstitious.
I’ve always been superstitious.
When I was young, I used to make up my own superstitions.
For instance, I used to think that if I locked my bicycle in a certain
spot, I’d have a good day at school.
When someone took my spot and I was forced to lock my bike in another
location, I was sure to have a bad day.
As I stood
there, mesmerized by the matter at hand, I wondered what a dead bird on one’s
balcony portends. I
just had to know. I
called my friend, Markus.
He’s a Mongolian American.
I figured he’d know.
I asked, “What does it mean when someone finds a dead bird on their
balcony in Mongolia?”
He replied, “It means the bird died on your balcony.”
He was no help. So,
I immediately sat at my laptop and began to search the web for answers.
I searched all day long.
I found nothing related to my predicament.
However, herein below is what I did find.
In the West,
there is a superstition that if a bird flies into one’s home, there will be a
death of a loved one. Whew!
Dodged that bullet!
In Mongolia, apparently the belief is that if one comes upon a dead
animal, one should spit three times and say, “I didn’t kill you.”
This is to avoid retribution from the spirit of the deceased animal.
say, I was a bit relieved that there wasn’t any bad omen associated with a
dead bird. However,
I couldn’t help but feel uneasy about it.
Questions plagued my mind.
Why me? Why
now? Why on my
once said that there is no such thing as a mere coincidence.
I mean sure, the baby bird probably fell out of a nest on the roof of my
Did some evil spirit push it out of the nest?
Was it a message from the spirit world?
How was I to take it?
So, that night, after putting my son to bed, I went out on the balcony
and said, “I didn’t kill you,” but I didn’t spit three times.
I didn’t spit at all.
That’s just nasty.
morning, I went out on my balcony again.
There on the telephone wires, no more than two meters away from me,
practically eye to eye were two adult tree sparrows yelling at me.
I said, “I didn’t do it!
It was probably that lady two floors up who flicks vodka into the air.”
Then, a third sparrow flew right up to my balcony and gave me a severe
I said, “I didn’t do it!”
Now, I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, “Leon, you are crazy! You talk to birds? Are you serious?” Yes. I’m serious. The last thing I needed was a replay of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. But, seriously, I believe that you can talk to animals, and they will in most cases understand your general intentions.
Now, I must
digress and tell you about the lady two floors up.
I’ve seen her late at night in our apartment parking lot flicking some
kind of liquid into the air in all four cardinal directions.
She spooned the liquid, which looked like a milk tea, out of her cup high
into the air. Clearly,
she was performing some kind of shamanistic ritual, but I didn’t know why.
Did she want rain from the sky?
From my research about Mongolian shamanism, I learned that in the past
Mongolians asked their shamans for rain, but now, they generally ask for money.
Sometimes Mongolian shamans will tell their clients to give offerings of
milk tea or vodka to the spirits, in return for favors.
Perhaps that was the reason.
Perhaps she needed money.
ha!” I thought. However,
I was a bit dismayed to go out on my balcony one sunny afternoon only to get a
vodka shower. You
see my balcony is the lowest one and jets out a bit farther than the others
above me. I
looked up to see what was causing my shower.
It was that old lady again flicking a clear liquid into the sky from her
fact, I didn’t know what kind of liquid it was.
It could have been anything.
I’ve read that sometimes the shamans will tell their clients who are
plagued by evil spirits to bathe in vodka and then throw it out the window to
get rid of the evil spirit.
For all I know I was being showered with dirty bath vodka.
Maybe it worked, though.
Maybe the evil spirit left her home and entered the baby sparrow, and
then it tried to fly away, but its wings weren’t fully developed.
Or just maybe, the old lady flicked the vodka a little bit too high and
it got into the nest, intoxicating one of the little chicks, which then
accidentally fell out of the nest.
let’s get back to my story.
After I convinced the adult sparrows that “…it wasn’t me”, they
left me alone. It
became clear that I couldn’t just leave the little bird on my balcony.
I decided that it was time to bury the felled foul, whom we
affectionately named “Sparrie”.
I put the lifeless little thing into a cardboard coffin and I said,
“Let’s go bury Sparrie.”
My son and I went out into the field next to our apartment building, dug
a grave with a spoon, and buried the bird, coffin and all.
Then, we erected an ovoo, or rock monument, on top of the grave and a
headstone out of piece of polished granite we found lying in the field.
We said a little prayer that went something like this, “Dear God,
please accept the spirit of our little sparrow friend, whom we’ve named
Sparrie, into your heavenly abode.
For now, I
think we have appeased the spirits.
Whatever happens next, I’m not going to spit three times.
That’s just nasty.
Now, an ovoo, pictured above, is a very sacred thing in Mongolian tradition. If one should happen upon one, one is supposed to (doesn't have to; but may if they want to) pick up a rock that is NOT part of the existing ovoo, walk around the ovoo three times, carrying the rock and saying a prayer. Then, one places the rock on the ovoo. This is akin to our Western tradition of adding a coin to a wishing well. Just as it is extremely taboo to remove coins from a wishing well, it is extremely taboo to remove stones/rocks from an ovoo.
So, after we had buried Sparrie and erected the miniature ovoo on top of the grave, and said our little prayer, we retired to the apartment wherein we resided. As we were going about our daily routines, my son experienced an odd event, which he relayed to me. He told me that when he looked in the mirror in the living room, which was facing the balcony, he saw a Mongolian-looking woman standing on our balcony. When he immediately turned around to look at the balcony, she was no longer there. When asked what she was wearing, he said that she was wearing an ancient outfit with feathers all over it.
I, personally, believe that it was the spirit of the sparrow coming to thank us for what we had done for her. I also, personally, believe that she tarried with us for the duration of our time in Mongolia as our guardian angel. There were many "close calls" for my son and me while living in Mongolia, but we were always propitiously protected.
Please note: It is NOT a Mongolian tradition to erect on ovoo on top of a grave. But, I wanted to do something special for Sparrie. I also wanted to teach my son to respect all creatures (dead or alive), even respect the spirit of a picayune tree sparrow.
Reasons I Love Living in Mongolia
I would like
to present the top ten reasons that I love living in Mongolia.
ten, comes the uneven terrain, both natural and man-made.
I mean yes, we all dream of evenly paved roads and sidewalks, but that is
My son and I enjoy playing follow-the-leader around the man-made and
natural obstacles. Regarding
puddles and pot holes, well, the people driving the cars are actually quite
courteous and drive relatively slowly through the puddles, so as to minimize the
regarding splashing, my son absolutely loves to run and splash through all the
bottom line is I’d rather take my chances with the sprained ankles and with
getting wet, than not have the opportunity to play follow-the-leader with my
I am thankful for the uneven terrain.
nine, comes the Siberian stinging nettle.
I mean holy smoke!
I wouldn’t have such a fascinating tale to tell had it not been for the
Siberian stinging nettle.
I think I’ll be telling that story, recounted in the last issue of UB
Post, until the day I die.
It was a great story.
Also, because of having been stung by that precarious plant, I did some
research about it. I
found out that is a very healthy plant.
The leaves of the young Siberian stinging nettle can be eaten raw for
their abundant vitamins and minerals.
The leaves of the elder Siberian stinging nettle can be collected, died,
and used to make a very healthy tea.
Do you think that I would have known that if I hadn’t been stung by the
plant? Heck no!
I am so thankful for the Siberian stinging nettle, which is abundant in
eight, comes the thieves.
Are you serious?” you ask.
thieves have taught me to be more careful with where I put things in my bags and
how I pack my pockets. I
am now much more cautious and vigilant when I go out.
If you recall, I wrote that I had been pick-pocketed five times in my
first five weeks of living in UB.
Well, I haven’t been pick-pocketed since.
I have learned my lesson.
And just in time, too!
Naadam is coming!
There will be tons of pick-pockets working the crowds, and I will be
ready for them.
seven, comes the wacky weather.
The Mongolians have a saying: “In the spring, Mongolia can have four
seasons in just one day.”
How cool is that!
It’s true! I’ve
seen it snow, rain, blow wind, and be sunny all in a single day!
Where else on earth can you experience that?
I love Mongolian weather!
When it snows, my son and I have snowball fights or we have target
practice with snowballs.
When it rains, my son and I get to run through puddles.
When it is windy, my son and I go fly a kite.
When it is sunny, we play follow-the-leader or hunt for interesting rocks
for our rock collection.
six, comes the language.
I love learning new languages! Consider
it a hobby of mine, and Mongolian is such an interesting language.
It has phonemes that I’ve never heard before.
Furthermore, it has combinations of phonemes that I’ve never heard
before. It has
unique grammatical structures that don’t exist in the other Altaic languages.
The Mongolian language presents a new challenge for me, and for that I am
five, comes the freedom to drink any number of beverages, including vodka.
While I am neither fond of vodka, nor the effects it has on the imbiber,
I appreciate the freedom that we have in this country to imbibe.
It is my position that it is not the role of government to tell us what
we can and cannot put into our bodies.
Sure, the government should regulate and warn and educate people about
potentially harmful substances.
The government should teach correct principles; but, let the people
four, comes the flora.
During my stay in Mongolia, I have encountered many different kinds of
plants, some of which I’ve never seen before.
I enjoy studying the plants.
I enjoy seeing the various hues of green and blue in the leaves.
I enjoy seeing the yellow and purple flowers of spring, and just the
other day, I taught my son how to make a dandelion necklace with nothing but our
hands and dandelions.
three, comes the fauna.
From the hoverflies to the herds of goats, Mongolian fauna is
we’ve been in Mongolia, my son has seen his first hoverfly.
He has been allowed to hold his first baby goat.
He has been allowed to pet a cow for the first time in his life.
And, it didn’t cost a penny.
In the West, we pay money to send our children to petting zoos.
Well, here we can pet the animals for free.
I’ll tell you how that came about.
My son and I
spend quite a bit of time down by the Selbe River.
Well, one day, we saw some herdsmen letting their livestock feed on the
abundant grass that grows near the river.
We approached the head herdsman, and using body language asked for
permission to touch his animals.
Not only did he say, “Yes,” but he also went and got two baby goats
and put them in my son’s arms.
How cool is that!
two, comes the people of Mongolia.
Generally, the people of Mongolia are so honest, helpful, and happy.
With regard to honesty, I sometimes hold out a wad of cash to vendors and
taxi drivers, even though I fully understand the price that they’ve just told
me in Mongolian. I
do this to see how honest the people are.
Believe it or not, I’ve never been cheated in Mongolia.
They may have inflated the price a bit, but they always take the right
amount of cash. To
be fair, I was never cheated in Turkey either.
Vietnam was the worst country I’ve ever been to regarding honesty.
They had the nasty, noxious, and nefarious habit of inflating their
prices anywhere from double to ten times the normal price.
And, I never trusted them enough to hold out a wad of cash.
to helpfulness, there have been several times that I have needed help finding my
way around UB. Each
time, I asked a random person for help.
Not only did they tell me where to go, but they guided me there
cool is that!
regard to happiness, they say that Thailand is the land of smiles.
That may be true.
I’ve never been there.
I would ask this question though: “Are they sincere smiles?”
If the Thai people are anything like the Vietnamese, they will smile and
treat you kindly while they are charging you ten times what they charge the
That would make me smile too.
The Mongolian people, however, seem to have sincere smiles.
They always smile at my son and me, even though they don’t know us.
I like that. I’m
generally a happy person myself and I like to smile.
Yet, where I come from, people avoid eye contact and hardly ever smile,
even if I smile first. Sometimes,
if I smile at someone in my hometown, they get this look on their face, as if to
say, “What the ________ are you smiling at me for?”
That doesn’t happen here.
I love the Mongolian people.
we come to number one.
Before I tell you what it is, please consider that I have put a lot of
thought into this. It
may shock you at first, but please hear me out.
It will all become clear in the end.
At number one comes the lack of prejudice.
“But, how can you say that, Leon, when in your last article you ‘went
off on’ the Mongolian ultra-nationalists?” you ask.
Let me explain. Firstly,
with regard to ultra-nationalists, they exist in every country, and yet they
represent a small minority. Secondly
and more importantly is how the children at school treat my son.
My son is of mixed race.
He’s what one might disparagingly call a “half-breed”.
He was neither accepted by his father’s culture, nor his mother’s
culture. He was
teased, maligned, and mistreated by the children of both cultures.
Out of all the countries where my son has attended school, and that would
be seven countries, only in Mongolia has my son not faced any prejudice.
Because my son is the apple of my eye, and because his happiness comes
before my own, I will probably stay in Mongolia for a long, long time.
you have it: the top ten reasons why I love living in UB, Mongolia.
And before I close, I have a favor to ask.
Please, if I ever present a negative opinion about something related to
Mongolia, please do not take it to
mean that I dislike this country.
I love Mongolia.
Dangers of Ulaanbaatar
Like every other urban habitat on the planet, urban Ulaanbaatar has its dangers. As I have made my way around Ulaanbaatar (UB), I have stumbled upon a decent number of dangers. Herein below I give Leon’s List of the top ten dangers in UB (in reverse order; number 1 being the most dangerous!)
recap from 10 to number 1.
The top ten most dangerous things in UB are:
(10) uneven terrain, (9) Siberian stinging nettle, (8) thieves, (7)
broken glass, (6) manholes, (5) vodka, (4) drunks, (3) traffic, (2) seduction;
And, the number 1 most dangerous thing in UB collectively is/are the
I have a
book …a book that I take with me everywhere I go in the world.
It sits beside my porcelain throne.
I read it often.
It is entitled: How
to Stop Worrying and Start Living, by Dale Carnegie.
It was published in 1948, but the principles that it teaches are
There is an
interesting anecdote that Mr. Carnegie relates about a housewife named Thelma
Thompson of New York during the Second World War.
In her words, she wrote, “During the war, my husband was stationed at
an Army training camp near the Mojave Desert, and I was left in a tiny shack
alone. The heat
was unbearable—125 degrees in the shade of a cactus.
Not a soul to talk to but Mexicans and Indians, and they couldn’t speak
wind blew incessantly, and all the food I ate, and the very air I breathed, were
filled with sand, sand, sand!
I was so utterly wretched, so sorry for myself, that I wrote my parents.
I told them I was giving up and coming back home.
I said I couldn’t stand it one minute longer.
I would rather be in jail!
My father answered my letter with just two lines—two lines that
completely altered my life:
‘Two men looked out from prison bars,
‘One saw the mud, the other saw the stars.’
those two lines over and over.
I was ashamed of myself.
I made up my mind I would find out what was good in my present situation;
I would look for the stars.
friends with the natives, and their reaction amazed me.
When I showed interest in their weaving and pottery, they gave me
presents of their favorite pieces which they had refused to sell to the
studied the fascinating forms of the cactus and the yuccas and the Joshua trees.
I learned about the prairie dogs, watched the desert sunsets, and hunted
for seashells that had been left there millions of years ago when the sands of
the desert had been an ocean floor.
brought about this astonishing change in me?
The Mojave Desert hadn’t changed.
The Indians hadn’t changed.
But I had. I
had changed my attitude of mind.
And by doing so, I transformed a wretched experience into the most
exciting adventure of my life.”
there are many expatriates who have come to work and have brought their families
with them. You
may be one of many housewives who’ve accompanied her husband to this seemingly
God-forsaken land. You
may be feeling much like Thelma Thompson did when she first arrived in the
Mojave Desert. Well,
let me tell you what Milton wrote over 300 years ago: “The mind is its own
place, and in itself; Can make a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven.”
Ulaanbaatar (UB) is a hell.
It is hot, fiery, sandy, and seemingly bereft of fun things to do.
However, I insist that we can make a heaven of this hell.
we must change our attitude.
Then, we must get involved.
There are many ways to get involved in UB.
For instance there is the International Women’s Association of Mongolia
(or IWAM). To
learn more, please see the website, http://iwammongolia.com.
For all expatriates, there are the Mongol Expat gatherings, which occur
every Wednesday. For
more information, please the website, http://mongolexpat.com/.
For you animal lovers, there is the World Wildlife Fund—Mongolia.
Just ‘Google’ it.
And, let us not forget, my esteemed colleague and friend, Sean Hennessy
wrote an article for the UB Post, published May 20, 2011, about several NGO’s
in Ulaanbaatar, including the Rotary Club, the Irish Club, and the Mongolia
India Club. The
Rotary Club and India Club are online.
are your cup of tea, well, there are quite a lot.
Just Google ‘charities in Mongolia’ and you’ll find them.
Speaking of charities, if you suffer from melancholia, Dr Alfred Adler
used to tell his patients:
“You can be cured in fourteen days if you follow this prescription.
Try to think every day how you can please someone.”
It works, because is hard to be thinking about one’s own misfortunes
while one is thinking about helping and pleasing others.
Carnegie, in aforementioned book, relates how one woman banished all her
melancholy in just one day.
I shall paraphrase the story, because it is quite long.
was a widow and it was Christmas time in New York City.
As is typical, her grief related to her bereavement intensified as
Christmas day approached.
After work one day, despondent at the thought of going home to an empty
apartment, Mrs. Moon wandered aimlessly around New York City.
Finally, she came to a bus station, quite by accident.
She remembered that her husband and she used to board an unknown bus for
she boarded the first bus that she could find.
She took it to the last stop.
She got off and started wandering around aimlessly again.
She came upon a church, and she heard Christmas hymns emanating from
inside the church. So,
she went in a sat on one of the pews.
drifted off to sleep, and when she awoke, there in front of her were two small
children. One, a
little girl, was pointing at her and saying, “I wonder if Santa Claus brought
Moon asked the two children where their mother and daddy were.
“We ain’t got no mother and daddy,” they said.
Mrs. Moon felt ashamed at her loneliness, sorrow, and self-pity.
She took the two children to a drugstore and had some refreshments.
Mrs. Moon was surprised to find that while she was with the two children,
she had forgotten all about her worries, and was filled with real happiness.
conclusion, the formula for banishing melancholy and finding happiness seems to
be: (1) get involved, and (2) help other people.
Forget about yourself.
Get off the sofa of self-pity.
Do something constructive with your time.
Help to make a heaven out of hell.
Father's Day; From Mongolia
For me, the
sweetest word in the English language is, “Dad,” especially when it comes
out of my son’s mouth.
After 11 years, I still can’t believe that I’m actually somebody’s
dad. I became a
dad for many reasons, but among those was:
I wanted to show my dad the correct way to be a dad.
Oh, ho, ho, have I been humbled by the awesome responsibility of being a
dad! With each
day, month, and year, I gain more and more respect for my dad, not to mention
more contrition for my pride.
do not have a special day for mothers or fathers.
International Women’s Day, March 8, doubles as mother’s day in
days later, on March 18, there is a “Soldier’s Day”, which doubles as a
men’s day and triples as a father’s day.
For us expats that come from the U.K., U.S., Canada, or South Africa,
father’s day is the third Sunday in June, which is the day after tomorrow.
For expats that come from Australia or New Zealand, father’s day is
celebrated the first Sunday in September.
Since I am from the U.S., this Sunday is “Father’s Day”.
speak for all fathers, but I think that a great majority of fathers would say
that they love their children very much.
They just have funny ways of showing it sometimes.
I would like to recount a story of a father’s love, if I may.
entered high school, ninth grade, I was eager to participate in after-school
sports. I was
perhaps the smallest kid in the school, out of four thousand students.
I was too short to play basketball, too little to play football, too
inept to play soccer, and too slow to do track and field.
So, what did I do?
I followed in my father’s footsteps and wrestled.
The lowest weight group was 98 pounds and I weighed 80.
a week of grueling, intense training, the likes of which I had never
experienced, neither before nor since; and after constantly being beaten by all
my teammates during sparing time, I was ready to give up.
I went home crying and announced my decision to my parents.
My father sternly said, “No, you’re not.
You are not quitting.
You will stay on that wrestling team and do your best.
That’s all I ask.”
without much confidence in myself, and I dare say a bit of resentment towards my
father, I stayed on that wrestling team.
I did my best, and it was the most character-building experience of my
life. I even got
to wrestle junior varsity at some of the matches.
For a kid 18 pounds under his opponent, I felt that I did pretty well,
time I was winning and my opponent elbowed me in the nose, which is an illegal
move, but the referee didn’t see it, I guess.
My nose started bleeding profusely.
My coach pulled me out to try and stop the bleeding.
It wouldn’t stop.
My coach said, “We’re going to have to throw in the towel.”
I begged him not to.
I said, “Please coach, let me back in!
I know I can win!”
But, alas, the blood would not stop gushing out of my nose, and my coach
was forced to throw in the towel.
loss, there I was, the same kid, who two months earlier wanted to quit, taking
on kids 18 pounds heavier, and winning!
I have my father to thank for that.
Had I not had a father, I’m sure I would not have gained that most
valuable confidence-building, character-building, and muscle-building
sure my mother, bless her soul, would have said, “O.K., son, you can quit.
Don’t worry about it.”
What would I have learned from that?
How to be a quitter?
How to give up? How
to be a wimp?
is, fathers can be tough on us sometimes and we don’t realize that it is for
our own good until many months, perhaps many years later.
perambulate around the city of Ulaanbaatar, I stumble upon many fathers playing
with their children. This
is something that I have not seen in most other countries that I have lived in,
at least not as much. So,
as we hear about the derelict dads, who waste their paycheck on vodka, and
hardly see their kids, let us keep in mind that there are a lot of good dads out
there as well. For
instance, when I teach, I see as many Mongolian dads picking up their children
from school as I do mothers.
When I have parent-teacher conferences, I see just as many Mongolian dads
as I do Mongolian mothers.
off to all the good dads out there, whether you are Mongolian or expat.
Happy Father’s Day!
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