Friday, October 22, 2010

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Canada, British Columbia, Vancouver

Checking in for the flight, the Canadian airline rep for Air China looked inside my passport and asked where I was going.


She flipped a couple pages of my passport and asked: "Where is your visa?"

"U.S. citizens don't need Mongolian visas." At least, they didn't last year. I hope that hasn't changed. Maybe should've checked on that.

Canada, British Columbia, Vancouver

Passed through downtown Vancouver on a Saturday night: the city is populated with nothing but stylish twenty-something-year-olds. Some French speakers.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

U.S.A., Washington

Train is really the most comfortable way to travel. It's basically a moving building.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

U.S.A., Oregon, Lake Oswego

Talked to my brother on the phone this morning. He said there's been lots of wind in Dakota. He was driving the garbage truck back from the landfill the other day when suddenly he got passed... by a plastic bag. So of course he wasn't going to let that happen, so he stepped down on it, and this is a garbage truck mind you, so it was howling along. Couldn't catch that plastic bag. Realized that the plastic bag was somehow riding air off of the garbage truck, and it just floated along, out in front of the truck. Never did catch the bag. Took a tight corner and the bag sailed off across a field.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sunday, November 29, 2009

U.S.A., Oregon, Lake Oswego

Last week, discovered that Linus Pauling is buried in Lake Oswego. Don't usually make pilgrimages to dead people, but since he's right here in Lake Oswego and it is Linus Pauling, we drove over to the cemetery. Searched the whole cemetery--naturally--until we found him right next to where we parked the Jeep.

The website for the Oswego Pioneer Cemetery declines to mention that Pauling was awarded two Nobel Prizes, one in chemistry and one for peace advocacy. The website does list every single American war veteran buried in the cemetery.

Pauling advocated against nuclear arms and against war in any form at a time when other Americans knew heart and soul that their ultimate purpose on earth was to mass-murder Russians. The headline in Life magazine reporting his 1962 Nobel Peace Prize declaimed: "A Weird Insult from Norway."

looking down the hill from Pauling's marker

Saturday, October 31, 2009

U.S.A., Oregon, Lake Oswego

I spent my final week in Ulaanbaatar undergoing a tax audit. It turned out all right in the end (the tax auditor seemed to go easier on me after I explained that I was not a businessman but a writer, and she asked me what my book was about and I answered "philosophy" and everyone in the room laughed), but I had to spend three days sitting in the tax department, running around the city gathering supporting documentation for events that took place three to four years ago, being suspected of hiding income "like a Mongolian," being threatened with many hundreds of dollars' worth of fines, and worrying that the situation would not be resolved before my outbound flight and that I would not be allowed to leave the country. I told this to my brother in North Dakota over the telephone, and he said, "That's why I like talking to you; you make my troubles seem so small: 'Gee, it was cold last night and I forgot to plug my truck in, so I had to crank it for ten minutes this morning before it would start. Oh well, at least I didn't have to go through a tax audit in Outer Mongolia.'"

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Friday, August 14, 2009

U.S.A., North Dakota

Thunderstorm blowing in tonight. The passion comes blowing with it, but nothing to expend it on. Should drive somewhere directionless, or write.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

U.S.A., North Dakota

Drove a tractor around in circles on Sunday, raking mowed hay into winrows in the hayfield.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Thursday, June 18, 2009

U.S.A., North Dakota

In the past two weeks, I've been at the Mississippi River in Minnesota and in the Rocky Mountains in Montana, and now I'm back in between. In North Dakota.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

U.S.A., Montana

Driving in Montana, just east of nowhere: hit the “scan” button on the radio, and the radio just scans and scans and scans.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

U.S.A., North Dakota

I've been through Regina. I might have gotten a speeding ticket in Regina.

Canada is mildly different from here, but at least it is different.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

U.S.A., North Dakota

Last weekend, my uncle J and I set a camper up on the hill at the ranch at which one can now enjoy a drink and listen to the coyotes and watch the sun set over all of North Dakota. It overlooks lots and lots of emptiness. The plains. River trees. Big sunsets.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Saturday, May 2, 2009

U.S.A., North Dakota

Worked cattle with Uncle J and Uncle David. Moved cattle to summer pasture.

Hauling a calf in the back of J's Chevrolet Blazer, the calf pissed. J said, "We'll just get a bucket of soapy water and scrub it out. Or do the usual: roll the windows down for the rest of the afternoon to let it dry out and then forget it forever."

Driving through the pasture, saw the windmill lying on its side. "Last spring, the wind blew the windmill over," J said.

The wind blew the windmill over.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

U.S.A., North Dakota

Saw the twilit sky to the west. Drove around a bit longer to remind myself of the turning of the planet.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

U.S.A., North Dakota

I took the train out of Fargo on Saturday night.

Fargo restarted around-the-clock sandbagging efforts on Sunday.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

U.S.A., North Dakota, Fargo

Radigan Neuhalfen

U.S.A., North Dakota, Fargo

The train crossed over the Red River twice, at four a.m. -- once going east into Minnesota, and then again on the same bridge as it backed into the station in Fargo. On the bridge, it looked like the train was rolling right on the black water, which is at the top of the sandbagged dikes. Treetops stick out of the water; it was eerily beautiful. Everything at four o'clock a.m. is eerily beautiful.

Walking from the station downtown, pass the Fargo Linoleum Co., which has a sign on the glass front door: “Closed Friday and Saturday for Flooding.” Sandbags stacked about a foot high around the doors of a restaurant. Eighteen-wheeled trucks are running downtown; they look commercial. It is cold, and there is snowpack.

Friday, March 27, 2009

U.S.A., North Dakota

Driving from work at 4:30 this afternoon, heard Fargo city officials on the radio stating that the water level had significantly dropped, and that consequently sandbagging operations were going to halt at 6:00 p.m. today. Going to Fargo regardless; I already purchased the train ticket.

At the train station, the conductor asked where I was going as he took my ticket. Fargo. Well, he said, at least the station in Fargo is this side of the river. This train might not be running any further than Fargo tonight, he said, the water's only six inches from the tracks.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

U.S.A., North Dakota

I booked the Amtrak ticket, then joined the Fargo-Moorhead Flood Volunteer Network group on Facebook, which at that point had 4,716 members. I called the volunteer information line and said that I was going to volunteer, and she told me to go to the Fargo Dome. I said I'd be in Fargo on early Saturday morning, and she said, oh, call just before you go out to volunteer so that you can be sent to the highest priority location at that time.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

U.S.A., North Dakota

And the blizzard just hit. The office closed at 11 a.m.; everything's closing. Snow day.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

U.S.A., North Dakota

The American border guards shoot anyone who tries to escape from the Land of Freedom.

Friday, March 13, 2009

U.S.A., North Dakota

I have been to Canada on several memorable occasions. You know, it was funny, how as young kids in North Dakota, we thought of ourselves as living at the edge of the world, because the US map just ends at the border, and Canada, if anything, was that great unmapped space that you would have to drive through to get to Alaska.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

U.S.A., North Dakota

I got very drunk last night and because I had visions of trying to walk home and ending in a snowbank and frozen solid because it is well below zero degrees Fahrenheit every night still and drunks freeze to death commonly as they always have in North Dakota, I called my brother to pick me up at the enormous nondescript cluttered house where DIY punk-rock shows are put on in the basement and he said he'd be there in eight minutes and he was there in eight minutes.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

U.S.A., Montana

Stood on the lower level of the train car gazing out the windows on each side for fifteen minutes. Saw lots of deer. Dozens of deer, including two big groups of at least twenty deer each.

“BUSH” is scratched into one of the windows, the “S” replaced by a swastika.

U.S.A., Montana, Havre

Havre gets some wind. Every flag is whipping, and tattered at the end.

U.S.A., Montana

And now the strips of snow and the lines of fenceposts and the brown grass and the distant highline poles. I am not heartened by the sight of the empty wastes, but it is so familiar to me, as though long ago seared into my nerves.

U.S.A., Montana, Whitefish

Whitefish is a very picturesque little town. Even the “NO SKATEBOARDING” signs are tasteful and unobtrusive.

U.S.A., Rocky Mountains

Woke up to snow covering everything.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

U.S.A., Oregon, Lake Oswego

I'm going to Dakota tomorrow, on the Empire Builder, from Portland, through Spokane and all of Montana.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

U.S.A., Oregon, Portland

The roaring in my ears is memories of riding that motorcycle through the world and between the lanes of California cars at 24 years old, of the shotgun rips to the deaths of North Dakota geese at 14 years old, my ears damaged, my memory.

Monday, January 12, 2009

U.S.A., Oregon, Portland

It never gets dark in Portland, you never see the stars. The city lights are always reflecting back from the clouds.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

U.S.A., Oregon, Portland

I took a train yesterday through the Cascade Mountains. Trees and gorges and lakes, the bridges, the tunnels. In the long tunnels, the train fills with diesel smoke.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

U.S.A., Oregon, Portland

As I got settled in my seat, I remarked inwardly how nice it was, on 2008 November 5, to be on Alaska Air Flight 32 from Boston to Portland, Oregon, because it must be a plane filled with people who voted for Obama. Then the attendant made an announcement regarding the flight’s continuation, after an hour’s layover in Portland, on to Anchorage.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Poland, Krakow

I'll tell you stories of cars and guns and motorcycles and cops; of Siberia and Mexico and New York City; of horses, Mongolia, archaeology, and invading armies; ships and danger; jungles and the cold, cold winter.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Poland, Krakow

and the chocolates and the sausages and the beers and the cheeses and the stews and the breads and the peaches. Architecture. Medieval history (the Teutonic Knights, the Mongol invasion), WWII history (Resistance, Auschwitz). Polish literature, poetry, cinema.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Poland, Krakow

It is staggering how far you can travel in a day. You can’t get to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia from Boston in a day, but you can get to Krakow, Poland from Boston, in a day.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Costa Rica, San Jose

Sitting on a stool in a corner of one of the common rooms of the tastefully decorated Hostal El Chante Limitada, which was opened in July by a group of fashionable Costa Rican women in their early 20's, is an electric IBM typewriter. Massive and metal and battered, its presence succeeds in giving the room an air of antique charm. It is the same model of typewriter upon which I learned to type in high school.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Costa Rica, San Jose

It’s the low season. There’s rum-and-Coke in the fridge and the “Drunkenness Prohibited” sign has fallen down and no one has bothered to hang it back up.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Costa Rica, San Jose

The Alliance Francaise has a giant, uncharacteristically diffident billboard in Spanish:
“Speaking two languages is not sufficient preparation for your future.
When are you beginning your French classes?”

Graffiti on the National Museum of Costa Rica, in Spanish:
“Land and Liberty
Zapata Lives”
Stepping closer for a better look, I unexpectedly glimpsed, concealed in a construction pit, an unkempt man, without pants, apparently just concluding defecating. I quickly turned and went away.

Costa Rica, San Jose

Casa Ridgway, Martin Luther King, Jr. room

Friday, August 29, 2008

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

U.S.A., North Dakota

I went by bus from Phoenix to North Dakota.

In Dickinson, in western North Dakota, the bus stopped for forty minutes. There was a little cafe next to the station, and I had breakfast there.

Getting back onto the bus, I found a woman sitting in my seat. I pointed this out, she reacted, and I said, "No, no, that's okay. I'll take this seat. It's no big deal. The bus is empty."

Of course the bus was empty; we were in North Dakota. Everything in North Dakota is empty.

When I had pointed at the seat and said my first words, her wide-eyed, bustling reaction, her movements, had made me think she was not American; I guessed she might be Japanese. As I sat down in the seat directly behind her, I asked, "Where are you from?"

She twisted in the seat to look at me. "Mongolia."

"What?" I said.

She spoke with effort, emphatically pronouncing the syllables: "I am from Mongolia."

I busted out laughing. I looked at her and opened my mouth and, as I tried to shift my mind into Mongolian, I couldn't say anything. Finally I managed, "Tiim uu?"

She looked at me with complete incomprehension.

"Ta mongol khun uu?"

"I am sor-ry."

"Ta mongol khel yaridag uu? Mongol khel?"

A bizarre expression seized her face.

"I live in Ulaanbaatar," I said, still in Mongolian.

And we fell to talking excitedly. Her name was Oyunaa.

She had come to visit her daughter, who was studying at Dickinson State University. I had come from (of all places) Mongolia to (of all places) North Dakota, to find (of all things) a Mongolian in my seat on the bus, and I couldn't stop laughing.

Before the bus got underway, her daughter got on and sat next to her. They were on their way to Chicago to visit more family.

"There's lots of Mongolians in Chicago," I offered.

"And in Denver."

"Yes, in Denver." Colorado resembles Mongolia geographically.

Western North Dakota does as well; the daughter said that twelve Mongolians were studying in Dickinson.

"North Dakota is a strange place."

"Yes. It's all white people."

Oyunaa had flown into L.A., and had already been through the Bay Area and Denver on the way to North Dakota.

"Well, there are the Sioux, and the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikawa. But they and the white people live apart from each other, and they don't like each other."

I thought then of the flak I have caught in Mongolia for daring to be a white guy in Mongolia.

But how many thousand Mongolians are living in the United States? Not counting the Peace Corps volunteers and international aid workers and missionaries, who are all temporary, the other Americans I know living in Mongolia I can count on the fingers of one hand.

I got off the bus in Bismarck, which is only an hour and a half or so from Dickinson. Oyunaa got off the bus with me and helped me with my bags. She bore an enormous, face-breaking smile as we said good-bye in the terminal.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

U.S.A., Arizona, Goodyear

The suburbs of Phoenix look like they were built yesterday.

National Geographic magazine recently featured an article about the drying out of the western United States. The 20th Century was a wet century, with unusually high rainfall. Phoenix is built in a desert. And it has golf courses. And urinals that use 3.8 liters of water per flush.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mexico, Quintana Roo, Cancun

Cancun is very loud, a constant roar in the ears of traffic and music through loudspeakers.

Friday, April 18, 2008

U.S.A., New York, Slaterville Springs

I don’t know why I even bother with the East Coast. Space and time are at such a premium; everything is crowded and rushed.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar

There’s an okay pizza joint across from the big MobiCom center named Broadway Pizza. Last week, while going to eat at a Zochin Buuz on Peace Avenue, across from the Russian embassy, I had one of those sudden, embarrassing moments of comprehension about something that I had seen countless times but never mentally processed. Next to that Zochin Buuz location is a small entrance with a sign “Broadway Pizza,” in the same wood-beam style as the MobiCom location. So last night for dinner I stepped inside. A large staircase led down to a huge, posh subterranean bar, full of Mongolian yuppies and a few foreigners. I took a stool at the end of the bar and ordered my pizza. Off to my left was a table speaking Russian; off to my right, a table speaking French; in front of me, the bar staff were speaking Mongolian... and I couldn’t understand why English was so strong in my head, until I realized that the sound system was playing American pop-rock music. A waitress told me that a table had cleared, but I opted to stay at the bar so that I could continue exchanging glances with one of the French-speaking women.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar

Went to the Steppe Inne, the British embassy’s Friday night social hour, last night. I’ve been one other time this year. I think I went once last year.

Friday night is the worst time for flagging a taxi. Everyone’s going somewhere, and they line the sides of Peace Avenue, arms pointing into the street, a few meters from each other.

But last night wasn’t bad; I didn’t wait long. An old car pulled over, I got in the front seat, said hello to the old guy, and remembered that I had forgotten how to say “embassy.”

“To the British ‘posolstvo,’” I said, using the Russian word.

“Medekhgui,” he said. I don’t know.

“Zaa, zaa, just go straight.” I dug into my satchel and pulled out my pocket dictionary and looked up “embassy.”

“To the British elchin saidin yaam,” I said.

He laughed. “Medekhgui. Where’s the British embassy?”

“Zaa, zaa, just go straight.”

Playing on the radio was a rap-rock song in Mongolian, with an accordion squeezing out a rhythm in the background. After two verses, a voice broke over the tune and drawled in accented English:

“Khi everyone, you’re listening to Tatar’s new shit. This song is called ‘Message.’ Check it out.”

There were eight people at the Steppe Inne; ten including the two bartenders.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar

Went to the U.S. embassy today on an errand. At the gate, I told the Anglophone Mongolian guard whom I was there to see. “Do you have identification?” he asked, and added, “Are you an American citizen?”

“Yes,” I said quickly and without thinking, and surprised myself with the answer. I think I had forgotten that I hold U.S. citizenship. I have not identified myself that way for a long time.

Walking back to my apartment, in a glance, I saw a unkempt man eating something from a bowl with a spoon. As I walked past him, I looked again. He did not hold a bowl, but the hairless, discolored, weathered skull of a dog, and with a tiny metal teaspoon, he was spooning out and eating the remnants of the interior of the skull.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Mongolia, Khentii

Was Jon's birthday, and a number of us went out to the Kherlen River for the weekend.

On the way, saw something I hadn't seen before. A rolled, smashed car set up on a brick pedestal beside the highway, with a sign on each side of the pedestal reading: “KHURD = UKHEL”.


Friday, June 29, 2007

Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar

Jack Weatherford is in town. Had lunch today with him and some other people, including two young Mongolian women whom I had not met before.

Talking with one of the young women, she asked me:

“Why do you live in Mongolia?”

“This is a nice nation, nice people.”

“I think America is nice.”

“It’s okay.”

“Mongolia is bad, dirty,” she said.

I never know what to say to that.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar

Rained almost all day yesterday. Nara came by the office with the next translated section of The Steppe. Jon came by after his work ended. Later, Burmaa and Tsendee came by and laughed at me. I had gotten drunk on wine.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar

A dust storm blew all day yesterday and made the sky gray.

Went to Burmaa and Tsendee's ger shop. With five people, helped twist the toono of the ger.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar

Met Odbaatar at the History Museum today. Hadn't seen him for a while. He just got back from a trip to Germany not long ago.

We went to the cafe in the basement of the museum and drank beer. The cafe was full. It is usually full.

Odbaatar explained:
"Yes. It is because here the beer is cheap."

He continued:
"In Germany, the beer is very good."

He finished:
"There was cheap beer also in Germany, but I do not know why it was cheap, because it was very good."

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Mongolia, Bayankhongor

Went to Bayankhongor aimag to visit Martin and Jonathan and Mongon at the new gold mine. Rode down with Yousaf in his Land Cruiser. Saw a ninja settlement of hundreds of gers spread over the bleak Gobi hills, and the ninja miners scrabbling in the pits.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Mongolia, Khentii

Spent the weekend at Jon’s girlfriend Aagii’s folks’ place out on the Kherlen River on the border between Khentii and Tov aimags.

On the drive out, saw the new giant metal Chinggis statue for the first time. On the drive back, saw it for the second time.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar

Went to Chinggis Khaan University today and met with Lkhagvasuren. With some teachers, we went out to lunch at Aura.

I had been to Aura once before with Lkhagvasuren. This time, the restaurant was almost full, and we went up to the second floor.

The second floor is more of a bar, with booths and low tables and some kind of decor. There are dolphins in bas-relief on the walls and seagulls in bas-relief on the ceiling. A thangka like mine hangs behind the bar.

Lkhagvasuren saw “American fried chicken” on the menu and naturally ordered it for me.

I had picked up a sniffle walking from my apartment to the university in the gray Ulaanbaatar air. Lkhagvasuren ordered vodka all around and told me to drink it for my nose. “Sto gram,” he said, speaking Russian to me. One hundred grams. “Drink, Radnaa.”

“That’s Russian medicine,” I said.

“It is medicine,” he said. “We are all the same, Russian, Mongolian, American. We all have two eyes, two ears, one nose. Medicine works the same.”

He also ordered soup for my nose. “You must drink the vodka and then eat the soup immediately after.” The soup was delicious—garlic, pepper, cabbage, potatoes, and tender meat. Lkhagvasuren clapped me on the shoulder, “It is horsemeat, it is healthy.”

The “American fried chicken” was a breaded chicken fillet, and it also was delicious.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Mongolia, Zuun Mod

Rode along with Marc and a gang of people on a Sunday drive to a couple small towns near UB. Driving, we could see the snow coming over the mountains. Ended up in Zuun Mod, the first time I've been there. Zuun Mod is a nice little town -- a big park, trees, a square, a downtown. Got hit with a snowstorm. It got cold.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar

Went to Ulemj’s birthday party last night at some Korean restaurant, nice restaurant. There were a lot of people there. Got to see Tulga, hadn’t seen him for a long while. Ended up at Zona, drinking and singing. Got back in at 06:00.

Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar

On Sunday, went to Zaya’s holiday production at her tsetserleg (an abridgement of “khuukhdiin tsetserleg,” which is literally: “child garden”; used as “kindergarten,” which is literally: “child garden”).

Poor little kids, being forced to sing and dance for old people’s amusement.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar

I stepped out to go to the Turkish place for some kebab at about 19:00. Crossing Peace Avenue, as I do every day, I was suddenly dazzled by the city: the sidewalks full of people, the streets full of cars, the buildings lit with store signs and billboards, and spotlights sweeping the sky off to the south.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar

Here’s an account of my day, which was fairly eventful.

Had an interesting meeting with Lkhagvasuren. Through the weight of his reputation and his impressive contacts, he has secured funding from the American Embassy for an ambitious archaeological preservation project concerning sites throughout Ulaanbaatar and Tov aimag. So I’m connected to another project for next summer, in this case as “field archaeological advisor.” Fortunately, I have been well-trained and know just what to do: as Prof. Michlovic said at the start of my field school so many years ago, “You guys’ job will be to move the dirt; my job will be to sit in the shade and drink gin-and-tonics.”

I stopped in at the law office. Tsendee asked me about the book I’m working on. I gave her the one-line pitch: “it is a philosophical novel about a man who lives alone in the steppe, fighting and eating mythical monsters.” She asked if I knew about Dalan Tav, a cemetery in the ger districts. Up until the 1960s, the bodies of deceased people were taken into remote areas and left exposed to return to nature quickly, similar to Tibetan practices. In the ’60s, they started interring bodies at Dalan Tav. The cemetery is entirely surrounded by gers now. She said I should go there and talk to people. She said they tell countless ghost stories.

While I was at the office, in came a Russian couple. Standing behind a partition with Jon, in full earshot of the front desk, he asked me if I could swear in Russian. “Of course.” – “Teach me some.” – “Not right now.”

The Russians were actually russophones from Kazakhstan. “Where is Kazakhstan?” Martin asked comically. “It’s right next door.” Which is accurate, though thousands of kilometers separate the capital cities of Ulaanbaatar and Almaty. They spoke of Kazakhstan as reverentially as people here speak of Mongolia. I have only ever heard good things about Kazakhstan. I would like to visit Almaty soon. It is a diverse city, with a Russian population of up to thirty percent of the total and significant populations of Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Kyrgyz, as well as the slim majority of Kazakhs. Kazakhstan is presently in the news in the West through the film Borat, which apparently depicts Kazakhstan negatively yet in such an over-the-top manner that the depiction is impossible to believe. The Kazakhstan government bought expensive ad space in the West to try to counter the film’s portrayal. In an article about the affair, it was mentioned that within one week of the movie’s opening, British travel agencies booked out all of their tours to Kazakhstan for next year.

Later, I noticed a new sign across the street from the Chinggis Khaan Hotel: “American Cafe.” I stuck my head in the door and asked if they had hamburgers. No. “How can an American cafe not have hamburgers!” I said, and they laughed. So I stepped inside and sampled their khar shol, which was above average. The Korean pop music they were playing on the stereo had an ’80s vibe, but they eventually put on some khoomii.

There were Foster’s Beer napkin holders on the tables, complete with blue silhouettes of Australia. Of course, they did not carry Foster’s Beer because Foster’s Beer is currently unavailable in Mongolia. The napkin holders are puzzling and I will have to mention them to Martin, because he still holds the exclusive license for Foster’s in Mongolia.

I tried to visit Marc and Saraa, but they weren’t home. As I was standing outside the security-controlled door to their building punching their number into the keypad, a young man came out. He saw me and immediately introduced himself, shook my hand, asked where I was from. His name was Purevdorj. He asked if we could speak in English. He told me that he is going to India next month to study, and he needs to improve his English. He is going to study some form of Buddhist meditation, I forget which one, I’m not familiar with them all. We talked for a bit. He lives on the first floor of Marc and Saraa’s building. He said that he used to study Buddhism in Tibet and that he speaks Tibetan, but that’s no good to him now because they speak English in India. Of course, his English was more than passable. He told me to drop by sometime to eat and speak English.

Walking home as it was dark and snowing, I passed Sukhbaatar Square. I saw that the new Chinggis monument is open, so I checked it out. I haven’t liked that the Chinggis statue is way out of scale to the other figures in the monument, but when I got up close to it, it was pretty awe-inspiring. Still, I think the best components of the monument are the mounted warriors flanking Chinggis. I was able to see now that the one on the right is carrying an enormous bevy of arrows – I have never seen so many arrows on a person, as a statue, in a picture, anywhere. I tried to count the arrows and I couldn’t because the shafts are so many that I could not clearly distinguish one from its neighbors, and when I changed position just slightly, new shafts would appear and others would disappear. The figure on the right is carrying far fewer arrows in his quiver and, interestingly, a war mace in his right hand. Both figures are wearing heavy armor. So, the monument is kind of cool, but I still don’t like to even think about it; I’m certain I will never agree with the decision to spend millions of dollars on it before investing in the transport, sanitation, and water systems.

Passing Chez Bernard, I stopped in and flirted with Tuya. I told her that I had just seen the “Tom Chinggis” (Big Chinggis) monument. “You just saw it?” she said. “It’s been open for a month.”

I took my dinner at the Turkish restaurant across from my flat. They had one of the Pierce Brosnan -as- James Bond movies on the tele. As I walked in the door, the first thing that flashed on the screen was the location identifier: “Kazakhstan, Central Asia.”

I just noticed that today is December 7th.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar

Went over to Burmaa's last night. It was her daughter's fifth birthday. Burmaa lives in a one-room apartment with her daughter and two younger sisters, in addition to another younger sister who just had a baby a month ago and is staying with them while her man is in the countryside.

Friday, October 6, 2006

Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar

Met up with Ulemj and a couple of his buddies last night. We sat in a bar called "Zona" just north of the Parliament building and drank beer. Got drunk.

Ulemj is one of the first people I met after returning to Mongolia a year and a half ago. He teaches engineering at the Technological University.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar

I miss the bust of Lenin that I had on my desk in Moscow. I could rub his bald head for luck.