Epic Stoicism

By Neil Pederson

Ok, picture is worth 1000 words, correct? Time between trips is short, so I’ll come up with at least 10k words pictorially. It was a great trip, though it started with a strong cold, a head injury, an impending winter storm that threatened to shut down the country that morphed into an alteration of plans, getting lost for a bit from all the ninja roads [illegal miners] and then a stuck truck [see pix below]. However, traditional medicine for the head injury, incredible hospitality from Sanaa’s family again [this pic is from Summer 2009], some wet feet, but no snow storm, Eternal Blue Sky, old-growth forest with some incredible fire scars, mission accomplished, a healthier head and sinus system, a scenic ride back to the capitol and the best pizza in Mongolia in Darkhan? Really?

I have a post in mind based on Emerging, but no time for that at this time.

So, two quick great Mongolian interactions from today:

-       at my favorite breakfast joint and free wireless location [where I am posting this – Café Amsterdam], the waitress tried to play a small joke on me. Obviously having been there almost every day when in town and trying to say hello, thank you and goodbye in Mongolian each time possible helped create this situation, but the experience was a bit unusual for interaction with a Mongolian ‘stranger’ [Mongolians are much like New Englanders, short, cool and helpful only as needed at first then, when they trust/like you, very, very warm]. When I went to pay, she said, “tomato soup, pastry, coke and a milkshake?” I said, “teem”. Then I said the Mongolian version of ‘yeah’, “tcho” [blowing air out stiffly] and then stated I even knew the subtleties of Mongolian and proceeded to say the 3-4 ways you can say yes & yeah. She adds up the bill, holds it to her chest and says, “Arav hoyle tao’ick”, though I am not sure of the spelling of anything save Arav. I tried to backpedal and say that I knew little Mongolian to which she replied, “Arav hoyle tao’ick” and smiled. Smiling by a Mongolian you do not know is a bit unusual, as you will see in the posed photos of Mongolian children below. Mongolians can be so stoic and expressionless at times it borders on nervy. I then asked her to repeat it, which she did. I then started thinking and almost figured it out. I asked her to repeat again, which she did more slowly. I then stuttered, “twelve-thousand, five hundred” to which she replied with wide eyes, a wider smile and nodding head and then sped off. When she returned, she apologized, “ooch la raa, it was 11,500”, to which I replied, “oh, I was right and you were wrong!!” The wait staff smiled and laughed and we all said goodbye, me in Mongolian, they in English as we left.

-       we went for a late dinner tonight at the Great Khan Irish Pub. As we were finishing up, we asked if there would be a band tonight; we saw a drum kit on stage. The waiter said yes. So, we decided to stick around to see the band called The Lemons. They set up quickly and launched into their set. It was interesting – sounded like poppy, British/American rock from this decade. The guitarist/singer has a good voice like one of these newer poppy rock bands. The rhythms were very familiar. The rhythm guitarist wore a corduroy sports coat, jeans and glasses close to horned rim. The bassist stood in the back corner, came out to utter some background vocals and scurried to back to his corner; he laid down some tasty bass lines, though. The singer was short, skinny, had a speckled, silver guitar and wore full-on sunglasses [“I wear my sunglasses at night”].

Ashley commented he was the skinniest Mongolian she had seen yet. I then launched into my “you know why skinny white boys play the guitar or pick up two turntables and a microphone, right?” lecture from a few classes I’ve taught. Well, you know why, right? A guitar or two turntables and a microphone are simply male plumage. Apparently it is completely universal – see here, here, here and here.

The singer was the only band member whose teeth we saw. In fact, the band was so expressionless that I imagine that when they practice in someone’s basement or room, they would have acted exactly the same – looking at each other, their feet or instruments; we were hardly there. It is unfortunate that they didn’t smile because, until the proliferation of cheap sugar here, Mongolians had the straightest and whitest teeth in the world [it is a scientific fact – see here and here]. In fact, the drummer, black long-sleeve shirt and long black hair in a ponytail, never broke a smile and only marginally opened his mouth. And, if you know rock-n-roll, you know drummers are ranked, on average, the hammiest member of a band.

[UPDATE: The Lemons are growing on me, especially after picking up their latest CD. See them live here. But, they make some pretty sweet videos. Check ‘em here and here – the second one really captures the essence of Ulaanbaatar and the Lemons themselves].

BTW, two weeks ago I got to see Altan Urag, my favorite Mongolian band, live at another pub. They showed up late – they are obviously rock stars – and put on a solid, though rushed set; they played Blue Mark – their big hit, second. They really rock. It was a Top Ten night. Oh, and the Altan Urag drummer? She only started to curl her lips in a way that might resemble a smile when her 6 male groupies pounded their table in rhythm with her to their classic song RaaKH II. Otherwise, she was expressionless.

Epic Stoicism!

now to the pix:

Ashley praying to the tree gods, “please do not be rotten”

i actually do some field work

cool birch forest with pit & mound topography and soil movement, as reflected in this birch

stuck truck

we almost sawed the truck in half to free it

we were actually stuck on a 15′ log buried in the muck and deep vegetation. it had 4 fire scars, too!

old-growth Scots pine-hardwood forest in the northern Khenti Uul’s

large Nars filled the forest

old-growth with massive fire scars

Bayaraa & Ashley in front of a massive fire scar

really – the image didn’t stitch nicely, but you can see the scar is ~ 20′ tall!

see, i do do some fieldwork

twin fire scared trees – how tall are the scars, you ask?

tall – Ashley is 5’10″?

hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to the birch forest we go

the larger, older?, birch trees have mesmerizing bark

see! this ain’t 1/2 of it, either

the forest had some fine poplars, like aspen. word is that this might be a new species, genetic analysis pending.

speaking of new species, we were introduced to the Mongolian cherry tree – was tart’ish, but delish [the teeth of Sanaa's nephew and nieces were temporarily stained b/c they were eating so much of it]

the equinox hadn’t started yet, but autumn has arrived

even the children are stoic in front of the camera – i tried so hard to get them to smile. they did not budge.

big brother was thrilled to bring his sister to her first day of school. he was up two hours early to take care of her [their father is in the Gobi working for a mining company, gone 2-3 months at a time, while their mother took a cab, car and then train to China for a 4 day trip to buy supplies for their store. 3 of the 4 days is travel]

preparations for winter were underway

the re-ignition of the ag industry in Mongolia has been amazing. the Soviets nearly killed this industry. in the last fire yrs, Mongolian farmers have been rising from the ashes. this field last yr was tiny. in fact, all the fields we saw this yr were 2-3X larger VS last yr. the timing couldn’t be better. with the Russian wheat crop at least 1/3 less this yr due to reduced rainfall and high temperatures and their decision to stop export, Mongolia would be between a rock (China) and hard place (Russia) without this emerging industry. kudos to the Mongolian leaders in spurring this third movement of agriculture.

from the other side of the valley, these trees appeared to be mirages

Asia news media has their anchors pretend to use computers while broadcasting [this happening in the US, too?]. but, this is some product placement – “this news brought to you by Sain (Good) Computers”. now the weather brought to you by Mountain Dew.

we are off to the ancient, sacred Orkhon Valley for our last leg of field work.

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6 responses to “Epic Stoicism

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