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Published: January 31st 2011
Swiss army knife
Ahhhh....the perfect tool for removing thick ice from the windows. Great work, Rita!
Well, January has been another interesting month in Mongolia.
In mid-January, I caught the train from Darkhan to UB. It doesn't sound all that exciting but it was a different form of transportation to try out in Mong and I was curious as to why it took twice as long to get to the capital as the bus! Rita (a Swiss citizen and English teacher here in Mong) and I boarded the train in Darkhan around 9:00 am and arrived in UB at 4:30 pm! In between times, we saw and tried to photograph some lovely landscapes (note reflections, ice and dirt from windows in all featured photos - sorry, but there was nothing I could do), stopped at dozens of small villages to pick up and drop off passengers, befriended a lovely 12 yo Mongolian boy who also helped me with my Mongolian homework, and later played cards with a bunch of Mongolians (who appreciated my passionate display of happiness when I managed to take the last trick of a hand of Mushik to ensure I did not incur a 5 point penalty. I can't help being competitive, even playing cards!)
A group of us had
Darkhan at dawn
Wintry trees in the park
dinner at a Mongolian BBQ restaurant! Yes, it is true, the Mongolians have a few of the western world's representation of Mongolian food! (It is definitely not what Mongolian restaurants serve). We could have been anywhere in the world - the buffet set up was the same (except there was horse and goat on offer amongst the meats) and the huge hot plate was manned by talented chefs who put on a show for patrons to show off their skills with the long tongs/sticks they use!
We also went to a Chinese restaurant chain named 'The Bull' which is all about Chinese hot pots. It was so lovely to eat something spicy!
Jo, Farrah and I ventured out to see another opera. This time is was 'Tosca'. Can't say it was fantastic but the Mongolian woman who played Tosca was very talented, as was the Italian man who played the villain, and some staging issues gave us a few unexpected laughs. I am really enjoying just how accessible opera and ballet is in UB. It cost us about A$6 a ticket. Just sensational.
Farrah, Rita and I also ventured
Just out of Darkhan, heavy industry pollutes the morning sky
out to the Natural History Museum. An interesting paragraph from the Lonely Planet guide sums it up very nicely. "This natural history museum is a serious throwback to the Soviet era. It has exhibits featuring Mongolia's geography, flora and fauna, including the requisite section with stuffed and embalmed animals, birds and even fish. The general impression, however, is that you've stumbled into the warehouse of a long-deceased taxidermist, rather than into a serious scientific exhibition. Some of the animals have been fixed with puzzling expressions, as if they remain perplexed as to how they ended up in such an unfortunate state. In any case, budding geologists may appreciate the generally stoic meteorites."
Another highlight was a crocodile presented to the people of Mongolia by none other than Fidel Castro! And the cost of this visit after we presented our Mongolian work permits? 1,000₮ or about A$0.85 so no complaints from me!
Australia Day in Darkhan
My final shift at the Darkhan hospital psychiatric ward as a volunteer (more on this later) on Australia Day was extra special.
I had baked ANZAC biscuits (oatmeal cookies sent around the world during the two world wars to give the soldiers
My fave Mong man
Metal man at the entrance to the Darkhan industrial estate
a taste of home) and took some vegemite and crackers for morning tea for the patients and staff.
Well, the vegemite, as I had suspected, was not a hit. I was ever hopeful the strong, salty flavor may have been to the Mongolian taste, but no. However, the ANZAC biscuits disappeared very quickly.
I was thanked profusely including 'may you live 100 years' (a very lovely Mongolian thank you) by several of the patients. One of them also did a palm reading and confirmed I would live a long life and that a very big change in my life would occur when I was 37! Well, thinking back, not sure what that was!!!
Australian Presentation in Khutul
The next day I headed off for my second visit to Khutul - about 60 kilometres from Darkhan.
The main purpose of the trip was to do a presentation about Australia for the English conversation class at the Lotus cafe (the cafe set up and being run by fellow VSO volunteer, Sandrina). The teens were aged between 14 and 18 and were generally very shy. However, in asking questions about me before I started my presentation, I copped
Very neat and quiet early in the day
the usual series that I have come to expect in Mongolia. "How old are you?", "Are you married?", "Do you have any children?". I was also asked if I was coping with the cold weather. I said 'yes' and the young man who asked the question used elaborate gestures to explain why. "Yes", I replied, "I AM very well padded". Whilst I am used to these questions, I still find it interesting that everyone has told me it is as rude to ask a woman how old she is in Mongolia as it is in western culture. I think it likely Mongolians simply ask foreigners because they are genuinely interested and can't easily estimate foreigner's ages by simply looking at them. Don't we all do the same when in foreign countries?
My presentation was simply a series of photographs of Australia. Most of them were my photographs, but I did add in some pictures of Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef, Sydney and the recent floods to add some variety to my Victorian- and sport-centric photos!
The vegemite and ANZAC cookie reactions were the same as in the psychiatric ward - although Levi, an American Peace Corps volunteer, gave
Mong horses (Морь) being moved through town.
Vegemite the nod!
I stayed overnight with Sandrina and Levi and was treated to a fantastic vegetarian curry for dinner and pizza (at the Lotus Cafe) for lunch. Can't get much better hospitality than that!
Psychiatric Ward funding
One of my ongoing projects for the next few months will be to try and acquire some funding for the Darkhan Hospital Psychiatric Ward.
My interpreter, Altai, and I are very keen to seek funding for some small projects (like arts and crafts materials for the clients) as well as some more substantial projects like replacing the 20 beds which were purchased way back in 1976!
I have been given some suggestions locally for sources of grants but I would appreciate any further suggestions from the wider community. So please feel free to send me an email or place a message on the blog if you have any ideas.
Homeward bound - a little early!
Well, you may have noticed that since an entry way back in September, little has been said in my blogs about my actual VSO placement at Darkhan Health Department. The reason for this omission is simple, there has been almost
Our new Mong friend
Rita and I sat with this young man for the duration of his journey to visit some relatives. He spoke almost no English so Rita did a great job conversing in Mong!
nothing to report. For example, I presented my first "weekly" training workshop on 10 January (four months after I had started work)! Unfortunately, my three managers (all doctors turned administrators) have all been too busy to consult and liaise with me about my main role which is to improve the general management capabilities of the management team!
So, I have decided it is time to pull the pin, cut my losses, and head on home to Australia.
My flight is booked for 16 March but in the meantime, I have plenty to look forward to. I finish work in Darkhan on Wednesday 2 February. It is then four days of Tsagaan Sar (Mongolian New Year) to enjoy and I have already been invited to three homes to participate in the annual visiting and excessive buuz (mutton-filled dumplings) consumption ritual.
I will move to UB after Tsagaan Sar and work for VSO for three weeks on the In-Country Training Program for the new volunteers who arrive on 14 February.
After that, two weeks of holidays at two festivals at opposite ends of the country - the Khuvsgul Ice Festival and the Gobi Desert's Camel Festival - before
At each of the little village stations, a signal person was on hand!
I am disappointed about my placement but I do not regret coming to Mongolia for a second. It has been an incredibly interesting experience to date and the next six or so weeks will be a fantastic way to end to my stay in Mongolia.
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