Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween


               Happy Halloween everyone even if it’s a little belated.  Now from what I am able to discover between asking around and digging on the internet, Halloween is not really a holiday the Mongolians celebrate.  That did not mean that the school was bereft of Halloween activities.  Face painting took place before school and during lunch, a costume contest during homeroom, plus a haunted house and a scary movie showing after school.  Luckily my part in the festivities was rather limited as I had cross country practice after school.  I was utterly shocked by the turnout at practice today, on a Friday, Halloween, and the temperature hovering around freezing.  We had a record turnout for the Friday long run, which revolves around running until I tell everyone to turn around and go back (20min each way).  It was a glorious practice, best of the season, I had so much fun it was almost criminal.

Since I’m in Mongolia

               If you haven’t figured it out by now, yeah no one showed up.  Thus I ended up with the afternoon off and took a nap, woke up thinking it’s late at night, only to find out it was 6:20pm.  The days have been getting really short recently, dark at 6pm light at 7am more or less, and no daylight savings time.

               Now back to Halloween, it was like being at an anime convention today, with all of the different costumes, League of Legends, Fairy Tail, Naruto, Madoka Magica, Bleach, plus all of your associated zombies, vampires and assorted horror movie creatures.  My personal favorites out of the bunch were the following

Konan from Naruto (sorry no real pictures for obvious reasons)

Erza Scarlet (Purgatory Armor) from Fairy Tail, which was worn by the art teacher


               The rest of the week wasn't nearly as interesting, just the same old same old.  I did find another grocery store that sold Mongolian meats buns.  Now against my fellow teacher’s advice I just had to try some, two thin ones and two big ones.  I sautéed some mushrooms, because everything is better with mushrooms, and added a little bit of Bolognese sauce.  If you thought the sauce was homemade than your nuts, what do I look like, John.  Anyway the meet buns were glorious, and they traversed my digestive system correctly.  The camera is on the fritz so these will have to do.

Big ones

Thin ones

               Not much else is going on or planned for this weekend since grades are due, So I’ll leave you with a couple of supposedly haunted places from Japan.  The first two pictures are the lover’s rocks at the Kiyomizu temple.   The legend is that if you touch the first rock and walk with your eyes closed to the second rock and manage to touch it your true love will happen.  No I did not attempt this.

               This one is not a myth or legend, but this is what happens when you can’t read the local language and go wandering off into the hills behind a small temple in Kyoto.

                  Well this looks interesting let’s see where it goes.

               This is a little weird, but I am in Japan so who knows.  Maybe it is some Buddhist thing since it’s behind a Buddhist Temple.  I think the stone is a Ryuseki stone, which is usually some kind of monument or marker.  In Sakura Wars they are used to seal demons, so who knows what this one is doing.

               Ok that was a little creepy…… Um, ok its getting a little chilly…… Ok, that sounds weird…..  Ok, now I’m officially creeped out….. Oh hell…. Cheese it, I’m running…..

               I am not one to put much stock in the supernatural being a science teacher and all, but I was for the first time in my life officially creeped out.  One quick run later and I was back at the bottom of the path.  I did search out a local guide and priestess to ask them about what I had stumbled into and their answer only made it worse.  What path behind the temple, you mean that you can go up the mountain their……. Bloody hell if the locals don’t even know then where the hell was I.  And the moral of the story kids is try to learn the language, don’t go wondering off, and red signs usually stop you idiot.

Okiku’s Well- Himeji Castle

               Okiku was a handmaiden at the castle and the lover of one of the castle lords loyal retainers.  During her course of her work she overheard a plan to overthrow the castle lord.  She warned the lord of the castle and the plot failed.  The plotters then accused her of breaking some dishes that were a family treasure and had her killed.  After her death a voice could be heard coming from the well counting the broken pieces of the dishes she broke.  Sometime later the lord of the castle discovered all of the conspirators and her killers.  Let’s just say it did not end well for them.  The lord of the castle removed the remained and had them enshrined at a local temple making her a goddess.  The voices then stopped.

Matsuyama castle

               Legend has it that a large demon bat lives in the well.

In closing a Mongolian Folk Tale 

How the Camel Lost His Good Looks.
They say that long, long ago the Camel used to be one of the most handsome animals. He had a long fluffy tail and nice and mighty horns.
All the animals in the forest and the steppe were envious of the Camel. Many of them wanted to have the kind of tail that the Camel had, or the kind of horns he had.

The Camel knew of this and said proudly: ``You won't find the kind of tail I have, or the horns, anywhere else in the world!''
But it would have been better if he had not boasted.
Once he came up to the river to have a drink of water and there met a Maral. ``I'm invited to a party. Will you lend me your horns, just for a while?'' asked the Maral.
The Camel lent him his horns.
Later on that very day the Camel met a Horse.
``I'm invited to a party,'' said the Horse, ``will you lend me your tail?''
The Camel agreed and stayed on the bank of the river.
The Maral and the Horse ran off. All day long the Camel was drinking water and looking up the road while waiting for them.
But there was no sign either of the Maral, or of the Horse.
The Maral had deceived the Camel and skipped over to the taiga. He stayed there for ever and never went out into the open steppe. He got accustomed to the horns as if they were his.
The Horse never gave back the borrowed tail and when he comes across the Camel, he gets frightened and runs away.

That is how the Camel lost his good looks and sweet temper.

FYI- I first heard Christmas music being played in a small face with really good Cheese Cake on October 18th so I think that beats the States for extending the Christmas season.

PS- Mike it's all your fault.  I went and asked for Yak meat at the supermarket and they looked at me like a crazy person.

PPS- i still don't know why the pictures are sideways when they don't do that in word.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A little bit of everything

October 26, 2014


               It was a pretty uneventful week in Mongolia, and I was busy with school work, laundry, and pretty much life in general.  Now before I forget congratulations John to making me an uncle, congratulations Dave, and Joy welcome to the family.  Now Joy I have to ask did you test Dave’s strength by having him break the neck of a cooked sheep.  This one part of the traditional Mongolian marriage ceremony.  Joy I know he gave you a ring, but did he also remember the sugar and tea leaves in a white handkerchief.  Personally I think he forgot, oh and don’t worry the Yak, Camel, and Goat are in the mail, they just got hung up in customs.  Don’t ask me why though, it’s not like they have Mongolian Yak flu or anything.

His name is Bat and he likes grass 

Her name is Bolormaa and she is good for cashmere

His name is Nergu and is a little feisty


               Now in other news I got to venture into the city a bit more, this time for hot pot.  For those who don’t know (John I know you do) it is an East Asian stew.  What makes it a bit different is that you are served the broth and stew components separately.  In this particular restaurant I chose the milk bone tomato soup, and group picked a number of different components.  We had 4 types of mushrooms (1 might have been a truffle of some sort), 2 types of beef, pork, udon noodles (excellent), spinach pasta, herbs, tofu (I’ll pass), and some other thing I didn’t try.  Supposedly part of the fun is mixing everything in the soup once it’s boiling and cooking it yourself.  I know some people like that, but it’s not my thing.  Don’t get me wrong the food was excellent and the conversation even better, but I would only do it with a group.  Now for me personally the best part of the meal was the pickled garlic, oh so good

             The only other hot pot I’ve had is Shabu-Shabu, which is Japanese hot pot.  The Mongolian variety is better since the soup is actually flavored.  In the Shabu-Shabu I had it was just boiling water.  It also helped that this time I actually knew what the heck I was doing.  In Hakone I had no idea and looked like an idiot in the dining room.


National Library


A Beatles Statue- Don’t ask me why it’s in downtown UB, I don’t even like their music

The houses of Leaders

               On Fridays I have the enviable duty of taking the Cross Country team on the long run of the week.  Since I got tired of running the hills around the school I took them on a nice little run down by the river and went past the Mongolian President’s house.  At least according to my students.  Sadly I am unable to confirm anything or get any pictures of it off the internet.  So instead I give you the Emperors Palace in Tokyo, Japan.

Important discussions

               Over the past few days I have been having a heated and important discussion with some of my students.  The topic of discussion is my choice of anime viewing.  There are currently four very popular Shounen (action) anime right now, Bleach, Naruto, One Piece, and Fairy Tail.  Right off the bat Bleach is thrown out because we all agree that it’s too old and should have ended years ago.  Naruto is also discounted because it’s old, being going for too long, and the Mangaka (author) refuses to kill off one of the characters.  The entire western fan base pretty much agrees on this for the most part.  Thankfully it’s ending next month.  Now my students really like One Piece, which is about pirates, really stupid pirates.  I will give the show credit for good music and some interesting powers, but overall I’m not a fan.  I prefer Fairy Tail which is the newest of the four, and is about wizards.  It has great music, good animation, interesting powers, and an interesting plot.  It’s also going to break the bank for me when I finally decide to buy all of it 200+ episodes and counting.  We basically agreed to disagree.

               Well that’s about it from Mongolia for this week, and if anyone has any ideas for a Halloween costume since it looks like I might have dress up for Friday let me know.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Prancing, Sewing, and Cake

October 17, 2014


               It was a pretty slow week this week, being the school just came off a break.  My escapades were the talk of the school for about a day though.  It didn't really bother me that much, since I tend to be a good sport about those things.  There was also the fact that my sickness made for a great introduction and review for my sixth graders who just finished learning about bacteria before the break.  Bacteria in action kids, isn't biology grand.  Now whether it was the interesting lesson or the fact that their teacher was acting like an idiot for fifteen minutes, I’ll never know.  Me personally, I’m going with they thought it was interesting.  Monday wasn't the only day that I ran around the room acting like a fool for my lovely little midgets.  Their plan for the week included protozoans so they got a double feature of teacher demonstrations.  The big homeroom activity for the week was quilt making so each homeroom had to bring in fabric, needles, and thread (more on that later), which I put to good use.  One of my students brought in what I think was an ironing board cover, so I turned it into a life sized flagella waving it around, while prancing around the room.  Don’t laugh, if you have a better way to demonstrate how a flagella works then I want to see it.  Of course you can’t cover protozoans without covering amoebas, so I donned the bed sheet one of my homeroom kids brought in to demonstrate how an amoeba moves and eats.  It would have been a lot easier, but these kids haven’t seen the Steve McQueen, horror movie classic, The Blob, which incidentally acts like a giant amoeba.

               No prancing around the room for my ninth graders sadly, hey I do have some dignity.  Instead they had 4 different labs in 3 days.  Real simple things, use density to determine the metal composition of a coin, identify substances using physical and chemical properties, and examine physical and chemical changes.  You couldn't tell by looking at them though, it was like we were doing serious chemistry or cooking something.  They went nuts when adding sodium hydroxide to a solution of water and phenolphthalein turned pink, and then again when adding hydrochloric acid changed it back.  Another kudos to my students was their bulletin boards, which were nicely done.  After posting them this morning I caught at least half a dozen students stopping to read some of them.

               The seniors didn't get any prancing either, but they did have a bit of a laugh.  I just started covering the nervous system with them, and I found a good lab that mimics the resting membrane potential of a nerve cell.  The lab would have the students measure the resting membrane potential and then observe how it changes over time.  The setup went well and everything was running and ready to go.  Only there was one problem, nothing was happening, so we waited, and waited, and waited.  It was at this point after taking a closer look at the Chinese voltmeters, that I discover, the meter only goes down to -20 millivolts.  The resting membrane potential of a nerve cell is -70 millivolts.

               Needless to say we had a good laugh, and I think there was some Mongolian cursing.


               The homeroom activity for this week was casual quilting.  Casual quilting is an activity that has my students cutting and sewing pieces of fabric together to eventually create a large quilt, when combined with the segments from the other homerooms.  Now this is a bit of a problem as I don’t know how to sew.  On top of that the last time I had any exposure to stitching was in medical school, and let’s just say they weren't teaching us how to make a quilt.

It’s all Mongolian to me

               I was saved by the fact that more than half of my students actually knew how to sew, so I only had to give minimal help.  One thing I can do is thread a needle, what to do after that not so much.  They may not have been using the back hand stitch, but it’s not like I would be able to tell.


               Who likes cake……? I do, yum!  One of the school clubs (don’t ask me which one) was selling baked goods in the lobby during lunch and they had homemade Mongolian sponge cake, and homemade Mongolian pound cake.  The students didn't skimp on the slices either and for three thousand tugriks I got two slices big enough to hide one of those big vitamin bottles in.  If this becomes a regular Friday thing, then I am putting in a regular order.  Oh so good.

Sponge cake

Pound cake

               In case you’re wondering I did have more than cake for lunch.  It was some kind of beef stew with potatoes, a nice counterpoint to the cake.

               Well that’s about everything for this week, but I will be venturing out into the city in a search for Portabello mushrooms, a new laptop charger, interesting pictures.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Horseback riding, well sort of

October 12, 2014
Chris 0, Mongolian Food 1
Chris 0, Mongolian Horse 1

            So now for the news, and pictures that you have all been waiting for.  Sadly you are going to have to be disappointed.  I had the dubious experience of trying to ride a Mongolian horse while trying to not puke my brains out.  I did make it through the entire first day though.  Now the day began with a lovely car ride out into the countryside, and it reminded me of California, with all the brown grasses and hills.  The van we were riding was rather interesting in that it was jacked up high enough to make any hillbilly jealous.  The ride wasn't the smoothest in the world, but it was much better than I expected.  Several sections would even rate better than some of the roads back in PA, and that is saying something.  I would have included a picture or two here but my camera’s memory card is being a pain in the ass again and deleted most of them.  If I’m lucky they will randomly show back up in a week or two.  You will just have to make due with some google images.

The Van- (Ours was jacked up higher)

Mongolian roads

And a Train for Brook

Stop 1- Chingis Khan Statue

            The first stop of the day the Chingis Khan Statue (Genghis Khan) which is located 54km east of Ulaanbaatar.  While it first appears to be out in the middle of know where the location does have significance.  Legend has it that this is where he found a golden whip, and the statue is facing towards his birthplace.  The statue its self is 40m (131ft) tall and made out of stainless steel making it one of the tallest stainless steel statues in the world.  It is a very impressive site sitting up on a hill as you approach.  Sadly I didn't get to enjoy it very much, having lost my breakfast three times by this point watering and fertilizing some nice plants at a Mongolian truck stop.

            The base of the statue contains a museum of Mongolian Bronze Age history, with a large number of interesting artifacts.  It was also fairly informative discussing how vast the various Mongolian empires were.  It was also a bit of the museum of the weird with a thirty meter tall leather Mongolian riding boot and a super large replica of a Mongolian whip.  There were also several extremely large golden eagles on display outside the monument.  Despite my sickness it was still an enjoyable time, even if I did run the risk of causing an international incident by puking in the crotch of the statue several times.

Horseback riding

            Now for what you have all been waiting for, Chris on a horse.  Despite my misgivings about my stomach I pushed onward on my little adventure.  Now I've never been horseback riding before and the entirety of my advice / instruction was the following, hold the reins tight, don’t approach the horse from the rear, and turn the horse to the left.  The Mongolians were very helpful in getting my up on the horse, but that was about it.

Yes that is actually me on the horse

            As for the riding it was pretty enjoyable and the ride wasn’t as bad as I thought, initially at least.  The rhythmic bouncing of the horse managed to settle my stomach, or it was the growing pain in my but hurting more than my stomach.  Now my horse didn’t like to follow the rest of the pack, one point wandering off until the Mongolian guide came over and demonstrated just how to steer the darn thing.  This turned out to be surprisingly simple, just yank the head in the direction you want to go, and pull back hard to make it stop.  The final instruction turned out to be the most annoying. “Chu!”  This is the command to make the horse go faster, so I ended up going at a walk or slow trot, until I fell behind.  At this point the guide comes along and yells chu smacking the back of my horse and it takes off at a gallop.  So if I hear another chu ever again it will be too soon.

My Mongolian Guides

            Now for the scenery, the Mongolian Countryside is simply put gorgeous, sadly it is very hard to take pictures and ride a horse at the same time.  One hand on the reins, and one hand on the front of the saddle when it’s galloping, going down a hill, going up a hill, or basically doing anything more than a walk.  FYI- putting men who don’t know how to ride a horse on a horse for a long time could be an effective form of birth control.  The countryside is a lovely shape of golden brown which reminded me a lot of CA, and the grass isn't completely dead since the horses kept stopping for a snack.  There a number of rocky outcroppings, more than I would have expected.  The lichens and moss created some interesting colors and effects.  We traversed a fair number of hills and I felt bad for my horse after a while since I’m much bigger than your average Mongolian.  Now I don’t know how many hills we went over but we did forge three rivers, one of which you can see below.  It was fast moving but pretty shallow so it wasn't really a problem.  In total I think we covered 30 kilometers, but it didn't get rough until the end when we kept coming up to Ger camps, thinking oh this is our camp and just passing right by it.  The final bit was actually riding down the local highway and our buts were saved when the 2 of the Mongolian guides, the ones trying to make us go faster, stopped to help a broken down car allowing us to proceed at a nice walk.


Yes we actually crossed it

Ger Camp

            After 3 hours of horseback riding we finally arrived at the Ger camp and hoped off the horses.  Now my legs weren’t completely dead, but it was a little difficult walking right away.  Ger means home in Mongolian and is the traditional home for Central Asian Nomads.  While the Ger’s we stayed in had wooden floors and set on a concrete foundation of some kind, they are designed to be setup in about two hours.

            I have seen Ger’s being towed by trailers, which according to what I was able to discover is not a recent thing.  Apparently this was done for a long time but with horses doing the towing and may have occurred during the time of Genghis Khan.  The original Mongolian mobile home I guess.  I have also seen them dissembled in the back of a pickup truck, being driven around UB.  The lining of the Ger was a linen fabric of some sort, with what looked like leather or heavier fabric with fur in-between.  While it wasn’t that cold, probably around 40 F, the Ger was toasty warm once the stove was fired up.  The stove is similar to a Ben Franklin stove, and heats up the Ger pretty quick once you get it started.


Ger Stove


            Now I did try to sleep off my sickness after eating a few peanuts and some Mongolian stomach medication.  Sadly it didn't work and I lost it again.  Thus at this point I hitched a ride back to the city, which still proved to be an adventure as I experienced a Mongolian sobriety stop, as it was Sunday evening.  These stops are done due to the fact that according to the driver many Mongolians go out to the countryside and get drunk during the weekend.  I also learned that it is illegal to serve alcohol on Mondays.  In addition to that, the Mongolians have harsher smoking laws than we do in the US.  No smoking in any public building or business.  It is also illegal to smoke outside within a certain distance to most buildings.  The fine is around 75$ if you get caught, now enforcement does seem to be lack at times, at least in my part of the city.  One last thing, Mongolian gas prices, and man they are cheaper than the states, with one gallon running you a little over two dollars or so.  The prices below are per liter.

            Sadly the remainder of my week was pretty boring while I tried to recover from food poisoning and an extremely sore but.  Pat, it’s like our Spring break crew trips in college only it’s on your but instead of your hand.  I did manage to catch up on some of my anime viewing, but I was left thinking what the hell did I just watch.  No John it wasn't Evangelion that would have been a bit normal compared to Saikano and Btoom!