Archive for December, 2011

Did you see the total eclipse… and other questions?

I had noticed mention of a total lunar eclipse on the web and it looked as if I might be able to see it but I couldn’t find any specifics about Mongolia.  Last Saturday evening, the PCVs and I had dinner together and I mentioned we ought to look it up after dinner but we didn’t and later I headed for home with just a bright full moon overhead.

Total eclipse 12/10/11 An amazing sight

After I got home, I looked again on the web, but still couldn’t figure it out.  Then I sent a message to a Mongolian friend asking if he knew anything.  He replied he could find nothing in Mongolian about it on the web.  At that point, I went outside and LO AND BEHOLD the moon was in total eclipse!  I could see the dark red color and a penumbral glow. I ran to tell Bold and Tsermaa (whose home I live in) to come outside and see it and then proceeded to call everyone I knew here who spoke some English to go outside and look.

No one knew anything about it—what a shame.  It was magnificent.  And although it was too cold to hang around outside watching it, I went back outside every few minutes to check its progress—all the way to the end.  It’s the last total moon eclipse until 2014 so I’m glad I caught it.  Look online for more photos…


Do you recognize this image?

Yep, it's the Eiffel Tower, right here in Muron

Yep, it’s the Eiffel Tower right here in Muron outside my window.  For the last week, men have been outside all day on the main square working on ice sculpture to celebrate Shin Jiil (New Year’s) and any other holiday you want to celebrate at this time of year.  I marvel that they can stay outside in the cold all day working with these big ice blocks.  Boston’s First Night (New Year’s Eve) has a big ice sculpture exhibition but there’s never a guarantee the sculptures will survive very long—or even be able to be created.  Here in Muron, that’s never a problem and if they wait for them to melt, it will be well into the spring before they disappear.






What are these people doing?

Everyone's chopping up and clearing the ice outside my office building!

Although we haven’t had a lot of snow here, we do have a lot of ice.  And last Thursday, was the day everyone was supposed to go outside and remove ice from in front of their businesses or from the road, or from the parking lots in front of their buildings (like ours).  All day long I heard the pounding and scraping of people trying to get rid of the ice.  I was just feeling grateful that our office hadn’t been called upon to help, when my boss said that on Friday, it would be our turn to help clear the big square out in front of the government offices.  I dressed as warmly as I could only to find out the next day that we were off the hook!


Are your feet warm?

Judy's furry warm boots

Warm feet are important in this climate.  I had hoped the boots I brought with me would keep me warm enough until I got home—but a few weeks ago they weren’t doing their job.  So I went with a friend to a bootmaker and ordered a new pair.  I wanted some just like my friend’s, knee high as everyone wears, simple, tailored and a little short black fur on part of the boot.  The bootmaker gave me my choice of two furs (both artificial I thought) and I recklessly chose the funky one.  When I picked them up and put them on, it looks as if I have two furry animals on my feet!  Even my hosha dog did a doubletake.  But no one else seems to think there’s anything strange about them and with 2 pairs of socks and warm felt innersoles they keep my feet warm.  That’s what’s important, isn’t it?


Are there better ways of doing things?

You won’t be surprised that I do a lot of thinking over here about all kinds of subjects.   I can access news from home and around the world via my little G-Mobile modem.  And Google gives me access to all kinds of information.  One subject that concerns me is the role of capitalism in today’s world.  A system that focuses exclusively on enhancing shareholder value to the exclusion of everything else now seems shortsighted to me.  I’ve come across an idea called the “B Corporation.”  I urge you to take a look at it.  Here’s the link:

And then take a look at the video from the TED/Philly video you’ll find on the site under News & Media.  If I can start a little export/import business, I’d like it to be a B Corporation.


December 13, 2011 at 9:23 am Leave a comment

Getting up and walking to work

Sounds mundane, doesn’t it?  But nothing is ever mundane in Mongolia—at least to me.  See if this sounds anything like your morning routine:  It is December 1 and the temperature is running at a high of 10 degrees above zero during the day and a low of 10 degrees below zero at night (Fahrenheit).  In other words, it’s always below freezing.  And people say since we had a little more rain this summer, it will be a colder winter.

A father bundles up his daughter before going outside

The Nine Nines of winter

Mongolians divide winter up into nine series of nine days (Yucen Yuc) beginning on the winter solstice.   So it ends around the middle of February.  Here’s how the series is described:

  • First nine – shimijn arkhi (mild alcoholic beverage made of milk) freezes
  • Second nine – arkhi (vodka) freezes (second distillation, also sometimes, they say Russian vodka freezes)
  • Third nine – tail of three-year-old yak freezes
  • Fourth – horns of four-year-old yak freeze
  • Fifth nine – boiled rice does not congeal any more
  • Sixth nine – roads blacken (snow begins to melt on blacktop)
  • Seventh nine – hilltops blacken (snow begins to melt on the lower hills)
  • Eighth nine – ground becomes damp (snow begins to melt on grass)
  • Ninth nine – warm days set in

Now, I don’t remember that it got warm in mid-February before—but it all depends on your perspective.  At the moment, it is dark and cold when I get up in the morning.  So I pull on an old down warm coat a friend sent me and hurry to start a fire in my little stove.  Once it’s burning well, I make oatmeal and some coffee in a little Moka pot another friend gave me. Most people here drink milk tea, a staple beverage made year round in a large pot with milk, water, a little salt, and a little tea sprinkled in and stored in one or two big thermoses to be ready anytime during the day and when friends stop by.

A friend's twin boys all dressed up

After things have warmed up a bit, I get dressed, having put my clothes near the fire to take the chill off them.  Clothes include two pairs of sock, extra warm boots, long underwear (maybe 2 pairs) and warm pants, 5 layers of shirts and vests and sweaters, a hat, gloves and mittens, and a coat with a hood.  Before I leave, I make a trip to the outhouse to dump my little bucket (much too cold to go out at night).  The family dog—who is always kept outside and has a doghouse at least—is chained to the doghouse and eagerly awaits my morning trip since I give him a little snack.  In this weather his black coat is getting thicker and his fur is frost-covered.

Smoke from a coal power plant in Muron

Then off to work.  The sun is just coming up and the chimneys from the little stoves in the gers and wooden houses are all sending up columns of grey smoke.  A contrail high in the sky is unfolding a white ribbon leading towards Beijng.  As I turn towards the center of town, I see the black smoke rising from several coal-fired power plants heating the hospital, schools, public buildings and some apartment buildings and then settling down creating a dark haze over the whole town.  I pass the “Haloon Uc” (means hot water and is the name for the shower house) and a man out back is shoveling coal to heat the water.  People are gathering at the well next to it (a little white building with a window and a hose sticking out) where they come to fill up their jugs of various sizes.  And others are hurrying along the street to work or to school or wherever.  At the center of town, a woman is setting up a little stand. She will sit on a cardboard box all day in the cold to sell little glasses of pine nuts.  And it’s the same at the zakh or market.  People all bundled up selling their goods from their stalls.  I’m told the sellers just add another felt innersole to their boots as the temperature goes down.

We’ve had a little snow this year and a couple of inches cover the ground.  It won’t melt until spring and the sidewalks and streets are very icy.  So I wear my “yaktrax”, courtesy of Peace Corps, which do a good job keeping me from slipping.  (See an image here:

My office has moved to a new location in the government building that now looks out over a parking lot and then the main public square and after a couple of blocks out to the countryside.  In the early morning and in the evening all I see is the smoky haze.  During mid-day a broad plain appears in the distance with the river running through it, some herds of animals and perhaps a couple of herders, two or three isolated gers, and the mountains beyond.   In the parking lot, several men are chopping away at the ice trying to make it safer to walk and drive.  It’s a slow process.

Men removing ice from the parking lot outside our office. Tedious work

Here in the office, we are getting ready for a major event: the 10th anniversary of the Huvsgul Chamber of Commerce.  It will be a big deal—parties, ceremonies, who knows what all.  Even the head of the National Chamber of Commerce will be here.  I bought a new traditional Mongolian vest this week to go with a long skirt I brought since my Mongolia deel (traditional robe-like outfit) is at home.

For now, I’m just trying to stay warm and be helpful and continue to work on my efforts to establish a little export business for my local craftspeople.


  1. We sent off a box of handicraft items to my

    My Mongolian partners send a box of handicrafts to the U.S.

    daughter-in-law a few weeks ago and they have arrived in U.S. Some will be sent to friends in Marblehead and California to see if we can find some outlets for them in local shops. If anyone is interested in finding out more about this project, let me know. Handicrafts include felt slippers, yak cashmere and goat cashmere sweaters, hats, scarves, mittens, gloves, sox, sheepskin mittens and carved wooden animals.

  2. Took a trip to UB to get a flu shot required by Peace Corps and had an opportunity to enjoy some hot showers and have some meetings with people about exporting and other things.  Met an Australian volunteering at National Chamber of Commerce who invited me to a felt-making workshop.  Made a purse—felt-making is hard work, lots of spreading washed, carded sheep wool, wetting, and pressing and rolling and pressing over and over.  But the results were good.

    Felt-making workshop in UB

  3. Thanksgiving was spent at a local American missionary’s home.  They have lived here some 19 years and helped the local people learn to raise vegetables.  Even had a turkey a friend sent to them from UB. I made my traditional dinner rolls, the stuffing and the gravy.
  4. A Mongolian friend of mine plays the horsehead fiddle—a traditional Mongolian instrument—he gave a concert recently at our theater.  He played in duets and with several singers including an 8-year-old who could really belt it out.  To hear what it’s like, I suggest you go to YouTube and type in “horsehead fiddle” and you find a lot of videos to listen to.

    A woman singing a Mongolian long song and my friend playing the horsehead fiddle

A little revision in my return home—will be heading home on January 13, probably visiting with my Brooklyn family before returning to Marblehead.

December 2, 2011 at 3:21 pm Leave a comment

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