Saturday, August 30, 2014

Old, and new, and confusion

August 31, 2014

               Every school year starts with some confusion and this one was no exception, with schedule changes, assemblies, missing students, and added students.  Despite all of this everything went down quite well actually, and the changes never truly impacted the classroom time.  Perhaps the biggest adjustment was moving from 42 min periods I was used to in the states, to an 85 min block schedule.  85 minutes is a long time and if you’re not prepared then it can be a real bear for the students and teacher alike.  If you make the mistake of treating it like two 42 minute periods back to back then you are in trouble.  42 minute periods allow for short activities, so you will end up lecturing for far too long and losing the students attention.  I am trying to mix things up every 25-30 minutes, with lecture, seat work, discussion, videos, and activities.  I have also been trying to question the students much more than I have in the past, and I can use Do Nows again, since I am no longer pressed for time.  Even so there is only so many ways to spice up, what is science, where did science come from, and how do we study science (especially the last part).  My little midgets seemed to really enjoy the myths and legends segment I did with the Kraken, aka the giant squid.  The youngsters really got into the What’s in the box activity, and my older guys slogged through the chemistry review.  I thought the bit on alien life would have gotten more attention, but I’ll find something to snag their attention soon.  All in all it’s a bit different, but not as draining as I expected it to be.

                                               Zaisan Monument

         After looking out my window at the darn thing for two weeks I finally made it all the way to the top.  It wasn't as bad getting to the top as I expected, if only because the stairs were blocked off, so I had to walk up the road that wound around to the top.

                                                         The final push to the top

          Now the monument itself is an interesting one, near as I can tell from reading the sign posts on the way to the top.  The monument was built in 1956 to commemorate the Soviet soldiers that died helping in Mongolia’s bid for independence, and I think WWII as well.  However the story goes back further than that apparently.  The hill itself has been an important site in Mongolia for a long time being a religious site of some sort, and a pilgrimage site since a famous Mongolia used to live there in the past.  The internet is spotty on the details so I can only go by what I read.

The river Tul

View from the top

The School

Looking away from the city

Inside the monument

               There was one more surprise at the monument that Pat would have loved.  A pair of Golden Eagle hunting birds.  Those birds were huge easily 3-5 times the size of the falcons and hawks I am used to seeing back in PA.

               These Eagles are used to hunt small game like rabbits, and squirrels, but they can take down larger prey like wolves or foxes.  I can easily believe it to, if they weren't roped down, I bet a few small children could have gone missing.  The use of the Eagle in hunting is more prominent in Western Mongolia, which makes sense as this region shares more with the Kazakhs, where the use of the bird is very important culturally.  The Golden Eagle is not endangered worldwide but it is in significant decline in parts of Europe and Asia.  I could not find any data about Mongolia or other central Asian areas.

               Anyway, the weather has stayed nice and cool in the 70’s or below with another bit of rain again Friday morning.  Now I've been told that it starts getting cold in October so Colleen and Michael you are running out of time if you want to see UB before it becomes negative freeze your but off.  In other news I've managed to find a nice running path that isn't too crazy most of the time, but I’ll still be ready for any tough mudders that come my way.

               The food situation is slowly working itself out, but it’s still a hit or miss for dinner.  My saving grace is that one of the former teachers left behind garlic powder and cayenne pepper, which makes anything taste good if you use enough of it.  I’ve also found enough vegetables to settle my gastrointestinal explosions.

            I lost my hat, I could use a longer HDMI cable and cookies, lots of cookies, I haven’t had one since I left PA.

       I am going hiking in the hills behind the school tomorrow, so expect that report next week.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Work Begins

August, 24, 2014

            First off I would like to apologize to everyone for being a little late on this update but real life has reared its ugly head with the start of the new school year, and I might have marathoned Sword Art Online last week.  In a nut shell it is a story about a group of people stuck in a virtual reality role playing game, where death in the game, means death in the real world.  I know that sounds cheesy but it works, and works well.  It has a good mix of action and drama despite being rushed in a few places.  I wish it would have been a 50 episode series instead of a 25 epside series, a second season was just released.  Woohoo!  (Dave I think it’s one you should check out and its right up in John’s room waiting for you.  Also dad four of those English songs I gave you came from the show.)  FYI parts of this show might be used in my next Anime science blog post.

This one’s more for Dave

Now that being said it’s been a busy and interesting week.

Chris 1 Mongolia 0

            I had my first run out on the roads of UB and it was an interesting one.  For starters the road leading away from the school could double as a mogul slope in the winter.  Now the street at the bottom of the hill is nicer, but it does not have a side walk so I have to run on the berm.  Now the berm is less a small strip of gravel and more a mishmash of rubble, open manholes, and partially constructed ditches.  If I make it two years without breaking an ankle it will be a small miracle.  Thankfully that particular stretch is short and the road opened up to a more traditional gravel berm, as I ran by the river for a short while.  It’s not a bad stretch as long as you trust the Mongolian divers not to hit you, as you weave around the parked cars.

So it was something like this only worse

Mongolian Weather

            So Mongolia has been a little bit hotter than I expected with the weather hitting the high 80s last week.  It is a dry heat so it’s not as bad, but with no AC the buildings did warm up quite a bit during the day.  Over the weekend however it was a completely different story starting Thursday night.  This was the view as I looked up from my desk.

            I don’t know about the rest of you, but my first thought was what the hell, and cool this is just like in Independence Day.   Despite the massive clouds rolling in all that ended up happening was some wind and a heavy drizzle.  My student’s mentioned getting some hail from the storm, in other parts of the city.  I guess the big blue sky must get some clouds every once in a while.  After the storm the day time temperature dropped into the mid 50’s and I had to break out the vests.

Mongolian Culture Show

            Wow, just wow, last Monday the school took us to the Mongolian Culture show and despite being dead tired it was amazing.  The music and dancing was incredible, during a couple of sequences I was half expecting someone to break out with Arnold Schwartzineger’s Crush your Enemies.  No pictures were allowed during the show and the clips below are only a shadow of what I got to see live in the third row, just off the center.  There were a couple of bits that would fit right in with any Bruckheimer film and the costumes were amazing.  It was amazing to see all of the different cultural crossovers with China, India, and Korea.  Also some of their traditional dress would fit right in with American Indians.  This makes sense considering that humanity first migrated to North American from Asia.

Mongolian Dancing

Traditional Horse dance

Mongolian Throat Singing

            The first day of school went well and I think it’s going to be a good year, but man are their names hard to pronounce.

Final note
Oh that container that I thought was Salami.  Yeah it turned out to be some kind of weird cheese.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Arrival in UB

August 16, 2014

I’m leaving on a jet plane, or something like that.

Philadelphia International Airport

     Philadelphia to Detroit, Detroit to Beijing, Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, between all of the driving, flying, and layovers I was traveling for 44 hours straight.  My first flight of the day wasn't bad despite being stuck in the middle seat between two very large individuals, as I slept almost the entire time.  I was out before takeoff and woke up during the landing.  Detroit Airport was nice for all of the 90 minutes I was in it.  There was a nice little restaurant right outside the gate with a decent chicken Caesar wrap even if the service was rather poor.

     Detroit to Beijing was the long haul of the trip, and I managed to snag a bulkhead seat with a little more leg room, even if I was stuck in the middle seat again.  At least this time they were tiny people so it wasn’t too bad.  I was marathoning Victorian Romance Emma Season two when my laptop battery finally decided to crap out, but at least it was after the marriage proposal so I was able to live with that.  Shut up I happen to like some romance stuff on occasion.  The only other memorable aspect of the flight was getting a look at the Polar Regions.

     Beijing ugh….. If you ever have the choice of flying through Beijing or flying through anywhere else, for the love of money take the someplace else.  The airport is a disaster for international transfers.  You land and follow the signs and international transfer sign points to a wall.  There is no sign in the baggage claim for international transfers or to leave your luggage on the carousel, so it can be more than a little confusing.  My thanks to the Delta employee who told me what to do, and where to go.  Now I have to leave the terminal and take a bus to another terminal 20 minutes away.  Oh and don’t forget the two security check points and the trouble of getting a visitor’s visa.  Now terminal 3 is a crowded mess of people, and you can only check in 2 hours before your flight so you are stuck wandering around the crowded terminal.  The only bright spot is the Pizza hut which for some reason is fine dining in China.  Now the security there was not the probulator I was expecting.

     However they are obsessed with batteries for some reason and did not know what to make of my portable printer.  Anyway, I finally made it onto my Mongolian Airlines flight.

The Eagle has landed or something like that

     Chinggis Khaan International Airport and it looks a lot different at night when the only thing visible in a sea of darkness is the airport lights and the road leading to the airport.

     One more short ride on some bumpy roads and I made it to my apartment in Ulaanbaater in the middle of the night, 44 hours after I left.  Not exactly a pleasure cruise but you have to do, what you have to do sometimes.

My new Home sweet home



     I know it’s small, but it gets the job done.  The two burner range and oven works.  However I can’t use the oven and stove top at the same time.  The fridge is a bit smaller, but that just means I’ll have to go shopping a little bit more often.  Ok, a lot more considering I took advantage of all of the restaurants in Red Bank, NJ.  Lastly my fridge needs a little more love and magnets, my anime pictures need some more friends.

Living room

     Yes mom, I know it’s a mess, but I’m still a little jet lagged.  I do like the deep window sill, giving me some extra storage space.


     It’s small but so was the bathroom in my NJ apartment, and this one is actually nicer.


     A little small but I have a nice sized closet and a queen sized bed.  My Charlotte figurine could use a friend though, but sadly there were no Infinite Stratos figurines to find at Otokan.

Mongolian TV

     For starters, woohoo I have cable again even if it is Mongolian cable.  I do get a decent number of English channels though.  Universal (it appears to be a combination of USA, and TNT), SyFy, HBO, TCM, BBC news, CNN, NGC, Travel, True TV, E, Eurosport, MTV, Cartoon Network, Austrailian TV, and Toonami.  Now those are just the ones I’ve looked at so there might be one or two more.  The internet has been good so far.  The only problem was burning out my converter this morning, but I got things working again.

Shopping for food in Mongolia

     There will be many more posts on this I’m sure.  I have made my first forays into the Mongolian supermarkets and they were interesting.  First off they have a variety of western products like cereals, soups, chips, and other things.  I just need to keep an eye on the prices as some of them can be expensive.  The produce offerings were a little scant at first, but as I soon discovered it just matters where you go.  Good price, is about 10-15min walking distance from the school with high but decent prices.  The selection is also pretty good and it has the best selection of western items that I’ve seen so far.  It’s still a little tricky as what we American’s would think of as milk jugs actually contain yogurt.  I did find the milk, and learned that cyy means milk and tapat means yogurt.  The next store was called mercury and this is where the best produce and meat can be found.  I can say that John would love the meat market in Mercury. (Not for the weak stomach)

     Yes that is actually a pigs head for sale and you can get a sheep’s head if you want as well.  I got 2 kilo’s of chicken for 15,000 turgig, which amounts to 4.4 pounds of chicken breast for around 8 dollars.  There was also a large selection of produce which I didn't expect to find and walked away with some mushrooms and peppers.  I haven’t gone for the fruit yet, but we did pass several street vendors.

Cooking and tasting Mongolian food

     It’s only been two days so don’t expect much but here is what I have found so far.

Eggs- No real difference but you need to clean them before hand as there are still bits of stuff left on them occasionally.  They come in brown and white, but the brown are more common.  The eggs are also a little smaller.

Milk- It’s 3.6% so nearly the same as whole milk, but it has a weird after taste I can only describe as gamey.  I think it might have something to do with the cows eating more grass, and being allowed to roam around more.  I know cyy means cow’s milk, but I still don’t know what UHT means.

Bread- No difference as far as I can tell, but it does not contain the preservatives found in non-bakery bread in the states and the loaves are smaller.

Peanut butter- Yes, for the love of everything yes.  I have peanut butter, I won’t starve.

Orange juice


I think its salami or some kind of lunch meat.

Mustard- the universal condiment

     I’ll get back to you guys with more about the Mongolian food once I've gotten to try some more of it and hit up some of the restaurants here in UB.  I may update tomorrow with some of the local sites if I get the time.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

One last hurrah

August 10, 2014

               I am now finally packed, and just in time too, with only 3 days left until my flight half way across the world to the lovely country of Mongolia.  I have to say, Ulaanbaatar looked pretty good when I saw it on an episode of House Hunter’s International the other night.  It also helped my mom come to terms with the move, since if it’s on house hunters, then it means the city can’t be all that bad.  Unfortunately, the part of town I will be living and working in was not shown during the show, but the parts I did see looked pretty good.  I’ve also started to look through my guide books and discovered some interesting sights and activities to partake in.

               There is a camp located several kilometers outside of Ulaanbaatar that is run by the Mongolia army, and that for a small price will allow you handle military hardware.  For only 25 dollars they will let you fire an AK-47, for 60 dollars you can shoot an RPG, and for $25 plus $35 per kilometer you can drive a tank.

Now, for the members of the Meharg and O’Donnell clans, you can imagine my mother’s response.

               That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, and why would you do that.

My father, however had a different take.

               I don’t know; it could be fun to try once, but I would only drive the tank.

My own opinion is I’ll try anything once and where else could I get the chance, hehehehhe.

               The guide book also pointed out the dangers of the elusive Mongolian death worm, which lives in the Gobi Desert.  It is a large red sausage shaped worm that can shoot fire from its mouth or an electric shock from the tail.  The locals recommend running at first site, but that might not save me.  Personally, I’ll stay facing it to dodge the fire ball and take my chances with the electric shock, as I’ve built up a bit of immunity over the years.

               In other news this past weekend was Otokan 2014, my last hurrah and anime convention before leaving to parts unknown.  For the uninitiated, Otokan is a large (35,000 people) convention, for all things Japanese animation with a smattering of cartoons and science fiction.  Otokan is located in the Baltimore Inner Harbor at the convention center and the attached Hilton.  This is my fourth year attending Otokan and it was fantastic as always.  I spent three days geeking out over all things anime.  I also met up with TPS and his buddy from the Gunslinger Girl Forum.  To start with, I hit up a number of panels about all things anime from the funny to the more intellectual.

               Ghibli in Love- an examination of love stories in Studio Ghibli films.  I highly recommend this panel for any Studio Ghibili fan 5 out of 5.

               New anime for old fans- no explanation needed for this one I give it a 4 out of 5.

               Kaiju or how I learned to stop worrying and cancel the apocalypse- I can’t really rate this one as I only caught the last few minutes but it looked like a lot of fun.

               A Certain Magical Index Season 2 English dub premier- Awesome, there I said it.

               Anime Rest Stop- Mechapocylpse- 4 out of 5 for slight pacing issues in my opinion.

               Friday and Saturday night fan parodies- I didn’t see all of them but the ones I did were extremely funny.

               Castlevania a bloodstained perspective- a look back on the good the bad and the ugly of almost 30 years of Castlevania history, 3 out of 5

               Anime according to AMVs- 5 out of 5

               Intro to fanfiction- 2.5 out of 5
               World War II in anime- probably one of the best if not the best panel I attended out of the whole convention 5 out of 5.

               Bad anime bad- pretty much MST3000 for anime and hilarious 4 out of 5.

               Anime rest stop- a historical look at diversity in anime- Extremely informative and humorous.  The panelists covered everything and anything regarding the topic with plenty of humor and interesting facts. 5 out of 5.

               When Moe goes bad- an explanation and roasting of all things Moe.  An excellent romp on one of the more disturbing aspects of current anime 4 out of 5.

               Dubs that time forgot- 2.5 out of 5

               The path of Gundam- The panelist really knew his stuff but was not skilled at presenting the information, but I did get a few ideas for future Anime science posts 2 out of 5.

               Numerous photoshoots- I saw a large number of extremely well done cosplay.  My special thanks goes to the Madoka cosplay group for chatting with an anime fan and con-goer who wants to cosplay but is to nervous to try.



Gundam, but sadly no Gundam Seed

Final Fantasy, even if I didn't recognize the Rachel from FFVI

Fate series

And surprisingly Heart Catch Pretty Cure

              I can't forget my own panel on Anime Biology.  I was completely stunned at the start, I really didn’t expect to have a full room (200 people).  The panel went well, and the audience was great.  I think everyone learned something, and had a good time.  

                Oh, and a thanks to my new buddies from Zenkaikon that came to see my panel.  FYI, I have now started an Anime Science blog to examine and explore all things science, whether it’s Biology, Chemistry, or Physics as seen in anime.  If you’re feeling a little intellectual then take a look.

               Well that’s about everything from Otokan that needs and can be said in a single blog post.  Oh and just in case you’re wondering, I am ready for Mongolia.  I am currently jumping at the bit to meet my new students.  You think I might have an anime fan or two?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

You're going where

August 3, 2014

               Welcome one and all to my little corner of the World Wide Web, otherwise known as Musings From Mongolia.  Personally, I wanted to go with Meharg’s Mongolia Musings or 3M for short, but I didn't feel like getting sued for copyright infringement, curse you Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Corporation.  My blog will be about the little country nestled between Russia and China in Northern Asia.  If the title didn't clue you in, I’m talking about Mongolia, the land of the Big Blue Sky and the home of Genghis Khan.  (Oh and any other countries I happen to visit.)

               Anyway for those of you who don’t know me, I am a middle school and high school science teacher from the shores of New Jersey, with its unique blend of drinking water.  I gained my teaching legs after leaving medical school for the more interesting and exciting life as a professional educator.  I spent three years teaching 7th grade biology, before taking some time off to earn my master’s in education.  This past year I made the jump to teaching high school student’s biology and chemistry.  So all told between student teaching, subbing, and full time teaching I’ve covered every grade from 6th to 11th.  Now for the question that you’ve all been wondering why Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

               The simple answer is, well watch the video below.

               Ok, now for the long answer and yes I like anime.  I attended several classes at Monmouth University taught by Professor Paul Ristow who spent the majority of his career teaching for the DODEA, otherwise known at the Department of Defense Education Activity.  This is the branch of the US government that runs all of the overseas schools for the children of US government workers living overseas.  Over 90% of his examples, stories, or lessons all related to his time teaching in schools all over the world.  The depth of his knowledge and experience really struck a chord with me and his ability to relate to students of many different backgrounds.  He also focused on the real world application of educational theory and how to deal with the multitude of student situations than can occur.  He is without a doubt the best Professor the Monmouth University School of Education has to offer.  If I can become half the teacher he is, then I will be a very happy educator.  The ability to see and experience a multitude of different cultures first hand doesn't hurt either.

               One of the more common question I’ve been asked is why Mongolia?  Why would you move 6,300 some miles away from home?  Well, Mongolia was the first one to offer me a position and it looks like an interesting place.   6,300 miles is a bit further than the local moving company is willing to go, so I now have to pack my entire apartment into a couple of suitcases.  Not the easiest thing in the world as I’ve come to discover even with the extra moving allowance as you can see.

               Packing your entire life into 2 large suitcases, a large hiking backpack, a rolling duffel bag carry on, and a briefcase is not the easiest thing in the world.  All I can say is thank goodness for vacuum bags, and eBooks, without those this would have been impossible.  Warm clothing, bedding, clothing for work, warm clothing, electronics, casual clothing, random necessities, electronics, oh and more warm clothing.  For anyone who doesn't know Ulaanbaatar is the coldest national capital in the world with an average January temperature at -28 degrees Fahrenheit.  For any of you thinking why I just don’t ship some of it over, only DHL and the US post office deliver to Mongolia.  It also costs 125$ to ship 25 lbs or I can take 200 lbs in my luggage for 60$ after moving allowances.  So much for getting some cookies from home I guess.

               I hope you enjoyed the first post and I think I will end it here for tonight with the words of Porky Pig. 

Next week Otakon and then Mongolia