Wednesday, October 05, 2005

What is Fight Club?

What's new In Mongolia? The usual I suppose you could say. Last Sunday our group all got tickets to a four hour, 128 person wrestling tournament at the grand wrestling palace on the southeast side of town. The whole event was pretty interesting ordeal, despite the reasonable amount of ceremony and tradition associated with Mongolia's national pastime, the entire process was almost entirely lacked in organization. Wrestlers would change into their traditional (and very revealing) wrestling garb in the stands right before the tournament was set to begin, oftentimes with spectators seated right next to them along with their friends and occasional trainers. Then when it came time for the first round to begin, wrestlers would simply stream out when it looked like the main arena wasn't too crowded, do a ceremonial dance around one of the referees dressed in a traditional deel, and then do the same dance around the Mongolian flag on the North side of the arena, and then pair up with any other wrestler who was available. Then, after the match was over (i.e. when one person's knees or body touched the ground) the victor would do another traditional dance around the loser, and then again around the flag, and both wrestlers would ascend back into the stand to await the next round. The early rounds were interesting simply for the large amount of activity on the floor at one time, with sometimes 10-15 matches occurring simultaneously despite the rather modest size of the national wrestling arena (Here's a pic of the arena, for reference the wrestlers are probably standing not to far from the center of the Arena) .

Eric, Miles, Alec and I arrived early to get seats in the second row and had to opportunity to set next a large amount of that afternoons competitors. This is what I would call a good move. After a first round victory, one short wrestler gave me a pound when coming back to his seat (note to Dad: a pound being a type of "high five" where two men bump their closed fists together). In addition to wrestling, our group also got a chance to partake in plenty of Mongolian fastfood. Right before we stepped into the "stadium" we sampled fried pockets of mutton called khooshoor and while watching the tournament we got a chance to sample to Mongolian equivalent of the corndog. It was basically a cheap meatlog on a stick deep fat fried with some sort of wheat and potato batter covered in potato chunks. Given that the things were room temperature when they were served to us (from a gigantic pile of the snacks lying on one side of the counter) and cost only 50 cents a pop, they were incredibly delicious.

In addition to food and wrestling, we sadly got to witness what might be considered an example of Mongolia's problems with alcoholism. Not long into the tournament a middle aged portly man in a green deel wandered onto the main wrestling floor and stumbled across the mayhem of the second round. The man seemed out of place, but the wrestlers, officials and referees paid him almost no heed and we assumed he might be somewhat associated with the sport. Not far from the medic's table, however, the man bent over to lean on the table and missed and fell to floor, removing all doubt as to his state of inebriation. Throughout the rest of the tournament, the man continued to sit in seats around the periphery of the arena, occasionally stumbling across the wrestling floor or standing next to a pair of wrestlers in a match. The whole was pretty amusing to the spectators who noticed the sight, and amazing to us westerners who know the swift firmness stadium security would show to a drunk standing in the field of play in a professional sports venue. Overall, however, Cheap vodka and disfunctional afternoon drunks seem almost too common to this land. Not only that, a much more amusing example of an inebriated Mongolia confronted Miles and Steve later in the match. At around the 5th and 6th round a man claiming to be the national champion's trainer (a moderately stout wrestler who happened to be present at this tournament and that day's final winner) propositioned the large pacrimmers (Miles being slightly more muscular then I and a good 4 inches taller) to join his gym to train to become the future of Mongolia's champions. Apparently the man thought the pair would have a good chance in the Russian boxing circuit (I joke not) and offered to teach them what he called "Chingges Khaan Technology."

Miles is currently waiting for e-mail from the man. After all, the winner of the tournament we watched took home 5,000,000 Tugrug (or $4,200 USD)

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Mortal Kombat

So a few days ago the staff at our hostel put in cable in the kitchen and ran it to a TV perched ontop of a refrigerator. I didn't think much about this at first, despite hearing that Mongolian TV was pretty awesome since it was mostly overwhealmed by the Chinese, Russian, Korean, Japanese and British stations that were broadcast from just slightly beyond its borders, I still held firm to the philosophy that I didn't come to asia to watch television. This was until I found baseball on Star Sports 11 this morning. Not just baseball - but the MF Yankees clinching the AL East. One can guess my state of mind now as I write this.

In a few minutes, Miles, Alec, Eric and I are leaving to obtain good seats for the wrestling match we're watching at 3:00 this afternoon. I plan on having much more to say about this tomorrow, seeing as how (a) wrestling is the national sport of Mongolia and (b) a wrestling match in Ulaan Bataar grand wrestling palace usually starts off with 120 athletes going at it at once and proceding tournament style until only one man is left undefeated. Also, as a side note, I would like to mention that in addition to being surrounded by wrestling, Mike O'Malley is teaching everyone in our room Jiu Jitsu moves during our down time. That's right: Asia is going to train me into one lean mean fighting machine.