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~


  1. Replies
    1. If Five didn't tell you while she was visiting, we wish you would come back - we miss you here! Glad you liked the photos!