29 June 2010

Steppe 12: a College Reunion and a New Friend and One Giant WTF Moment

The day after Jaisri's wedding, my dear friend from undergrad at Butler, Amy Willis, arrived in Mongolia for a week long visit to me! We hadn't seen each other in 2 years, but have always been the kind of friends that didn't spend every moment together, but when we were together, we always had a really special connection. No less so on the other side of the world after 2 years of separation! It was as though no time at all had passed. Amy has been in South Korea for the last 8 months teaching English, and when she heard I was going to be in her neck of the woods, she was determined to come visit me, and rearranged her schedule in order to do so. She was the sun and the relief in that last month of teaching which felt something like the throws of the black plague most of the time.

So she arrived in Darkhan, and we walked around and saw what there is to see. Then we spontaneously took the 7 hour midnight train (as opposed to the 4 hour bus ride) splitting a single bunk. We arrived early in the morning to UB, and made our way to the guesthouse where we picked up an overnight trip to Terelj, a national park just outside UB. We traveled with 4 Brits, a German, and another American. We stayed  in tourist ger camp, where they cooked us what to me was evidently the tourist version of Mongolian food. That afternoon a boy took us riding, herding our lazy horses. Amy and I pulled out our teacher skills, and the 2 British guys who were our age followed suit, until we had the boy singing to us and teaching us Mongolian words and showing off his horsemanship. The following are only the pictures I took--Amy is a photography wiz so she's got oodles of amazing pictures, but I don't have the files yet so here's just a sampling...

After Terelj, we returned to the guesthouse and picked up a driver, a car, and a new companion, Meg. She was another American who originally traveled to Mongolia to visit a friend in the Peace Corps there, and then travel on to China... not many of her plans went through like she thought, but boy did we luck out having her along cause she rocked!
Our first night, in Kharkhorin... actually like my 4th night spent in that city, but this time, everything was green, snowless, and warm. Basicly I saw only one new place on this trip, but everything was transformed from the frigid, miserably brown and white winter, into green and budding spring, along with the miserable sandstorms that make Mongolians hate spring. There were baby animals evvverrrrywhere and cranes in pairs, often performing mating dances.

The above is the happy spring version of the steppe to the south west of the ancient capitol.

It was crazy windy!


 The waterfall melted!!

 My awesome travel companions.

 It snowed that morning!

So I got deathly ill that day, my stomach wanted to kill me. It was lovely. We spent one night at the waterfall and traveled through Khujirt to the Mini Gobi of which I only have one pic:
 Because I was sick... so I slept the afternoon away. The other girls rode horses they had prepared for us through the sand with a crazy old man who apparently took a nap and wrote crazy pictures in the sand... The next morning he had a horse for me waiting, and so I did get to ride for a minute.

We headed back to UB after our stay in the mini Gobi, and by the time we reached UB I felt 10 times better. Meg, on the other hand, began to fall ill in a similar way I had been. By the time we got back to the Guesthouse, she collapsed on the bed, and Amy and I went out to get food and souvenirs, for ourselves and her. We successfully did some shopping and I arranged to meet Jizo later for dinner. When he finnaaally arrived, Amy and I ate some food, then went back to the guesthouse to check on Meg, before going somewhere else for Jizo to eat... Meg was gone from the guesthouse! She had been taken to the S.O.S. hospital in UB, because she had fallen terribly terribly sick. Jizo was awesome and took us to the hospital in his car, where we reunited with the poor girl, now doped up and feeling much better. We left with Jizo, got him some food, and all parted ways for our respective sleeping quarters.

The next morning, I took a walk around UB with another guest at the guesthouse, a Spanish guy named Alejandro. Saw a Buddhist temple in the city that's very beautiful and full of happy Mongolian children... Amy was sleeping, as she also wasn't feeling very well, but was recouped when I got back. We then went to a nice hotel where Meg had transfered and hung with her for a while. I also had a chance to see my friend Boorak while Amy and I ate lunch, as he had just been transfered to work in UB from Darkhan... Anyways, we basicly hung out with Meg all day, also saw Jizo at one point, before he headed back to Darkhan. I stayed the night and parted with Amy the next morning, then took the bus back to Darkhan in the afternoon. I spent the day with Meg, who had to cancel her China plans, and take a flight back to the States.

So that's a rather haphazard telling of that story... Amy has many many pics of it, hopefully I'll get them up here someday.

14 June 2010

Bayerteh Mini Mongol!

The day has come at last... I'm about a month behind on my blog, but I'll have fun catching up once I'm home.

Tomorrow, my dear friend Jizo will drive me to the airport in Ulaanbaatar, and I will say "bayerteh" to Mongolia. My flight goes from UB to Beijing to Seoul to NYC to Burlington, VT. I'll be home in the evening on June 16.

Yesterday I spent with Jizo, witnessing a shaman ceremony. His older brother is a shaman, and came to visit the family because one of the aunts is sick. It was fascinating to see, I'll write more about it later. We had dinner at Jizo's grandmother's home, a meal of sheep innards... including the tube that leads to the butthole? Hmmmm it was tasty? :-P Today has been spent in goodbyes and preparations. Tonight I'll have dinner with Brigitte and Madeleine (explain later) and Jizo and Hiroshi (also explain later).

Headed home!

04 June 2010

Steppe 11: A jaunt in the countryside

One weekend in May, Brigitte and I were invited to our coworker and friend, Tugsuu's parent's home in the countryside. The journey there was rather epic... partly because we decided not to sleep and ended up hanging out with a bunch of friends until our 2am train... We slept most of the ride north to Sukbaatar, a city on the border with Russia. Then we 4 (us girls and Tugsuu's son) into a small sedan with 4 other people, including the driver, and driven about 2 hours into nowhere on the crevassed gutters that indicated a traveled route. Finally we arrived at a lovely home, in a little hasha (the fenced in area of a family establishment), in a very very small town in the northern Steppe. We all spent our first hours there catching some sleep through the morning  rain, then Tugsuu cooked us soup with dried meat, called borts.

Went on lots of walks in the peaceful countryside. This is a monument to Japanese soldiers who died in WWII... There was also a rather maimed Buddha who fell victim to my humor...
If I were an old woman in Mongolia... more later, internet cafe is closing.

Steppe 10: Spring brings celebrations!

Soooo April went by quite  fast, quite busy with all the jobs. It was also a relief to feel the breath-very strong, very forceful breath-of spring upon us after the long long cold.

There was still snow for a while though. Here  is the city I've learned to call home:

My birthday did occur on April 23, as usual, even on the other side of the world! I had a birthday dinner with my 3 Swiss (Steven, Brigitte, Nadine), 2 of my Mongolian coworkers, Tugsuu and Nina, and my German coworker Andrea, my Turkish friend Boorak, my Mongolian friend Bulgaa ("B"), and my Peace Corps friend, Christiana.

 The cake Steven, Boorak, and B fetched for me from the bakery.
None of us were very photogenic that night, but you get the idea. We dined on Chinese food. I brought a book and asked them to sign that they had been there for posterity... Each person wrote in a different language or two: Steven in Swiss-German, Nina in Russian, Tugsuu in Mongolian Script, B in Mongolian Cyrillic, Christiana in Italian, Boorak in Turkish, Kurdish, and Arabic, and Andrea "in English, with a German hand". Afterwards we parted ways with Tugsuu, Nina, and Andrea, and went to Baikal Pub for drinks with our Mongolian friend Ognii. He also had a big piece of cake with a candle waiting for me! A bottle of wine and a bottle of vodka later, we caught the grocery store just before it closed to restock our apartment, and headed home where my friend Jizo joined us. There are no pictures from that night for very good reasons, and though it held little sleep for any of us, it was extremely unforgettable!!

The next event of note was Jaisri's beautiful wedding!
The ceremony was Ba'hi, held in the restaurant of Jaisri's brother. This was the altar. The ceremony was mainly readings of Ba'hi prayers in Mongolian and English, with music as meditation and reflection, and presentation and signing of certificates. The bride and groom sat in these chairs for the ceremony, and then were considered married when they stood, holding hands and said, "We humbly submit our lives to the will of God."
Left to Right: Hitomi (Japanese), Nadine, Japanese-whose-name-I-will-try-to-remember-later, Jaisri the Bride in her post-ceremony kimono, me and Brigitte. We were essentially the bridal party.

Jaisri and Keichii and their family members who attended the ceremony in Mongolia. Jaisri's brother (first on the left) lives in Mongolia. Keichii's parents, (first lady on the left, last gentleman on the right) flew in for several days from Japan.
A famous morin-khuur player played for them after the ceremony.
Khishigee and I

                     Brigitte and I

Jaisri, in her wedding dress though you still can't see it... and her new mother-in-law

 Friends and colleagues from 19 School English Language Department.

Nina and I

             The adorable flower girl and I

One of our coworkers at 19 School is a singer and performer in Mongolian traditional music. She came fully attired in traditional garb.

     My crazy roomie, Steve, and Nadine

The Bride and hers and her husband's Japanese friends in kimonos

      Boogi and I. She was very happy to have caught the bride's bouquet, and I was very happy to have avoided it. :-P

Many, many more pictures of delightful people, and descriptions of the ceremony, but I think they'll have to wait for another day.

30 May 2010

"Gobi-ng Insane" A Tale of the Gobi, Part 5

After a night in Kharkhorin, we prepared to set out again...

A view of the ancient capitol's monastery, Erdene Zuu and the surrounding... nothingness!

 On a hill overlooking the town, there is a new monument which they call the "Grave of the Khan". It has three giant maps like this one, showing the Mongol Empires. They don't actually know where Ghenggis was buried though so it's just symbolic.

A view of the town, from the "Grave". 

Behind the monument, a river and a valley that I later discovered winds into the valley where the water fall is. We continued on that day to Tsetserleg, only a couple of hours away on a pretty good road.

Beyond Tsetserleg there is this rock... which is in all the guide books and such, but surprisingly unimpressive when you see it in person... still kinda crazy and cool though.

A monastery of sorts, I believe, on the hill that towers over Tsetserleg (written in cyrillic on the sign).

The town from the top of the religious array... I love how Tsetserleg is just nestled in some steep hills... I don't have any pictures that do it justice.

Looking back the other way.

Us girls! Haha it began to snow...

 Tales to tell, but I must get all these pictures up and perhaps I can add later... After Tseterleg, we headed West to Terkhin Tsagaan Nuur, the White Lake. We traveled on the half done road west, meant to unite the western aimags and UB... but after 10 years, it's not even half finished.

A once in a lifetime sighting of a family convoy moving their ger by oxen!!

Volcano! Really hard to take pictures of it...

The view of the lake from the volcano crater.

The lake and the guesthouse where we stayed........ (pumpin out the pictures...)

Finally, we returned to UB. Spent a couple of days there, but I'll put pics of UB up later, it's not so important. In conclusion of the Gobi trip, I have a picture above of some trinkets available at the UB black market, that I found quite amusing.

Now I can update everything that's happened in May, in these next 2 weeks before I come home again.