Australia Day in Mongolia.....and more!

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January 31st 2011
Published: January 31st 2011
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Swiss army knifeSwiss army knifeSwiss 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 dawnDarkhan at dawnDarkhan 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 manMy fave Mong manMy 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
Train corridorTrain corridorTrain corridor

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 friendOur new Mong friendOur 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
All Aboard!All Aboard!All Aboard!

At each of the little village stations, a signal person was on hand!
heading home.

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.

Additional photos below
Photos: 16, Displayed: 16


Old manOld man
Old man

The hat (above), the deel, the boots (sorry, couldn't get them in this shot) and that craggy face - if only I could have actually photographed him properly!
Happy audienceHappy audience
Happy audience

Farrah and Jo before the 3 acts of Tosca had started
So good, it was recordedSo good, it was recorded
So good, it was recorded

...and the camera man took calls on his mobile phone during the performance!
Vegemite spread thinlyVegemite spread thinly
Vegemite spread thinly

Altai did a great job to make sure only a thin layer of vegemite was spread on the dry biscuits.
Not quite sure about the vegemite!Not quite sure about the vegemite!
Not quite sure about the vegemite!

The psych patients liked the ANZAC cookies and the koalas I gave them - but did not really enjoy the vegemite.
Preparing a grant applicationPreparing a grant application
Preparing a grant application

A doctor and the chief nurse at the psych ward help Altai and I with a small grant application whilst munching on ANZAC cookies.
Thank yousThank yous
Thank yous

A board in the psych ward where patients have written thank yous to the staff for improving their health.

31st January 2011

Shame that you are finishing with a lack of progress work wise but it sounds like it has been culturally enriching and an otherwise enjoyable (and challenging) experience. Enjoy the dumpling festival - sounds like my kind of thing!
31st January 2011

I've been enjoying your blogs and keeping up with life in Mongolia! Such a pity you couldn't get much traction at your placement (hmm, that sounds familiar!) but I can't wait to catch up with you when you get home :)
31st January 2011

Australia Day . . .
Thank you again for the update and pics. Back home by mid March. Suggest you plan trip to States for first Sat. in May.
31st January 2011

Sorry to hear you are leaving
I've enjoyed your blogs. Hope you will continue to travel and blog your local area if nothing else. I have enjoyed your photos.
1st February 2011

Leaving MUST be postponed
Hi Sorry but you can not leave, what other interesting blogs will I have to read, this is just too good to miss!!! However I agree, it is a pity that your role did not get the necessary support, but we know of such things in areasa where they are must needed. I assume we will be treated to one last blog as you exit what must be one of the last few areas where tradition is still a part of everyday life.

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