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.