Mongolia Monday- If You Would Like To Hear Some Spoken Mongolian…..

Gandan Monastery, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 2008

I’ve posted a number of music videos here on my blog, but it occurred to me this morning that so far I’ve not posted any spoken work. I happen to love listening the Mongols speak their language, even if I mostly don’t know yet what they are saying. I thought that you might enjoying hearing what it sounds like.

Here’s a YouTube video of the recitation of a famous poem “Love One Another, My People” by one of Mongolia’s most beloved poets, O. Dashbalbar. It is followed by an English translation.

It’s accompanied by “White Stupa No. 1”  from one of Mongolia’s favorite composers, N. Jantsannarov. The images are a wonderful look at Mongolia. I recognized quite a few of the places.

Love one another, my people, while you are still alive.
Don’t keep from others whatever you find beautiful.
Don’t wound my heart with heedless barbs, and
Don’t push anyone into a dark hole.

Don’t mock someone who’s gotten drunk,
Think how it could even be your own father.
And, if you manage to become famous,
Open the door for happiness to others!
They should also not forget your kindness.
To someone who is lacking a sngle word of kindness,
You should search for it and speak it out.
Whether outside in the sun or at home when it’s cold,
Don’t spend one moment at rest.

Don’t use harsh words to complain, you women,
About the kind young man you remember.

Speak lovingly to those who loved you!
Let them remember you as a good lover.

Our lives are really similar,
Our words constrict in our throats the same way,
Our tears drop onto our cheeks the same way –
Things are much the same as we go along the road.
Wipe away a halt woman’s tears without a word,
Talk your lover up when she’s tripped and fallen!

Today you’re smiling, tomorrow you’ll be crying.
Another day  you’re sad, and the next you’ll be singing.
We all pass from the cradle to the grave –
If for no other reason, love one another!
People must not lack for love on this wide earth!
I grasp happiness with the fire of my human mind,
The golden shines lovingly upon us all the same, and
So I think that loving others in the path of life,
I understand that to be loved by others is great joy.

You can find out more about Dashbalbar here.

Mongolia Monday: The Best Camping Trip Ever, Part 8 – Khuisiin Naiman Nuur National Park

One of the places I most want to go back to and spend a week camping, painting and sketching is this place. For me, the “Valley of the Yaks” is the whole package. Green mountains, beautiful small rivers, herders, their gers and their animals, raptors like black kites and absolutely no visitor infrastructure at all.


Gers in the valley



First yaks we saw


We drove more or less to the end of the road, which was at the top of a steep slope. There was, of course, an ovoo. Getting out and looking over the top, I noticed two things right away: A drop dead gorgeous mountain lake, one of eight in the park (“naim” means “eight” in Mongolian”) and that the road continued down, and I do mean down, the other side at about a 45 degree angle. Needless to say, almost no one is crazy enough to drive it even though it is the only road in the park that provides access by car to any of the lakes. The only other way to get to them is to walk or ride a horse. We climbed up the slope, joining quite a few Mongol day-trippers. Even though nothing in particular was going on, there was a festive feeling in the air.


One of the lakes of Naiman Nuur National Park; road to right, after it's leveled out some





I took my lake photos and also got some more good wildflower images, then it was time to drive back down the hill and find a campsite. We passed some Mongol guys who were sitting and chatting by the side of the road. As we went by, one of them, who had obviously noticed that I was a westerner, yelled out “I love you!” Almost without thinking, I yelled back “Bi mongol dortei!”, “I like Mongolia!”. For some reason, Khatnaa and Soyoloo thought this was hilarious, burst out laughing and high-fived me. Khatnaa then decided that I had to learn another Mongol sentence: “Bi argaliin udad dortei” which means “I like dung smoke.”, a reference to our stay at Orog Nuur in the Gobi. I think I ended up having to repeat it at every ger we visited after that. All in good fun, of course.

The time had now come to find a spot to camp for the night. I was looking a little longingly at a place right down next to the river, certainly a prime spot that one would gravitate to in America. But up on higher ground was a dirt ring where someone had set up a ger. That’s the spot that Khatnaa picked and when it started to rain pretty hard later on, it was obvious that he had made the right choice and my choice might have gotten us quite wet if the river level had gone up very much.


Campsite after the tents had been taken down; what a view!


As I sat enjoying the late afternoon light, suddenly I had to grab my camera body with the long lens. A herder had come down the other side of the river and was rounding up his yaks. I reeled off about 170 images from the comfort of my camp chair.


Local yak herder


After dinner, we all sat and chatted until suddenly the wind kicked up and then it started to rain. Bedtime.

The next morning was beautiful and I got some more long range shots of the same herder milking some of his yaks. Soyoloo and I took turns washing each other’s hair down by the river.

I hated to leave, but promised myself that I would return and have more time.


One of the rivers


We re-traced our route back down the valley. On the way, we stopped for more yak photos. I had, not unreasonably, thought that the bigger ones with horns were the bulls. Then I saw an actual bull. He was absolutely huge and had no horns. The herders remove them because, armed with what are essentially two long, sharp spikes, a bull yak would be a very dangerous animal to have around.


Bull yak on right



Yaks, gers, windmill, car


The gelded yaks, like the ones above, are called “shar”, Mongolian for “yellow”. It seems to be the term applied to any gelded livestock. I don’t know why yet.

We also passed a number of herds of horses. It looked like the airag supply was good.




Back out of the valley, we passed this little riverside drama, but didn’t stay to see what happened next.


Someone made a poor decision


We drove past a family who was setting up housekeeping. I thought this was a good photo of a ger without the felt covering, plus, what a lovely spot to live!


Soon to be home, sweet home


We also went by this small monastery, located outside of a soum center.


Small monastery, with stupas


Continuing on, we were soon going up in elevation and I started to see forests for the first time. We stopped for lunch on a hillside covered with wildflowers.


Lunchtime view


Next week: wildflower heaven and a famous waterfall.

Mongolia Monday: Teaching Myself Mongolian

Today I thought I would share how I’m studying to learn Mongolian. I had two years of German in high school and before that, had had some private lessons in Japanese before a trip that my mom and I took with two other couples to Japan in 1968 when I was fourteen. That’s pretty much the extent of my foreign language experience. (Trying to teach myself Welsh was a non-starter and I don’t know that learning to read the Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English counts)

Before my second trip to Mongolia in 2006, I decided that I both wanted and needed to learn at least a little of the language since I was going to be traveling on my own for over three weeks with only Mongolian guides and drivers. The guides, at least, speak decent English, but I was going to be finding my way around Ulaanbaatar on my own part of the time.

The first sign I could read; the ubiquitious "KHAN BANK"; Hovd,Sept. 2006

I advertised in our local news/art/culture weekly for a Mongolian tutor (in rural Humboldt County, California?) and, guess what, I got a phone call within two days. Seems a woman from Mongolia, who had met and married an American guy who was there serving in the Peace Corps, was at a party with her husband and a number of people asked them if they had seen the ad.

It turns out that she had only been in this country for a couple of months, so her English was still very uncertain. He called me and we set up a meeting between her and I. It went well and we were able to get together about a half dozen times before I left. Even better, we’ve stayed in touch and become friends with them.

She drilled me in basic pronunciation, got me going with some basic vocabulary and taught me necessary phrases like “hello”, “thank you” and “I’m from California”. Her husband contributed a word to use if someone hassled me- “Yasambay!” (sic), which means “What are you doing?”, the idea being that the person would be so shocked at hearing Mongolian from a non-Mongol that he/she would immediately stop whatever they were doing. As it happens, I’ve had no occasion to say it so far.

That tutoring, plus a copy of the Lonely Planet phrase guide for Mongolian is what I had until last year.

Banner for tent sales, Narantuul Market; Ulaanbaatar, May 2005- top line: "GERIIN MOD, ASAR MAIKHAN" - Geriin is, I believe, the possessive of ger, the felt "tents". Maikhan are the summer tents; "ONO MONKH", followed by "GERIIN BUREES KHOSHOG, TSAVAG"; OYUU TSAGAAN", followed by "BREZENT MASHIN KHUCHLAGA"; last line "UTAS", "Call:"

After sitting mute, and depending on a translator, during my three days of meetings with the herder women in July of 2009, I decided that it was time to get serious. While I was in Ulaanbaatar I bought Mongolian-English and English-Mongolian dictionaries.

When I got home I started to comb the web for a language program and found one from Transparent Language. (None of the other major foreign language companies offer Mongolian as far as I can tell). It is based on word lists that are viewed on “cards”. Each word is in Mongolian Cyrillic and and a transliteration into the Latin alphabet. One can also listen to a male native Mongolian speaker and repeat back each word. It even lets you slow down the speaker so you can hear the word better. There are a variety of other activities like typing out the words and some simple games.

I had also bought a small stack of music CDs and rapidly realized that I could use them, too. The perfect two-fer, listen to cool pop and rock music and study Mongolian at the same time.

Billlboard; taken from train on the way to Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, April 2005 (I may have started to fall in love with Mongolia at this point, seeing the bactrian camel cart)- "MONGOL SHUUDAN BANK"

But I was still struggling to get anywhere. As it turns out, my husband had to learn Russian when he joined the Air Force (and if I say any more, I’ll have to kill you). He told me the first thing he and his classmates had to do was memorize the Russian alphabet overnight. He suggested that I back up and learn the Mongolian cyrillic alphabet. I managed that in a few evenings and suddenly it got a little easier.

I’d started to “collect” words, writing them on a pad of paper. That reached its limit of practicality pretty quickly. I bought a copy of Bento, the consumer-level database program for the Mac and created my own word list, which is divided into categories like English, Mongolian, part of speech and subject (animal, food, furniture, etc.). I can sort my list by any of them, which is very useful and why I bought a database. It will be on my laptop, which travels with me, but I’m also going to print it out in each category to have handy in the car or when I’m walking around.

Recently, a commenter on another post told me about Anki, a downloadable program that generates “cards” with whatever content one wants like, say, Mongolian words. This is the same model the Transparent Language package, Byki Deluxe, uses, but those are pre-set. I’ve downloaded Anki, which is free, but haven’t had time to mess with it.

Well, that banner was a surprise. Are there actually any collies in Mongolia? I have no idea. Ulaanbaatar, Sept. 2006- "SHINE (new) BARAA (merchandise) IRLEE ("has arrived", I think it means)"

Then a French Facebook friend (say that fast three times) told me about PowerWord, which includes Mongolian as one of their offerings. So, for $8.99, I now have a Mongolian language program on my iPhone, too. It is also based on word lists, like Byki, but so far I think I like the way it’s organized better. It also has a spoken component, this time with a female voice.

Of course, the best and fastest way to learn will be immersion in the language once I get to Mongolia. But I hope I’ve “primed the pump” for rapid progress with the study that I’m doing before departure.

Chinggis is everywhere; Ulaanbaatar, Sept. 2006- "ENERJI"; the lines above and below the main word are in a script that I can't quite figure out for every letter. The block lettering is easy by comparison.

Comments and corrections welcome!