Archive for June, 2009

history in the making

Today, Mongolia inaugurated its first non-former-Communist president. From

Soon after taking the oath of office the newly elected President of Mongolia , Ts. Elbegdorj, gave a call for national unity, asserting that  he would “work to fulfill the trust of those who supported me, and also work to gain the trust of those who did not”. Addressing dignitaries, both Mongolian and foreign, assembled at the Great Hall of Government House, he thanked people for electing him, saying democratic responsibility assumes more importance in times of crisis. On his part, he said he would not be a leader who held office to serve his own personal interests, but would instead give all his energy to serve the great democratic citizenry of a great democratic country.

The historic choice of May 24 showed people wanted reform and change. Above all, they wanted fairness, as much as they wanted clean water and fresh air. A corrupt state system corrodes the nation and renders it powerless. “I want to tell everybody, ‘Stop corruption in state work right from this moment’,’ he said.

His priority would be reforming the judicial system, as the fundamental basis of a truly fair society was that everybody was equal before the law. Mongolia did not need foreign advice or help to achieve this. What it did need was, he said, unity among the people to work for a common purpose.

Turning to guests from abroad, Elbegdorj thanked them all for attending the ceremony and said Mongolia’s traditional foreign policy to have friendship with all nations would be pursued with a new vigor and thrust. Mongolia will continue to have special ties with its two neighbors, but will also seek to be an active member of the world community.

The ceremony went with clockwork precision. Elbegdorj took the oath at 12.06 p.m., knelt before the national flag, and then received the seal of office from his predecessor. He had been persuaded not to wear a business suit as he had wanted, but to stick to convention. He, however, shunned ostentation and while Enkhbayar wore the same deel of handmade silk from 1940 and a handmade hat with 32 cross stitches that he had done when he took office four years ago, the new President was in things more ordinary.

Interesting to note the mention of judicial reform – it is gaining a lot of momentum here as something that needs change.  One of OSF’s policy fellows is working on this same issue.


no greater love

I promised a post on food sometime, but I think Michael sums it up quite well in a series of articles in the Atlantic.

There will be a urban foods post sometime soon though, lest you think I actually eat this stuff.

the working life

It occurs to me that there are a lot of posts here about parties and horseback riding and other frivolous adventures, but not much about my daily activities. Mostly, that is because on a semi-regular basis, I actually work, and that isn’t all that exciting to write about (or read).  But for the purposes of explaining life here in Mongolia, here’s a post on work.

I work with the Open Society Forum, which is part of the Soros Open Society Institute network.  The network is an amazing model – while initially each country office was a subsidiary of the main office in New York, eventually each branch spins off to become semi- or even fully autonomous.  Yet, each office in-country retains its contacts in other countries (and New York), providing a web of organizations each with a common purpose.

In Mongolia, OSF operates in a number of sectors, including economic, fiscal, environmental, and social welfare policy.  In addition, election monitoring and anti-corruption are other important areas in which OSF has a vested interest. On a regular basis, OSF staff work in these fields, often collaborating with Parliament, and local and foreign NGOs, as well as other organizations in the OSI network.

My role at OSF is somewhat undefined. I am, of course, here to do my own research.  But at the same time, I have certain expertise that can be useful for them, particularly in terms of methodology.  Our American educational system places a high value on problem solving and critical analysis skills, and Mongolia is still heavily invested in the Soviet model (aka, rote memorization).  So one skill I bring that is useful is a clear understanding of analysis and methodology in research.  Which is beneficial, because OSF currently has a cohort of policy fellows in dire need of some training.

Policy analysis is by no means a difficult field, but without a foundation in the type of thinking that is promoted in our educational system, it can be difficult for students educated here to step outside the system and delve into analysis and synthesis.  So I’ve been working on a training manual for the fellows – just a simple pamphlet outlining the steps in a policy analysis, as well as some brief information on various data collection techniques.   I’ve also been working on developing a private blog to share thoughts and provide critique on some of the documents the fellows are sending in (first step: proper explanation of a literature review).  In this case, it seems clear that the policy fellowship serves two purposes: one is civil society engagement in political processes, and the second is training for the fellows in critical analysis.

Of course my other role at OSF is rather simple – I am the de facto yoga instructor.  It is actually quite a lot of fun, and I do appreciate a weekly committment to my yoga practice.  Ideally, it will help me maintain my own home practice as well.    Other than that, I am also available to edit English documents and help put together a newsletter.  I am also working on setting up a system for producing podcasts.

I am, in other words, a policy analysis expert, methodology trainer, yoga instructor, and new media specialist.

As for life in the office, I have it good.  The staff cook lunch every day, so I get to eat freshly homemade Mongolian food (way better than restaurant food by a mile). Of course, it also requires dropping the vegetarian pretense, which frankly has not bothered me here.  Knowing that my meat is not industrially produced but instead is raised and slaughtered in a traditional manner means I’m not violating any major principles that led me to being a vegetarian in the first place. I meet my awesome friend Dave every so often for lunch – he helps keep me sane and fills me in on all things post-Soviet political. We also tend to eat veg….

And that is working in Mongolia in a nutshell.  I am also here to do my own research which is slowly coalescing.  More on that, soon enough.

In the meantime, as part of a longer (perhaps lifetime?) project, I’ve set up another blog.  It starts here in Mongolia and will branch out…  And will be looking for guest bloggers!

tuck and roll

And then I fell off the horse.

But first, the long weekend (Monday was Children’s Day, a national holiday) started with the most Mongolian food item I’ve ever eaten – banshtei tsai.  Basically, it is suutei tsai (I need a post on foods one of these days) with bansh. It is quite tasty, but difficult to wrap my brain around (much in the same way that red beans and corn as dessert can be a difficult concept).

Dinner that night, however, was thoroughly American. Tex-mex, even.  We had fresh tortillas with white bean chili and havarti, and a super delicious cake from the German bakery (it was Michael’s birthday).

Saturday was a do-nothing day, with pancakes for brunch, a walk around town (during which time, we schooled the Americans on proper etiquette), and then lots of beer and wine on the rooftop.  And, I finally got my apartment cleaned. I also made a trip to the market, and with a glass or two of wine in me, I managed to dredge up my rusty Chinese and chat with the people selling Asian foods (for which, I think, I got a bit of a discount on my sesame oil).

OSF had a children’s day celebration, which greatly resembled an insane children’s birthday party.  15 or so kids, inordinate amounts of food (I had ice cream!) and lots and lots of toys and balloons.  And of course, the kids running around like crazy.

And then Sunday was yet another do-nothing day, with beer on the patio at Ikh Mongol.  It was nice to catch up with some PCVs I’d met before too.  Sunday night, we got ambitious. Friends came over and we managed to make spicy calamari with peppers, scallion pancakes, and mooshoo tofu, and the best of all, seaweed salad with mushrooms and black soybeans. Decadent.

Super yum.  And then Monday, after pizza, we went to the ger camp to ride horses.  I wouldn’t say I’m an expert rider, but I’m not bad.  I have fallen before, and don’t think I would fall again (at least not due to any deficiency of skill).  I am however, not very knowledgeable about equipment, which, ultimately, is the cause of many accidents and injuries in just about any activity.  And just like one wouldn’t fail to check gear when biking or rock climbing, one shouldn’t fail to check gear on a horse.

Of course,  I didn’t.  And to make matters worse, once I realized the girth was loosened, I still continued to ride, saying that I would fix it later.  And of course, as we headed downhill and my horse lowered its neck, I went, saddle and all, over its head.  In my defense, I didn’t fall off.  The saddle did.  And luckily, it was a slow walk, so minimal damage done.

I did, unfortunately, bear the brunt of my weight on the head of my left fibula, leaving us to wonder if it is merely bruised, or potentially fractured. I have opted not to find out, and will go with the bruise.

But never let it be said that I don’t know how to fall.  I ducked my head, brought up my arms, and tucked.  If the rock hadn’t caught my leg, I would have rolled.  No damage to any vital body parts = successful day in Mongolia.

The weekend didn’t end there though – the girls came over that night for our regular girls’ night dinner, and we had yummy salad, pineapple chicken, coconut rice, sweet chili tofu, and lots of wine.  And, of course, yet another cake, this time for Jocelyn’s birthday (picure forthcoming).

And then, as if I hadn’t eaten enough…  we had a real birthday dinner on Tuesday night at UB’s finest dining establishment.  Course after course of salad and pasta and antipasti and meat and fish and then of course the most amazing dessert ever.  Accompanied by copious amounts of wine and the piano.  Fabulous fabulous weekend.

Pictures as always, here.