Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Short Circuit

The only phrase I think I use more than, "I really love my students," this spring is, "I can't believe this year is already over."  I used it more than once over this weekend, when the long-awaited trek into east Gobi finally happened.  Blondie's PA, Wild Ass (previously of Tashkent fame), schemed with her to take us out to Sainshand, which just happens to be Engrish's old digs, as well as on my list of places to see thanks to an enthusiastic endorsement by Lit and the fact that it's a Shambhala energy center.
Alright, first thing you need to know is that it's 1:30 in the morning.  I finished procrastinating, finished packing, and I'm now trying to knock this thing out before I leave for Khuvsgul.  So I'm perhaps not at my most witty (am I ever at my most witty when it doesn't involve some sort of phallus-related travel?  Probably not).  Okay, back to Sainshand.  Danzan Ravjaa is the guy to know in town.  He was a 19th century monk/intellectual, and was eventually proclaimed the Fifth Gobi Lord (there's a more technical term for it, but you're getting what you can understand, homeslice). Also, for some reason that I don't care about enough to figure out right now, his wisdom symbol is the scorpion.  Aww, hell - there are scorpions in the Gobi?  Why the hell didn't anyone tell me that before we ran off to the desert???
Khamaryn Khiid was DR's monastery, and before the communist purges, it was probably pretty cool to look at.  Ten years ago, when Engrish (who - true to her identity as a teacher of English - turns out to be a grammar nazi, and probably cringes at least several times during each blog post she reads...anyone want to guess how many mistakes I've made on this go round?) was last here, the stupa-ish building in the middle of the top picture was the only thing they'd rebuilt.  It's come along quite well since then.  I found it highly amusing that the monk had built a monument to his mother's breasts.  Yes, that's exactly what the above picture is of, although I can't tell you if the Stalinists tore these down or not.  They're kind of gross, though, since the offerings one is supposed to splash on the saintly Mrs. Ravjaa's ta-tas are milk (duh) and rice. 
The actual energy center was our next stop on the shambhala circuit - the real reason why people were crazy enough to set up shop out here in the first place.  I've seen photos of it before, and it was very gratifying to figure out what those pictures are of.  What exactly is an "energy center?"  Well, from what I can tell, exactly what it sounds like - a place where there's a strong presence of some sort of earth-based energy.  People were lying down on the ground to soak it in through their whole bodies.  The four of us discussed how long we would need to lie there to store enough energy to get us through the three kid-free wrap up days we had ahead of us, but since we hadn't brought a blanket to lie on, we didn't get to test it and see.
Like most holy sites in Mongolia, offerings are given - in this case, vodka and more rice - and wishes are made.  For the first time in a very long time, I didn't really have anything to wish for...although come to think of it, I still haven't become an elf, although a couple of my darling 9th graders were kind enough to tell me I looked like a character out of Lord of the Rings.  My hair is getting longer, but I'm afraid I still look more like an overfed goblin than an elf.  Probably because I haven't gotten off my lazy ass for much longer than it takes to get a coke out of my fridge and come back for another episode of Fairy Tail.
During the circumnambulation of the energy center, you should be on the lookout for a white stone that is the only stone that could possibly be yours.  When you finish the circuit, there's a pile of stones on which you're supposed to cast yours after speaking your full name and birth date to the stone.  I have no idea why - I'll have to ask Wild Ass for clarification on that one and let you know.
At our penultimate stop I learned that monks are, in essence, just a bunch of good ol boys after all.  That is the only explanation I can come up with for what Wild Ass told me went down around this part of the tour.  In these cliffs are a bunch of caves, and the monks would seal themselves in for three months as a part of their meditations.  For the first month, a bowl of soup was passed through a small hole in the rock.  For the second month, it was only water.  For the third month - nothing.  At the end of the third month, the other monks would come and unseal the cave.  Either the brother who had been meditating would be dead (in which case they sealed up the cave again and it became his tomb), or he would be floating off the ground, in a trance-like state.  It sounds like something the students who tried "Man vs Wild" as a science fair project last year would have come up with, if they were grown-ass monks. 
Moral of the story, because it's creeping up on two now and I want to sleep?  The desert is cool, but what the hell, people?  Out here I had sympathy for the biblical Children of Israel.  If this was the landscape stretching out in front of me, you bet your ass I'd have a whiny word or two to say to my fearless leader (especially if all we had to eat was manna and quail).  Maybe there's something to the whole energy center thing, to keep people out here.  Or maybe it's the fact that Mongolians have khuushuur, a treat I've managed to get Blondie hooked on. 


  1. Love reading your blogs. I can hear your voice in my head reading to me! Have a great next adventure!

    1. Thanks! I survived my visit to the wild reaches of northern Mongolia and will be blogging about it shortly. Hope you are having a great summer - don't work too hard!

  2. Awesome post, thanks for sharing this post..