Temples of Cold

We spent the last day in Mongolia visiting two Buddhist monasteries, the Natural History Museum and having a final meal at our favorite Korean restaurant. Our first stop was Gandan Monastery, the oldest monastery in Mongolia built in the 1800s. Most temples were destroyed or shut down during Soviet times but they left one alone apparently as a showcase to westerners of their religious tolerance. The Gandan monastery is actually a working monastery so we saw monks praying, chanting and just hanging out. There were also many people there praying and spinning the various prayer wheels. Inside one of the temples Connie and I started spinning the prayer wheels that lined the inside walls building but were immediately warned that we were going the wrong way. We corrected our direction but did not make it all the way around because the wheel were very cold and our hands soon got numb even with gloves on.

We did a bit of shopping at the monastery store. I bought beads, some small bells and a couple of gifts.

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We then headed to the Choijin Lama Temple Museum, a monastery built in the early 1900s. There were about 6 or 7 temple buildings. We went into two of them and saw many intense statues of gods and demons and some interesting artworks - including two representations of hell - one with fire and the other with ice. I chose not to pay for taking pictures which was twice the price of the admission but I really regret that decision. There really was some amazing things. The temperature outside was less that 10 degrees and it was even colder in the temples so we did not visit all the buildings. I hope this temple complex remains intact. High rising housing construction was circling it like wagons in the old west.

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The Natural History museum was interesting for its amazing fossilized dinosaur bones and eggs. My favorite items were a fully intact pelvis the size of a flattened VM bug and a claw as big as me. Unfortunately photos were not allowed.

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A final shot at Happiness Land next to the Korean restaurant and a history lesson at the Ulaanbaatar airport

The highlight of the trip home was 12 hours in Beijing but otherwise it was long and uncomfortable. We arrived in Beijing (the airport is beautiful), checked into a crappy hotel very near the airport and then arranged for two taxis to pick us up at 12:30am and drive us around for a couple of hours. We then slept for 3 hours and headed back to the airport at 7:00am. Needless to say there were no tourists at Tiananmen Square so it was us, the many surveillance cameras and the military guards. We walked around the square and outside the wall of the Forbidden City, which was closed. We encountered two guards in an underpass, one seemed thrilled to talk to anyone and practice his English, the other did not say a word but did not seem to mind Connie posing with him for a picture.

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Beijing airport

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Tianeman Square and the underpass where we talked to the guard. Note the cameras.

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Near the Forbidden City

We flew through Tokyo but felt no real sense of trauma from the earthquake disaster in the short layover. It was just another busy airport. Miyako had been worried the whole time we were in Mongolia and was able to talk to her family a couple times there and at the airport before we headed to the US

Take a look at my entire Gallery of Mongolia pictures

Day to Day

So for most days it was up 7 or 8, eat a fairly leisurely breakfast of made-to-order omelets, sausage, yogurt, almost decent coffee. There was a lot of dinner food served like pasta carbonara but i just could not get behind that for breakfast.

A embassy van would pick us up and we would be dropped at the various locations for teaching, choreographing, lecturing, observing. We went to universities, grade schools, the School for the hearing impaired, three different dance groups' studios and a place called The American Corner where young adults gather to learn and practice English. These organizations were all chosen by the embassy and we were welcomed everywhere.

I mostly took photos and videos but Sarah and I talked at the American Corner one afternoon. This was not a dance audience and I got the feeling they were not necessarily interested in Dana's group but they did seem interested in how we felt about Mongolian folk dancing, contortionists," Dancing with the Stars" type programs and Lady GaGa. Mostly I think we provided real English speaking people to talk and listen to.

In the evenings we went to the hotel bar and worked on the Chronicle for Higher Education blog. Dana wrote, I made editorial suggestions and then we went through photos that fit with the text and/or were interesting. We then emailed everything and in the morning at breakfast we were able to see the final blog entries at the Chronicle site.

We usually drank Chinggis beer at the bar and one night we sampled the local wheat beer.

On Thursday early evening we were finally able to do a bit of shopping. We went to the huge State Department store which sounds like it kept its name from Soviet times. The souvenirs were on the 8th floor so we spent time there. I also ventured down to the cashmere floor to find a sweater for my aunt Zita and was successful. (Cashmere is an important Mongolian export) We were some of the last people in the store.

Friday (last full day in Ulaanbaatar) was spent at the theater preparing for the evening performance. The uneven wood plank floor delayed warmup and rehearsal. The 4 dancers and I walked around a bit and ate at the Grand Khan Irish Pub which was pretty good. The floor was eventually covered with felt and the a marley (vinyl) dance floor. The dancers said that dancing on it was other-worldly but they did fine.


The performance was by embassy invitation only (not sure why) and was about 3/4 filled. US Ambassador Addleton (who grew up in Macon, GA) and his wife attended and stuck around for the little reception afterwards. We took a group picture of embassy staff and translators, Tumen Ek dancers and other guests before heading back to the hotel to eat and blog at the bar.



Out and About in Ulaanbaatar

Ulaanbaatar is the largest city with a population of over a million. It was founded in 1639 as a Buddhist center but moved around as a nomadic society tends to do for about 100 years until it settled on the current location. It is an interesting city but not necessarily pretty. There is a large river bank that runs through it but the amount of water that runs is more of a creek. There are large fenced areas of gers (yurts) mixed with houses that house migrants that have come from rural jobless areas to find work in the mostly jobless city. The country will see a rise in jobs when they increase mining (coal, gold, copper) activities over the next couple of years. Large high rise housing is going up in anticipation but there seems to be no urban planning. Garbage on the streets is common.


Sukhbaatar Square - the centerpiece of Ulaanbaatar. The statue on the left is of Sukhbaatar, who helped free Mongolia from the Chinese but in the center of the building is a huge impressive statue of Chinggis Kahn, the hero of Mongolia and the namesake of some excellent beer.

Some traditional outfits worn by mostly older Mongolians, I suspect the fellow in red is a monk but I like the Burberry scarf (I think dancer Connie - whose photos are mixed with mine -took that shot)

Ger district in town and spreading up the distant hillside and new high rises. You can see the river bed with water flow that never fills the bed even in springtime.



The folk dance company we worked with were called Tumen Ekh and we spent a lot of time at their studio/theater space.

The top pic is the entrance with dancers Sarah, Kelly and Dana and one of the many translators we worked with. The red door inside (with Dana) is just inside the building and through the door and upstairs is an art gallery with this giant traditional musical instrument called the horse head fiddle. Later in the week we bought some of the calligraphy works you see on the walls from the fellow next to the fiddle.

To the right of the red door is the studio where Dana, Sarah and Kelly taught and choreographed. Dana choreographed a duet and a group piece in an amazing short period of time. The duet was with two very talented (and nice) male dancers (with Dana in one of the pics). One was the only dancer who spoke a small amount of english. Dana did not have a translator for most of his choreography sections so he was was a real help, but demonstration was the language mostly used. There are other pics of the dancers on the DTSB&Co blog

Near the studio is a Korean restaurant that actually served great coffee and lots of different Asian cuisine - the best Chinese food I had in a long time. On the way to the restaurant was this building with the English name "Happiness Land". This building was photographed by the group more than any other.


The first night we were there we were able to see a performance of the Tumen Ekh dancers, singers and musicians - very impressive. The female singing was a similar to Chinese singing (like in the movie Raise the Red Lantern). The males did some throat singing. The dances were very energetic. The costumes were gorgeous. The contortionists were a bit odd. The bottom pic is of the Tumen Ekh dancers, directors, the embassy cultural attache (Marissa) and DTSB&Co group. The two males in the fur hats are the males in the duet.

Mongolia - the trek to UlaanBaatar

Austin picked up me, Dana, and dancers Sarah and Connie at 3:00am and drove us out to Dulles airport. Kona coffee was served in the car - nothing but the best. Top notch service, highly recommended.

This was the start of a 30 hour plus trip to mongolia. We flew 6 hours to San Francisco and then flew 12 hours to Seoul, South Korea, The Seoul airport was the first highlight of the trip. We had a 4 hour layover so we snooped around and found a "Rest and Relax" lounge that served Korean Air customers. For a fee we could sit, eat and drink with free wifi for as long as we wanted. We could also pay a reasonable fee to take a shower, and get a manicure and or a massage. Sarah, Connie, Miyako, and Dana took a shower and got a foot massage. Kelly got a full body massage. It was such a nice break.

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Seoul Airport - cultural center with performances and crafts. Treats at the Rest and Relax center

Fun bathroom sign. We could not resist the shower
Dana and Sara getting a foot massage

When we arrived in Ulaanbaatar we were met by the embassy Cultural Specialist Otgon (I thought she might be Klingon but I was wrong). Otgon organized all the activities and performance venues and she really packed our schedule. She gave us a packet of information and included a box of official embassy chocolates.

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This is where we eat breakfast. Omelettes made-to-order, so-so coffee and great yogurt.


The outside of the hotel looks like a typical soviet era building but the inside is quite lovely. Dancer Sarah Halzack and I are on the 3rd floor probably the second window from the left looking into the sign. The pic on the left is the bar where Dana and I have been blogging every night. (He's getting paid to blog for the Chronicles of Higher Learning) We have enjoyed local beer and wheat vodka

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We are driven around in official State Dept vans

Some food pictures - cappucino with a lovely spoon, mutton dumplings and tongue, a local dark beer (Otgon is in the background)