Archive for August, 2011

What am I doing in UB?

I said I wouldn’t do it, but I did.  I travelled to Ulaanbaatar by car last Sunday. That’s about 400 miles and it only took us about 14 hours. We even made 2 short stops plus one for lunch.  And fortunately there were just six of us plus a baby in the car.  The baby was coming to UB for eye surgery thanks to World Vision.

First stop on the road to UB includes sharing snacks we brought along

Another brief stop on the road to sample the local airag and here's one of the progeny

Since arriving in Mongolia in 2008, I have only travelled between UB and Muron, my hometown, by plane for Peace Corps training.  The tales of travel by road — lots of rough roads, too many people in the vehicle, and up to 20 hours travel – had convinced me it was something to be avoided if at all possible.

But when a friend at World Vision suggested I come along on a business trip to UB she had to make, I first said no and then agreed.  I’ve been working seven long days a week for some time, trying to make a success of our little craft shop in Muron plus working on some other things for the Chamber of Commerce.  It was time for a little break and if I didn’t get out of town, it wouldn’t happen.

The roads always have lots of tracks to choose from...which one will be smoothest?

The magnificent Mongolian countryside

As it turned out, the trip wasn’t bad.  Good people to travel with, a careful driver, a safe car, and one more opportunity to admire the magnificent Mongolian countryside of steppe and mountain speckled with gers and herds of animals grazing on the green grasses now fading to gold under the August sun.

Check out Mongolia’s first TEDxConference

I’ll be here a week and one big reason to be glad I’m here is that I’ll get to attend a TEDxConference being held on August 20 here in UB.  If you don’t know about TED conferences, please check out   I’ve been listening to TED talks on my iPod for several years and find them fascinating and deeply thought provoking.

Then last year, my friend and PCV classmate, Travis Hellstrom, got together with a Mongolian and began to organize a Mongolian TED conference.  These subsidiary conferences of TED are called TEDxConferences. Web address

My Mongolian friends looked at the speaker list and said they’re some of the most prominent people in Mongolia.  You can actually see it streaming live on the website in English or Mongolian and it should be available after the fact as well.  I’ve been doing some long distance help on the event but now that I’m in UB I’ll be able to help out more.

If you’re into Facebook, please give the Conference a “like.”

A new park just outside my window

I’m staying this week with a friend who works in the PC office here in Ulaanbaatar.  She has graciously let me stay with her in her lovely apartment several times when I’ve been in UB and it is such a treat and contrast to my Muron home, much as I love it too.  I came on Sunday night and Monday morning was spa time: a good hot shower, washed my hair, trimmed my toe and fingernails, had real coffee and some pancakes she had made, used her washng machine and just relaxed a bit.  Now I’m ready for anything.

Looking down at a piece of the park from my 5th floor apartment

One of the perks is to see a lovely park that was completed since I was last here.  I’m on the fifth floor and the apartment looks down on the park shown in the photo.  It’s attracting a steady stream of people enjoying its quiet atmosphere, sitting on benches reading or watching the children play around the fountains, a few roller skaters and bike riders but everyone respectful.  And it’s really clean—lots of trash bins and a young man who seems to be constantly sweeping and keeping it clean.

From now on, I expect a busy week with a number of meetings set up and the special TEDx event on Saturday and then home on Sunday.

A Mongolian child gains confidence on her color-coordinated roller blades

Children love the fountain in the park


August 16, 2011 at 1:38 pm Leave a comment

“Do you speak a little English?”

Inside the handicraft shop

In the past few weeks, I’ve accosted every non-Mongolian person I see with this question.  If the answer is yes, I deliver my little spiel about our craft ger shop where everything is handmade right here in Khovsgul. I invite them to visit the ger open from 9 to 7 every day and filled with local crafts at reasonable prices: all kinds of felt products including slippers, hats, vests, and handbags, wood carvings, watercolor sketches, some paintings, and a variety of other items.

For these first few weeks that the shop has been open, I’ve spent most of my time in the shop or out looking for customers.  The tourists tend to fall into three categories: 1) Mongolian tourists who generally look but don’t buy, 2) Young adventure travelers backpacking their way across the country so not much room to pack things, and 3) older travelers generally on a tour who have been our best customers.  I’ve enjoyed meeting people from various parts of the world including Canada, France, Switzerland, Spain, Belgium, Sweden, U.S., Australia, England, and Italy.

Most of the tourists are only passing through Muron and are heading north to visit Lake Khuvsgul, our province’s major tourist attraction.  They aren’t really looking for a place to buy souvenirs or crafts.  So we have to go out and find them.  Now that I am a seller of handcrafts rather than a tourist myself, I see things from a different perspective.  When people come to this country, they partake of the spectacular beauty of our countryside, enjoy the hospitality of the people, and are exposed to the rich nomadic culture.  I think tourists or travelers, call them what you will, also have an obligation to give back.  Not just to pay for the tour and transportation, but to seek out ways to give to the local people, to encourage the practice of the traditional craft-making and show appreciation for their skills and creativity.  They will be so grateful, and so will I.

Friends visit and we celebrate Naadam

Just before our local Naadam celebration in the third week of July, some friends from California and one from Switzerland arrived.  So with the shop open and wanting to spend time with my friends, time went fast.  I took a day trip up to the lake with the California friends and went out to my favorite ger camp west of town overnight with my Swiss friend.  The scenery there is always amazing and we were able to do a little horseback riding. Remember, you can click on any photo to enlarge and see the amazing scenery more clearly.

View from Harganat Ger Camp

Click to enlarge. Can you see the mountain goats on top?

Sunset at Harganat Ger Camp

And then there was Naadam. Both last year and this year, Muron had a big Naadam celebration—this year celebrating Muron’s 90thanniversary.  The town has been spiffing itself up for months.  Everywhere I looked someone was painting something.   We even have a new children’s park and two new fountains.  If you’ve followed my blog, you know Naadam celebrates the “three manly sports”: horse racing, wrestling, and archery.  Horse racing takes place on the edge of town–I still marvel at seeing little 6, 7, 8 year-old kids on horseback, with or without saddles, racing across the steppe.

Naadam horse race

My Swiss friend taking a picture of wrestlers in pre-Naadam parade

And I enjoy the wrestling too. It takes place in the stadium and it’s my kind of violence: two men face off and simply try to force each other to lose their balance and touch a knee or more to the ground. Match over.

People say that when Naadam is over, autumn begins. But so far, it is warm in the 70s. I’m in no rush for cooler weather.



And now, a parting picture… 

Flat tires are a dime a dozen. In fact, no trip to the countryside is complete without at least one.  On the way to work early one morning, I saw this car parked at the edge of the road.  Driver probably had no spare and is apparently snoozing, note feet, awaiting rescue.  Couldn’t resist taking the picture.

August 1, 2011 at 2:05 pm Leave a comment

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