Friday, July 27, 2007

I had to give this picture, it's own entry, so you can see the kitbitzer in the window, behind the Pumpkin and dad Mashbat.

Mongolian Countryside

I was a little nervous when I saw the horse approaching. To fall off or break the poor thing would have reduced my standing greatly. I will say, Mongolian horses are tough and sturdy.
Countryside, to Mongolians, is an excellent all-purpose word. To, "go countryside", is a verb, also, and adjective, as to "looks countryside", finally you can "live countryside" as a noun. I'm still working on pronouncing the mongol term. Once I unlock my tongue from behind my tonsils, I'll resume practicing.

Sunday, in Erdenet, Mongolia: was family day for the Mashbatt/Scease’. Breakfast was sautéed mutton liver with onions, and bread, then we were off to the market, prior to a visit with relatives in the countryside (see note a: Countryside is a place name, noun, verb, and adjective) First order of business was to purchase proper traditional Mongolian dress for the son-in-law. That was accomplished with only four stops. Thankfully, the Mongolian markets cluster similar offerings within a short distance. On the way out, we purchased; an umbrella to shield the pumpkin from the sun, a fashionable hat for son-in-law, and gifts for the cousins in the countryside. To our dismay and some unkind words, there were no taxis available for an afternoons excursion to the countryside. Sunday, being shopping day, for many Erdenets. The family unit, minus dad, retreated in the direction of home and found solace in bread with blueberry jam.
The missus was a bit peeved with the failure of the plan of day and announced her intention to stay at home for the remainder of the afternoon. In the early afternoon, father Mashbat returned with a ride. Even though, the ride was a well maintained Mercedes micro bus, it was still insufficient for the wife. This decided, She and pmpkn, settled down for a warm summers nap. Father, mother, son-in-law, with sister in tow, ventured down the road for a visit with the country cousins. The road west from Erdenet, is broad and well paved. As with, most Mongolian roads that I’ve experienced, the road bed follows the contours of the hills, climbing only when necessary, and avoiding stream beds whenever possible. Spring rains and snowmelt runoff, as evidenced by undercuts in hillsides, must be substantial and the highway architects pay such areas a healthy amount of respect and distance. Not that the drivers pay much attention to much of anything, two beeps warning and that is all anyone gets. Man or beast.
We found the cousin’s Ger, about a mile away from the main road. We had to ask for directions a couple of times, as they had moved camp, since dad’s last visit. Mongolia is one of the few bastions of civilization where I won’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask directions. Infrastructure towards signage in the city is lacking and non-existent elsewhere. Our afternoon in the countryside was an eye opener. I had fermented mare’s milk (kumiss or Airag), rode a horse, played around with goats and sheep, ate some really dodgy mutton in the cousins‘ Ger. Enjoyed really awesome cream and curds on fresh bread, with Mongolian blueberry jam. My test was; not falling off the horse or getting sick from the Kumiss. Best afternoon of my life, since my first afternoon with the pmpkn. The horse didn’t suffer as much as I thought he would. Mongolian horses are so short, I didn’t have far to fall, so I didn’t worry about falling. I was afraid my feet would drag on the ground or the horse would fold up in the middle from my weight, but neither worry appeared. In fact, they had to call me back for pictures, as we were headed off to the nearest horizon. Horizons and Mongolia; go hand in hand. Limitless, is not much of an exaggeration. Happily, I’ve learned Mongolian and horse for right and left, although, stop isn’t in a Mongolian horse’s vocabulary.
I was also allowed to participate in the gathering of the mare’s milk. The idea is to separate the foals and bring them in, one by one, for suckling. Once the milk flows, the foal is removed from the source, but kept close (that was my job, holding a foal is a lot of fun) Erdene isn’t really into the flies and dirt of the countryside, but I loved it. Well, not the flies and dirt part, so much as, sitting out under the spectacular blue skies of the Mongolian summer.
Erdene’s dad is arranging a sturdy horse for my return visit, and I’m going to make an overnight or two trip with one of the cousins. I’m pretty excited about that. Father Mashbat, is also arranging a whole sheep, which we will slaughter and eat at their Ger camp up on one of the hills to the west of Erdenet. They have about a half acre in vegetables, a sturdy comfortable ger, and some small outbuildings. We spent Tuesday afternoon and night there. Much better than a tent and a trailer. Although, they have had the camp so long, it would take a day and a large truck to move it. Even if individual Mongolians don’t live traditional nomadic lives, they still practice the same principles their ancestors did. I find that aspect of their culture attractive, along with the open hospitality shown by the residents. Not much goes to waste either. I can‘t say that I‘ve seen a junker car yet, which wasn‘t on the road.
Mongolia remains a poor country, by western standards. However, even the destitute, carry themselves with some dignity. Heads are high and backs straight. Countryside dwellers, don’t have much of what we call money, but they do have self-sufficient lives. The young people haven’t yet abandoned the old ways, although small solar cells for powering tv’s coexist with a string of horses alongside the gers . A major reason for young people remaining on the farm could likely be that; there aren’t many better livings in Mongolia, than the countryside. Who knows, maybe as education progresses, they will move away. Then again, maybe the countryside of Mongolia will have enough hold to maintain the old lifestyle. My first impression from my visit to the countryside is; I want my son to have an opportunity to spend a couple of years experiencing a life away from what we call civilization. Hell, I would like to have the opportunity, if the horses were just a bit taller.

Below are some views from around the countryside ger camp.

Erdene's brother Ankha, admires his handiwork, while I'm checking out yet another fantastic view.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


The Pumpkin enjoyed the meeting and greeting portion of our journey. We're back in UB now, after an excellant visit with Erdene's family. I'm a little behind on posting, but kept up with my writing, when I wasn't out in the boonies. Stay tuned for the Mongolian version of the scooter. Here's a hint, it only has one horsepower.
Sad to say, my photo essay from the train was a dismal failure. Perhaps, it’s just as well, the landscape was so vast and changeable, pictures couldn’t render a true portrayal. As a result, of my shortcomings as a photographer, I’m forced to rely on my memories of my sophomore year creative writing class, to describe my trip from Ulan Baatar to Erdenet. My high school advisor was the teacher of that course and when we met at my tenth year reunion, he said he was glad to see me, as he thought: I would either do all right or end up in jail. I’m not sure if my efforts at creative writing have progressed, since my sophomore year, but I remain free of jail. I hope he‘s happy and I hope he doesn’t see the words; very or nice, in the text. He was always unbending in his distaste for vague non-concrete language.

Nothing is ever as one might expect. My experience with trains to date has been has been limited to the US and western Europe. Mongolia is entirely different experience. I was prepared for carriages, with a stranger seated across from my knees, which I found. My stranger was a personable and outgoing sculptor from UB, returning to the countryside for a visit. Very friendly neighbors in the nearby carriages also. They should have called it the baby train. The passing coaches, which I had observed earlier from the apartment window in UB, had the look of passenger trains from an earlier age. They were, but well kept up and two attendants for each car made for a smooth passage. I expected a rougher ride, but ours was quite smooth with a minimum of swaying and clacking.
I was led to expect, and eagerly anticipated, a dining and café car. Mainly, because the compartments are a bit small, and once the pumpkin found sleep, ours would become an island of quiet and slow movements. There was allegedly a dining car, five coaches forward of ours. We were placed fifteen cars behind the engine, but much less than halfway along the length of the train. Looking ahead from a window, I had the image of a vast coiling snake, as we turned sharply south for the passage through the mountains surrounding UB. Unfortunately, for my dining plans, the doors to the compartment immediately ahead of were locked. I was forced to conclude that the luxury class, began just ahead of our coach or the attendant didn’t want the masses tramping through his car. I may upgrade our tickets for the return voyage, as I had looked forward to slipping into a romantic - days gone by- muse, while seated at a table with a bottomless cup of the ubiquitous Mongolian milk tea.
The suburb Mongolian summer twilight lit the countryside , long after we climbed the last grade leading out Ulan Baatar. Once we left the city proper, Gers popped up from behind gently rolling hills, interspersed with modern houses. No postage stamp lawns for Mongolians. Gers and houses alike were set well apart from each other, at regularly set distances, each surrounded by rugged yet attractive fences. I was taken aback to see familiar sights from Maine in unusual settings. New England salt boxes and A-frames were well represented among the building types, only with a string of horses tied up nearby with an occasional Ger in the yard. I shouldn’t have been too surprised, as the climates are similar, in their severity during the winter months. Small groups of grazing animals wandered through the long shadows cast by the slowly fading light, which completed the pastoral landscape. Shortly, after we began traveling along the back side of the range of hills facing southern UB, we made another turn. Our new direction was to the north and west, which finally put us on course for Edenet. By the time we finished this broad turn, the last of the light had gone completely and we clickety-clacked through the dark. Sleep came quickly for the babies and parents after that, I gave up trying to eat or to peer through the gloom at the fresh scenery, sure to be outside my window, and set my sights on the approaching day .
My night passed in an easy slumber, punctuated by brief periods of waking, as we slowed or stopped for other trains, steep grades, and additional passengers at small stations along the way. Sailing has gifted me with an ability to come to full wakefulness at a change of noise or motion and then to drop back off after deciding whether the noise, or motion required my presence or not. The babies were lulled to sleep, en mass, by the gentle motion and blessedly remained quiet through the night.
Dawn, was every bit as spectacular, as I had hoped. I woke, just long enough, to take in the bright morning sun shining on forested hills and lush grasslands, realized the sun was the only thing up at such an hour, then drifted off again. Rule #1 of babies, sleep when you can. I awoke again, to find the tracks running through a broad grassy valley, with a stream (Mongolian river?) paralleling our course. Small herds of horses and cattle appeared; loosely herded by men and boys on horseback and foot, with the odd dog keeping the group together. The mutton on the hoof were absent, but I could see evidence of their presence on the denuded ridges of the surrounding hills. Single Gers popped up here and there, alone, but for an occasional string of horses or a few cattle. The number of Gers was less than on the outskirts of UB, but when a cluster appeared; the regular spacing and neatly fenced perimeters were the no different than the suburbs. Not sure, if suburbs are the best word for an area of felt tents with a few houses, but the concept is similar.
The last two hours of the journey passed quickly, as we climbed and descended the ridges, which separate the valleys leading to Erdenet. The passing country seemed to be all greens and blue in an unending slideshow. In the wider valleys, Mongolia’s famous bright blue sky filled our horizons. Wind blown wisps of high clouds, mirrored the flying tails of the horses running along our route, while cattle huddled at the river bank. At one point, a rabbit jumped from cover and bounded away . A few miles later, a small Gyro Falcon swooped onto a branch, close to the track bed. The countryside, while not devoid of man‘s presence, sang of nature’s gentle peace and of balance between man, animal, and earth.
Erdenet announced itself quickly. For most of the morning, all was field and sky; then a road with cars and power lines appeared, the pastels of a gas station appeard. After a few more signs of the approaching modern age, the sight of some of the huge tailing dumps from the Erdenet copper mines jutting up from the more gentle slopes, told me our trip was at an end. Mongolia does seem to leave room for nature, even in the midst of industrialization, The hills surrounding the train station are still green and unmarred from houses or roads. Cattle graze along the road to town and horses roam the fields into the edges of Erdenet itself, so perhaps my journey is not at an end, at least not the beautiful parts.

A couple of pictures, which did come out. Erdenet was great, but internet connections were lacking. There were internet cafes', but I was too busy eating or looking for Yaks.

Friday, July 20, 2007


I'm off on a twelve-hour train ride through the mongolian summer night with a seven month old. Still, I'm excited. I always associate trains with days long ago and can slip into the world of imagination at the first clickty-clack. Batteries in laptop and camera are charged and I have a notebook (paper) for back up. Damn shame, I'm doing most of my traveling at night, though. I'll have to make up the scenery as I go along. Off into the Mongolian countryside (which is; a noun, verb, and adjective all at the same time) I'm told there will be diapers and internet at our destination and the missus is never wrong, even if I am, occasionaly. I'll be listening to the whistle stops. Erdene's family will probably think from my red eyes, that I drank all the way, but it will just be from the wonder of a real train journey. I think we gave up some good things, when we embraced the automobile.

Mowing the lawn

One of the more enjoyable aspects of blogging; combines presenting new subjects on the basis of sheer randomness, along with allowing the ebb and flow of ideas and items of interest to drift from one topic to another. Moving at times, in a logical progression, but not always. Shifting from an island to a landlocked city; leads to Spam, which drifts over to Moxie, after a brief diversion to the Red Sox. I would like to return to writing about UB earlier, but other digressions of interest have interfered.
Along with a number of the Saipan bloggers; my attention has been split several ways. The informative debate on Triton Trumpet shells and protecting the hermit crab, ecological and diving ethics issues, and the sub-spawn topic of, who owns the stuff posted on your blog, along with the impending changes in Saipan’s political and economic structure. The diving ethical issues were answered in exhaustive detail over the course of a couple of days and I don’t want to jump into that particular pond. My personal view on intellectual property rights, follows my criteria for buying a present for a child. Buy nothing that you would mind having burned, flushed down the toilet, or otherwise destroyed. Similarly, don‘t put anything up, which you wouldn’t mind being; sold for someone else’s profit and/or sent to; your mother, significant other, or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. All in all, a very exciting and informative debate; which highlighted both the joys of sharing information in a public forum, as well as, the pitfalls.
Saipan’s economic and labor issues have also hijacked my attention. However, I just can’t seem to summon up the fire needed to substantially contribute to the debate. Firstly, I’m no longer a resident, although, from a theoretical standpoint, I find the controversy fascinating. Secondly, I’m was never part of the Saipan culture, I didn’t actually work on the islands wage scale or have to deal with labor and immigration. The DMV was enough.
I do wish the mainland pundits would scale their assualt back and let the residents sort out their own island. Looking back at history, even the most radical reformer should see how short a time the political and economic structure has had to develop on it’s own, since casting off from mainland control. The founding fathers took time to get it right, shouldn’t the Saipan people been given a chance to make mistakes without casting aspersions of slavery? Easy enough to sit in an office or a beachfront rental with a laptop and disseminate garbage gathered for the purpose of slanting same crap, in a particular direction. Spend some time in the Philippines and then look at the Marianas again. One of the lessons, I picked up from Iraq and the dissolution of the soviet regime, is that some groups of people just aren’t ready or suited for democracy. It isn’t the job of everyone with a keyboard to push people towards the goals, which we value on the mainland. I think the term in Asia used to be “the ugly American” for those who are unable or unwilling to accept the differences in cultures. Well, that was much more than I wished to say about that. I feel better though.
Now, my attention is back on UB. My wife didn’t have a lot to say about what we would find in Mongolia and I wasn’t in the mood to come in with a lot of preconceptions. The only book I read was a 2005 “Lonely Planet” guidebook and that only for the necessities of visa’s, medical care options for the pmpkn, and some general living tips. The traffic did shock me, as did the pleasantness of the Mongolians when out of their cars, and the physical layout of UB itself (more low buildings sprawling over a greater area, than I had envisioned).
All in all, “Lonely Planet” does a good job in showing the tourist how to live in harmony with a different culture successfully. The book referred to a few items of life in UB which I found to be a bit misrepresented. They refer to the grass in the parks as unkempt, but fail to realize that the Mongolians might prefer it that way. This is a culture based on nomadic herding, when they weren’t pillaging. The climate is severe and the growing season short. Compared to Saipan, where the weed whackers never stop due to the warm moist air, it probably never occurred to a Mongolian to cut the grass. They seem to be quite happy just having some grass, whether it serves a useful purpose in a city park or not. Personally, I miss the drone of the weed whacker, not at all.
A really amusing and satisfying side to UB life is the lack of high chairs in restaurants. The book warned me of this, but I couldn’t see lugging the car seat to and fro and planned to make do with hands-free baby carriers, while praying for sleep to coincide with the arrival of food. As it turned out, the lack of high chairs is more than compensated for by the enthusiasm of waitresses and hostesses for the task of holding and entertaining the pmpkn, while the missus and I dine. If nothing else, the lad is prepared to work as a Walmart greeter. Only at Wild Bill’s, have I seen this particular personal service. No wonder, “Bills” is popular with the young and old. Unless, the draw is in the pool table, multiple televisions, and an exceptionally well-stocked stuffed animal grabbing machine. With the lad though, I more inclined to believe a warm soft spot upon which to lay his head, provides his rational. Well, I digress, but I do miss my breakfasts and coffee and rambling talks in the evening with Bill. And; Snow, Sandy, Samjai, Eddy, Nong, the Ratster, Wasana, Mali, Juni, Nora, and Linn. Thanks for providing a home away from home for so long. We are taking our Erdene’s younger sister out to a thai place for dinner tonight. I’m not expecting the green curry to come close to Juni’s standards, but I can hope. Plus, I scored some green curry paste for later days, when I can find coconut milk. I’m not entertaining the thought of substituting Yak milk for coconut. Our forays into dining have been extremely successful, so far, with both foreign and local cuisines. One note of caution, wild mutton is synonymous with; less then the best cuts, from an old and gamey beast.
My final disagreement with the lonely planet people is their characterization of pedestrians as “undisciplined”. How can one be disciplined when there are no rules, few crosswalks, signals, or the like. In UB, it is every walker for himself. Failure to keep your senses finely tuned can lead to the most severe penalties. Thanks Mom and Dad, for introducing me to Boston, MA. Without the lessons and situational awareness learned on BeanTown’s mean streets, I would be another grease spot on the roads of Mongolia. For example, in the states, people put protective covers on the front of cars to protect against bug strikes. I’ve heard them called; Car Bra’s, colloquially. In Mongolia, they have steel roll bar type cages on the front end. Cow Catchers, tourist turners? I would love to turn a hundred Mongolians in cars loose on the streets of Saipan or Boston for a few days.
My original title for this post was, “cutting the grass“, in reference to Mongolia’s lack of weedwhackers. I changed, though, in honor of my old friends Pete and Eric from the Horn Point Lab in Maryland. In remote sensing terms, mowing the lawn refers to the practice of towing the sensor over an area in a grid pattern. Very similar to the pattern in which an anal retentive type might mow in, when cutting his grass at home. One night at a party, one of the referenced persons, noticed the other dancing too long with and too close to the his date. A short argument ensued with the last words being “What are you trying to do? Mow my Lawn?” The non-biologists were a bit puzzled, while the fish heads roared with laughter. Still, my favorite inside joke.
Not the best joke or title, but the runner up was “weed whackers need not apply” I would have used that, except I was afraid someone might start a campaign to send whackers to Mongolia. Just watch, to punish my hubris, there will be a phillipeno cook attempting to prepare Thai food tonight. Probably not though, the wage scale here isn’t enough to attract overseas workers, in fact, large numbers of Mongolians are working elsewhere.
At some point, I’m going to flirt with the major penalties and take some pictures at the black market to accompany a post about the joys of shopping there. “one hand on your money and one on your stuff“. I’ll either get some great shots or as the lonely planet warns; I’ll be stoned.
The Bangkok Thai resteraunt wasn't bad at all. I don't think I'll be back, though, as I've come to accept seafood as a necessary ingredient in my thai and Mongolia is not the place for that. We're off tonight for the city of Erdenet,not suprisingly, my wife, Erdene's home town, for a visit with her mom and dad. Marmot is rumoured to be on the menu. Sort of like a big prarie dog. Preparation involves; evisceration through the neck, a blowtorch, and hot stones. No problems with Black Plague this year, flareups of which limit the harvest.

A folding Knife with a spring clip, defeats most pickpockets. Handy for street vendor mutton, too.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Yes, I like Moxie. I've included some stuff stolen from the internet for those unfamilar with the state beverage of Maine. I've learned to live without it, on my frequent and lengthy abscences from the Pine Tree state, but I know where to stop for a little refreshment, upon crossing the Moxie/No Moxie border. And stop I do. Fortunately, there is a Quickee mart type of 495, which is open 24 hours if the Stop and Shop in Southern Mass is closed. I frequent supermarkets which carry Moxie in the New England area and avoid whenever possible those who do not. I've schemed to buy a pallet when I lived in Maryland and Moxie was being bottled around Atlanta. And my brother when he lived in the no moxie land of Texas would go to even greater lengths. My address in Mongolia for anyone who would care to send a can or two is C/O Erdene-Oyun Mashbat, Central Post Office,Box #2951 Ulan Baatar, Mongolia

The word "Moxie" means courage, guts, self-sufficiency, chutzpah, confidence, fighting spirit, and nerve -- it also took a lot of moxie to swallow more than a mouthful of the stuff. At best, the flavor has been described as unforgettable. Early advertising campaigns informed potential patrons that they would have to "Learn to Drink Moxie." The thought of people drinking this stuff out of pleasure is incomprehensible, yet Moxie has a strong following who will drink no other soda. In fact, as late as the 1920s Moxie was our nations most popular national brand.

Moxie Nerve Food

Contains not a drop of Medicine, Poison, Stimulant, or Alcohol. But it is a simple sugarcane-like plant grown near the equator and farther south, was lately accidentally discovered by Lieut. Moxie and has proved itself to be the only harmless nerve food known that can recover brain and nervous exhaustion; loss of manhood, imbecility, and helplessness.
It has recovered paralysis, softening of the brain, locomotor ataxia, and insanity when caused by nervous exhaustion. It gives a durable solid strength, makes you eat voraciously; takes away the tired, sleepy, listless feeling like magic, removes fatigue from mental and physical overwork at once, will not interfere with action of vegetable medicines.

Also some links to what is going on with Moxie these days,

To dream the impossible dream

Pleasant surprises and what it is to love the Red Sox

Anyone who followed the 2004 baseball playoffs knows, (how could the commentators let us forget) the sox have a habit of folding either; before or slightly after the all-star break and, of course, sometimes in the fall. This year, at risk of invoking the curse, they are looking pretty good. Of course, most other teams with a ten game lead in July would be having their ring fingers sized, but with Boston, fans and players alike, cross our fingers. I was especially heartened this morning to see both Manny and Mr. Ortiz, hitting extremely well together for the second game in a row after the break. Could it be that my wife’s introduction to Maine life will be a week of late nights, as the sox battle for the wild card. Oh wait, they are ten games ahead. I’m not sure if I can take another seven game series with the Yankees, that was a tough week.
Our son will be too young to remember this season and I harbor no illusions that seeing the sox in the playoffs and beyond will ever become passe’, but there will be other years for him. I’m never sure if being a fan is a good thing. Does continued heartbreak lead to a lack of self-esteem in other facets of life or does the inner strength required to rise above the sox’ tribulations, make one stronger and more able to take the crap life dumps on you at times?
As for the Yankee’s. I’ve always had a certain respect for their players, but lately the whole Yankee’s franchise seems to be the product of merchandising the team and attracting players with big humongous salaries. From another side, the Red Sox have class and a fair amount of zaniness, the team from New York has big egos, talent, and an eye for the buck. (OH! Johnny, how could you leave us so?) Fans of the Bronx Bombers seem to be more interest in fitting in with a successful style, than for anything else. The residents of the New York City area and honest baseball aficionados deserve some slack. Who can’t love their home team and they are a good group of players . For the rest of you, Yankee’s Suck. Think about it. The Red Sox have “I’ve got to be me” and Warren Zevon as their troubadours, the Yankee’s have rappers and Madison Avenue. My apologies, for this rant, to my dear sister-law Maureen, who has not an avaricious bone in her body, grew up around the Big Apple, is a real fan, and ,as such, is entitled to cheer on her team. I’ll just go in the other room, if the sox and her team are playing.
For better or worse, I am a Red Sox fan.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Accept no Substitutes

As you can see, none of these processed meat products say "spam", although the writing on one version looks similar. Today at the Naddam Festival, we watched some of the archery competion and were able to pull a bow after the event. Erdene's sister has great form and did better than both of us. The elderly gentleman can put them downrange. We watched him empty a quiver into a target about a hundred yards away, about as fast as I can empty my forty-five with any accuracy. I surely couldn't reach out and touch someone at the distances he hits at. Wouldn't be surprised if he does as well on horseback. Nice guy. He was really taken with the pumpkin and kissed his feet, which is a potent form of good luck here. No troubles today. I did hit the deli again and took pictures this time, which are available on request for anyone needing some virtual sausage.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Major Penalties

Today In Ulan Baatar

Weather is cloudy, but mild, without much a breeze. We are going to attend the first day of the Naddam Festival. I don’t know much about the origins of Naadam at this point, but all indications show the entire country shutting down for three days. I’m assuming the exceptions will be money exchangers, liquor stores, and bars.
We had to rush yesterday and register myself and the lad with the office of Immigration, Naturalization, and Foreign Citizens, before the festival shuts the country down. American citizens can enter and stay in Mongolia for ninety days without penalty, but must register within SEVEN days of arrival. I have until Friday, but the office will be closed for at least the first threee days of Naddam. I was a tad concerned that I had waited a day too long , wouldn’t be able to register for some reason or another, and have to pay the ultimate price for not registering within seven days. However, my procrastination didn’t hurt me this time. The experience wasn’t all that bad, although, the tale will sound familiar to anyone who has tried to register a car in Saipan.
Line up at what is presumably the office door at two pm sharp (government offices here are a little short on signage). Two Mongolians cut in front of us. Of course, the wife and I had already cut in front of seven people waiting on a bench for the post lunch time opening, so I remain silent. Cutting the line seems to be a Mongolian sport or possibly avocation. The rest of the foreigners; get off the bench and line up behind the wife and I. Enter office at 2:05, form a line at the only window with a clerk. Mongolians spread out to the empty windows to hedge their bets. I’m having deja vue, about Saipan DMv at this point. Wife moves to another window and questions a clerk who isn’t quite ready to work. Reports that we are in the right office. Remain in line, tightly packed to cut off any more line cutters. Reach the head of the line. Find out from the clerk, we need to move to the other side of the room and obtain a registration application. Damn, should have checked the signs on the walls. Wife moves to front of application line and obtains forms for T 1,200 each, about a buck. Lines are moving quickly now, wife holds a space, while I fill out the forms for the pumpkin and Myself. Take too long with the form and wife is forced to let a Chinese ahead of her. Note, avoid lines with Chinese in them, as they seem to always have trouble. No mystery there, Mongols DO NOT like Chinese and will most definitely go out of their way to ruin their day. Reach head of line eventually, lateral moves to other windows having met with no success.
Good news, we don’t need the actual pumpkin with us in order to register him. He’s home with aunt Seigii. We are planning a major shop at the black market later and would prefer not to expose him to the hordes. (The black market or Naran Tuul is the biggest craziest out door bazzar/flea market, that I have seen to date in Asia. Women have actually nudged me out the way in this place. And not your gentle little nudge either. I’m talking about the sort a defensive back delivers to a receiver, just before he legally flattens him. Great place, though. My favorite place to shop in UB with the exception of the luscious deli at the Sky Department store.) I would have some pictures, of the mass of bustling humanity amidst tables and row upon row of every imaginable item you might need to survive in the countryside or city, but I read in my guidebook that people have been stoned for picture taking in the market.
Bad news; need passport sized pictures which we don’t have with us. It isn’t like they spell this stuff out for you and not like I care. After dealing with third world bureaucracy in Saipan, nothing surprises me. Major penalties upon leaving Mongolia, for failing to register, almost certainly don’t mean a bullet to the back of the head. Side note; what the Red Chinese did to their former head of the food and drug department is an encouraging step towards food safety. Not like we could export that to the US, but it surely will motaviate a few Chinese. I wonder if they still bill the family of the executed for the bullet? Good news; There is a desk next to the application from line where they will scan our passports and create a picture for our applications. At this point, I am a little curious as to why the application guy, who is now the picture guy, didn’t tell us this while we were obtaining the applications. I don’t look Chinese. Check mounting frustration, stifle a giggle and a curse simultaneously, and excuse myself, while wife implants herself into the line. Head outside for a smoke, while I ponder the issues. I notice the smell of steaming dumplings in the hallway upon my return. That aroma is becoming as familiar to me as that of someone burning plastic with their greenery along a Saipan roadway or more pleasantly the smell of cooking b-bque wafting across a boonie road. Don’t you wish they could can those scents? The good ones I mean. I’m sure, since I’ve been away from the states, someone has put eue de flatulence in a can and it’s for sale at Spencer’s Gifts, next to the remote controlled fart machines.
Picture task accomplished. Tiny photos and completed applications in hand, I join my wife at our original window. Wife commands me to wait, while she goes out to purchase glue. For the first time, the application form, photo, and information desk man gives us advice in time to do us some good. Probably his cousin/wife/sister in law is manning the glue sales stall just outside the main door. Mongolians, like Saipanians maintain strong family ties. Australian man, escorted by two Mongolian women attempt to cut in front of the older Swiss woman towards the front of my line. She sends them to the back, behind me. I‘m tucked in, as tight behind the Swiss woman, as my rigid puritanical upbringing will allow. His escorts make lateral moves to other semi-manned windows. Swiss woman meets with grief at the window. She not only is lacking a Mongolian sponsor for her application, but she has waited too long and must pay the major penalties of which the embassy newsletter warned me. Funny, she doesn’t look at all Chinese. I perform a random act of kindness and offer my wife as a sponsor, while she moves to the fines/ appeal window across the room. The Mongolian women and I miss a move forward and a slender Mongolian man slips in front of me to the window. Bad move, the Australians’escorts hiss in disgust/dismay and move in on either side of me, a little tighter than my puritanical upbringing allows. Especially, with wife expected to return momentarily. Thank God, they aren’t Chinese. For some reason, my normally sweet wife doesn’t deal to well with Chinese women in close proximity to me. The Australian and I exchange greetings and commiserations. No worries, mate.
Reach head of line, just as wife returns with glue. Applications processed, passports stamped and ready to shop. Elapsed time one hour., not too bad, really. With traffic it will take us nearly as long to traverse the few kilometers to the Naaran Tuul. Australian man and his consorts, having met with no success laterally, replace me at the head of the line. They were prepared; picture glued on previously obtained application. Oh Well, I’ll know better next time. Of course, I’m sure the rules will be changed, but I’ll stay on my toes and avoid the major penalty.
All right. Time to see what the Naddam festival is all about. I’m not expecting anything. Life is more fun with pleasant surprises, just as long as you avoid the major penalty and/or being stoned. For pictures today, I’m offering some views of the hills which surround UB. It’s frustrating to be sitting in traffic and seeing the ring of gentle slopes around the city. We are planning a trip to the countryside for the horse racing section of the Festival.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Life without spam. Not for Vegetarians, although there are no pictures of actual meat products

My wife, bless her loving heart, said we could find spam in UB, if we look around enough. I was forced to tell her, that we can give spam a rest, as horsemeat sausage can be found in the deli. For that matter, there are deli’s. Cases of beautiful soft and hard cheeses made from milk (not partially hydrogenated vegetable oils), German Shincken Wurst, Italian smoked hams, cured meat of all flavors, origins and, configurations. I can’t go on. I’ll be eating a different sausage for every day of the week for two weeks, before I am forced to duplicate. I nearly signed on for a by-pass, before the actual meat aisle and half expected to see a medical examiner’s chalk outline of another sausage deprived person in poorer physical condition, lying in my path.
I suppose everyone on Saipan has gone through a similar reaction at some point while on a visit off island. But an actual mall with clothes, tools, electronics, and food. My mind was reeling, my senses salivating all at once. Brown bread, seeded rolls. KimChee in a wooden barrel. Haven’t seen fresh milk yet, but time was short and the little one sleeping. There is Yaks milk cream to look forward to, which I’m told is one of the finer creamy delicacies. On the other hand, I’ll be dining on blow-torched flamed Marmot when I visit my wife’s family. Here's hoping the annual Black Plague infestation is over.
Now on the opposite side of the coin, there was a big fish kill in a nearby river and apparently some of the fish made it into the market chains. That’s a long way away from the coolers of the fish mongers of Saipan. I never had a problem adjusting to shopping every day or two at a couple, maybe three stores, with a roadside vegetable truck and fish cooler thrown in for good measure. Fresh fruit, vegetables, and un-contaminated fish are something I really came to love in Saipan. I remember going out in the middle of the night when the mango tree next to our bedroom dropped a ripe one, which somehow would always stir me from a deep slumber. The rustling leaves, the soft thump.
Outrageous prices in the larger Saipan stores didn't always thrill me, but the trucks, H-mart and the Dolphin store assuaged my feelings of victimization, regularly. In the states, I would always have a store on my shopping list that had better meat, another with a certain jelly or fresh spice, or a farmers market in season, so Saipan wasn’t much of an adjustment. To see everything under one roof.. I didn’t want to talk prices, but I’ll be dining on $3 of sausage served on a 45cent loaf of bread; with slices of cucumber, yogurt, and a $2 jar of caviar (albeit a small 4 oz. jar), but I’m past caring. Bon appetit. When I’m staring down icicles of mutton fat dripping from my rib dinner, I’ll remember the light buttery texture and taste of Poki, sublimely complimented by a spicy sauce.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

I'm it

I’m it, this time.

1. The last dollar went to a snack bar in the Saipan airport. Gum and an apple juice.
Last dollar, I’ll spend for a few months, I guess. At a stall, in a city street underpass, I did buy a pack of smokes and a bottle of coke (glass, which was cool in itself. I really, really, don‘t like drinks in plastic) for the equivalent of Ninety-cents. One thousand Toureg.

2. My last cry. The other night, watching my wife’s brother and sister holding their nephew for the first time. I didn’t blubber, really, but a little moist, all the same.

3. Last phone call; I’m in outer Mongolia for pete’s sake. Not like there is a phone booth on every corner. And does anyone think a Saipan phone will work here? Not like they even work on the island, if what I’ve been hearing about PTI’s new wonder system is true. However, my last call out was a forgotten so long for now, to my friend the lion handler at the Sandcastle.

4. Last received call, See #3. On Saipan, it was my friend Rick, to say he had left the Manic Inn, had the wife and lad in tow, and would be at the airport shortly.

5. Last movie watched. Considerate people with outgoing babies don’t go to the movie theaters. If I had a quiet baby, I would have seen Ocean’s Thirteen. Videos, a parent’s best friend. MI III, it was just too loud in the theatre (in the pre-pumpkin days) to enjoy it.

6. Last hug; The baby about five seconds ago. Nothing like warm soft baby. Thanks for the tag, I forget sometimes how sweet he is.

7. Last book I read; my reading is off lately. Usually I’m good for five books a week, but with packing, baby , visa work- I stretched my last out for a week. It wasn’t what I would call a normal book for me. “midwife” about a jewish woman, who emigrates from Russia to New York just after the turn of the century. It is on the bookshelf at Round Two if anyone is into that sort of thing. It will probably be there for a while, their clientele doesn’t really go for that sort of stuff.

8. Last blog: Angelo’s for the link list and nude pictures. Funny, I keep the blogs in my Saipan news favorites folders and spend much more time and attention on the blogs than the newspapers. Frankly, I only buy the paper Tribune for Calvin and Hobbs (for the parenting tips, good luck son)

I enjoyed today’s contest. Do I win a free copy of MP magazine? I was so looking forward to issue #1, but got too jammed up on publication day with moving and all to pick up a copy. If they are distributing in the states, please send me a link to the ordering info.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

From the street

A group of Mongols on the way to work and a double simultaneous U-turn with both cars aiming for the same lane. I would have loved to see this turn performed on Middle Road. Driving is an art form here, although, the merge is closer to a screen play from the backfield.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Mongolia, as seen from Saipan

Note the somewhat dubious expression on my face and wide eyed wonder on the little ones'. The Traffic in Ulan Battar is worse. Not only, because Ulan Baattar is a city, but driving rules don’t apply. None. I’ve seen driving maneuvers which I haven’t seen since Boston.; the old two lane screen play, the cut off in all its variations, rolling stops at red lights. That’s right, rolling stops. Not just running lights, it is just a commen occurance, when at least two cars pass by, after the green appears to the cars in the opposing lane.) At first blush, I would say the drivers are more technically proficient at parking and such, than on Saipan. In contrast though, the rule of law still has some hold on Saipan. UB is more anarchic. Blinkers are used, but I’m quessing more out of habit or for something to occupy a hand, rather than for any useful reason, they appear to be little more of an afterthought, as no one pays any attention to anything which isn‘t going to immediantly impact a fender or bumper. The horn is the king of signaling devices; warning and signaling device, conveys anger, frustration, or just to empathize a point. I was warned, but in all fairness to my current state of bemusement - bordering on shock- the traffic on the streets here is beyond belief. When not driving though, the Mongolian people, particularly fellow pedestrians are very friendly in a bustling sort of way.
The bright side to my driving life here, is they don’t grant many driving licenses to foreigners, so I’ll be watching the fun from the shotgun seat. That could be either side, as they use right and left hand drives. I’m pretty sure they drive on the same side as Saipan, but not always certain. Fortunately, the speeds in town are rather slow, due to the sheer volume of traffic and the limited number of streets, as a result; fenders are more crumpled than bodies. I have absolutely no desire to ride a scooter here, none, not one little bit. Pedestrian activities are no worse than Boston and probably safer than Saipan, as there are no false promises about granting a non-existent right of way to walkers.
I’m starting to see some direct evidence of the Mongols ties to their nomadic lifestyle. The first concept I’m exploring is how one follows the herd as best as they can and the herd doesn‘t wait, but don’t expect much reasoning behind the rush. My first clue was last night, upon our arrival, when one of the cabs in our convey went roaring into UB from the airport, with absolutely no knowledge of where in the city we were going. He just figured if he went as fast as possible the herd would move along all that faster, if we were going in the wrong direction then so be it, but maybe he would end up close to our destination. Even my wife left me and her child far behind several times as we shopped today. The phenomena is closest, in my mind, to the idea that moving the herd along as fast as possible is the best mode of travel.
Smaller ties to the past, observed today were; watching many drivers filling a spare minute, by wiping down the insides and outsides of their vehicles. This applied to both the Gaum bomber type and the upscale SUV vehicles. I can only imagine the habit goes back to caring for the horse whenever possible. Also, instead of spitting Betel Nut juice, they spit on the coals of their cigarettes and, never, do I think I will see a Mongolian throw a butt out the window. My wife tells me there is and has always been a real fire danger out in the grasslands and that accounts for the spitting and general care.
Our flight out of Saipan was fairly pain free. Asiana Airways cut us a huge amount of slack on our overweight bags and was very accommodating, while practicing good customer service as a way of life. We had first class seats from Seoul to Ulan Baattar, due to a lack of seats in economy, but the experience was dampened by a fellow in a nearby seat with a serious snoring problem. His deviated Septum troubles, bothered the the little one and the entire first class section suffered greatly. We are both missing Saipan. Erdene says; “she came to think of the island as our home and as much as she wants to see her family and looks forward to Maine, still feels a great attachment.” Despite our short term living plans for Saipan, it did feel like home.
Tomorrow, Saturday we begin apartment hunting and I’m sure we’ll do some more shopping in the sprawling markets which are both better and worse than shopping on Saipan, but more of that later. We are borrowing a Saipan friends’ apartment in UB for the time being. When, standing in a certain slice of the kitchen door, looking out between the nearby building construction, we can see a number of traditional round felt-covered Gers in the foot hills, not far from town. There is a much plainer and more crowded vista in the city, than we are used to. We’ll try to exit the city on Sunday for the hills which surround Ulan Baatar and who knows what we’ll see.
I’m liking this very much so far. UB is a vibrant -anything goes-city, without the need to present an image, growing rapidly towards a modern future, but with serious and deep ties to the past. Just the place for a guy with an interest in history and its influence on modern society.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Boy

I tried, I really did. When I started this blog project, my goal was; No posts about the baby. I talk about him, dream, and as most you know me would say, generally carry on. This morning though, he is just too cute to ignore. My wife and I have fallen into a routine, she cares for him most nights and I deal with his demands as best I can, after her retirement from the fray, until nine or so in the morning. Mostly, we sit outside on the stoop of our apartment. Me, in my lawn chair and himself in the stroller. We live in a unique neighborhood, up on Kannat Tabla. Lovely place, exceptionally quiet, except when the neighborhood church is slaughtering a pig, as happened for the entire week of Easter. By my count, they went through three. No views to speak of, except the grounds, which are probably the loviest I will ever live around.
The little one is enthralled by the outdoors. Rain, blowing leaves, neighborhood dogs and cats, the many different birds which swoop around the branches of the taller trees. He goes into a state of utter joy at least twice a morning. I'm glad my closest neighbors sleep with the ac on and the windows closed, as my idea of quiet might not be theirs. He tends to be vocal in the mornings, which is another reason for being outside and away from mom. All right thats enough, I'm getting the pick me up and walk with me sign. I hope he remembers how perfect his early days were and his happiness lasts all his life.