Tag Archive | Field Trip

Ulaanbaatar Field Trip

On a Saturday morning several weeks ago, I met my co-teacher, Seggii, and our English tour-guide students at Parliament.

The Mongolian National Parliament Building, Ulaanbaatar.

The Mongolian National Parliament Building, Ulaanbaatar.

After forty minutes of waiting for all the teachers and students to gather, we made our first stop at the National Museum in the basement of the Parliament building. After going through security, we gazed upon many priceless artifacts — well, in between photo-shoots that is. It seems like for every special occasion or outing I attend, particularly with my students, around fifty percent of my time is spent posing for photos. Considering I speak very little, if any, Mongolian, this is quite fine with me and allows for genuine interaction without language being necessary. [My students’ English level is very low and most of them are very shy to speak with me beyond greetings and small talk.]  However, sometimes I can’t help but feel a bit objectified or tokenized as “the white person,” or, conversely, sometimes feel that I’m treated like a celebrity. I try not to let the extra attention go to my head but the daily unwanted attention in the hallways in my school can be wearisome, especially because the students’ English is usually so low that I can’ actually engage in real conversations with them.

One of the dozens of photo ops throughout the day. This time we're posing in front of a gigantic mural of Genghis Khan.

One of the dozens of photo ops throughout the day. This time we’re posing in front of a gigantic mural of Genghis Khan.

The gallery is very well maintained and has some fascinating items. Among them:

The official Mongolian national seal.

The official Mongolian national seal.

 

An ancient Mongolian diplomatic passport.

An ancient Mongolian diplomatic passport.

A replica of the black banner flown by Genghis Khan back in the day.

A replica of the black banner flown by Genghis Khan back in the day.

 

A mural of a wrathful Mongolian Buddhist deity.

A mural of a wrathful Mongolian Buddhist deity.

A very old boot.

A very old boot.

An even older hat.

An even older hat.

And who could forget the decorative box that the national seal is stored in.

And who could forget the decorative box that the national seal is stored in.

After departing the museum we walked out onto the front steps of Parliament right into a massive display of pomp and circumstance. Dozens of Mongolian soldiers marched up the steps in perfect synchronization (very un-Mongolian) as we scrambled down them. We were quickly ushered off the “stage” by security officers, but we still had an excellent view of the elaborate ceremony. Later I learned it was a practice run for Genghis Khan’s birthday (Chingghis Khan to Mongolians). It was nice to not have to compete with the crowds for these photos. There were maybe two dozen people on hand to witness the rehearsal.

A few photos from the impressive display:

Soldiers doing what Mongolians do best, looking tough!

Soldiers doing what Mongolians do best, looking tough!

Fierce.

Fierce.

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Me and my new friend!

Me and my new friend!

After a few minutes of looking badass they marched off. I'm not sure if the high leg kick helps their bad-boy image or not, but the Minister of Silly Walks would be impressed.

After a few minutes of looking badass they marched off. I’m not sure if the high leg kick helps their bad-boy image or not, but the Minister of Silly Walks would be impressed.

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Which Mongolian is my student and which is the soldier? I can't even tell!

Which Mongolian is my student and which is the soldier? I can’t even tell!

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Posing in front of the giant statue of General Sukhbaatar, a  Mongolian hero of the revolution.

Posing in front of the giant statue of General Sukhbaatar, a Mongolian hero of the revolution.

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After the marching and more photos, we took a bus across town. Thankfully, our first stop was for lunch at a small restaurant that sold two things, buuz and milk tea. What more does a Mongolian need?

Buuz, Mongolian dumplings. "Did I need to order four?"

Buuz, steamed Mongolian dumplings filled with mutton or beef. “Did I need to order four?”

Yes, I did...

Yes, I did…

The next stop was to Zaisan hill, a massive Soviet WWII monument erected well before the democratic revolution in 1990. Approaching the many steps leading to the monument, I helped three of my students practice their English by counting each one as we marched up them in unison. Six hundred and four steps later, we reached the top!

The circular monument with inset Soviet murals overlooks the city.

The circular monument with inset Soviet murals overlooks the city.

"That is called a skyscraper."

Maybe I said, “that is called a skyscraper.” Or maybe it was something more like “First, we’ll take the archers to the hills to the north and flank our enemy with our cavalry from the west.” We will never know for sure.

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After throwing darts at balloon targets and winning small stuffed animal prizes, my students and I descended the stairs and posed with more Soviet sculptures. At my co-teacher’s encouragement, I picked the nose of a Soviet commander and even climbed a tank on display with a student.

Okay, if she's doing it...

Okay, if she’s doing it…

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Apparently this tank was used by the Soviets in 1945. Again at my teacher’s encouragement, I decided to go through with the staged re-enactment of Mongolian-Soviet friendship.

"Up!"

“Up!”

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"Goodbye for now!"

“Goodbye for now!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Field Trip to the Chinggis Khan Statue!

Last weekend our program had an official excursion to the world’s largest Chinggis Khan Statue, an attraction of which Mongolians are very proud. I had very few expectations, as is usually best in Mongolia to avoid being too surprised or disappointed.

Our drivers picked us up at promptly nine am, which is very unusual in a country where the nomadic conception of time heavily influences time management. Traditionally, morning, afternoon, or evening would suffice for arranging get togethers. As the pictures hopefully illustrate, it was a fun-filled day!

The way there!

Leaving Ulaanbaatar, we saw several notable sites probably worth revisiting:

Military monument on the way out of Ulaanbaatar.

Military monument on the way out of Ulaanbaatar.

The outskirts of UB. The sprawl in the valley is largely made up of gers - with little or no access to electricity, running water, or plumbing. Each year more and more nomads settle in these "ger districts" which are plagued by many obvious health and sanitation issues.

The outskirts of UB. The sprawl in the valley is largely made up of gers – traditional portable dwellings that most Americans would recognize as yurts. Bringing their homes with them from the countryside, each year more and more nomads settle in these “ger districts.” With little or no access to electricity, running water, or plumbing, these neighborhoods are plagued by many obvious health and sanitation issues.

A bit farther out of town the new rich build their mansions with the help of workers who stay in traditional gers.

A bit farther out of town the new rich build their mansions with the help of workers who stay in traditional gers nearby. Today’s wealthy are among the first to build western style homes.

A ger right off the highway advertising huushuur for sale, a very popular dish that is essentially a battered and fried meat patty.

A ger along the highway advertises huushuur for sale, a very popular dish that is essentially a battered and fried mutton or beef patty.

Basketball is very popular here! It's normal to see basketball hoops without any court surface whatsoever. Must make dribbling a bit difficult!

Basketball is very popular here! It’s normal to see basketball hoops without any court surface whatsoever. Must make dribbling a bit difficult!

Recently erected power lines stand in stark contrast against the beautiful backdrop of the countryside.

Recently erected power lines stand in stark contrast against the beautiful backdrop of the countryside.

Two hours of bumpy driving later…

As we approach the gigantic statue, we see a combination of three different types of architecture: the traditional ger, the soviet-style minimalist concrete block house, and a more modern building under construction.

As we approach the gigantic statue, we see a combination of three different types of architecture: the minimalist soviet-style  concrete block house, the traditional ger, and a modern building under construction.

We’ve made it!

After an hour and a half of racing along dirt roads paralleling the highway still under construction or in dire need of repair, we reach the statue!

After an hour and a half of racing along dirt roads paralleling the highway still under construction or in dire need of repair, we reach the statue!

Imposing!

Imposing!

A Kazakh falconer dances to techno with his golden eagle, trying to lure customers into paying for a photo with the massive bird!

A Kazakh falconer dances to techno with his golden eagle, trying to lure customers into paying for a photo with the massive bird! The tourist in the background is not convinced!

Inside!

Introducing the world's largest shoe! Japanese tourists dressed as Mongolians really made the photo though... I guess they don't take it personally that the Mongols during their reign attempted to invade their country by boat in the 13th century! (Clearly the Mongols were out of their element.) No hard feelings!

Introducing the world’s largest shoe! Japanese tourists dressed as Mongolians really made the photo though… I guess they don’t take it personally that the Mongols attempted to invade their country by boat in the 13th century! (Clearly the Mongols were out of their element on the high seas.) No hard feelings!

Take me to the top!

In case you forget how to use stairs, they even have a little demonstration, or is a warning sign?

In case you forget how to use stairs up to the top, they even have a little demonstration, or is a warning sign?

Chinggis Khan, from the top of his horse's head!

Chinggis Khan, from the top of his horse’s head!

Quite the expression.

Anyone see the resemblance?

Anyone see the resemblance?

View of the countryside from the horse's head!

View of the countryside from the horse’s head!

View of the entrance from the top of the horse.

View of the entrance.

An archery range was among the fun side activities.

An archery range was among the fun side activities available to tourists.

Basketball and volleyball courts for bored tourists.

Basketball and volleyball courts for visitors.

You could even ride horses by the main entrance!

You could even ride horses lined up by the main entrance!

Back down on the ground…

This bathroom is for "man" only, and apparently that means you have to wear a v-neck too.

This bathroom is for “Man” only, and apparently that means you have to wear a v-neck too.

Inspired by the impressive example of Chinggis, I convince my fellow Fulbrighter to crown me new head of the mongol hordes. The gift shop owner was less than pleased, but this was a pivotal moment for me.

Inspired by Chinggis, I convince my fellow Fulbrighter to crown me as new head of the mongol hordes. The gift shop owner was less than pleased, but this was a pivotal moment for me.

Lunch!

Horse sausage!

Horse sausage!

Stir-fried horse meat! Delicious!

Stir-fried horse meat! Delicious!

The way back!

English gibberish on the back of a business vehicle.

English gibberish on the back of a business vehicle.

To avoid the backup on the main thoroughfare, our driver decided to try out his own route through a few back alleys.

To avoid the backup on the main thoroughfare, our driver decided to try out his own route through a few back alleys.

Traffic on the backroad too!

Traffic on the back road too!

This was taken out of the front windshield. We somehow managed to snake our way through all these vehicles with nothing more than patience, maneuvering and plenty of honking!

This was taken out of the front windshield. We somehow managed to snake our way through all these vehicles with nothing more than patience, maneuvering and plenty of honking!

Beautiful scenery while stuck in the horrible bumper to bumper congestion.

Beautiful scenery while stuck in the horrible bumper to bumper congestion.

That moment when a very drunk Mongolian stumbles by at 3 in the afternoon and gets stuck between the stopped car and the van next to it. Captured! I have no idea what sort of conversation ensued here, but thankfully if didn't last long and this poor fellow found his way out of this jam!

A very drunk Mongolian stumbled by at 3 in the afternoon and got stuck between our stopped car and the van next to it. Fail! I have no idea what sort of conversation ensued here, but thankfully if didn’t last long and this poor fellow found his way out of this jam!

Standing on a roof while disassembling it? No problem!

Standing on a roof while disassembling it? No problem!

Don't fall in!

Don’t fall in!

Traffic!

Traffic!

Eventually we were able to get through this huge mess and back home, although it certainly would have been easier to walk!