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.

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar

statement to the police:

After working at my computer last night until 24:00 midnight and sleeping for a couple of hours, I awoke hungry and went to the 24-hour Zochin Buuz located approximately one-half block from my apartment in Chingeltei duureg, 3-r khoroo. I have dined at this restaurant nearly every day for the past six to eight weeks, occasionally late at night. I left my apartment at approximately 03:00 a.m. It was raining.

Arriving at the restaurant, I noted three Australian males seated together in the front room near the entranceway to the back room, and two or three Mongolians seated in the front room. I walked to my usual table in the back room, decided that it was hot there, and moved to the table next to the door.

From the young male waiter (O.Eyambatav), I ordered my usual meal of goulash and niislii salat [salad], with two Coca-Colas. The meal was soon brought out.

While eating, the Mongolians left the restaurant, leaving only the three Australian males with me as patrons.

Some minutes later, two Mongolian males, in their 20s, medium height, slim, dressed in black, entered the restaurant. They took seats at a table in the front room, behind me. As they sat, one of them said something in a harsh tone in Mongolian that I did not understand, though I heard the word “gadaad” [foreign], and then one of them made a loud banging noise on the table.

Approximately fifteen minutes later, the three Australian males left the restaurant. As they walked down the steps outside the window near my seat, I recognized one of them as an old acquaintance, Sam, and I knocked on the window to get his attention. He stepped back inside and we had a conversation in English that lasted for approximately five minutes. He then left the restaurant.

Some minutes after that, the two Mongolian males got up behind me. One of them passed by my table and left the restaurant. The other one, following the first, stopped at my table. He said something in Mongolian that I did not understand and slammed a steel fork in his right hand onto my table in front of me. Seated, I looked at him and said in Mongolian, “Yasan be, minii duu?” [What happened, my little brother?] He then said, “Eh?” He then quickly said again “Eh?” and leaned his face close to mine. I said nothing. He quickly straightened up and then made two or three feinting lunges at me with his upper body and slammed the fork in his right hand into the table again. I did not respond. He then raised the fork to my face and pushed it into my left cheek. I stood up, and immediately the young female waitress (B.Suvd-Erdene) placed her body between me and the Mongolian male, raising each of her arms to our chests. I heard then two other employees of the restaurant saying things in Mongolian that I did not understand. Then the first Mongolian male came into the restaurant, said to me in English, “Don’t worry,” put his hands on the one who had assaulted me with the fork, pushed him out the door, and followed him out the door of the restaurant.

I gently maneuvered myself around the waitress and went out the door. The first Mongolian male was standing at the top of the steps and the perpetrator was walking on the sidewalk away from the bottom of the steps. The male at the top of the steps looked at me and I said to him in English, “What is your friend’s problem?” He said in English, “It is okay, it is nothing, I am sorry,” and then started walking down the steps. I walked back into the restaurant. As I walked in, the young male waiter (O.Eyambatav) looked at me with a concerned expression and I said in Mongolian, “Zugeer.” [It’s okay.]

I sat again in my seat and finished eating what remained of my meal and drank the last of the Coca-Cola. There was pain in my cheek. The fork with which the perpetrator had assaulted me was lying on my table; it was very bent. I finished eating within a few minutes and left the restaurant.

I went directly to my apartment. It was approximately 04:20 a.m. when I arrived in my apartment. I looked at my cheek in a mirror and saw a red gash. I took ten photographs of my cheek and then cleaned my cheek with soap and water and disinfectant alcohol. I transferred the photographs from my camera to my computer. I then left my apartment and went back to the restaurant to record the names of the young waiter and waitress and preserve the fork.

At the restaurant, B.Suvd-Erdene and O.Eyambatav wrote their names on a sheet of paper for me, and Eyambatav located the fork. It had already been straightened. I asked them to keep the fork in a secure place until the police had been notified.

I then returned to my apartment.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar

Since the city turned off the central heating as scheduled on May 15th, and it snowed the next day, and then it snowed again the following week, here's me at home in my winter deel (lined with sheepskin), in front of a thangka of the Wrathful Deity and a map of Mongolia.

Monday, May 8, 2006

Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar

After days of warming weather, we had an unexpected heavy snowfall, beginning during the night. The snow melted quickly.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar

It wasn't much of a surgery. I don't know why I was expecting it to be a full, cinematic surgery experience like last time. This time, he just sat me down in a chair in the trauma room. He gave me a massive dose of painkiller in the shoulder. I didn't feel anything during the operation. I did pass out right at the beginning. I don't know how long I was out. I woke up and didn't know where I was. I was on the verge of panic, because I couldn't figure out where I was. I wondered if I was dead, then immediately decided that it didn't matter if I was "alive" or "dead," because if I was experiencing consciousness, that was all that mattered, and I am all that exists, and everything that I was seeing was an illusion. Then I finally realized where I was: I was on Earth. And that reassured me. I yet didn't know more than that; whether I was in Mongolia or Australia or Mexico, or in a hospital or my kitchen or on a horse, I didn't know. They were clear thoughts, but they weren't formed with language -- they were like "thought-feelings." Then I realized that the doctor was asking me, "Zugeer uu? Zugeer uu?" And I started mumbling in English, which he doesn't know, "It's okay, it's okay. Fine," and finally, "Zugeer." I was fine after that. It seemed the first pin took no time at all, but maybe I had been passed out for most of it. The second one seemed to take a long time. He had a pliers, and he was pulling and twisting and yanking for ten or fifteen minutes. Eventually got it out, and stitched up the cut. Two stitches. No worries.