Monday, April 4, 2016

Field Expedition

The springtime blues is viewed as a very real epidemic in Mongolia. Mongolians report feeling a lack of energy or will power as the weather warms up. It is possible that everyone is dealing with allergies which seem to still be present even with the lack of plant life. Luckily there is a cure for this terrible illness. One must simply watch the melting ice on the Хэрлэн Гол (Kherlen Gawl river). The melting ice is revitalizing and gives life to all that witness it.

For this reason I was kidnapped on Friday to go to the river for a half hour. My English teachers had heard through the grapevine that the ice was moving. When we got to the water’s edge, it was apparent that most of the ice had already flown downstream, but we still saw a few small chunks drifting swiftly by.

Returning from the river, I noticed a large monastery on the outskirts of town and asked about it. My teachers, feeling no hurry to return to work, detoured immediately. The walled fortress was intricately detailed with stupas (tall pointed rock carvings) and prayer wheels at each corner. I reverently followed my CPs into the main building filled with clouds of incense. Along all of the walls were thousands of small gold painted Buddhas each in a plaque in Cyrillic that loved ones had dedicated to deceased. The center altar was a collage of colors with large painted statues of various religious people. A family sat on a beach before a monk in orange and red robes who chanted a prayer for them. Tibetan Monasteries are a very tactile experience; there are prayer wheels and carvings to touch, incense to smell, chanting monks to hear, and holy water to touch.
This is an example of a prayer wheel on Өндөрхан Уул. I didn't have a camera at the monastery.
Also an example Stuppa on Өндөрхан Уул. 
After circling the inside in a traditional fashion, I joined my teachers at the exit. A young monk took up a tea kettle and poured water into each of my coworkers hands. They raised it to their lips and anointed their heads. When the time came for me to take the water, I eagerly joined in and raised the liquid to my lips sipping from my hands, before dousing my head. As the fluid moved down my throat, I felt a panic because it didn’t taste like water and had a thicker consistency. Was this some sort of oil? Had my CPs just touched it to their lips rather than drink? Cooking oil is not deadly. Is candle/anointing oil deadly, like gasoline?!?... Fortunately for me, the water was just flavored and blessed by the monks with special herbs.

On the way back, my English teachers debated on the correct word for the field trip. Exhibition was tossed around, flooring me with their English vocabulary, but I realized they meant expedition, so we settled there. I didn’t have a white board and decided I would explain field trip/excursion at a later date.  

So the moral of the story is simply that after 10 months of living in a small town in Mongolia, I can still be whisked away on a completely new cultural experience.


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