Mongolians are …. enigmatic. They may have the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger ready to jump you up, but they are also poetic. My tour guide greeted me with ‘Hi, welcome to the land of eternal blue sky’. Hmmm, sounds so romantique. My nescience meant I did not know how to respond but to give a nervous chuckle. What would I say about Hong Kong… ‘ Hi stranger, welcome to the paradise of fake Gucci and LV lah’. Despite the magnificent scenery it has to offer, I can assure however, Mongolia has much more depth than ‘eternal blue sky’
So let me just explain further by the continuous shocks since post-landing.
Shock number 1: When I first met my host family, there was giant walking towards me with a big grin. When i took a closer look, this half-bear half man who claimed to be my host dad was COMPLETELY NAKED! Mongolia is not Eden for goodness sake. Must be a nomad thing. I could have carried on, smiling gracefully and maintaining eye contacts, but my instinct told me to shut my eyes, STAT!
Shock number 2: They have a love/hate relationship with the Westerners. On one hand, my host bro speaks no english but he could rap like Jay-Z. My tour guide was keen to learn the difference between pronounciating ‘flour’ and ‘flower’. They played Lady Gaga in the club (for goodness sake, Gaga had not even reached UK then). My Western friends were treated as local celebrities there. The entire population were their paparazzi shuffling camera right in their faces. The only thing they didnt do was to ask for an autograph, thank God. Yet on the other hand, they did not find it an issue spitting on a white girl who just happened to have barbie doll hair. ( so, does that imply Mongolians fancy brunette over blonde?).
Shock number 3: They like to call you the name THEY want. For example, this guy in the bus said to me ‘ Hello. Your name is Susan.’ ‘No, my name is Janet’. ‘ So SUSAN, why is your name Susan?’ Do forgive me, I couldnt help but to roll my eyes.
Shock number 4: They are extremely proud of their country, naming everything as ‘national food’, ‘national hospital’, ‘national transport’ and haha, ‘national wedding’
Shock number 5: I am not trying to be funny, but Mongolians speak with such sotto voce as if they are swallowing each syllables.
Mongolians are also disarmingly welcoming. Despite our differences, we bonded through the ‘national food’ and the latest beyonce’s. They are also innocent and charming. Parents have no qualms with their kids running around naked (I am not surprised, given my ‘disturbed’ experience shall we say?). Random kids came up and spoke to you as if you are their oldest friend. They are always shuffling gifts into your pockets ranging from bookmarks, pictures of their own, to again, their famous ‘national food’.
Mongolia must be a heaven to kids. I remember begging dad for a bean tent as my playhouse while I was 5. Well, if you are from Mongolia you will not need to mooch one because, your parents will get you one so big, that they will even live IN it! Ger, as they call it, can be easily found stretching from the fringe of the capital city Ulaanbaator (UB) to the countryside. Otherwise, the buildings in UB resembles the Japanese ones before they got washed away by the tsunami. Not showy but very functional. If you go to the countryside, the monasteries and temples will catch your eyes by their 13th century design where you can almost SMELL Chinngis Khan.
When my friend told me their ‘national’ transport is horse riding, having been around UB with cabs and buses, I was like, as if! Its not like we’re still living in the King Henry VIII era aye? But once you are out in the country, you will see pregnant women, wee boys, grandmas riding their horses so fast that they almost took over our Land Rover. Watching them is an art itself. Since then, I have yet to see anyone riding a horse so poise and gracefully. Back to the city, I always had a little prayer before I hailed a cab. There was once where the cab driver deliberately broke the cab door and that cheeky bastard refused to let me out until I paid 10 times more than it should be. I had since learned a few mongolian phrases so I can use to woo the drivers, to act as if I have been in the area long enough to avoid all the tourist spams. ( I tried to speak with a Mongolian accent of course, the key is to speak like Marilyn Monroe). Being in Mongolia also means that you will be illiterate. The language is written like drawing a line of delicate flowers, so unless you are one of those genius with photographic memory, forget it, its almost impossible to get on the right bus. Come to think of it, I cant remember how many times I got on the wrong bus and end up in.. God knows where. Sigh, I just never learn.
If you are a Phoebe Buffay, prepare to go on a weight-watchers diet because Mongolians are carnivores. Otherwise, you must try their ‘national’ dumpling called buuz. It looks like a ger (literally) with minced beef in it. Like India, its always wise to have your loo roll ready…lets just say there were several occasions when I left the loo with vom-cano everywheh. Unless you think sick tastes good, make sure you are in an open space when you are offered a milk like ‘national’ drink called airag. If you have not heard of me mentioning Chinngis Khan million times already, he is the hero who conquered the world in the 13th century blah blah blah. Not knowing him is like not knowing Obama in any parts of the world. Chinngis Khan is basically the God of Mongolia, so famous that you will be bombarded by his face from buildings, statues to paintings on the wall. Slightly confused with his actual look however, as his pictures ranged from a 90 year old papa with almond-shaped eyes, napoleon-look alikey to hispanic lanky dude.
The music scene in Mongolia was surprisingly good, ranging from the Asian red hot chilli peppers, yellow-face girls aloud called Kiwi to Mongolian Amy Winehouse. The only time I heard a Mongolian shouted was when I was listening to the rock band the Lemon (though they still sound like they are swallowing the lyrics). Not a big fan of the ‘national’ music throat singing however, which sounds like a laryngectomy patient desperate to sing.
Mongolians also have the share-with-all attitude. Dont be bamboozled by the picture below, I dont mean it in a STD way (This is just to show you the way they promote safe sex). What I actually mean is, local doctors have no troubles displaying their patients’ medical records at the reception like glossy magazines. I kind of get their point, would you rather read a months-old cosmopolitan or medical record of your mysterious neighbour? Consultant brought their own little ones to critical care unit ward round, no issue with infection control or confidentiality whatsoever. A stranger (mind you, not even an aquaintance) joined your discussion with the doctor whether you should have your cancer removed.
Slightly change of note, I stumbled upon the city centre while there was a riot happening (think beefy men throwing fire bombs) but I was calm as a chameleon because I know fine well that after the shocks I had throughout these four weeks, I can handle ANYTHING.
I am not shining Mongolia in a very good light am I? The truth is, underneath all these, you will also find Mongolians as one of the most genuine, generous and humble people you will ever meet. While our conversations were restricted to ‘how ezz you?’ and ‘Today I feed my baby’, our friendship have proved to be life-long. It warms my heart everytime I receive a postcard with the famous Chinngis Khan or ‘national house’ ger in the front. Definitely recommend a visit at least once in a life time. Before my next visit, I will just reminisce the good times by youtubing the mongolian amy winehouse.