Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Brave man

This is one of the brave traffic policemen in UB. Sometimes they have a little podium to stand on, but definitely not always. I hope they have some kind of risk allocation added to their salary.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Diesel shortage

Read about the current diesel crisis in Mongolia:

The Sun and the Moon and other stars

Odnoo took me to the Children's Creativity Center the other day. I expected some drawings and perhaps some wooden toys or so, but what I got to see were beautiful pieces of art, exhibited on two floors in a building worthy a national museum of art. Children, and young people, can come here and study traditional techniques for free: painting, doll making, wood carving etc.

This is the Sun and the Moon, Нар Сар.

The doll-making and leather works teacher.

This "painting" is made of straw.

Two horses are about to emerge from this man's hands.

Where it all takes place.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Contortionist in the office

Mongolian contortionists are world famous - they can bend their bodies any way they like and turn themselves outside in, it seems. Otgoo in the Projects Abroad office used to perform as a contortionist - watch her with two other girls in this video:

Otgoo the contortionist

Wrestling is an extremely popular sport here. In fact, some of the best sumo wrestlers are Mongolian. This is the wrestling palace downtown UB.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Clothing for linguists

Top "Phonetics", for sale at the Black Market, UB.

Far from fishy fish

It had been raining quite a lot the night before yesterday, and when I came to the orphanage the whole street children's department and the rehabilitation center had been flooded, some of the walls damaged. The roof had been repaired recently, but apparently something had gone slightly wrong.

In the evening I was invited to little Emudjin's birthday party - she turned four. Emudjin is Sayo's daughter. We ate huge amounts of delicious food, all prepared by Sayo, including fresh Mongolian river fish, caught by her father. This was the first time ever I had fish in Mongolia. Most Mongolians don't like fish at all, and it can be slightly risky to order it in restaurants (if it at all is on the menu). In this country of meat-eaters the conservation of fresh fish and its preparation are far from obvious things. But Sayo is the exception to the rule!!

Emudjin says that she wants to be a singer, and her lung capacity is promising :-)

I wanted to take the bus home, but I waited for over half an hour, it didn't come, it was getting late. I decided to risk one of the microbuses after having made sure it went in the direction I wanted to go. The last time I was on a microbus we were 17 people on board, as you may recall from an earlier blog. Last night we were at least 21, I'm not sure I even saw everyone on board. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Uncountable pigeons and one mouse

At Gandan monastery there are lots of pigeons, to say the least. All those that were in this courtyard took off together - I think it was me who caused their sudden departure. Fellow volunteer Leng Low took the picture as I was stunned and couldn't pull myself together and get my camera out quickly enough.

Odnoo told me today that we have a new family member: a grey mouse has moved in. I haven't seen it yet, but I suppose I will at least hear it soon. I don't mind one little mouse, but if it grows into a rat or if we all of a sudden have a large mouse family here, then I won't like it so much.

Monday, May 23, 2011

What a piece of rope can bring

Lovely day today! During the lunch break I was jumping rope with the kids in the backyard. The afternoon class (with my medical doctors) was held outdoors, much nicer than the cold basement room we usually are in. There is a very handy portable whiteboard so going outdoors is no problem at all. The little stools we sit on are also easy to grab and bring wherever you like.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Prayer wheels and delighted monks

This afternoon I visited Gandan monastery again (see also blog Yellow water) with some of the other volunteers.

It was the third time I went there, but the first time I was asked to pay an entrance fee. I suppose they only ask foreign-looking people to pay. Buddhists who come to practice their religion surely enter for free.

There were quite a few people, some tourists but mainly Mongolians, but in spite of the many visitors the atmosphere was just as peaceful and relaxing as the last time I was there.

We ventured into a building a little to the side, and there we were welcomed by monks who seemed quite delighted to be the subject of attention of a group of ladies.

Ulaanbaatar is dusty, it's not a green city, it really can't be with an average annual temperature below zero (it's the coldest capital in the world) and the very dry climate. However, brave efforts are being made to create some green (small) spaces that perhaps remain dusty but at least they are green!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Drinks & snacks

There aren't many things that I miss from home, but I must confess that I have missed red wine a little. I hadn't had any wine at all since 2 April, but the other day I finally had a glass.

On the menu it only said "Merlot (France)", and it cost 3000 tugrigs (about 1,80 euros) for 100 ml. I found that very expensive indeed (I have adapted to the Mongolian cost of living) and slightly risky, but I still decided to order a glass. It was actually very good and I got so excited about it that I took a picture.

To complete the French touch, I ordered a dish called "French schnitzel". I have no idea what was supposed to be French about it, maybe the mustard sauce.

I mentioned earlier the vegan restaurant Loving Hut (there are several Loving Huts here - it's a chain, I have discovered). Believe it or not, but there is another vegan place, called Luna Blanca. It's a calm and nicely decorated restaurant where I had a very reasonably priced and tasty lunch today. They have several interesting berry juices and fruit teas on the menu. I ordered ginger tea with sesame seeds - yum yum!

On Sukhbaatar Square there were three gers set up today. With the huge Coca-Cola advertisement as a backdrop the culture clash was complete.

While having a nice cup of caffelatte this afternoon, I saw in the Mongol Messenger that UB will get a new airport in 2015, located 53 km from the city. A new "super highway" will connect UB and the airport, they promise. Hmmm. Be prepared for long transfer times.

As I'm writing this, there is a fashion show on television. Young designers have made modern versions of the traditional Mongolian clothing. Stunningly beautiful!! Mongolian culture is so strong and alive; it's something that I really admire here.

Friday, May 20, 2011

O Sole Mio

Margie, the American lady who founded the NGO where I work, came on a much awaited visit today. The street children had prepared a colorful message on a whiteboard, and everyone was a little excited.

Then tonight I quite unexpectedly got the opportunity to attend a performance of traditional Mongolian music and dance by the Moon Stone ensemble. A ridiculously small audience (perhaps 15 people) could listen to the traditional instruments, throat singing and a longsong, and see a contortionist, Tsam dance and shaman dance. There was a slightly absurd moment when the ensemble, with only traditional Mongolian instruments, the musicians wearing traditional clothing, played O Sole Mio ...

It's usually possible to take pictures if you pay for it, but this time it wasn't allowed at all, so I can only show you the faded poster outside the building (it's right next to the State Circus in central UB).

As you know, O Sole Mio means My Sun - Margie is the sun for many.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A story without a picture

When I came into the office in the street children's department of the orphanage today there was a little boy there talking with the supervisor. He was playing with a theater mask and looked quite happy where he stood with his dirty face and dirty clothes. The supervisor told me that he is seven years old. They had tried to place him in the orphanage, but his father had come to take him back. But now his father doesn't care about him at all, and last night the boy had had to sleep outdoors (the temperature was around zero) with another, slightly older, boy. Will this little man, who had such a sweet, somewhat toothless, smile, ever see the bright side of life?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Birthday celebration

Yesterday a birthday was celebrated, and not just anyone's - it was Buddha's birthday. The festivities, known here as the candle festival, took place last night in the National Stadium, where people gathered to send hot-air balloons into the air. It indeed looked spectacular when hundreds of balloons left the ground, lighting up the night sky as stars.

We had brought five balloons. The first four refused to take off, and when we came to the fifth one we had run out of matches.

Here the full moon just comes out from behind some light clouds.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Altan Urag!

Have you seen the movie "Mongol"? Then you have already heard music by Altan Urag, who wrote and performed some of the most suggestive parts of the soundtrack. Altan Urag combine traditional Mongolian music, played on traditional instruments, and throat singing with modern style in a way that I find absolutely fascinating.

I happened to hear that they are performing in UB at present, but it wasn't easy to find out when & where. Finally Zulaa called someone who knew, so yesterday I could listen to them in the Mongolians Pub! Great!!

To have a taste of what their music is like, you can check out this video clip (this was one of the songs they played yesterday): Altan Urag: Hoh Tolboton.
Their website: Altan Urag

Pictures from last night:

Sunday, May 15, 2011

17 people in a mikro

Mongolian cashmere is of top quality. For many years the design of the garments didn't really do justice to the quality of the cashmere, but nowadays there are really nice things to be found. For the best bargains you can go to the factory outlets that are located on the outskirts of UB.

Here you can see two happy shoppers with a bag full of supersoft sweaters and scarves.

As if this shopping wasn't enough, we continued this morning but with less fancy things, like batteries. A few weeks ago I wrote about the Black Market. Close to it is an indoor market which is similar but much smaller, Sunday Plaza. To get there we took the microbus, known as микро here. These are part of the public transport network in UB, but I had never taken one before since it's very difficult to understand which bus goes where and since they are always crammed, to say the least. The one this morning was also crammed - we were 17 people on board, but this didn't seem to be the limit: the ticket seller (who is always on board and whom I counted among the 17) was calling out for more passengers. I was quite happy that he was unsuccessful in his attempt. Sardines in a can have more space than we did.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Boxer

Who would believe that we had a snowstorm just the day before yesterday?? Now it seems that not only spring but summer is suddenly here!

I had very nice lunch in an Italian-inspired restaurant downtown with Sezin, who is the UN resident coordinator in Mongolia. On my way to the restaurant the bus (which I had waited for for ages) broke down after having made very strange sounds. The driver very courageously got out and tried to fix it, but I decided not to wait for the uncertain outcome of his mechanical intervention and hurried through the university quarters on foot. It was graduation day for many students, and friends and relatives were waiting with flowers and gifts.

It seems I'm doing many things for the first time here in UB. On Friday evening I went to karaoke for the first time in my life. This was not my initiative, but an event organised by Projects Abroad. I wasn't the only beginner present, but I was the only beginner who sang (well, tried to sing ...) a song. I chose The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel, a song that I love. Here it is, luckily for you not sung by me but by them: Simon & Garfunkel: The Boxer

Sayo is an exceptionally good amateur, she sings difficult Whitney Houston songs like Whitney herself. Not only does she sing in tune, she sings with emotion. It's great to listen to her.

Happy singers.

Zoloo and Sayo.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Scrabble on a rug

During lunch today I had a great time playing some games with three of the orphanage kids that come to my English class. In the first game, played with dice, they said the numbers in English and I said them in Mongolian. The second game was a pedagogical kind of Scrabble, and they did really well saying the letters correctly in English. Their English was a lot better there sitting on the rug than in the classroom, so if possible, I will try to have some of the lessons in a more informal setting.

In the afternoon I met my conversation class medical doctors for the first time. They are three ladies who seem extremely motivated to improve their already good English. Their first homework is to make a summary of the burning issues in Mongolian politics.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Yummy for linguists

In Mongolia, be prepared to change your plans - something unforeseen always happens: Due to the snow storm last night the French lesson I teach in the morning had to be cancelled - my student didn't make it in time. Then it appeared that the orphanage children's school schedule had changed, so no one came to my English class. (I spent the morning with the small children instead (I didn't mind!)). After lunch I was supposed to start teaching a conversation class to some medicine students, but they didn't show up. They had forgotten to say that they had an exam today.

Snow-covered hills today.

If you have falcon eyes (or if you click to enlarge the picture) you can see that there is a sign with the text бyyз. бyyз is one of the national dishes, dumplings filled with minced mutton, onion and garlic. Delicious! The green building is the police station in the Bayanzurkh district. Perhaps not a very interesting piece of information for you.

I bought some cookies the other day, I didn't really look at the brand, I chose them just because there was chocolate in them. Now that I took them out I saw that they are yummy for linguists - they are called Semantic.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Different priorities

While having a caffelatte (yes, a real one! They used Illy Italian coffee!) in a café downtown the other day, I saw in The Mongol Messenger that the new Mongolian ambassador to Qatar had just presented his credentials. Sweden closed its embassy in Luxembourg recently and will close the one in Belgium soon. Mongolia of course has an embassy in Belgium.

The Mongol Messenger is one of two newspapers published in English here. The other one is the UB Post, check out the web site here: UB Post. Unfortunately the Mongol Messenger site isn't available at present.

Outdoors the temperature dropped from 12 degrees to -1 during the afternoon, and there is now a storm. I think it will start snowing soon. On May 15 the heating will inexorably be turned off, so I'm hoping that tomorrow will be the last cold day.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Living it safe

Our apartment block entrance door looks like a door to a safe, in fact all apartment block doors that I have seen here are very safe-looking. They are also always open. But when I came home the other day the door was closed! I tried to pull it open - it didn't move. I looked at my two keys, but there was no key hole to put any of them in (I hadn't noticed the absence of a key hole before). I felt slightly desperate. There aren't that many apartments here and this was in the middle of the morning, a time when not so many people leave or come back. I thought that Odnoo was out, but I rang her and she was at home! Saved! She then told me that there actually is a code lock (the little knobs that you can perhaps see are the keys to press). If the code lock works is of course another matter.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Greenish black and bright red

Went to the hairdresser today with the aim of dying my hair. The only colors available were greenish black, platina blond, bright red and ash blond, so I went for the greenish black. Nooo, only joking! The very limited choice was due to the fact that it was Sunday, the hairdresser informed me. Tomorrow he would get a new delivery.

While downtown I tried to get hold of an English textbook for the children I'm teaching. This proved to be a difficult task: I found only books for young adults and adults, and of course no book in sight aimed at Mongolian children learning English. In the end I opted for one of the books for young adults - I will have to add the more playful ingredients myself.

It's one of my biggest challenges ever to explain English grammar to children who know no English and who speak a language with an entirely different grammatical structure. Some examples: Mongolian uses plural markers very sparingly and has no articles. There is no distinction between feminine and masculine and the case system is intricate (and fascinating!). Postpositions are used, but most of the time can't be compared to the abundantly used prepositions in English. Sorry, too much grammar talk here, perhaps :-)

On my way to the bus stop I pass some garages, and to my big surprise one of them was no longer there today. The garage in question was of the moveable type pictured here. Practical, don't you agree? When you move you just take your garage with you!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Parallel fundraising

Today Dream Team England and Dream Team Mongolia had parallel activities to raise funds for the summer camp for children from poor areas in UB that is planned for mid-June. Here in Mongolia we were supposed to walk from Sukhbaatar Square in central UB to the Zaisan monument, but plans were changed and we stopped mid-way, in the Children's Park. 

Participants were Mongolian English students and volunteers and staff from Projects Abroad. 
Bolormaa and myself gave a short talk to explain what Dream Discovery Academy and the Dream Teams are all about, namely to help children in orphanages and poor areas get self-esteem and create dreams that can be realised (see links to the right for more information).

After the short speeches, Zulaa and Bolormaa organised some games to promote communication between the two language communities - Mongolians are very eager to practice their English and ask all sorts of questions, about hobbies, favourite seasons, age, favourite animals etc etc.