My Favorite/Least Favorite Things About Mongolia

Since I’ve been here for over seven months at this point, I figure it’s about time for a rundown of my favorite and least favorite things about Mongolia.

Least Favorite: Spring.
Spring is apparently the ugliest season in Mongolia, and given what I’ve seen of it, I have to agree. Fall and winter were beautiful and sunny, but spring has been grey and depressing with temperatures that can’t make up their minds. At least in winter you could assume it was cold out, but this spring, we’ve had days in the 20s and days in the 60s, frequently back to back. And today it snowed, so, fuck it.

Favorite: The Weather, In All Seasons That Aren’t Spring!
One of my absolute favorite things about this country is how vastly different the weather is from anywhere else I’ve ever lived. Mongolia is called the land of the blue sky for a reason, and out here in Khovd, it almost never rains or snows. Coming from Göttingen, where it rained 322 days out of the year, this is amazing. Of course the cold isn’t exactly a joyful experience, but it’s a lot easier to be upbeat about the -20s when they’re accompanied by sun, sun, and more sun.

Least Favorite: The Food.
Mongolian food, in a word, sucks, and that’s being kind. It’s boiled mean with a side of more boiled meat, garnished with boiled meat. It’s spiced with salt (sometimes), served with chunks of fat (always), and washed down with vodka. It’s awful and gross. The only Mongol food I can more or less deal with is tsuivan, which is flour noodles served with meat (surprised, are you?) and sometimes root vegetables. I pick around the meat and just eat the noodles which, although not always delicious, are at least tolerable and get me full.

As if the food isn’t bad enough, the pastries are so terrible that you could, in theory, go whitewater rafting on them provided you were the size of a doll. No, seriously. We tested it. They float.

Favorite: The Landscapes!
I have said this before and I’ll keep saying it: Mongolia is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, and the land is so wide and inviting, sometimes it feels like I have to bolt my feet to the ground so I don’t wander away forever.

Least Favorite: Students With My Phone Number
Don’t get me wrong, I love my students. And it’s totally cool here for students and teachers to just hang out like they’re not students and teachers. But that makes me uncomfortable, which is why at the beginning of the year, I worked very hard to make sure none of my students had my phone number. They kept asking, and I kept saying no, until that one fateful day when I ran into two of my juniors and asked for their help decoding a text message I’d received. I’d run out of credit, and even though I’d bought credit a hundred times before, they insisted on accompanying me to the store to help me buy it. And when I gave the lady my phone number, they wrote it down. Within two days, I was getting text messages from students that weren’t even mine.

But there’s no explaining that because I come from a culture where there is a certain formality to the teacher-student relationship, it really freaks me out when they text to wish me good-night. So I don’t.

Favorite: Music!
I love Mongolian music, as I’m pretty sure I’ve made clear. I think it’s beautiful and I’m perfectly happy to listen to it for eleven hours straight on long bus rides, that’s how much I love it. I love the traditional instruments (we have already established that I am a morin whore for the morin khuur). I love that everyone knows all the songs. I love that that it’s perfectly acceptable to burst into song, which means that spontaneous sing-a-longs are a thing. I love how musical people are. And best of all, I love that I don’t have to curb my incessant humming because it’s not something people are annoyed by.

Least Favorite: Mongol-Verbing.
Mongol-verbing (v): A thing Mongols do that is distressing.
Mongol-knocking: in which a Mongol pounds on your door for a minimum five, maximum twenty minutes straight, such that you think the building is on fire but it’s actually just someone coming to say hello.
Mongol-jumping: in which a Mongol gets in front of you in line at the supermarket and gets served before you, even if all your stuff was already on the belt, even if the cashier already had your purchases in her hand.
Mongol-mind reading: in which no one tells you anything but they expect you to know anyway. Often followed up by people being mad at you for not knowing the thing they didn’t tell you.

Favorite: Animals!
Camels. Yaks. Horses. Dogs. Cows. Goats. Sheep. Eagles. Reindeer. Wolves. Snow Leopards. Mongolia is full of amazing animals that are endlessly entertaining and fascinating to me, but “Friday” for all the Mongolians. I love that at any point in my day, many of these animals will pop out from behind a building at me. I love that horses are still a completely valid mode of transportation. I love watching six-year-olds herding goats and sheep across the river. I love that cows wander around at will, eat everything, and wake me up on Saturday morning while they moo in the middle of the road and block traffic in both directions. I love horse races. I love that there are festivals devoted to eagles and camels. I love Mongolia’s relationship with animals–they’re not some extra-ordinary in life, they’re just life.

Least Favorite: Drunk People
It comes as no surprise that Mongolia is a country with a nation-wide drinking problem, so drunk people are everywhere. Sometimes they shake your hand and apologize for being drunk. Sometimes they’re trying to punch you. And sometimes they’re fighting like a bear to get into your apartment and it takes three of your biggest male friends (who luckily just happen to be there), to brace the door.

Favorite: The Clothes!
Holy shit I love Mongolian clothes–I think they’re beautiful and fabulous. I love them so much that when my friend gifted me with some fabric and offered to go with me to get a deel made, I got one–which I plan on wearing every day for the rest of my life (not with my Mongol boots, though). And the boots. Must I say more about the boots?

A blurry picture, but you get the idea.
A blurry picture, but you get the idea.

The Verdict: 10/10, would recommend
Sure it’s often frustrating, but the weirdness and the unintentional hilarity and the gorgeousness more than make up for the days I want to pull my hair out. Mongolia is pretty damn awesome. I’m glad I don’t have to spend the rest of my life here–but I’m really happy I get to be here now.


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