This morning we met up with our friends,Terry and Gillian Johnston, plus Laverne and Gordie Hogg. They had been touring in Beijing, China for a few days before arriving here in UlaanBaatar, Mongolia so they were use to the time change and hot weather. They all had a fabulous time in Beijing, despite the smog! Gordie and Laverne had already shipped home a set of luggage filled with goodies purchased in China. We split up in the morning because Russ was “temple’d” out from our last sojourn in Mongolia. Russ and I went to the State Department Store to buy him some short-sleeved shirts that he forgot to pack and the others went to The Mandshir Monastery.
Terry, Gillian, Gordie and Laverne had a great morning. The highlight for them was a visit to a herdsman’s Ger! Temuujin, our Mongolian guide, stopped and asked the herdsman if they could visit and he agreed. True to Mongolian hospitality, this man invited everyone into his Ger and shared some fermented mare’s milk with them. They all had a little taste except Gillian who had “accidently” disappeared outside to take some photos. The herdsman then showed them around his site. He milked a mare with a young lady doing the milking while he held the foal beside it’s mom. Laverne held a day old kid (baby goat), which she fell in love with. (We both may end up with goats when we get home). They all said this was a very special time that they will treasure in their memories forever!
The weather in UlaanBaatar was beautiful with blue skies, a warm T-shirt and shorts day. The burnt up Government Building right beside our hotel was almost completely razed. They had been working hard at dismantling it the last ten or so days while we were visiting our home. As Russ and I walked to the State Department Store, we noticed many new construction sites of high-rises being built right beside old timer buildings here in the capital city of Mongolia. Some old buildings are being torn down to make room for the new buildings but these are the very plain and unattractive communist style of building; whereas, the new buildings are unique and very different from each other. One building very near our hotel is all glass and looks like a big sail.
In the center of UlaanBaatar there is a big square where events are held for the citizens of UlaanBaatar much like Tianamen Square in Beijing. On one end of the square is the Government Building (which I assume replaced the burnt one). This building is beautiful, it has many columns in front and an interesting roof line (reminds me of a Mongolian hat). Outside facing the square in the center of the building is a huge statue of Ghengis Khan, on each side of him are men on horseback (his bodyguards) and on each side of them sit two other statues. One is the son of Ghengis Khan and the other his grandson, Khublai Khan. Across the street on two sides of the square, are older buildings that have Roman, Greek and French influences in their architecture. Such as columns, balconies and “eyebrows” over the windows. Of course there are Chinese influences as well with the male and female lions flanking the sides of entrances to some of these buildings. Some buildings even have granite exteriors which are common in Chinese cities. Right behind these older structures are newly built ultra-modern high-rises. One is a sleek black glass skyscraper! The contrast of the old and new plus the noticeable effort of the city expanding into the modern world yet keeping it’s heritage gives the city of UlaanBaatar a very nice feeling. You can see they are working hard at changing their Capital into a world class city. From looking around at all the new construction I do not think the Capital will be moving from UlaanBaatar to Khorkorin at all. From the center of UlaanBaatar looking at all these modern buildings it is difficult to believe that just a couple of blocks away there are people living in Gers!
We all met up for lunch at a Mongolian Restaurant, which is a chain. We had eaten in a similar facility on our last trip, just at a different location. The food and salads are very good, so we like this chain. Our guide, Ksenia, ordered horse soup which had meat dumplings in a broth. She showed us a Russian tradition of eating this type of soup. You pick up a dumpling from the soup with your hand and take a small bite. You hold the dumpling to your mouth where you had just taken the bite and you kiss it. This is a romantic kiss (like you would kiss your husband). She is still a newly wed. The purpose of this kiss is to suck the juice out from the dumpling. After the kiss, the juice is gone from the dumpling and it is safe to bite into and eat. Otherwise if you don’t kiss the dumpling when you bite into the dumpling juice squirts out all over the place.
After lunch we visited the National Museum of Mongolia. Here we learned that the Hunnu Empire of Mongolia was the reason China built the Great Wall. These Huns ruled from the 3rd Century BC to the 1st Century AD. The Huns were also known as The Barbarians! According to Temuujin our guide, Barbara is a female name that came from this Barbarian period. Also the country of Hungary was named during the Hunnu Empire as it was a settlement of the Huns. Temuujin also said that when Mongolian babies are born they have a blue mark on their lower back for a few months and so do Hungarian babies. This same blue mark proves they all came from the Hunnu Empire!
There was a section of gold and silver jewelry that has been excavated in northern Mongolia with the help of the Turkish government. The Turks are helping the Mongolians with the excavation because all these items originated while Turkey ruled Mongolia. The Mongolian language includes many Turkish words that have remained from this period. The territory of Mongolia changed often and different countries occupied Mongolia over the years depending on who won what battle. A popular game played by the Mongolians using ankle bones from goats and sheep are also played in Turkey and China. Other popular games in Mongolia are chess, dominos, and wooden cube puzzles (this may have been where the Rubic’s cube originated).
The Mongolian alphabet was changed in 1955 from their top to bottom writing style of script to the left to right Russian alphabet. Another interesting item are the Mongolian hats. There are approximately 100 different styles of hats. The Mongolians like to decorate their hats with owl feathers because owls represent wisdom! (Athena you would like these hats). Hats are divided into styles for men, women, children, girls, religion, state and ornamental. Hats are made of brocade, silk, cotton, fur or velvet. Rivets, knots, belts and long tassles are all part of the hats. The top of the hat symbolizes as a blossom and points toward heaven; whereas, the loop of the knot symbolizes the moon and the red rivet is the sun. The mandel (shape of the hat) represents fire. Also the Mongolians have a tradition that forbids them from placing the hat on the ground. Their hats are considered to have good luck so they often trade them with a friend to share the luck. Women wore head pieces under their hats with long beads draping down each side of their face. The reason for this was to extend the look of their face from a round face to a long and narrow face.
After a woman got married she changed the style of her hair by parting it down the middle into two sections on each side of her head. These sections were then glued together into a flat piece of hair going from the side of her head outwards. The hair looked like a flat felt ponytail on each side of her head. The glue was made from boiled ligaments of animals which I guess gets very sticky. It is amazing what we women do to make our men happy.
Clothing worn by the Mongolians is very interesting. Boots have curled up toes to protect the earth (the toes do not dig into the ground). Also the Mongols walk very slowly to not disturb the earth. As I have mentioned previously the men wear cloaks tied with a big sash. From this sash or belt they hang things. One item is a metal purse where they house the tools to make a fire. Another item is a silk bag where they store their metal cup. They do not want to spread germs so they carry their own cup around. They also have a smaller bag to hold their snuff bottle. The exchange of snuff is one of the most important jestures of traditional welcome (as well as sharing the fermented mare’s milk). The top of the bottle determines it’s value. They prefer the top to be made of red coral. The bottles themselves are made from precious materials such as agate, jade, chrystal, tourquoise or rare wood.
The battle clothing is also very interesting. Helmets were made of metal caps with leather flaps. (Flaps down for war and up for peace). Underwear was made of silk. Silk is very tough and arrows had a hard time penetrating the silk. If an arrow did manage to go through the silk and pierce the skin, the silk would wrap around the arrow which allowed the warrior to pull the arrow out of the wound by pulling on the silk. This also prevented the poison from entering the bloodstream. On top of the silk underwear, was leather armor which was coated with a laquor substance that protected the leather from arrows and weather. The laquor was made from fish glue and was the strongest and most weather resistant material available (according to this museum). Boots were heavy leather and felt socks were worn by the warrior. In winter they covered the boots with fur and wool. They also put a fur helmet over their hats.
In addition to all their clothing the people of Mongolia also wore their passports around their necks. The passports were heavy metal medallians. Gold meant they were free to travel anywhere, silver restricted them from going to certain places and bronze meant they could only travel locally.
The National Museum was very interesting and we learned a lot, much more than I could ever write down. I highly recommend visiting the museum if you ever get to UlaanBaatar. After the visit to the museum I had to go to a medical clinic for a minor problem. In Mongolia every car is a taxi. So Temuujin hailed down a car and he took us to the clinic. You just wave them down and if they want to give you a ride they stop. You pay them so much per kilometer because of course there are no meters. It isn’t very much one or two Canadian Dollars for a half hour ride!