Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sain Baina Uu

Hello dear followers,

As you may have guessed from my last blog post, I’ve been in Mongolia for the past month! Yes that’s right folks, Mongolia! I will admit I was very culture shocked when I first arrived here, this was my first time being in a developing country so I was exposed to things I haven’t been exposed to before aka public urination, open trash piles (that are burned!), wild dogs, and street kids/ sad homeless drunk men. I’m not saying these things are in direct correlation with being a developing country but it made me realize that I lived in a bubble protecting me against poverty.

History Lesson: Mongolia was occupied by China way back when but they then joined up with Russia to kick them out, however Communist Russia then took the place of China as an occupying power. Mongolia was under Communist rule until the 1990’s (that’s over 70 years of occupation!). During this time Buddhism was banned, there were mass murders, and a whole bunch of repression. The Communist left Mongolia in bankruptcy- so since their independence they have been working to build up infrastructure and have worked hard to reestablish Buddhism. There is a lot of Russian influence still- it’s very interesting here.

Back to the story-
Beside my general shock regarding poverty- at first I was having a hard time finding anything to eat. I could not read the Cyrillic alphabet nor could I speak Mongolian, so ordering food was a hit or miss, usually a miss. I survived on peanut butter and bread for the first few days. Finally I was able to find vegan restaurants- yes vegan restaurants ! They are surprisingly popular here in Mongolia- My favorites are ‘loving hut’ ‘the stupa Café’ and ‘luna blanca’ to say that  I became a regular would be an understatement- I was eating at one of these places EVERYDAY! It just so happens I met my first Mongolian friend at the loving hut. Her name is Bujing which means baby rabbit in Mongolian. She is 21 and working with the Administration for Financial something a rather for the government. Technically she is an intern because she is not getting paid, but she wants to work hard and hopefully get hired permanently. She was incredibly sweet- she introduced herself to me and told me she was looking to practice her English. I got her digits and told her I’d call her. Later that day I was meeting with one of my good friends from the University of Puget Sound who also just so happened to be in Mongolia with a Watson studying contortion. Miss Jacki Ward and I had many dates in Mongolia- having her here was a wonderful treat. Anywho Jacki and I called Bujing and we met up with her later that week. We discussed politics regarding Chinese and Russian relations with Mongolia, cold mining, and my favorite- DATING!

On the school front I was studying Buddhism the whole time I was in Mongolia. Our classes took place at the Lamrim Monastery just down the road from the very famous Ganden Monastery. We took a lot of field trips to museums, other monasteries, and  had private lectures with a Panchen Otrul Rinpoche, Monks, and Glenn Mullin. Being a part of pacrim allows you to have a great amount of access to amazing resources that you wouldn’t normally. Take for instance how we were personally guided by the Abbot of the Lamrim Monastery through the Mongolian country side. Below is the Lamrim Monastery- where I had class

After a week or two I actually started getting used Ulaanbaatar (the city I was staying in, which is the biggest city in Mongolia. I was even learning how to cross the street, this might seem silly to you but if you haven’t seen Mongolian traffic then you just won’t understand. My professor explained to me that Mongolians have always had a strong affinity with horses- even in the modern age this has not died out and is manifested in the way they drive aka as if they were still on horses. But these aren’t leisurely rides these are straight up horse races! Mongolian drivers want to get their first and in any way. Passing a car into oncoming traffic is the norm, turning when you want, honking your horn is constant- I have never feared more for my life in these cars than ever before. Crossing the street as a pedestrian is almost an invitation for a car to hit you- I may or may not be exaggerating. It’s like the video game frogger, you take it one lane at the time. It’s tricky because you never know if you should go or stop, you honestly never know if the car is going to stop for you or not. I decided to just wait for a Mongolian to cross the street and then I would follow them.

My living situation was compact to say the least. We were staying in a hostel/guest house and there was 10 girls sharing my room (including myself).  Bunk bed on bunk bed- pretty much zero personal space. But somehow we made it work, I did have my doubts at first. There are 25 people total in my group so we pretty much took over the whole place, which did create some problems for our hosts- who did threaten to kick us out at one point. Supposedly this is a common occurrence on pacrim…. Luckily we didn’t get thrown out into the Mongolian streets and finished our stay there on good terms. Health wise I’ve pretty much been sick the whole time I’ve been I Mongolia which honestly has sucked! I’m hoping to get more sleep in the next country because guess what?!- I’ll only have ONE roommate!!!! This is a very big deal!

We had three big excursions during our time in Mongolia- the country side, terelj, and the Gobi desert. For our first trip we took a deluxe tour bus and drove out into the Mongolian countryside. We had a personal cooking crew that went ahead of us to prepare food in their van so we could enjoy lunch while on the road. I was always surprised when we were able to find them just off on the side of the road. The Abbot who was guiding us is a vegetarian so I was well fed on these trips. For our first night we stayed at old man monastery- it was my very first time staying in a traditional ger. It was so incredibly beautiful there and again I was surprised we even made it there- I’m pretty should you could only find the place if you knew where you were going. If I remember correctly this monastery was built for Zanabazar’s teacher. Zanabazar is a very big deal in Mongolia- you should google him if you’re interested. So we spent some nice time at old man monastery, hiking etc. The next day we headed to Hara horum- spelling is questionable- this is a famous ancient city in Mongolia. This trip was the first time I got to ride a camel!!!! I loved it!!! Later on we had lunch at one of the Abbot’s friends ger his whole family was there and other people from the area, they brought all of their horses so we could ride them but first we watched them- let me tell you those Mongolians knew how to ride those horses. When I finally got a turn it quickly became apparent that I do not have those same skills so the Abbot was nice enough to attach my horse to his and he took me on a personal tour. On this trip our tour bus got a flat tire-that was exciting. This is the Ger camp I stayed at while at the Old Man Monastery 

This is the Abbot and I riding our horses :)

And this is the beautiful Stupa at the Old Man Monastery 

Our second trip was to terelj which is right near turtle rock and where the Abbots’ Meditation center is. The meditation center is in the mountains- I cannot tell you enough how beautiful it is in Mongolia. There were Buddha paintings and a divination prayer wheel- you spin it, it lands on a number, and that number corresponds to a scripture which reflects the lesson in life that you need to work on- mine was about laziness. Other highlights of the trip- hiking Turtle rock, exploring during the night time guided by the full moon. Our next big trip was to the Gobi desert, this time our guide was Glen Mullin- he’s this big shot Buddhist expert. He was pretty ridiculous but I did enjoy some vodka with him and  a Mongolian princess on our train ride there. Again we stayed in a ger camp and this time it was freezing! One morning we woke up at 5pm and hiked up a holy mountain to meditate and watch the sun rise. Turns out a whole bunch of wild goats live there, I made some friends. Later that day we went to Shambala which is said to have a portal to enlightenment- I’m pretty sure I saw it but I decided not to jump through because I knew you all would miss these blog posts too much if I did. While at Shambala I poured all my negativity into a rock and threw it away, along with  lay on holy rocks that are used to cure you of any aliment and also soak up your negativity. I think they work. The Gobi is so vast- driving out there is such a trip, you are literally driving out in the middle of nowhere. I made some Mongolian friends at a local park- for some reason little boys liked to call me fat- I’m now sure where they are getting that from because I’ve lost about 5 pounds! Well that’s all for Mongolia- of course there are many other fun little stories, some about rabbies, puppies, kittens, Mongolian pick-up lines, and spiders. But I’ll leave you with that. Stay tuned for some Chinese adventures! Lots of love!

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