Tuesday, December 22, 2015

It’s Very Cold Outside (Part 2) Энд Маш Их Хуйтэн Гадаа Байх

            Today, December 21st, marks the first day of winter, the winter solstice, and the beginning of the Mongolian tradition of the nine nines. The darkest day of the year is upon us with a meager 8 hours of direct sunlight. The sun stays on a southern course that doesn’t get much higher than a 50 degree angle with the horizon.

Part of my walk to school
The nine nines refers to 9 sets of 9 days that make up the winter and start on first day of winter. It is a traditional way for measuring the cold and hints that the coldest set of nines is toward the end of January.

The First Nine: Milk vodka congeals and freezes
The Second Nine: Vodka congeals and freezes
The Third Nine: Tail of a three-year-old ox freezes
The Fourth Nine: Horns of a four-year-old ox freezes
The Fifth Nine: Boiled rice no longer congeals and freezes
The Sixth Nine: Roads become visible from under the snow and ice
The Seventh Nine: Hilltops appear
The Eighth Nine:  Ground becomes damp
The Ninth Nine: Warmer days set in
Another part of my walk to school.
Here we can see Chinggis's tallest tower still under construction
            Every now and then at various trainings, we have the pleasure of seeing and hearing the PC safety officer of Eastern Asia. Having completed her service many years ago in the Philippians, she always ends her speech with this story.

            Supposedly every Friday night when the PCVs of various tropical and subtropical islands gather to enjoy each other’s company and speak their native language, they always pause with their first drinks in the air and raise a toast to the dedicated and hardworking PCVs in Mongolia. We are always assured that the toast flows something like, “To the PCVs in Mongolia they are the real heroes/MVP.” I tend to think that the toast is more along the lines of “No matter how hard it is on this island at least we aren’t freezing our … off in Mongolia.”

            Regardless of what is said of our service the cold truth remains that it is very cold here. However, I am not complaining. I have grown accustom to the first chill and find that I quite enjoy not being hot. This is a healthy mentality to take while walking a mile in -20 Fahrenheit. “Man it is really cold outside! But at least I’m not really hot right now!... At least I’m not in the Philippians on a tropical island with warm beaches, blue water, and cold drinks…
My school, and a frozen Russian style play yard that has monkey
 bars almost no child could reach.
            In November around thanksgiving the snow fell with no intention of retreating until spring. The world has become a winter wonderland that grows quickly grey and black with the dusting of coal fires. Also in November, we experienced some unusually cold weather with our (Sally and I’s) record low so far. It was a chilling week with highs around zero and lows that dipped easily into the -30’s in the wee hours of the morning. Fortunately Sally and I had already purchased our winter parkas in UB by this time and were perfectly able to handle the extremes.
            In December the weather has gotten a little warmer. We have been consistently seeing highs in mid-teens with lows around -10. (all temperature in this blog is in Fahrenheit. Mongolia uses Celsius, but it is not a gauge that I am accustomed too.) While these temperatures have been manageable it looks like we have our coldest days so far in the end of the month, with highs that are still below zero.
Temujin Complex School's secondary school building
            My system for dealing with this weather is to prepare for it with the clothing I choose to wear in the morning. If I feel cold I apply more clothing the next day to counterbalance. So far the system has worked. All of my walks to school, while chilly, have been pleasant. One particularly cold morning in November (-25ish), I realize that my eyelashes were sticking together when I blinked and that ice had formed on my beard. This led to the “Darth Vader” face projection.
            If the temperature is -20, my dress consists of: underwear, long underwear pants, long underwear shirt, second short-sleeved shirt, pants/slacks, button down shirt, tie, sweater, wool socks, hiking boots, scarf, sock hat, face mask (white cheap breathing mask, creates barrier between breath, cold, and face), stretching face covering (Thanks, Claire!), winter parka, and fur-lined gloves. This ensemble allows me to step out into these temperatures without really feeling the cold for about a half mile. At this point, my glasses usually fog up, and I am forced to continue the rest of the walk with them in my pocket. Dressed to handle the weather, I am never too cold.  
            The face covering is altered based the temperature and wind chill. If it is only zero or even -10 with no wind chill, I have found that I can leave my nose exposed to breathe easier and prevent fogging of glasses. Any colder and full “Darth Vader” regalia is required.

Darth Vadar protection 
            I was walking through the park the other day around noon, and I saw a pigeon sitting on the ground; so quiet, so calm. I walked up to the bird expecting it to fly away, but it did not and it was only when I was close enough to nudge it with my boot that I saw the small layer of fresh frost on its back. A sure sign that it would never move again. 



  1. Great writing Caleb. Thank you for the photos. It is nice to have a visual of the the landscape of your daily walk. Is this always a solitary journey or are there many others out walking in the cold as well? I seems to be a very flat area with little to break the wind. Is it very windy?

  2. Poor little Pidgie, makes me sad but I know it's a part of life :/