Well, it’s sneaking up on Naadam, Mongolia’s national festival that harks back to the days of empire, replete with ritualized contests in wrestling (worst costumes of any sport, anywhere, ever), archery, and horse racing, in addition to the perennial demonstration sports of vodka ingestion and bellowed, off-key Mongolian long-song. Anticipating the spectacle, Palzang and I are high-tailing it out of town to spend a week in Dornogov.
Naadam marks the height of tourist season so the streets are more and more full of tsaagan aristan khöömös. Khöömös means “people”, aris means “skin” with the tan being a modifier like “of”, while tsaagan means “white”. So tsaagan aristan khöömös means “honkies”. Already I feel like a bit of a local, bemused by my earnest, Lonely Planet-totin’, Gobi sunburn-sportin’ brethren and sistren, gawking at my own honky butt, wrapped in Buddhist monk robes no less. Today we even got our picture taken with a dude from New Jersey. Tried to charge him 500 tugrig apiece but for some reason he just laughed.
Today’s an odds ‘n’ ends day, with some little snippets I’ve been saving up. The first concerns the name of the Eastern Gobi monastery with which I’m so enamored, Khamariin Khiid. Names for spiritual places are funny things. When His Holiness Penor Rinpoche first came to our temple in Maryland, he bestowed the name Kunzang Ödsal Palyul Changchub Chöling which gorgeously translates into “Fully Awakened Dharma Continent of Absolute Clear Light”. He, however, is the throneholder of Palyul Monastery in Tibet and Palyul means, well, Palyul. When I looked into Khamariin Khiid I quickly learned that khiid means “monastery” or “hermitage” and just figured that Khamar was kinda like Palyul. Ah, but this is Danzan Ravjaa we’re talking about and so I just cracked up when at our Mongolian language lesson the other day I discovered that khamar means “nose”. So with the modifier on there, this profound place of spiritual accomplishment is called Hermitage Near The Place Shaped Like a Nose. Now I love that I love it even more.
And speaking of Mongolian lessons, a big shoutout to bid nariin bagsh (our teacher) Tumee who starts a fulltime job this Friday. Tumee had a bad accident last year which injured her leg and forced her into months of unemployment. She was so backed into a karmic corner that she was forced to endure a New Jersey monk’s bumbling attempts to grasp even the rudiments of her mother tongue for an hourly pittance. We dig her, though – she’s got a quick laugh and is smart as a whip – and begged her to stay on as our tutor with a modified schedule, which she has graciously agreed to do.
Good thing we have her guidance, too, because the English-Mongolian dictionary we rely on is a leetle bit quirky. Yet another Altangerel compiled it and it’s clear he was educated in an eccentric part of England, which is to say, England (viz. entries for such words and phrases as “jiggery-pokery” with two possible ways to say it in Mongolian, “hackney carriage”, “thingummy” and “kip”). With each entry, he defines the word and then often gives examples of idiomatic sentences. My favorite so far is under the entry for “friend”, which is commonly naiz in Mongolian, but here also has a translation of khain nökhör, which I suspect means more like “companion”. To illustrate, he trots out the sentence “Televiz ni gants biyo khöömösiin unetei khain nökhör bilee.” This translates as “Television can be a valuable companion for lonely people.” To which I can say with confidence that this is unnecessary when you have voices in your head.
Which brings us to places that have no television or any kind of visual entertainment whatsoever. Who could forget this image of a certain part of the Gobi Desert?
But I want folks (OK, my mother) to be reassured that this is not our everyday environment. About 10 days ago, Palzang and I had had it with the noise of UB and escaped south of town to hike a really lovely trail that follows a stream-cut valley into the protected forests of the Bogd Mountain Wilderness. These two photos capture a bit of this soothing locale.
Then, as we were walking back, we had a classic Mongolian moment when a encountered a small herd of horses casually munching their way down the trail with us. Who was it that said he’d never work with children or animals? W.C. Fields? I ran like a total goober around the fields trying to get just the shot I wanted, with the horses grazing in the field, so close and yet so far from Ulaan Baatar sprawled in the background.
And then, just for yuks, one of Palzang's: