Recent things

December 17, 2009

Soooo, again, it’s been a while…I’ve been holding off on the posts recently for two reasons–one, because I’m well into my second year and have therefore run out of novel things to discuss with respect to cultural observations, and two, because my internet visibility has expanded to attract the attention of some very disturbed and extremely vocal readers. Some of the comments I’ve gotten lately have been so insanely horrific and threatening that I’ve deleted them immediately. I thought about copying and pasting one of them in here–one about how the individual hopes I die alone of a ravaging sexually-transmitted infection–but then I remembered how much I actually don’t care about what some bored American webpsycho thinks. Still, though, at the end of a rough week, I wasn’t enjoying opening up my comments page to see scathing personal attacks from total strangers.

But I’ll take any widening of my readership as a compliment, so troll away, I suppose.

Anyway, for those two reasons, I’ve decided to abandon the concept of lengthy photo essays chronicling my experiences and observations in favor of a more journal-like approach. I’m just going to write about events and updates, and occasionally I’ll post a photo or two. This starts now.

As some of you may already know, Mongolia recently lowered some of its mandated H1N1 precautionary measures. Among the actions taken was a month-long hiatus from school and the suspension of many government jobs. Public transportation between provinces was also banned during that time. This meant that I, as a public school teacher, had an entire month to stay in my beautiful ger and think about my future without feeling obligated to travel around and see friends. In other words, it was a perfect time of peace and much needed rest with little interruption. I did, however, manage to get back to my Uvurkhangai home-away-from-home, Kharkhorin. Some friends and I toured the famous Erdene Zuu Monastery there and took a sunny stroll through the beautiful autumn grasses and sleepy 16th century architecture during the season’s last spurt of warmth. Luckily, we managed to catch a final browse through the souvenir tables before they closed for the winter. The tables were covered in rusted iron arrowheads, fertility items, beads, bracelets, necklaces, wolf teeth, paintings and sculptures of Buddha and the Bodhisattvas, camel bone kamasutra reliefs, snuff bottles, and sutra books. I bought two several hundred year-old Manchu coins, a jade ring, and a worn iron horse health-pendant that was so old it couldn’t even be dated. I spoke with another volunteer about how it’s always easy to find something aesthetically pleasing and authentic there, and she told me something rather disturbing that I should have seen for myself: that, unlike the items found at many tourist trap souvenir stops, a large portion of the souvenirs sold at Erdene Zuu–especially the arrows, pendants, and coins–are actually dug up from the surrounding earth and sold to foreigners instead of being catalogued and placed in domestic museums.

I don’t feel bad about the Manchu coins, as they represent a tiny number of what probably amounts to countless monetary remnants of the Manchu era in Inner Asia. It’s not uncommon to see them being sold for next to nothing in antique stores in America, either. The jade ring I bought is definitely not old, or at least I don’t think it is. The horse one,  however…The smooth erasure of its form makes me think it might predate the Manchu era, which could put it before the mid 1600s.

The age old issue of historic preservation–I’m not sure I would have put it back on the table if I’d thought about its age and significance before buying it, because it could have gone to someone who didn’t know or didn’t care, and it could have left Mongolia. In the end I gave it to a Mongolian friend who had to be hospitalized in Arvaikheer for numerous complications following a violent incident. He believed that its age and energy might help his condition in some small way, so I considered the purchase a good one.

I’d love to know what you guys think about that– the purchasing of antiquities, that is –so comment away (as long as whatever you say doesn’t have anything to do with me suffering to death from some illness).

Erdene Zuu Monastery

The rest of the month off was all about me getting into the groove of winter ger life. I love chopping wood and building fires, cleaning house and cooking. Arvaikheer is suddenly rich in canned tuna, so I killed a loaf of bread a day on toasted tuna salad sandwiches and grilled cheese. I also played guitar every night for about three hours,  finished grad school applications, and studied for the GRE. All in all it was a very productive time.

I guess I should also mention that it snowed for two weeks straight–extremely rare for where I live. I slid around town the whole time thinking the snow would never go away, but I should have trusted the Gobi to melt it before too long.

My snowy town

The tail end of the H1N1 vacation, as I’ve come to call it, was spent in UB for Thanksgiving. We celebrated my sitemate Amber’s birthday on the 26th with an enormous volunteer house party (in the wake of which my province-mate Brandon and I had to do some serious carpentry). The embassy potluck Thanksgiving party was held the following Saturday. My former sitemate Brian and I made kimbab (Korean sushi) for our contribution, but I ended up eating most of it. I actually didn’t have much of an appetite at that amazing gourmet party–perhaps because, fifteen minutes after plundering the buffet, I was met with a mouthful of feathers while gnawing on a turkey leg. Mmmmm.

I came back to Arvaikheer for a whopping two weeks of work before returning to UB again, which is where I’m writing this post (*addenda later). It was a fulfilling two weeks, but I definitely feel like I need a break! Long story short, as this will be the focus of the next post, I’m working with my counterparts and with Peace Corps on securing funding for the construction of a new student-centered library for my school. Anyone interested in sending used books–please feel free to contact me in the comments page and I’ll get you the right information.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading!