Thursday, September 25, 2008

I want to be a cowboy, baby!

Here's an article from the Slate Online about how the Mongolian way of life compares the romanticized Old West in the States.

Thanks to Elizabeth Carr (thoughtful girlfriend of Nathan's middle brother) for the link.

There are three articles linked from this one author, Tim Wu. Be sure to check them all out. We couldn't have described things any better.

One point of interest in the cowboy article is the Altai Mountain Range. It runs across the southern part of our province or "aimag." I (Nathan) went to the northern part of this range a couple of weeks ago and saw some of the most gorgeous landscape one could possibly see - and it did remind me of what the Old West must have been like. It was an open prairie overlooked by towering snow-capped mountains. In fact, much of Mongolia reminds me of a dry Wyoming and the wet parts look much like Montana. It's no wonder, then, why Montana is "Big Sky Territory" and Mongolia is "The Land of the Blue Sky."

Mongolians tend to dig American cowboys too. The cowboy hat can be part of the traditional outfit or formal attire, like this gentleman singing at the opening of a festival.

Cowboy boots aren't as prevalent, though. Here's a typical scene during the summer of a guy just getting around on his horse. Notice the ubiquitous rubber sandal, if you can, or just take my word for it that he's wearing one. These guys don't need boots to look tough. I've had my butt handed to me in basketball from a kid dunking in a pair those things. (Also interesting how much Mongolians remind me of Native Americans. There seems to be little doubt in my mind of their connection. I could write a thesis on that point.)

And finally, just to hammer home that Mongolia is first and foremost a place ruled by livestock, and that no place is off limits for a meal, this calf is eating from a patch of grass in a populated area of Mongolia's second largest city. Where there's grass, there's livestock.

Check out the Slate article:

Special Acknowledgments:
Congratulations to Nathan's Uncle Alan and Aunt Geneva who are celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary this weekend. We're bummed we can't be there with the rest of the family, especially the road trip from Ohio to Iowa this weekend.

Good luck, Catherine, in Chicago. Go be an awesome lawyer!

Congratulations to Mike and Kristi in Seattle on their new house! It's only a matter of weeks before they get a brand new little tenant too. We look forward to the pictures.

Also congrats to Zac and Teal who also had a baby three and a half months ago. We hope you get a nap soon.

And one more congratulations to Leslie's brother Stephen and his brand new bride, Lisa. We sent you a text message before the wedding, but Verizon doesn't accept them for some reason - only AT&T we've noticed so far. Thanks to Leslie's mom for the pictures. What a treat!

To Jimmy in D.C., I'd really like to sit down over a beer (or 5) and chat right now. I hope all's well in D.C. and that you're able to find some channels with random, gratuitous frontal nudity. You come up a lot in conversation. Pick-pocketing is kind of a problem here.

And can anyone confirm the health status of John Reeder? We haven't heard but a little peep from him since we left. In his stead, someone please send confirmation of his probable incapacitation. [Update: John is well, but overworked and continues to be quite possibly the wittiest person on Earth, as evidenced by the email he just sent me. Oh, and he has a new dog - sucker.]

Monday, September 22, 2008

I like it. I love it. I want some more of it!

There are many ways to teach a foreign language. Seeing as I am not a language teacher by trade, I am going with whatever I find to be the most fun! I have found that pure stupidity works well. Thankfully, my coworkers and American site mates tend to agree with me.

For my most recent English test I showed a series of pictures and asked my coworkers to create sentences based on their knowledge of “likes” and “dislikes.” Here are some examples. (For your comprehension reading pleasure, I have attached the answers.)

Answer: He does not like apples.

I also would have accepted:

Peder does not like apples.

Answer: He likes eggs.

Once again, I also would have accepted:

Peder likes eggs.

Answer: He likes chocolate.

I also would have accepted:

There is something wrong with Tysen.

Answer: He likes fruit.

I also would have accepted:

Nathan likes his awkward Mongolian food poster in his kitchen.

Answer: They like beer.

I also would have accepted:

No one is surprised!

Big thanks to Eric and Emily for being part of my test even though they are all the way in Ohio, and were never asked!

For the record, I had planned on only teaching a few likes and dislikes. In addition, my coworkers asked me to teach them the following words:

  • Vodka
  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Secret Lover
Teaching Mongolian is a blast! Wish you all were here!
Please keep in touch and don't forget to post comments! :)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

...spinning into infinity. Hey, man. Hallelujah!

We bought a washing machine about a month ago, but I promptly broke it on the third round of clothes. I don't really know how much 7.8 kilograms is in laundry, but I know it's less than a wet, queen-sized blanket. Live and learn. Luckily, we were able to take it back to the store, get a back-dated warranty, and get it fixed it for free.

"So," you may ask. "Where and how do you buy a washing machine in Mongolia. What does a Mongolian washing machine look like?" And, "How do you use a washer in Mongolia?" Those are some very good questions. Thanks for maybe asking.

  1. Find a Mongolian to take you to a reputable establishment and help you work out the details. For about $150 or a month's Peace Corps living allowance, you can get a pretty decent Korean one. Ask your Mongolian how to work it unless you can read Korean.

  2. Drag your new machine into the toilet room and get ready for some fun!
  3. Now, fill a bucket about 5 times.
  4. While you're filling that bucket, plug in your washer around the corner into one of three outlets in your entire apartment. Make sure not to use any other appliance except maybe the fridge. Melting the wall socket gets a little smelly.
  5. Dump in the soap and turn the far-left knob to the number 15. No need to read Korean, really.
  6. Turn that knob on the far right to drain your dirty water into the toilet. When the washer is done draining, return the knob to its previous position or enjoy filling extra buckets of water for the impending rinse. Also, throw a rag over the hose so it doesn't viciously flail around like an angry, soapy viper.
  7. It's time for the rinse. Fill your pretty pink bucket 4-5 times again. (Obsessively check that you closed that drain knob. Filling extra buckets is about as fun as watching a bucket fill with water.)
  8. Good work on the drain knob and filling the washer part again. You're over half way there. Now, turn the far-left knob to about 6 this time for the rinse. (Close the lid on the washer. It's fun to peek for a picture, but it makes a mess.)

  9. Now, this part should seem familiar: Drain the rinse water into the shelf toilet again. (No need close the drain knob this time.)
  10. Now that you've washed and rinsed, arrange about half the load neatly around the outside of the spinner drum. An unbalanced load will mean disaster for the sweet, sweet centrifugal force needed to get your clothes nearly dry. Bumping and banging is bad. If you couldn't kill an astronaut in there, keep moving those clothes around until you get it just right. It's worth it.
  11. Finally, after you've tediously gridded your extra bedroom with string (Boy Scout knot training preferred), hang your freshly cleaned and spin-dried clothes wherever there's a free spot, including on top of those pipes. Watch out for rust spots, though - no whites up there!

Congratulations! Pat yourself on the back and start on the second load. And remember that even though this process is a little tedious, it sure beats doing it by hand and you have running water.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Please, Mr. Postman...

We've been hearing from several people about care packages, so we figured we would dedicate a single post to that subject.

Our Address:
Leslie Ann Shaffer Chamberlain, PCV
Nathan L. Chamberlain, PCV
Bayankhongor Soum Governors Office
Office #158, 2nd floor
Bayankhongor aimag, Mongolia

FACT: Yes, PC Mongolia can be a little rough.
FACT: Though we have very little variety in food and it will get insanely cold, we have
everything we need to survive!

Notes on best ways to send packages:
1. Always write VIA CHINA at the end of the address. PCVs in Mongolia have had quite a bit
of difficultly receiving packages when this is not used. The fact of the matter is, packages end up in other "M" countries. For some reason, no one knows where Mongolia is, expect for Chinese, I guess.
2. Tape the box well! You don't want the chance that anyone could go through it easily!
3. Be careful about listing things like electronics or DVD's on the list that goes on the box. It's
an easy target for people to steal out of a package.
4. Save yourself money! Always use USPS FLAT RATE BOXES! I can't emphasize this
enough! The other options are ridiculous and astronomically expensive. I've been told that
you can literally save over $75 by just shoving as much as you can into the flay rate boxes. Anything over 8 pounds and you are saving a fortune!
5. With that in mind, don't use any other postal service for packages other than USPS. They are all too expensive. My father had a package priced at FedEx (I believe) for over $300! They sent it in a USPS flat rate box for $38. We received it with no problems in about 10

The following is a list of wants. We are not in need of anything, but, care packages are GREATLY appreciated! Also, if you choose to send a care package, don't feel you must ONLY send these things. We like surprises! Most importantly, we adore hearing from you!
  • Cumin
  • Chili powder
  • Peanut butter
  • Movies on DVD (if you know Kevin Chamberlain, contact him for the wish list)
  • TV Series on DVD (once again, see Kevin for list)
  • Independent & Documentary movies (if you are my brother, Stephen, this is for you! Anything you like, we'll like!)
  • Baking dish
  • Bobby pins
  • Dried Fruit
  • Duct tape
  • Gladware
  • Coffee (ground, not beans)
  • Emails
  • Hair ties
  • Letters
  • Razors (Mach3Turbo, Venus)
  • Solid shampoo
  • Socks
  • Lotion (we're near the Gobi, it's real dry here!)
  • Vanilla
  • Fragrant Candles
  • Fabreeze (We don't have a shower. We bathe in a bucket. You get the picture.)
  • Curry
  • iPod speakers (nothing fancy. I had some in the states that cost $8)
  • Curry powder
  • Baking powder
  • Jello Instant Pudding
  • Brown sugar
  • Hard Candy
  • Cinnamon
  • Nuts
  • Music (Ryan, this one is for you)
  • Pictures of my niece and nephew! (THIS IS A MUST!)
  • Zip lock bags
  • Books that seem interesting
  • Pens that are not from Mongolia
  • Powdered Drink Mix (crystal light, etc)
  • SHEET MUSIC (note: Musician friends. You can either scan music and send it via email, or copy and send in a care package, if you choose)
    • examples: Anything from Singers Anthology, First/Second book of Sop/Mezzo/Alto/Tenor/Bass Solos, 24 Italian Songs, Musical Singers Anthology, Richard Hundley, our site mate wants us to do a Glass piece (he’s a pianist and big into 20th century) and good choir music such as Randall Thompson's Alleluia, Sing me to Heaven, etc.
Thanks. We miss you.

Time Is On My Side...

One of my tasks is to teach English to my co-workers 4 days a week and this is my first week. My manager especially needs to learn English because he needs to be able to write grants. No pressure.

Most of my colleagues know at least a little bit of English and have had some sort of formal class as some time or other, but none can speak in complete sentences yet. Think high school Spanish or French. You learn the letters, numbers, some words, and some key phrases of introduction and salutation, but you don’t really know anything past that. So, this week we breezed through introductions and we’re into time.

Time in Mongolia exists much differently than it does in the States. Time is VERY relative, especially when you have a group meeting together. When you set a meeting time, you can bet that means a half hour later than the actual time and it’s no sweat at all. Our friend Bill and my brother Kevin would get along well here. Some reasons we’ve been told and experienced are that often times, it takes so long to travel that people even lose track of the day. Also, because travel is so communal, you’re beholden to the schedules and detours of a whole car load of people, not just yourself. And because everyone knows that a meeting time relative, they plan accordingly. No one wants to be the first one there waiting.

Really, as long as they show up on that day, it’s pretty good. During training, we were set to present a business plan to a small cooperative and we’d confirmed the date a few times. When we showed up, they weren’t there because they thought that date was a Sunday, not a Thursday. We rescheduled and it worked out fine the second time as if nothing had been amiss.

Another time, on our first full day in Bayankhongor, we were told that we would be picked up to go to the countryside at 4 p.m. for dinner. We went to the meeting place at our friend’s ger about ten minutes early and waited; drank some tea; took a long nap; waited; ate; drank some more tea. We were debating whether we wanted to even go or not because Leslie wasn’t feeling well, and we were still dead tired from sleeping on floors and beds like floors for the past week. But we knew they had put a lot of energy into the evening already, so we new we could tough it out for a few hours. At 6:30 they finally showed up. We were worried we wouldn’t have enough light left to make and eat dinner, but everyone was taking their time, so we were just going with the flow. We figured some people were already there with dinner ready for us. As we were waiting for someone else to get into the car around 7:15, we found out we weren’t coming back until Sunday!

I think normally, this wouldn’t be a huge deal, but since our luggage couldn’t fit on the plane, we only had some books, minor toiletries, and the clothes on our back – and we’d been in those for the last 4 days already. Since the next flight into Bayankhongor wasn’t until Sunday evening either, at least we weren’t going to miss our luggage. Though, in an unintentional add of insult to injury, they told us to grab something warm because it was going to be cold out there. We swung home so Leslie could pick up contact solution and we could get our toothbrushes. I was in a pair of jeans, a dress shirt and my suit jacket, which seemed like a good outfit for an hour and twenty minute plane ride 28 hours ago. All Leslie had was a T-shirt, jeans and our friend’s sweatshirt.

The city of Bayankhonger is pretty small, so we thought by “countryside”, they meant at the most a thirty minute drive, similar to our host families’ gatherings. When we got to the “countryside” three hours later over terrain straight from an SUV advertisement with shallow streams and worn dirt roads, it turned out to be a children’s summer camp associated with one of Leslie’s jobs that would later be filled with adults celebrating the end of the summer. As stepped out of the warm car into the pitch black, it was absolutely freezing. We climbed into bed under a mountain of blankets at around 10:30 and quickly went to sleep.

At 12:30, the women came into the room the three of us were sharing and asked us if we wanted to eat the soup they were holding. We all told them no thanks, but it turns out they weren’t asking, they were telling. I received my bowl, ate as much as I could and dove back under the covers. Leslie’s stomach was clearly not in the mood to eat whatever they were bringing, and we think she may have picked up a little food poisoning from something she ate earlier. Whatever the cause, she was up the rest of the night heaving over the balcony.

The next few days were refreshingly pleasant in the clear air and sunshine. We were in a deep valley between to strips of peaked, yet rolling treeless mountains vaguely covered by a mixture course grass and dusty soil. We saw some of the most gorgeous landscapes, I hiked up a mountain with our friend, saw my first herd of yaks, we played ping pong and basketball and lounged around, and we got to bond with some new folks in our community with no schedule at all. Saturday night, we even sang for them at their season closing ceremony and put our dance classes to good use on the Mongolian waltz. On Sunday, they told us we would get back around three so we could go shopping for food and then pick up our luggage, which we thought meant we’d be leaving right after lunch. Instead, we had another horhog meal where they slaughtered a goat for us and cooked it with the hot rocks just like our host families did when we left.

So, tired but fed, we got back into town after everything had closed and in just enough time to go home for an hour to relax before we were picked up to grab our bags at the airport. But for some reason, even though the flight wasn’t coming in until almost 10, we were there at 8:30. You just never can tell.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

"Monglish" Crew

We have internet in our apartment! Right now, we have an Ethernet cable running outside from our neighbor's in through the window, but we have a wireless router on the way. That will free us up to use it all over the apartment and allow us to use it at the same time as our neighbor. Right now, we share an ADSL modem.

Since moving into our new place, it’s been a real adjustment period being without all the safety nets of training. Our co-workers are very nice and look out for us, and we’ve been introduced to a lot of people, but the five of us volunteers in town have stuck together pretty tight, mostly due to language barrier. Thankfully, we all get along really well – so far.

Our one new friend we especially hang with a lot started as a piano performance major in college and ended up getting a degree in German and humanities. Nathan started as a vocal performance major and ended up getting a degree in international studies and also knows German. Though our new buddy is about 7 years younger than us, he’s well rounded and mature for being so young. His supervisor also speaks English well and is a lady who gets things done, so we’ve enjoyed our sycophantic proximity to her too.

Somewhat surprisingly, though most people don’t know a lot of English around here, many people know at least some. A lot of times, we’re able to put some Mongolian words and English words together to get our point across in what we call “Monglish.” That’s good because, though we can tell about our basic needs and wants and can stumble through about a half hour of conversation about ourselves and families, we’re not yet equipped with a lot of language past pleasantries yet.

Plus, Mongolian in the classroom is much slower and more deliberate, as you might imagine. If a defining characteristic of English is that we use our jaws and lips to speak with long, open vowels, it can be said of Mongolians that they generally talk inside their mouths, with a bucket full of consonants. Many vowel sounds exists at the beginnings of words, then quickly close down inside the mouth where the tongue does most of the work. Though words are written with vowels, unless there are two back-to-back, they’re generally just dropped when spoken. It kind of sounds like Polish looks.

So, when we travel in packs, we’re able to stumble, mumble and Monglish our way around as one unit. Right now, we are a lot like college freshman huddled together for our first semester – on our own for the first time, but constantly together.

Coming up soon:
Pics of our new place
wish list of items we could use if you wanna send us something
more things

Special Shout Out:
Congratulations to Stephen and Lisa on their marriage last weekend. Welcome to the family, Lisa and Ethan. We wish we could have been there to celebrate with you. We thought about you constantly.