Wednesday, November 2, 2011


In the process of pulling up Word to start plucking out a lecture I’m giving next week on motivation, I ironically decided I didn’t feel like doing that anymore. Either way, I’ve been trying to pull myself away from the loads of movies/tv shows I’ve been watching lately and instead been attempting to do more reading, writing, or strumming along on the ol’ geetar. So, at least on that front I’m still making progress.

Don’t really know what I was doing last time I wrote a blog, but I’m figuring that things have changed quite a bit since that time. I just tried to find my last document where I compiled them but don’t know where that went, so until I get to the internet I won’t really have an idea. Where to start, where to start…

So, as I probably had mentioned before, the business development center that I worked at last year was in flux and had a blurry future. At that time, they were funded through USDA and… some other organization that I already forget. Anyways, it was a program that was started through a grant I guess, and through no fault of the business, the funding for that program ended over the summer. Through a long and tedious process of trying to find ways to make the business sustainable without outside funding, the reality of the situation was that it would be closed down. Although I do believe that it was a valuable and worthwhile business, the hard truth is that you don’t start a business with a large staff, full office of expenses, etc. Advising/service firms need to be built from the ground up with one or two people and expand as the demand pulls it, especially in a developing economy.

Although the main office in the capital is still up and running, the periphery branches were all closed down. The final swing of the ax for my city’s branch came at the end of September, and from stopping in to see the remaining three workers, it seems like they are at least going to try and keep the business open. Although I don’t believe it will be connected to the main business anymore.

So, even though the volunteers involved in this project saw this coming from a year out, I didn’t actually bail out of that ship until the beginning of last summer. Through some English lessons I was having with a university student in town here, I learned that there was a Japanese volunteer who was teaching marketing classes in English at her school. Also, after learning that he would be leaving this year, the ol’ hamster got on its wheel.

I started to bring up that idea with Peace Corps as it was becoming obvious we were going to need to develop a backup plan. At first, both Peace Corps and the management at the school did not think that the students were proficient enough in English for me to teach. Apparently, the previous teacher didn’t have a whole lot of success with the endeavor. I brought up the idea of me teaching in Mongolian, which was more or less brushed aside because it really was laughable at the time. I thought, though, that if I studied through the summer enough it might be possible, especially if I also had some help with preparation/editing. Granted, I always tend to hit my language goals about 6 months later than I strive for.

Anyways, originally the business I was working with was paying for the apartment that I’m living in, which is actually reasonably expensive, at about 250,000T a month (~200$, or a teacher’s salary for a month). So, for a while I didn’t even know what was going to happen with my living situation when the other source of funding got cut off, what would happen if I couldn’t find another worthwhile job in my city, etc. When it all boiled down, PC stepped in and took responsibility for my housing, which was cool. And also, after this point, it made it easier to find another job because a new organization wouldn’t have to worry about paying for anything. So now, the university that didn’t have much utility for an English speaking business teacher also didn’t see a downside. Might as well have whitey walking around and make the school look better. Good news for me.

So, this all got funneled through around May or so. By then, anyways, my old job was more or less dead in the water. So, for June, July, and August, I started studying with my language teacher for 3 hours a day, 3 times a week. Beyond that though, on the days that I wasn’t actually in class, I was preparing enough stuff to correct and review for 3 hours. To facilitate this, I would do a lot of free writing, read the newspaper and mark grammar I didn’t understand, etc. Also, writing and reading was done with the intensive help of a translating dictionary. Since I’ve learned over the past 17 months that I can NOT remember words unless I write them down and study them, I made a shit ton of flashcards.

The pushing motivation for all of this was that, to the contrary or what others thought, I wasn’t going to waste my time standing in front of a class teaching in a language that nobody understands. I also wasn’t going to tie my success, or at least my ability to not be worthless, on co-workers that may or may not want to work with me. Or to even have the ability to do so. So, with the motivation of my language teacher, whom I love dearly, I set the goal to teach my courses in Mongolian. Fuck the haters, I say.

Granted, when I actually started work and met the people I was working with, and also my directors, it was immediately apparent that I would, in fact, be teaching in English. I wasn’t happy about this, and was pushing back awfully hard to do it in Mongolian.

One thing to say about my language skills: If I have to lean out and just shoot from the hip, my grammar and pronunciation are not good. Especially at this time, to compare the proficiency of my speaking to my writing was night and day. I was reasonably confident at this point that if I could sit and write out my lessons that I would be able to teach reasonably well in Mongolian and, at the very least, have the students understand a lot more than if I taught in English.

So, the conversations/arguments I had to let me teach in Mongolian probably weren’t really helping my case, although I did explain to them about being able to prepare first. The hardest part of it all was that they weren’t very willing to even give me a chance to do it, which I felt was a bit ridiculous. That general patronizing/disrespectful tone of the whole situation might have been more aggravating for me than actually being told that I needed to teach in English.
There was also a bit of the “Office Space” type stuff going on, with me having multiple people over me. I had the director of the business department, and also a foreign relations director breathing down my neck. Between both them and some of the other teachers that also wanted to use me as an English tool, I would catch shit from 3 or 4 different people for the same thing. But still, let the haters hate, I say. Like I’m going to take shit? If anything, them saying that I couldn’t just made me want to do it more. And what are they going to do? They weren’t paying for my housing or salary or anything, so I had a bit more leverage.

So, eventually the teachers stopped fighting with me, and more or less said, “ok, go on” and that’s exactly what I did. My first lesson was a 90 minute lecture on the current business environment in the world. That was stupid difficult for me to do. To prepare, I drilled it all out in English, and then translated it to Mongolian. Then I met with my Mongolian language teacher (probably would have quit Mongolia by now if it weren’t for her (no, not Mongolian, Mongolia)) and went through and typed it out and corrected all of my grammar and vocabulary mistakes. Which, at that time, were not sparse. That was also depressing and sobering. For real, that sucked. I left those two lessons feeling stupid and feeling like I won’t ever learn this language. A feeling which I still do feel on a weekly basis. That one was particularly rough though.

Anyways, after getting the lecture prepared, for hours on end I would read it to myself out loud to practice my pronunciation. I would also try to explain things to myself in other ways in case the class wasn’t getting the ideas, etc. I was a nervous wreck, literally losing sleep over the whole ordeal.
The actual lecture went okay. It could have been better, and it could have been worse. All in all, it was what I expected to happen. I would read a few paragraphs and then show a few graphs to explain further, which was difficult for me without preparation. e.g. trying to explain why the yen’s exchange rate shot up after the tsunami. I also passed out copies of my lecture so people could get accustomed to my pronunciation. If not for that, I’m sure people would have really struggled to understand me.

After that first lecture, pressure still continued to teach in English, although now they were saying half in English then in Mongolian. Fine, let’s try it your way, I say. So, in the next class about free trade agreements (how on Earth is a non-native speaker without planning going to understand a lecture about free trade agreements?) I started dropping knowledge in English. As I had said (because come on, when am I ever wrong) they didn’t understand me, and I hadn’t even gotten through 2 or 3 sentences. Switching back to Mongolian I explained that the teachers wanted me to teach in English, but I wanted to teach in Mongolian. I asked them what they wanted, and they told me to teach in Mongolian. So, expecting that, I had prepared the whole lecture in Mongolian as well and went from there. Since then, I’ve got my way and I teach in Mongolian. *waves hand and bows*

Granted, the true maximum amount of teaching I can do a week is about 90 minutes, so I do other projects and crap at school. More than 90 minutes is just too much for me right now. Although it’s getting easier, it’s still quite difficult. If I’m not working on it, I’m resting my dome so I can do more work later. i.e. I’m always thinking about it. I still get nervous, and I still need to practice out loud numerous times before teaching. I also teach a variety of classes (international marketing, finance, management) so it’s a lot of different lingo and junk that I need to get a hold of. And especially for non-finance stuff, I have to do a lot of research to just be able to teach in English for subjects. Who the hell can talk about free trade agreements for an hour? Or motivation? How do you find stuff that is actually worthwhile to say, and not crap to fill up time that will just be forgotten after a test? My position as more or less a guest teacher puts me in an interesting paradigm, although it does kind of disconnect me from the general goals of the other teachers. I could really care less if what I teach doesn’t relate directly to the material on a test, what’s germane to me is that they actually learn something from me. Even further than that, to learn something from me that they wouldn’t be able to learn from other teachers at the school.

Professors just monkey though a book and pull out stuff to fill up time (in America, too). They can teach about the 10 or whatever different kinds of free trade agreements, and I’ll talk about how NAFTA actually bends over the American factory workers. They can talk about the structure of the central bank and how the transactions are accounted for when reducing interest rates, I’ll talk about what actually happened during the financial recession. Actually revisiting what happened during my college career (beyond 1 or 2 professors) I do really agree with the rhetoric I’ve read lately that college really doesn’t instill the critical thinking/analytical skills that it is so widely believed to. Probably because people don’t actually really care, they just want the degree. But I digress…

And that’s my life in a nutshell. I teach on Thursdays/Fridays, then find out what I’ll teach the next week. Research Saturday/Sunday, write Sunday, translate Monday, translate Tuesday, prepare Wednesday, and then the cycle starts over. When this year first started I was awfully close to saying fuck it and bailing. The teaching was very stressful for me, people didn’t want me to do it in Mongolian, and I wasn’t going to stand in front of classes teaching in English as a novelty item. It was pretty much one day on, one day off, thinking about if this year was going to work or not. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to go home, it was more that I wasn’t going to waste my time and PC’s money just to be able to say I made it the full two years. It’s still not completely clear to me that the teachers really think I’m helpful/worth giving their class time to.

Also, I’m pretty over being the foreigner. I really miss anonymity. To be able to go for a walk and not have people starring at you, without having people say some stupid remark, poke their friends and look at you, etc, is something I can’t wait to get back to. For some reason or the other I always think about roaming around the South Side, window shopping, without having to worry about who’s around me. Not to mention a nice double IPA beer at Fat Heads with a Pens game on in the background. Yes, that is America to me.

Although I do miss America, and am reasonably apathetic about life right now in Mongolia, I don’t really see a situation where I would leave early as long as my work stays at least minimally productive. You do, however, start to look at the situation a bit more pragmatically as time goes on. Last year, it was more about not quitting, while now it’s more about justifying my stay through work and productivity. Last year I really never thought about it though. But I think in one of my first blog posts I made a comment about how getting itchy feet after being in Mongolia for a while was going to be a problem for me, and I think that was a pretty good prediction. I think especially after I reached that long, drawn out goal to teach this year… now what? Gotta figure out something else to strive for beyond just making it through, I think.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Yea, so I havn’t done this in a while. After a little bit of poking from the old man over the phone, guess it’s time to jot some crap down. As time goes on, most people in the PC stop blogging because lives become pretty uneventful or at least not much different than life was before. Just because you live in a developing country doesn’t mean that every day is going to be this crazy adventure. After a while, life is just life again, and blogging kinda just seems a bit narcissistic. I think I had mentioned that in one of the first few entries I did, that I thought location doesn’t really make that much of a difference in how happy you are/quality of life. I guess I still feel the same way, even after a winter with -40 degree temperatures with only about 8 hours of daylight. Living is still living, you get the good ones and you get the bad ones. Ya feel me?!

But yea, about to hit my 10th month in country, which is absolutely absurd. Looking back, time has absolutely flown by. The first three months, from what I remember, sucked ass and went slow. I didn’t much care for those ones, having to live with a family that you didn’t know and sit through trainings instead of having a job. After getting moved in and getting my independence back, it’s really been smooth sailing here. I’m still really trying to learn this language, but I’m still not anywhere close to being fluent. The pronunciation is so fucking difficult, and the grammar screws with your head just as bad. In my opinion the pronunciation part is undoubtedly the harder part though. That being said, I am at the point that if I need to communicate anything I can do it, although my accent might be a bit harsh and I might have to say it a couple of times for people to really understand me, and of course have time to think before I speak. Especially if I can write first, my shit is nice. But, listening is still really difficult for me, and my plan is to really try and concentrate on improving my listening skills in the next few months. The personal goal I have for myself is to have functionally learned this language by the end of summer. If that will come to fruition or not is a different story, as all of my language goals have taken much longer than planned. (at the end of this post I’m putting an example of why Mongolian is such a mind fuck, if yer curious)

So, other than putting an awful lot of time into the language and it leaving me feeling like an idiot, I’ve also been going to work 5 days out of the week. There, I don’t really do a whole lot of exciting things. Sometimes I will give trainings about random topics that co-workers need to learn more about (e.g. email marketing, proper survey techniques) to other collaborative things like developing a new business plan for our company. As of right now, our business gets funding through the USDA, but funding is up for our particular project in the middle of the summer, so from there, we need to be self-sustainable or the doors will shut. So, there was quite a bit of work that was done with that. But after it was finished, I have not really been busy. The people I work with are pretty darn competent so there isn’t a whole lot I feel I can add to the whole back office scene of things, especially because there have been a few volunteers in my same business before me. Teaching English in the office goes on and off depending how busy people are. I guess in a nutshell, my actual assigned position isn’t very exciting, although I really do like all the people I work with. They are all genuine, fun, funny, good people.

Outside of work, I recently sent an application for a grant I’m waiting to hear about that deals with bringing some agricultural equipment (more or less an aeration/tilling machine) up here that will be used to test out a number of different ideas. Really briefly, if all goes as planned, I’ll be working with a dude here to set up pilot alfalfa growing programs in some areas that could be really beneficial to herd animals and dairy farmers. Could also help with getting other deep rooted plants a better chance to thrive here and also help with reducing excess runoff from rains. All stems from issues with the soil here being really hard and difficult, not to mention the harsh weather conditions. ( …reading this it sounds dull as all hell, but I’d be really happy getting into some farming/agricultural hands on pilot work.)

Other than that, I’m starting the groundwork with a co-worker of mine about how to get a cooperative together of disabled people that would want to start a sewing business or a carpentry business or something along those lines. If we could get some people together, which I think we will be able to, I should be able to write a grant or get money to help get the proper trainings and equipment and a building, or at least really cheap loans to help facilitate it.

So, those are the two projects at the moment that I am excited about and really hope that something can come of. This week I plan to stop by a few different organizations in town and introduce myself and tell them what I’m doing here and trying to figure out what kind of projects they are working on and if they can use me in any way or use me to write grants for projects, etc… Starting to get to the point where I’ll be comfortable doing this with the language skills that I have, but it will take patience on the part of the other side. One way or the other, it’s for these reasons I have been trying to learn this tongue. If I don’t I will more or less be stuck behind a desk for the time that I am here and will not have a huge degree of professional independence. Well, I will, as most all PCV’s do, it’s just that I wouldn’t have a whole lot I could do with it.

Also have English/Mongolian lessons with some university students two or three times a week, depending on who doesn’t cancel on me. Those are a joint effort of mine to 1) practice mongolian 2)teach English to motivated students, and 3)to try to meet friends.

Although I am not lonely, per-se, I definitely need to get a crew together that will go out and party with me a little bit. Most friends that I have here aren’t much into having a few beers and dancing like an asshole at a night club to loud house music. Unfortunately for me, that is a hobby I have grown quite fond of over the past few months. It’s just, ah… such a release. But my attempts to find some bros have been a bit hit and miss. Every now and then I can catch a good hang, but I could really go for a good Mongolian bromance. If I can get a little bit of a crew together, things could be a lot more fun and eventful around town. And I mean, let’s be honest here, if I want to go out with some girls I’ve met I can’t just be rolling solo here. I need a home base.

Need. Bros.

So yea, if you’re a Mongolian guy reading this, my names jon, I like long cold walks on the gobi sands, staying out late and dancing… send me an email or give me a call. Can teach English on request.

Alright, all I can drudge up for now. Maybe ill do this again in a week or maybe I’ll catch yinz guys in another 6 months. If anybody is curious about anything in particular let me know and I’ll write about it. Peeeeeeace!

An example (er two) of why this language is difficult, and why it will make you feel like an idiot:

English: I argue I don’t know how to take this cup

If this was in Mongolian, you would have to add endings to the words to denote which ones are the direct objects, among numerous other things. For example:

Mongolian: I argued I don’t know-aar how to take-iig that cup-iig

Because you are taking that cup, but you don’t know how to take it. And I argued through the idea that I didn’t know…, hence the aar ending. It’s also important that it is THAT cup, and just some other cup…

Whatever, it just builds up when you start getting into more complex conversation/story… its different from English because I kinda have to think ahead to what I’m going to say to figure out which are direct objects. Also, if you have complex sentences, and the subjects are different, you have to change the pronoun to a different case.

English: If I write this sentence, you can understand it

Mongolian: If me-iig write-(bol) this sentence-(iig), you can understand it-(iig)

(But the 'iigs' are kinda dependent on the situation and how well defined that particular sentence is)

(also similar things happen in sentences like: When I was in America, you lived in Pittsburgh)

The point is, I have to think to change that first “I” to the direct object version of “me” because you are the subject in the second part. It’s not that it’s super complicated and impossible to learn/figure out, it’s just that English speakers don’t need to think ahead to what the subject of the second part of the sentence is. It doesn’t sound important either, but it is, because if you don’t change it, it implies that… eh, fuck it, it is important though, and just a couple examples of why I sometimes want to throw my head through a wall.

I think, of course, similar things happen to Mongolians learning English. So, like I have to think ahead of what the subject in the second half of the sentence is, Mongolians have to think about if the sentence is conditional or not. In English, we must say “if” at the beginning of the conditional, but in Mongolian, just putting a (bol) ending at the end of the first sentence/verb is adequate.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Guess it’s about time I threw down some words for those wondering what the hell I’ve been up to. As time goes on, it’s getting more and more difficult for me to add to the narcissistic shrine that is my blog. At least before I could justify it because there were some reasonably interesting stories to tell. However, as time goes on, life is starting to turn into more of… life. And, as with it being an open blog, I have to be at least somewhat discrete about what I write, as people could find this that I might not want knowing the more intimate details of my life and thoughts. As time goes on, maybe I will switch it over to being private to open up the topics I can write, but even now, there wouldn’t be a whole lot to say.
But anyways, as I had kind of led on, life definitely settled down in the last month or so. I’d say I have officially adjusted and settled myself into my new home for the next few years (maybe). Currently, my work has funding from USDA that continues through May/June. After that, when funding runs out, it’s a bit up in the air if we are going to be able to be self-sustainable or not without outside funding, or exactly how a Peace Corps volunteer will fit into a business that is for profit. Generally speaking, PCV’s work for non-profit organizations. As exactly why I’m not sure, but I think it’s so we don’t get completely whored out (e.g. people wanting to charge for English lessons, wanting PCV’s to give trainings/develop clients without co-workers, etc). The real point of a business volunteer like me is to work on capacity development projects at my business, like giving trainings to counterparts and working directly with them. Doing things solo to outside clients kinda misses the point, that is, there wouldn’t be somebody to do it once I leave. That whole “Teach somebody to fish,” thing I guess.
But, I digressed. As I was saying, when the funding runs out, it will definitely shake things up for me at work. I don’t think its out of the realm of possibilities, either, that I might start working at another organization or maybe even move elsewhere. Finding productive sites for business volunteers is a bit more difficult than finding somewhere for a full time English teacher, which most PCV’s are. (Out of the around 70 people in my PC class, only 6 are business volunteers. There are also small groups of health volunteers and youth development volunteers, the rest are TOEFL (teaching English as a foreign language).
Although not full time, I am doing a decent bit of English teaching. 3 mornings a week I'm doing a business English class at my work, and Wednesday evenings I meet with some more advanced students that are trying to get their English up to where they can study abroad. This coming week, I’ll be starting a more basic English class for about 30 Buddhist students, which I’m pretty stoked about. Hopefully I’ll be able to learn something from them as well. I’m probably one of the more selfish people in the PC. Whenever one of my friends told me they were looking for somebody to teach the class, I said I’d do it thinking it would be cool to meet some folks I could learn about Buddhism from. I am a walking and talking contradiction. The ol’ selfish, realist, peace corps volunteer. Wait, what?
But even from the beginning, I wasn’t really doing the PC to “help” people… I think that in itself is a little bit condescending. I wanted to do some more traveling and see the world a bit more, and if people can learn something from me, all the better. I think the whole “invisible hand” way of conducting myself out here works pretty well.

What else, what else. Well, what I have been doing at work is not a whole lot. I’ve given some trainings, taught a bit of English, and helped with advertising and marketing. It’s pretty drab because there isn’t really a whole lot of business advising that goes on, which is what I was expecting. They are really more of a business services company, such as helping people to develop business plans and/or help people get loans for their business. Both of which I don’t have a whole lot of ways to help until my Mongolian develops a quite a bit further. The thing I want to work on is helping businesses to solve problems, (i.e. legit small business advising) but there isn’t a lot of it for me to do. I wrote up an advertisement/program describing a guaranteed solution to any business problem somebody might have. Hopefully it will start drudging up some problems I can help work on. I figure between the internet and my business background I’ll be able to come up with something, and if not, at least it will get me out of the office and meeting customers/seeing their businesses.
So yea, outside of work, I spend most of my downtime either with guitar in hand or watching a movie. My morin khuur has been on the dl for a while because one of the tuning ears on it too loose to stay in tune. I’ve got to take it to somebody, which I probably havn’t put enough effort into. Would be nice if I could just pull out a phonebook and look up “Morin Khuur Repair.”
Friday nights I’ve been playing basketball with one of my English students with a bunch of other people at the school he works at. Some other nights, I'll maybe be hanging out with some of the other volunteers in town, both PCV’s and some from other countries. At the moment, there are a few Euro area volunteers and also a few from Australia.
As of late, after getting settled in, I’m starting to a little itchy again and will probably try to start pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Thanksgiving is coming up, and a bunch of PCV’s are getting together in the capital to celebrate. I figure there I’ll try and set up a few different places to travel to see some friends and a bit of the country.

Yea yea yea… still taking Mongolian classes twice a week, and doing a bit of work outside of class on my own. My motivation wavers, but at the moment, I’m on the more motivated side. As time goes on, I still have the mindset that I need to learn the language and that it’s pretty necessary to be as productive as I’d like to be at work.
Still kicken it at an orphanage on Wednesday afternoons for a few hours as well. Usually end up playing hoops, kicking around a soccer ball, maybe playing some cards or some music together. The kids are pretty cool and I’m starting to get more comfortable around them as well.
Weather is starting to get cold here. The last few nights it was around 0(F) degrees outside. I like the cold though, the air feels so fresh. You can feel it going all the way down your throat. I’m pretty curious at this point what the -40, -50 degree temperatures are going to feel like, but time will only tell how quickly I get tired of it. As it is now, I’m still on my lighter weight winter coat and on my regular shoes, although I usually wear wool socks and I wear wool base layers under my jeans. I busted out my winter boots the one day earlier this week and most people looked at me like I had a dick growing out my head. Although most people do anyways, I guess I need to give it a few more weeks on the boots. But yea, finally chased down those boots this week. They are bas ass, but fucking massive. They are these big leather clodhoppers, lined with fur, with thick felt sock inserts. They’ve got a thick sole on ‘em and seem to be the real deal. I also picked up a heavy leather coat with a second fur layer added on the inside… hopefully it’s the real deal as well, I'm just a little worried the real cold weather will get through the zipper(s) a bit.
Well okay, [insert cliched conclusion/parting here].

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Fuck, I’m a bit typed out after drilling out the rest of that last entry. I started that guy a week ago but ran out of will to finish it. Right now I’m waiting for my challah bread to rise. Looking at the pattern of the last few times I’ve scrawled, looks like something about baking gets me all hot n’ bothered and in the mood to write.
Uhm, anyways, I’ve been crazy busy since getting to my new pad. It’s not like work is super intense or anything like that, it’s just by the time I get home, cook food, and get settled down I don’t have time to do much else. And because of previously described trip, a trade show the previous weekend, the trip to Ulan Bator the week before that, setting up my apartment the week before that, moving here the week before that, moving out of my host families place the weekend before that, etc, etc etc… I literally have not had more than 1 day off sequentially since moving here. I know, I can here the worlds smallest violin playing just for me, but new town, new people, new job, new language, getting sick… it’s fucking exhausting. This past weekend I finally grabbed two days to chill out, and it was awesome.
Today was the first day in a while I havn’t felt massively unmotivated. Having motivation in my position is a must, as I don’t really have anything to “do” at the moment (although I was told today that tomorrow morning I’m giving a 40 minute presentation (really 20 though cause ill have a translator) on how to start a strong business for 20 clients. ‘the fuck?). Its more just me going around to my counterparts and trying to figure out what they are doing or teaching English. Not that I don’t do this when I don’t feel motivated, it’s just that on those days, I’m motivated to do things because I don’t want to look like a complete waste of space all day just eating up company resources. Days where I have internal motivation move a lot quicker and are a lot more enjoyable, probably both for me and for my co-workers that actually have to deal with my bullshit.
Blah blah blah, alright. Don't have much more to say at the moment. Sorry to those that tell me to write and I don’t for weeks at a time. If I wrote when I wasn’t in the mood to I would sound fucking miserable, my writing would be even more awkward, and reading this would be like watching old people have sex. Or wait, is it just, “… be like old people having sex?” I’d say “watching” fits all right, I think it’s slow and painful no matter who’s point of view.

Looking at my last entry, I’m surprised that it was already two weeks ago. I know I’m going to blink and these two years are going to be over. It’s not really that the individual days or weeks go extremely fast, but when I look back at the almost 4 months I’ve been here, it doesn’t seem like it’s been nearly that long. Annnyways…
Trying to get some details down about this last weekend before I forget them all, or at least write down the ones I still remember after drinking enough vodka to kill a small horse. Back whenever I went to UB (Ulan Bator, the capital) with my company, they won an award for best branch of the year. Cool, but its not like I had anything to do with it since I had only been there for a week. But, one of the perks of the deal is we took an overnight trip to this scenic camp type of area about an hour and a half north of town. I knew we were going to be sleeping in a ger(felt tent) but I didn’t know how many or exactly what we were going to be doing.
Got up there around 8 or so Friday night, and started things off with a beer and cracking a bottle of vodka, which is pretty much standard play whenever groups of people get together here in a relaxed setting like that. At this point, there are about 11 er 12 of us in this tent because a few other people ended up coming as well. Around this time I also gathered that only had one ger where we would all be sleeping.--- (9-28 now, but finishing this entry off)--- Which was cool, because whatever, but it was so drastically different than America. How often would you end up sleeping with in the same room with 11 of your counterparts, managers, and bosses? I wasn’t sure how the end game was going to end up, because there were about 6 small beds laid around the periphery of the ger. I didn’t know if we were going to be doubling up in the bed or if a few of us were going to be hitting the floor. I was just hoping it wouldn’t be too awkward later on in the night.
The booze came on to me pretty quick because I had been sick all week with stomach issues and wasn’t holding in a whole lot of food. I was on the better end of things by then but was still using pepto and some other industrial strength medicines to keep my belly in check. Around the time I thought the night was dying down, 2 of my counterpart’s husbands showed up strapped with plenty more vodka. Ended up drinking a few more bottles of vodka and drinking more beers before the booze was gone.
In my experiences so far, no night of drinking with Mongolian women is ever complete without a good round of a dance party. No difference out in the middle of a ger camp either. We had no radio, but one of the guys that showed up later had a car, and that got turned up and we had a dance circle outside at 2 in the morning in 30 degree weather. Dancing circles here are about as awkward as it gets. People don’t really dance with each other here… you just stand around in a circle and dance with yourself while looking at other people. Extremely weird at first, but aftertime you kinda get used to it.
So yea, shortly after that my ass passed out on the floor in my sleeping bag with my shirt off. Was glad I didn’t have to double up in a tiny ass bed with a counterpart. Would have made for a strange night and even stranger morning. The morning was weird as it was anyway because by the time I woke up out of my drunken stupor most people were already up and walking around. Got my shit together a little bit and threw on my shirt, and sat up on one of the beds and waited for something to happen. Had no idea what we were going to be doing for the rest of the day other than having a khor khug(that sheep/goat cooked in a barrel thing). But, for hangovers, the choice breakfast here is a bucket of romin noodles. Packed with us on the trip was a boxfull of the stuff, so we all ate our romin without much talking. After breakfast, at about 9 o’clock, a bottle of vodka gets cracked and beers start to get passed around. Was not looking forward to this part as my belly was still three sorts of fucked up from being hung over and still a bit sick. I took the shot(s), but at first resisted the beer. I tried to explain that I usually don’t drink in the mornings, which was met with various degrees of disgust. A man dropped the Mongolian version of “when in Rome do as the Romans do,” which here is “if you drink the water, follow the customs.” Which I then translated to, “you mean if you drink the water, drink the beer?” Which got some laughs. Soon after, I was successfully peer pressured into drinking it.
The khor khug wasn’t a full animal this time, but just a few large cuts of it. The previous day, the morning before we left, somebody from my work stopped by the market and got some cuts of meat, which were stored in our conference room all day (no fridge) and then laid out in the ger for the night and morning before it was cooked. These are the kinds of things that my stomach and body need adjusted to… Americans just arnt built to handle it here right out of the box. Another for instance… going to the meat market here, there are just butchers in a room, and you pick which meat you want (goat, camel, sheep, cow, horse, etc… although I havnt seen camel yet. I also havnt looked that hard for it. Horse is surprisingly good) The meat isnt in a fridge or anything like that, and the butcher is usually kind enough to shoo away the flies before you pick the cut you want. I usually get the meat ground on the spot for ease of cooking later. The time before last that I bought, I had to pick a fly out of the meat before throwing it in the pan. It’s not the things you see that you worry about, though.
But I digress. Khor khug is fucking delicious. I could eat it everyday. Usually real tender and spiced really well, cooked with potatoes and carrots. I have also taken to getting a hold of the bigger bones after its all over, cracking them open, and eating the marrow. Sometimes you gotta dig it out with a small stick, though. This particular day I was the only one doing it, and I think I pulled some respect from the other Mongolian men. *puffs out skinny chest with pride*
Eating khor khug is also kinda funny because of how gruesome it is. Mongolian women are very rarely out in public without being well dressed and put together, and after waking up in a tent it’s no different. Quick touch ups of make up, some brushing of the hair and other quick primping, and it’s right back to status quo. Seeing a well dressed woman grabbing a sheep bone and going to fucking town is kind of strange at first. I hope all you feminists don’t get your panties in a bunch over all that. (and yes, I grossly overestimate the amount of people that read my blog. Blow me)
Ah, yet again, I digress. After grubbin down and getting’ my marrow on, time for another round of vodka and beer drinkin’ It’s ceremonial to drink after eating khor khug. Ive been told the vodka helps to keep your stomach from getting sick, which I’m a little skeptical about, but it is an excuse non-the-less. We all drank another 2 or 3 bottles of vodka… I forget which it was. Those of us still drinking by the end of things were sitting outside the tent passing around a cup that we take shots of. Behind us, there was a half basketball court with some teenagers playing hoops. After the last bottle was gone, one of the guys I was drinking with asked if I wanted to play some hoops. “Yes.” Nothing like some drunken hoops on a Saturday morning/early afternoon.
Hoops was a blast playing with a bunch of random people and just being tall as fuck. The one time I blocked a kids shot from behind my team mate that was guarding him. We all just kind of laughed. But yea, straight domination on the court. We did lose one game though… people can shoot here. After the game, we were all packing up to leave, but about 10-15 teenagers/people had kinda started to watch us play and a few wanted a picture with me before I bailed. So, somewhere around the Russian border region there are a few pictures of the tall, sweaty ass American after some intense drunken b-ball games.
On the way home, we pulled over because a few friends of my workers were meeting us. And yes, they brought vodka. By now, most people were either rather adamant about not drinking, or when given a shot they didn’t drink the whole thing, or just touched their lips to it and gave the cup back to the person pouring it(both generally accepted to get out of drinking, although I’ve seen it not work before). Before that bottle was gone, I ended up drinking another 4 or so shots in a period no longer than 15 minutes. Fucking hammered, but that pretty much summed up the rest of that trip. The car ride back was uneventful because I was past out drunk.
Other noteworthy things for the trip:
I saw a pregnant lady be awoken from sleep to take a shot of vodka
a new mother milk herself into a cup and then an unrelated grown man drink said cup (not saying it would have been normal to me if he was related… just sayin.)
and a blacked out, past out man be awoken to take a shot of vodka

(all three of which are fine and dandy here, yet you do give a double take sometimes… especially the milk thing)

Monday, September 6, 2010


Alright, I’m a little bit sour at the moment because I just burnt my last batch of home made donuts, but I think I’m going to be okay. But, the from scratch ravioli I made myself for dinner were awesome, so suck it. Anyway, the melancholy I feel because of my botched pastries is a bit overlooked by the fact that I’m typing this on my new computer and no longer have to deal with the painfully slow and messy process of writing in a notebook. I don’t know how you bona fide writers do it. Punching keys is much more relaxing for me, and not to mention efficient. But I guess that’s why I’m here doing business work.
Although, I still have yet to do a whole lot of it. This past week was spent mainly in the capital where my business had their annual “all staff conference,” where everybody from all the different branches come into UB to talk about stuff. Included in this stuff was an opening ceremony sort of thing where each branch had to do a different introduction/skit sort of thing. So, when we were meeting at my branch and trying to figure out what we were doing, some people had the idea of doing a dance. “Jon, do you know any dances?” And instead of keeping my mouth shut, I told them I did, and that it was a dance to Thriller. They loved this idea, and I then showed them the choreographed dance that I did to it while I was studying abroad in Australia. Fortunately, they only wanted to do the first half of it, and didn’t want to do the other dance that I showed them, which was to Justin Timerlake’s Bringing Sexy Back.
Instead, they wanted to make a dance to the Shakira World Cup Song, Waka Waka, which I still think is the most annoying song I’ve ever heard, and probably more embarrassing than Sexy Back. First, I taught the branch the rendition of thriller, and then, after taking a few moves from the video and making up a few moves of my own, worked though the Shakira song. All this with yours truly in the lead position of a V shape. Like the 6’3 American hippie needs any more attention.
After choking on stage with the ol’ morin khuur, dancing this in front of 70 people made me a bit nervous but really not that bad. It all went smoothly, including the end when I finished up with the worm. The thing I was most worried about was my arm giving out when I was dropping to the floor and then eating shit in front of everybody. Anyways, a video of this I have, and will be posted shortly, even though I have a queer grin on my face the whole time. I resorted to a fake smile instead of the deep-in-thought-look I usually have on my face while dancing… lesser of two evils.
The rest of the time spent in UB was rather uneventful, but I did get drunk that night with everybody else and had a dance party. The night got pretty fuzzy by the end of things but I think I made it out without making too big an ass out of myself, but I was a dancing fool. I also had a chance to roam the city a bit after all my other co-workers went home and I stayed an extra day. Was able to make it to the big black market, where I grabbed a nice leather bag for 20 bucks and a nice northface jacket that is heavy enough to maybe get me to November for 35 bucks. People have told me they are rip offs, but I’m not sure I believe it. If they are, they are damn nice ones. All the tags, all the logos… even the plastic bag it was in had the NorthFace logo on it. I think that maybe they bang these things out in China somewhere, and if they can sell them here for more than they cost to make, might as well, even if it is 100 bucks cheaper than in the US. Everything is crazy cheap here in the markets. Just today in my city I got around to finding a tailor who is hand making me a pair of dress pants for 20,000T, or about 15-16 bucks.
Had the time to roam around and figure it out because I finally got around to putting my foot down at work about hours. Working 9-1 on Monday and Wednesday, and 9-6 the other days, leaving me at 32 hrs/week not including lunch hours. I had talked to another volunteer that works at an orphanage here with kids that are between 8-16 er so, and I’m going to start going there on my newly free Wednesday afternoons with my geetar. I figure I’ll kick it there and try to see what kind of trouble I can get myself into. They also have a small basketball court so I might just end up ballin’ out on some kids. I’m mad tall, no way they can hold me down… I’ll throw bows if I have to. And, tonight, some other volunteers put together a Monglish Club meeting at a restaurant. During which, Mongolians and Americans are supposed to speak both languages. But, as bad as most of ours Mongolian is, the eight of us only spoke English. However, I did find out that they are interested in having a regular English class, and was able to set one up for every Monday. Apparently I’ll actually be starting up the club again and taking over the spot from a previous volunteer that used to run it until he left a few months ago. The people that were there already spoke English very well, but just want more practice. A lot of people here want to take the TOEFL exams, which as far as I understand, is an English exam that you need to help get scholarships and study abroad in English speaking countries.
I was also able to talk somebody that has the scoop on a good Mongolian teacher that I can use for some tutoring to help develop my language a bit more. I’ve come to discover that I’m a bit too lazy to pick up the book and teach myself. Having a few hours planned out each week might just be enough to force me into it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


I guess I'll take some time and put some thoughts down after the blur that was my first week in my new city has now passed.
Working in a office is about how I remember it being: boring as shit and looking for ways to waste time without it looking too obvious. But, I'm blaming a lot of that on this week as it is the “introductory” week, and I don't really know exactly what I'm going to be doing yet. I have been told numerous times that this was going to happen and to expect it, so I'm not too worried about it. Before I can really dig into things I'm going to have to take time and get to know the people I work with to be able to figure out what kind of things people need help with.
I also remembered after this week that I still don't particularly care to work these rest of my time in an office, even if it is for the greater good. Fortunately at PC, it's supposed to be around 30 work hours in the office. That way, there is still room for community initiatives and actually being a community member rather than just the white dude you see walking around in work clothes sometimes. But, the director to my office was out this week, but I do plan to get a schedule set up before things get too settled in.
For the time being though, I've been working closer to 9-6 and sometimes later. By the time I've gotten off work, got home, made some food, done laundry, cleaned the house, and then pull my head out of my ass, there's not much time for me to do anything else. It will be a lot nicer once my apartment is set up as well and I don't need to be putting it together after work as well.
Anyways, not sure yet what kind of things I want to get into in the community, but I think maybe I'll figure it out when I get a chance to experience it a bit more. And I guess to do that I'm going to need to keep working on my Mongolian, which I've fallen off with a bit these last few weeks. However, my pronunciation is starting to get to where people can actually understand me. Haggling at the market is a rewarding experience not because of the saved money but because of the satisfaction of having another person actually understand me.

The week before I moved to my city was a massive clusterfuck of moving out of the town where PST was, to the capital for 3 days for the signing in ceremony and other training, and then finally heading to my new home. And also the talent show was while I was in the capital, which might have been the biggest learning experience I've had so far.
The song I played on the morin khuur was a very difficult song, and a lot harder than what I should have tried to learn in two months. The only real help I got from teachers before hand was them telling me to pick a different song. But alas, as stubborn as I am, I refused. So, for the weeks leading up to the show, I was literally practicing between 2-3 hours a day.
By the week of the show, I was able to play it fine by myself, but in front of other people I would get nervous and choke up, sometimes forgetting the song, cracking notes, or usually both. After some more practice, I was comfortable in front of small groups of people..
The day of the show there were about 250 people in the auditorium, including all of the new PCV's supervisors from their new work/school, PC staff, and other volunteers and friends from different years. I was exhausted from the week, and nervous as all hell. When they finally called my name to go on, I dragged the chair to the center stage, sat down, got set up, and then took some deep breathes to try and steady my violently shaking hand. It didn't work.
I choked through the first half of the song, missing notes, forgetting parts, and pushing through it. Anything but stopping and leaving the stage. I dont remember a whole lot of it, I just remember it as being a dream like haze, almost like I was watching myself play rather than just playing myself. My hand was shaking so bad that my fingers would sometimes miss the strings or hit the wrong parts, and on some of the more technical parts of the song a spot just a half fingertip's width will play in a completely different note or cause it to crack. I kinda pulled it together by the end, but I definitely choked in front of an auditorium full of people.
And it wasn't that bad, I just wish I had another chance to do it, which I'm not sure I'll get. But, if I can live through doing something like that, other stupid shit where I might make an ass out of myself are going to be a lot easier now. With as many awkward things that I'm going to do and say, then probably crash and burn after, they probably wont ever compare to that. Also, I kind of realized afterwords how stupid it is to get that anxious and nervous. There's no need for it, it doesn't do any good. I'm a bit upset I let it effect me so severely, and I think I'll remember that in the future. Anyways, as the old man always says, if you're going to make an ass out of yourself, you might as well do it in public.

More about the place where I'm at now... It's a big small city, although in Mongolia its either the 2nd or 3rd largest after the capital. Its big enough to get anything I need/want food wise, except some different spices and things for cooking western food, which is getting shipped from the good ol' USA. The city is apparently where the most beautiful women in Mongolia come from, and I would have to say I whole hardheartedly agree, even though I've only been a few other places. Even more, I work in an office with 7 other women, but there is another dude that just started working here.
Completely different workplace dynamic as all that goes. In Mongolia, there really isn't that whole “sexual harassment” thing. For example, while I was getting introduced to different girls in the office, the one lady was pointing out who was single, who wasn't. A joke, but still much different. And also, from what I've been told during training, things like holiday parties and other work events where booze is involved can sometimes lead to some rather “sexually themed” games.
The only thing I can say though, is that in Mongolia dating is also a lot different. If you're out with somebody in public, dating, and it goes on for more than a few months, you are practically married. What a mess that would all turn into. But, saying as how I'm in a bigger city and not in a small village somewhere, it might be a bit more like it is in American, but I kind of doubt it.
Then again, I am living in pretty modern conditions. It's a pretty nice place, and definitely nicer than anywhere I've lived alone before. It's a two bedroom apartment with a kitchen and full bathroom, Hot water, a refrigerator, and a stove. A bit under furnished, and I still have to hand wash my clothes, but I'm definitely more part of the “posh corps” here, as compared to the folks living out in tents in the middle of nowhere with few amenities. Us business folk usually get put into more populated areas and end up with better living conditions. Still havn't made up my mind about how I really feel about living in such a nice place. But, I do enjoy the hot water. Being able to quickly rinse off before bed is awfully nice.