So "Iron Man 2" will be another film to contribute to the ignorance regarding Mongolia. Hollywood is on the search for a "Mongolian gangster" for the upcoming Iron Man 2 (via Dreaming of Danzan Ravjaa blog). I can foresee a future where Mongolia will slowly replace Russia, Ukraine and others as Hollywood's supervillain last resort bag. Pull an evil Mongolian out of a hat and throw him in the blockbuster blender. Knowing the producers will probably give the role to a Chinese or a Japanese actor, perhaps I should write in with my own suggestion: How about Steven Seagal? Or Danny Trejo.
Friday, February 27, 2009
Thursday, February 26, 2009
One of the stranger rituals (to a foreigner) of Tsagaan Sar is the one that is performed first thing in the morning of Tsagaan sar. If you are in Mongolia and woke up around or shortly after sunrise yesterday, you might have seen many people walking around with pieces of paper in their hands, shredding paper, lighting matches and breaking twigs. Depending on the zodiac sign you were born in (Buddhist astrology) and the new zodiac year, the elements that affect your life in that particular year change. For example in my case, my element is air, and I was born in the year of the green horse. Every year, the papers publish the detailed table one can use to determine the particulars of the morning ritual.
In my case, I was told to leave the house, walk south while reciting a particular mantra 7-21 times, shred some paper, throw the paper pieces in the wind, bury a dragon (??) made of flour and return home from the north-west. This ritual is supposed to draw your path for the coming year and ensure, in general, goodness will be the flavour. I didn't do any of it, mainly because I didn't feel like sitting around fashioning a dragon out of dough. Given my sculpting skills, I might've ended up with something that resembled a goose. The gods or the heavens won't like that. I think it was enough that my father, as the head of the family, performed this duty on behalf of us all.
I always wondered if anyone else felt slightly silly walking around with a matchstick, a piece of paper, a rubberduck and other props the papers told us to carry, bury or set on fire, reciting a mantra all the while trying to keep one's bearings correct.
It isn't always silly and safe. News.mn reports that a group of people in Zavkhan were attacked by a pack of wolves yesterday morning while performing the ritual and 5 are now in the hospital receiving treatment.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
So this is the first day of the year of the earth Ox, codename "Harshlalt" or in cyrillic Харшлалт, which sounds a bit like Harshil, meaning allergy or some kinda negative reaction. I'm sure it doesn't denote anything negative, but unfortunately nobody's bothering to find out exactly why the 2009 earth Ox year is codenamed, so to speak, Harshlalt. I did find one interview with a lama in which the only curious journalist in Mongolia asks the lama to explain what this name means. The lama's answer: it's an astrological jargon and does not have any negative connotations. Sort of like "you wouldn't understand, don't worry about it". Or more worryingly, for those inclined to take these wordplays seriously "you don't wanna know, trust me". I wanna know.
Nonsense aside, it's been a good start to the year of the Ox here in Mongolia. Lots of buuz-eating, distant-relative-greeting going on. What I look forward to during Tsagaan Sar, apart from meeting cousins and relatives I haven't seen in years, are the stories the old-timers tell, once they get going, of the fondly-remembered days. The stories are inspiring, interesting, funny and at times heart-breaking. And every Tsagaan Sar, I tell myself that I must write them down and compile them into a family book of misadventures.
And every Tsagaan Sar, after having awkwardly greeted a bunch of distant relatives with a hello-without-a-name, I remind myself to start working on a family tree. It's an ambitious task, one that is at the same time a little scary. From the conversations, I find myself worrying that I am related to half of UB and god-knows how many in the countryside. Imagination running wild. At the end of the day, tired, stuffed full of buuz and potato salad and strangely content with the day, I take some digestive enzymes and postpone the daunting task of figuring out who's-who till after Tsagaan Sar, by which time everyone will be back to their busy lives for another year. May the Ox be kind to you, whether he's allergic or not. See you in the year of the Tiger.
Monday, February 23, 2009
So it's the eve of the eve of Tsagaan Sar. Tomorrow's "Bituun", which could be translated to mean the act of closing.
An American friend remarked that the closest holiday they have to Bituun and Tsagaan Sar is Thanksgiving. I guess it's the emphasis on family and food.
On Bituun, or the eve of Tsagaan Sar, families stay at home and have the Bituun dinner or the last dinner of the passing year, which isn't all that different from what they will eat during most of Tsagaan Sar at every house they visit: buuz and meat.
That aside, the original purpose of my post, was to relay the message that our population has reached 2.7 million as of January 2009 (Source: Mongolia Web). 40% of the population now live in UB, of whom 65% are under the age of 35. Only 6% of our entire population are over 60. Poor healthcare system, harsh climate and widespread alcoholism are all contributing factors to this unfortunate statistic.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
So I read an article on news.mn today about unemployed Mongolians struggling for survival in the Czech Republic, paraphrased from an article in Czech. During the past few years, the Czech republic has become the destination of choice for Mongolians hoping to earn in Euros. South Korea, as well, still remains a popular destination for labourers (mind you, many of these "labourers" hold a college / uni degree from Mongolia). Since the beginning of the year 2009, Mongolians in the Czech republic are finding themselves jobless and on the streets, due to the global economic crisis.
Thanks to the wonders of Google, I was able to read the source article, though I do get some dodgy bits here and there like "Most of them expire on the street. Authorities are not a crime to grow.", which I'm guessing means most of them end up on the streets and crime is on the rise. According to the article, the estimated number of Mongolians in the Czech republic is around 13,000. Some have already turned to organized crime, trafficking their desperate compatriots. Crisis-struck and stuck with thousands of laid-off and desperate foreign workers, the Czech government is offering to pay for a one-way ticket home plus a EUR500 bonus payment to 2,000 foreign workers. I am not entirely sure on the exact number, as Mongolia Web puts the number at 7,500 Mongolians.Whether they take up the offer is a matter of debate, knowing the reduced chances of finding employment in Mongolia as the private sector downsizes.
As the economic crisis spreads, laid-off Mongolians are returning home. According to montsame, since June 2008 around 2,500 workers (of the estimated 27,000 Mongolians working in SK) returned from South Korea due to the economic downturn.
A point of concern is whether the Mongolian government is able to create jobs fast enough for those returning home.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
So January's been an interesting and busy month and only now do I realize that it's been 2 weeks since I last posted an entry in the blog. Meantime, our PM S.Bayar fell from a horse at a snow festival and fractured a rib last week. He'll be bed-ridden for at least 6-12 weeks, and may need to go abroad for treatment. If that is not a slap in the face of the Mongolian healthcare system, I don't know what is. On another note, I found a list of horse accidents on Wikipedia, and Genghis [sic] Khan is said to have died from injuries resulting from a fall from a horse.
As our PM recovers from his holiday injury, the inflation is threatening to devalue the Tugrik further, with the USD dollar hitting MNT 1,510 as of today. According to some economists, the economy can handle the USD going up to MNT 1,800 or even MNT 2,000, considering the fact that the Tugrik has been strong and stable against the USD for a number of years. But me no expert, and would love to hear someone's informed opinion on the matter.
What I am worried about though, is that the economic crisis may become a self-fulfilling prophecy as companies cut down on their spending.