Sunday, July 29, 2012

Finally some church work

Want to fight? You have to go through these guys!
I started off this blog with a picture of our son, Tyler, with his Mongolian compatriots who are guarding the Air Base in Kabul. It was the Mongolians turn to demonstrate their changing of the guard ceremony and to share cultural information with other troops there.

These Mongolian connections with our family are uncanny and more than coincidental.
It has been a regular work week for us with no tourism bonus thrown in. From now on we’ll have to use our Preparation Day (Saturday) to visit great cultural and historical sights.

There are at least ten or more places worth visiting in Ulaanbaatar so that should keep us busy when we get in the sight-seeing mood. I will be interspersing some sights from our recent trips to make the blog more interesting.
College student home for the summer milking a yak
The traffic. The traffic in UB (Ulaanbaatar) is horribly congested and drivers fight for every inch of turf they can to get around the city. On one of our recent errands, we saw a female pedestrian walking calmly toward us on the sidewalk. Behind her was a string of cars trying to use the sidewalk to move ahead in traffic. The pedestrian was or acted oblivious to the cars behind her and didn’t move over. There wasn’t much place to move anyway. The cars eventually gave up and had to butt back into the lane they originally left. We wished we had our camera for that one. It was a classic scene.
The other side looks pretty good but not this side

Most drivers are about this friendly

Crosswalks don't mean a thing. However, we and most drivers and pedestrians honor red lights. We look in all directions on a green light. So another skill we are learning is how to walk across a busy street one lane at a time while the cars next to us are whizzing by.

If one lane stops or is almost stopped, you make eye contact with the driver or motion that you want to walk in front of his or her vehicle. Then you navigate the next lane the same way to the middle. Or when one side of the road doesn’t have any traffic, you go directly to the middle of the road.

Taking the road less travelled - Steve McQueen style with a vintage World War II German motorcycle

The trick is to get to the center of the road and wait for a break in the oncoming traffic in order to get across the rest of the street. If you wait until both sides are clear, it will be a long wait. It is a piece of cake when traffic on both sides of the road has come to a standstill. If there is any opportunity for a car to gather speed, then cars rule. Don’t even think about it!

Going by horse is the Mongolian alternative to fast and furious

Darlene swears that one car saw us and deliberately sped up as we ran across the street . I believe it was to frighten us and he succeeded. Just as the drivers have a keen sense of awareness of playing chicken with each other until the right of way is ceded, drivers and pedestrians have worked out their own code for coexistence.

Milking a mare - the colt nurses a little to trick the mare into cooperating
Family History work. Our mission took shape this week. We are trying to get a records acquisition project for Mongolia off the ground and we may have a break through. It is too early to know for sure but if it is successful, it will be a wonderful blessing for the Church and the members here.

We met with several key people during the week, analyzed past correspondence and made key recommendations to the Mission President on how to move the work forward. We will meet with him tomorrow to get his reaction.  
A nomad pausing for a cigarette break
Young Single Adult Conference. We were asked to participate in a Young Single Adult conference during the 3rd week of August. We will take the train up to Selenge Province by the Russian border and camp for 3-4 days. The focus of the conference is on proactive LDS courtship.

The beginning of the day
Darlene and I will be joint presenters on how to make a relationship grow and blossom. Over 250 young singles from most of Mongolia will be attending. We arranged with our sponsor to change our English teaching schedule to accommodate the dates we will be gone.
And the end of the day

Branch calling. Today, I was called as the first counselor in the Suhkbaatar Branch Presidency. We were both warmly received and our Branch church responsibilities will evolve quickly. We both bore our testimonies and I introduced us to the members in a joint Priesthood/Relief Society meeting. Afterward, our new Branch presidency met for the first time.
Elder Farmer, Pres. Davkharbayar, Bro. Batjargal

The Branch membership clerk, Odgerel, was my translator for the meeting. We brought him love and greetings from this former mission companion from Turkmenistan. They were in the San Jose California mission together. They were practically the only two foreign missionaries at the time so they really bonded. We met him in the Costco parking lot in Orem when our name tags atteracted his attention. Odgerel was pleased.

It is a friendly branch with a number of Russian speakers that warm up to Darlene immediately. Her callings will probably be in the music area. Today we took a taxi to and from church for the first time. It worked out fine, including a free Mongolian lesson from one of the taxi drivers. 

On our way home, we encountered the auto repair zone. There are children in the back seat of the car in the foreground. 
Auto repair shop

Shopping. We had a several shopping forays, most of which were on our own. Darlene clutches me for dear life as we walk as she is so prone to falling. We discovered the Bayanzurgk Market close to us will meet most of our food needs. We bought a pressure cooker and shopped for meat in their open market.
Next on the menu is horsemeat

Darlene is nothing but gutsy and is a world-class shopper in terms of getting value for our money. Mongolia is a challenge and she enjoys a challenge.
Who belongs here - us or you?

Not everything works out however. Our hot water has been shut off for at least two weeks for summer maintenance. We bought a super-duper electronic horse trough warmer to heat our bath water. Otherwise we have to heat about 20 hot water pots (similar to a tea kettle)  for enough  hot water for a normal bath. Very tedious and time consuming! 

Which will it be?

After two long walking trips to the “Home Depot” section of Ulaanbaatar (small shops selling anything and everything pertinent to home repair), we finally had the perfect wire to splice on the cord to make it long enough to reach the bath. Then the first time we used it, we proceeded to break the circuit after four minutes of using our powerful new water heater. Live and learn. 

They know their way home
Terelj as seen from the monastery

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Getting to know the country.

Impressions from the countryside.

It was a great week for seeing some of Mongolia’s best sights and learning about its history and culture.
We are seeing Mongolia eyeball to eyeball

There are plenty of eyes to look at
This week helps form a frame of reference for the experiences we’ll have with the mundane and the growing pains of a country that doesn’t have the standard of living and infrastructure that the United States enjoys.

In other words, when we experience the relentless cold winters, the weaving, super aggressive bumper car drivers on congested pot-holed roads, the grimy soot and pollution of winter smoke, the occasional lack of hot water or electricity, and its mystifyingly difficult language, we will remember this week and the ones that preceded it.
Mongolia has pleasant summer temperatures, a bright, sunny, friendly, educated populace, a rich history, colorful traditions and respectful and courteous manners. This year, in contrast to the United States, Mongolia has had regular rainfall during this summer. The hills around central Mongolia are treeless but green. Not the lush and deep green of say a Sonoma or Petaluma, California but much like the unexpected pale greens of the hills and prairies of western North and South Dakota after a snowy winter and wet spring.
Typical view

There are vast expanses of land here dotted with herds of cattle, sheep, horses, yaks, and goats - in some places, camels.  The land is surreal in its beauty, so vast and empty in its vistas and the countryside people so hospitable to guests and visitors.
The herdman is yet to emerge
I am not talking about the bleak Gobi desert landscape or the lakes and mountains of north or west, just about the central part of Mongolia which we were fortunate to visit. 
A little like the Black Hills

Eagle pole to tether the eagle and eagle cage below the rocks
In Mongolia, you need a guide. Many times we would turn off the highway and drive for miles on dirt roads over the steppes on roads that would divide, multiply and converge in seemingly aimless patterns. Sometimes the road would divide into 8-12 different lanes or pathways. If you don’t like the road you are on, make a new one. In the Gobi even the Mongolians can get lost - lots of roads and no distinguishable landmarks for orientation.  

A four lane highway

The passengers would be jostled and bumped around like on a roller coaster ride as the driver would manage to avoid the worst of the roads. That goes for the highways as well. We lost a back bumper on our trip. It made it back to Ulaanbaatar strapped on the top of our second touring vehicle.

We would see nothing in terms of road signs, markers, or notable landscape that would help know if we were on the right path. Then, remarkably in the middle of nowhere (to us foreigners at least), we would reach our world class destination. Even our tour guide had to phone for help when we were within about 5 kilometers of one of our destinations. Last year’s tour guides were lost for four hours once trying to find their tourist destination.
So where are we going?

The reward at the end made our rough journey recede from our memory, something like childbirth.

Six couples and one guide made the trip. Two of the couples went back to Ulaanbaatar after the second day. They had seen those particular sites the year before. We got along great and got to know one another well.  It was a lot of fun experiencing the good and the bad together. We stayed two nights in Gers, ate great meals together, played dress up in Mongolian clothes and appreciated what we were seeing together. 
Savoring the local fare

Senior couples and missionaries.
Besides us, the following senior couples made the trip:
From left to right: the Farmers, Hunts, Lammoreauxs and Briggs with our names in old Mongolian script. The Richardsons and Shropes were no longer on this leg of the trip.

The Hunts from Salt Lake City – member of mission presidency, branch president, CES, Perpetual Education Fund and returned missionaries. Elder Hunt was a former executive with the Marie Calender restaurant chain.

The Richardsons from Huntsville, Utah – Humanitarian Service and branch counselor. He was a quality assurance officer with a manufacturing company.

The Shropes from  Oceanside, California -Construction and Maintenance - Employment Specialist, mission executive secretary.

The Briggs from Mapelton, Utah – Branch and District responsibilities in Darkhan. He was a game warden with the Utah Game, Fish and Wildlife Division.

The Lamoreauxs from Orem, Utah – Branch and District responsibilities in Erdenet. He was an attorney in private practice and former real estate  attorney for the church.
Chinggis Khans close advisors

The following couples didn’t make the trip.

The Martins from Mountain Home, Idaho – medical services, family history and quarterly member temple trips to Hong Kong. He was a Physician Assistant in the Air Force. They dropped out at the last minute because of effects from food poisoning.

The Grosbecks from Mapleton, Utah - Branch responsibilities in Moron, a city in northwest Mongolia too far away (time and money) to justify making the trip. Two more senior couples have been called to this mission, one couple is scheduled to arrive in August and the other couple in October. One of the couples will serve in the Mission Office.  
The Farmers, Elder Richardson, the Lamoreauxs, Elder Briggs, the Hunts and the Shropes.
Sisters Richardson and Briggs are not in the picture

There are currently 65 young missionaries in Mongolia – the lowest number in years. About 15 are from the United States and the rest are from Mongolia. We are expecting 5 Elders from the United States to join us as soon as they get their visas.  There are also 6 Mongolian Elders and 3 Sisters who have just begun their 3 week training at the Phillipines MTC who are also in the pipeline.

More about the tour.
Jangar talking about history of Buddhism in Mongolia

Our guide, Jangar, was a fount of knowledge about anything and everything Mongolian - the sites, the history and the culture. He had a great sense of humor and went with the flow. We did too. We had to. He was a convert from our daughter’s era as a missionary in Mongolia -1999-2000. He remembers her well. His missionary (who taught him the gospel) he remembers with great fondness was Sister Oyun, our daughter’s second companion.  
Mongolians love "stern" for photographs
One highlight from our journey was the Mongolian Throat Singers who came out to perform for us and the rest of the guests at the wild horse national park. They were fantastic. We heard sounds coming from human beings that we’ve never heard before. Darlene was spellbound and taken by the musicality of their performance.
Except the Throat Singers however who didn't do "stern" very well

Strange but wonderful! Besides their intricate singing, they choreographed body movements, playing and facial expressions. The trio have won awards and performed at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, Europe and other international venues. We heard more throat singing and traditional music at the King’s Palace when we visited the 13th Century National Park.

Meeting our sponsor.  When we returned, we met our sponsor from the telecommunication company on Thursday morning and went together to meet (a delicate meeting that had to go just right) with immigration officials located close by the airport. Things went well and we are slated to get our official documents that will enable us to be in the country for a year until our visas come up for renewal. We will get our official papers on July 26th.   

Our sponsor spoke passable English and some Russian as well. We hit it off well together in our first meeting. He asked us to teach 15-20 teenagers 2 hours a day, 3 times a week for three weeks during the month of August. Starting in September, we will teach English to members of his company. We will do some planning about what they want and learn of our time commitment later this month. 

We had a meeting with the local family history personnel last Sunday. Pres. A. Tsog, a member of the Stake Presidency, was in attendance. He is friends and a former student of the Director of the National Archives. He and his wife knew the Jacksons quite well when they were in Mongolia.

He felt the time was right to initiate discussions between the church and the government of Mongolia regarding acquisition of archival data. We sent an email to Hong Kong to Family History leaders there and it was positively received.

We may be helping engineer a breakthrough in family history work here in Mongolia amidst all our fun and tourism. We will keep you posted on any developments as the church leaders approach the Mongolian government with mutually beneficial proposals.

Other church assignments and callings. President Odgerel, the Stake President, met with us and invited us to participate in a young single adult conference in  Selenge near the Russian border this August 22-25.
Mongolian camp
This involves some outdoor camping. He worried that we might need more amenities than they could offer. We told him we were tough Americans and wouldn’t have a problem with an outdoor camping experience. He had seen a copy of my book and wanted to us to present a program on dating and courtship.

The problem he wanted to address is the fact that the Mongolian return missionary brothers aren’t being aggressive or marriage oriented enough in their dating and are frustrating the young single adult sisters who want to move ahead in life by having temple marriage and having families. There is too much group dating, hanging out, playing basketball with each other and not knowing enough about how to please or make women feel special. Any of this sound familiar?

The Young Single Adult Conference two years ago resulted in seven marriages and last year's conference resulted in zero. This conference will focus on dating, temple marriage and family life to create some momentum in these stalled relationships that are too passive. 
Getting on with family life
We had a meeting with President Clark about our local church assignment. We will attend the Suhkbaatar Branch. They are putting in a new Branch President. We will keep you posted on our callings. We attended this Sunday with the President and Sister Clark.

We met one of our daughters converts who was thrilled to meet us. Darlene found out a good portion of the older women at Relief Society, a women organization, speak Russian. She made a lot of instant friends.

The final thing I will mention is the Family History monthly training meeting with the West Stake and the East District. Darlene gave the spiritual thought – with the aid of an interpreter. She did a great job. We are definitely lost without one. We are surprised by how much we don’t know despite 4 months of working at this language. Thank goodness all the social, sight-seeing stuff will slow down and we can concentrate more on the language.  

We don’t lack for company. Friday we went shopping to the Mercury with 2 other couples. It is always an adventure. We also raided the storage shed for a few items we were still lacking in our apartment. Saturday we went out on our own to the local Bayanzurck market.

The social can’t be neglected. Friday night the senior couples and the Clarks went to a Japanese restaurant to celebrate his and Elder Shrope’s birthdays. The Hunts had us over taco soup on Saturday.  We supplied the chips (a rare find in the market). 
Mongolia's first flag - the white vulture

Friday, July 20, 2012

Senior couple annual outing 2012

Senior couple annual outing 2012

Meet our new Mongolian friends
Highlights of Senior couple outing. 

This will be a photographic journey of some wondrous sights in Mongolia near the capital of Ulaan Baatar. 

The sights you will see will be of the Bogd Khan Mountain National Park and Manzhir Khid Monastery, Hustai National Park and wild horse sanctuary, Terelj National Park including 100 Monk Cave, Turtle Rock and Medicine monastery, Chinggis Khan Statue and 13th Century National Park.

                 Manzhir Monastery

Beautiful country - terrible roads

Birthplace of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia - 1637

Depiction of Manzhir Monastery before its destruction
 300 monks were murdered here by Stalin in 1937.

10 sheep were cooked in this hot pot to serve 300 monks

Green Goddess - one of two female Buddhist goddesses in Mongolia

The White Goddess

                                    Wild Horse Park

Sanctuary for Takhi, the Asian wild horse

The stallion is following and protecting his harem and offspring

Our Ger (Yurt) camp

Another view

Mongolian Throat Singers

How they survive

Somewhere along the Silk road

                                    Chinngis Khan's Birthplace

A Buddhist prayer mound honoring Chinggis Khan's birthplace

Overlook from Chinggis Khan's birthplace

100 Monks Cave

100 Monks Cave - 100 monks evaded capture from communists by hiding in a cave in this rock

Turtle Rock

Medicine Monastery

View from Medicine Monastery

A visit to a nomad ger

View from Temple Ger Camp - we were the only guests

Temple Ger Camp

Chinggis Khan Statue

Chinggis Khan Statue

Senior couples up close and personal with Chinggis Khan

View of Chinggis Khan's domain from top of the horse head

The 13th Century National Park

The 13th Century National Park consists of 7 camps depicting life at it occurred in the era of Chinngis Khan. We visited 6 of the 7 camps.
Craftmen's Camp

Demonstrating grinding flour

Tea kettle rock formation at Craftsmen's camp

The Khan's Palace camp - 24 united clans represented by tribal symbols
Lunch followed by music and costume dressing at Khan's Palace

Chinggis Khan and wife re-enactors - may not be locals

Education camp - old Mongolian script

The Shaman's camp

Nomad's camp - Mongolian mobile home pulled by 24 cattle

Nomad's camp - horses and colts

             The Guard camp - No wonder they conquered the world!