to play football, not to play trumpet
So we'll just go right in from the last diary.
First Off, Ear Wax
So yes I talked about the metal or wooden spike thing. As others in the thread comment there are all kinds of tools. My wife actually has little leather cases with arrays of tools in them. However allow me to present the Cadillac of Ear Cleaners from Japan.
We own one of those. We also own one that you can plug into your TV. That one only has a 720p camera on it though, so I'm told at some point we'll be upgrade to the 1080p model which hit the shelves recently. I have come home and found my wife and other Asian girls sitting in front of the TV talking excitedly in Korean about ear cleaning. I think they might record the video and break it down with some kind of UFR ("Here the ear hairs prevent this wax from moving deeper into the ear canal. Red shirt freshman ear hair almost loses contain but in the end forces it to cut back where the larger senior ear hairs are waiting. +1").
Now I want to cover some basic use and safety for the device:
First off, if you ever get drunk and go "Hey, I always wondered my sinus cavity looked like in 720p on a widescreen TV", let me stress: THIS IS A BAD IDEA. BAD! The tip irrates your sinuses and causes you sneeze with a giant metal spike in your head. Sometimes I'm amazed I lived long enough to make it to adulthood.
Second, while you may think it is a wonderful idea to stick the device in your wife's mouth so she can see the result of her wisdom teeth removal, she will not agree. You will get in trouble. Some people just don't appreciate scientific pursuits like they should.
Finally. While these devices do have many potiental uses (like checking to see if your keys ended up behind the stove), when your wife comes home and finds you dangling the thing she uses to clean her ears behind your fridge, you get in trouble. You also get supervised for 45 minutes while you sterilize it. The moral to this story (at least the lesson I learned) is wait until your wife is away at her 90 minute seminar class, then check behind the stove. Turned out I had some Legos back there.
As a side note, I showed this to my cousin who is a police officer. The police have little snake cameras they can slip through vents and stuff to monitor hostage situations, but the ones they have aren't even 720p yet. The Asian ear cleaning industry is higher tech than the American paramilitary industry. Go figure.
However when we're doing each other's ears will use the traditional cleaning methods (the cameras are so she can check my work or something). So one day I'm lying there on my couch with a spike in my ear and hear the words "Honey, why don't we go visit my family?". Now I'm confused. I like visiting Korea. My now wife's older sister is some kind of burgeoning model and has a bunch of model friends. They all like how I'm taller than the average Korean and they can wear heels and dance with me. So I end up going out to the club and dancing with a bunch of Korean girls. Just to be polite of course.
I have alarm bells going off in my head, since normally she only asks for things that might be objectionable when cleaning my ears. For the record she isn't trying to threaten me with a spike in my ear canal. Ear cleaning time is supposed to be relaxing, so she's just trying to get me in a good mood and then ask.
As it turns out, Korean workers in Mongolia are fairly come. The RoK and Mongolia get along fairly well, have a lot of shared hertigage (they're both Altaic people and lack the Austronesan genes that Han Chinese have). Plus the Korean monarchy had a lot of intermarriage with Mongolia (everyone just ignores the fact that Mongolia invaded Korean 6 times, killed off most of the Korean nobles and then intermarried with the survivors).
So after Mongolia got rid of its pesky Soviet and Chinese Communist influences they've been to hire in skilled Korean engineers to help with them national development projects, which is currently where a cousin my wife is really close to (as a side note, you never marry an Asian. You marry their family, and not just their nuclear family.)
So I'm going through the airport in Mongolia and standing there at customs as two customs officers are going over my paperwork. One of them speaks English and looks at me:
So you're American?
Yes sir, I'm from Michigan.
I have heard many Americans says they're Canadian because people don't like Americans. Here in Mongolia though we love Americans! Tell everyone you are American! Maybe some day together we'll fight the Chinese!
At this point I notice the guy is actually staring past me and I look over my shoulder. Turns out there are some Chinese businessmen right behind me in the line and judging by their facial expressions they speak enough English to catch what he said. (China currently controls Outer Mongolia, which many Mongolians are unhappy about.
I ended up in Ulaangom, a province capital on far western Mongolia that is a mere 75 miles from Russia. It's a scenic kind of place. A city nestled at the bottom of a mountain with a river on the other side. It also 22,000 people and its airport runways that do not appear to be regularly plowed.
Actually that isn't fair, they do plow it. The issue is that at our time of landing (2 pm, one of the warmer parts of the day), the temperature was -15 F. The low for that night was -35 F. So the runway is cleared, but at such low temperatures things to melt snow don't work. So the wind blows fresh snow across the runway. At the end of the day the pilots just learned to take off an land with snow on the runway.
On our trip to Ulaangom, the Mongolian businessman in front of me explained how during his last flight they skidded past the runway, but luckily for them there was a snowbank. See Ulaangom is also in a desert, so normally there is only enough snow to make the runway fatal to land on, not enough to plow into a snow bank. However they'd just recently had some snow, so they were saved from continuing on and slamming into a parked Russian cargo plane thanks to the snow bank.
This was also the time I discovered that Aero Mongolia does not server hard liquor (at least on this flight).
He also told me about the pre 2009 days when the runway wasn't paved. Those days were apparently when the real fun happened. After s 2009 rebuild though the airport now has indoor toliets and a paved runway.
My wife's response to all this was a dissimive wave of her hand "What? The Chinese have safety standards like this and there are 1.6 billion of them. Clearly not that many are killed. We'll be fine...".
We did land and walk away from the landing. Although there was some fishtailing and we had to turn around because we overshot our parking space. Ulaangom of course does not have a fancy airway thing that connects from the plane to the airport. They roll up some stairs to the plane, open the door, and smite you with the fist of a frozen god as -15 degree air comes into the passenger cabin.
There is something to be said for this approach. Unlike in America were everyone dicks around and takes 45 minutes to get off the plane, our Fokker empted fast. It's grab your stuff and haul ass out of there before you freeze to death.
The Bar Scene in Ulaangom
In Ulaangom in the winter there appear to be two major activities. Getting drunk and trying to get warm. The first one is possible, the second one is impossible, so most people on the first one. Bars are popular because heating costs are expensive, so people tend to congregate in public areas for as long as possible and go home to sleep.
What passes for booze in Mongolia is airag, which is fermented mare or cows milk. It's like what they'd made in jail if they trying to make bootleg Bailey's Irish Creme. It's nasty and has a sour "spoiled milk" aftertaste. When it is -28 though (and the mercury is falling), you drink it and are thankful for it.
I was an instant celebrity because I was white (or a snow demon as one little girl dubbed me. Best nickname I've gotten so far). So at the bar I'd often end up with a crowd of people around me. I educated them about America. Some key facts I taught them were:
"Your entire city would fill up about a fifth of my school's football stadium." I actually took my laptop to the bar and showed them all pictures of Michigan Stadium and the campus. One night we all crowded around the laptop and watched a copy of the Gator Bowl against Florida since they didn't have any soccer matches to show.
The worst part of America is Ohio. You should never go there, or if you ever get another Genghis Khan you should go there and raze it. We won't mind, really.
I own guns, however not every American own guns. I personally am okay with this, since the people who do not own guns will be lootable in the event society collapses.
I also met an officer in the Mongolian Army. Mongolia is a partner in the War on Terror and has troops to Aghanistan. The officer I spoke had a few interesting stories.
First off, you know all those talking heads on TV that talk about how the British and Soviets both failed to conquer Afghanistan. Well way back the Mongolians showed up the Afghans did their traditional retreat into the mountains thing.
The Mongolians, being from places like Ulaangom, were rather unphased by this (perhaps even excited. "Hey we can to climb mountains in temperatures that aren't subzero, hooray!"). They burned three cities and destroyed most of Afghanistan's crop land. Massive numbers of people died in the resulting famine. Tribes viewed as playing a key role in the resistance were exterminated. Afghanistan would remain under Mongol rule until the Timurids rose and took control of the region. So next time a talking head says you can't win in Afghanistan, you can. You just have to commit a bunch of war crimes.
According to this office, the Afghans still remember what happened last time they got the Mongolians angry and go out of their way to avoid picking fights with the Mongolian contigent. The officer remarked how much nicer the base in Aghanistan was than one he'd trained at in the Gobi Desert.
The more amusing story was how the Mongolians train Americans on using old Soviet equipment. The Mongolian military has a lot of 1970/80s era Soviet hardware, which is what Taliban also rolls with. All of which is low tech and sometimes hard for Americans to understand. For example he had this conversation with an American Marine:
Mongolian: So this is a RPG. You look through this eye piece and shoot it.
American: How do you aim it? Does it have a laser scope?
M: No. You just look at it, adjust the sight here and shoot it.
A: What if I miss?
M: You take 50 dollars to the local market place and buy a new crate of rockets.
He also had an American tell him that the RPG had to have a laser range finder on it because all the ones in the video game he played did. I now worry about our troops abit. Overall though he had good things to say about military, but it seems like some people just can't grasp lowtech.
It seems American troops who recently arrived in country are famous though for deciding to go out on mountain combat patrols with massive amounts of gear and you can "track them by following the trail of discarded gear as they hike up the mountain".
Life A Mongolian Nomad
The most interesting and surreal part of the this entire experience was my wife had somehow arranged for us to spend a weeked at a nomad camp. A fair percentage of the population is still nomadic. In the winter most of the nomads now move in to town, but some cling to the old ways and still settle in gers for the winter. (Yurt is a term of Turkic origin and was used by the Russians, so it is unpopular in Mongolia). They supplement their income by letting Western tourists hang out with him.
This means I spent three days in a ger with 10 Mongolians (three generations of a family) and my wife. The kids were great and know some basic American phrases to which I added "Hail To the Victors". I also left all my Michigan gear behind we left, so some where in Mongolia a little girl named Oyunbileg is running around in a Michigan hoodie and "Michigan Alumni" cap that are way too big for her.
In the winter livestock are let out briefly to graze and then herded back in to barns before it gets too cold. As part of my stay I got to help herd the goats, yaks, and camels. For this job I was given a horse and a rope pole (uurga) to capture the livestock.
At first I'm useless in this task. I can't get the rope loop around anything and mostly manage to piss my horse off by bumping him in the head with it. Much to the amusement of the Mongolians of course.
Finally after an hour or so of swearing and futilely chasing various livestock, I manage to get the rope pole around the neck of a yak. The yak prompty hits the gas and yanks me out of my saddle. Thankfully I let go of the pole and manage to land on my hands and knees without face planting into any large rocks. At this point my horse decides he's had enough of getting hit in the head with a pole and bails out on the process as well. This leaves me in the middle of a pasture as various animals stampede (luckily way from me). In the end the pros managed to catch my yak and my horse. I was demoted to riding around as a passenger on a horse though while our host's wife handled it. She'd go galloping around the herd and leave me hanging on for dear life. The entire time its subzero of course (a high of -11 that day).
The other fun fact is cameras don't work in subzero temps. In the trek from Ulaangom to the nomad camp all my batteries froze. So I dragged a DSLR and telephoto across Mongolia only to slap in a battery and have the camera fail to turn on. A camera pro later explained to me you keep the batteries in an insulated bag and tossed in hand warmers to keep them from freezing.
I also got to take part in traditional Mongolian wrestling and managed to redeem myself there. That's mainly because I have 5 inches and a good 40 pounds on most Mongolians so I was able to wrestle down in weight class. The yaks kicked my ass though.
One other thing to note is no these camps do not have running water. That means two things. You're living in a smokey ger with 11 other people who don't shower. There also are not heated bathrooms. It's an unheated shelter with a hole. If you wake at 2 am (temp -33) and have to go, you figure out a way to hold it until the sun comes up. Three days of this is about enough for anyone. If you're going to go, go in the summer, not over the winter.
From Mongolia we'd fly over to the Yanbian region of China to see some other family and annoy the North Korean border guards, which is a story for another time.
At the end of all this, I do have to recommend Mongolia as a tourist destination. It will cost you an arm and both legs to fly there and you'll definitely be roughing it, but the scenery is amazing, the people are awesome, and you can annoy yaks by poking them with poles.
Cause you need to get back in the barn before you freeze to death.
You're always looking out for me.
I recall somewhere that there is a huge statue (5-10 stories tall) of Ghengis Khan and it sits in the middle of a flat open plain - designed to be a tourist attraction. ? Did you get a chance to see it or hear about it?
Cute remark about Ohio.
I heard about it. From what I heard the statue itself is done but none of the supporting structures are ready yet. I don't know it is open in the winter or not, since it is definitely the off season for tourism.
There is also this one (below), in the front of the parliment building.
And also this one, on a hillside (this was made for a festival in 2006)
great pose by (I'm assuming) Ghengis, there. Given that he has something like 16 million direct descendants (see here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/02/0214_030214_genghis.html), it's probably pretty appropriate.
Thanks CRex. I've always been interested in Mongolia (common central Asian heritage), but have never actually talked to anyone who has been there. Sounds like a great experience... though one that would probably be better in the summer.
In another couple of years CRex will be the second most interesting man in the world. Look out, Dos Equis Man! CRex a comin'!
We could do a commercial together. He calms a raging yak by himself. I run by in the background screaming like a little girl as one chases after me.
But when did you go out with them to tear down the City Wall?
Being 6'3" and Korean, I volunteer to dance with your sister in law and her model friends next time you don't feel like being polite.
Thx for posting. Your dairies are always interesting.
Great read. I look forward to the Mongolian invasion of Ohio.
Also good to know you have the cleanest ears on this blog.
out front saves me when the horde arrives.
I've always been intrigued by that part of the world because of their deep history, and the air of mystery that surronds that region due to their isolation. That's real sweet that there is some Michigan gear floating around there, and that some of the kids will undoubtedly utter "hail to the victors" at some point in their life. Space and Mongolia bitches.
Crex is my muse.
Had a good time there myself with a usaf contingent in the early days of gwot. Amazing place, and much like eastern europe, those guys appreciate freedom cause they hsd to earn it. Best story for me at that time was in my group was a tech savvy SSgt from royal oak. We got inviyed by the local nomad chief to a mongolian bbq. The ssgt already had his garmin freeze to hell and his ipod stopped working, but nothing disappointed him more when a real mongolian bbq didnt quite match what he was expecting from bd's on main st. Grilled yak bacon with garlic and the fermented milk alcohol crex mentioned. And something resembling a cross between celery and a yam. Good thing i had my trusty flask of american diplomacy, jack daniels. Note for foreign travel.... if u can bring it with u, nothing makes people love the ol USA than a quick nip of Old No 7. From weapon trade shows in Moscow to satellite station installs in Nigeria, jack works almost every time.
Bummer about the camera batteries. I was going to ask for pictures.
I swore for a good 5 minutes and then spent a good 30 minutes begging that camera to turn on. My wife's cellphone screen also actually cracked due to the cold as well. It's cold there.
Good stuff, I can't believe I'm reading about Mongolia on Mgoblog. I lived there for 3 years as a Peace Corps volunteer, horse riding/fly fishing guide and translator. It is always fascinating to hear other people's impressions on a country I lived in for so long. It is a fascinating place and about as different as you can get from Michigan.
I'm surprised you didn't have any stories about the Mongolian elixar of life: vodka. Feel fortunate that you don't. I'm also shocked you made it through a night in the bar with an Asian woman on your arm without getting jumped. There are a few more Kazakhs out west in Ulaangom so maybe that helped.
A few cool stories bro:
Coldest temps I ever experienced was -52 F, inside my ger no less. Fucking crazy. I had long hair then and if it was wet after my weekly shower/whore's bath it would freeze solid and break off. I put things in the fridge to keep them "warm".
About once a month in the winter I would have to take a shovel out to the outhouse to knock over the shit stalagmite that would form in a huge striated brown and tan tower from the bottom of the hole all the way up to my frozen ass. Rock. Solid. Poo.
August is the best time to visit. The weather is great, the huge festivals are over so there are fewer tourists. It is the least densely populated country in the world and once you get out of the hell hole capitol it is all public land. Camp/drive just about anywhere you want. Heaven on earth.
The uurga you used for rounding up the livestock has a very valuable secondary usage. Considering that the ger houses all family members and has no rooms if you want to have relations with your special lady friend then you need to get far away. It is the steppe and WIDE open country so you have to ride your horse a bit to get away from sensitive eyes. To warn others who may be riding by that you are banging your nomadic honey you stick the uurga in the ground so it stands straight up in the air. Universal sign in the Mongolian countryside for "Do Not Disturb". Most appropriate phallic symbol ever.
Don't drink the fermented reindeer milk unless you like straight hydrochloric acid coming out yer bung.
Another Peace Corps volunteer was on a flight across the country. The pilots put the plane on auto pilot (surprised they have those on 50 year old Russian prop planes). Both of them got out of the cockpit and start talking with passengers up front. Slight turbulence rock the plane and cause the cockpit door to shut. Door locks. Everyone sees this. Pilots run to the back and grab axe out of the mysterious axe storage area. Pilots chop down the door and get back into their seats. Nobody fucking blinks. I praised the lord everyday for living on the transiberian train line and not having to ride in the flying Yugos.
Oh man, the woman. Those are the stories I don't tell the wife.
Thanks for posting this stuff CRex. It brought back a lot of great memories.
Yeah, you can't tell the wife. But you can tell us! ..................
i was afraid of the vodka. It was no label stuff brought in across the Russian border up in Ulaangom. The kind of stuff that looks like it is made in some bootleg still by a crazy Russian mountain man. I had a sip or two and noticed it compared to turpentine in terms of flavor and its ability to remove paint from wood. So I switched off that.
It might have been the bar I was in, but these days its pretty common to have a handful of Korean, American, or sometimes Japanese engineers around since they're hired in on all the new infrastructure projects (Ulaangom has some kind of power line overhaul thing going on). As such interracial couples are more common now I'm told. Also they could tell my wife wasn't a local due to manner of dress, so since I wasn't stealing from the local pool, it was no big deal.
As for their air safety rules, I'm still trying to figure out if the Mongolians are the bravest people on the planet or just plain nuts.
Every year people go blind or die from bathtub vodka. The vodka factory in my town (Sukhbaatar) was more heavily fortified and defended than the local army base. Me, a long haired foreigner, could stroll right through the army base grounds unharassed. But, the vodka plant had 15' walls with broken glass in cement on top. There was a double gate to enter. You were very lucky to get away without drinking much. The Peace Corps doctor would issue us vitamin C pills that were labeled in Mongolian "Don't consume alcohol when on this medication" It was a life saver.
Good to hear that people are opening their minds a little bit about interacial dating. I dated a few girls and had to be very clandestine about it. Most people were cool but, like everywhere, there are grumpy jealous buttholes.
Mongolians have a unique outlook on life. They have a traditional saying that captures this well: aival boo hee, hival boo ai. Which translates into "If you are afraid don't do it, if you do it don't be afraid." Bravery, stupidty, both?
One day all of us will talk to others about when we knew you simply as "CRex."
Bravo, Snow Demon. As far as I'm concerned, you tell me what month you want to be profiled....
Aren't you a mod? Pull my email address and hit me up.
No all-consuming blog superpowers here...
Shoot me an email at: [email protected]. It's my impersonal email account since I hate posting a personal account on public forums.
(I try and check it every so often).
Did you contact everyone else without going through Brian? I knew you weren't a mod, but I figured you had him hook you up with potential interviewees.
The CRex MGoProfile promises to be the most interesting since jaimemac's (exception being Lloyd Brady, but it's unfair to ask anyone to top the epicness of that interview). Looking forward to it.
Six-Zero is going to have to work for this one. Because we already know so much about CRex, that it can't just cover the surface. But BECAUSE we already know a lot, it really is an opportunity to be more nuanced, and find out a lot more interesting stuff than the average one. I'll be reading.
Great stuff. Love this line:
M: You take 50 dollars to the local market place and buy a new crate of rockets.
Yeah, the Mongolians still adhere to the 20th century definition of firepower, which was shoot a lot of stuff at the bad guy and you're bound to hit something. Accuracy was secondary.
Of some cute Mongol kid running around in Michigan gear. You're quite the MGoAmbassador. It's good to know there are a couple of Countries left that don't hate us. I'd want them on our side when we fight China. Or Ohio.
I had a lot of fun googling images for "Snow Demon".
And I really can't be the only one who read about the "Cadillac of Ear Cleaners" and didn't immediately think of dirty uses for it.
(OK, maybe I was).
I wasn't the only one (ear cleaners).
I considered some potential alternate uses of that ear cleaner, but keep in mind it has a metal scraper on the end of it. The general concept of it has promise, but you'd have to engage in some serious reengineering (and they cost like 200 dollars a piece).
Did you get to hear any throat singing? It is pretty awesome, would love to hear The Victors done that way.
Since most of you sport penises, you probably haven't seen the documentary "Babies." You should; it's interesting. I bring it up now because one of the four featured babies was born in Mongolia and it's remarkable to see him hanging around with the family's livestock while his parents work on their farm. Your average American parent would lose his or her mind worrying with all those hooves around the toddler, but it was no big deal.
Camping in NH one winter, I learned how long a human can wait when awakened with a full bladder on a cold night.
I want an ear scraper.
And Michigan Theater memberships.
It's actually probably horrifying if you're still in college (male or female), but if you're not diabetic and can handle the cute level, it's pretty funny at times.
And yes, the Mongolian kid rules.
I want to be a snow demon!