Sunday, November 15, 2015

Mongolian Summer

The snow is coming down in tiny little nano-flakes tonight, as I sit here trying to patch together what my summer was like after leaving Italy.  I've been in denial about the fact that it is Getting Cold now, but I can't do it anymore.  On a weekend like this, you can't help but wish for some sun and heat, and sadly, when I tried to go for pho yesterday, the Pho House was Closed (I peeked in the window and the register and stuff was cleaned out - eek!), so I guess it's apropos that I'm finally sitting down and hashing this out.
Because I have this funny thing about not being considered a resident (my family says this is a thing, so I'll try it out...THANKS, OBAMA!) I only stayed stateside for about three weeks this summer.  After I came back from Italy I was in UB for a week (Naadam!), which was good because my freaking suitcase got lost.  Again.  This is the same suitcase that got lost en route to both Siem Reap and Athens, which makes three times in a six-month period, and this time I didn't actually get it back before I left again - I had to pick it up in Seoul on my way home, and when I finally DID get it home, I declared it cursed and left it there...but I digress.  That week I was lucky to have my first visitor in Mongolia - and in fact, my first visitor since that time when Evil came to Ras Al Khaimah......Azhaar, my belly dance teacher extraordinaire, part-time therapist (the part-time being where my one-hour lessons became two), and pretty much all-around amazing person.
In addition to being a dancer, Azhaar is a musician.  Although I think she decided to come to Mongolia primarily because I invited her, when I started talking about all the kick-ass music and dance we were going to see, she got a little bit excited.  Most visitors to Mongolia during the 11-13th of July find a way to get in on the Naadam action.  To be fair, Azhaar and I made one brief trip to the stadium area, more to take in the madness than anything else, although we made sure to have a Naadam khuushuur and managed to watch a little archery while we were at it, but that was not what we spent our time and money on.  Instead, she found a friend on facebook to take her shopping for a morin khuur, and spent her first day doing that while I worked on finishing our mural at school with the Kawaii Kid (whom, upon meeting, Azhaar declared that she couldn't escape Korea.  I might have laughed at that a little).  The next day, we did some wandering before meeting up with Engrish for dinner and a show.  Khusugtun is a Mongolian band, runners-up in this year's Asia's Got Talent, and stars of the Night Temple Museum event held at Choijin Lama Temple on July 9th.
I've seen a lot of incredible performances since living in Mongolia, but none of them beat this one.  It wasn't just that Khusugtun was fantastic, although they were.  It was the setting that made this concert so special.  The Choijin Lama temple museum has a pretty incredible atmosphere...a bit spooky and otherworldly, and is possibly one of my favorite Buddhist temples.  Seeing it at night, with the accompaniment of Khusugtun's music, gives me chills just from the memory. 

We saw some other great music that week - we went to the National Morin Khuur Ensemble, a concert in Sukhbaatar Square, as well as the Mongol Deeltei festival.  I forgot how much I enjoyed traveling with Azhaar - as I indicated when I filled out her tourist survey, she is a first-class culture vulture.
I came back to Mongolia in early August to - strangely enough - a second visitor, Evil's niece, Katie.  It was a completely different experience, showing Katie around.  She was really interested in culture, too, but more of the nomadic lifestyle culture than just the music and dance.  I wasn't sure I was going to be able to take her to a Naadam, since the season was sort of over by then, but she made it just in time for the first Danshig (religious) Naadam in over a century.  It was basically the same as any other Naadam, and even took place at Khui Doloon Khudag (where the horse races normally take place) but additionally involved a lot of monks chanting, and rumor has it that Tsam dancing took place, although I didn't get to see it with my own eyes.  This gave her the opportunity to have Naadam khuushuur (which, if you can't tell by the fact that this is my second mention of it in this post alone, is a tasty treat), so it was pretty lucky all around.  At least until we left the city.  True to my word, I arranged for some nomadic experiences for her, and we went out to Kharkhorin first to see Erdene Zuu Khiid with a plan to visit Enkhaa's herder friends on the way back.  And then Katie spent the whole night sick, so our marvelous plan was cut short.  Still, she had a good time and it's always nice to have company visit.  Although I was ECSTATIC when I was FINALLY alone in my apartment.  Two months is a long time to either visit or be visited.  I can't state that enough.
Although her timing was good on the Naadam Katie missed, by a mere couple of hours, a falconry festival held at Chingisiin Khuree Tourist Camp, near the airport.  As I've mentioned before, it can be hard to find out about things going on in and around UB, and I only found out about it because my famous friend Allyson had been the day before and posted about meeting Ashol Pan.
Ever heard of her?  She's this really badass Kazakh girl eagle hunter.  When I went to the eagle festival in Olgii two years ago, she hadn't become famous, and all of the hunters we saw were men.  A year later she was there, and already a news story - I was kicking myself for going the wrong year (although I guess if I had gone in 2014 I would have missed seeing the dumbass foreign guy get attacked by an eagle, so you pick your luck).  I hopped at the chance to meet her, and she was sweet enough to pose for a photo when Enkhaa introduced me and the newly-returned Five to her that morning.
Stupid *@#%!^$ bird.  Nobody messes with Khublai
Ashol Pan was really the star of the show, but that didn't stop the organizers from putting on a little pageantry.  They opened the festival with a reenactment of Khublai Khan and his hunting party, explaining that not only did they hunt with eagles and falcons but even used TIGERS to hunt.  The part with the falcon didn't go so well, since the bird decided it wasn't interested in coming to him, and finally had to be bribed with something dead and presumably tasty to make a small hop from its handler to Khublai's hand.
We got to see some of the same exercises that Engrish, Geek, and I saw at the Eagle Festival (which is good, because our fall break no longer lines up with it).  They had finished with a performance of trick riding when Five and I decided it was time to be off.  I could have watched it all day, but I'd lost my sunscreen and nobody was making khuushuur, so Enkhaa brought us back to Zaisan, and we eventually met up with Engrish so that the terrible trio could reunite at long last. 

Ever since then, school's pretty much been non-stop and I've found some new things to torture myself with, but we did manage to take a much-needed vacation to Greece, which I'll have to tell you about the next time I sit down.  Til then~

Monday, November 9, 2015

Art Teacher in Paradise

So it turns out that blogging has become the thing I do when I can't sleep (my last post), or when I have a little extra time in the morning (this post).  I just looked at my "all-time" stats and it was kind of sad to see the downward trend of my hit mountain, but what can I say?  I got art shit to do.
One of the reasons my printmaking teacher, Subler, encouraged us all to participate in that study abroad in 2001 was because the Venetian Biennale takes place on odd-numbered years.  A biennale is an art event that takes place approximately every two years (literally it means every two years but has come to be able to fit other regularly spaced events), and the event that made it a thing all started in Venice in 1895.
Well, the 2015 Biennale was the fifty-sixth in the history of the event, but of particular note for me and Mongolians because this is the first year Mongolia has participated, and this helped to spur me on in my desire to make it back to Venice this summer.  I first learned this when an acquaintance posted their IndieGoGo campaign on Facebook.  I'll let you read the story yourself via the link...long story short, their goal was to raise $50,000; they only raised $820 and awareness, but sometimes awareness is what you really need, because somebody's fairy godmother got on the horn and made stuff happen.

I managed to locate Palazzo Mora (which hosted the Mongolian Pavilion as well as a couple of other national pavilions) fairly easily, one of my first days in Venice.  One of the great things about the Biennale is that there are all these palaces with doors wide open to let you see internationally renowned art FOR FREE.  I rushed through the door and up the stairs, past some really cool pieces of art (such as a hallway of shoes made of bullet casings and some really fascinating sketchbooks) til I made it to the Mongolian pavilion.  It featured the work of two artists, T. Enkhbold and Unen Enkh, and the installation, featuring rough materials such as felt and leather, reminded me so strongly of Mongolia that I might have felt a little homesick as I sat on the floor and watched one of the videos, in which Enkhbold sets up his ger on a faraway shore...in the Netherlands, if I'm remembering correctly, but it's been several months thanks to my computer problems, some laziness, and the fact that the Kawaii Kid keeps suggesting really interesting anime to me.
One of the things that blew my mind in 2001 was the insane variety of materials and creations on display at the Biennale.  I had forgotten how much of it there was until I made my way to the Giardini this summer - the main things I remember from the 49th was Ron Mueck's Big Boy, Do Ho Suh's floor of people, and (of course) all the video art (particularly the Bjork video with the robots...beautiful, in a weird way...)  Walking through the Giardini, I remembered more, but couldn't be distracted by ghosts of the past.  There was the artist who made swatches with different kinds of earth and an installation which read Peace, but could only really be seen from the right perspective.
I LOVED the Australian (I think - sorry guys, like I said, it's been a while) pavilion.  It had the feel of a crazy antiques shop where skulls had been painted on the cuckoo clocks while someone had defaced currency with swimming sperm.  I also appreciated the tree on wheels outside one of the pavilions (German?), but I think I loved the Japanese pavilion the most at the Giardini...
Chiharu Shiota's installation, "Key in the Hand," featured about a million keys (rough estimate) strung through the million miles of red yarn tangled throughout the space...and a few rustic boats.  I felt like one of those keys must be mine, and if I could grasp it I could untangle it's line from the others, finding my way back to...something.  I liked the feeling of possibility it invoked in me.
It was just after I'd purchased my vaporetto pass and was taking a ride somewhere (possibly to Murano) that I realized I recognized a name on one of the posters - Rashad Alakbarov.  As soon as I figured out why I knew his name I totally fangirled.  Alakbarov is an Azerbaijani artist who creates the most amazing installations using light and shadow.  I tracked down "The Union of Fire and Water" at the Palazzo Barbaro (which, I swear, would make a great haunted house.  It had some serious presence!) one afternoon to see his art in person, and it.  Was.  Fantastic.  Not only was his work even more amazing in person than it is on This Is Colossal but it fit perfectly into the mood of Palazzo Barbaro, particularly the message, "I WAS HERE," which was reflected off a grouping of mirrors.  But my personal favorite was "DO NOT FEAR," spelled out in the shadows of knives.
My last stop was the Arsenale.  I hate to admit this, but I was a little undone by the time I got there.  It was hot, the sun was shining, and I was thinking more about the dinner I was supposed to have that night with a Shanghai friend who happened to be in Venice at the same time (historic ravioli.  Need I say more???)  Also, the Arsenale always kind of strikes me as a madhouse - it's just sensory overload!  I took a good look around, and I liked what I saw, but by that point in time, I was a saturated sponge, and there wasn't much more art I could soak up, no matter how much I wanted to. Nevertheless, with everything there is to see, I'd love to take my kids to Venice for the 57th Biennale.  I can't even imagine some of the things they'd say about the art, but I'll probably have to, since I have no idea how I'd plan that and keep it reasonably priced.  Still, a girl can dream.
Oh, hey - I have one last thing to tell you (all six of you regular readers)!  Last fall I entered the Harmonic UB Tourist Photo Competition.  The original deadline was in September 2014 and I hit them with my best shots (yes, I live here, but I am still a tourist...or at least travel around Mongolia.  Details!), but then they decided they wanted to give more people a chance to compete, so they changed it.  To September 2015.  So I waited patiently for the next year for the damn thing to wrap up.  There was an exhibition of the best photos on the concluding weekend, but I didn't know about it until the photos were added to the facebook event, and although they said winners would be announced soon, none were ever posted on any of the associated pages...I would know, because I was watching and waiting.  My hopes were dashed while we were in Greece (I have a lot of writing to do...) and Engrish said she'd got an announcement that some Chinese woman had won the contest, but I was dubious, since there were supposed to be three prizes and c'mon, what the heck, why didn't I get an email, too?  Finally, one month and a week later, I get a short, very innocuous message in my hotmail account letting me know that I've won second place!  Honestly I was hoping for first place, because the prize was a trip to the Gobi and I've never been, but I don't mind going to Khuvsgul again, if someone else is paying.  So, yeah.  Another second place win for me.  Yay!