Saturday, April 20, 2013

How We Do Siberia on the Steppe

I intended this school year to write about something different in UB every week.  I haven't done too badly, although keeping up with my China trips has slowed me down some.  Still, there are lots of museums and places to check out in UB that I haven't seen yet, and even more I haven't discovered (who the hell knew there was a Black Box theater here???  Not this girl, and some of my favorite plays - Bloody Poetry, Waiting for Godot - have been performed in such spaces!)  Today I get to check one off: the Victims of Political Persecution Museum.
It's housed in an unassuming building down the street (southwards) from the ballet theater, and is not much visited.  There's not a whole lot to see and much of the text is in Mongolian, but this is a part of their history that shouldn't be forgotten.  At the beginning of Mongolia's own cultural revolution the population was about 800,000, according to one of their labels.  On the first floor, there are statistics for each aimag, telling how many people were executed, or imprisoned, and for how long.  If you add them all up, it doesn't look like as many as died during other communist regimes (who need not be named just now), but when most aimags executed 1500-2000 people, and there are 21 of them, that adds up to a significant part of the population.
I'm an art teacher; I notice art.  I truly love the traditional style of painting here, and purchased my own Mongolian painting last fall (you'll get to see it next week if I follow through with my plan to finally write the blog I promised Babysis about my home).  I think my favorite - if that word is appropriate in this instance - artifact in the museum is a painting done in the traditional style, showing scenes from the purges.  It is a jarring contrast between the beauty of the style and composition and the ugliness of the subject matter.
The skulls brought me to tears.  So many of the victims were Buddhist monks (communism being not so big a fan of the opiate of the masses).  Over the years, mass graves have been discovered.  The bullet holes in the skulls are telling.
And of course, no persecution would be complete without propaganda.  The last couple of years I did a unit on propaganda with my fifth graders during their exhibition.  We talked about the power of words and images, and how artists can use this power for both good and evil.  We talked particularly about the absurdity of Nazi propaganda from WWII, and how the artists of those images parodied racial characteristics and caricatured people, and encouraged them to remember how wrong we know those to be based on our experiences with our own classmates.  As I mentioned, the group most targeted in early communist Mongolia were the Buddhist monks.  So, class, what do you suppose is the message the artist is trying to communicate in this poster?  And based on your experience, do you think this is a true message, or not?
Speaking of religion, it's the 20th anniversary of the Mormon church in Mongolia.  I ran into one of my sisters on Wednesday when I was getting a manicure, and she mentioned a performance at the circus - that it was a Mongolian cultural performance with all the performers being LDS.  Well, I figured a free performance was not something that comes around all the time, so I invited a lot of people to go, but one of my new friends, let's call him Spike, was the only one who took me up on it.  It turned out being more religion than he was up for (there was more choir singing than Mongolian performances), and didn't quite make it halfway.  Also, the seats in the middle have NO legroom.  And whoever was running the lights had them pointed right in our eyes.  But I was glad that I went.  It was really cool to see a Mormon girl doing contortionism, because it's not exactly the most modest art form, and as a sometimes belly dancer I like seeing my sisters do what they're passionate about even if it might cause the Utah contingent to cringe.  It was also interesting to note my own reaction to having Spike along.  I've talked about my religion with non-Mormons a lot, usually - ironically - in bars, and brought people to church with me occasionally, although I make them invite themselves.  And it is always weird for me to think about what they must think of us.  We have some beliefs that are not exactly standard, and I would be lying if I didn't say that there are times when the standards of the church are a battle for me.  But...I BELIEVE THESE THINGS ARE TRUE!  I believe that the hard things I have to do make me a better person, they make me happy, they keep me safe, and - said it before and I'll say it again - I know for a fact that I never could have left my home and family to go wandering the world alone if I hadn't known my Heavenly Father would go with me wherever I go.  It is hard and I struggle but I wouldn't trade it for all the beautiful men-in-tights in the world (the ballet is on the schedule for tomorrow :)

This day has been long and I am exhausted.  This morning began bright and early.  I mean, TRULY bright and early.  Instead of getting up at 6 and puttering around on the internet for an hour and going back to bed, I puttered for 20 minutes then got ready to go HIKING.  Yes, at bloody 6:30 in the morning.  It was WONDERFUL!  This seemed like a particularly good idea this week because I had the wonderful news this week that a lot of the permit restrictions on visiting Tibet have been lifted, and I no longer have to have a group of 4 other Americans to go with.  So my own personal Himalayan expedition is going forward as originally intended!  I don't know if you realize how happy this makes me - going to Tibet this summer was a huge influence on my decision to get the 1-year visa and mop up my China "bucket list."  It's been something I've prayed about and dreamed about and even gnashed my teeth over a little.  Miracles DO come true!  Anyways, Engrish decided to try something new and went with me, and had to agree that it was not a bad way to start your weekend at all.

Also, this morning I just passed 3333 views on this blog.  The crazy thing is that over 1000 of those views have been in 2013, and 2054 since moving to Mongolia.  It was a shock last fall to find out that my colleagues were actually reading what I had to say, and that I had somehow managed to gain myself a loyal Mongolian reader, whom I've bumped into up here on the hill twice (this is unbelievable because my blog has been blocked from search engines since April 2010, when the head of lower primary suggested it might be wise to change the settings so as not to vent my feelings about the school quite so publicly).  In the last month I changed those settings, and I have been amazed to see views from countries where I don't really know anyone...it's easy to guess that it's my Swiss cousins accounting for my Swiss views, or that the Peruvian ones are either the Evil One or her hubby, but I don't think the one person I know in Germany has visited 92 times!  Anyways, it's great to know I'm not just shouting into the void, or rather, that someone besides me and my seven official readers is getting some enjoyment out of my ramblings.  Feel free to drop me a comment if you're reading and ask me questions or tell me what you like, or even what you don't.

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