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Published: November 30th 2010
The sign out the front
In early November, I visited fellow VSO volunteer, Sandrina, in her placement home town of Khutul which is about 40 minutes drive from Darkhan on the road to Erdenet (the third largest city in Mongolia). Khutul is a really cute little town and I immediately understood why Sandrina is so happy with her placement there. She is working for Lotus (whose primary business is an orphanage just outside of UB) and has in the last 6 months managed to set up and open a cafe and community centre in town. I can vouch for excellent Saturday pizza specials and yummy oatmeal and raisin cookies! In addition to eating heaps, Sandrina took me for a wander about town (which did not take long because it is a small town). It is estimated more than half of the population work at the cement factory of which Sandrina assures me the factory is about the same size as the whole town! And the highlight? Pigs! Yes, whilst cows wander around Khutul as they do in Darkhan, Khutul also has some piggies and they also roam at will. How cute!
The interpreter I had for my first week in Darkhan, Tugsu, finished working with
Lotus Cafe Exterior
Children from the local school painted the pictures on the left had side of the steps, some older boys, now in UB studying art, painted to the right
me on the Friday after I arrived and gave birth to a big baby boy the following Monday. As is traditional in several Asian cultures, I was not permitted to visit Tugsu and her son for at least a month after he was born. So finally, in early November, I got to meet baby Хүслэн (Huslin - pronounced 'huus-leen', meaning to want/desire). Like many Mongolian women, Tugsu is a petite lady but her boy was over 4kg when he was born and I think it is fair to say, he has continued to grow very well ever since!
My permanent interpreter, Altai, treated me to my first Mongolian karaoke session in November. For 2 hours, Altai, Oyuna, and Davaajav (2 of Altai's friends who are also volunteers with me at the psych ward) and I belted out tunes in a private room at a nightclub (but it was mid-afternoon!?!). Obviously my songs were all sung in English, but I have been challenged by Altai to sing 2 songs in Mongolian before we enter the new year! I have the lyrics for one, just waiting for the lyrics on the second and
The main eating area
then I will start learning them! But back to the karaoke at hand......I actually got a little homesick during our session. Why? Every third or fourth song had Victoria's Great Ocean Road followed by Melbourne's trams as its backdrop. The first time it came on, I was almost shrieking at the 3 ladies - "that's my home!", "that's Loch Ard gorge", "that's Thunder cave", "that's the beach at Gibson steps". I was sooooo excited. As to my choice of tunes for the afternoon, I made my Mum happy by singing "Stand By Your Man" and "Rhinestone Cowboy". I also sang Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now", James Taylor's "You've got a friend" and belted out Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" I don't think I will give up my day job anytime soon, but it was a good laugh.
While I'm on the musical theme, when Chris and Kara came to visit from UB, we ended up visiting my local, "Chinggis Bar"
Just inside the front door. The cakes in the fridge looked just sensational.
of course, on Saturday night. I had not been there before and was pleasantly surprised by the stylish bar and their reasonable alcohol range. But that was nothing compared to the treat of having a sleazy, middle-aged, sunglass-, beige suit- and mauve shirt- wearing Mongolian man sing to the bar patrons. Some moments are priceless!
November also featured the Mongolian census. As I am expected to be in Mongolia for more than 186 days, I had to register for, and participate in, the census. I got off to a bad start when a lovely lady knocked on my door and did not have a form in English (not surprisingly) or any way of recording my full details. Thankfully, my interpreter took me to my local census office (just near my apartment building) and we were able to register me and complete all the questions required. It is fair to say, most of my responses were simply 'Australia'! The only interesting questions, from my perspective, related to my accommodation. Questions included how many rooms, was there hot running water, was there heating, was there a sewerage system, how is my rubbish collected, was there are separate bathroom and toilet, etc,
Silos and stadium (where the annual Naadam festival is held - the manly sports of horse racing, wrestling and archery)
etc. So I may have missed the Victorian state election (much to my unhappiness) but at least I can say I have contributed to the Mongolian 2010 census!
Friday 26 November was a public holiday for Mongolian Independence Day so I took the opportunity to have an extra long weekend and headed to UB on the Thursday morning and returned to Darkhan on Sunday. In that period, I had a most enjoyable and relaxing time. On Thursday night, I participated in my first pub quiz in Mongolia. Our table won - I was most pleased but the prize did not even cover the cost of the food and drinks we had consumed on the night! On Friday, after a lovely lunch at my new favorite UB cafe, Papa, with Jo, Farrah and Kate, Jo and I headed to her home in Nalaikh, an hour's bus ride from UB. Thankfully, Jo and I had purchased a couple of bottles of red before we left UB as it turned out it was a dry day in Nalaikh - no alcohol for sale! So, over wine and chilli con carne, we organised our Christmas shopping and logistical plans. If everything goes according
Apartment buildings with the children's playground in the foreground
to plan, we are set for a great Christmas dinner. On Saturday, we returned to UB, had another lunch at 'Papa' and managed a bit of shopping between coffees.
On the negative side of things, I have to report on my personal heartbreak of the last few weeks thanks to heaps of puppies and dogs! As I have mentioned previously, there are plenty of stray dog packs throughout Mongolia and I have worked very hard to ignore them. Too many of the dogs are lame, or injured in other ways, and now the weather has turned cold, it has suddenly become more difficult for them (and me). Two weeks ago, a pair of pups, whom I estimate to be about 3 months old, and at some point have German Shepherd in their ancestry, were snuggled up together and sleeping on a piece of carpet outside the door to the apartment directly below me. I disturbed them on my way out of the building on my way to work. They were shivering and then nervous with the addition of my presence. When I returned in the evening, a little
black pup, maybe 6 weeks old (certainly not old enough to be without its Mum), had replaced the 2 pups from the morning. Oh dear, what could I do but close my eyes and keep walking. If I was at home, I would have picked up the pup and kept him/her overnight before seeing a vet the next day. But, here, that is not the way and it is truly heart-breaking. I haven't seen the little black pup since and only one of the other pups....I have a feeling this may be indicative of the attrition rate under these wintry conditions. And I also had to walk past a frozen and squished pup on the path to the psych ward recently - and I was the only one seemingly distressed by it. 😞
Actually, I can't finish on such a sad note so I will fill you in on some of the foods I have consumed recently which were not to my taste:
* Aruul - dried milk curd. I have tried many varieties, at the insistence of the locals, but cannot stand the taste or the texture.
* Arts - boiled milk curd/yoghurt. This is the only morning
Altai with Huslin
Turns out poor Huslin had an ear infection, so it was understandable that he was not happy!
tea option at work that I have to refuse. Like the dried milk curd, the taste is not to my liking and the smell is enough to make me my stomach churn. Unfortunately, it will be served more frequently over the next few months, as it is the local beverage consumed to keep colds and flus away!
* Beef tongue - not that this is a Mongolian dish but the Mongolian's do love their tongue - it is on every menu. I was served it at a lunch recently and tried very hard to spread it around my plate to make it look like I had eaten plenty - but I was unsuccessful as my interpreter pointed out later that day. Some of the tongue was incredibly tough and some was soooo soft - neither of them appealing!
Oh...and a postcript to my last entry re:staying upright in the snow and ice. Well, it was less than 24 hours after I published my last blog where I boasted I had not fallen over in the slippery conditions when I trudged off to the psych ward in my 'work' shoes rather than switching to my more sensible hiking boots. My
Tugsu with Huslin
A lovely lady with a great smile - she is very proud of her boy.
first fall was predictable. I was heading down a short and sharp slope, slipped, and fell onto my (thankfully) well-cushioned backside. Nothing but my pride injured as a Mongolian man simply smirked at me! However, as I was running late for my shift, I took a silly short cut and 'discovered' a 3 foot deep man hole! Again, pride was injured and, later, my 20 year old knee injury decided to declare it was not done with me by aching for a few hours, but I think I was simply lucky not to have done some serious damage. I have noticed since that feat, a barrier has gone up around the man hole! 😊
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