Thursday, February 12, 2009

Why Mongolia?

Did you know that I am going to Mongolia? The answer is probably 'yes' because I have been telling everyone that will listen, "Hey, I'm going to Mongolia." But the reality is beginning to sink in that this shit just got real and there's an e-ticket in my hand.

I thought I would post this blog for the trip to give some hapless folks back home an insider's view on an international incident in the making. Keep in mind, Mongolians expect their guests to sing. They sing for you, you should sing for them, right. Well, the last two teachers to go to Mongolia were woefully silent on the singing front and, while I am no golden throat, I do intend to make up for their lack of volume by bellowing loudly whenever possible.

Some things you might like to know about Mongolia...

Well, for instance, Ulanbator (Ulanbataar) is called U-B by all Mongolian hipsters so, I, wanting to blend in with the locals, will refer to it as U-B as well. U-B is home to one million people so, it's an honest-to-god big city. I don't know who told me there was one traffic light in U-B but I am pretty sure that person was wrong.

Mongolians are ethnically distinct from Chinese and the Siberians to the north. They are unique. Their language also is distinct from all other languages. Perhaps the Turkic language is its only relative on this planet. If you want to make a Mongolian laugh till he wets his pants, try speaking Mongolian. I think in order to pronounce some of the words, I would have done better to just stick an egg beater down my throat and turn the handle at medium speed.

Mongolians have managed to bend the Cyrillic alphabet to their will. Thus, written Mongolian looks like Greek or Russian.

Mongolian herders graze Kashmir goats and live in Gers. Californians and other wanna-bes call them Yurts but all the coolest people say Ger (rhymes with scare).

When you visit a Ger you yell, "Hold the dogs! Hold the dogs!" This serves as both a greeting and will reduce of your chances of being bitten by said dogs. Even though an urban Mongolian may be visiting a dogless friend in a modern aparment building, he will still yell, "Hold the dogs!" in greeting.

Mongolians drink Vodka. There is a drink that is made from the fermented milk of a mare but, sadly, that will be out of season when I am there. I will be drinking Vodka.

Mongolians like meat and avoid vegetables. Salad is out of the question.

A traditional meal consists of a beheaded sheep skinned and gutted and dumped whole into a pot. Smooth rocks, heated to a high temperature are then dropped into the pot to cook the beast. After several hours of cooking, the steaming innards and meat are separated and placed on large trays for consumption. The same sheep's head often watches from some vantage point inside the Ger.

Mongolia is where horses come from. The stocky ancestors to our long-legged thoroughbreds still scamper and whinny on grassy hillsides deep in Mongolia's interior. They resemble modern horses as our early ancestors resemble Giselle Bundchen. It was the horse that enabled the Mongols to conquer most of Asia and the Middle East.

Mongolia is a democracy although it is very young. Like so many former Soviet Republics and Satellites, it emerged from the fall of the Soviet Union into a world of economic and political choices. It became a democracy in 1992 and has, with the expected bumps and bruises, emerged into a stable democracy with a bright economic future based on mineral wealth, tourism and the export of cashmere wool.

The point of my visit is to bring civic education to Mongolian teachers, students and administrators. I am expected, along with my co-teacher, Tracey, expected to deliver several lessons on civics and political identity to Mongolian students and teachers.

I will update this blog when I am able and when there is something worth putting in. Pictures and video are soon to follow.

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