Sunday, January 26, 2014

Throw Down

For Mongolians, the most wonderful time of the year is NOT Christmas, it's actually Tsagaan Sar - Mongolian New Year.  It's the time when you...well, you're going to find out more in the coming week, but you can read what I wrote about it last year to tide you over, if you like.  What you need to know for now is that there are wrestling tournaments as part of the celebration, and on a whim, Engrish and I decided we needed to go today.  We planned to meet at the Wrestling Palace after I finished church, and since I got there a few minutes before she did, I went ahead and bought the tickets.  This was a bit of a maneuver, because when I went to the KACC office on the side of the building, where tickets are sold, the guy didn't understand me, and sent me to the entrance, where they promptly sent me back to the side.  Eventually I got things sorted out, and ended up with one of the security guys, who was so eager to show me where to sit that he almost missed the fact that I had two tickets and was waiting for minii nites (my friend).
She had mentioned our desire to see some wrestling to our fearless driver, Enkhaa, at some point in the past, and he was bemused.  Why would a couple of white girls want to go watch wrestling?  To which I must say why WOULDN'T we???  To quote my recent Expats Blog contest entry:  "Beautiful strong men in tiny underpants...need I say more?  (See more at:  Apparently it's something men are more into, spectating...than women, but that's never been something to stop me.  Of course, I don't think we really realized what a treat we were in for.  I should have - I've recently been fighting with one of my seventh grade girls about changing in the hallway, because she doesn't see anything wrong with changing her clothes in front of God and the whole world.  Well, neither did the wrestlers.  There were strapping young lads in nearly every stage of undress scattered around the palace, and it did my poor, very single heart a WORLD of good!
We wanted to go to the wrestling palace last year, but the opportunity never presented itself.  I actually got to see some wrestling at Naadam, but it was hot and sunny and I'd just had my back messed up by a bunch of Mongolian women forcing themselves onto our bench, so I didn't stay long.  But even if I had, it wouldn't be the same.  The wrestling palace is a much smaller venue than the Naadam stadium, so you feel much closer to the action.  There's a great deal of pageantry involved in a Mongolian wrestling tournament.  When things were finally ready to start, some of the lamas chanted, after which the referees and wrestlers came out onto the "mat" - a round green carpet that covered the floor of the palace.
The names of the wrestlers and their home aimags was announced, if Engrish can be trusted (and since she's practically Mongolian, she generally can).  The wrestlers left the floor, some of them to go back and change into their deel for a later match, and some to merely come back in a few minutes.  Before they start, they "salute" the referees and the Mongolian flag.  Or salute is the best description I can come up with for it - it's actually more graceful, and involves more of the body, as they walk or kind of skip around, gently flapping their arms like an eagle.

I have to admit that I haven't seen much wrestling in my life.  As a band geek, I played at football games and basketball games, but we didn't go to wrestling meets, so the sum of my experience with wrestling comes down to when I couldn't get Shaggy to change the channel as a child and had to watch Hulk Hogan duke it out with Randy Roddy Piper.  This was NOTHING like that (obviously).

For starters, while Mongolian wrestlers have muscles and then some (the shoulders and the legs on these guys!  I swear!), but quite a lot of them had a lot of fat on them, too.  And they weren't paired up according to size - there were very big wrestlers in matches against much more wiry guys.  Engrish and I both wondered how the matches were decided.
The technique seemed different, too - really intense.  They would grapple with each other for what seemed like a really long time, in some matches.  For long periods, their heads would be locked, like a couple of stags, and then they would start spinning, trying to lock a leg around their opponent or simply just throw them off balance.  It truly was "no holds barred;" they had a hold of each others' tops (open fronted, because once upon a time a woman decided to compete - although some of these guys had more boobage than a couple of my girls...) and bottoms.  I was hoping for a wardrobe malfunction at some point, but Engrish pointed out that most of them seemed to be wearing bloomers under their...bloomers.
Then there was the fact that there were LOTS of matches going on at the same time.  It was hard to know where to look.  Engrish and I would pick a couple to watch - occasionally the same one - but it became harder to keep track of them as they moved around the floor.  Wrestlers were constantly hitting the mat.  I found it amazing that nobody got hurt - tribute, I guess, to the refs' hard work (and occasional ass smacking).
The lamas who did the chanting earlier in the afternoon were also the keepers of the winners' brew - airag (fermented mare's milk) - and these fried dough things that you always get served when you visit a ger.  The wrestlers tossed these up into the crowd.  Engrish suggested that it might be lucky to get a treat from the winner.  I suggested that it would have been MORE lucky for them to lay a big wet one on a ginger girl (I've read somewhere that being fire-kissed brings luck), but unfortunately we were sitting in the wrong section to find out.
The truly incongruous thing seemed to me their boots.  Mongolians wrestle in big, ass-kicker boots, which seems funny with their teeny tiny costumes.  It was especially funny to see them walking down the stairs for their next match in just their underpants and boots.  Not that I'm complaining.

Well, we made it to nearly 5 o'clock before Engrish asked if I'd gotten enough photos and 5,000 tugrugs worth of entertainment.  I'd just been thinking to myself that it seemed like the matches were going to go on ALL NIGHT, and since I hadn't had lunch, I was ready to go try my student's restaurant, Korea House (conveniently located behind the wrestling palace).  But I wouldn't hesitate to go again.
The End.


  1. I think this is my favorite post to date, I would have loved to be there with you