Saturday, 26 January 2013


So Mongolians don't get their first haircut until they are 3 or 5 years old for boys 4 or 6 for girls. The date of the first haircut is decided by the year of birth (Chinese animal year), the current year and finding an auspicious day. There is a whole ceremony and ritual surrounding this first haircut.

We recently had the honour of being invited to one such ceremony, it was the day after the party in the country.

We arrived at the apartment, to find the table laden with food and people sitting drinking milk tea and eating.
We were invited to sit and given the tea. Nothing can happen in any household until the guests have drunk milk or milk tea. Then despite the full table more food came out of the kitchen. Apart from the great salads there was some of the best buuz I have yet tasted. There was also lots to drink, vodka for the men and wine for the women. If you want to stop or slow down then leave your glass over half full or it gets topped up. hic.

After a while we were invited to actually cut the hair. The ceremony had started with the first cut around 7 in the morning when family began to arrive, at that time he had waist length hair. It was shoulder length when we arrived at  about 1:30. The men were the first to cut, oldest first. A blue khadak had been tied to the scissors and the khadak was made into a kind of bag at the other end. You cut the hair placed it in the pocket at the end of the khadak and then gave the young man a toy to replace the hair taken and/or the parents money. Some of the toys were elaborate some simple. Once everyone in the room had cut some hair and made their offering it was back to the table for more food and of course more vodka.

Only now the rules had changed - you were given a shot glass of vodka and told to sing. The glass and the choice of song would then move clockwise, everything goes clockwise here. Somewhat unfortunately I was given the honor of starting off proceedings. After much havering I gave a quick rendition of Auld lang syne sunk my shot and the process carried on around the table. We called for a taxi and sat listening to the Mongolians sing, one by one the glass moved round the table. The holder of the glass would spark up a song and they would all join in, then the shot was downed, the glass filled and passed to the next person. This particular ceremony is not restricted to hair cutting, it happens when ever a bunch of them get together. They have a culture of song here, everyone sings, all of the time. Unfortunately the taxi did not arrive in time to save me from receiving the shot glass for a second time. This time however I took the opportunity to take the 3 shot penalty for not singing and the bottle holder took great delight in making sure the glass was very full on all three occasions. We left at about 4:00pm and at about 5:30 they called a halt to proceedings and took Tushig to the barbers where his head was clean shaved.

It was a great day out but after a weekend partying with the locals I was well and truly done in.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

A birthday or three

Sarah's birthday started early as it should...

Thursday 17th the French restaurant.

Thursday we went to the French restaurant in town for great salad, ok steak, wonderful chocolate desert and a good bottle of red wine.

Friday 18th...

Friday we went to the Japanese restaurant,  for great sushi, wonderful sushimi, brilliant company, and a bit too much sake, Sarah also got given a complete set of Mongolian vodka miniatures.

Saturday 19th...

Then on her actual birthday the real festivities happened in a ger camp out of town.

sadly a lot of snow leopards died to decorate the walls, though these were all confiscated by customs

It all starts with milk

and gifts

and songs

Click HERE for some Horse Head Fiddling


dairy products foreground - Khuushur and Buuz backgound

and then out came the goat

gutted, filled with hot rocks and anything edible and then cooked on an open fire, or with a blow torch


Mae and G.B. announced their engagement in matching sweatshirts

and then on to another ger with more animals on the walls

...and another birthday toast - it was Geoff's birthday the day before

on to what is reputedly the biggest ger in the world

And then continue the party outside
with a bit of Gangham style which is apparently a traditional Mongolian dance as Koreans do not  ride with  two reigns

there were lots of furry hats on show

which Sarah joined 

the drinks table was brought out with a seemingly endless supply of spirit

There was of course singing.

and a bit of wrestling 

while birthday cake was provided inside
 What a spectacularly good day out.

And then on Sunday we went to a very personal and very special 'hair cutting ceremony' but that story is for the next entry - for now just be assured it involved a lot of food, a lot of vodka, some singing, and toys for the wee one. Special very special.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Walking on Water

Or in my case running on water. Ok so it's water that has been kept at a temperature of -10c or below for around 3 months so it's had a pretty good time to harden up.

It was beautiful on the river today, sun was shining, people were out playing, folk were walking, and the occasional car was out for a drive, all on the river, not the river banks, on the actual river.

 A small brass square, with the edges rounded off and with 4 steel pins in the corners is hurled down the ice, a bit like skimming stones, as it spins it makes a great noise. The purpose as far as I can tell is to take out the 'big' wooden barrel in middle. I think he said it was worth 5 points with decreasing value the further away from the centre you get. Some one shouts out the scores as they happen, another sits on a large polystyrene block and keeps score, while several others just get boots in the way of the spinning pieces to stop them going for miles. So what with the noise of the piece skimming along the ice, the shouting of scores, the cheers of encouragement and the sound of quite a heavy brass shape thudding into the felt soles of step boots, it's not a peaceful pastime. I must learn some Mongolian, enough at least to exchange pleasantries and hopefully find out more. We have seen it played on strips no more than 25m long, this one was at least 40m.

If you like your running flat it is a great place to go, beautiful in the sun, and with the right gear good fun. Even with my Yaktrax runner spikes/springs system there were times when grip was hard to come by. You certainly had to keep your centre of gravity right over your feet, so lots of small steps. There were also some unnerving cracking noises occasionally, and with hot water from leaking pipes finding it's way into the river in a few places, you had to pay attention. For the most part I was running on hard packed snow, on top of an awful lot of ice. In places the whole river was smooth and packed down, in others I ran on the 'road', at least I would be safe on the road, even I don't weigh as much as a car.

one of the 'slip roads' and my way off the motorway
The road just keeps going.

 Maybe next time I'll see just how far you can go!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

"Great steaming drains Batman, it's cold"

With the heating and hot water (not that we'd know much about hot water) being provided centrally there is a great network of pipes running throughout the city. Some are underground, some above it and most of them leak, so steam rises out of the ground and some rivers/streams continue to run, at least for a little way. Of course once the steam has risen - it freezes again creating some interesting snow/ice sculptures.

More steam rising from the next manhole a bit further up the road. (Those of you in the UK may not recognise the big yellow shiny thing to the left of the picture, it's called the sun, you may have forgotten what it looks like.)

Our walk continued as it often does out to the river and along the embankment. The river is unsurprisingly frozen over completely now,  and is now in use as a thoroughfare. There is a well worn 'road', many other car tracks, and a number of 'footpaths' all clearly visible on what was at one point a flowing river. Sadly the low sun meant the photos did not come out, but as I'm planning on making the river a bit of a run sometime in the next couple of weeks I'll try and get some pictures then.

One of the 'riverside' gers was inhabited and the stove was on, burning cheap coal (rather than tyres) by the smell. Just to emphasize how well suited to this environment those dwellings are, despite the stove belching out smoke and the inside undoubtedly warm and cosy as a result, there was still a layer of snow and ice on the roof, that showed no signs of melting. Now that's insulation.

It was a beautiful day. The track was easy walking, and ... umm...driving - they will drive anywhere, sticking to the roads is simply not part of the psyche.

The riverside embankment/dyke, if it's wide enough for a car and this section is, it gets driven on.
It was a lovely walk but it was cold, the ski pants and all the gear worked well, though we could both have done with jackets that came a little lower and covered a bit more of us and as ever there was the constant battle with visibility, steamed up/frozen up glasses and a frost nipped nose.

You can't cover your nose and wear glasses, they steam up instantly, then the steam freezes, and cleaning them, even with a proper cloth scratches the lens. Also if you do cover your nose, eventually what ever you are using freezes making it hard to breath. So it's a real dance to maximise breathing, see where you are going without going snow blind, and ensuring your nose doesn't turn black on the end. Then without the glasses the moisture from your breath catches on your eyelashes giving you an entertaining white mascara effect.

...and apparently it was 'only' -18C (positively warm ;-)

It's good to be home!