I packed a whole lot of stuff I didn’t use because I overestimated how cold it would be in October….on the other hand, I accidentally packed three little things that were absolutely critical to my functioning!
The first was a tiny, dim pocket flashlight my son had asked me to carry at some point, and I had forgotten to remove from my purse. It’s about the size of a lipstick tube. Our dwelling has a totally dark stairwell at the bottom, before going out the big iron door, and includes 3 crumbling steps. That lil ole dim flashlight was a savior to me at that place!
The second was a wooden clothespin I also forgot I had in my purse. We have a great little Panasonic washing machine in the bathroom, but nowhere to hang up the clothes. We’ve used every door top and counter, but the clothespin allowed me to hang up one more shirt. Things dry quickly in Mongolia because of the aridity, but not if they’re not hanging up! Oh, the clothespin was from some classroom exhibit with children’s art hanging from a clothes line. I think the clothespin was left behind and I put it in my purse, maybe 6 months ago!
Finally, my mom furnished me with her down-padded long black coat, thinking I’d need it to cover cold legs. It is so radically out of style here that I just can’t wear it (and you know I’m not very fussy about that!) HOWEVER, inside two hidden pockets are those little stretchy gloves we can buy for a dollar at Walgreens – they are just the right degree of warmth for daytime weather here, and I have used them to and from the university every day.
moral: Good things may be small and humble and may not immediately reveal their usefulness…
One of the ways Mongolians try to cut down on heat loss in buildings is through strategic opening of inner and outer banks of doors. If there are, say, 5 doors in a row at a big institution, like the museum or the university, they unlock the outer door on the far left, and the inner door on the far right. That means you walk through the outer door on one side, then walk over to the other side to go through the inner door. That way, much less air blows into the building from outside. At first I thought it was really silly to not open the two doors in a row for the outer and inner door, but then I caught on, and realized what they were doing!
Another nice feature is that the university has a free coat check. Just inside the door, the students leave their coats and get a token, then retrieve the coats when they leave. Coats take up a lot of room in small classrooms, and the building is very warm, with sunlight beating on the windows on the main side of the building all day. Students absolutely do not need their coats!
I noticed a lot of hubbub on the third floor at a glassed in office area, with many students waiting in line all the time. I was told that students can leave their assignments to be typed, and can also have copies made of anything they need, for a small fee. This apparently includes whole books! (hmmmmmm…)
Traditional Mongolian outdoor wear, at least in the city, is the dul, which is long enough to go to the knees, with a big sash in the middle for swagger. This is the key to keeping warm – to cover the “tush.” And Mongolia is a country of hats! Amazing ceremonial headgear for both women and men, and big hats worn by the men, kind of like cowboy hats/sombreros.
I’ve always noticed the similarity of spelling for the words outage and outrage (like miniseries and ministeries…) (OK, I’m a word nerd….) and I finally have a chance to use them in a meaningful context!
I gave five formal presentations and for two of them, the power in the building went out. That meant no juice for the LCD projector which showed my powerpoints. For the first of the two presentations, I had nearly finished going through my Terribly Entertaining Powerpoint, including music and video, and was able to just segway into discussion. However, for the second one, my final presentation given yesterday for a large group of teachers from ten different universities, the power went out on the third slide — of about 60 slides and never came back for the duration of the presentation. Not good.
There were three reasons it wasn’t as devastating as it might have been. First, everyone had a 1 page two-sided handout with the main ideas so that they could take structured notes, so everyone had something to go by. That had been made on a strange but effective machine, only about 5 minutes before the power went out — so, lucky! Second, I had fully charged my computer in the guest house the previous night so that I, at least, could see my own powerpoint and it could guide me to some of the examples, and my speaker was attached to it so I was able to play a couple of the audio samples even without the projector….and third, I really knew my material and could easily speak on the topic (English word formation) with or without any props. To make it better, my colleagues from National U rushed in with a marker and some napkins so I could use the small whiteboard in the front of the room, and I was able to use it extensively.
But — it’s not fun. It’s unpredictable and that is maddening. You don’t know when the power will go off, or for how long. It happened again in the guest house last night although only for a few minutes. The only illumination in the room was from the ghostly light of my laptop!
Ulaan Bataar and environs are straining from the ballooning growth of the population and haven’t modernized or cleaned up their power generation. Oh, did I tell you a coal fired plant is belching huge amounts of sulphur dioxide and particulate matter from a low smokestack, right on the edge of town?
I’m not sure what alternatives are available in this climate, but engineers and environmentalists need to get to work….and their governmental ministeries should create a miniseries about it! LOL
The level of passionate interest in singing in Mongolia is striking – even at the orphanage yesterday, the children were ready and willing to “sing along.” Likewise at the show on Wednesday at the Wrestler’s Palace, and the bus ride to the ger camp, and the Russian classes I heard singing at the top of their lungs yesterday at the university, and the class I guest taught which sang “Man of Constant Sorrow” with such great enthusiasm….and on and on and on.
So, what’s it all about?
I’ve been watching and listening as Mongolians struggle with daily life – it’s been a rough existence for Mongolians for so many centuries – a truly inhospitable climate, so bad that, I was told today, “there are no rats because they couldn’t survive the winter.” At the orphanage yesterday, the director said they’d found a dead puppy that morning, a frequent occurrence because they get too cold at night and there’s no shelter for all the animals. And other animals die in the winter, and babies, too…it’s just not a good climate for plants and animals. It has made Mongolians rugged, sturdy, and kind of unemotional. They don’t go for niceties particularly; they want to get down to the business of surviving. Getting food to eat is not a “given,” even with the boom in imports, etc. I’m not saying any of the Mongolians I met go hungry, but some of the people in the ger district right outside town definitely do, and probably some people in the city do also.
So, what does that have to do with singing?
I think singing is a safe outlet for unsafe emotions that could get in the way of survival needs. The romantic, nostalgic, and patriotic songs everyone sings at the karaoke bars that are three to a block gives Mongolians a chance to experience romantic, nostalgic, and lofty feelings that can’t really be usefully deployed in everyday life. The singing allows the emotions to be intensely felt but in a circumscribed context….
I’m sure that is true in many cultures, but for some reason it really “clicked” for me in this culture — I can see it at work. Singing allows “softness” in a harsh environment.