Saturday, July 5, 2014

You Can Take the Kids Out of Japan...

Although school has been out for two weeks and three days, and I have been back from Khuvsgul for one week and two days, I am still in Mongolia.  At the time when my ticket home for the summer was graciously booked by the school, I had no clue how long the trip was going to take, so I made my best guess.  I knew I wanted to be home for my birthday at the end of the month, and I knew I didn't want to make myself "eligible" for the amazing fudge cluster that is Obamacare (I'm not considered a US resident if I'm out of the country more than 330 days out of the year), so I'm flying tomorrow.  While this hasn't been the most exciting week of my life, it has had its advantages:

1. Rosewood's Pop-Up Burrito Shop:  When I got to the internet oasis (aka, Murun airport), Wild Ass had tagged me in a UB Foodies post.  The evil genius behind Rosewood had a new plan for global - well, or at least local - domination...short term locations serving "street food" specialties.  They're doing three of these this summer, and this first featured tacos and burritos.  If - like my father - you're an armchair traveler, you can't really understand how hard it is to get good Mexican outside of the Americas.  Mexikhan is the closest we've managed so far, but they don't quite hit the mark.  However, the burritos and tacos at La Rosa, by the fountain outside of Central Tower are fantastic.  Enjoying them in the shade of a perfect 75 degree summer day (free of bugs and humidity)?  Absolutely sublime.  They should be there for a couple more weeks.
2. Shopping:  One does not appear before one's nieces and nephews empty handed.  Today I bought gifts for the Princess (I was very tempted to buy Dirt Devil his very first bow and arrows, but I'm pretty sure that buying a three year old pointy projectiles would make me persona non grata with my family).  I got her a genuine Mongolian princess dress, boots, and hat, and ordered a book from Barnes and Noble about a real Mongolian princess.  Summer's a good time for shopping here - Naadam is next week, which means big-time tourist season, so you can find some good stuff.  And it was neat to note that there was a sort of flea markety thing going on around the fountain between the State Department Store and the Circus. 
They're sheep anklebones - I had to actually look at this one from the correct place to figure it out.
3.  Street Art:  I don't know if the Alliance Francaise did their street art festival this year or not, but summer means sprucing up the city, and as part of the campaign this year students from the Mongolian University of Arts and Culture and Ikh Zasag University painted 3D perspective paintings around the downtown area.  There's 35 of them altogether, and they might be a little like Pokemon (ie, you gotta catch them all - I wish I could say I came up with that one, but actually it's Blondie's line).  And (finally) speaking of Pokemon...
Not taken at the event, but made an appearance.

4.  Japanese Pop Culture Day:  Kids love anime - it really doesn't matter where you are in the world.  I mentioned back in May that spending my days with teenagers has resulted in me "going native" by developing an addiction to anime.  At first it was revisiting just one show that I watched in my college years.  Then it involved a bunch of Studio Ghibli movies - Princess Mononoke hearkened, again, back to my college years, but I watched quite a few of those films that month.  Probably because I was going/went to Japan.  That's what I told myself, anyways.  But on May 16 I began watching Fairy Tail, and one month later I had seen the entire series, including the OVA's and the movie (and I may have started another series since then...)

I would like to be able to say that I'm doing this strictly to develop as a professional - since I teach teenagers I will always have students who are interested in anime, therefore it behooveth me as an art teacher to become knowledgeable.  Unfortunately for my already-shaky status as an adult, that's probably not the case.

So I went to Japanese Pop Culture Day at the circus, and while I am loath to admit this, in spite of the fact that I'm apparently going through my second adolescence I didn't stay for very long.  I was there long enough for my students to see me and say hi, and to have a look around the place and snap some photos.  I was totally jealous of the kids - ever since making Dirt Devil his Jake the Pirate outfit I've had a strong suspicion that perhaps under the right circumstances* I could get into the whole cosplay thing.  It looks fun.  And the day had potential, although if the drawing contest was what I think it was, I wish I'd known far enough in advance to get my students involved, because they would have rocked it.  See, five grand prize winners of the day's events get free trips to Japan, lucky bastards.  But the thing is...well, stuff.  For starters, I tripped going over one of the shin-high barriers around the circus.  It was actually not a bad fall, but it ripped up my arm which was FINALLY healing, and there were no less than four Mongolian men who very persistently tried to help me up, in spite of the fact that I needed to sit a moment.  Then there was the fact that - excuse the expression, I HAVE been hanging out with Blondie this week - hot as balls in the Circus. And finally, perhaps I might have felt a little out of place.  I must have been twice the age of pretty much everybody there, and I was alone.  Normally I don't have a problem with that, but under the circumstances I felt like a weirdo, so I high-tailed it out of there in search of coke.  And at that point I realized that I was missing 60,000 tugrugs out of my purse.  I'm not sure if I left it at Nagomi (yes, I had sushi - it may be the last time I have it for the next month!) or if it fell out when I tripped or if someone helped themselves to my purse in the confusion of the circus.  Whatever the case may be, I was done.  I needed to finish cleaning the APT, I had a hot (literally) dinner date with Blondie (in which we tried not to set the building on fire grilling in honor of the Fourth).

There are other things going on this month.  July is a great time to be in Mongolia.  Last night we went to the ballet's "Night of Modern," which featured some amazing guest soloists from the Boston Ballet (Engrish, you missed a goooood one!) and there's a sculpture fair which will, sadly, be over by the time I get back.  But I can't be too sad because, hell, I'm going to 'Merica, bitches!  Shopping to do, niblings to spoil - life will be good, and I'm sure in three weeks or so I will be ECSTATIC to be back on the steppe.

*Halloween might be the right circumstance this year.  I might have an idea.  We shall see...

Friday, July 4, 2014

High Way to Heaven

(Alternate title: Getting Stoned)

So I've got one last post for my trip to Khuvsgul aimag.  See, I didn't go directly from Khatgal to the airport.  I asked my buddies at Garage 24 to help me arrange to have my driver that morning to take me to a place called Uushigiin Uver.  They had no idea what I was talking about, but luckily the driver was in the know. 

What is Uushigiin Uver?  It's part of Mongolia's long and varied history.  People have been living and dying here for thousands of years, and this Bronze Age site is one of the few records of their lives and beliefs.

The driver suggested we leave at 6 a.m., and since my "trusty" Lonely Planet seemed to think it takes 3 hours to get from Khatgal to Murun, I said I would be sure to be up by then - because I sure as HELL wasn't missing my flight!  I was a little shocked when we turned off the paved road around seven and could see Murun in the near distance, but I told myself it was all well and good - it just gave me more time to catch up on the interwebs when I got to the airport.  
Getting there so early had another advantage.  It was pissing rain when I got up that morning, and I made sure to have my raincoat and lens hood handy.  However, by the time we got to the site, the rain had let up and there was just enough light to give it a glowy, surreal quality.

I'd heard of deer stones before.  There are lots of stone records around Mongolia (including the balbals and petroglyphs that we saw in Bayan-Olgii), but deer stones are a little different.  They serve as burial markers, and the deer from which they get their name are the means by which the spirit is meant to make its way to the afterlife.  The site at Uushigiin Uver also has some sacrificial altars, and is probably the best collection of the stones in Mongolia (which - according to Lonely Planet - has 500 of the world's 700 stones).  There are fourteen here altogether, with the last one having the face of a woman (that apparently birds get a kick out of crapping on).  For me, this lonely, ancient place was the highlight of my time in Khuvsgul.  I guess it's the artist in me - I've never been much of a history buff, but the fact that people made some kind of tools and carved beautiful things 4000 years ago?  When their lives were otherwise so primitive?  I can't even imagine living here without heat* come winter, let alone creating beautiful things by hand when all I've got to make them are bronze tools.  I can totally admire them for it, though.

*I am talking, of course, about real heat, that comes in a nice piping hot radiator which I don't have to put any effort into, and hell, don't even have to pay for.