Saturday, October 2, 2010

Procrastination and others /the Ponderanz edition/

See I started writing about advertising in my first draft for this post. Then I thought it reeked of pretension and absolute boredom, which it did, so I procrastinated for a while until I could figure out a suitable topic for meself. And then it dawned on me, on a fine autumn day, walking with my shoes covered in dust and dirt from road works invading UB city: procrastination. What is the nomadic identity? It is procrastination distilled. It’s the subtle and not-so-subtle forms of procrastination hand-selected and distilled into a national identity by us, Mongolians. There are examples to illustrate this on any given day, if you will simply take a short walk down a UB street.  It is autumn, and after a summer of Naadam festivals around the country, countryside vacations and general sunny lethargy, Mongolians are back to work fixing the roads and pathways, constructing office towers and doing 5 different things at work which they could’ve perhaps done a few months before. I may be exaggerating, as procrastination is a human thing, I believe. But every culture has unique aspects and cultural traits more pronounced than in other cultures, something that they do more often and/or are better at than others.

We are better at our maƱanas than most other cultural stereotypes.  Once one starts thinking about these trivial what-you-might-even-call-facts, the trail of thoughts leads eventually to its root. What is the underlying cause, reason for our tendency to procrastinate? And that is, we’ve had it so easy over the centuries. I am not talking about the glory days of the Mongol empire. It’s very simple: we never had to dig for food. We never had to plant our food, seed, water, fertilize and harvest. Our food can walk on four legs. It can feed itself during most seasons. All we had to do over the centuries is to make sure it didn’t run away or get eaten by wolves and other predators or someone else for that matter, and make sure it had enough feed for the winter. Of course the nomads were and still are at the mercy of the weather (e.g. last winter). But climate disasters strike everyone around the world, including farmers and herders.

Then I started thinking about a theory about farming societies my friend Dashka once proposed during a whiskey-fuelled night in the blistering heat of Singapore. He theorized, drunkenly but very convincingly, that Mongolians never went hungry. So long as there was meat, we were good. Whenever we lacked something, we attacked farming villages to the south, i.e. China, which back then was not China but just scattered farming villages south of the Gobi. The Mongols would come take what they needed, women, clothes, gold etc. Perhaps even some herbs and spices, one would hope. And clear off back to the arid and unfarmable country of theirs over the sand dunes of Gobi before the state troopers arrived. Who would want to chase them barbarians over the sand dunes into the middle of nowhere. And so it went. Meanwhile, the farmers were busy digging the ground, discovering and cataloguing plants to understand which types one could eat, and which ones to avoid. Dashka’s theory was that it was famine, hunger  and desperation that drove these farmers to discover various plants, to discover what could be used for food and for medicine. During which time, we, Mongolians, were busy discovering more about our tavan hoshuu mal, i.e. the five-headed beast made up of the camel, sheep, cow, goat and horse. We were busy thinking up hundreds of words to describe their colors and anatomical structures.

All very interesting. So the conclusion one would logically reach is that we Mongolians were never hungry nor desperate enough to progress beyond our primal laziness, that comfortably lethargic state of tomorrow-forevers and enjoying the blissful weather while it lasts in our unpredictable climate full of surprises and shocks. BUT not really. There have been desperate times. The democratic revolution, July 1st etc, one can think of many.So are we just a bunch of really chilled-out drug-free but alcohol-fuelled stoners? Makes no sense whatsoever. And as I think these enlightened thoughts, I reach the lift doors of Grand Plaza and find, to my frustration and dread, the lift buttons cold and unresponsive to my fingers. 12 storeys to climb at 8pm. What is the mentality and identity that lead one to build a 15-storey building and turn off the lifts in the evenings? Sadism? Or just plain don’t-give-a-shitism?

[This blog post will appear, probably in an edited format in the upcoming English/Mongolian issue of 976 magazine.]