October 3, 2008

10/3/08 Exploring a bit of the city

Here's a great four-part article on Mongolia called The Mongolian Obsession: Falling in Love with Mongolia. And thanks to Leslie & Nathan in Mongolia for that link.

Found an art gallery in a ger on the way to the market the other day. Amazing art from Mongolian artists. Here's the link to see hundreds of paintings and even some sculpture: Mongolian Art Gallery.

Some of the art I saw at the gallery

Naraa, Shendrup Ling's cook and my personal mother hen, is going to be gone ten whole days on a Vipasana meditation retreat. So, in order that I won't starve (like that would ever happen), she took me to the market. I'm glad she showed me because I would have never found it on my own. Even from the outside, I wouldn't have realized the building housed a huge assortment of edible goodies sold in individual stalls. There was the general grocery room with everything from canned goods to corn flakes. Naraa had two vendors she seemed to do all her business with. Then, through another door you enter the vegetable room with more green than I've seen in the whole of Ulaanbaatar. Broccoli, green peppers, cucumbers, and every other color of the rainbow. Someone told me a lot of the vegetables come from Russia. Naraa must know another place with better prices because she didn't even glance at any of the vegetables. Then it was down another hallway to pick up some Mongolian cheese. I had no idea what all the cheese was since it was in all shapes and sizes, but the woman at the stall gave me a thick candy bar size of white cheese for me to taste. I didn't know what to expect but it was wonderful from the very first bite. Sweet! Oh, I could definitely get myself into trouble eating this, it was that good.

Naraa is a woman of many talents. One day she thought she heard me sniffling (I had just had a fried egg for breakfast with some hot sauce on it, so I think that's why I was sniffling due to the chili spice) and thought I was coming down with something. So, she began to show me her rememdy for sinus congestions which included an epson salt flush of the sinuses (after you stop gaging on the epson salts you swallowed by accident). Then you do a series of yogo deep breathing exercises that flush the sinuses even more with explosive out breaths. After which you relax on the floor for 15 minutes or you can sleep a bit. Then after your next meal you do it all over again. At least that's what I thought she told me, since I don't speak Mongolian and she doesn't speak English. But we seem to communicate just well besides that fact.

I did start my Mongolian lessons finally. Tsetsgee, the other English teacher here at Shendrup Ling, as offered to teach me three days a week. Let me tell you, Mongolian is a nightmare! It's bad enough learning a new alphabet which unfortunately looks a lot like the English alphabet - the 35 letter Cyrillic alphabet has 12 letters from the English alphabet. The pronunciations are mind boggling - it goes from the less mind boggling: H sounds like 'n', to the mind blowing: there are 12 vowels many of which sound almost the same but are different. And don't even get me started on the huge differences between printed Mongolian and Mongolian hand writing (for example a printed 't' is written like script 'm'). Oh well, what ya' going to do. So, every night after class, I sit with the guards and we trade Mongolian practice for English practice. If you'd like to learn a bit of Mongolian, try the Funky Mongolian website or the short language course at Mongols.net

One Saturday, Roy took me on an excursion into a part of the city I hadn't been before (probably because it is across the pedestrian death trap called Peace Ave). We passed the Choijin Lama Temple Museum, which should definitely be on my 'to see' list. The place was built in 1904 and has five temples on the grounds. Our destination though was Millie's Cafe just across the street. It was the kind of cafe you would see anywhere in any city in America, or Europe for that matter. Almost everyone seated there for lunch was a Westerner. And even though you could get a cheeseburger or a philly steak sandwich, I must already be aclimated to Mongolian wages because it seemed a bit pricy to me (8000t=$6.96 for a burger & fries). But I guess if I ever get homesick, this would be a pretty good place to feel at home, listening to English being spoken over good ol'American type sandwich.

Also had quesadillas at Los Bandidos in UB

Hold the ketchup, just found a website that has reviews of all the Best Cheeseburgers in Ulaanbaatar. At least it gives me more places to explore while here in Mongolia.

The Ulaanbaatar Skyline

Decided to get away from the computer and lesson plans long enough Sunday to take a long walk. I decided to go all the way to Zaisan Memorial Park which is on a hill south of the city. I was told that it had great views of the city. Lucky for me it was almost a straight shot from where I live so not much chance of getting lost. Headed out over the Peace Bridge, then across the Tuul River till I came to Buddha Park. There is a 16-m (53') Sakyamuni Buddha. And right next door, up about a billion stairs is the Zaisan Memorial. It was built by the Russians to honor the unknown soldiers who died. They were right, there are great panoramic views of the city from the top. Huge.

Buddha Park

And for something completely different (but still about Mongolia), check out Peace Corps volunteer Cassandra's latest post called "Don't Read This."