Category Archives: Mongolia

the one that got away…for now

the main portion of the 2010 field season went out like a lamb yesterday, no Mongolian pun intended. we traveled the Millennial Road to check out a site I spotted a few weeks ago and look for other sites that might help fill in a part of the northern portion of our climate network. on the third viewing from afar, it looked better than the first two. however, what we could not see was a fence on the eastern end of this rocky, elevated valley nor the chained gate on the dirt road leading into the site:

fences and, especially with gates, are new things in Mongolia. most land is open to the public, so to speak. it turns out that the owner is a famous lama and sculptor. our leader on this trip, Professor Dima [pic below], compared the owner to Zanabazar, a famous artist and lama in Mongolian history. also, the modern lama-artist is building a new monastery on his little cul-de-sac in this corner of the world.

the owner went back to town that morning, but we were allowed on site by the owner’s gatekeeper because Dima said we wanted to take pictures of the unique rock formations and the trees sitting on the rocks. after getting in we asked permission from the construction workers to do the same. it was agreeable to them for us to tour the site. but, given the elevated status of this site and our unusual appearance and request, we decided to hold off on any sampling until we get permission to sample by the owner.

after a wonderful autumn hike while scouting out the site, autumn was in the air and yellow birch leaves were on the ground, it was hard to drive away with no samples. it was a nearly ideal site in a great location for our research needs.

there is always next yr, correct?

this yr turned out great! we sampled >1400 trees in a wide swath of Mongolia, from Urgun Nars to past Sologotyin Davaa [east to west], and from the Tuul Gol watershed in the south to near the Russian border at Tujyin Nars. big cheers to the whole crew: Byamba, Tom & Cari who arrived first and spent most of their summer in Mongolia. Enkhbat, engineer and Renaissance Mongolian who drove long days on the roughest road, cooked scrumptious meals, made peace with the ants and introduced us to the world of Mongolian Road Trance Tripping. Peter, who sampled the eastern portion of our network before battling a bit of an illness. Amy, who fiercely led what might have led the toughest portion of the summer: insects, rain on cold days, a windstorm, snow, terrible roads and a co-leader who dropped like a fly a couple of times. and, a big thanks to Ashley for volunteering her time and money for our September sampling. it certain made the sampling that much easier and better!

Most of all, we could not have completed the long summer without the leadership of Dr. Baatarbileg and his great set of students assisting us, most notably, star quarterback, Bayaraa, his sidekick Galaa who made sure no food went to waste and Uyanga, whose assistance at the margins of this field season are extremely valuable to the success of this project.

now, some pix from the Lama Cul-de-Sac:

Bayaraa on the QB perch with the western valley in the background.

Bayaraa emerging from a wolf cave?

the main formation that drew my attention from the Millennial Road

the west side of the main rock outcrop. note a couple oldish looking trees and low forest density. it seems a large fire, producing 15-25′ fire scars, thinned the woods.

full pan of the western valley. note the unbroken forest to the southwest and on the far mountain range.

western valley

west valley view

a few words about Dr. Dima. first, i want to call him Professor Dima because he embodies the great patience, tolerance, wisdom and intelligence you want from your favorite professor.

luckily, i met Professor Dima within the first week of my first visit to Mongolia in 1998 at a small conference at Terelj. at that time his hair was much longer. and, as i recall, it stood out almost like a headdress. and, for the longest time he held that epic stoicism that Mongolians are well know for. he is stout, but in a muscular kind of way like many Mongolians. he looked fierce. it was easy to envision him on horseback as a part of Chinggis’ great army. he was intimidating.

by the end of that trip, or perhaps on my second visit, his placid mask melted and the kind, patient and intelligent man you are getting a glimpse of above was revealed. at the time, during Mongolia’s post-communism hunger period, he told me that there was no money for him to conduct research. he studied biophysics and was perhaps the most intelligent scientist i had met [oh, and he speaks Mongolian, Russian, Japanese and English]. his intellect is  impressive and i was saddened that he could not conduct his research. it must have been frustrating.

i am happy to say his career has risen. he is collaborating with people in Japan and is heavily involved with the first eddy-flux tower in Mongolia, which measures how a forest ‘breathes in’ CO2 and ‘exhales’ oxygen. i am thrilled at his success. i was taken back when he told me this year that he would retire in about 3 yrs. i told him he was too young. he then informed me that he had been teaching for 35 yrs. well, he has certainly earned retirement. [i swear he looks in the lower to mid-50s, not lower 60s. i would have guessed 12 yrs ago he was in his late-30s – that is how robust he looked. his age is starting to peak out now].

caught the Tengri bug

our last extended field excursion went off without a hitch. No major mishaps or illnesses to report. Well, I did catch the Tengri bug.

It was mostly paved road to our first stop – smooth sailing all the way. We stayed at the home of our colleague’s best friend from college. Like always, the hospitality was the tops – ceremony, pre-dinner foods, two kinds of main dishes and the best room in the house was ours for the night. The conversation was great. It mostly centered on the differences between the American & Mongolian diets. It was an insightful, warm and fun conversation. Perhaps the biggest conclusion was that the Mongolian tea – milk, black tea and salt – makes perfect evolutionary sense – it is their Gatorade. It must help them combat the arid environment. Most interestingly, the concentration of salt increases as aridity increases, moving east to west across the country. It might be that with climate change and increased moisture availability western Mongolia, future tea will be characterized as having less salt (our hosts at dinner last night explained there is less salt in eastern Mongolian tea because of the minerals in the water that occur as a result of the limestone bedrock; guess Inner Bluegrassians already know this? They also explained that western Mongolian is tea is better because of additional ingredients. This is an observation I agree with – you’ll have to go west Cari to get the good stuff).

Our other interesting conversation was based upon ‘burial’ rituals in Mongolia and Inner Mongolia. The book “Wolf Totem” explains how Mongolian culture is strongly influenced by wolf culture. The great Mongolian Armies of the 13th century, if not earlier versions, adapted some the tactics that wolves use to hunt. So, I asked if it was true that Inner Mongolians bury their dead as described in the book. These rituals begin with taking a stripped corpse and putting it on the back of a cart. They run the cart up into the mountains. When the corpse falls off the cart, that is its burial location. The burial, however, comes next. Wolves come and, uh, hmm, bury the corpse by ingesting it. The interesting thing is that, in the book, this is portrayed as an honor. Most importantly for the surviving friends and family is how quickly the corpse is buried. The faster it is buried, the better that person is thought to have lived and the quicker they will reach their version of heaven.

Our host said this was generally true. He went on to tell us that on the steppes of Mongolia they do something similar to this – they put the corpse under something [a special cloth? sheet?] and have the large vultures bury the deceased. The faster they are buried, the better the lives that they lived and faster they come back to human life. The longer it takes for a steppe Mongolian to be buried, the longer the journey back to human life for that person. First they might come back as a dog and then a cow or yak and then a horse, etc, before they come back as a human. Apparently family or friends paint or mark the good ones and look for them to come back. They search their children for marks or mannerisms of favorite ancestors.

Which, of course, led to a brief discussion on blue spot or blue mark (which is a great song, btw) or the Mongolian spot. This is a common blue birthmark in many Asians and, interestingly, native Americans. Our colleague’s 3 yr old girl apparently has a lot of spots on her back and it bothers her a bit. According to wiki, these spots go away by age 5 or so.

Now, my Tengri bug. Apparently, I caught it in 1998. It lay dormant for 13 years. The sacred Orkhon Valley and prevailing weather conditions triggered a massive episode of Tengri. Wow, was the sky beautiful on this last trip. We sampled trees near the only waterfall in central Mongolia on the margins of the day, at dusk and dawn. This made the sky simply brilliant. It was hard to take one’s eyes off the sky, shadows and colors. It was brilliant. The intervening night was crystal clear as well. In fact, I noticed for the first time [or did not remember from prior observations] the ‘k’ shape in the Milky Way. It was stunning. It was definitely a top ten sampling day.

What does Tengri look like? Here is one example:

for the complete gallery, go here and be sure to view on ‘Slideshow

Two other notes from this part of our trip:

First, this waterfall is the Madonna, Prince, Beyonce, Sting of waterfalls in Mongolia. When we were trying to come up with a site name for our work, our colleague said it was hard to derive a three-word descriptor that we typically use for sites as it only had one name – Hurshree.

Finally, we happened to catch Altan Urag two nights in a row. The first concert was planned. Ashley wanted to see them play. It was a packed house at Ikh Mongol. Despite some early technical difficulties, they really rocked the house. The difficulties actually made them smile a bit. And, apparently the drummer has a boyfriend or a close, western acquaintance. He stood against a wall near the stage at the beginning of the show. Their eyes locked and she smiled! It was cute. Altan Urag’s soundman was a kick. There is no doubt he listens to them live almost every night. Yet, at Ikh Mongol he was rocking out like he was hearing them for the first time. They were on fire, though, so it is understandable. While playing a rocking tune (that I do not know the title to) the bassist was inserting some near funk rhythms making the  band interpret the song a little differently. It was great. The next night, they were not as hot [though still good].

We went out to a celebratory dinner – our colleague turned 42 and it was the last time he was going to see Ashley before she left Mongolia. So, we went to the upscale restaurant, Mongolian’s. As we walked in there was an Altan Urag poster. Apparently they play at Mongolian’s weekly – they are even featured on  the back of their menu. What a treat. They took the stage nearly on time, but without their female singer. It was a pity that she was not with the band as they could not fully play Native Mongolia or Shiree Nuur. They played nearly all the same songs as the first two times I saw them this year. But they only played 4 songs last night. It was just a business performance for them, no doubt.

Our colleague didn’t appreciate them as much as we did. I think he was looking for more traditional Mongolian music. He is worried people will think this is traditional Mongolian music. He commented on how only two instruments, the horn and the (string & spoons), were close to traditional. The morin khuur that Altan Urag uses is not made properly and does not have the correct sound. I tried to remind him that the great Mongolian empire under Chinggis liberally borrowed from other cultures, Persia, eastern Europe, China, etc, and blended them with their traditions to create the great Mongolian empire. This is what I see with the Mongolian artists and musicians like Altan Urag. It is really nothing new in that sense. He did note that the drummer used the traditional
Mongolian face – epic stoicism. I did catch her nearly smiling, however.

hints of a smile

BTW, it is clear that the male Mongolians really dig her. Our younger colleague, seeing them play for the first time, noted that she was a great drummer. Apparently he hasn’t yet heard John Bohnam, Neil Peart or Dave Grohl, among the many other great rock drummers. I think the Mongol boys admire a strong and attractive woman that can rock the kit.

Finally, finally – apparently combining traditional Mongolian music to beatbox is all the rage. See here, here and here.

highlights of our last trip:

entering the sacred Orkhon Valley

Ashley strolling on ancient lava

nicknamed, by me, the Beastie Buddha Stupa, i listened to this and this while facing the temple

Ashley coring on the cliff above Orkhon Gol

Bayaraa sampling on the cliff above Orkhon Gol

the Orkhon Gol, unfortunately, is now polluted by gold mining upstream

Galaa next to a tom shins (big larch) next to Orkhon Gol

Galaa and another set of falls on Orkhon Gol

in the distance you can see the last forest in the Orkhon Valley. just over the mountains begins the great Gobi Steppe & Desert. from this view, we are ~30 km from the southern edge of the Mongolian forest in the valley.

love the orange lichen in Mongolia

tourist ger camps near Hurshree

the light at sunrise inspired the field work

some random shots from the last three weeks:

our apartment is near the times square of Mongolia. the State Dept. Store is behind the photographer. this was a drab, empty location 13 yrs ago. now it is full of life, for good or bad.

you are seeing a happening! we were shopping at the cashmere store when, suddenly, a fashion show began. after it finished the designer for the new fall line apparently arrived and was interviewed for television and such. she is the one in the hat, of course. her assistant is next to her with coffee in her hand, of course. her male assistant, you can see his Adidas shoes, had a long pony tail, a leather jacket and was seen carrying a small lap dog later, of course. the American might have been an agent for a store in the US. she seemed familiar with the Devil who Wears Cashmere [she is not likely a devil; just thought we were in the movie].

one never knows what they might see or hear in Mongolia. apparently a branch of the Rainbow Family got lost and ended up in a swanky Mongolian restaurant. dad is on the far left.

Epic Stoicism

Ok, picture is worth 1000 words, correct? Time between trips is short, so I’ll come up with at least 10k words pictorially. It was a great trip, though it started with a strong cold, a head injury, an impending winter storm that threatened to shut down the country that morphed into an alteration of plans, getting lost for a bit from all the ninja roads [illegal miners] and then a stuck truck [see pix below]. However, traditional medicine for the head injury, incredible hospitality from Sanaa’s family again [this pic is from Summer 2009], some wet feet, but no snow storm, Eternal Blue Sky, old-growth forest with some incredible fire scars, mission accomplished, a healthier head and sinus system, a scenic ride back to the capitol and the best pizza in Mongolia in Darkhan? Really?

I have a post in mind based on Emerging, but no time for that at this time.

So, two quick great Mongolian interactions from today:

–       at my favorite breakfast joint and free wireless location [where I am posting this – Café Amsterdam], the waitress tried to play a small joke on me. Obviously having been there almost every day when in town and trying to say hello, thank you and goodbye in Mongolian each time possible helped create this situation, but the experience was a bit unusual for interaction with a Mongolian ‘stranger’ [Mongolians are much like New Englanders, short, cool and helpful only as needed at first then, when they trust/like you, very, very warm]. When I went to pay, she said, “tomato soup, pastry, coke and a milkshake?” I said, “teem”. Then I said the Mongolian version of ‘yeah’, “tcho” [blowing air out stiffly] and then stated I even knew the subtleties of Mongolian and proceeded to say the 3-4 ways you can say yes & yeah. She adds up the bill, holds it to her chest and says, “Arav hoyle tao’ick”, though I am not sure of the spelling of anything save Arav. I tried to backpedal and say that I knew little Mongolian to which she replied, “Arav hoyle tao’ick” and smiled. Smiling by a Mongolian you do not know is a bit unusual, as you will see in the posed photos of Mongolian children below. Mongolians can be so stoic and expressionless at times it borders on nervy. I then asked her to repeat it, which she did. I then started thinking and almost figured it out. I asked her to repeat again, which she did more slowly. I then stuttered, “twelve-thousand, five hundred” to which she replied with wide eyes, a wider smile and nodding head and then sped off. When she returned, she apologized, “ooch la raa, it was 11,500”, to which I replied, “oh, I was right and you were wrong!!” The wait staff smiled and laughed and we all said goodbye, me in Mongolian, they in English as we left.

–       we went for a late dinner tonight at the Great Khan Irish Pub. As we were finishing up, we asked if there would be a band tonight; we saw a drum kit on stage. The waiter said yes. So, we decided to stick around to see the band [will try to get the name later]. They set up quickly and launched into their set. It was interesting – sounded like poppy, British/American rock from this decade. The guitarist/singer has a good voice like one of these newer poppy rock bands. The rhythms were very familiar. The rhythm guitarist wore a corduroy sports coat, jeans and glasses close to horned rim. The bassist stood in the back corner, came out to utter some background vocals and scurried to back to his corner; he laid down some tasty bass lines, though. The singer was short, skinny, had a speckled, silver guitar and wore full-on sunglasses [“I wear my sunglasses at night”].

Ashley commented he was the skinniest Mongolian she had seen yet. I then launched into my “you know why skinny white boys play the guitar or pick up two turntables and a microphone, right?” lecture from a few classes I’ve taught. Well, you know why, right? A guitar or two turntables and a microphone are simply male plumage. Apparently it is completely universal – see here, here, here and here.

The singer was the only band member whose teeth we saw. In fact, the band was so expressionless that I imagine that when they practice in someone’s basement or room, they would have acted exactly the same – looking at each other, their feet or instruments; we were hardly there. It is unfortunate that they didn’t smile because, until the proliferation of cheap sugar here, Mongolians had the straightest and whitest teeth in the world [it is a scientific fact – see here and here]. In fact, the drummer, black long-sleeve shirt and long black hair in a ponytail, never broke a smile and only marginally opened his mouth. And, if you know rock-n-roll, you know drummers are ranked, on average, the hammiest member of a band.

BTW, two weeks ago I got to see Altan Urag, my favorite Mongolian band, live at another pub. They showed up late – they are obviously rock stars – and put on a solid, though rushed set; they played Blue Mark – their big hit, second. They really rock. It was a Top Ten night. Oh, and the Altan Urag drummer? She only started to curl her lips in a way that might resemble a smile when her 6 male groupies pounded their table in rhythm with her to their classic song RaaKH II. Otherwise, she was expressionless.

Epic Stoicism!

now to the pix:

Ashley praying to the tree gods, “please do not be rotten”

i actually do some field work

cool birch forest with pit & mound topography and soil movement, as reflected in this birch

stuck truck

we almost sawed the truck in half to free it

we were actually stuck on a 15′ log buried in the muck and deep vegetation. it had 4 fire scars, too!

old-growth Scots pine-hardwood forest in the northern Khenti Uul’s

large Nars filled the forest

old-growth with massive fire scars

Bayraa & Ashley in front of a massive fire scar

really – the image didn’t stitch nicely, but you can see the scar is ~ 20′ tall!

see, i do do some fieldwork

twin fire scared trees – how tall are the scars, you ask?

tall – Ashley is 5’10”?

hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to the birch forest we go

the larger, older?, birch trees have mesmerizing bark

see! this ain’t 1/2 of it, either

the forest had some fine poplars, like aspen. word is that this might be a new species, genetic analysis pending.

speaking of new species, we were introduced to the Mongolian cherry tree – was tart’ish, but delish [the teeth of Sanaa’s nephew and nieces were temporarily stained b/c they were eating so much of it]

the equinox hadn’t started yet, but autumn has arrived

even the children are stoic in front of the camera – i tried so hard to get them to smile. they did not budge.

big brother was thrilled to bring his sister to her first day of school. he was up two hours early to take care of her [their father is in the Gobi working for a mining company, gone 2-3 months at a time, while their mother took a cab, car and then train to China for a 4 day trip to buy supplies for their store. 3 of the 4 days is travel]

preparations for winter were underway

the re-ignition of the ag industry in Mongolia has been amazing. the Soviets nearly killed this industry. in the last fire yrs, Mongolian farmers have been rising from the ashes. this field last yr was tiny. in fact, all the fields we saw this yr were 2-3X larger VS last yr. the timing couldn’t be better. with the Russian wheat crop at least 1/3 less this yr due to reduced rainfall and high temperatures and their decision to stop export, Mongolia would be between a rock (China) and hard place (Russia) without this emerging industry. kudos to the Mongolian leaders in spurring this third movement of agriculture.

from the other side of the valley, these trees appeared to be mirages

Asia news media has their anchors pretend to use computers while broadcasting [this happening in the US, too?]. but, this is some product placement – “this news brought to you by Sain (Good) Computers”. now the weather brought to you by Mountain Dew.

we are off to the ancient, sacred Orkhon Valley for our last leg of field work.

the touristas are coming! the touristas are coming!!

in the last week downtown UB, location of our apartment – just off of Times Square, aka the State Department Store,  has become decidedly Europeanly tinted. the latest batch of touristas have arrived.

westerners show up around Naadam, the 4th of July & Olympics all rolled into one, in mid-July. tourism peaks then, then again in mid-August, it seems.

a new phenomenon is emerging that is bringing with it touristas, tourons and what have you – The Mongol Rally! apparently the first groups are arriving in UB. the organizers also have at least one bar, they say there are three, to organize the finishing party. apparently it lasts a month and likely accounts for the fireworks last night.

but, skin color is not how one recognizes these people. it is the same damn blue t-shirt splashed with exclaiming “Mongol Rally 2010” across the front. that is the surest characteristic of this wave of touristas!

thoughts on Mongolian culture

yesterday was a ‘free’ day in the capitol, Ulaanbaatar. the day started with breakfast at the Amsterdam Cafe near the State Department Store. the cafe is the early morning hangout for tourists and their Mongolian hosts. having an “English breakfast” – eggs, baked beans, tomatoes, bacon and toast, and an assortment of coffees and teas and pastries, it makes it a popular hangout. having free internet must help, too. [btw, i started drinking ‘coffee’, mostly in mocha form]. we came to the cafe yesterday morning to meet a Mongolian artist and her agent; the cafe displays artwork for purchase. from there we went back to the artist’s studio/apartment. i went along because i enjoy meeting Mongolians and seeing different parts of the city.

upon arrival, we were greeted by the artist’s husband and boy. the husband, “Tom” [which means ‘big’ in Mongolian], is young, has a shaved head, is thick and muscular [a typical Mongolian build], a chin curtain with a short braid hanging from his curtain. he is also covered below the knees and from shoulders to his wrists with tattoos – he is a hip, young Mongolian, but would fit in Brooklyn no problem. he gladly showed off his tattoos of Chinggis, other historical Mongolians and scenes. his tats  were made by his wife.

their boy is an excitable young man. he was walking around the apartment with his backpack on. he was excited about his first day of school – kindergarten – on September 1st. all Mongolian students begin school on Sep 1st, from kindergarten to university. it is a big show, esp on the national news. the boy also got excited seeing the pile of US dollars his mother earned yesterday morning! his mom had to catch his hands quick.

Amy & the Artist

The artist is a sweet, quiet and soft spoken woman. her art, like much modern Mongolian art, blends the traditional with the contemporary, often western contemporary. unlike her apparent personality, her artwork is quite bold. some of her paintings are almost as big as she is. much of her artwork is very colorful.

it is exciting to me to see this rise in modern, Mongolian art. when i first came to Mongolia, it was soon after the fall of communism and retreat of the Soviets. Mongolian infrastructure was limited and the white-washing/decimation of Mongolian culture made Mongolia appear like Russia – bland architecture, limited color and drab city life. i recently learned that my first visit came during a period of hunger in Mongolia due to the destruction of farming by the communists earlier in the century and the general dependence on the U.S.S.R and subsequent poverty of Mongolia.

Mongolia, while starving again because of the global economic downturn, is hungry in reestablishing their greatness and heritage. if the words ‘greatness’ and ‘heritage’ regarding Mongolians strikes you as a bit odd, i strongly suggest reading this book by Jack Weatherford. while Chinggis, aka Ghengis in the western world, might bring up ideas of fear, savagery and disgust, it shouldn’t completely. Chinggis was an incredible leader who had the abilities to create one of the largest, diverse and longest-lasting nations in History. he was open-minded, tolerant of culture and religion and valued merit over kinship or religious ties. he was pretty modern. his nation established the pony express. his nation tolerated religion. his nation conducted economic activities at global scales. his nation, the Mongol Empire, triggered widespread use of paper money. his vision of creating a great nation was amazingly modern.

Mongolians have much to be proud of.

and, Weatherford accurately describes the individualistic nature of Mongolians in his book on Chinggis.

it is this individualistic nature that i so love about modern Mongolians. bright, hard-working and fairly creative are some attributes that always strike my mind with thinking about many of the Mongolians i’ve met.

you can see it in their art:

it is this blending of their great heritage with the modern elements that are bleeding into Mongolia that one can see or hear in their art. Altan Urag is a great example of this in new Mongolian music – they use ancient instruments, voices and rhythms and infuse their pieces with contemporary rhythms and themes.

young Mongolians are spirited and hungrily recovering their past while at the same time fusing with with external culture. i would guess it is an amazing time for Mongolian artists.

the artists agent was interesting herself: she spoke good English, dressed like an artist, but spoke of the purity of the Mongolian landscape and water of days past. she recognized, rightly, that Mongolia’s landscape is changing rapidly and severely threatened by international mining interests, internal corruption and global climate change. i fear the coming decades with be exciting, though not in a good way, for Mongolia’s environment.

the picture is symbolic of the change in Mongolia’s landscape. the brown trees are the result of fire. tree mortality across the landscape, from insect outbreaks, drought and fire, seems much greater than what i recall 10-12 yrs ago. the mining in the center right of the image is what is most frightening and what will be long-lasting. regulation is limited and the amount of mining for gold and other minerals is unbelievable. nature recovers fairly well from insects, fire and drought. mineral mining, however, is long-lasting.

the artist’s agent worried about this and talked of education of all Mongolians, especially the children. funny, the more i travel, the more it is obvious we are all the same, even of the descendants of Chinggis.

the ride back to our apartment was illuminating and entertaining. we get in a gypsy cab with the agent and artist. after about 10 minutes, the agent stops the cab and says, “we can find another cab. i hate these aggressive drivers. they are dangerous. why don’t they listen to me?” we found another cab and proceeded back to the city center. the whole time the agent, an artist herself, went on and on about crazy drivers. it reminded us of the our trip to go watch the Naadam horse race in 2009. the rush and jockeying of the drivers delivering spectators to the race, including our driver, was hilarious, dangerous and damn entertaining, perhaps more entertaining than the race itself. it was obvious that the spirit of the great, horseback warriors of the Mongol Empire are still alive today.

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post-note:  the remainder of the day was spent in meetings in French and Indian restaurants [which were both fantastic]. if you had visited anytime between 1930 and 1997, you would have found this fantastic! if you had visited Karakorum, the ancient capital of Mongolia from roughly 1250-1270, you would have found this not too unusual. ancient Mongolians under Khubilai might have been the original Cosmopolitans of Asia.

about to head out west!

just a brief update: we are about to begin our fieldwork out in central Mongolia in the Khangai Mountains. we are driving from the capitol, Ulaanbaatar, to near Tsetserleg. it will be 750 km and most on dirt roads. it will be a blast and a test of car endurance. it is such a long drive, we might not come back when our Mongolian partners return to the Ulaanbaatar (UB). a new crew might come out and join us in a week. so, we might be in the countryside for a week or 18 days – hard to say.

we might see hot springs, water falls and, of course, old trees. it will almost like stepping back in time. UB is fairly western, modern and hip. moving 700 km from this area will be moving more towards the late-1990s or early-2000s. the milk tea will be saltier, too  – yum!

pix sometime later this month, maybe.

new experiences yet to be had in Mongolia

the flight into Ulaanbaatar last night went fine. i got to sit with my colleague, which helped pass the time. however, by that point i had been awake about 27 hrs, so i was dragging. and, i kept thinking, “wow, i cannot believe i will be in Mongolia again”. [this is the sixth trip]. at the same time, because i was tired, i kept thinking, “wow, i cannot believe i will be in Mongolia again” in an unenthusiastic kind of way. i mean, this is my 6th trip and, well, fewer things surprise me here.

however, as soon as we got off the airplane ramp and i smelled the steppe and heard pure Mongolian language, i felt very happy to be back in my 3rd home.

a new experience for me in Mongolia was registering with immigration. Americans do not need a visa to travel to Mongolia as long as they stay for 30 days or less. to stay 90 days or less, one has to go immigration, pay 1000 T for a registration form to be in Mongolia. this will be a long trip for me, ~ 50 days, so i had to register. that was new, but not the really new experience.

to get to immigration, which is outside the city near the airport, we rented a gypsy cab. it was a private car driven by  a young man. he was so excited to have an American and a Mongolian who had been to America and could speak English, that he took my Mongolian colleague’s number and then, surprisingly, waited for us to complete our work.

on the way back we got stuck in traffic – traffic has gotten much worse over the last decade and serious traffic jams occur midday near the center of the city. as we approached our apartment, a policeman on the opposite side of the street waived our cab into a parking space. our cabbie started rummaging for paperwork. with the traffic so bad, we decided to walk the rest of the way. we  gave the driver a 10,000 T bill for the 9,000 T ride. the driver had no change and was going to go to a nearby biz to get change. in the mean time, the policeman had figured out our driver did not have a license! so, the solution was to have the policeman break our bill so we could pay our bill and depart the scene!

that, i had not experienced before.

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the pure blue Mongolia sky is out – it is a cool, crisp, wonderful day.