Saturday, October 15, 2005

Hotel California

And by California, I mean China.

Not that you will notice, since this post might be in Chinese by the time it gets to you. I just came in from a mosque that is nearby this internet center travis just found, in the Uyiger neighborhood in downtown Xi'an, China. The area is pretty cool, most everyone is liking this city a lot more than Beijing, though we only spent a day in Beijing. I've purchased a small dictionary and coursebook while in Beijing and hope to regain some of my knowledge of the language, but Jenna, Marissa and Susan are so far beyond me in Chinese skill that it makes it easy to rely on them, that is until you're in a group without one of them and all the sudden everybody relies on you. Yesterday was a hectic touring day, sorta weird being in a tour group, we're mostly used to doing things by ourselfs. But Xi'an is so full of history, its hard not to have to use a tour group if you want to see a lot in one day. We visited the terra cotta soliders near the tomb of the Qin emperor, we road bikes around the city wall (which parts of have existed continuously since the 7th century) we've seen the Wild Goose Pagoda, its a fun time. Now in an hour we leave for another overnight trainride, this timeslightly over 26 hours long. I'lltry andpost again within a week or two.


Monday, October 10, 2005

I say hello, you say goodbye.

The problem with any sort of journalling, online or otherwise, is whenever you are doing something worth writing about the last thing you think about is going and sitting in the hot and stuffy basement of some delapadated brick building so you can write about the experience. In short, I've missed a lot of events on the blog. So here's a breif recap of what's happened.

  1. Last thursday I attended an English conversation hour at a traditional Tibetan buddhist medical college, and wouldn't you know it, a dance party broke out. This was possibly the weirdest day of my life.
  2. I've eaten almost everything Mongolia has to offer. In addition to mutton and yak (the most likely ingredients in the cheap fastfood I've been having for lunch the past two weeks) I've recently added horse. Yes, horse. In case you were wondering, it taste like salty, hard ham.
  3. In addition to eating everything, members of our group have taken to riding everything in Mongolia. People have ridden Camels, Yaks and Horses, while we've gotten a chance to pet reindeer.
  4. Today (Monday) I got a chance to visit the "black market," a truely Mongolian experience. Contrary to what you might think, the market deals in mostly legitimate goods, and really more like a gigantic thirdworld flea-market than anything else. The process is an interesting experience, first one rides the modern, though extremely crowded bus all the way across UB (our hostel being on the Northwest side of town and the market on the east) which cost only about 17 cents but can take up to 30 minutes. The trip takes even longer when, like today, the bus driver stops halfway to fill up on gas. While everyone was still in the bus. These things dont even phase me any more. At the last spot, everyone gets out and then pays another 50 Tugrug (a little over 4 cents) to enter the market grounds, a sprawling landscape of broken concrete broken up by the steel skeletons of buildings covered in corrugated metal roofing. Anything you can find in Mongolia can be found at the black market; traditional furniture, to iron stoves, felt Gers, electronic appliances, fabric, 5 gallon tin milk cannisters, saddles and bridles, bushels of cheap mongolian CDs and tons upon tons of goods well beyond their first or second owners. It is obvious that this is the place where all but the richest Mongolians shop, while the State Department Store (Mongolian: Ikh Delguur) is the domain of the rich, economically mobile and western. Thus, as you can imagine, being two of the whitest Americans in the continent, Andrea and I were in many ways not wholely welcomed by all at the Black Market. We did, however, survive the ordeal without being harassed or pickpocketed, which is more than what I can say for a couple of PacRimmers shopping at the market. What was very interesting, afterwards, while shopping at the tourist shop in the State Dept. Store, we saw many of the same items on sale at maybe 10 times the price that we payed at the blackmarket for extremely similar items.
  5. If you need a job after college or are looking to change careers, consider moving to Mongolia to work in construction. I garuntee, no mater what, that you have a knowledge of proper construction techniques that will far exceed the status quo in Ulaan Bataar, you will go far. Being around the city for a while has given us a chance to witness many constuction projects in progress, and appreciate what factors are keeping the buildings in overall decripid condition.
  6. We've had the chance to go on two pretty cool trips recently. Last tuesday we visited the palace of the Bogd Khaan, the 8th spiritual leader of Mongolian Buddhist (a la the Dalai Lama for Tibet) and the political leader of the country for the brief period between its independence from China at the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 and the onset of Soviet domination of Mongolia in 1924. The complex looks in many ways like it did in the 1920's despite years of communist surpression of religion, which is to say the palace an overall amazing sight. Many of the temples around the region, at Kharhorum or at the Gandan Monestary, are incredibly impressive in their overall ornate decoration, but the Bogd Khaan's palace surpasses them all. Bight colors and images of Tibetan and Buddhist iconography line the eves and cornices of practically every stucture, from the front gates and main building to the library guest house and other side buildings. Another highlight of that journey- during the busride to the palace, we passed the Mongolian Olympic Committee headquaters along with a sports complex that included a baseball feild that any American highschool or community college would be proud to call their own. Along the side of the field a sign proclaimed the site of the Mongolian National Baseball team. Mongolian Baseball Team?? What?
  7. We also got a chance to visit the Mongolian National Art museum and meet the director of the Museum. This was cool. Mongolia might sort of be looked at in some ways as a cultural backwater in comparrison to the traditions of China and Japan, but over the last few hundred years the country has produced some amazing works of tapestry and sculpture. We also got to meet an American who was busy developing a joint display on Mongolian artwork to be showcased in national galleries around the world to commerate the 800th anniversary of the coronation of Chingis Khaan (apparently he's sorta a big deal around these parts).

So it appears that this will probably be my last posting for a while, as tomorrow we leave by plane to Beijing to embark upon yet another 11 day trip (this time by train) across the countryside, from Xi'an to the great wall, inner Mongolia, the Gobi desert and Gansu province. So now might be an appropriate time to discuss my final impression of Mongolia. Despite the sort of crime and targetting we've expereinced as rich westerners in a poor eastern country, the whole country, even to some extent UB itself is an amazing friendly and laid back place. In the country it is said no ger door comes with locks, and it is true that one can ride up to one camp and ask for cheese and tea and simply ride away again once one has regained his or her strength. It is a harsh land, and it seems that people look after eachother. More than once during today alone I have seen young men in their teens and twenties help an elderly lady in the traditional deel onto the bus, or through a crowd or onto a seat. People on the street and in the bars have overall been very friendly and hospitable, occasionally much more so than one might expect America to treat a group of foreigners in its borders. Despite the smog, bad food, alcoholism and general lack of a whole range of comforts (privacy being one of them), I think we will all miss Mongolia.