Thursday, March 25, 2010

Day 29: Safe and Sound

Hello everybody!

Our flights, connections, transfers, etc.. all went well. As smoothly as we could hope. There was good visibility on Monday morning, our plane left Ulaanbaatar on time, and Seumas enjoyed a window seat over the fading snows and endless browns of Mongolia and the Gobi. No problems at Beijing, arriving early and then on to our second leg to Sydney. The window for Rachel this time but her entertainment controller was a bit troublesome, so her movie options were limited. Seumas watched 3 or 4 movies (he can't remember). Sleep was problematic, since they decided our flight should have "dinner" at 5:30 Beijing time, followed by "supper" at 11pm Beijing time, supper being another meal. This meant waking everybody up after an hour and a half's darkness and sleep, at what was 2am Sydney time. A lot of help if you were trying to set yourself to Sydney time! Thanks, real smart. Anyway, apart from that the flight was good. We were pleased to get off, and make our way through customs, etc.., and meet Kinsey at the airport and come home.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Day 27: Farewells

It's our last day here! The Halls, our hosts, arrived home very late last night, their flight due in at 10:20pm arrived after midnight. It was lovely to see them again. As we draw closer to returning home we were certainly glad to see them back in their home again.

We headed into college for our last teaching day. Seumas is still on the mend, and Rachel is starting to feel a bit better too. Our classes went well and were sad to see us go. We had a chance to say farewell to students and some fellow teachers.

In the afternoon it was long chats with the Halls, and talk of going home. Then out to dinner at Wendy's Cafe, and lots more talking!

Our flight home leaves 11am local time (14:00 Sydneysiders), and it's a couple of hours to Beijing. We have a 3 hr transfer at Beijing, so pray that we are not delayed. There is also health checks at Beijing, and we'd like to not to be quarantined. Then it's overnight to Sydney and arriving Thursday morning.

Full reports and details and catching up on our return....

Love to you all from Seumas + Rachel

Monday, March 22, 2010

Day 26: Buddhism and Communism

Good news! Seumas is starting to feel better, and hopefully Rachel will not be far behind.

Today we'd arranged to do a little sightseeing. Our local friend Erdene, came to pick us up at 10. His car hadn't started, so he'd brought a taxi. Taxis are quite cheap in Mongolia, about 35c Australian to the kilometre. So off we went to the Bogd Khan's Winter Palace. The Bogd Khan is well remembered here in Mongolia. Before 1911, he was the spiritual leader of Mongolia, despite being 'imported' from Tibet via the Chinese. But in 1911, there was a revolution against the Qing dynasty in China. The Bogd Khan was installed as emperor of a theocracy, as he was a major player in the rebellion. Mongolians are fiercely independent, and so he is remembered for this.

Anyway, the Winter Palace was not a grand affair, though it was lovely to visit. Much of it now houses various Buddhist artworks (tapestries, statues, etc..) from the period. This was pretty interesting, though Rachel says it's not much compared to Tibet. There was also the main living residence of the Bogd Khan himself, and his wife. Some very fine items there. Including some chairs that played music when one sat on them (a gift from Russia; brings a whole new meaning to 'musical chairs').

After this we went to visit the Zaysan Tolgoy memorial. Here are some pics from someone else's blog because we lost our camera. Erdene helpfully explained the memorial. It is basically a testament to Russia's relationship of friendship with Mongolia. 1921's revolution saw Mongolia appeal to Russia for help in fighting off Chinese and White Russian forces, leading to the establishment of the Mongolian People's Republic. Soviet Russia did a lot for Mongolia, and Mongolians are still very fond of Russia for it (and almost universally dislike the Chinese). The memorial features Lenin prominently. Also from the memorial, one has a spectacular view of the city, laid out in all its apartment and ger glory. UB is pretty big, sprawling ever bigger. Urbanisation is causing some infrastructure and poverty problems that are going to get worse in the future.

Anyway, after these two outings we came home. Erdene stayed for a while and we chatted about how he became a Christian and other things. We've spent the rest of the day recuperating, doing a little grocery shopping, and so on.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Day 25: Still Sick

Marginally better, but still feeling rather sick. There is a lot of nose-blowing going on.

So, very little to report today. We stayed at home most of the day, only going out in the afternoon to go to church. The fresh air was nice, but we didn't feel terrific at the service, and so it was nice to come home again. A bit of snow on the way home too.

Oh, it's Seumas' birthday!

Looking forward to heading home soon (and being well).

Day 24 - The Last Saturday

Seumas felt very ill and Rachel was under the weather too, so we decided not to do any Saturday sight-seeing.

In the end Seumas stayed home all day while Rachel went out for a few hours to pick up some things. There was lots of snow as she walked into UB but on the way back it was beautifully sunny!

We went out for a quick dinner... they had tofu at this restaurant, yay! Then we watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button on HBO.

Here are a couple of tips for life in Mongolia that you won't find in the guidebooks...

How To Walk On Ice and Snow - The key with walking is to always put your heel down first, and to put it down firmly. This helps anchor you. If someone is standing in front of you they should be able to see the whole sole of your foot as you step forward. If you are going uphill then avoid transferring your weight to the front of your foot, keep it on the heel. Avoid walking on black or transparent ice as much as possible: if it's white it's alright!

How to Eat a Mandarin - Half-peel the mandarin. Get a spoon. Chip away at the frozen insides.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Day 23: Friday Night Fun

Today we did a whole range of things.

Seumas went into college early, to practice again for the chapel service. We enjoyed chapel this morning because the sermon was in English (with Mongolian translation), so that was very helpful. Seumas' bass playing was much appreciated.

We then taught our classes, our final teaching session with these classes in particular. Seumas recorded some interviews with his students, until the vidcam batteries died (they do not last very long at all), while Rachel's class spent a lot of time talking about Australia.

After lunch we stopped into the principal's office, and spoke with Puje for awhile. We bought one of his cds (he has many talents), and expressed our hope and desire to come back in the future.

In the evening we went out with Gana and her husband ('Jack' for short), as well as Emma and her husband Erik, to see a performance with the Mongolian National Song and Dance company. They performed a Folk Dance play, "The Legend of the Sun". The programme came in Mongolian, Russian, and English, so that was a great help. It was a traditional tale of the Sun being stolen by demons and 5 Heroes setting out to bring the Sun back, and then the Sun goes up into the Sky. The performance was pretty amazing, lots of talented dancers, and music, including some Long song.

Sadly we have both been sick with colds. Rachel for a number of days, Seumas more recently. Coming home Seumas was nauseous and went to bed with a bit of a fever, but the night's rest seems to have helped a lot.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Day 22 - Classical Music via Horsehead Fiddles

Today the weather got above freezing! The forecast was for a top of 4 but we only saw a top of 1 (with a windchill of -1). However because it was very overcast the world did not melt away like it sometimes starts to... and actually it's snowing again right now. The snow is forecast to continue right through the week and Rachel is starting to get concerned for our flights (they cancelled them on the weekend). If we miss our connection in Beijing it will be difficult to get back to Sydney. There's only a three hour gap (perhaps not the best plan but the only one we had at the time). So pray for good flying weather next week!

Our classes were fine. We put our classes together for the second hour to teach them to sing 'Here I Am To Worship' and 'Lord Reign In Me'. This was the college's request, not ours, and now Rachel's class are even further behind than ever... plus they have no textbooks as the college has run out of the next in the series! But they seemed to like the break anyway.

After a lunch of soup with bread and sushi, and a very short music practice for Seumas, we prepared our lessons for tomorrow and came home for a few hours.

We went back to UBTC at 6pm to meet up with Gana, who had bought tickets for us to go to hear Mongolian State Philharmonic.

After a short wait for a 'taxi' (as in, any random person driving past willing to take us) we got to the theatre half an hour before it started. We checked in our jackets and went upstairs to sit in a beautiful foyer: marble floors and gold and maroon wallpaper.

The concert hall itself was also very nice. We were sitting on movable chairs in the front row due to it being sold out, but this turned out all for the good as it gave us a chance to see the musician's technique.

The orchestra was made up of 12 horsehead fiddles (filling in for violins), two cellos, two double bass, a piano, two flutes, two yatgas (Mongolian version of the zither), a few kinds of xylophone, timpani, cymbals, and a triangle. The horsehead fiddle is a traditional Mongolian instrument. It is kind of like a 2-stringed violin, played vertically, but instead of pressing the string to the neck, you simply press the string taut with your finger at the appropriate position. All the musicians wore white flowing traditional-style robes with black jeweled hats. They looked very elegent.

The pieces consisted of a mix of Russian, famous western, and Mongolian composers. Each piece was about five minutes long, so very accessible for those like Rachel who aren't accustomed to classical music. Many of the pieces were the famous standards. The horsehead fiddles sound just like violins and the soloists were amazing.

Each ticket cost less than $8 Australian... which still prices it out of reach for many. We considered it much better value than any classical performances we've attended in Sydney!

And now home! Bed soon: both of us have sore throats which is unpleasant but not surprising considering how much we go from the freezing cold outside to the heated indoors.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Day 21: My plans, your plans, His plans

Today we went to college early!

We decided we ought to go to chapel, in part because we thought it would be good to videotape some of it, and in part just because one ought. We've put it off because when everything around you happens in a foreign language, one's heart might rejoice but the mind is unedified. So off we trundled, extra early, and enjoyed the chapel service. Passionate singing, passionate preaching (Seumas asked his class about the sermon later on).

Apparently Rachel talks "soft", "like an ocean". Mongolians speak "like falling rocks". This from one of her students.

We were delightfully invited out to two concerts in the next two days. We'll let you know about them afterwards!

In the afternoon Seumas had said he'd wait around and do some English Conversation with some of his more struggling students. Alas, they didn't show up!

Rachel is worried about her mouth and a tooth. We are thinking that it might as well wait until we get back, so pray it doesn't become any kind of problem.

That is all. Not a lot to report today. Oh, perhaps we'll talk about Mongolian roads. There are three types of crossings in Ulaanbaatar. The first is at traffic lights. There are not a lot of these. Also, just because it says you can cross, this doesn't mean cars won't be turning into the street you're crossing. So traffic lights don't always help. Second, there are "crossings". Imagine a zebra crossing, and then that the white is actually dark grey. That's what a crossing is: dark grey on grey, virtually invisible. So crossings make no difference to drivers. Except sometimes they do stop! And then it's very confusing because you weren't expecting them to stop, so you need to hurry up to take advantage before some other driver behind gets too annoyed and veers around and into you. Third, there are just the roads, which is what crossings are in the end. The strategy here is to wade into a suitable gap in traffic, preferably to make it halfway, and then wait for a gap on the other side. It helps to have (a) a group, (b) Mongolians, (c) someone aggressive and imposing, around you.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Day 20 - Testing Times

Off to college as usual, to have our Second Year students sit a review test. They need 65% to pass. All of Seumas' students have passed... but it looks like several of Rachel's may not. This is sad for her because she feels like it must be partly her fault as she is not a very good English teacher. If they fail the subject they must retake it til they pass... so difficult for any student who just wants to get on with theology!

After the test Seumas' students talked about liking things. Turns out they can pretty much all ride a horse (with one former race winner among them) but swimming is a rarer skill. Rachel's students managed to memorise all of Matthew 28:19-20 and wanted to know when she was going to have children.

After a lunch of rice, beef, potato salad, mantuu and questions about swimming, we marked our exams. Seumas then went to a two-hour band practice while Rachel read a book on missionary work and did some grocery shopping (the first time we have been more than 10 metres apart since we left Australia!).

There was no internet and no hot water when we first got home but the internet appears to be back and the water has gotten lukewarm.

Hard to believe there is only a week left!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Day 19: Out on the town

We arranged today to go out with Emma, a long-term missionary over here. She teaches parallel English classes to us at the college. So we met up with her in the morning and caught a taxi into the city centre.

We had hoped to visit a Museum of the Central Intelligence Agency, but it appears to have closed down. No surprises there! So instead we walked, stopping first in a bookstore, then on to Mercury markets, which are some really good markets for buying foodstuffs, including a bunch of stuff we hadn't encountered in our shopping here before. Good to know for future reference.

Next stop was a music store, where Rachel picked up some Mongolian pop CDs. There is also a burgeoning Mongolian Hip-Hop scene, judging by the store's selection. Sadly, Punk seems unrepresented here. Like everything, there is a band called Chinggis Khaan. They seem to be a bit of a rock outfit.

Last stop of the day was Millie's cafe, which we went to before, but Emma was quite happy to go there (I think most foreigners get a bit sick of Mongolian cuisine after awhile), and burritos were a big hit for us.

We had a good time with Emma, particularly asking her lots of questions and getting her opinion on a range of issues as a missionary here, particularly since she and her husband have been in Mongolia for quite a number of years.

Back home we watched "Gone with the Wind". Rachel had never seen it, and having watched it wasn't particularly impressed.

p.s. Congrats to all the Moore students who graduated today!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Day 18: Chinese & Church

No one trying to kick in our neighbours' door last night. Thanks God!

It was snowing again today. Snow this late is apparently unusual, and the ground outside is covered again like it was when we first arrived. So much for Spring. It was about -12 today, but with quite a sharp wind on top of that.

We went out for lunch. The place we were planning to go was shut, so we decided on a Chinese restaurant. Mongolian shops (not just food places) often seem to have an abundance of staff doing not a lot, and this was no exception. After vainly trying to order something with tofu off the menu, we settled for a beef stir-fry and some vegetables. It worked out pretty good in the end, and we had some leftovers to take home.

Church today was a long service. Almost 2 hours. That's not really that long for Mongolia, but it felt a bit long for us. The preacher was encouraging us in our total and utter dependence upon God, especially if we were 'weary' in the Christian walk.

I (Seumas. Have you worked out how to distinguish blog-post writers yet?) have spent a few hours today reading "Tentmaking: Business as Missions" by Patrick Lai. Tentmaking isn't really what our plan is, but it's been a really helpful read as we think about what we're doing and why we might come here.

We're not really Church Planters or Evangelists. And if we were, we'd probably go somewhere else! Mongolia doesn't need those really, the best people for that job are Mongolians! What God has given us to offer is solid biblical and theological training. Indeed, I suspect in the global shift of Christianity away from the West, this will be the West's best legacy: a 2000 year legacy of faithful and thoughtful reflection on the Scriptures. So our hope for the future is to serve Christians by thoroughly equipping them in authentic and rigorous engagement with the Scriptures. That's what will enable this tiny country of 3 million punch above its weight. Who knows, maybe Mongolian Christians will trace the paths of old Chinggis across Asia and the Middle East with the gospel?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Day 17 - History

The sleepytimes between Friday and Saturday did not have much rest for us. There is generally more noise in the building on weekends with parties and so forth but last night was extreme. There was even more noise than usual from above (where most of our noise comes from... it also echoes down a pipe that runs through our bedroom) and then at 1am there were some huge thumping sounds from right outside our door. For a second we thought someone was trying to get in but no... someone was screaming and trying to break down our neighbour's door.

It went on for a long time and was quite scary in that we had no idea what to do if the drunken fury turned to our door. You can't exactly call the police if you don't speak their language, and the word from a few people we've spoken to is that the authorities are not really interested in violence against foreigners. Anyway eventually the person gave up but the other parties continued well into the early hours of the morning.

When we got up this morning and had a look outside we saw that the person had broken right through the first door and most of the way through the second (lots of Mongolians have two doors... not us though!). So now our neighbours are bolting shut the outer door that blocks the entrance to our door and theirs... which means if we go out they bolt it behind us and we have to knock and hope they hear us to get to our own home.

Anyway, a late start due to weariness from all the above... but after three days there was finally some hot water! That cheered us up a bit. After our daily bowls of porridge (new brand!) we headed off to walk to the National History Mueseum. It was a good walk, which the footpaths mostly clear of both ice and slush.

Now, in supermarkets in Ulaanbaatar you have to put your backpack or any other bags into some free lockers. You would assume that the contents of the museum are more valuable than tubs of yoghurt... but no lockers! So we had to wear our heavy jackets and carry the bag. Also, if you would like to touch the stone monument from 3000BC... go right ahead! Want to wander around playing music on your phone so everyone can listen to it? No worries! It was the opposite to everything that happens in western museums.

That said, the museum was well laid-out in chronological order. We got to see some very very very old things (apparently the lack of humidity means that ancient stuff lasts well), examples of national costume (Mongolian women have tradionally done some very elaborate stuff with their hair, looks like the inspiration for Amidala's hair in Star Wars), information about all the tribes pre-Chinggis (not a lot of information about the revered man himself strangely enough) and then lots of pieces of paper from the Communist take over and then the democratic hand-over in 1990.

Full of knowledge we left the museum to look for some lunch... and found that a light powder snow was falling everywhere! It was very soft and pretty. We then went to a well-reviewed Mongolian restaurant to fulfil Rachel's desire to try the staples of Mongolian cuisine: mutton dumplings and deep-fried mutton dumplings. The place was nice but we've had enough meat to last us a long time.

When we left the restaurant the snow was heavier and sat on our clothes a lot as we walked. We stopped in at a cashmere store but it was very posh and well outside our price range! Some grocery shopping and then home!

The snow makes us happy as it is very pretty when the world is white. Also it seems to be warming when snowing.

So time for another random movie on HBO and hopefully some better sleeps...

Day 16: Bring on the weekend

Sometimes we like teaching English, sometimes we don't. Today we were grateful that it was Friday.

In Seumas' class, the students shared a little about what they were doing before coming to college. One student told the story of how he had been studying music, and had been chosen by the Mongolian government to go to Russia to study to be a composer. But he fell ill for a whole year. He suspects possibly some people were jealous and poisoned him.

Rachel's third year class continues to be particularly cheeky.

As we might have said earlier, Seumas was asked to play bass for an English worship service at chapel next week. So in the afternoon there was a practice. Rehearsals are a new experience when you don't share a language with the other musicians!

Next week looks to be a bit busier, with a couple more music practices, and spending some more time with the students outside class. So we're grateful for the weekend and plan to enjoy some rest.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Day 15: Load Error 2 No Paper

Don't worry, when/if we move here permanently, we won't blog everyday. There's just not that much to say really. Not once one has settled into a bit of a routine.

The temperature was a nice -14 outside when we first got up. This is definitely a big move in the upward direction.

We turned up at college today hoping to do some photocopying - our 2nd year students are doing a test on Tuesday, and we were both going to do revision with them. Sadly, the photocopier had no paper, and no one was around that could help us get paper, and so that made the morning a little frantic.

In the end it was okay. Rachel worked from the whiteboard with the material we had prepared, and Seumas' class did a lot of spoken practice (his room has no usable whiteboard). Rachel tried to play "Rachel says", and then 3/4 of the way through one of the students said, "Oh, your name is Rachel!!". Seumas' class spent their second hour trying to do some English/Bible study on Ephesians 2:8-9, which was an interesting challenge (these students have only just been learning the simple past tense). Hopefully they'll go well in their test, and then they move on to book 2 of their curriculum!

A group of Rachel's third year students are heading south of the border in the mid-term break to visit some missionaries of some kind. Pretty exciting for them.

We watch a lot of movies here. Asia HBO is often showing things we'd like to see, or sometimes things we're prepared to watch.

Mongolia's largest currency note is 20,000. This works out to about $15.41 at the current exchange rate. Some things are much cheaper, but many things cost around the same (especially things that are imported). So, you can imagine if Australia had a currency system that only went up to $20, and still used 1c and 2c coins, shopping might be a little bit more inconvenient.

We started a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle. Rachel has done most of the work on it. It is almost finished. Indistinguishable blue sky is all that's left.

ps, thanks to people who have been sharing some prayer points for us to pray for you over here. We enjoy hearing about your life and sharing in asking our heavenly Father on your behalf.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Day 14: The man of the millenium

Spring is really here. The snow is continuing to melt, leaving a lot of muddy slush on the ground. White gives way to grey and brown.

Classes today went well. Seumas' masters class are quite good. They looked at some commentary on John 4 together, and discussed International Women's Day and Australian holidays and culture.

Rachel's 3rd year class are also fairly good, and a little cheeky sometimes. They are getting through their work quite quickly.

Lunch was rice with meat, mashed potato, and cabbage. Exciting times! It is still a little weird for us that they push us to the front of the line because we are teachers. We don't really want to break that cultural practice at the college because it's not our place to do so. We also were taught a Mongolian proverb, something like "Share your breakfast with friends, eat lunch by yourself, and give your dinner to your enemies" - something to do with the poor quality of dinner so better to give it away.

In the afternoon we went for a little walk to check out some different supermarkets. Trying to find carrots. The mission was a success, and we also found a delightful energy drink: Genghis Khaan! (Everything here has a Genghis Khaan brand, we're pretty sure).

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Day 13 - The Thawing

This morning started out briskly cold as usually, but without the face-numbing wind.

Our second year English class was today and it was trying. We teach seperate classes but faced the same problem: trying to get our students using weren't/didn't/wasn't correctly. It turns out Mongolian has no equivalent of 'to be' (words like am/are/was etc) so how do you explain them? Understandably they wanted to know why "Paul wasn't like the party" is not correct. Gah! The class taught by the 'real' teacher is ready to do the exam this Thursday. Seumas will do review this Thursday and run the exam next Tuesday. Rachel's students are even further behind and she doesn't know whether to just go ahead with the exam or let them fall further behind.

Afterwards... to the cafeteria! It was packed today because lunch was free as a celebration for International Women's Day yesterday. The plates of mince and rice looked huge so we tried to share one but as soon as the students spotted us they brought a second plate over. Oh well. We ate it all (feels very ungrateful to waste food when everyone is so desperate to eat all they can) and it was very tasty but oh! such a mound of mince!

After some lesson planning and a quick grocery stop we walked home. It was a beautiful -6C! It really felt lovely a fresh and it would have been nice to stay out in it for awhile... but all the snow that has lain around for months is finally melting and turning the world into a giant mudpie.

Rachel has a cold and is starting to feel achy as the piles of tissues mound up. It has been dragging around for a few days so hopefully she will begin to get better for good soon!

Day 12: International Women's Day

Monday was International Women's Day, originally started as a socialist celebration, the day is quite popular in (post-)Communist countries, and is actually a public holiday here. We only discovered this in passing conversation over the weekend.

We also had no real plans for Monday, since it's our non-teaching day anyway. We slept in a little later, started a jigsaw puzzle, ate some noodles. In the afternoon we decided to work on some video footage for a dvd presentation we're hoping to put together. This involved some scripting and so forth.

Unfortunately, batteries do not like the cold. So once we'd charged up our video camera's batteries, and headed outside, we filmed for about 15 minutes before they decided they were done. We were getting cold too! We did get a little bit of footage of a car doing tricks on the ice/soccer field behind our apartment block.

There's not a lot to say when one has spent almost all day inside!

Tomorrow, back to teaching.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Day 11 - Getting Overconfident

We decided not to go to the Mongolian church in the morning: it was nice to go once but with no understanding of anything not the most enjoyable way to do church. So a little sleep-in!

Then to decide what to do until 4pm! After a couple of Skype chats with friends we decided to go out for lunch and do some grocery shopping in case shops did actually close for tomorrow's public holiday.

It seemed pretty sunny outside, and all the talk has been about how the thaw is finally coming, so we expected it to be quite tolerable outside. But once we got out there we discovered a little thing called wind chill.

The Lonely Planet guidebook had led us to believe that restaurants open every day of the week but the first ones we found weren't. Rachel was keen to eat more Mongolian food but the first place we found open looked like a western-style cafe. We went in anyway and discovered a very empty restaurant serving Mongolian food with some English translations on the menu. Seumas ordered noodle soup and Rachel got stir-fried noodles.

Then we walked to a supermarket a short distance away that had been suggested as having lots of choice. Sadly it seemed about the same as the one we usually go to... and still no carrots! We got canned carrots instead. It seems that capsicums and onions are easy to get and everything else is hit and miss. Rachel did find some broccoli which she snapped up.

Coming home we tried a shortcut which led to a dead-end and required much back-tracking. Sadly by this time Rachel was feeling the freeze and had painful fingers and one aching ear by the time we got home.

After an hour and a half of thawing it was out into the wind again to go to the English-language church. Not a long walk thankfully! The service was good and we had a chat afterwards with some people who work for World Vision. The woman, Linda, turned out to be in the Hall's Bible study and said she would have us over for a meal sometime before we left. We are quite keen because it is much more relaxing to socialise when we know that our words are being understood!

Then home where Rachel gleefully ate her broccoli and Seumas ate eggs on toast for the third night in a row.

Soon, another movie on HBO Asia!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Day 10: Adventures in Mongolia

Our second weekend here! Nara, a teacher at the school, had invited us to go with her and her husband, Seda (no idea on spellings, really), to the outskirts of UB, where they where thinking of buying some land for a summer house. In Australia, if you want a holiday house, you normally buy one on the coast a few hours away. Apparently in UB, if you're rich enough, you buy one on the outskirts of the city, 30-40 mins away.

So they came and picked us up, with a friend of theirs driving (a little fast for our liking!), and we headed out of the city. As you leave the central areas of the city, you enter the ger-districts. Basically, these are the areas filled with people who have generally moved to the city from the country to make (eke) a living. They don't all live in gers, but some do. They're off the central grid of infrastructure, and often struggle. So we got to see a glimpse of that. Then beyond them you enter summer-house-land (not-actually-named). These are slightly larger plots of land with houses on them, which stand empty most of the year, and are used in the summer months. The air is cleaner, the snow is deeper, and there are trees! We got out of the car a few times and had a look around and enjoyed ourselves.

After this we drove back into the city, and went to the cinema to pick up some tickets. We think it was there that our camera got stolen. Seumas isn't quite sure where it was, but a little down the track we realised it was gone. This was pretty disheartening. It's one thing to know that pickpockets are very talented, and to expect them to steal stuff, but losing the camera is a bit sucky, not least because we had some lovely pictures from today on it. After picking up the tickets ($4 each, beats Sydney prices), we went to Kebab take-away for some lunch. It was leaving there that we realised the camera was gone. We then looked in a department store for awhile, before heading back to the movies. We watched "Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief" - predictable, a little childish, but good fun nonetheless (English, with Mongolian subtitles). Then we got a lift home.

It was a pretty fun day, talking with Nara and Seda about life in Mongolia and stuff. They showed us some lovely hospitality, and Seda knows a guy who might be able to get us a cheap replacement camera. Tomorrow we might have a lazy day at home in the morning...

Day 9 - Getting To Know People

(Yes, this is being written late, sorry.)

The weather forecast lied! Today was colder than yesterday! -34C when we got up, -24C when we left the house. The walk to UBTC is pretty short however, so no true complaints.

Rachel's class went very well. The third years are much better speakers than the second years so it's possible to have real interaction and conversation with them. When talking about Rachel's sore throat they suggested a traditional drink made of her own mother's urine as a remedy. They like Hillsong music very much and when Rachel said they should try Garage Hymnal they told her they didn't like hymns. The class plowed through their work very quickly and she had to come up with some games at the end. Fortunately the 'thinking of a food that starts with the letter...' game was a massive hit, they got very competitive!

Seumas' master class went well, they're a good bunch of students. He was approached by one of Rachel's third years to play bass in a planned English worship service so he will go to some practices for that... whenever they are.

We got lunch in the cafeteria today, a chunky broth and a bun with a sausage inside. During lunch we were asked by one of the staff, Nara, if we'd like to come with her and her husband to look at summer homes on Saturday. We didn't really know what that meant but said yes. Then she said they weren't taking their children as it would be too cold... if it's too cold for Mongolian children I suspect it will be too cold for Australians but oh well!

After our lessons prep for Tuesday we went to a nearby store that had been suggested to us as a place that might have mittens. It was like a little mall with lots of stallholders. We used sign language and found one pair! They are not as thick and warm as the giant ones that Rachel has been using but she does now have opposable thumbs. She was very happy to be able to dress herself again.

After a quick meal of eggs on toast we went to the nearby Joint Christian Services centre for a service marking the beginning of 40 hours of prayer. There was a Mongolian pastor speaking who challenged us to get out of our comfort zone, commit, and confess our sins and those of the people around us in prayer, like Nehemiah. We sang, prayed, and had communion together. We also got to chat to some people... it's nice to talk in English!

A pretty good day here in Ulaanbaatar. :)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Day 8: Finding some routines

Sadly, our posts might become a little more mundane from this point on: we're settling into a routine and that doesn't provide quite as much 'newness' to blog about.

This morning we woke up to a cold day, -31 in the morning. It warmed up to a manageable -23 by the time we left for college. There was a bit of a prang at the top of the street, which made crossing the road a little difficult. Crossing roads basically means waiting for a gap and then trundling to halfway, and then waiting for another gap. We walked a little way down the road and made our way to college.

We forgot to mention that yesterday we were working in our office and there was a knock, and a guy came in with nicely wrapped presents for us for teaching at UBTC. These were a lovely UBTC pen (in a case), and a UBTC "Happy Tea Time Stainless Cup" - kind of like a thermos/mug with built-in tea strainer. Puts Moore merchandise to shame.

Back to today. Today we taught 2nd year classes. These were a bit more of a challenge, because they have less English, and we aren't real English teachers! Rachel had to try to explain "however" in simple English.

We missed out on lunch today. 15mins late and all the food is gone. But that's okay - the students need it more than we do. We stopped off at the supermarket on the way home for some groceries for a stir-fry.

Oh, we got a recommendation for another store to try in order to get some mittens for Rachel. We'll let you know how that goes.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Day 7 - In The Office

We keep talking about all the sleep we're getting, we know, but it is very odd for us to get eight hours a night and it seems to be the norm for us here so far! Rachel is finally getting rid of the bags under her eyes for the first time in years!

Off to the college again, for our first solo teaching classes. Rachel's face got so cold from the sharp breeze it had pins and needles!

After some misdirection we managed to find our classrooms and get down to it. Rachel felt a bit out-of-control during her lesson: the students seemed to get through the work quickly but possibly without taking much in. The lesson was on eating less meat and more fruit and vegetables which is pretty much the opposite of a normal healthy diet here so that was also difficult. She has taken photos of her students holding a piece of paper with their name to try and learn who they are quickly! Seumas felt his class went pretty well despite the absence of some promised photocopies, though he had to somehow explain 'foreshadow'. Impressively one of his students knew the meaning of 'typology'!

Cafeteria lunch: rice with beef stir-fry and a mantuu. They've already sussed that they should serve us smaller plates than the students!

We then tried a new method of preparation of staying at the college for a couple of hours after lunch. This worked really well for Rachel but not so great for Seumas. Sadly since Rachel still doesn't have clothes that fit properly Seumas is unable to leave her to come home alone. We're going to have to work out how to make the system good for both of us. But Rachel now feels much more prepared and confident about tomorrow's class.

Home after that with a quick stop at the supermarket. Dinner was leftover pasta turned into pasta bake.

We thought some people might have turned up for Bible study not knowing it was cancelled but nope!

Tomorrow... more of the same!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Day 6: First Day at School

The Halls left last night, and we felt that little sense of abandonment as we were sitting in their apartment by ourselves, knowing that outside is a world of Mongolia: cold and non-English-speaking! We really like Mongolia, but coping in foreign land without language is difficult.

Today we woke up (a little late, as the way it goes here), had our breakfast, and tried to piece together where our English classes for today we're up to in their textbook. About 10:15 we headed out into the cold. We stopped into the local-est store (there are little stores everywhere, and because we can't read mongolian, we often don't know what they are selling unless we step inside) and I tried to ask for some batteries. They didn't, but at least that was clear!

Off we went to school, with another stop in another store that yielded no batteries. At school Emma, another English teacher, was waiting in our office, along with Simon, who shares our office. Emma taught a combined class today with our two classes and her own. We helped out and assisted, and it all went fairly well. Tomorrow we take on our own classes. (We have two sets of classes, at different levels, meeting Tue/Thu, and Wed/Fri).

After class, we went and had lunch in the dining hall. Makes the crush at Moore look like a gondola ride - students grab lunch and are done in about 15 mins! We ate a kind of broth with potato, some vegetable matter, lamb, and some Buuz. Over lunch Simon filled us in a little on the Mongolian-language schools we might study at down the track.

We then walked into the city. It was a pretty warm day (top of -6 I think). When the sky is clear you get a really good view, because UB is cradled by mountains, and they are currently snow-laden. We stopped at Sukhbaatar square and took a few photos of Chinggis and Damdin. Then we walked down to Millie's, a kind of western-style cafe, where we had some lemon pie (=the base of a lemon meringue), french fries, and an iced coffee (no milk, just cold coffee with ice). We don't really mean to keep eating a bunch of westernised food, it just happens!

Then we had an unsuccessful shop in UB Mart, failing to find some mittens for Rachel (she has these oversized mittens at the moment, and basically when rugged up outside she has no hand motor skills. The problem of small hands). So then we walked back along Peace Ave., the main road, and went into "Golden Pen Stationery Superstore". Here we successfully bought some AA batteries (hurrah! our camera has been complaining about batteries for a few days, though sometimes I think it doesn't work properly because of the cold), and some pens and paper.

Last stop was the local shop to buy some bread. Then home for a rest, after our big day out.

We're doing well. I wish we knew some mongolian, but it's actually kind of hard for us to arrange to learn some. Our timetable is classes from 11-1 each day, 4 days a week, so sight-seeing, etc., is a little hard.

Pray we get more settled, that our classes go well, and that we get opportunities to share and model Christian faith and life. Also that we keep making some good contacts and relations over here.

Parliament House and a statue of Chinggis.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Day 5 - Getting Ready to Teach

We are starting to sleep in a little bit later... the darkness will do that to you!

This morning we didn't do too much because the Halls were very busy organising the last bits and pieces before their evening flight.

At midday we walked to the college. Our first stop was the office where there are desks for us to use. Then a long conga line of staff and students to meet. It was pretty bewildering. Also we're discovering that it is very awkward meeting people and making small talk when you don't speak any common languages. Mostly both parties just smile and look embarrased. Got the grand tour! It is nice and warm and well-maintained. The desks look sturdy and everything is clean.

The main issue at the moment seems to be a lack of rooms for us to actually teach in. The Halls asked around for us but didn't get any clear answers. Hopefully this will be sorted out without us having to resort to finding a translator.

Next was a trip to visit the other regular teacher at her apartment. She and her husband live in the 'foreigners' block where the apartments are very lovely: just like apartments back home! They live on the top floor and while the stairs are a slog the view was lovely. We imposed on her for some sandwiches and she ran through her plan for our lesson tomorrow (she is going to run all three classes as one with us kind of assisting so we can find our feet).

A quick stop at a corner store afterwards for some extra supplies for dinner and then back home! Rachel cooked while the Halls did their last chores and afterwards Erdenee and his girlfriend came to collect them for the flight.

Now they are gone and we must fend for ourselves! Well, somewhat. They have left us with the numbers of lots of people to phone if we get stuck so we're not abandoned. It is a little intimidating however!

Tomorrow has some lovely weather forecast which we intend to enjoy before some really rotten weather on Thursday.