Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Pictures (Nov and Dec)

Bear is growing like a weed, but is so cute. This is a picture from about 2 weeks ago. She will be big enough to jump on the bed/couch in the next few weeks. In case you haven't heard, Bear is actually a female. When we got her, she was too small/young to identify gender and Mongolians were split on it (some said female, some said male). Well, it turns out that she is indeed female. In order to prevent puppies, we will be taking her to UB to get spayed in February/March. The only vets that spay are in UB and it is relatively expensive, but it is the responsible thing to do here where there is already a dog problem (too many puppies).

This is a picture from IST with the US Ambassador to Mongolia and the PC Country Director.

This is the Health group, along with their counterparts at IST. Ashley's counterpart is the woman wearing the Santa hat.

This is the World Vision staff in traditional Mongolian outfits (including deels) during a recent visit from an international sponsorship director from Switzerland. The sign on the building says "People Development Center". The man (Bilgee) in the silver deel is a great example of the whole outfit.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

IST + Christmas

So, I have a lot to catch you all up we go....

IST: The M21 (my training class) gathered in UB for a weeklong training seminar. Each of us brought one of Mongolian co-workers and the sessions were specific to our areas of work (health, business, etc). Each session was also done jointly in English and Mongolian. The classes ended around 8pm and we had social time afterwards, which usually resulted in playing card games with our counter-parts. We also had sessions on PC topics, culture, language, etc. Overall, the week was very busy, but very good. We spent the weekend before and after in UB, spending time with friends, eating good food, and getting Christmas gifts for people. Needless to say, we spent all of our money. UB is much more expensive than our town, especially when taking in account all of the great food options. Last time we took the bus to UB, it was freezing (literally). This time, it was scorching and we were trying to shed layers. A happy medium can't seem to be found. Also, the bus situation was precarious with regards to other situations.... Part of the way through the drive, a cargo door popped open and luggage fell out, so the bus had to back-up multiple times and people had to find the fallen luggage (our luggage was in early, so we didn't lose anything). Also, our bus was over-capacity leaving UB. Tickets are sold for the aisle, in which people are given small plastic stools, which they sit on for the entire ride. Late ticket purchasers are given the aisle seats. The plastic seats were already full when we left, but we continued to pick-up people on the ride. By the last town, there were probably 20 additional people standing in the aisleway and many seats had more than 1 was packed and probably very unsafe. We arrived unscatched with all of our luggage. Some people take taxis to/from UB, but that has its own set of risks (poor conditions, drunk drivers, etc), so we will continue to take the bus. Our next trip is not for a few months.

So, after IST we had 1 week of work before Christmas and the holiday party season known as Sheen Jeel (New Years). Every place of employment has a Sheen Jeel party, which is usually a very elaborate evening. People have to pay for tickets to their event and it is not cheap. Most people get very dressed up and women wear dresses that would look appropriate at prom (lots of sequins, glitter, high heels, etc). The food is a multi-course meal accompanied by large amounts of alcohol (usually vodka), which is followed by games, singing, and dancing. Also, spouses are typically not invited to the party. My work one was last week and it was a joint party between 3 ngos. Ashley was invited. It was a fun evening and wrapped-up early because many people have kids/families. Ashley's party is tonight, and we are not sure if I am invited. We also participated in a secret santa gift exchange, which ended up being VERY different from the american version and it had very complicated rules. I didn't understand the rules well enough and we screwed up the process, but it turned out ok.

Christmas: 2 of our friends (Leon and Ellie) came up to spend Christmas week with us. They had never been to our town, so it was good opportunity to show them around. Unfortunately, it was bitter cold (-20F to -40F) during the day, so our tours were very short and involved many stops in stores/markets. We went to the best restaurants in town and then for Christmas dinner, made chicken parmesan, which ended up being excellent. 2 of our sitemates came over for dinner and brought an awesome peanut butter cake. We did a small gift exchange ($3 limit) and sat around talking for most of the evening. It was a very relaxing, but fun day, shared with friends. On Sunday, we had lunch with other friends, then watched movies and played with Bear. It was too cold to be outside for more than a few minutes. They left on Monday morning on the bus to go back to their town.

This week, many offices are closed for New Years and people are getting ready for upcoming school breaks, competitions, and the big celebration of Tsagaan Sar, which is early February.

Merry Christmas to All!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Back to UB

We have only been home for 11 days and we are going back to UB. Next week is InService Training for non-english teachers. So, we will be heading into the city on Saturday. This time, we have to take a co-worker with us. The trainings are more technical in nature, so this time can be used to build co-workers skillsets. It will be nice to see our friends again and eat good food. On a sad note, our favorite restaurant in our town closed up this past week. We were told that they were unable to make the rent payments. This is truly a loss for the community because their food was excellent and reasonably priced. Anyways, today is our 4th anniversary, so we will celebrate by going out to dinner in UB.
The daylight is dwindling at this point. Sunrise is 8:30am and sunset is ~4:30pm. Only a few more weeks, then the daylight starts getting longer again. The temperatures have been brisk (-15F at night, 8F during the day). There is a cold front moving in and it is expected to be -40F on Sunday night.
Bear is growing like a weed...he has doubled in the past 3 weeks. House-training is coming along well, but still room for improvement. Sometimes, he thinks that the plastic mat in front of the door is an acceptable place to pee. He has also starting showing interest in the animal bones/trash in the community. We need to break this desire ASAP. He will be staying at a friends' house while we are away.
This week Ashley got to meet with a US military medical team. The US military will be doing a community health program and specialist training next year and this was the preliminary planning meeting. I heard the team was surprised when they walked in and saw an American. Unfortunately, we don't hear enough about the good things that the military is doing around the world. We will probably get to help out next year with the clinics, and that will be a great experience.
I have been working on a project proposal for my NGO and writing articles for the local newspaper.
I joined the "fitness center" last week, which has been a very good, but surreal experience. The trainer is very strict and I can only lift if I follow his routine/regimen. Therefore, I am following his routine, which is actually similar to the one I did in America, though more intense. Working with a trainer in a new language is difficult, but I've learned more vocabulary. It must be strange for the Mongolians to see an American in the fitness center. The first time I was lifting, a bunch of guys came over to me, took off their shirts and flexed. They then wanted me to touch their muscles, which I politely declined. Wrestling is HUGE here, so many of the guys were strong, but also big. My goal is to be lean, which is not the goal of everyone else at the fitness center. There is 1 treadmill but it can't go faster than 4 miles per hour or the belt slips/stops. I found this out the hard way by running at 6mph, then hitting the front of the treadmill when the belt stopped. 4mph seems to be the sweet spot. I met the local soccer coach and he actually "tested" me in the gym, which was odd, but hilarious. He cleared the gym floor, put a ball down at midcourt, and I had to play 1:1 against him. Needless to say, I did fine and I was invited back to play. However, I showed up at the time he said and the gym was empty.....such is life here. Nothing is on-time and "plans" constantly change. I found a taekwondo teacher, so I may ask for private lessons starting in January. The physical exercise has been good and helps release stress.

The next post will probably be the week of Christmas.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


The past 2 weeks have been a rollercoaster of activity. Let’s start at the beginning….

Last Monday at work, I was informed that I would be doing 8 hours of finance training on Wednesday and 8 hours of Marketing training on Thursday to local families/business groups. 36 hours is not enough time to create a training program and have it translated. Needless to say, we did the training and it went ok. The finance training was difficult, but the marketing went well and the group was very active in the discussion. I had each person complete a worksheet about their company and then create a basic marketing plan. It was well received and I have been asked to teach it again in the spring. The end of the week was busy with the launch of a new newspaper in Khentii. My NGO is assisting/underwriting a newspaper and I was asked to help in layout and to write a weekly article about business. The paper has been suspended due to financing issues at the moment, but a solution appears to be forthcoming.

Ashley continues to teach copious amounts of English to co-workers and co-workers children/relatives. She has been doing 3 hours a day pretty steadily. This week she is also doing fitness testing of local offices and planning a nutrition class. We may start teaching a cooking class, if there is enough interest in it. I teach usually 90 minutes of English each day, assuming the students show up.

Last week, we went to UB for a Peace Corps Thanksgiving celebration. The PC staff obtained turkeys and each volunteer brought a dish, so it was a giant potluck. The food was amazing and the company even better. In a surprise to many PCVs, I scored 2 touchdowns and had an interception during the PCV football game. We played ~8vs8 touch in a parking lot in front of the ambassador’s house. It was frigid, but fun. Prior to that, we spent the majority of our time shopping and meeting/eating/drinking with friends. I had pizza at least 3 times and a full English breakfast every morning. Also, the beer selection is much better in UB. There are 2 excellent Mongolian beers (Gem dark, and XarXorum) that are readily available there. The shopping was mostly done at Narantuul, which is a huge outdoor market. The only problem is that we were shopping for winter clothes (boots/coats) in sub-zero temps…not a good combination. My feet were numb from trying on boots in the freezing cold and Ashley was shivering trying on coats. One of the "fun" parts about Narantuul is the expectation to barter. Bartering is a long process that involves multiple competing sellers and may result in a few dollar reduction. Due to the cold and our need to hurry, we did not barter (the prices were good enough and we spoke Mongolian to sales people), but I anticipate bartering next time we go. We did get what we went for. However, I still want to get a camel hair sweater and Mongolian traditional boots. (I bought Russian wool-lined, black leather with buckles boots.) We stayed at UB Guesthouse, which was very nice, though we were in a dorm room with many others. Below is a picture of the traditional mongolian boots that I want to purchase (probably different colors though). I think they would be great for shoveling snow and walking to Starbucks for coffee on a snowy morning.

Unfortunately, each time we walked outside, we initially had to cough. The smog is very thick in UB, especially in the early morning during this time of year. There is a gray haze over the city and often the neighboring mountains can not be seen, which is unfortunate because they are snow-capped now. Actually, we have noticed a considerable amount of smog in our town after breakfast and after dinner, particularly if there is no wind that day. Coal is the primary fuel source for this part of Mongolia, so black/gray smoke is very common. If anyone has seen

This week I have been working with a coworker on translating a long, complex English business document into Mongolian. His English is fantastic and it is still a challenge, primarily due to the run-on sentences and use of business jargon. The lesson from this exercise is that if you are writing a business document that will be translated later; please keep the sentences (and grammar) simple.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Note: this post contains graphic content, may not be suitable for all animal lovers

They are an ever-present, though often neglected facet of life in Mongolia. Most hashaas (fenced yards) have at least 1 guard dog. The purpose of this dog is to bark at intruders and potentially scare away (or attack) unwanted guests. These dogs are often large and aggressive and rarely chained-up. One of the first things that we were taught in training is how to “deal” with these dogs. Almost every dog in the country knows “JOVE”, which when yelled at a dog, sends it away. We were also advised to carry a few small rocks when outside the city to use as projectiles if a dog gets too close. (Note: we were advised to throw the rocks near the dogs, not necessarily hit it.) In our city, there are large packs (~12) of roving dogs that are homeless. They remind me of a gang and they often tussle with other roaming packs. If a dog has a collar, it is supposed to signify that it is “owned”. Some of the pack dogs have collars, but most do not. The dogs patrol the trash bins/dumping sites and eat whatever scraps they can find. Due to the harsh winter climates, only the hardy stray dogs survive. Therefore, most of the dogs are large (50lbs+), very thick, short hair, and mutts. I read that initially Tibetan Mastiffs were used in the country, but that lineage as been diluted. Spaying and neutering are very rare in smaller towns. Therefore, every year, there are many packs of puppies found around town. Many of them don't make it through the winter. We were told by the vet that the most humane way to put a dog down here is with a bullet. There is 1 vet in our town and he does not spay/neuter. For population control, semi-annually, the police department conducts a dog round-up and execution. Any stray (or perceived stray) on a particular day is gathered and shot. Unfortunately, dogs with homes are inevitably caught-up in this practice (such happened to a previous PCV here). Vaccinations are also not common, but can be obtained in UB. House dogs are VERY rare in our town; though we do know of 2 Mongolian families that have them (1 in our building and 1 is a co-worker). Also, females dogs are less desirable because they can become pregnant and black dogs are the best (according to superstition).

Ashley and I have had 2 experiences with dogs, here are their stories:

Buddy: In front of the hospital was a sick dog that Ashley saw everyday at work. She occasionally fed it. Over time, it became sicker and unable to walk. We brought Buddy home to build up his strength and get him over his illness (he was an older dog). After researching his symptoms and one of our friends talked to the Vet, we were told that he had heavy metal poisoning (fatal). His cognitive abilities became increasingly impaired (unable to balance, etc). He lived with us for about 1 week before he left (walked back to the hospital). Ashley found him dead in his old spot.

Bear: Last Sunday, I was walking home from a friends’ house when I saw a very tiny dog in the street (not the main street, but a busy enough thoroughfare). I picked him up and moved him over to in front of a neighboring building. Many people were walking past him and there were no other dogs in the area. It was below freezing and he was shivering. When I put him down, he followed me all the way back to our apartment (2 buildings away). I had seen this dog the day before near the post-office. The amazing part is that he crawled up the 3 steps into our apartment building, given his tiny size. I showed Ashley and we decided to take him in for the night, feed/water him, get approval from our landlord, and talk about it the next day. We got landlord approval and decided to keep him. The convenient part is that one of our fellow PCVs’ host family will watch him (in their hashaa) when we go out of town. They have 2 young dogs and 1 old one (all excellent dogs, very nice to people). We named him Bear (he is all black except that his nose, tail, chest, and 4 paws are tipped in white). He weighed about 1.5 lbs when he came (less than 1 kilo of potatoes). Based upon his size and appetite, we estimated that he was 4 weeks when he arrived. He is still drinking milk, but starting to eat solid food. It has been very cold the past few nights (less than 0F) and he shivers when outside for more than a few minutes, so we doubt that he could have made it more than a few more days outside. He is very cuddly and affectionate. He is becoming paper-trained and we are working on chewing. Overall, he is a good puppy and is sleeping on my lap as I type this. We don’t have a plan for the long-term and frankly, he may not be with us that long, so we are enjoying each day as it comes.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Binder + Dadal Business Trip

This week, I spent 4 days traveling north on a business trip, primarily focused on agriculture and bee-keeping.

Here is the summary:
We took a Toyota Landcruiser, with an elevated suspension and snorkel (air intake on the roof). I actually thought, "wow, this seems unnecessary...especially the snorkel". I was proven wrong.

The drive to Binder was on a dirt-trail, not a road. It was slow-going and bumpy, but the scenery was great. We passed many herds and gers set-up in the countryside. In Binder, we met with the local bee-farming group on multiple occasions. We also participated in the opening celebration for the local radio station (1st station in the area), and there I met the governor. Over the next few days, we went to the bee farms and observed the progress of winterization of the beehives. We stayed in a hostel-like building with 4 single beds, a small table, and a wooden stove. All of the buildings/houses have wooden stoves for heat and cooking. Interestingly, the "hotel" did not have indoor bathroom facilities (no central water system) and no outhouses, so I had to use the facilities at the neighboring school.

We drove up and back to Dadal on 1 day. The purpose of the trip was to meet with their bee-farming community, assess the winterization progress, and to check on the seabuckthorn shrubs. Seabuckthorn is a shrub that grows in this area. It produces small, orange berries which are incredibly healthy. According to Wikipedia, seabuckthorn has 15x as much Vitamin C as orange juice. Seabuckthorn is used in certain drinks/supplements, and is considered a cash-crop in this area.

The geography of northern Khentii (Binder/Dadal) is substantially different from the south/middle of the aimag. This area has many rivers and is forested, particularly the farther north you go. The forest and rivers provide better climate for certain animals, including wolves, fox, boar, bear, elk, etc. I did see 2 foxes when we were leaving Dadal. Anyways, this area reminds me of Colorado (but with smaller mountains). At one point, we were only 40 km from the Russian border (Siberia). The ethnic group of people in this area are called Buryiads, and they came from Siberia. I have mentioned them in previous posts. At one home, we had to take 3 shots of Buryiad vodka (made with fruit and 80 proof) with the grandfather. He has killed a huge boar and the head was hung on the wall.

This area is known for it's historical significance, primarily that of Chinggis Khan. (Referred to as Genghis Khan outside of Mongolia.) He was born outside of Dadal and lived there for many years before moving to other areas of Mongolia, and then conquering most of Asia/Middle East. I was able to visit some of the most important sites with the help of Baacancyrel, the driver. The picture beside is the monument marking the birthplace of Chinggis. It is on a large hill overlooking the Balj river valley.

This is the water-spring that supplied Chinggis and his family. It is located just outside of Dadal and has been supplying water for 800+ years. The blue scarves are used to mark a sacred location in Mongolia, or a spot of significance.

This is a set of stones that form a larger "monolith" in the countryside outside of Dadal. Supposedly, the stones mark the tomb/gravesite of Chinggis' sage/hero. This site is very remote and not well-known. Note that there is only 1 scarf. Also, this site was next to one of the bee-farmers' houses.

This is the convergence of the Onon and Tsenker rivers outside of Binder. This is one of the proposed burial sites of Chinggis Khan (under the rivers). The river already had ice on Oct. 25th. The Onon is known for its taimen (giant salmon) and this is a "popular" tourist spot in the summers. The river is only 3-6 feet deep, and we forded it close to this spot. There were no bridges in this area, so we crossed many streams, stream-beds, and 2 rivers.

This is the monument marking the spot where Chinggis formed the Mongolian country/government in the summer of 1206. It is located a few kilometers south of Binder, near the Onon river. This event is well-documented in most texts of Chinggis and Mongolia. It was the first unification of the warring tribes/clans and is called the khuriltai. Thousands of people attended this event and were hosted here for the entire summer. Tribes from across Mongolia, Siberia, and Northern China (Gobi) came to gathering and joined the Mongol nation.

This is an example of the type of house structure that some of the northern tribes used prior to the ger or wooden house. This particular monument marks the spot of the house of Chinggis' best friend (not sure of the name). It is also located outside of Dadal.

Trip Highlights:

Craziest foods consumed:
honeycomb (with honey still in it)
horse intestine (boiled, for breakfast)

Scariest Moment:
fording 2 large rivers, with water/ice washing up to the windows

Update for Ashley:
She finished and submitted a Millenium Challenge Grant application for non-communicable disease assessment in the aimag. She also bought new black leather high boots (with a small heel) because she "needed" them, according to her co-workers. However, they look nice and will help with her commute in the cold.