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05:50pm 06/12/2003
  We spent last night at a ger camp in Terelj, about an hour drive from the city. It was set at the base of some small, steep mountains. It was our little semester wrap-up vacation. I'm coming home Monday - I know I told some of you I was coming home Sunday but that was wrong. I'm coming home late Monday night. I still don't know my flight schedule since it's changed.

I was a bit underprepared for my paper presentation as three days of pretty serious sickness left me with tons of work to do right at the end, but it all went alright. It's all done now and submitted.

I'm off to make dinner for my language teachers tonight. This will probably be my last post from Mongolia. Sorry it's not more exciting; I'm tired. Seeya guys soon.
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03:34pm 28/11/2003
  Yesterday was Thanksgiving. As we are not really part of the American expat community here we weren't invited to one of the 50 or so turkeys packed on dry ice and airlifted here from Kentucky by the US military who happened to be in the area to pick up Mongolian soldiers for transport to Iraq.

There is one student in our group who hangs out with the expats and got some turkey, but it wasn't really that important to the rest of us; we don't have that same burning desire to forget about being in Mongolia and stop talking to Mongolians and stop trying to invent and create our own food. Along those lines - since there was no turkey I bought two kilograms of chicken breasts and used a small fraction of those to make chicken horsha (fried dumplings) that were fairly bland and just tasted like chicken nuggets but that was alright. We also found flan mix and made that with some home constructed caramel. Kara made mashed potatoes with roasted garlic. That was our Thanksgiving. After that Tara and I went to see Donnie Brasco (mafia movie) with our new Mongolian police officer bodybuilder friend.

My research is wrapping up. I have one really important interview tomorrow morning with Oyun, the party leader at the center of much of my research. She just had a baby and is still on maternity leave even while trying to get her party into this coalition with favorable terms. After having trouble with babysitters and scheduling all week delay our interview, we have finally worked out a plan whereby she will send a driver to pick me up tomorrow morning and take me to her home in the countryside.

I got some new poll results a couple days ago that show Oyun to be the third most important politician vis-a-vis the residents of Ulaanbaatar, after Prime Minister Enkhbayar and President Bagabandi. Oyun's rating 26%, Bagabandi's 28%. So, anyway, I'm very pleased to be able to meet with her as I think she will contribute a lot to my research; she played a role in the breakup of the last coalition and formation of a new opposition party and is also playing an integral part in the formation of the new coalition.

Odd coincidence.. I remember seeing that there was one Mongolian student at the University of Iowa so today I got onto their online student directory and started searching for common Mongolian names. What popped up was "Luvsandamba DASHNYAM," who is a visiting writer in the International Writers' Workshop, head of the National University of the Humanities where I am a student here in Ulaanbaatar and former presidential candidate of Oyun's party, the Civil Courage party. (short biography here) I suppose I'll try to contact him once I get back into town.
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01:45pm 21/11/2003
  I had an interview the Monday before last with Mr. Chuluunbaatar, General Secretary of the Motherland-New Democratic Mongolian Socialist Party. It wasn't extremely productive, as his English was good enough that he didn't want to make use of my translator but bad enough that he couldn't communicate very complicated ideas, plus he seemed very dedicated to his party line and instead of telling me about their background and platform gave me a little booklet full of ideological and vague goals that's going to be very little help to me. It wasn't a totally useless interview, as he also gave me a copy of this summer's opinion polls that I wanted and also gave me a good sense of what kind of share he thought his party should have in this coalition they're forming.

The interview was in the nicest conference room I've seen here in the country, complete with bottled water poured into crystal tumblers for us. Partway into the interview, a man came in with a video camera and a still camera and started taking pictures. Supposedly he was from some newspaper or something. It wasn't exactly clear.

Anyway, Spencer has just come back from the countryside where he was working on his project on shamanism's effect on land ethic. When I got to the internet cafe an hour ago he waved me over excitedly and said he'd been sitting in a ger in the middle of a blizzard (It's been snowing a lot lately) watching a TV powered by a little wind turbine and he saw an adversisement for this party that featured a studious looking ME with Saraa (our language teacher and my translator that day) interviewing Mr. Chuluunbaatar.
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12:01pm 17/11/2003
  A couple nights ago it snowed again. It never snows much, just an inch maybe but it's cold enough that the snow doesn't melt. Most of the ice cover from the last snow (a couple weeks ago, maybe?) had just been removed from the vital streets by crews of middle aged Mongolians in unflattering blue jackets with hoes and shovels.

By the time we left the hostel to head to school the snow was already smothered in a dusting of soot settled from the air. This is disgusting and probably part of the reason I have a persistent cough. Ulaanbaatar is heated and powered by two giant coal plants for which the environmental regulation is fairly non-existant. The city is also full of lots of dirty vehicles and surrounded by communities of gers with coal stoves. This means the snow turns filthy almost immediately after it falls.

At school I got one of our administrators, Enkhtsetseg, to call some of my contacts for me. This was a good move, as they are her friends and it's a lot easier for her to set up appointments with them on my behalf than it is for me to do it on my own. After our business was taken care of, my classmate Kara and I sat in Enkhtsetseg's office and listened to her tell us about winter in Mongolia.

We had complained a bit about that morning's bitter cold. Especially on the last bit of road to school, where the wind comes sweeping down into our faces, the cold was particularly painful. "This is not winter," repeated Enkhtsetseg over and over. "This is not winter."

In winter, the steam heated at the coal plant just isn't enough to keep the entire city comfortable. On a normal winter day it might be -30 F outside and the heating indoors will boost the temperature in apartments to +6 or 7 F. People stay in bed to eat their food and put on many layers of clothing to go to the bathroom. When they drink tea, the cup is icy cold by the time it's halfway empty. Enkhtsetseg said she uses a space heater which takes an hour to start to get warm and she gets excited when the temperature rises above 10 degrees. When she goes outside, only her eyes are exposed to the air. That is Mongolian winter.

We buy a lot of our food at a place called Mercury Market. Mercury consists of two big rooms full of individual vendors' stalls. In the first room are dry goods, cheese, butter, milk, fruit, bread and things like that. In the second room are vegetables and meat. In the hallway connecting them are farm products - yogurt, Hovsgol berries, farm cheese, clotted cream, dried yogurt curd cakes. There are a couple stalls that sell Chinese food and yesterday I found dried tofu skim, tofu noodles and sesame oil. From the vegetable stalls we (my roommate Erin and I) got red bell peppers, onions, brocolli, ginger, cilantro and eggplant. Last night I made dinner for my two roommates of rice noodles, dried tofu soaked and seasoned and two different stirfrys. It was quite good; I was pleased and we felt healthy for eating lots of vegetables and tofu. I should say that all those vegetables and things sound fairly commonplace for Iowa grocery stores, they're not quite as easy to find here and were thus greeted by us with very high levels of happiness and excitement.

Yesterday I also found powdered sugar, which was very exciting for me, and so tonight for dinner we will have French toast with cinnamon (another exciting and difficult find), fresh berry sauce and powdered sugar.

I put my clothes in the bathtub with detergent to soak yesterday and scrubbed some of them out, I'll finish the rest today. So, Mommy, I have clean clothes now.

Ankle bones of sheep and goats, removed from slaughtered animals and cleaned off, become a traditional game for Mongolians. Each bone has four sides on which it could land, each representing a different livestock animal. The game we play all the time involves passing a handful of the bones around from player to player and each player tossing them down then flicking like sided bones together to collect as many as possible. It's a fun game and I'll bring a bunch of the bones home.

Last night we decided our bones were too dirty because they still had some tendons and things on them so we put them in our pot on our hotplate to boil. They smelled awful and are a bit cleaner now but covered in a layer of sticky melted grease that needs to be dealt with. We can deal with that. What really struck us, though, is how unlikely it was that we were sitting in a run down apartment in Mongolia boiling a bunch of bones.

I promise, when I bring these things home, they're not really as gross as that paragraph just made them sound.
01:47pm 09/11/2003
  There are so many street kids here. On the way here today I ran into one who was smaller than some American two-year-olds I've known. He ran up to me, like they mostly all do, shrieking "money money money!". I said no and he jogged at my side for a while then wandered off. That's basically the formula for all street kids, though this one was particularly small. Sometimes they don't really say anything, just make sad faces and motion to their mouths and stomachs. Once one followed me all the way home, me saying "no" (ogui) and him saying "give" (ogun) over and over till we both were laughing and then I went into my apartment building and he left.

They live in sewers, I see them climb in and out occasionally. Today on my way to get a cheeseburger for breakfast I watched a street kid jump around on a quiet street doing some dance/kung fu thing then jump down in his hole. Street puppies are equally numerous here and I often see street kids carrying around puppies. It's disturbing and cute.

It's warmer this week than last. There is no ice melting but the cold isn't painful at all. We guess it must have been around 0 last weekend and it's probably 20 now.
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02:41pm 05/11/2003
  Today as I was walking downtown to the internet cafe a group of girls ran up and posed around me as their friend took our picture. Then they thanked me and shuffled away.

I checked my pockets to make sure everything was still there, and it was, so I walked off very confused but even more convinced that I am a giant rock-star gweilo.
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More pictures   
02:59pm 02/11/2003
  For some reason I can't get FTP access to my normal server at the moment so I have to link to an angelfire site. There might be a couple popups, but nothing you can't close.

These are pictures from our Gobi trip and a few I've taken around UB:
05:03pm 01/11/2003
  We drove north from the South Gobi back to Ulaanbaatar. This involved going for 12 hours at one point when the journey was supposed to take 4 to 6. Such is Mongolia. We had three liters of goat milk vodka with us to soften the trip. Never fear.. milk vodka is not THAT alcoholic, especially when consumed over 12 hours. I didn't drink much at all as I was always on the verge of becoming violently carsick. Still, it wasn't a nasty drive and we went through all sorts of awesome Gobi scenery. We got to a real hotel in Mandalgov around midnight and ate flattened fried dumplings called hosha. They're not bad. The milk tea at the hotel that evening was excellent.

The next morning we drove again, this time stopping in a som center to meet a herder who was an expert horsehead fiddle player. In the course of our talk with him we learned that not only was he a spectacular musician but he was also a really great guy. He told us how he raised orphaned wild animals and how he had not been educated but he considered himself to have a master's degree in herding. He sang for us and played. He showed us the latest volume of the diary he's kept since the age of 25. He writes nearly every day. His entries all have a little drawing of the day's weather and sometimes they have other sketches - a man on a horse, a horse alone, camels in a snowstorm - beautiful sketches. If I can get into a graduate program to learn more Mongolian language I would like to return to this man and translate excerpts from his journals. He was just so smart and knowledgable and interesting.

I spent the night in the ger of this man's sister, a beautiful old woman who could harldy move. Us five girls slept on the floor and the five boys took a tent, though they could have slept in the ger with us if they wanted. The boys drank a lot of awful Mongolian vodka and wandered out in the Gobi in the middle of the night. Then they came back. Our evening was much more peaceful, making superficial conversation with Nemegt, the old woman, then sleeping on the floor around the stove. I was just so impressed by our stop there. I think if the man's journals can ever be translated they will have such interesting perspective on life in Mongolia over many years, from the mid 20th century to now. He also said he talked about important world events in his journal, like the war in Iraq. Oh, he also said he started keeping journals when he was 25 to improve his writing because he never had any formal education and his friends taught him to write. He was so poor growing up that his family would be given animal heads by other families to eat and as a tiny child walking home with a cow's severed head he said he felt like he was bringing an entire animal. Well, he was much too interesting to be fairly described here. Wait till my PhD thesis, perhaps.

Yesterday afternoon Tara and I went to the black market and looked at their huge selection of mostly tacky fabrics. I bought three meters of dark blue taffeta and two of pink lace and some ribbon. Tara bought two meters of fuschia shiny stuff and one of gold. From this and my vast sewing skills we fashioned a giant flowing dark blue princess skirt with pink bows for me and a gold and pink Barbie dress for her, as well as a shiny pink tube top of sorts for Erin. Megan then took our scraps, bits of shiny pink stuff and the pink lace cloth I didn't use, and fashioned a lovely if skimpy dress. Kara wore gold shiny stuff as a skirt, plus red pantyhose and ripped white t-shirt for her New Jersey look. In our homemade costumes, held together with safety pins and rows of my quick stitches, we went to a disco and achieved fame. We ran into Tuvshin, one of our language teachers, in rare form at Laserland, laughed at his dancing technique, endured his laughter at our beautiful costumes, then watched him get dragged of by sketchy security guards for, as he said later, being drunk. It was uncomfortable, though, and we worried about him being alone with them. Civil servants here have not earned our trust. Tuvshin was alright. Two of my classmates got pulled out of a cab last night and patted down by police who stole their pocket knives and 10,000 togrog then let them go on. Civil servants are not to be trusted.

Last night as I was sleeping I was vaguely aware of our thin orange curtains billowing against the edge of my bed on gusts of wind from one of our windows left open to compensate for the overzealous and un-adjustable Soviet steam radiators. With each gust of wind, tiny and momentary points of wet cold impacted my face. This morning I got up and realized it was snowing.

It's been snowing all day. Walking here after school I was blasted by painfully cold gusts of wind and clouds of snow. The sidewalks, paved imprudently with tiles, are awful in snowstorms. I have fallen down today.

Tonight we, students and teachers, will eat dinner together, on SIT, at a fancy Indian restaurant. I got $450 today to fund the next month's research project and as of yesterday my language classes are over. I did very well on the test. Also, I now have a jacket in the traditional Mongolian style. It's black, trimmed in green faux snake skin. Very classy, and very warm. It's custom made of wool, lined in what we think is silk, and cost me $25.
05:09pm 29/10/2003
  This is what I'm working on right now - the proposal for my independent study project:

Emilia Bristow
30 October, 2003
ISP Proposal

Mongolia’s New Democratic Coalition

Mongolia’s collection of Democratic parties formed a coalition for the Parliamentary elections of 1996 that led to their gaining control of the Parliament, but they were unable to sustain their coalition for long and factional breakdown plagued the period of Democratic majority in the Parliament and contributed to their subsequent resounding defeat in the elections of 2000. Few would argue that the parties need to again unite if they want to win seats in the upcoming election.
I propose to observe the process of coalition building that will be happening over the next month, specifically noting methods of negotiation, specific points of contention in platform and organizational issues and any final consensus that is reached on internal structure, platform and conflict resolution strategy. I hope to be able to maintain contact with party representatives involved with the coalition building process, several of whom I have met already, as well as the local head of the IRI, an American NGO highly involved with this process. Ultimately I may be able to make predictions for the long-term success of the coalition based on what I learn, but I can’t be certain at this point that any predictions I make won’t be mostly speculation. Despite that, this project should be relevant to students and observers of politics as a detailed examination of one of Mongolia’s most salient current events.
I have a tentatively arranged meeting with the IRI head on Monday and will arrange my schedule from there. I will contact S. Bayar and Dr. Ganbold and any other relevant contacts SIT can provide me. From then on I will seek out as many contacts and interviews with people involved in the formation of the new Democratic Coalition as I can. I think it is important that I be able to speak with my contacts more than once because this is a current process with constantly changing information available.
I haven’t found much written about the history of Mongolia’s democratic parties. A better source for information about that, I think, will be found in interviews with the contacts I already mentioned. I think a good addition to my study, if it’s possible, will be a review of the process by which the last Democratic Coalition was formed and contributing factors in its dissolution.
I expect to have no need to leave Ulaanbaatar for any of my research, as the political parties involved in the coalition building process are all located here in the city. From my budget, therefore, I will not need to provide for any large amount of travel money. Although it is not yet arranged solidly, I expect to stay at the student hostel the entire time. I haven’t yet arranged for a translator. I’m under the impression that many of the people I will seek to interview speak enough English that a translator won’t always be necessary, but I will try to make contact with one nonetheless as I’m sure I’ll have some occasion to use him.
04:48pm 27/10/2003
  After the Flaming Cliffs we drove and drove some more to get to the ger of a camel breeder, who sat us on camels and walked us through a saxaul forest. Saxaul trees (yes we made the sexual joke too) are these scrubby, twisted little things that are of course endangered and burn really hot and slow. We burned them in our gers that night. They were lovely. I'm not so cranky about camels anymore as my beast was really pretty endearing, even though he did take off galloping before I had overcome my fear. I got a lot of good camel facial expression pictures though, as camel facial expressions are amusing.

The next morning we hopped back in the cars for a drive to Tugrikin Shirai, which means "round table." OIn the way we encountered a family moving their ger on a camel cart and stopped to meet them and take pictures. Yes, it made us feel like tourist retards, but it was just too irresistable. A little kid on a camel. That's picture material. Anyway, Tugrikin Shirai is an ancient sand dune consolidated more or less into sandstone, tan and gray this time instead of red because of whatever lacking mineral. This is a site where many many protocerotops have been found. We didn't find anything, or even really look. We ran down the hill and across bumps and scrub of a dry river bed to climb up the modern sand dune on the other side. It was incredibly windy and cold, and once on the sand dune we all became permeated with sand. The maybe 30 or 40 meters to the top was made difficult by very soft terrain but eased by the lack of rocks thorny plants and other dangerous things. We stood on top and looked around for a while, jumped in the sand, made sand angels, spit down the steep side and watched as it formed balls of sand that rolled down and took a variety of pictures of dramatic landscapes and student antics, all the while choked by tiny sand grains in our eyes and mouths. It was fun. When we were good and ready we all tumbled down the steep side of the dune to the waiting cars and started the journey to Mandalgobi, the capital city of Dondgobi aimag.

It was supposed to be a four to six hour drive.

Last night we went to the North Korean circus with our host families. The group of us had somehow managed to score tickets in the ultra VIP area, a little private box right in front of the performance area. I really don't think I'd ever seen a North Korean before last night, not in person. They look a lot like South Koreans. We quietly made a few "evil circus" jokes then proceeded to be astounded by the many wild things you can see in a circus, including a really skinny lady who lay on her back and juggled big tubes with her feet and a lady who did gymnastic/contortionist poses while suspended in a spinning silver ring from the ceiling and balancing a lamp upwards from her teeth. There was also a gymnast who did flips and such from a bouncing balance beam. She attempted a triple flip, three times around in the air, that they said would be some kind of world record, and almost made it. Unfortunately, she landed a little off balance on the beam and slipped down into the arms of her spotter. After an initial, momentary look of severe distress, she threw her arms up and grinned, holding her obviously and savagely broken ankle just a little off the floor. Then they carried her off.

We did find it pretty surreal to be at the North Korean circus. We discussed with each other our wonder at what their lives must be like and things like that and were all very impressed at the lengths to which they went to amuse us even when they were clearly in horrendous pain.
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I wrote this yesterday but I had some trouble posting so here it is now.   
05:27pm 25/10/2003
  So, the Flaming Cliffs are maybe 20 meters high or something. They're bright orange sandstone formations, carved out by the powerful winds that sweep across the Gobi. I got really neat pictures of wind patterns in the sandstone. The rock crumbles into its constituent sand grains and dust if you scratch at it, and we did just that in search of dinosaur bones. We had with us Ariunchimuk, a paleontologist with the natural history museum or something like that. She gave us each little metal scrapers and paint brushes to dig into the rock. I sat there digging designs in the side of the cliff for a while then wandered out away from the cliff itself, looking at things on the ground. Besides the bright orange sandstone there were also little pieces of granite covering the ground. Especially impressed by the lovely dark green granite, I picked up several pieces of it to bring home. I've collected a lot of rocks on this trip. Maybe a hundred meters from the cliffs themselves we found what I think were protoceratops bones, first a rib then some other bones that were unidentifiable because they crumbled to dust when we tried to uncover them. A ways away we looked at the top of a skull, just level with the ground. We didn't make any effort to uncover that further, instead we buried it and marked the spot with rocks so scientists can come back some other time for real work. I did manage to procure a piece of bone for myself; it's very tiny, maybe fingernail sized, and very white and.. well, it's a bone. I saw it lying on top of the ground when I sat down near the skull and rib site. It's pretty solid; it hadn't been weakened like some of the unluckier specimens. I don't know why that is.

I found cinnamon today in a big fancy supermarket. It might be the only cinnamon in town. I am pleased. I bought it for 85 cents. My host mother has offered to embroider my bluejeans, so as soon as I leave here I'm going to our student hostel to get the jeans I didn't bring on the homestay (I tried to pack light) so she can do her thing. I expect it to be very very swank, although she might want to wash the jeans before she sets to work as they are filthy. Tomorrow we make apple pie.

Also, this is what I've been looking at while using the internet today:

It's the website of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, the Communist party that ran the country for 70 years and runs it again now. The "Action Program" pages are especially interesting/entertaining. As I will soon be engaged full time in researching these parties, I probably shouldn't be making such judgmental statements, but this web page is so saccharine my teeth hurt. From the "Nature and Environment" page: "...more extensive work will be done to combat the Brandt's Vole." - that means dumping chemicals that have long been banned in the United States and that killed a child in the Mongolian countryside last year on the steppe to kill a rodent that's really not such a serious problem. I could go on, but.. oh, here: "The problem of Ulaanbaatar city's household waste will be resolved in a comprehensive manner..." - Cool, let's do that today. Alright, back to scientific analysis. I'm going to go buy a sausage, then get my jeans.
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02:26am 23/10/2003
  Right after my last post I climbed into our teachers' Ulaanbaatar friend Enkhbat's blue Land Cruiser and we took off across the desert. It wasn't like the vast sand dunes you see in pictures; the Gobi we drove through that first day was covered in a thin layer of snow of an ideal consistency for snowball fights. The ground itself was dusty and rocky and there was scattered low scrub. The first day we ended up at the mouth of a steep canyon called the Ice Gorge, or Eagle Valley (Yolyn Am in Mongolian). This thing went for 17 km, all the way back to near Dalanzagad in the middle of a stretched out mountain range. We hiked down it just a couple kilometers until it was too dark to go on. The stream running through this canyon was semi-frozen and the cliffs very steep in places so there were some scary moments of inching across vertical surfaces or waiting for ice to break beneath out feet, and it did at times, but it wasn't actually THAT hard and it WAS very beautiful and full of giant eagles.

We spent the night in a frigid concrete ger and ate spaghetti for dinner and breakfast. The next morning we drove off again across the desert on our way to the Flaming Cliffs. Unfortunately, our beloved Land Cruiser's left rear wheel's brake rotor suddenly, possibly as a result of some overheating or something, broke into pieces and punctured the tire from the inside of the rim. So, it didn't actually puncture the tire at all, just the tube. Anyway, we were last in our little convoy and the others were way ahead so it took some time, as in maybe fifteen minutes, for other cars to notice we were missing and turn around and come back. During this time we established that because of the extended journey suspension on the car the included jack couldn't actually get the tire off the ground, so instead of changing our tire we had a snowball fight. Anyway, as we later learned, the car needed more than a changed tire. In the end, they turned off the brake line, removed the brake altogether, put on the spare tire and we continued on our way with three brakes.

Later that day we got to the Flaming Cliffs, which were totally awesome and there really are dinosaur bones lying around although they're usually pretty small, fragile and easily missed. But I got one that's pretty hard and I have it now.

We're doing UB homestays this week, so I have to get home pretty soon. My homestay mother is a highschool Russian teacher and I'm not really sure what the father does. There are two girls, one in highschool girl and a pitcher on her school's baseball team and one studying computer science in college and working as a Pantene demonstrator in the evenings. Yes, it's a strange job. Our apartment is really nice, it's not large or fancy but I have my own room that looks out across the street at all my classmates' favorite disco in the whole city, Tornado. My host mom speaks a little English and my Mongolian is getting pretty passable now so I can express all my needs and make some conversation. Oyuna, the mother, says she likes cookies and has lots of recipes but doesn't know how to make them so I am going to teach her. We are also going to make an apple pie this weekend. I am very excited for that, although it looks like I'll have to make the crust as there seem to be none premade in the city. My classmates and myself had come to the conclusion as well that there was no cinnamon to be found but Oyuna says they probably have it as a Russian store. I am pleased. Also, on Sunday we are going to see the North Korean circus, which will be totally cool. Anyway, my point here was that I need to get going and will finish talking about the Gobi trip next time I have an opportunity.
01:32am 15/10/2003
  I'm in Dalanzagad right now; that's the capital of South Gobi aimag. We flew here this morning. Despite not taking Dramamine (I'm trying to conserve my remaining pills) I was perfectly alright on the airplane after not eating anything, sleep depriving myself and drinking a lot of ginger tea. The magical ginger remedy appears to maybe be effective. I am pleased.

From here we are leaving via cars in about half an hour and going to the Ice Gorge, called Eagle Gorge in Mongolian as it is the habitat of some bird called Lammergier or something like that that looks a lot like a giant eagle. Then I think we spend the night at the Flaming Cliffs, famous for early 20th century dinosaur finds. From there we slowly drive back to UB over the course of five days, looking at cool stuff along the way. I'll fill you in when I get back. This journey is going to involve a camel trek, not as substantial as the taiga horse trek but bad enough because I really don't like camels very much. But it'll be alright. It's the Gobi, after all. That's cool.

It's cold here. If you click the UB weather forcast in my user profile then type in "Mongolia" where it asks you to you can look at Dalanzagad's weather. Although I won't be here much longer, you'll get an idea what's going on. It's cold and windy. There is some snow too. Alright, I'm out.
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Dumb essay - reflections on a week of environment lectures   
10:48pm 12/10/2003
  I’m by no means an expert on environmental issues so I don’t think I can provide any more information or answers than our lecturers did this week. That said, I have studied economic development schemes and I know that environmental protection and economic development aren’t necessarily incompatible goals.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario whereby a major highway connecting Ulaan Baatar eastward to China would not disrupt gazelle migration across the Eastern Steppe. Whether or not China is actively trying to destroy Mongolia’s economy, which I doubt, I think this highway will be good for Mongolia in the long run as it will allow greater market access for Mongolian exports. Poorly managed infrastructure development, however, might prove to be more harmful than good. Beyond being nice to look at, the Mongolian gazelle is a useful source of food and income for rural Mongolians and probably deserving of protection even for only economic reasons. Furthermore, the road project has other unresolved issues that need to be addressed before work should proceed, especially the question of financing and maintenance. These issues aside, however, there are creative civil and environmental engineering solutions that could at least partially mitigate the effect of this road on the migrating animals. As I said, I’m not an expert on that sort of thing but I know highways in the United States have been modified to have a lower impact on surrounding animal populations.

I see more promising unity of development and environmental goals in the idea of local management of natural resources. The amounts of money involved in hunting Western Argali sheep were startling, most of all the zero dollars that locals get from the sale of licenses. It seems to me that transferring some management of these hunting licenses to locals would be a relatively effective way of protecting the Argali sheep. As the species is on the United States’ list of endangered species, many people think it shouldn’t be hunted at all. I disagree. With enforcement of hunting laws and quotas so poor, especially in remote rural areas, outlawing the hunting of the Argali sheep altogether would probably have little effect on the local people’s decision to hunt or not. Putting a limited number of expensive hunting licenses in their control, however, would provide an incentive to maintain a healthy population of animals for the occasional well-paying sport hunter.

The overarching problem, of course, is getting people and institutions to take responsibility for their own failures in environmental protection. This is the case worldwide, not just in Mongolia. Here, though, I see several specific examples.

First, individual people, either grossly uninformed, overwhelmed by the depth of existing problems or unimpressed with the extent of their own contribution to problems, fail to take basic steps that would help protect and beautify their environment, such as proper trash disposal. Perhaps this problem could be mitigated with better education, but I expect it would take much more than that. I imagine that to more effectively deal with this problem, the government would have to get involved with some more serious capital expenditures for things like proper waste disposal sites and better enforcement of regulations. I know the idea of new capital projects for the Mongolian government is financially troublesome but better personal waste management is going to have to be addressed sooner or later or Mongolia will start to encounter real (or worse) problems.

Second, the government itself acts like it’s co-opted by industrial interests, personal holdings or any number of anti-environmental interests. This is a problem with no easy solution but a refinement of the democratic process. We’ve been working on that for a long time in my own country. Also, perhaps I’m naively and inordinately enamored with China, but I get the feeling lots of people here like to blame China for exploitative economic practices that they themselves allow. I’m sure some of the enmity is well founded but I suspect there’s also a certain amount of bigotry at play, and as long as China can serve as a scapegoat for Mongolia’s problems there’s little incentive for Mongolians themselves to make improvements.
Hovsgol homestay paper   
07:17pm 09/10/2003
  At the end of my Hentii homestay paper I commented that I was dissatisfied with my own level of preparation for the interview and that I would try to ask better questions and get better information out of subsequent interviews. As far as this goal is concerned, my Hovsgol homestay was much more productive. I asked questions of my own host family as well as several other members of the community and explored more in-depth issues in these interviews.

In Hovsgol I stayed in the teepee of Buyantogtokh, a 44-year-old woman, and two of her daughters, Tungalagtuyaa, seventeen years old, and Khulan, seven years old. Buyantogtokh also has an eleven year old daughter named Saruultungalag who was at the time in school in Tsaanannuur. A husband or father for the family never appeared and, when asked, Buyantogtokh said she is not and had never been married. One of our guides from Ulaan Uul spent two nights under the same blanket as Buyantogtokh but I never asked for any clarification on the nature of their relationship, so the reader can speculate as well as I can as to what was really happening.

Both Buyantogtokh and Hans’ host mother, Khorlee, reported that their families had migrated from Tuva, Hans’ mother’s family during or shortly after World War II and Buyantogtokh’s shortly before she was born, around 1960. I asked Khorlee why she used the word “escape” when describing her family’s move from Tuva to Hovsgol. The answer was still a bit unclear but I believe it involved pressure from the Russian government to support the war effort and to close the Mongolian border. Also, she said that her grandfather married a Darkhad woman. In both cases they said they lived in Ulaan Uul som until 1985, when the group of reindeer herders split in two and moved into the East and West Taiga. Buyantogtokh, then, grew up in Ulaan Uul som, the daughter of reindeer herders. She has two older sisters, a younger sister and a younger. Her sisters today are two herders in the West taiga and one nurse in Ulaan Uul. Her brother, Ganbat, lives in the settlement we visited.

Buyantogtokh attended school through the eighth grade, as did her oldest daughter. She plans for her other two daughters to complete the eighth grade as well and said she would like for them to not be reindeer herders but to be educated and live a “modern” life in an urban area. I asked her about the implications of this preference for the future of the reindeer herders’ traditional lifestyle and she replied that enough other families are rearing their children to be herders that there would not be a shortage. She also said that she taught her daughters to speak exclusively Mongolian, and although they can understand bits of the Tuvan language, they can not speak it. Again she said that her decision does not carry with it any implications for the survival of the Tuvan language in Hovsgol as enough other families taught their children Tuvan that it will not disappear. Indeed, Tara’s host mother said that she taught her 21-year-old son the Tuvan language first and that he had learned Mongolian at school. Both Tara’s mother and Buyantogtokh said they grew up speaking only Tuvan in their homes and learned Mongolian in school.

Everyone I asked gave their ethnicity first as Tuvan. I asked my host mother about the title Tsaatan, translated as reindeer rider, and she replied that they would prefer to be called Tsaachin, which means reindeer herder. This answer was confirmed by a number of other interviews I conducted. I asked Hans’ host mother, Khorlee, and my own about the name Duka and they both responded that the word is Duha, that it is the Tuvan word for Uighur, and that it is an acceptable but archaic name for their group and Tuvans in general. I found this answer rather confusing at first, as I have always thought of Tuvans and Uighurs as distinct ethnic groups, but have since come to the uncertain conclusion, after some explanation from teachers, that Tuvans and Uighurs are linguistically and ethnically very similar and perhaps historically derived from the same tribe. This is a matter about which I would like to learn more.

Only one person I interviewed, my own host mother, said she is Tuvan and not Mongolian. The others said they are ethnically Tuvan and Mongolian citizens, although Khorlee said she thinks ethnically Khalkh Mongolians do not consider her a pure Mongolian. Several said they might be interested in visiting Tuva but none of them want to return to Tuva to live, Khorlee because she wouldn’t know anyone there and because Hovsgol is her home and Tara’s host mother because she doesn’t know the way. Everyone told me that they vote in elections and that someone always comes from Tsaagannuur to collect their votes. They all said outright or implied that voting is their duty as a citizen and that every adult votes. Buyantogtokh said she learns about candidates by reading newspapers or circulars. Khorlee said she always votes for MPRP candidates because she feels conditions were better during the Socialist times. Despite seemingly universal voting, many of the reindeer herders expressed dissatisfaction with the government or, more commonly, were unable to tell me anything the government did for them at all. Nick’s host mother told of her journey to Ulaanbaatar to petition the government for assistance and seemed optimistic about the journey’s success, even though nothing yet has been done. Buyantogtokh thinks the journey to UB accomplished nothing and although she would like a pension from the government and assistance in increasing the reindeer breeding stock she expects there will be no help.

I asked several religion related questions. Buyantogtokh said that she believes in ongods, a shamanist concept, and honors them with the first drink from a new pot of tea. When asked specifically about the ritual of offering bread to the fire ongod she replied that she performs that as well. She has never visited a shaman, however. Later when I asked about procedures when a person dies she replied that they go to visit Buddhist lamas in Ulaan Uul or Muren and have Tibetan scripts read in the standard funeral manner. I was surprised to find Buddhist practices in a traditionally shamanist community, but I know Buyantogtokh has had years of contact with other Mongolians and it’s not unreasonable to think she would have adopted some of their practices. No one else in the community reported visiting lamas, although I didn’t talk to everyone. Some did mention celebrating the Lunar New Year, another Buddhist practice.

Certainly, determining the reindeer people’s exact religious practices, whether Buddhist, shamanist or both, will require more extensive research and observation. I also noticed some variation among the individual herders themselves in their religious practices, from some who appeared to be very observant shamanists to others who have some Buddhist practices or claim to not believe in any religion at all.

I am pleased with the extent of the information I gathered in the interviews I conducted. My host mother in particular was very informative. Although I found the Hentii homestay more personally rewarding, as I developed a personal and friendly relationship with my host family there, I think my research skills have improved and I was able to make my Hovsgol trip very academically valuable.
Mmm, endangered.   
05:49pm 08/10/2003
  While we were at the reindeer herders' camp a group of men returned from their hunting expedition and later we all got to eat wild goat hosha (fried dumpling things). They were very delicious. Unfortunately, it seems that something was mistaken in the translation of what we were eating because it turns out it was the meat of an Argali sheep, only 26 of which remain in an isolated Hovsgol population. Make that 25.  
Some pictures   
07:18pm 07/10/2003
  I bought a CD locally and burned pictures on that and for some reason it all works now, so, here are a few pictures from the semester so far.

View south and a bit east out the window of my room in the Anuujin Hotel, first week in UB

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03:05pm 04/10/2003
  I should say something about Mongolia's dairy insanity. On our way back from Tsaagannuur, nearing Ulaan Uul we stopped at a ger and went inside for snacks. There we were offered nine different dairy products, which I will now list. They were all made from yak milk.

Yogurt, cheese, cream, clotted cream, boiled sour cream, dried yogurt curd, butter, milk tea and milk vodka.

Yeah! Milk vodka! It's clear as water with very little alcohol taste, mostly just a bit of a yeasty flavor. It's made by distilling the yak yogurt and was the smoothest 30 proof drink I'd ever had. Incredible.

There were four students in my van, including myself, one teacher (Tuvshin, a tall, waifish and beautiful boy who can be very cranky and very cheerful), and the rotund and competitive driver we hired in Moron. At one point on the way up one of the students produced a bottle of vodka that we passed around and then to the driver, who took a couple drinks. It's a Mongolian thing. We were amused.
01:49pm 04/10/2003
  I'm back from Hovsgol. The roads were as bad as promised. I vomited once, going over a mountain pass. There are no seatbelts in those old Russian vans and if you brace yourself well you might hit your head on the ceiling only a few times each day. It's all worth it though. The aimag is beautiful.

Map of Hovsgol

We took the van from Moron (far south of map) to Tsaagannuur (north central). That took a day and a half. After spending the night at a guest house in the town, we took the vans another few hours to a fishing camp (I think it's the same as the lodge marked in purple to the northwest of Tsaagannuur). That's where we got our horses (I named mine Misty) and rode into the taiga. The taiga's got relatively gentle mountains covered in golden orange larch trees and waist high underbrush. The ground is alternately rocky and boggy. Many of the valleys would be nearly impossible to cross on foot, especially in any reasonable time, because they are several inches deep in frigid water and black peat all the way across. The deepest mud I crossed was up to my stirrups. A real Artax moment. We rode first along the steep, rocky bank of a river and then up through mountains to get to the camp of the reindeer herders. The horse trek was around 40 km each way. On the way back, I lost my hat about two miles out of the lodge and rode the rest of the way in driving sleet and snow. It was miserable, and awesome.

The reindeer herders, as I found out from asking them, are really Tuvans who got stuck on this side of a previously permeable border. I lived with a family in a teepee. I drank reindeer milk tea, ate mostly bread and sugar and occasionally some reindeer or wild goat meat and wandered around all day enchanted with the taiga.

I didn't fall off my horse at all, but I nearly did when my horse spooked and bolted because the boy next to me fell off, was dragged and kicked in the face by his horse. Yep, kicked in the face by a frightened horse to which he was attached by a foot in the stirrup and beneath which he was being dragged. He got a small cut on his nose. In the instant before my thoughts turned to staying on my own horse and getting him under control, I was fairly certain my classmate was about to die.

When I first got to Mongolia and drove into the city here I was impressed with how "third world" it seemed. Driving back from the airport last night my impression was entirely different. There are no teepees in Ulaanbaatar and nearly all the roads are paved. Wow, pavement.
12:01am 22/09/2003
  Today we watched from our 4th floor Soviet balconies as hordes (one of the few English words adopted from the Mongolian language, as it happens) of red clad college students from the next building came outside and raked shards of glass, fallen yellow leaves and assorted other items of trash from the ground. It was very Communist.

Indeed, on Peace Avenue is a statue of slain democratic reform leader Zorig facing across the road to a much older statue of Lenin. While they have made efforts to memorialize those the Communists tried to forget (Zorig, Chinggis) they haven't bothered to remove the Communist decorations. Choybusan's statue is still up in front of the university here. Choybusan was Mongolia's Stalin. In Germany they tore down the wall, in Russia the masses pulled that giant statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, in Mongolia they celebrated the early 90s' revolution by getting the hell out of the cold, back into their crumbling Soviet apartments. The hot water is still centrally distributed and unmetered here. The same party that ruled 70 soviet years controls the Parliament today.

Not everything is the same, of course. Democratic reform isn't made up... but these things don't happen overnight, and getting the kids to stop cleaning their dorm on Fridays doesn't seem like it will do Mongolia much good anyway.

On our last day in Hentii we went to a mountain, climbed halfway up the cliffs and into a small cave entrance. It widens out inside, it's cool and dark. This is where Buddhist monks hid from the Communists. Across the mountain face on a thin ledge is a place where handfulls of Tibetan scriptures are wedged in between the huge rocks. This is where the monks hid their texts before they were dragged down the mountain and executed.

I am leaving for Hovsgol tomorrow. We will hopefully find the reindeer herders in the north there and live with them for several days. Tonight will be spent at a pub. See you guys in two weeks.
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