Further adventures in Central Mongolia: Tövkhön Khiid

After seeing all the sites in Kharkhorin thrice over, Swiss Friend and I decided to do a day trip to Tövkhön monastery on the recommendation of our ger camp buddies. Gaya, ger camp manager extraordinaire, hooked us up with a relative of hers for a ride, and with surprisingly little fuss or issues, we were off.

But in Mongolia, life isn’t easy for very long, and in our case, it was easy for about an hour before our car got stuck. How stuck, you ask? This stuck.
In a stroke of luck that we made sure to appreciate very, very hard, we got stuck within sight of a few gers that housed an extended family of horse herders. Amazingly, these people also owned a tractor, so we let them get to it while we:

1) Wandered around for two hours looking at the baby horses
2) tried (and then declined) massive bowls of fermented horse milk
3) chased away the cows that wanted to join our picnicDSC01139DSC01140

and 4) climbed mountains

Find the stuck jeep in that picture.

Eventually our car was freed from the mud, an event our driver and rescuers celebrated with various alcoholic beverages, as is only appropriate when you’re about to go drive on cliffs and things.

And then we were off!

Our drive finished at the base of a forest on a hill.

After half an hour of hiking, we reached monastery base camp, or whatever the official name is.

Monastery base camp sold iced tea, vodka, potato chips, and very little else.

Up we go!

The view from the top was…well, it was Mongolia, what do you expect?

Oh, and the monastery was pretty aiite too.

Tövkhön is the one of the oldest monasteries in Mongolia and has stood on this site in one form or another since 1648 when a fourteen-year-old monk looking to build a monastery decided this was a nice spot. You know, as opposed to fighting the Manchus, like every teenager with a head on his shoulders was doing at the time.

But the mountain kept going, so up we went. At one point we had to do some actual rock scaling to get to the top, only to discover the giant sign that said women weren’t allowed on that part of the mountain because insert reason here. In such instances, I like to pretend I’m illiterate.

And then our friend showed up! The day before, we had befriended a Dutch tour guide, so while his group ran around the mountain, we happily hung out with him.

After we got back to the ger camp that night, we discovered Gaya had somehow read our minds and booked us bus tickets back to UB for the next day. So instead of stressing, we packed our bags and spent the rest of the evening chilling with our ger camp buddies and being overwhelmingly happy that we had come to Kharkhorin after all.


More Adventures in Central Mongolia: Kharkhorin

After our absolutely amazing horse trekking trip to some hot springs, Swiss Friend and I decided to check another piece of Central Mongolian awesomeness off our list, this time heading to Kharkhorin in Övörkhangai aimag. Kharkhorin is the site of the ancient Mongol city of Karakorum, which at one point was the capital of the Mongol empire. As a result, every tour bus doing the close-to-Ulaanbaatar route stops here.

We said a legitimately sad goodbye to the absolutely amazing Fairfield Guesthouse in Tsetserleg, and after much struggle, did eventually find the one man in the whole town who would take us to Kharkhorin for the going rate, rather than the going rate x 5 in foreigner tax. That guy also turned out to be an absolutely terrifying driver, so instead of relaxing for four hours, we spent two white-knuckle hours planning our funerals. In our eagerness to get out of the car, we forgot that we had absolutely no idea where we were staying that night, and as a result had him let us out nowhere near…anything.DSC01099
Cue several hours of 1) us wandering around looking for the ger camp we had arbitrarily picked out of Lonely Planet, 2) not finding said ger camp, 3) finding a hotel playing terrible karaoke music that wanted to charge us exorbitant prices, 4) leaving said hotel, 5) me sitting alone on the side of the road throwing rocks at dogs while Swiss Friend tried to (unsuccessfully) find some other ger camp, 6) me eventually remembering that in our trek to the ass-end of nowhere, we had passed a sign in English advertising Gaya’s Guest House, 7) Swiss friend sitting alone on the side of the road throwing rocks at dogs while I trekked back to the sign; 8) prayers to Zeus that the number on the sign would work, 9) talking to the owner of the camp’s 12-year-old daughter whose English was weirdly excellent, and 10) getting picked up by the pre-teen ten minutes later in a cab she had wrangled for us.

That in combination with Kharkhorin’s relatively unspectacular scenery  (Western Mongolia snobs that we are) lead us to initially regret our decision to bother with this godforsaken, ugly, tourist-trap corner of Mongolia. We made a deal: we’d give ourselves 24 hours, and if Kharkhorin continued to suck, we’d jet.
We arrived at the ger camp mid-afternoon-ish, so we were all alone and really not feeling the place. So we went exploring–and discovered some pretty interesting things on our hike. These included:

The skeletal heads of Naadam horse race winners:
A turtle rock, which apparently marked the borders of ancient Karakorum.DSC01106
And a giant rock carved to look like a goat, and by goat I mean penis.
According to the internet, this monument to manhood was put here to remind the monks at the nearby monastery to stay celibate. To me, erecting (ha) a giant statue of a penis to remind you not to use yours sounds less like Buddhism and more like a sex ed class in Clayhatchee, Alabama. What I can say is that right as we were playing on the rock penis, the sun came out, so Swiss Friend and I decided then would be as good a time as any to practice some yoga…because where else are you going to do it?

That evening we headed back to Gaya’s ger camp to eat dinner, get acquainted with Gaya (who turned out to be just as lovely as her daughter), and befriend…everyone who was staying there. After getting off to a bad start, our opinion of Kharkhorin was finally starting to turn around.

The next day we caught a ride down the hill with some ger camp buddies to go explore Erdene Zuu Khiid, the oldest surviving monastery in Mongolia.
It was huge and lovely and neat!DSC01124DSC01119DSC01122
We explored all the temples we were allowed in and may or may not have snuck into a few we weren’t.DSC01116DSC01121
We also got to hang out and listen to some chanting. We had a wonderful day walking around the grounds and making more friends.

Later the afternoon, Swiss Friend and I decided to explore in town, where we made even more friends and convinced some particularly awesome ones–two French women, two French children, and two Mongol dogs they’d picked up in their travels–to come back to Gaya’s with us.
That evening, after having a big group dinner at Gaya’s, Swiss Friend and I roped our ger camp friends into going on a walk with us:
Nothing like travel friends, kids, dogs, and a walk in the Mongol twilight to remind you how amazing your life is.

Yay, Kharkhoriin!

Mongol vs English Thanksgiving: A Photographic Comparison

Last year, I partook in the shower slaughter of a turkey in the Middle of Nowhere, Mongolia. This year, I partook in a fancy catered Thanksgiving dinner in a historical house. Let’s compare!

Last year:
This year:
Last year:
This year:
Last year:
This year:
Last year:
This year:
Last year:
This year:
This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for a lot of things: my job, London, the fabulous people I have met here. But mostly I’m grateful I got to spend ten months being equal parts elated, frustrated, horrified, and endlessly entertained by the complete ridiculousness that is Mongolia. I miss it, and as much fun as English Thanksgiving was, I would go back to Mongol Thanksgiving in a heartbeat. Too many people crammed into my broken living room, our freshly slaughtered turkey cooking in the oven, my friends bringing over all the chairs, plates, and silverware in their respective apartments (and still coming up short), my bathroom reeking of dead bird, and all of us sitting around my shitty table, trading stories no one else in any other country would ever find funny, knowing that more Mongol hilarity is right around the corner.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Gobi Desert, The Good Parts

Alright, so getting physically assaulted in the Gobi by an insane Dutchman isn’t exactly my idea of a good time, but enough good things happened in the desert that I can’t regret going. Here are some of my Gobi highlights!

1) Ger Raising with a Nomadic Family
Most of the families we stayed with tended to park us in a ger and then leave us to our own devices, but our very first family out in the Gobi was so nice that when they asked for our help putting up their extra ger (in which they would presumably put future backpackers and leave them to their own devices), we obliged.
They were much impressed by the fact that I am a ger-raising expert.
So much so that they attempted to hook me up with Mr. Sexyman–herder of goats, drinker of vodka, and proud owner of a motorcycle decorated with teddy bears.
Alas, I lack the language skills to say, “I’d rather not throw my dreams away to wade through goat shit, thanks,” but even if I could actually say that in Mongolian, I doubt the ladies would have taken no for an answer. They had a mission, and that mission was to have me wed within the week. As a result, what was supposed to be a group picture turned into a golden filament from my most elegant hour: one of the ladies trying to make Mr. Sexyman hug me, and me being really, really awkward about it.

2) The White Stupa
Honestly, I have no idea what this is. Is it a canyon? A cliff?
Whatever it was, it was beautiful. Looking at them from the bottom was even more spectacular. If any of you ever find yourselves at the White Stupa, hike down to the bottom, it’s the best part.
I did not mess with these colors, for the record.

3) Yolyn Am, the ice canyon
Deep in the Gobi is a canyon that, despite the fact that it lives in a desert, still stays frozen until sometime in July. Yolyn Am turned out to be spectacular for two reasons. One, canyon:
Two, ice:
Oh and three, hiking.
I mean, really? Stop it, Mongolia. Just stop it.
Yolyn Am was also one of my favorite places because it was the first and only time I stayed in a ger camp with the other tour groups I had befriended along the way. After three days of only the Douchey Dutchman for company, getting to talk and laugh with legitimately cool people made me feel like a real person again.

4) Khongoriin Els, the ginomous sand dunes
Most of the Gobi is scrubby deserty nonsense, but tucked away in one corner are a couple 1000-foot (300-meter) sand dunes.
I didn’t truly grasp just how motherfucking big a thousand feet is until I was standing in front of a thousand-foot dune trying to figure out how I was going to get up it.

Well, one foot at a time, I suppose.
Climbing the dunes was hands-down one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, because for every step I took, I sunk and slid backwards. Halfway up I saw a small group of people standing there watching me, and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if those were my friends from yesterday?” Three-quarters of the way up, they started chanting “TINA! TINA! TINA!” and I smoked the rest of that goddamn dune.
I was an exhausted, sweaty mess, and I ate half my body weight in sand but it tasted like victory.
This was the view of the land behind the sand dune.
This was the view fifteen minutes later, when we realized a massive sandstorm was coming right towards us.
And that’s how I rode out a sand storm at the top of a thousand-foot sand dune. The wind was punching me in the face, I couldn’t see, and I’m pretty sure I ate the other half of my body weight in sand. This time, though, it tasted like badass.
Seriously one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me.

I. Love. Camels.
And even though riding camels through the Gobi is super touristy, I have a hard time caring. Because camels.

In summary:
The desert, I discovered, doesn’t quite do it for me like giant mountains do, but the Gobi has some really, really cool parts. You have to do a lot of driving to get there, but it’s totally worth it. Despite my trip’s bad ending, I’m glad I got to experience southern Mongolia.

There Are, In Fact, Things To Do In Uvs

Last weekend, Swiss Friend, the Elf, and I decided to head over to the nearby province of Uvs to visit a friend. According to Lonely Planet, Uvs is one of the least-visited provinces in Mongolia, and, after visiting, it’s not difficult to see why. It’s hard to get to, it’s far from everything, it’s not a convenient jumping-off point for exploring the Mongolian west, and even if you do make it, there’s not a whole lot to do when you arrive. But with a little courage and a high tolerance for car sickness, you get this:

And this:

And this:

And that alone is worth the price of admission, no?

Our trip to Uvs began with a five-hour bus ride over the worst road that I have yet experienced in Mongolia, and we apparently took the good route.
I have no idea what the “bad” route looks like, but it’s probably lined with Kim Kardashians, and it probably goes to hell

We arrived broken, sore, and carsick, but then we met up with our friend and decided our suicide pact around hour four was perhaps a bit of a hasty decision that would be tabled until the following morning, at which point the committee promptly forgot about it because HOLY SHIT GRASS.
Khovd is where the Gobi meets the Altai Mountains, and while it has much to offer in the way of landscape drama, “green” is not an adjective one usually applies to living in a desert. But Uvs, oh beautiful Uvs, is so green!
After wandering, we checked out the tourist office which, since there are no tourists, also doubles as a classroom/clubhouse. Then we found a restaurant that has inexplicably decided “dictator chic” is in vogue.
HGTV Mongolia either doesn’t exist, or else exists in a form I’m not comfortable watching. It’s probably hosted by a Kardashian.
And then a drunk guy threw rocks at us.

The next day, we hired our friend’s coworker to drive us to the lake. Uvs tourism does not offer a lot of variety, but if you love lamp lake, you will love the bajillion and one lakes in Uvs. We went to the biggest one, fittingly named Uvs Lake, which is apparently not even the nicest of the bajillion and one lakes, but I couldn’t tell you. I loved it. Here are the things we found at Uvs Lake:


And that’s about it. But it was beautiful and peaceful and surprisingly warm. And so shallow, we could walk out hundreds of meters and still never be in deeper than our knees.
After a few hours, we decided we wanted to see some more of area surrounding Uvs, so when our guide offered to show us a special place up in the mountains, we were all about it. We picked up our friend as soon as he got out of work and headed out.
I watched a thunderstorm break on the mountains, and it was awesome.
We all jumped out of the car at the first stop, thinking it was our end destination. It wasn’t, but we scattered anyway and our poor driver had to round us all back up from our respective mountains.


Our actual destination was way, way up in the mountains. We drove 5 miles an hour up rock inclines to get there, but when we finally did, we found Pippi Longstocking’s secret Mongol hideout:
I may have chopped off all my hair, but it’s still long enough for Pippi braids.
On a completely unrelated note, our driver really liked us.
On our way back down, we found a rainbow! And desperately hoped it was a job rainbow and not, like, a continued unemployment rainbow, or worse, a you-have-to-back-to-school-again rainbow.
We also briefly stopped at the ger of our driver’s uncle, who is a herder. A very unhappy sheep was tied up out front. It got even more unhappy when they tied its legs together and put it in the trunk of the car, as you do.
The next day, Swiss Friend and I decided we needed to climb another mountain, so we did. Technically there were stairs we were supposed to take, but stairs are for babies (not literally) and we go up the side.

The verdict: Uvs City is lovely (for a Mongolian town, at any rate), and the landscape is beautiful. But if you want to be one of the handful of tourists per year who sees Uvs, hire a car and driver so you can get out of town because that’s where the real awesomeness is.

That Time I Explained Thanksgiving To A Shaman Possessed by the Spirit of his Great-Grandfather

There’s my Mongol Bucket List, which includes things like Camel Fest (check), Eagle Fest (check), and seeing the Gobi Desert (soon to be checked). And then there’s my Secret Mongol Bucket List. Secret Mongol Bucket List contains only one thing–seeing a shaman. The reason it’s on my Secret Mongol Bucket List is because I don’t feel super comfortable asking for it. Luckily Swiss Friend has no such qualms, because today she texted one of our Mongolian friends and was like, “Yo, we want to see a shaman.” And Mongol Friend was like “Tonight, we dine in hell! And/or go see shaman, or whatever.”

Seeing the shaman required some pre-game spiritual cleansing, and by spiritual cleansing I mean buying copious amounts of vodka, milk, and cigarettes. When we first walked into the ger, it was a bit underwhelming. I mean, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was expecting, but it wasn’t small children tearing around while a badly overdubbed Cars played in the background. Then the shaman walked in, and he was the definition of shaman: old, gnarled, grizzly, vaguely terrifying. Except then he sat on the bed and the actual shaman walked in, and the actual shaman couldn’t have been more than like, thirty. Luckily shamanism is not a medal they give you when you hit the life-expectancy mark.

With the help of his sidekick, the shaman lit some candles, poured some things into other things, and then got dressed in a giant, elaborate deel that took him from on the small side to hulking. On came the blindfold, then the mask, which was actually really creepy–it had eyes way up where his forehead should have been and long black strings that hung down and covered his entire face. Finally came the accessories–the whips, bells, sticks–which culminated in placing a giant drum into the shaman’s hands, and then the party got started.

As the shaman beat his drum to kick his spirit out of his body and invite another one in (or something along those lines), he started twitching, then kind of freaking out, and then he stood up, spun around, yelled, and fell down to the ground where he snuffled around like an animal while I attempted to understand what the actual fuck was happening.

And that’s how we got acquainted with Spirit Number 1, who pulled himself off the ground and arranged himself piously on a piece of blanket before inviting us down to talk to him. Spirit Number 1 was three hundred years old, or thereabouts–can’t be sure, as all our information came through multiple filters, because apparently the spirits speak an archaic Mongolian that requires translation first into modern Mongolian by the sidekick and then into English by our friend. So I introduced myself and the ghost laughed at me, which pretty much sums up my life in this country. After getting through the pleasantries, we asked our questions (jobs? please? jobs) and got a whole host of super useful life advice in return like, “do what you think is right,” “what your choice is, make that choice,” “everything is fine,” and “think good thoughts,” which is about when I decided Spirit Number 1 was actually the ghost of Mr. Miyagi. Mr. Miyagi also claims to have healed my knee, but my knee either hasn’t gotten, or couldn’t read, the memo.

Oh, and in case you were wondering what the shaman does with all that milk and vodka, the answer is he drinks it. While shamaning. His sidekick also puts the cigarettes vertical in this really long pipe so he can smoke from under his mask without setting his head on fire. It’s a good system.

Eventually Mr. Miyagi excused himself and we retreated to the side of the ger to watch the shaman drum the spirit out of his body. At that point we thought we were done, but it turns out Mr. Miyagi was just the opening act for Spirit Number 2, aka Great-Grandpa.

Great-Grandpa, we discovered, was a pretty epic Chatty Cathy whose giggles, we were lead to assume, had nothing to do with the fact that his physical host had by that point consumed three-quarters of a bottle of vodka by itself. Great-Grandpa wanted to know all about us–our names (laugh laugh), our ages, where we were from, what brought us to Mongolia, and why our noses are so big because it’s not a party without someone’s grandpa being drunk and vaguely racist. Then came questions: Dear Grandpa, I can’t a job to save my life. Don’t worry, my dear child, you won’t have to wait long. Grandpa then proclaimed my soul healthy and sent me to the corner so he could make Swiss Friend send her bad thoughts into a cup because her metaphorical/metaphysical Job Door was closed, or something.

In return for opening the job door, Great Grandpa asked for a song, so we sang him one. And then: “Great-Grandpa wants to know why no husband, no children.” So if you were wondering whether it’s possible to speak to any Mongolians ever without getting asked the Eternal Question, it isn’t. Seriously. Even the dead ones want to know what’s wrong with you, you unmarried witch.

We explained to Great-Grandpa that in Europe, it’s totally cool not to have a husband at 27, which sparked a very long discussion in which Great-Grandpa wanted to know everything about Europe. He was also perfectly happy to wax at length about ancient Mongol hobbies that, from what we gathered, began at “war” and ended at “kidnapping women,” so there was that. He told us all about how Mongolia is the best country ever, and spirits in the sky, and how Mongolia is the best country ever, and have we ever seen a bear, and how Mongolia is the best country ever, and do you like vodka because I like vodka, and how Mongolia is the best country ever, and how do you say “father” in German, and do you have holidays like Mongolian New Year from the Best Country Ever?

And that’s how I got to explain the concept of Thanksgiving to a shaman possessed by the spirit of his great-grandfather while one or both of them was heavily intoxicated. Unfortunately, Great-Grandpa took issue with the fact that Thanksgiving requires eating a sky animal, which lead to a very circular debate across multiple languages and planes of existence concerning whether turkeys can be classified as “sky animals” if they can barely fly enough to get themselves out of the road before you run them over.

And yes, we asked Great-Grandpa about husbands. We were out of questions and he was very insistent we come up with more so we were like, “Uh…boys?” According to Great-Grandpa, Swiss Friend gets a man in 4-5 years. Oh, yeah, Tina, you too. Very nice. Think about want many children so have many children. Think good thoughts. Maybe I get higher shaman level because talk to people from different cultures. If you come back in nine days, I will make it rain only on this ger.

All in all, the visit to the shaman lasted three super interesting, highly entertaining, hours. We got to see a super cool side of Mongolian life that I didn’t think was in the cards, and possibly helped a shaman level up in Shaman WoW while we were at it. I am, and ever shall remain, a cynic, but: think good thoughts. It’s what Great-Grandpa would have wanted.

Mongol Weekend to 11

This is my student.
On top of being a really good student, she is also an awesome person. And she comes from a family of herders in a nearby village, so when she offered to take us home with her for a weekend, Swiss Friend and I were like YES. But in German, so JA.

Our trip began with a five-hour bus ride into the countryside, in which I entertained the entire car by only knowing one Mongolian song which I enthusiastically sang every time the CD we were listening to repeated itself (approx six times). We thought we we had made it when we pulled into her family’s yard in the village, but as it turns out, we hadn’t. In the summer, the herders take the animals out to better pastures, and said pasture took another 45 minutes to reach by car. We pulled up to the lone ger at eleven pm and promptly fell asleep. We woke up to this:
I mean, wut?
If this wasn’t a picture of me in my obnoxious pink fleece standing by their ger, I would have a hard time believing this happened. BECAUSE LOOK AT WHERE WE ARE.

Saturday started out a little rainy, so we spent the morning hanging out and getting to know her family. She has three brothers who are super nice and her mom I just wanted to hug forever. Her dad was really funny and got a kick out of playing my ukulele.
And this is her sister, who was our constant companion the entire weekend.
She dragged us around and kept up a constant stream of chatter, but didn’t seem to be bothered at all by the fact that we had no idea what she was saying. I think she thought we were simple.
At some point, this happened.
Yes that is a small child in a deel holding a baby goat. It doesn’t get more Mongolian than that.

By Saturday afternoon the rain had cleared up, so her dad took us up into the mountains to explore a bit.
According to local legend, khöömi throat singing comes from this river. I think this is what the rock says, but I couldn’t tell you for sure.
The view was just aiite, I guess.
So aiite that we had to stop the car so Swiss Friend and I could get out and continue staring. At this point, it wasn’t just the five-year-old who thought we were simple.

After getting back to the ger, Swiss Friend and I wandered around with the small child in tow. Or, rather, the small child wandered with us in tow. At one point the child handed me a baby goat.
Then I realized said baby goat still had its umbilical cord attached so I gave it back to its mom and forcibly dragged the child over to the goats that were more than just, like, two days old.
This goat in particular got hauled around and loved every second of it.

This goat, however, is Todd.
Todd desperately wanted to come inside, so he spent most of Saturday parked in front of the ger, waiting for his opportunity. When someone left the door open, he jumped inside and lead the brothers on a merry chase as he dived behind furniture and under beds. You wouldn’t think it would be hard to catch a baby goat not once, not twice, but three times in a round hut ten feet across, but that just goes to show you’ve never tried.

Oh, Todd. You weirdo.

We finished Saturday by singing to goats, collecting dung for the fire, and–my personal favorite–a horse race. My students’ brothers decided to race their horses to see which one they would enter into the race at Naadam, and the rest of us piled into the car to speed alongside the galloping horses.

The winner!
The winner!

And then I milked a goat.

Sunday was a very relaxed day–we wandered around, ate lunch, and I milked another goat, which Mongol Mom said I did “very well.” At some point we played a game with painted seashells and thumb tacks that involve counting, and I understood it not at all.
Despite the fact that it took me 20 minutes to make it onto the board, my team (i.e., me and a brother) still managed to win. I just don’t understand how because numbers.
After lunch, we drove back to the village and walked around a bit before catching a ride back to Khovd.
While we were waiting for our ride, my student taught us some Mongol dance steps. When we attempted them, she laughed so hard so had to sit down, so there was that. On the ride back we had packed 18 people and their stuff into a van meant for eleven, but that didn’t stop the van from demanding a song from us–good thing ukes are compact. We played and sang and they laughed, so that’s the last time I sing American folk songs in an overcrowded van full of Mongols.

And that was my most Mongol of Mongol weekends. I’d done the ger weekend thing, but never with an actual herding family and final verdict: it was awesome. Definitely one of the coolest and most memorable things I’ve done in Mongolia.

Thanks, family!

Dude, We’re Getting a Deel

There are some things that Mongolia does really, really well. Landscapes, for example. Baby animals. Music. But up there at the top of that list is clothing, which I have made no secret about loving from Day 1.

The Mongol deel is much more attractive than the shitty computer brand that it’s pronounced like. It’s a long traditional jacket that’s been around for a really long time, and depending on the material you make it out of/how many baby lambs you line it with, it can be ridiculously warm. Features include the traditional collar, the clasps, and belt (silk, or leather with a big-ass belt bucket). It doesn’t have pockets, but the belt basically turns the entire top half of your outfit into one giant bag that people pull shit out of, i.e., cookies, snuff, or, just when you think the party is almost over, multiple bottles of vodka.

The deel ranges from the simple and utilitarian, as is frequently worn on a daily basis by herders:

Picture by Matteo Allegro, http://www.privatephotoreview.com/2013/12/mongolian-nomad-herders/
Picture by Matteo Allegro,

To the slightly more involved:
Thanks, Pinterest
Thanks, Pinterest

To the fiendishly ornate:

Picture from http://english.news.mn/content/151133.shtml
Picture from http://english.news.mn/content/151133.shtml

That’s her hair, people.

FUN FACT. Natalie Portman’s get-up in the Star Wars Episodes 1-3 was inspired by the Mongol deel.

Getting a deel has been on our respective list of priorities since we got here. But since dressing like that lady on the left was too much cultural appropriation for our taste and utilitarian deels are a little too…utilitarian… my friend and I elected to get deel-inspired dresses made–the kind that make you go “That girl is seriously overdressed for that frappucino,” as opposed to “That girl has milked a herd of cows, killed two sheep, and had a baby, all before noon.”

So we roped a Mongolian friend of ours into helping us, and behold, our (sort-of) deels!
Deel 1: The Elegant Rain Cloud
Deel 1 features lovely silk reminiscent of a really classy thunderstorm, and some trim pulled out of the air by seamstress.
Deel 1 was a bit of a fight–the Mongolians have a pretty rigid idea of the kind of deel require, and anything outside that realm you have to fight for, but Swiss Friend fought and wound up with this piece of loveliness.

Deel 2: The Midnight Masochist
So named because it is not the silkiest of silks, but whatever, pretty dress.
Deel 2 was the result of a Mongolian friend who gifted me with the silk at Tsaagan Sar and helped me get this made. Said Mongol friend isn’t super happy with the seamstress we went to that time, but if this dress has something wrong with it, I can’t tell. I think it’s awesome.

Deel 3: The Fallen Soldier
This used to be a deel, but Swiss Friend decided she didn’t like the skirt so she chopped it off and turned the whole thing into a jacket.
The silk has pears and swords and flowers, because obviously.

Deel 4: The Pink Monstrosity
After being told in no uncertain terms that my sweetheart neckline was a no-go as a result of my “too-small tits,” I wound up with this monstrosity.
It’s got the color scheme of a four-year-old girl watching Cinderella and tripping balls, but I LOVE IT.

So, there you go! If you were getting a deel, would you go the raincloud or the monstrosity route?

We’re On A Boat, And Other Stories

Our Russian friends, on top of being awesome and hilarious and ridiculously fun, are also fabulous because they get out of town on a regular basis and always invite us along.
Most recently they invited us for a day of picnicking on the lake with some Mongolian friends of theirs.
One of the first things we did upon arrival was set up shop.
And then get the hell out of there and go wandering. We discovered that a nearby herder had ridiculous amounts of baby animals, so that occupied us for a good 45 minutes.
He also had a baby human who did not understand why we found the baby animals so entertaining.
On our way back to the lake, we stumbled across a horse lying on the ground with its legs tied together.
I initially thought it was a horse for slaughter, but then we discovered that the Mongolian equivalent of “coming back for your car later” is “parking your horse on the ground and tying it up.” This was perplexing, but ultimately unsurprising.
Then we wandered back because there was some talk of a boat, which I initially ignored on the grounds that the Mongols are not exactly known for their seafaring ways. But then we got there and there was, actually, a boat.
At full throttle it was still slower than if you were rowing, but who cares, boat.
We putted around the lake for an hour and disturbed a lot of animal life.
Eventually we got kicked out of the boat and the Mongolians disappeared. While we were waiting for them to come back, we took naps, wandered around, and befriended cows.
When the Mongolians finally did appear almost two hours later, it was with an enormous bag of goose eggs from a metrick fuckton of nests they’d robbed. If there are no geese this year on Khar Us Nuur, you know why.
They then attempted to hardboil these goose eggs and serve them with Kazakh-style horse meat. The meat was good, the eggs were…weird. They tasted like lake, for starters. And the eggs whites were jelly, which was odd.
At this point I thought we were going home, but then in typical Mongol fashion, right when you think the party is winding down, someone pulls out a gun.
Which, as it turns out, I am so bad at that as soon as I fired it all the Mongolians started laughing.


Later, after the gun had been put away, we wandered back over to the herder to investigate why his daughter was screaming her head off. Turns out unhappy goats being combed sound just like people.
And then, there was this horse. And this herder, going, “Does anyone want to ride this horse?”
We didn’t do more than trot in circles while a dog attempted to herd us back to the house, but whatever, rode horse.

Mongol boat day for the win!

Adventures in the Countryside, Part II: Climbing Things

A few weeks ago, our Russian friend decided to celebrate his birthday by taking us all out of town for a picnic.
It was a pretty cloudy spring day, but that didn’t stop is from having a lot of fun. At some point I got roped into a game with a bunch of teenagers that involved passing a volleyball back at forth around a circle and if you messed up (which I did, frequently), you had to sit in the middle and dodge volleyballs being pelted at your head by excitable sixteen-year-olds. That was fun.

It was really, really windy, so our little fire required some serious protecting.
And when various pieces of meat flew off the makeshift grill, I entertained myself by throwing them up in the air and watching the falcons swoop down and catch them. Which as silly as it sounds was ridiculously awesome and totally made my week.
I roped Other English Teacher and our Inner Mongolian friend into hiking up the mountain with me. This required a lot of scrambling up giant rocks and precariously wedging ourselves into gaps in the boulders, and then at one point I misjudged a rock and started to slowly slide down the cliff face towards the 500 foot drop. But then Other English Teacher saved me and I’m fine, mom, really.
The top was WINDY!
And the view, as always, was lovely.
We climbed down just in time to eat chicken and watch the sun set.

In the spirit of more lovely views, Other English Teacher and I recently decided to attempt the really big mountain on the other side of the river as our last hiking expedition before he went home. We never actually made it to where we were trying to go–every time we got to what we thought was the top of the mountain, we realized we were standing on a smaller peak behind the actual mountain. But it was still gorgeous. And hot. And gorgeous. Whatever, have a lot of pictures.

Stay tuned for the next episode of Kulturschock!, in which we commit genocide against geese.