Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Chicken soup for the expats soul

The motivation for this post stems from the preparation of a pot of chicken soup. The family has been suffering through annoying colds and the occasional upset. My solution: to try a time tested recipe for upset stomachs and general malaise, only to find my concepts thrown back in the face of Mongolian tradition. Admittedly, my approach is somewhat peculiar in that I start with chicken and vegetables and add to the pot daily; fresh vegetables, additional water as needed, and perhaps a new starch for variety. Turns out that meals in Mongolia are a one shot deal, two at best. Throwing the stock pot in the fridge at the end of the evening and reheating same over the course of the next several days just isn’t done. Leftovers are not a staple at all. In fact, frowned upon.
Investigating the reasons for a no leftovers viewpoint, so contrary to my own, gave rise to the notion that I have not reported often or lately in this blog from Ulan Baatar, on my observations of the Mongolian culture and practices. Personally, I try hard to avoid making the generalities and subjective analysis’ of a subject close to my heart. Time for that habit to stop and attempt to relate what I see. I will make sweeping generalizations at times, but I’ll try and give the reader room to make their own. If nothing else, the writing will give me something constructive to do, while I’m skimming the fat from the top of the pot.
While the Mongolian people take care of their children, the education system is still trapped in what I’m told is a Soviet model. To the Sov’s credit, they did raise the literacy rate throughout the country to ninety-five percent by the late seventies, however, they never took education to the next level. A recent commentator in the UB Post, an independent English language weekly paper, despaired fixations on testing and low norms against encouraging achievement and independent thought. Public schools here are funded at a low level and from my observations, those with any sort of decent wage send their children to a variety of private schools in UB, at least.
I can tell the difference between the upper and lower classes from my back porch. Every morning, I see the bigger suv’s load up and head out to school. There are noticeably fewer of the big rides here in my low rent district, than at the my friend the teacher’s palatial Mongol/Euro digs just outside the city center, but a few. One mini-bus from the Ulan Baatar Elite International school loads a few students, but for the most part I see tidy little girls and boys walking alone or with their parents to the local public schools. I very seldom see an expensive car driving the child to the local public schools. So, the priorities of car versus educational opportunities seem to be in the right place. Most mornings, one father and his daughter catch my attention, . He dresses cleanly and neatly in work clothes, while his vivacious young daughter who always is dressed brightly skips eagerly along next to him in her finery. I’m sure her clothes budget doubles his and their obvious close caring relationship strikes my heart. At the end of our street with a quick goodbye; she turns left for school and he to the right for the bus stop. I never know what they say to each other, but the affection and mutual enjoyment of each others company is obvious. Despite his job, which from appearences is just above a laborer, I’m certain his day has the most pleasant of beginnings.
Those two aren’t the only ones, the afternoons are full of mothers and their children walking home. I’m comfortable with the conclusion that, large numbers of parents make a visible effort to be with the kids. The children for their part are visibly happy and respectful in their parents company or alone. Mongolian children, both in the city and countryside, will work alongside their parents or siblings at the family job or Ger. I don’t see any harm in that, they learn independence and responsibility. Erdene tells me it isn’t unusual at all to see seven year olds work as hard as an adult. The necessity for a child to augment the family income is a societal problem, but perhaps a reason for the parents to promote attention to schoolwork when the kids aren’t busy helping out.
Kids are kids of course. I hear tales of children selling their books for candy money, sophisticated older boys wait for their friends with a cigarette in hand, and Erdene was forced to take one boy to task for bashing another on the head with a rock while she and the pmpkn were at the sandbox one afternoon. In the main though, the kids take their education seriously and the government is making an effort to expand secondary education, albeit slowly and with much kicking and screaming. More about corruption and the government at a later date. Like when I’m safely back in Maine.
Mongolian medical care is a particular passion of mine and I will say Mongolians are quick to visit the doctor or the pharmacy with an ailing child. As to the level of care, I’m undecided. The diagnostic techniques for our pmpkn are simple; stethoscope, physical observation, and a little prodding of the problem area. Blood tests, temperature are ignored. Weight measurement also, unless he is headed for an IV or weight/dosage injection. I’ve seen the doctors make some instant diagnoses in what passes for the baby emergency room and their judgment appears to be professional, although I can’t vouch for the accuracy.
UB is certainly not the place for a worrisome western parent, however. Family religious practices and passed down home remedies are also an integral part of the medical system in my personal experience. My neighbors also, I believe, as my mother in law isn’t the only one in my neighborhood to drape a cloth over her head and flick milk from the balcony at the points of the compass first thing in the morning.

Respect for my family’s beliefs has a lot to do with my spending an hour this afternoon in the company of a Bhuddist monk while he did an appraisal of the pmpkn’s inner self. I, also, didn’t squack last week when a shamanistic friend of Mashbatt senior gave the lad a head massage each day. Oh well, if I didn't see the value in other cultures, I quess I never would have made it this far. The monk came well reccomended and I can see why. After a short time in his presence I was able to enter my own quiet garden.
Traffic and the peculiarities of Mongolian drivers are a popular subject with the other ex-pats here in UB. For that reason -IE. it’s the major and sometimes only safe and still entertaining topic of conversation locally - I’m going to leave a detailed look at Mongolian driving alone, for as many paragraphs as I can. Similar cultural influences run across many practices and as driving is somewhat representative of other behaviors, I’ll be forced to include it soon, though. Plus, watching the Mongolians navigate their city is truly fascinating.
The Pot of chicken soup? In the end, there were only two bowls left over and my loving wife downed them both the next morning in the pursuit of health and warm marital relations. As for myself, despite a through soup loading, I caught a cold the very next day. Could have been worse, the reasons for not keeping food hanging around are in the basic processing of meats etc.. here. Bacteria is present in much higher quantities, than under even the lackadaisically enforced USDA standards and the higher number of colonies present equals a much higher risk for even refrigerated food to quickly spoil to dangerous levels. Even if the schools - in my wife’s case anyway, don’t teach biology at the US high school level - their society does pass down survival lessons. Mental note to self: Erdene is always right.
That’s it for today. I’m going to continue writing in this vein, as I observe more and take my blog to the next level with some sort of post topics tracking sidebar, so the story can be followed amongst all the pmpkn posts.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Mongol Rally





Finally, the Mongo Rally post. Unfortunately, the outdoor tables at Dave’s Place came in at the same time the rally closed. I’m hoping to see the classic London taxi around town. Dave is going to use it as a UB cab. The parked Festivas were my first clue that something new was going on in UB and set me off to investigate immediately, otherwise just another couple festivas in a crowded field.

I was fortunate to witness the finish of the fabled Mongol Rally over the last couple of weeks here in Ulan Baatar, Mongolia. For the unfamiliar, Ulan Baatar or UB is the capital of Mongolia. A sprawling city, populated by a million descendants of the once feared Chinggis Khan, it lies on a sometimes dusty, often hazy plain in the center of a picturesque circle of low steep hills. The rally covers over eight thousand miles of roads across Asia on roads which range; from urban motor ways to what could charitably considered goat tracks. Beginning on the 21st of July from London’s Hyde Park, the rally ends at Dave’s Place on Suhbraatar Square in central UB. Dave‘s is the consummate ex-pat hangout. Dave has been described in the local press as the archetypical British landlord, while I wouldn‘t put him in the same league as Basil Fawlty, he is all that is an English Pub. As a stopping point, well; as dusty as the finishers were, a bar is a handy stopping point.
The Mongol Rally is unique. Not only for the long distances traveled, but also for it‘s direct contribution to charities at home and in Mongolia, and the lack of specially prepared rally cars or even serious off-road vehicles. The Mongol Rally has a laid back approach to rally racing with no absolute winners or losers, neither was there a strictly confined course with a myriad of checkpoints or rally questions. One contestant put it this way; “Survival and finishing are winning” Only a nation which, accepts a tie to be a satisfactory result, would play by these rules. Or adventurers who love a challenge.
The available routes themselves are sufficient challenge for the most intrepid traveler. The teams, generally traveling on their own without support vans, can take either a northern route or southern. The north and south routes are dotted with the odd checkpoint, but other than those, the rallyer is on their own. The northern route has Russia, with all its’ anarchy and decay to contend with, while the southern route involves Iran. Pick your poison. I talked with some teams who changed course in mid-stream and found themselves traversing, less than friendly and certainly not well-established nations, without benefit of a visa, while other’s just didn’t happen to cross many borders at a manned control point. Don’t ask, don’t tell, I suppose. or more precisely: Pray, you aren’t asked.
The rally finishers I spoke with; were unanimous in agreement on where the worst traffic conditions were to be found. No big surprise for any one who has lived here for more than a few days, the worst is right here in good old UB, with Istanbul, Turkey finishing a close second. For a portrayal of road conditions on the passage; dust, more dust, goats, and camels were fixtures in everyone’s stories. Another common conclusion is that supporting the local charities makes the finishing all the better. I heard one hardened soul actually break down as he described the gratefulness and hope on the kids faces, as they unloaded the booty during his visit to the local orphans home.
The stories must be the main reason for making the trip, if anyone besides myself, is considering entering the 2008 Rally. Potholes, one drives into and out of. A monstrous never-ending traffic jam caused by the breakdown of a convoy of mobile missile launchers armed with nuclear warheads, if the overwhelming security reaction is considered. Friendly repair shops which don’t rip off the stricken rallyist, non-existent repair shops, and not so friendly repair shop out for every possible dollar. The latter two circumstances lead to the best stories and pictures of jury rigged repairs of every sort. One car, or what was left of one, (none finished in exactly show room shape) had a five gallon can strapped to the hood with a hose leading to the engine, as a replacement for a leaking gas tank. I toured the car park, while not observing the arrivals at Dave’s, and found in general; the cars (or what was left of them) weren’t sitting on their wheels quite evenly or squarely, numerous leaf springs come adrift, exhausts tied to roofs (not sure why they saved them except possibly; as substitute trophies or potential sources of a spare part for another component, windshields held together and some made from tape, and more dust. Watching the finishers clean out their vehicles before turning them in for the charity auctions (yes, people pay money for a car as well used as these), one could see choking clouds of dust rising out of trunk lids and door panels, as they were slammed shut for the last time.
Even more amusing than the stories were the items included in a sub-contest within the rally. What is the most useless item to bring along? Weight bench with weights was the top finisher in many contestant’s books. I saw a tea kettle, a Ford Festiva manual. The Festiva was arguably the more popular rally vehicles (must have been a sale on them in the UK). The manual, it was said, did come in handy for lighting a fire. A Harry Potter book (hard to read in a bouncing car or in the dark when you are lying by the side of the road trying not to freeze), and my personal favorite, a surf board. The route generally doesn’t go through the sand dunes of the Gobi, so sand surfing is out. I didn’t see any mother-in-laws, however, I was presented with an elaborately decorated tissue box holder which originated in South Africa and is now rests in a place of honor on our coffee table.
The final few hundred kilometers of Mongolia were fresh on everyone’s memories and were recalled as being fairly desolate. Sheep, goats, more sheep, and dust pretty well sums it up. I can’t say as I talked to any unhappy finishers and the visible ones, said the trip was everything from; worthwhile, to the trip of a life time. There was talk of hiring a light plane to look for stragglers, perhaps they will have a different story. I’m going to miss the rallyer’s and the stories, even if their English was a bit hard to understand at times. Now the question in my mind is, “Do I have the right stuff to make the trip?” Here is a link to the rally, although a google search will also turn them up.
http://mongolrally.theadventurists.com/







Some of the finishers and my personal favorite. The festiva with the smashed in windshield. They hit the back of a truck which curled up the hood or bonnet in Brit speak Some work with a hammer managed to get them back on the road, only to have the repaired hood fly open while on the road and cave in the window with the attached tire. I would hate to see what the non-finishers looked like.

an unusual gift





Last Saturday was somewhat of a weird day even by UB standards. I had a slight suspicion something was up, as my brother-in-law, Amara, left the house for a breakfast meeting, prior to a trip to the black market with the local Saipan contingent. The normally slightly busy street in front of our apartment was jammed with cars in gridlock. Our efforts to secure a cab on the next street found the same conditions. Another block to the main drag explained the problem. Street closed. We were pleasantly surprised at the quiet conditions, but perplexed at the reasons. Street cleaning? I saw a few people measuring side roads, but it seemed like a lot of work for a couple of measurements which could have been done normally. As we walked to breakfast, I was struck by an insane urge to dance in the street. I wasn’t sure Amara would understand, so I was happy with just meandering down the center line, in place of the usual lane to lane dash.

Turns out Mongolia was participating in an international no traffic day and Mongolians aren’t real big on announcing events, until they have concluded. No worries on our account though. The busses were replaced by strollers, bicycles, and walkers. The usual horns and car alarms replaced by kids laughing and people taking in normal voices instead of the usual shout. We ended up walking the entire length of the street after our market visit and I can’t say that I have enjoyed a Mongolian afternoon in the city as much as this one. The peace and quiet were unsettling at times, which tells me it is time for a visit to the countryside where the only noise is the wind in the grass and the occasional baa baa from the sheep.

As I’ve written the Mongolian kids are just the cutest and I was overcome by a general spirit of good will to men and made some donations to the local urchins, as well as to a student who managed to get me to buy an exceptionally fine writing pen. As luck would have it, Erdene found ten thousand toureg on the market floor later in the evening and we are donating it to the local temple. Sort of a one good turn deserves another, which begets yet another. I’m going to take the day as a special gift. Sort of a last summer fling, before winter kicks into gear.


“In the Footsteps of Ghenghis Khan” John DeFrancis is a historical novel set in 1930’3 Mongolia. I haven’t picked up a copy yet, but it looks to be a good read if the reviewer can be trusted.

More Saturday street pics



This is the few from my usual morning perch at Chez Bernard on a normal day and this past Saturday. Quite a difference.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mutton gone astray

Sad to say the Mutton has been reported to have been confiscated by CNMI customs. Or some hungry Mongolian ladies consumed it. I would hate to think ladies as pretty as this would stoop to such a deed. I may have to hand carry it myself if plan C doesn't work. Plan C is super top secret, so you are probably better not knowing, dear reader.

The teacher and I found a club "Chicago" in UB. I'll send pictures and perhaps a copy of a police report at a later date. We also found a club where a twelve foot bronze statue of Stalin forms the "pole" on the dance stage. We were out in the afternoon as I'm not allowed out at night, but working on a pass.

Monday, September 17, 2007

This week in UB

Ugh.. I had high hopes for a post full of fresh exciting insights into the approach of fall in the capital city of Mongolia, but was waylaid along the way. The pumpkin and I were both stricken (on alternating days, thankfully), by horrible maladies of what, were at the time, unknown causes. Mine, was somewhat in the nature of what was known in pre-pc days as Montezuma’s Revenge. Nowadays, I hear it called “Travelers Syndrome” In UB, it is generally named “Ghengis’ Revenge”. Most unpleasant, but short-lived. No sooner had I regained my feet and felt comfortable with keeping a distance from a toilet which could be covered in five seconds or less, when the pumpkin decided to empty the contents of his stomach orally over the course of a very long early evening. Life came to a stop for Erdene and I, while we dealt his poor sad little self. Once again I was forced to consult my mental checklist. This time; Poisoning, as he had just started a new medicine the previous afternoon and you can never be too sure. He had only the one symptom and I was able to relax as much as one can when holding a miserable infant; subject to both random and periodic outpourings, while Erdene consulted the local specialists. Unfortunately, her mom was out of town visiting for the evening and we were deprived of the indisputable source. I did have the occasion to observe a local baby emergency room. They have a separate area for the little ones, which I thought was handy and easier on the parents. Sick children and their caregivers don’t need to be subjected to wounded adults and vice versa. There are other aspects for westerners to health care in Mongolia which are “a bit scary“, as my beloved and insightful nephew Reilly would say. I was a bit at sea with the Pumpkin’s illness at first and was glad for any help. Upon reflection, the medical service was just fine, only different. As for the details, lets just say the needles and hands were clean and that was enough for me. As of this writing, the next evening, he is doing fine and on the mend although it looks as though we have a couple days of baby common cold to look forward to, but without the vomitus. We both agree that the night of “the sickness” was the worst since “the first night home” but honestly, through his excellent health, he has spoiled us. I will say that the reappearance of his bright smile today more than made up for the endless night.

So, on to the week which was in UB. I stopped at Dave’s place for a closing chapter to my Mongol Rally post and was treated to one of the finisher’s reflections on his experience at a local charity. The proceeds from finishing cars are donated through auction auction to Mongolian children’s homes and he was invited to visit. A local TV station was on hand to film the event and we marveled at how quickly he had picked up Mongolian, until being informed the voice over translation was particularly well cued. I had the chance to chat with Dave himself and exchange views on Mongolia, while enjoying a refreshing autumn evening with the lovely Sugaatar Square as a backdrop. I’ve gained entrance to the inner sanctum at Dave’s with the find of real steel darts from a local store at an amazing low price. Amazing, how open and friendly the normally reserved English can be with a decent dart and one hand and one of Dave’s quality pints in another. I have another approach lined up for entrance into the Friday evening social at the British Embassy, if I can just emulate a passable malt vinegar from the paint stripper variety sold locally.

Warm clothes are in the stores here and just in time. I remember, Saipan before the rainy season and not being able to find a rain coat for protection against the odd squall (torrential downpour, is how I phrased it at the time, until the rainy season came and I learned the difference). Same thing in Mongolia, although, it isn’t quite to freezing during the late night hours, yet… Still, the outdoor tables and umbrellas are starting to come in and the steam radiators came on this evening. Another job, fitting up pmpkn proof protective barriers around their hot metal surfaces. That isn’t a task one thinks about in Saipan. I had started my own preparations, before being taken out by the rusty sword of the long-dead great Khan, I was able to procure a cheap grill for our eighteen inch wide patio. Unfortunately, the pumpkin was cruelly struck down before I could purchase charcoal, but just another task. The grill is my own approach to dealing with the cold months by having a little grilled food from time to time. My mother-in-law is fond of my barbequed mutton ribs (a method of cooking, previously unknown to her), so I can leave it with the family. Otherwise, the apartment came furnished with every necessitaty other than a coffee maker and I don’t want to buy a lot of domestic stuff. I did buy a hand mixer, for cake batter, but that will go to sister Siigi, who shares Erdene’s sweet tooth.

On my return from death’s door and just prior to the pmpkn’s visit, we took advantage of a warm Saturday morning for a family stroll to Chez Bernard for the self-sealing (for my purposes) four cheese breakfast and happened to see, an as yet un-glimpsed, Saipan friend out for a morning walk. What are the odds of two sailors, whose last port was the Saipan anchorage coming together at Saturday breakfast in what is arguably the most landlocked city in the world? Anyway, it was great to see Captain Tom from the M/V Bonneyman ashore in UB and I’m looking forward to his company for another couple of weeks. I’m expecting another sailor from the SS Cape Jacob in two weeks, so the Saipan expat population may rise by another. We can form a self-protection company from the local traffic which, although, starting to form recognizable behavior patterns, still resembles some strange form of chaos.

Other than apartment chores, my list for the weekend encompasses posting the three backlogged posts with a number of post rally pictures. Internet connections around town are way slow for uploading pictures and fail during the process more often than not, so that will be an ardarous task. My friend, the ex-Saipan teacher might still have his excellent wireless leaking through to his apartment, but I have his meatloaf pan and I’m loath to return it as would be required for access. I also have to start over with my tax returns. The most necessary component of the visa to the land of the big PX. Turns out my backup accountant in the states was indicted for preparing fraudulent returns for exactly the same deduction I planned to use. For once, I’m happy I procrastinated as my type of return is on the list of his indictable offenses. Lose time, but save money in fines. Given the choice, I would rather have a couple of late returns, than to tell the INS I’m unable to furnish a finished return until my audit is completed. Oh and one of the more successful Sumo wrestlers in Japan is a Mongolian and he is in town recuperating from some difficulties adjusting to the rigid Japanese Sumo system (not just a sport, it’s a way of life) . Wrestling of all sorts is a big past time here and the Mongolian Sumo wrestler, Asashoryu, is a national hero on a par to the Ghinggis Khan, so his every move is big news. My mother in law is a Sumo fan and promises to fill me in on all the gory details. No Red Sox on TV until the next Yankee’s series, but Saturday afternoon is Sumo time, here. Big fat guys pushing each other around while wearing Pampers is how my father-in-law puts it. Takes all kinds. Damn, no pictures this weekend. No wonder, as the only publishable ones could only be in medical journal.

Howard "Pop" Hinnant

This post is written in memory of Howard Hinnant; a friend and resident of NewPort News, Virginia. I doubt many readers will have heard of him, but for those who have the privilege of his acquaintance, or would like to know a little of the man, and for my own peace of mind, I wanted to set down my thoughts and reflections on what we have lost through his passing and gained from his life. Albeit, he passed away peacefully at the age of eighty-one, but I for one, wish he could have seen a hundred-odd years in good health, as a man of his stature and accomplishments deserved as long a contributing life as possible.


There are days in one’s life, when you have to say; “Stop! Something truly important has happened and everyone needs to stop what they are doing and pay attention” Recently, I had one of those days. A close friend from the states (Well, the woman I was dating for years, before meeting Erdene) wrote me to say she had stopped to pick up a mutual friend for a lunch date, to find he had passed on. Howard “Pop” Hinnant wasn’t a family member or even a close friend of many years. However, I knew enough of him, to realize he was a man who symbolized all of the best things which make up the United States of America. An honestly patriotic man and a veteran, with deep convictions formed through hard work, and a man who devoted his attention to his work and to providing for his family. He was a kindly man, who never forced me to refer to him as anything other than Mr. Hinnant in my reserved New England way, until a decent interval of time had passed in our relationship and I felt comfortable calling him by his familiar family name of Pop. I was also always grateful to him for not joining in on the myriad of damned yankee’s jokes from his fellow southerners. Nothing is more painful to a Red Sox fan, than being called a damned yankee, no matter how far north of the Mason-Dixon lines our origins lie. Pop was not a high-level graduate of any institute of higher learning, however, he mastered some of the more difficult engineering tasks which exist. The example which transfixed me the most was his tale of refueling the USS Enterprise at his work at the shipyard in Newport News, Virginia. The new reactor core wouldn’t fit in the hole due to cooling of some precisely honed metal work, but he found a way to make it work safely. His self-effacing tone while relating the details, in a simple manner, of what was a complex piece of engineering work made me realize; this is a man who set the standards within which today’s specialists live. These days, we wouldn’t ever be allowed near any such project and probably rightly so, as people of his abilities have been lost in the shuffle of specialization.
In his later years he devoted his energy to his neighborhood, grandson, and friends. He had many friends. Anyone who lived within a few houses of his was his friend, if they carried themselves in a decent manner. Also, included were children of any age, Veterans, friends of his son’s ex-girlfriend (that’s me), son’s ex-friends (that’s my friend; Bobbi Jean and one or two others), fellow fishermen, home gardeners, the ex-wife of one of his three sons, even his ex-wife. Mr Hinnant didn’t hold a grudge that I could see, but he did speak his mind and only those sure of their convictions felt themselves comfortable in his presence. That isn’t a bad thing to my mind; he walked the walk and his views deserved to be respected for that fact. I’m going to miss him, as he listened, as well as he spoke and had the experience only living a full life can provide. His generation knew hardship we couldn’t imagine and he brought his hard years, along with a healthy sense of humor to every situation. Bobbi Jean and I had left a case of the new army rations with him for the occasional long outage during storm seasons and for general use. We stopped by, after a big hurricane had knocked out power, communication, and travel to a wide area around his community for an entire week. We enquired if the rations were tasty or otherwise useful. He replied; “Well, Hunter (his grandson) and I tried one and they are a damned sight better than the wartime variety, but I’m saving the rest in case we have a real problem down here.“
He was humble and at the same time proud of his accomplishments. Hard to be both at once, but he managed. The example of the work on the fuel core of the Enterprise came up in such a fashion. His son, TC, (also a maritime engineer) and I were fitting a new wheel bearing with heat and it seemed natural for TC to bring up the stuck core story in those circumstances. Knowing Pop, I don’t think I would have heard the story otherwise. In a similar vein, I learned from a friend, Pop Hinnant had been acquainted with the famed and often feared father of the nuclear navy, Hyman Rickover. As a student of history and having always been intrigued by larger than life personalities, I enjoyed hearing the great man brought to life by someone who had dealt with him first hand. There are other stories and experiences he related to me as we came to know each other, but I so feel the loss, as I wonder what other tales he might have told on other long summer evenings over iced tea and barbque, and never did.
For a man of simple pleasures and tastes, he brought himself to the peak of his profession on his own terms. He was never one to want to rise above the shipyard floor and refused many requests before and after retirement to move up the ladder and away from daily exposure to the tasks he enjoyed doing and the people he worked with. The job he did do was of the highest quality and he more than provided for his family at the level he chose to work at. I don’t think, unless one has the consuming drive to be on top of every one else, that life could be more satisfying and I’m pretty certain he would agree.
I always liked that he paid attention to people, although at times it was with what we call on the ships “the hairy eyeball” Sometimes referred to as a “gimlet eye” it is quality which the best Chief Engineers and my more insightful and motivating teachers have possessed in varying qualities and intensities. It is a sort of piercing stare of varying duration with an all seeing eye, which travels right through the recipient’s eyeball to the brain and makes one instantly aware of what a horses ass you just made of yourself with a thoughtless deed or observation, but much more of a useful mannerism, than a blank or dismissive stare. He offset his direct approach with his honest friendship and assistance of any sort whenever called upon to do so. In truth, if you were comfortable with yourself, warts and all, then he was the warmest kindest person imaginable at all times and that is not an easy persona to master.
I didn’t have much hope the lad would have a chance to enjoy more than a brief meeting with Pop and now that won’t happen. That, in itself is saddening, although, no one truly is dead as long as other’s remember him. I don’t have the aspiration or true inner qualities to emulate the man in many aspects, but I’ll do my best to pass on my memories and his examples, so perhaps Pop will go on another generation. Hope that pleases him, as it is the best I can do at this late hour. See ya, Mr. Hinnant. Thanks for making this world a finer and richer home for all of us.

This is Pop Hinnant and his son and my friend T.C. together on Veteran's Day a few years ago. RIP Pop

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Popular demand, demanded I add this picture.

It's all here



The original title for the post was: You can find anything you want at the Naaran Tul market except; a decent Red Sox hat, size thirteen shoes, and spam. After several hours, browsing the sections I hadn’t yet visited ,as well as the now familiar haunts, I was convinced hat and shoes would defeat me. Spam is on it’s way and I didn’t expect to find it at the market anyway. Ready to eat horsemeat sausage is a different story. Just for the record; the ready to eat is much superior to the requires cooking for half an eon variety.

I composed the first version of this post while deep in the depths of despair. Surely the market with everything to outfit the modern mongol would supply a hat and shoes for me, the aspiring mongol. Well, I did find my hat. Not a fitted hat, but adjustable with a Velcro band instead of the ubiquitous plastic -one size fits all- band with the raised dots. Not the washed blue, but a deep dark red sox blue. I’m happy, For four dollars and sixty cents; I have a hat which would pass inspection on Boylston street. Even better, I have a sample to show other vendors and in the future I can provide all of my Mongolian in-laws and friends with a baseball cap suitable for fancy dress or everyday wear. Bringing the Red Sox to Mongolia, one hat at a time. It seems the Yankee’s have made some product placement here. When I see a street cleaner wearing a sox hat, I’ll rethink my strategy, but for now, we see red sox hats only in the finer parts of town. Like our apartment.
On the shoes. At some point of my wanderings I found myself next to a Mongolian man equal in size to my old friend Carl, back at Geary’s Brewery.. Carl, took a deer over the handlebars of his Harley one night while returning home from his shift as a bouncer at some Portland titty bar. The deer was DOA. Carl took a little damage, but not enough to keep him from his day job on the bottling line. I don’t think I need to describe Carl any more than that. This fellow was the same size, but had normal feet. Size Ten… There are some fairly large people here, but they all have smaller feet than my boats. My travels through the market took me to a resale area (bargain area, according to my sisters’) They actually had a pair of shoes to fit. Unfortunately, they were the exact same shade and style of leather dress shoes as I have in storage over the top of my mom’s barn. Back to having leather boots custom made.
The point of this post is; I WENT BY MYSELF AND DIDN’T GET RIPPED OFF, or even overcharged. Sweet. One guy did try to pick my cell phone, but missed. I missed him too, but not by much. Good thing as it is tough to make a living picking pockets with broken fingers, but the crowd was a bit too pressing and he was just a little too fast. Found a new aisle of swords, I’m pretty sure I’ll be buying a new bag, for traveling stateside, long enough to accommodate a sword suitable for hanging over the fireplace or wearing with my fancy tradional dress. Generally another fine day in Mongolia.
On the baby scene. The pumpkin stood up unaided last night and I was the only one present to witness the fact. Of course, he looked as surprised as I did. Once the situation registered, he immediately plopped back down on his postier, but I saw him stand alone. Hard to imagine that seeing a baby stand up would take my breath away, but it did. I can’t compete with on the same level as his mom -with the breasts from which all good things flow- but I was allowed to witness him stand up by himself and to see the joy in his face before he planted his little butt down again. Thanks, little Buddy.
I wonder how much the internet will change our history? Should I save these random jottings or are they part of written history like the writings of lost civilizations. Are blogs going to be the equivalent of the dead sea scrolls?? I feel better just printing out the passages that I would like him to see one day. Not that my writing is going to be remembered through the ages, but at least telling him I love him on the Ethernet is something. I love you, my son, your young life has filled my days with joy and happiness. I would tell him personally, but he’s over in the corner trying to uproot a potted tree. I think I finished my mongol rally post this morning. I'll make one more check to see if the rally is actually over, then post. I'm over my loss of muse, I hope. Lot's to write about in UB lately. Mainly, the approach of winter.

Erdene-Oyun


I never post enough photos of my lovely wife, if only because she is usually taking the picture. Here she is in traditional dress at her Mom and Dad's. Love you, Honey.

yesterday's pictures



Someone from the Saipan CUC must have been managing the blogspot maitenance yesterday. Here's the new hat. Still checking on the Mutton with Leah, Bruce. You might want to give her a call, before heading over there. I'll send you an email, if I don't publish a post, should I here. I would love to upload a google earth picture, but I'm having trouble uploading a picture of the can, let alone a sat image.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

mutton update

The carrier of the Mutton has arrived on Saipan. Not sure if the mutton made it through customs, but no news is good news. No sign of the spam here in Ulan Baatar yet, but this weeks camel post caravan isn't due in for two more days. Also in the news, I finally found a Red Sox hat in the Naaran Tul market. Two hours of thorough shopping, but I prevailed. This will be the fourth red sox hat, I've seen to date in UB (not counting Erdene's) That is double the number of baby car seats seen. Hmm, I see the blog site is closing for maitenance in twenty minutes, I'd better run as it will take that long to upload my pictures. Well, so much for the pictures, Maybe later this afternoon.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

First day of school




This past weekend was every positive argument for living in a city. Lovely weather, clear and cool in the mornings, warming as the day goes along. Friday, we had our appointment with a pediatrician for the pumpkins bowels. That’s all I’m going to say about that; except that the doctor was excellent. A Russian women of considerable stature and the kindly nature which seems to go along with being a baby doctor. She has lived and worked in UB for thirty years and she and Erdene got along famously. I was totally comfortable with her approach- as she stressed dietary changes- before rushing to the prescription book. I was left on the couch with the Pmpkn, but seemed to come out of the session with my dignity and reputation as a passable dad intact. I can’t say, as I minded, playing second fiddle this time, as I was the perennial go between with the estimable Dr. L. Borja at the CHC in Saipan. (If anyone reading this knows her, please say hello for us. I noticed on our last visit, that she is either hitting the snack bar often or is expecting her own bundle of joy and we both hope all is well. )
The Saipan hospital comes in for its share of abuse, but not from me. My Achilles tendon surgery and subsequent therapy went exceptionally well and our experiences on the OB/Gyn and pediatric side were completely trouble free. Erdene was a little miffed that I didn’t tell her about the spinal shot for delivery, but as we never did see a doctor on the morning of delivery day, so I’m in doubt it was available, except in extremis. Of course, my definition of extremis and Erdene’s memories of the delivery no doubt differ widely. The one thing I will always remember of the delivery is the midwife and nurse turning their heads to watch the Brad Pitt movie playing in the corner of the room, as the home stretch neared. Erdene and I were both watching occasionally too, so all is fair. That may seem to be a left-handed compliment, but the nurse and midwife exuded an aura of total competence which events bore out. I know now that babies don’t go squirting across the room often, but at the time I was impressed the nurse picked the arrival time by five minutes.
Good thing the Red Sox weren’t playing. I hear one of my brother in laws is still paying for his less than complete attention to my sister during the arrival of their child. That would be a tough choice. I had already seen the movie a few times and never witnessed a delivery of anything other than numerous pizzas’ so my choice was easy. My brother Matt’s wife, Maureen is due during the playoffs, lets hope the baby comes on an off day. Ethical and moral decisions on that level are never easy.
Saturday in UB was unique in my experience. It seems the Mongolians are slaves to the calendar and the first day of school falls on 1 September. Saturday or not. The pmpkn and I, on our morning trek to the bakery and coffee shop were treated to an endless parade of well scrubbed little faces dressed in their best clothes and clutching bundles of flowers (for the teacher’s, no less).
Pete, the ex-Sapian teacher and I disagree on a lot of things Mongolian, but we are in complete agreement that the kids here have a little extra quotient of cuteness. Saturday, was a good example. It is impossible not to smile at an eight year old boy all solemn and gleaming in his three piece suit accessorized with teardrop shaped mirror shades. The girls were resplendent; with ribbons in their hair, brightly colored sashes, and every dress style from first communion to gaily flowered party dresses. Pmpkn is naturally gregarious and he was swiveling his head so much I was afraid he would do himself damage. Nice tradition they have for the first day of school here in UB. Parents and kids all strolling along and so happy that, even the UB drivers sounded their horns a little less often for the day. I was able to pick up a deal on roses, once the rush ended, so collected an extra smile from the pumpkins mom. I don’t remember spending much money on flowers in Saipan, a trip by a handy Bougainvillea bush usually sufficed.
The rest of Saturday was just a smooth fun day. Erdene’s brothers are visiting and we took advantage of the babysitting for a trip to the market. Shopping with Erdene is a lot of fun, she finds the deals and sorts me out on what is in the package. Reading Mongolian, is just as hard as speaking it. One example: I’m out this afternoon looking for a bag of dumpling with meat and kimchee for filling. Coya Buuz is the closest my roman letters will come to the true spelling, but I’m confident I will meet with success. I found vinegar for my French fries and some Sloppy Joe mix which went over especially well with the family. Meat combined with a sweetish sauce is always a winner recipe here. We even found frozen veggies after several days of my scouring the stores. Turns out they were in a freezer case at the ice cream store on the opposite side of our very own street. Go figure. The supermarkets have twenty-foot long coolers filled on both sides with frozen dumplings, however only in the upscale stores do a scant few bags of broccoli and cauliflower occupy the very last display case. I’m back to the T-shirt at the Modern Mongol resteraunt: “meat for men, grass for animals” Not a lot of room for a little boy with only half of one front tooth and a demonstrated lack of tolerance for fruit.
I witnessed a traffic accident, just prior to entering the ice cream store which is worthy of relating. One car clipped the front end of another, with the result of the clippee’s bumper falling off onto the busy street. I hung around for a few moments, to watch the traffic fun and then left to join my wife in the market. After exiting, I saw both drivers busily and surprisingly, quite companionably, reattaching the bumper to the more damaged car. “The episode told me two things. One, Mongolians don’t hold a grudge against the immediate value of assistance and the cars here are a lot more repairable than elsewhere. Oh! And accidents are likely to happen.
All is well in outer Mongolia. I’m journeying to China in a couple of weeks. Mainly, to extend my visa. Sssh. Don’t tell. I’m really going to shop and add another country to my map of nations visited. Sorry to be so late posting the events of the weekend, but internet connections here are a bit less than standard.