Sunday, July 18, 2010

Yak Hunter

A set of definitions:

Yak: (n.)
a large, furry creature which is in and of itself quite harmless though it may look a bit formidable upon first inspection.

to hunt: (v.)
to chase or search for (game or other wild animals) for the purpose of catching or killing.
to pursue with force, hostility, etc., in order to capture
to search for; seek; endeavor to obtain or find

The epic two year quest to hunt a number of yaks has at last come to an end. To pretend that all yak hunting is over would be foolish indeed. Rather, there are some rather old, problematic yaks which have been done away with and replaced with new, more self-chosen ones.

A thank you to all who supported the hunting: suggesting hunting methods, sending hunting supplies, offering new perspectives on the definitions of the words at hand.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Summer in Bayankhongor

***Blatantly stolen from Camus' essay "Summer in Algiers"***

"The loves we share with a city are often secret loves."

"Bayankhongor opens to the sky like a mouth or a wound."

"In Bayankhongor one loves the commonplaces..."

"In Bayankhongor whoever is young and alive finds sanctuary and occasion for triumphs everywhere..."

"But for whoever has lost his youth there is nothing to cling to and nowhere where melancholy can escape itself."

"...places where man can flee his humanity and gently liberate himself from himself."

"...above all, there is the silence of summer evenings."

"Those brief moments when day topples into night must be peopled with secret signs and summons..."

"Everything related to death is either ridiculous or hateful here."

"To feel one's attachment to a certain region, one's love for a certain group of men, toknow that there is always a spot where one's heart will feel at peace - these are many certainties for a single human life. And yet this is not enough. But at certain moments everything yearns for that spiritual home. "Yes, we must go back there - these indeed." Is there anything odd in finding on earth that union that Plotinus longed for?"

"In the evening or after the rain, the whole earth, its womb moist with a seed redolent of bitter almond, rests after having given herself to the sun all summer long. And again that scent hallows the union of man and earthand awakens in us the only really virile love in this world: ephemeral and noble."

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Recent trip to the lovely village of Erdenetsogt proved delightful. Arrived Friday night after surviving a trip in a small yellow Korean bus over rather flooded roads which required the driver and assistants to leave the bus, throw stones into the river, and then drive over this newly created underwater "road". A normally less-than-an-hour drive turned into an approximately 3 hour adventure when the engine overheated and required deep gulps of water from the river that was causing us so much trouble.

The "doorman" who was in charge of managing the rock throwing and engine problems was otherwise occupied about 80% of the time. On either side of me sat some early 20 looking students likely on their way home for the summer from college (in UB?). Said doorman seemed to know these two ladies and wanted to get to know them better. Lots of slapping ensued without serious injury.

Once in Erdenetsogt the movie marathon began: No Country for Old Men, Rashomon, De-Lovely, and The Departed.

Saturday saw Wally, Leilia and I hiking for about three hours in search of a "forest." Turns out that the forest was a collection of approximately 50 or so trees which, in their defense, were able to provide a little shade. They were not able to quench our thirst or hunger...Super Kontik and Tsuivan over pasta noodles ensued upon arrival home (post blister investigation).

Sunday, the day of rest, was reserved for more movies and seeing the sites of the village, namely, the monastery which the Russians failed to destroy back in the day. Here is Wally with his "I'm-not-from-here-that's-why-I'm-standing-in-front-of-your-temple-like-this" pose.

Stayed up most of the night on Sunday distilling water for the epic walk from Erdenetsogt to Bayankhongor. Questions such as "Will we make it there without yak attacks?". "Which path should we take? The valley or mountain one?", and "Will this water distiller ever finish so we can sleep before we have to get up at 6am?" floated through our minds (or so I am arguing).

Day dawned, much coffee was ingested and we were off to Bayankhongor! Our first stop: two youths on horses wondering what in the world we were doing and reminiscing about the previous Erdenetsogt volunteer. It was about 10 am. The "leader" of the pair was already pleasantly buzzed it seemed. Second stop: an ancient jeep stops, doors open, inquisitive faces peer out, "Do you want a ride?" Ha! Need a ride?! Later investigation revealed that at least one of us wanted to take them up on that offer. I will not mention names. You know who you are.

I may have skipped the snack and dinner stops which were requested by...oh, I don't know...There may have been about 4 such stops. And one nap stop. Maybe requested by the aforesaid person...

But finally, after about 7 hours of walking we saw her! Beautiful Bayankhongor. Excited about this view we decided to swim/float down the river much to the continued indifference of the cows and yaks cooling themselves in our floating path...Our Chili and Egg Salad (capitalized!) had acquired a strange smell. Leilia disposed of them to the accompaniment of much rejoicing.

The Big City greeted us by selling us ice cream, eating my ATM card, and providing elderly women to cut us in line at the bank. The legendary Erdenetsogt to Bayankhongor trip: a small victory for Bayankhongor-volunteer-kind.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Two Years Later...

Here is the first informational email I sent from Bayankhongor. These were the days when Yak Hunter wasn't yet a blog...So long ago. Today marks the two year anniversary of my arrival in Mongolia! So: here is the aforementioned email with annotations (in parenthesis) by a soon to be "returned" Peace Corps Volunteer.

"Hello friends!

I am getting settled here in lovely Bayanhongor. And, as you may have guessed from the conspicuous lack of emailing, I have been busy as...a bee. I am teaching about 35 hours a week, on top of figuring out how to live in a ger, and implement/continue some secondary projects... (I have forgotten what it felt like to adjust to being in a ger - now life therein feels comfy).

First: the ger! There was a small scare when my director expressed her concern for my well-being during the winter if I stay in a ger. At first I was a little (ok a lot) insulted. Living in a ger was going to be one of my "I can do anything I want to" kind of projects...But after thinking about it a few days and calling some friends and consulting current ger-dwellers (Mongolian and otherwise) I told my director that I thought she was right, let's look for an apartment... (I am SO glad that I didn't move to an apartment: my host family has helped me through all the tough times these last two years, I wouldn't have them had I moved to an apartment).

Well, my hasha mom (who I had said nothing to, not wanting to ruffle feathers prematurely) had meanwhile ordered her son-in-law to chop down half of the lumber supply in our aimag (province). And she gathered coal...And started starting fires in my ger just about every night...showing me all the little "tricks" that a silly American attempting to live in a ger should know... (Oh Dogoo! My host mom is the best, she still checked in on my fire making this last winter. Our last chat centered around how "skilled" I have become at living in a ger: thanks to her, and school difficulties - she is one of the world's most sympathetic listeners/speakers).

My director calls me into her office one day and tells me that she just paid for a huge amount of lumber and coal at the urgent request of my hasha mom, and therefore I would be living in a ger this winter...Which, in my usual indecisive way, was what I wanted to hear at that point (the wonderful coal fire the night before was so hot I didn't sleep under blankets or in a sleeping bag meanwhile my apartment dwelling friends were freezing their...back ends off). (I had spelling problems, not that they have gone away: hasha should be haashaa).

In other news I now enjoy wearing business casual and even have the obligatory argyle teacher's sweater (which I wear with a huge smile on my face because it is made of camel hair, hilarious!). (Ha! I have totally gone the opposite direction. I wore jeans and a button down the other day only to discover that the director and teachers from UB were coming...Camel hair no longer provokes laughter).

I promise that pictures will come eventually...of the ger, and school, and Bayanhongor in general...

Days are already blurring together here and I have to remind myself once in a while that I am in freakin' Mongolia! What!? Surprising how quickly things get to be just daily life... (I said this SO quickly!? I feel that way times 100 these days. It seems like my life in America was a former incarnation of my current self).

After the first week of school, all the teachers went out to the hodoo (countryside). We were to leave at 1PM and left, in good Mongolian time, around 5PM. Hodoo visits involve driving hours on end into the vast, largely uninhabited countryside in order to cook a giant sheep and get really drunk for at least 2 days in a row...Oh, and eat lots of candy. Needless to say I did a lot of...sleeping. And candy eating. And tried desperately to convince people that I was having a good time (which I wasn't particularly). Lesson learned: avoid hodoo visits or bring lots of reading material...Also, never eat "hiam". Hiam is a strange, sausage like substance which is never fresh. I usually decline invitations to dine on this dish but thought it might be ok for some reason...It wasn't. And a six hour jeep ride (which is packed with 18 people) with a frequently moving bowel and a predisposition to vomiting is something less than pleasant... (Ah, the countryside: doable with family and lots of secret food stashes. The hiam comment makes me wonder why I waited till last September to eat a vegetarian diet...I have convinced my family and day visits to the countryside are fun and promise them delicious deserts upon return to "civilization" where ovens and ice cream abound).

Anyway, plenty of things to keep me busy (in fact, right now I should probably be doing some of them) but I hope that things will calm down a bit as I get used to teaching and my schedule becomes routine. We shall see... (This certainly never ended: always plenty to do these last two years. I wonder how different things would have been if I had lived in a village instead of a province capital, many more books would have been read I think...).

Let me know what you want to hear about (if anything...) and I will address it in the next update... (The time to request is now!).

I hope you are taking care and enjoying yourselves!

I miss you guys! (More so now).

Ciao for now, (Wow, I actually said this).


Saturday, May 29, 2010


Listening to just about every piece that the universe has produced that might contrast with Beethoven’s Opus 101 and Scriabin’s 9th Sonata in preparation for music school auditions. During said effort I ran across Mozart’s a minor sonata. Nathan kindly printed it out for me in UB (at the Peace Corps office – yes, I am that cheap) and brought it back to Bayankhongor.

While I am a fan of the outer movements, it’s really the second movement (the slow movement) that appeals most to me. I have happy memories of playing parts of the second movement during the offering at church on several occasions. It's the main theme that get’s me: a simple arpeggiated ascent followed by a step-wise winding down, finally resolving after a simple and heart-wrenching suspension.

If some or all of that description didn’t make sense we can either (a) blame it on my loss of correct music theory vocabulary after a 3-4 year separation from the likes of Duckett and Boubel or (b) forget about it because only the suspension is important here.

So, suspensions. When you come to the end of a phrase (at least in most music…um…at least in most music before 1900) the composer usually closes on a “good” sounding chord, something that sounds “natural” or “normal”. The suspensions in Mozart’s second movement come right before this “good” chord: the note right before is just a tiny step above what your ear might expect to hear. This causes a certain amount of tension (likely even more so back in Mozart’s day). The tension lasts until the “good” chord comes and resolves the “discord”.

When I was playing through the piece I felt like I could just “sit” on that suspension all day long before finally letting it settle into the resolution. I think I played it about 40 times in a row. Felt so right and appropriate.

Yesterday I checked my email after coming back from the capital and our Close of Service Conference, all the news and necessary replies, all the information to double check and the paperwork to submit threw my brain into a tizzy, or tension if you will. Resolution upon arrival home?

Monday, May 10, 2010

May 8, 2009/2010

Last May our lovely Nomgon mountain looked something like this:We had just finished giving a benefit concert at the theater (Leslie, Nathan, Julia, Dwan, and I). At the time it seemed like a freak accident type of weather event. This year, for better or worse, is different. Here's Nomgon mountain on May 8, 2010:
Similar, right? This year however such snow and accompanying temperatures seem terribly par for the course, with only a few warm days since "Spring" has started. Theoretically I should stop complaining because yesterday and today saw tiny puffy clouds, lots of sun, and T-shirts!

Chatting the other evening about how much everyone has changed since coming here and, being in denial I investigated the matter. Here's my sister Kim and I in April 2008 a little over a month before I came here:And now:Apparently my skin has seen more sun in its short lifespan...

In real news! School is winding down, just a few tests, speaking quizzes, and paperwork to do before summer and all its glorious freedom comes! Summer plans: German, practice (still looking for a Romantic era work that I (a) like and (b) isn't Schubert, let me know if you have any leads!), and eat egregious amounts of ice cream next to the Tui river!

Off to UB next week for a conference about Close of Service...time is short!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cake...from the Master!

Today is an important day here in Bayankhongor: my vegan birthday cake came from UB! The local vegetarian restaurant ordered it for me and is keeping it in their freezer until Saturday (at which time it will be served with kimchi huushuur!). Since going vegetarian last September I have been frequenting this little restaurant often. Often here means nearly every day. For under a dollar I can get 4 huushuur or 6 buuz which usually fills me up! The viability of such an establishment in such a meat friendly place is mostly explained by Miss Ching Hai. Her new age-ish religious movement has spun off a number of businesses including our local little restaurant. Recent additions to the Bayankhongor restaurant are: chick peas, hummus recipe sharing, a variety of beans and tofu, and vegan sausage! Exotic items for such a small isolated place. The restaurant also offers weekly meditation, literature about how being vegetarian is going to put a stop to global warming (?), and mint candies that look like livers...have yet to try those.