On a Saturday morning several weeks ago, I met my co-teacher, Seggii, and our English tour-guide students at Parliament.
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.
The gallery is very well maintained and has some fascinating items. Among them:
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:
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?
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!
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.
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.
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:
Two hours of bumpy driving later…
We’ve made it!
Take me to the top!
Back down on the ground…
The way back!
Eventually we were able to get through this huge mess and back home, although it certainly would have been easier to walk!