June 20, 2009

6/21/09 Summer Intensive

Alright, this is crazy. I checked out my website stats and found that for the last two months, almost 4000 people from 92 countries have been to this blog. Why? Not that I'm complaining, but it's crazy right?

Sorry there haven't been many new blog posts recently. The spring semester ended but the 'summer intensive' started almost immediately. And 'intensive' is the word for it, not only for the students, but this teacher as well. We had so many people sign up, I had registered more students than I had desks. Got some more chairs but on the first day, the noise of 26 people all talking at the same time was deafening. So, I divided the classes in two which is a big improvement. But, instead of teaching two 90-minute classes, I'm teaching four hour-long classes. Suddenly I'm exhausted at the end of each evening. It's called Summer Intensive because instead of meeting for class twice a week, the students come every day. We've squeezed a 10-week course into 4-weeks, hence the term 'intensive'.

But, like every semester I teach here, the students are great, so eager to learn. I love it. No matter how tired or cranky I am before class starts, I'm always energized with a smile on my face when I see my first students every evening. I think I have one of the best jobs in the world. No wonder why I decided to stay a second year and teach again in the fall.

Let's see if I can update you on everything else that is happening. Summer is here and it's actually kind of hot, with temps reaching the 80s (not bad when you consider the winter temps at -40F) although we had snow on the surrounding mountains last week. Being in the concrete jungle of Ulaanbaatar doesn't show it but there is actually quite a bit of green here and there. We have a small 'yard' in the back of the center where I head every day so I can see the trees, flowers and the occasional bird. And the days are long here, today's sunrise was before five and sunset about nine. Who needs an alarm clock with the sun streaming in your window every morning.

A little bit of green at the Dolma Ling Nunnery

We had a sad goodbye as Todovaa left for Germany where she will work as an nanny for the next couple of years. She was one of my students, worked in the cafe and even helped in the office from time to time. She was sweet, sunny, intellegent and never failed to brighten up a room. We will miss her dearly here but wish her much happiness wherever she goes.

Todovaa sitting with Gyatso at her going away lunch

Besides work, the center is a hive of activity which sometimes limits my time outside. Last week we had a huge luncheon for a visiting teacher, Lama Jhado Rinpoche, who was invited by another visiting Israeli monk waiting for his visa for India. This coming week, both our outgoing CEO Ueli and the new CEO MK will arrive. Ueli has been on retreat in Kathmandu and MK is coming from Malaysia for his first two week visit. So, everyone is busy getting ready not only for the summer but also the possible changes to our organization.

Lama Jhado Rinpoche

The staff joined the monks for lunch with Rinpoche

This is my table at the lunch - can you say 'maroon'

And speaking of monks, Glenda gave us all a pleasant surprise when she showed up in Mongolia after a month-long retreat in France as a nun. When at the Mani Retreat in Toulouse with Lama Zopa Rinpoche, she finally took ordination, something she had wanted for a long time. Her name now is Ani Gyalmo, but I always think of her as Glenda. So now I'm surrounded by maroon robes all the time. At the recent luncheon I was the only unordained person at one of the tables. I wonder if they're trying to tell me something.

Ani Gyalmo (Glenda)

At summer begins, the weather isn't like back home in Missouri. All spring, instead of rain, we had high winds which usually had a lot of dust in them. If I left my bedroom window open too long, the entire room would have a thin layer of dust covering it. But now it seems we're getting a little bit more rain. Unfortunately, a few cloudy days only produce a sprinkle or two. We had a cold spell last week and there was even a layer of snow on the surrounding mountains you can see from my window. But with the warmer summer weather, it's time to take advantage of the break in the cold. For two weeks, the hot water to the city is turned off (we get our hot water from the same pipes that heat the buildings in the winter with steam), so now we're taking sponge baths like the other 70% of the people living in Ulaanbaatar.

After classes end on Friday, I want to spend some of my summer holiday working in the garden at the Dolma Ling Nunnery. Nothing fancy, just a lot of weeding, watering and the occasional planting. They have an unused greenhouse of sorts that I want to get ready for planting for the fall so the nuns kitchen can have some fresh vegetables in the colder months. Plus, if all goes well, I will be riding a bicycle to get there. I am very, very excited about that. I might also teach a bit of English while I'm there.

With the summer, we're also getting a lot of visitors. George, a dentist friend of both Gyatso and Glenda, came for a visit. While here he did some volunteer work at the Dental School. He stayed here at the center and was wonderful to have around. I went with him and Gyatso on a tour of the Choijin Lama Temple Museum. I even ran into one of my English students there who was working in the museum gift shop. George's wife will also visit in July and August. And I have a few friends and family visiting Mongolia but not sure if I'll see them as I might be on holiday when they arrive. There's Matt and Melissa, cousins of mine who have been teaching English in Japan for the last three years. Elke from Austria and Barbara from Germany, both pilgrims I met in Spain on the St James Pilgrimage, are taking separate trips to Mongolia this summer.

Like I said, I might be traveling too. In mid-July, I will join Ven Gyatso, Glenda and a few friends of hers from Australia, on a 9-day driving tour of Mongolia. And still waiting to hear if I will join Tsetsgee and her family in August to visit her hometown. So, all in all, I'm looking forward to summer holidays!

For those who only want to see the cat, now called 'Mani'