Saturday, July 14, 2012

An update in three acts

Act 1

Naadam and UB

Naadam. This is the reason why I tried to get to Mongolia early in the first place. It's the national festival and involves three events: Wrestling:
This guy's wearing the traditional wrestling gear. He's pretty small for a wrestler, I think he probably lost.

The lineup

And horse racing, which I didn't see. 

Tickets for tourists were going for about $35 and were all sold out by the time I got here. I decided to head to the stadium anyway and managed to get some for about $20 from a guy near the gate. I thought this was a pretty good deal, until I heard from another traveler who got hers for about $6. Oh well. I got in:

The event itself wasn't bad. A neat opening ceremony that I didn't quite understand, then a generally festive atmosphere throughout the day, culminating in a concert and fireworks on the square:


Act 2


Once the opening day of Naadam was finished, my mind was set on getting out of UB. I had been in touch with Zoloo, the Mongolian girl who helped us cross the border, and she had invited all of us to come visit her in Darkhan. Darkhan is an old soviet city built in the "bread basket" of Mongolia, so lots of open fields and creepy crumbling apartment complexes:

One view from the hotel
The other view from the hotel

Luckily, the first day up there I met Zoloo and her family and we all went down to the river for a Mongolian picnic. Before anything else happened, her brother insisted that we go swimming, so we stripped down and dove into the chocolate-milk-hued stream. At some point while I felt the mud squeezing between my toes and watched the horses drinking from the riverside, I started to question the prudence of my decision. Then, I looked up at Munguunuu's smiling face, the sunset over the fields, the naked kids swimming next to us and Zoloo's family sitting by the bbq and though: health be damned, this is worth it.

I'm sure it's clean...

Once I got out of the water and dried off, I joined her family at the bbq and even got taught (sort of) to make khuushuur from Zoloo's mother (who started calling herself my Mongolian Mother).

Sampling my wares
 We spent the rest of the evening enjoying the bbq and trying many Mongolian tasty treats. Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures of most of them. In addition to the khuushuurs, we had airag (fermented mare's milk, which I'm holding in the picture above), vodka (of course), stewed mutton, potato salad (or something very much like it), and to top it all off: gummies for dessert. For some reason gummies are huge in Mongolia, every store has them and they're even sold on the streets.

the fields by the river
Once we got back to town, Munguunuu and I left the family's house to go to his & Zoloo's dad's office, where there is a matress and we would be spending the night. He wasn't quite ready for sleep and wanted to practice his English, however, so it was another few hours and few beers later that we finally slept. During that time the discussion ranged from his job (security guard at an army jail, maybe?), his feelings towards other groups (he doesn't like gay people, but he's not sure why; he doesn't like chinese people because they take Mongolian land and girls; he does like Russians, but again, he doesn't really know why. I think it's partly because of military alliances...; he does like Korean girls, I didn't ask for an explanation of that one).

In the morning, he left for work and I hung out at the office until Zoloo and her father came to pick me up at 11:30ish. The plan had been for 9am, but hey, it's Mongolia. Her dad took a shot of vodka and a cup of tea, then we went to their house for breakfast, since they had all just woken up within the past hour or so.

lunch. Kind of like lamb stew with rice
 The entire day we spent just hanging out and relaxing. Some other friends came over to join in the TV watching, chatting, or toplay chess:

The champion (right) poses
 I might have been bored, but I realized it was exactly what i was looking for: real Mongolian life. Plus, I enjoyed having a little time to relax.


By request: Street dogs of Mongolia

In my past travels, I've seen all sorts of street dogs. For a while, I just assumed that they were all the same. Especially in southeast Asia where there seems to be a breed of short-haired "street dog" that exists all over the place. Hong Kong had a little more variety, but nothing like what I saw in Beijing:

Watch out, he's vicious
These little guys were everywhere. And if it wasn't a shit-tzu, it was a Corgie. Apparently if you're a street dog in China, your legs have to be shorter than four inches.

Coming to Mongolia, I wasn't sure what to expect. I had heard that Mongolians used dogs to guard their gers (yurts), and that they weren't exactly petting dogs. But after seeing the wee pups in China I started to wonder if Mongolia would also have tiny canines guarding their streets. I was wrong:

Princess fluffybutt?
I think she must have some burnese in her
 The dogs here are crazy. Many of them are huge, like the big girl above. Then others are chained up and seem quite vicious, like these guys:

Scottie's pissed
Then others just were:
Looks like mumbles (the sled dog)
Happy pup with a boot
Then there are the dog gangs:
Team awesome
Team awesomer

I'll have to see what the countryside pups looks like

Act 3

Shit happens

Traveling is all about ups and downs. Naadam was an up, food is always an up, hanging out with Zoloo's family was an up, even just moving around is an up. Most of the downs are little things like accidentally buying a train ticket when I meant to buy a bus ticket (that actually happened), less-than-solid bowel movements (of course), getting overcharged (yep), or lost (why not?). Then, just as I'm starting to get frustrated as these little things add up, shit happens. Quite literally, actually. I got pooped on. It was only by a bird, so I guess it could be worse, but there it was: poop on my head.

At that point, all I could do was laugh. I wish I had taken a picture to show you all here.


I almost wasn't able to share any of these photos with y'all, as I had another exciting moment this afternoon. While I was out in UB looking for the post office, I got bumped by a couple guys and one grabbed my camera from my pocket. Luckily, they weren't too subtle about it and I was able to grab the guy and get the camera back before he got away. I yelled some obscenities at him as the adrenaline coursed through me and he laughed and walked away, probably to do the same thing to some other tourist a few minutes later. I was left seething about the fact that there was almost nothing other than my grumpiness deterring him from doing this again. The police were nowhere in sight, and even if they had been I'm skeptical as to what they might have done. All I can do is take it as a lesson learned for myself and I'll be more vigilant with my things.

Just for fun:
In case there is confusion about its purpose...
Oh yeah, and for those who are wondering: I'm on my way to Khovd tomorrow by bus. I've heard between 40 and 48 hours of bus, it's basically crossing all of Mongolia. I'm expecting it'll be 50+. I'll let you know how it goes...


  1. So far, so amazing! If you get to SE Asia, look for Formosan dogs (the street dogs there). That's what I have and they're pretty common. In fact, the pictures of Awoowoo and Team Awesome look like Formosans.:) Safe travels and thanks for sharing. I want to go to there:)

  2. street dog portraits: awesome

    tea followed by vodka or vice versa: awesomer

    chasing down would be pick pockets and retrieving "borrowed" items: awesomEST!

  3. Glad you had time to have some "real Mongolian life". Enjoy the train ride, maybe you can read some of those books you packed:)