Saturday, July 19, 2008

Confessions

Ever notice how cooking bloggers are quick to extol on the virtues of their latest creation, but how seldom the disasters make the front page? Yes, I screwed up. I prepared what was most likely the worst breakfast ever. Pancakes with Bacon, how hard can that be. Well, the bacon was a salt cured variety and I failed to par boil or soak it. Strike one. I'm still having difficulties with my new frying pan and the hot spot on my front burner. I did manage one unburned pancake out of five, but as the ratio is usually Erdene three and Mark one, that record didn't quite cut the mustard. Strike two. Finally, Erdene noticed something that looked like dust come out of our last half bottle of maple syrup. Not dust, a layer of mold. Strike three and the side was retired. We're having eggs with canned corn beef hash this morning.

In UB news, the Naddam festival was this past weekend. A celebration of "Manly Sports". The athletic portion of the festival centers around wrestling, archery, and horse racing with young boys as the jockeys over a fairly grueling 12 mile track across the countryside. Naddam is huge in Mongolia. Nearly every developed area sports their own Naddam and UB is shut down for three days as everyone is out at the stadium or the racing area. I mean, shut down. We shopped on Wedsday and Thursday, for anything and everything we could conceivably need over the weekend, as the only places open are the little package stores. The effects of Naddam lasted through much of the week as bread was not baked over the weekend, although it looks as though the breweries kept up on beer production.

We didn't attend the stadium events this year, although we did spend an afternoon touring the grounds with a visitor from Saipan. The usual; colorful dress, meat on a stick, toys, and rides for the lad. He seemed to enjoy himself and managed the kiddie rides with his usual enthusiasm. I don't know what my mom would say about his sampling the deep fried meat dumplings, but no ill effects. He wasn't run over by any horses and ignored the odd pile of horse droppings during his wanderings. Erdene took a shot at trying her hand at archery after the competion finished and held up her side. I have pictures, but I'm forbidden to post as the camera angle makes her butt look big.

The post election discord continues in a more restrained parliamentary fashion with no repeats of the recent unpleasantness. The head of the main opposition party is calling for a boycott of the opening session of the Great Hural and they will probably stay out for a bit which will further delay the passage of the mining law. Better than another riot, but not what the country needs as winter approaches.

Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. Pumpkin made his first venture to the Black Market. Previously, we had kept him home as it is just too crowded for a little fella, but on our latest trip with Mashbatt senior, we took him along. Glad to say he did well. He was only knocked over once and managed to amuse a fairly sizable crowd, while dancing along with a woman performing a traditional Mongolian dance in an open area. We were pretty lucky on our timing. The dancer and her assistant were just setting up and the lad and I found ourselves in the front row. As soon as the music started, I read far enough forward to realize what could happen and set the lad down. He took a couple of steps forward out of the crowd and danced away in a loose mimicry of the dancer. Erdene was shopping a few feet away and couldn't see us (yes, it is that crowed there), but I managed to get her attention, so she could enjoy the show. It was hard to see through the dancer's makeup, but I could just make out the vestige of a smile so I didn't worry too much about her performance being spoiled. The audience definetely enjoyed the two of them. I just love the dancing years and he did keep his clothes on this time, thankfully.

Monday, July 7, 2008

I'm feeling a little better


Thanks to Deece, hostess of the What Is It? contest for rewakening my interest in this classic. Best of all, I can find the ingrediants here in UB. Except Velveeta, but I'm a cheddar fan. Hmmmm. Thanks

I need a laugh

Got this in from my old home town paper. Last worthwhile news from that region was the young lady who made her prom dress out of Wrigley's chewing gum wrappers. Looks like someone went one better. Fifteen years ago, I can bet that I would have known the culprit who committed this demented deed. Heck, chances are good, they would have been either a close friend or a relation.

AUGUSTA -- Firefighters had to rush to the bathroom in the wee hours Sunday morning. But they were not tending to personal business.

A flaming port-a-potty someone allegedly lit on fire on Front Street warranted a fire department response.

"They don't usually spontaneously combust," Augusta Battalion Chief Al Nelson said of the portable thrones.
Firefighters first received word of the flaming outhouse at 1:47 a.m. The blaze -- but maybe not the odor -- was under control within approximately 10 minutes, according to police records.
Except for the likely scarred nostrils, it appears no one was injured as a result of the fire.
Nelson said an investigation is pending, but is unlikely to turn up a culprit.

All is well this Monday morning here in UB. Fortunately, I stayed away from the demon rum, although, some of my cohorts are no doubt feeling the effects of Rum, Sodomy, and the lash. Not really, but I always enjoyed that quote. Turns out I know, quite well, one of the people who died during the rioting. Not a six degrees of seperation, which I enjoy feeling good about. The young man in question was not the sort of guy, I would have expected to have been mixed up in all this. I'm still a bit stunned and saddened by it all. If I had to name five young Mongolians who would have made a difference in his life, he would be very near the top. Rest in Peace, Dorge.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Here we go


The President of Mongolia lifted the state of emergency at midnight Saturday. Lovely morning here in UB, warm with brilliant blue skies.
Thanks to the US embassy here in Mongolia for hosting a most enjoyable Fourth of July picnic. Erdene stuffed herself, I managed a beer, Pumpkin exposed himself. All in all, a great time. The event wasn't at the embassy venue itself, but in a residential complex. Security issues, I would imagine. However, I don't think the embassy compound has a wading pool, so I'm not concerned. At ten meters in diamater, this was the mud puddle to end all mud puddles for the lad. We had to pull him out a few times, when the shivering became too intense. I think the Doctor's lady friend managed a few pictures, so I'll update later if possible. She missed his shuffle step marching to the Marine Hymn which is too bad and his exposure, which was really too bad. Why is it that whenever the diaper comes off, everything else must as well? It was too funny, especially given that he was only a few meters from the Ambassador and his entourage. Two hotdogs, coke, and cake: Five thousand, Togrig. Watching your baby expose his junk to a hundred people and the band: Priceless.
Rumor has it, one of my dear wife's friends will loan us her camera this afternoon. Sobriety permitting, I'll have some pictures later today, along with an update from the street. This is big week approaching. Besides the Doctor and myself there are two other Saipainans visiting UB this week. Must be something in the water.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Letter home


Hi Tom, I realize now my older letter didn’t really set out very well what happened this week. Early results from Sunday’s elections were announced Monday with the MRRP party (old commies) taking a majority from the democrat party and around six splinter parties. Obviously, a case of vote diluting from the minority blocs, but also from some redistricting issues and poorish polling place administration. The minorities organized a protest rally in the square in front of the UB hotel (just down from Sukhbaatar square and adjacent to the MRRP party headquarters. There was also some action at the election commission office in a nearby area. The speakers got the demonstrators all riled up. Estimates put the crowd between four and eight thousand people. I don’t know why, but the police didn’t seem to have a response ready and things got way out of hand. One of the first places to go was the duty free (read, liquor) store and you can imagine what happened after that. There was a spirited battle between the defenders of the MRRP office and a bunch of rock throwers. As you know, rocks are not in short supply here. At this point some fires were set and responding police and emergency vehicles were repulsed by the rock throwers. The crowd was very mixed. Middle aged women, well dressed young men, and of course the usual unemployed hoodlums. As the riot went on, major looting occurred along with some serious burning before the authorities were able to gain control. The whole mess was confined to a small area bounded by the main square to the west, Daves pub to the north (their fencing held up and the brown ale is safe), a block the other side of Peace ave was the southern boundary, and the UB hotel to the east. Looking west from our place we could only see the faintest sign of smoke, but the various tv stations had awesome live and taped coverage, so not being a total idiot, I watched from the living room with the family. Erdene’s dad and younger brother were over and they were quite shocked by the mayhem. I quess, I’m a bit jaded our riots didn’t seem any worse than the mayhem after a NCAA finals tourney.

So that was the day. The President was on the tv in the evening and appealed for calm, while also declaring a state of emergency. A more vigorous response by the police in the early morning hours of Weds day, the security clampdown, depleting and closing of the booze stores, and some solid rain all day Wedsday, pretty much cooled things down. Now we wait to see the next chapter. Everything has been quiet since weds day morning and the army has gone back into barracks for the most part. Today, Saturday, Parliament is supposed to meet and decide whether to suspend the state of emergency or continue it. We’ll see, but I don’t think the police will be caught out a second time. I’m thinking there will be a limited suspension of the emergency. No booze, but unlimited access to the downtown, various independent tv stations will broadcast again, and we’ll see what happens.

Otherwise, all is well. The missus, lad, and I toured the area yesterday and except for the burned out buildings and a few AK toting guards all is normal. Had an enjoyable lunch at Millies and Pumpkin was his usual charming self. We even violated the curfew last night after a late dinner, by hanging out in the open area in front of the wrestling palace and playing a little ball with the lad. He is a basketball nut at this point and is quite impossible out of doors if there is a ball within sight or hearing difference. His regulation basketball is strengthening his arms, so anything smaller and lighter is sure to fly across the room. We’re worried about the longevity of the tv at this point are are segregating the heavier objects. Hope all is well with you and the good ship B. Erdene says hi and she’s still enjoying her fluff. The Doctor and I are making the best of things, although the looting of the duty free store which kept us going during the alcohol poisoning and january prohibtion, was a cold water enema.. I have a source and he discovered room service will deliver. Otherwise, we are hoping for a rational decision based on the pure economics of the number of thirsty tourists in town and lost revenue. We’ll see. At worst, the rains have brought green grass to the city and surrounding hills, UB has never looked better. Happy fourth. We're off to the embassy do for some Americana and hot dogs. All the best, Mark

Friday, July 4, 2008

Rain is good



My walkabout Thursday, confirmed the reports of troops having been replaced by the normal police. The APC parked on the corner near the UB hotel is gone, although I did see a truck load of paramilitary/soldiers types up the street by the Chinese Embassy. Security for the Chinese or a quick response team, no clue. Except for a loan Ak toting type on the steps of the already looted Institute for Culture, no visible troops. There were a couple of policemen checking out their newly issued sidearms in the park fronting the parliament building, which was a bit scary. . A policeman with a side arm is an infrequent sight on the streets of UB. That idea takes a little getting used to, especially when the first people I saw armed here were the security guards at the local version of Home Depot. I’m a little happier with the soldiers having the guns, as they have more training

Traffic is still a bit restricted from the main cross town street, but returning to normal levels. Dang it. Peace street, actually being peaceful, was a pleasant change from the normal four and eight cylinder horse races. The two burned out buildings were a bit disconcerting, but at least it was quiet. The buses having had the run of the road for the last few days are going to be hard to live with now that they have had a taste of the open road.

Now that the rain and security clampdown have returned city life to normal, we are wondering what the end of the emergency will bring. By my calculations, the Great Hural should meet today or Saturday, depending on how soon the members can return from their home districts, and they will then decide whether or not to lift the embargo. The government election commission has come out with a statement affirming the fairness of the elections. No surprise there. The leader of the Democratic party has managed to stay out of jail and toned the rhetoric down, but is still calling for a recount. Good article HERE by Micheal Kohn on the various factors which led to the riots and a comprehensive overview with a somewhat dark look at the future HERE by the UPI. We’ll see, but I’m betting the Doctor and I will be drinking beer at a hotel Saturday afternoon and not at our neighborhood local. Whether or not, we’ll be dodging gangs of rock throwing unemployed rioters, remains to be seen, but I doubt it.

In Pumpkin news, he’s a bit miffed at all the rain and mom has had a tough time indoors with him lately, while I toil on the streets. “Come home, right now” is a bit tough to respond to promptly with no cabs and puddles to dodge. He on the other hand loves puddles. I watched him run and dance through the same puddle no less than fifteen times yesterday morning. That was all well and good, until he decided that playing while sitting in the puddle was more fun. I’ve figured out his socialization technique, he is just shy for the first couple of meetings, but lightens up when he has already met a couple of times with the same child. Thanks to the little girl who lives under the stairs in the next building for that piece of hard won knowledge. She is a sweet and patient child who will be finding a basket of goodies shortly. We are hoping the weather forecast is correct and we will be dry, but cloudy today. I have some time and Erdene hasn’t seen the party headquarters site for herself yet, plus they are both going stir crazy and lunch out at the Casablanca sounds like a plan, unless she goes for pizza at the Silk Road or Strudel at Sacher’s Café. No street mutton though, damn rioters drove them away. There is a reason for lifting the state of emergency, “Bring back the street mutton”

Seriously though, the smaller café’s and bars up at this end of town have taken a serious hit over the last few days. The tourism season looked to be hitting full speed, only to come to crashing halt. Can’t make much money, if your doors and beer coolers are locked. We’ll have to see if local economics plays into the lift or don’t lift equation. I doubt it somehow, if there is a legitimate reason for protest here, the government seems to have blinders on when it comes to the plight of the honest working people. Shutting down the smaller cafe's for internal security reasons is one example an article in this weeks UB post reporting on the plight of a smaller furniture maker unable to secure a loan from a gov't department set up for the purpose of small business loans is another. Oh well, so it goes.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

No news is good news


Both of my loyal readers will have already noted the lack of decent pictures for the last few weeks. In a case of blatant stupidity I managed to have our camera stolen. UN-attended bag, if anyone is keeping score. My first loss to theft after nearly a year, so not such a bad record, but we miss it dearly. Old Lenin here is actually pertinent to the story. His statue stands in courtyard where the rioting took place tuesday evening. I'm a bit at a loss, that it is still standing. Rumor has it, the more militant types tried to break into a building with a tractor, I though old Vladimir Ilych would have come down this time. Someone explain this to me, please.



Very Quiet on the streets last night, but curfew or not they weren’t empty. The text of the state of emergency message points to only ID being needed to be out at night, but I think I would still need a reason. Yahoo news headlines make it sound as though the city is under martial law with troops on every corner. Not. The BBC’s coverage has been tops since yesterday afternoon and not surprisingly they have my favorite author of things Mongolian on the scene. His by-line made it to their page HERE. Micheal Kohn is the author of “DateLine Mongolia”, written during his tenure as editor of the Mongol Messenger. I owe him for filling in a lot of blanks in my knowledge of local politics, religion and its relation to social and political life, and what is was like here shortly after the transition to democratic rule.

I had a few thoughts from the aftermath of the riot for todays blog, but unfortunately Mr Kohn stole my thunder in his article today. No biggee, at least know I have a reasonable idea that my ideas were on a sound track. I will leave it to him to relate the various theories and explanations of the alleged fraud, as I am not in the know on that. I’m more of a vodka and bullets sort of guy.

One item I will mention is the forbearance by the authorities in the mid stages of the riot. At the time, I was waiting for the police to form a line and charge with nightsticks, but didn’t have a full grasp as to the great numbers of demonstrators. A Boston PD style cavalry charge might have cleared the area, but Mongolian horses are just too short for that sort of action. The Doctor was of the opinion they should have dropped a few with bullets to the head in the early going, but that just isn’t in the Mongolian Psyche. They will always have more deaths from natural causes, accidents, drunken brawls than in the west, but that has more to do with the developing status of the country. Poor forecasting, a somewhat caviler attitude to driving (that is the understatement of the year, but my views on Mongolian driving are known). The difference between accidents and the willful taking of life is huge to Mongolians. It isn’t just my wife and family, I saw it in the wholesale sacking of the ministries responsible for the fire fighting helicopter crash last summer. And that was a case of poor control from above which led to bad decisions by the pilot resulting in the loss of nearly the entire team and flight crew. The idea of police firing on protesters is not in the picture. Think political suicide by the ruling party.

We’ll see how the five deaths pan out. The reports now are leaning to shooting occurring as late night partiers attempted to storm a police station. That occurred after the degree and would fit in with the announced terms, so should be acceptable to the population. My dear wife was greatly saddened to hear of the deaths, but she is a sensitive soul and isn’t used to the daily body counts from the US papers. A little secret, I’ll keep to myself for the moment. Maine is more or less free from that sort of thing anyway.

As for today. Rainy and quiet this morning. I’m expecting more of the same, as I walk around today. Unfortunately, I have things to do and one by product of the main street closure, is a serious lack of cabs. It is a warm rain, however, and might taper off. I was on the back alleys and the main streets yesterday and saw only day to day life and some somber looks by the people gazing at the torched buildings. Certainly, no animosity. Of course, the rioters were either sleeping it off or in the pokey. The government has bought themselves some time to sort out the allegations and hopefully they will come up with plausible explanations by the weekend when the vodka stores are due to reopen. For my part, I’ll trade a few days of cold beer for a chance to have a cup of coffee with Mr Kohn, should our paths cross.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

HERE WE GO AGAIN








Dawn in UB. The sounds of random gunfire are gone from our neighborhood and the smoke has cleared enough for the windows to be opened once more.

Just kidding Mom, if it wasn’t for the six o’clock news we wouldn’t have noticed. Only the Mongolians can stage a decent riot which leaves residents a mile away from the disturbances oblivious to the situation. All the same, I’m happier not knowing. The lad and I had a fun afternoon out in the playground. From the news reports though, I have to say; Mongolia puts on a decent riot. I’m not sure if the ruling party headquarters was the first to go or the duty free store in the same building. I am a bit surprised by the lackluster police response in the early going. From my walk in town this morning, the proximity of the Mongolian CIA to the “disturbance” scene was glaringly obvious. We are talking across the street. In defense of the local PD, Mongolians aren’t historically prone to violence on this level. The break from Communism was accomplished through a mid winter sit in on Sugater square. The Doctor is of the opinion they learned random thugness from MTV. Another gift to the world courtesy of the USA. My timeline of the event was a protest gathering which turned violent, but was self sustaining due to the huge numbers of people in the immediate area, rock throwers or not. The police just couldn’t make headway, even the responding emergency vehicles were stoned.

The demonstrators (well, rioters) lost major style points in my view when they failed to maintain coherence after the teargas finally came out. They totally blew it when they ransacked a nearby art museum/gallery and the Institute of Culture. Breaking up the instruments of struggling musicians and stealing their belongs moved the disturbance from the realm of political protest to drunken hooliganism. I believe the nearness of a large duty free store to the party headquarters had a great deal to due with the late night vandalism. There are more than a few people captured on crystal clear camera footage, Jack Daniels bottle in hand. Hard to dispute that little item. Rumor has it those unfortunate sods, as well as the leaders of the minor parties for inflammatory speeches prior to the outbreak of violence are being tracked down and they will most likely be in the slam by morning. My father in law is of the opinion there was major fraud and (disclaimer, he supports the opposistion), but he was quite incensed by the burning of a nice looking mini-van as well as torching of valuable property. The demonstrators/rioters looked quite the fools as they cheered the damage. Note to opposition; You still lost, get over it, and quess where the rebuilding money will come from. The damage to the two buildings I personally viewed today was fairly extensive (well, half of one building was gutted to the point where the walls had fallen away and the nearby party headquarters was fire scorched to the top). The mood on the streets was quiet and not unfriendly, but a bit tense. The APC parked on the corner probably had a bit to do with that, but I think the opposition has shot its bolt. Certainly, the next assault will have to come from the heart as they won't be seeing much Vodka for a few days.

The biggest surprise for me was the restraint shown by the police. I was expecting to see the armored personal carriers roll into the crowd at any moment, but a spirited defense of the ruling party’s headquarters by a small band of police was about it for most of the afternoon’s show. The crowd was pretty damn big and well fueled. A counter attack by around eighty riot police was thrown back in short order, despite some valiant efforts. At this point, I feel for the police involved more than the protesters. Protesters isn’t such a good word, they probably began as such, but quickly deteriorated into an angry mob. The missus saw one interview today, which featured a man selling a bag of stones for a couple of bucks. Immediate flashback to the stoning scene in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” Not that good stones aren’t available anywhere in UB, you could safely say the streets are paved with loose rock and brick. The official government response was limited to a curfew, ban on booze, and an end to broadcast media with the exception of the government station. Mongols are a bit like sailors and miners in that they tend to gossip, drink excessively, stay up as late as possible, and then fight if the opportunity presents itself, so these measures aren’t all that bad. We’ll see how this all goes down as the state of emergency runs it’s course. Meanwhile, we are beerless and it’s hot. Still, better than beerless and cold, as during the booze ban this winter. You can read a couple of news stories HERE and HERE, but so far nothing new or earth shaking. I’ll include an emailed text of the state of emergency below, just in case anyone wonders.

PRESIDENT DECLARES STATE OF EMERGENCY
In connection with an emergency situation occurred in Ulaanbaatar, President of Mongolia N. Enkhbayar issued on July 2 at 00.00 a.m. a decree in frames of his competence.
Under his decree, a state of emergency is declared in the capital for four days. The decree says, due to actions with use of violation of a group of people on the territory of Sukhbaatar district of Ulaanbaatar, mass disturbances are occurred. Forces of the law enforcement organs were attacked, material values were destroyed, and fires were set up in several objects. In order to eliminate consequences of the emergency situations and ensure the security of the population, the President of Mongolia declares a state of emergency from 00.00 a.m. on the territory of the city for four-day term.
The President orders to take the following measures:
1. To strengthen the security of objects of state significance.
2. Using forces permitted by the law, to break up any kinds of demonstrations and mass activities arranged with infringing the law.
3. To restrict the traffic movement in the central part of the capital and check motor vehicles.
4. Using forces, to disperse and arrest persons and groups of people who break the public order and arrange actions with use of forces and examine whether they have arms and technical devices.
5. To impose a curfew from 22.00 p.m. to 08.00 a.m. in the central part of the capital; to check persons breaking it; to arrest individuals having no ID cards with forces of the police or military patrol in the period until the expiring the quarantine or for 72 hours no long until the person will identified.
6. To ban the use of devices intensifying sounds, in case of necessity to seize them and to stop activities of all televisions and radios except the national public television and radio until the expiration of the state of emergency term.
7. To prohibit the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages.
8. To put control over individuals having firearms and cold steel, over entities and plants using explosives, virulent chemicals, and radioactive substances, and over military arms and techniques used in training.
9. To charge Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs Ts. Monkh-Orgil to organize actions for implementing the decree.
President of Mongolia N.