Posts Tagged 'plan'

bucket list

So I’m down to the wire, with 2 weeks to go.  Yesterday, someone asked me what I had left to do before I go, which I guess isn’t something you think about with only 2 weeks left, but better now than later.  So, in thinking about my 10 months here, I’ve got myself a bucket list of sorts.  Of course, I’m biased, writing this after spending this time here, but I do have the advantage of actually knowing what’s going on.  So, the list of things I hope to accomplish/experience/obtain in Mongolia:

  1. Go to the Gobi.  Done. 3 times.
  2. See Hovsgol. Done.
  3. Camp in the Orkhon Valley. Done.  One of my favorite experiences.
  4. See the Eagle Festival. Done.
  5. See the Ice Festival. Won’t happen, unfortunately.
  6. Go East and film gazelle migration. Went East, didn’t see any gazelle.
  7. Learn to make Mongolian food – specifically, tsuivan, buuz, and khuushur. Done! Even learned to make mantuu.
  8. Have copious amounts of vodka. Ha. Of course.
  9. Eat horse meat. Yes.  Quite good.
  10. Eat something gross. Horse intestines.  Not so good.
  11. Go to the spa and get a scrub. Done. Many times over. Need one more.
  12. Go dog sledding. This weekend!
  13. Get some amazing pictures. Oh, definitely done.
  14. See Amarbayasgalant temple. Sadly, no.
  15. See wild horses. Another sad no.
  16. Experience a Mongolian winter. Oh, yes.
  17. Buy felt goods. Shoes and jacket and some kitchen goods.  Just need to get more slippers.
  18. Buy calligraphy. Ordered.
  19. Get a tattoo. Not yet, but still thinking.
  20. Go karaoke. Sadly, not yet!
  21. Buy paintings. Not really, but will go see what is available this week.
  22. Buy carvings of animals. Camels.
  23. Buy Kazakh wall hangings. Two, one made before I was born.
  24. Get an in-depth look at agriculture and livelihoods. Really, the main reason I was here.  I know far more about agriculture in Mongolia than anyone really should.
  25. Ride a camel. Overdone.
  26. Drink airag. Yum.
  27. Go ice skating. Still a chance.
  28. Get a picture on Chinggis Khan’s lap. Nope.
  29. Learn Mongolian dance. Nope.
  30. See the Morin Huur Ensemble. Still waiting to find out when they next perform.
  31. See local cultural performances. Done.
  32. Go to Naadam. Done. Twice.
  33. Ride a boat. Done. Russian research vessel on Hovsgol.
  34. Go to the ger districts. Sort of.
  35. See Avatar. This week!

We’ll leave it at 35, for now.   Of the list above, the vast majority can be checked off.


cultural divides

I’m back in the office again for a few weeks before heading west for the eagle festival.   While in town, I’m working to develop a policy training session that will last 3 days.  The Policy Fellows are heading into the home stretch of their research, having completed almost all of their data collection.  The key now is to focus on turning that data into policy, constructing logical arguments, and generating policy alternatives.  So, for 3 days, we will review the steps of policy analysis and spend some time with some one-on-one work (hopefully outside the city in a national park).

I’m currently working on developing some training exercises for this workshop.  Day 1, we basically modified activities from a training manual created by LGI.  For Day 2, though, we’d like to spend a little more time working on translating data into effective arguments.  I’ve been searching around for some ideas, and have decided to turn one activity into a re-hash of everyone’s favorite exercise – the Analyzing an Argument writing section from the GRE.  It’s a pretty good example of using facts vs assumptions, plus what to do about missing data.   But I’m having one slight issue.

Until you leave the US, you never realize how US-centric we really are.  There is almost nothing universal about American culture, except perhaps that it is so pervasive that people in other countries are already somewhat exposed.  But so many institutionalized cultural elements are taken for granted, and in reviewing the Argument topics on the GRE page, it occurs to me that part of our isolationist attitude is already embedded in our education system.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – obviously, some things are distinctly American and, for example, someone interested in domestic issues benefits greatly from being well-versed in these areas.  But I must have reviewed over 100 topics before I found 3 that I could modify for the Mongolian context.  Foreign students taking the GRE are at a major disadvantage here for applying to American schools.

Would it be difficult to universalize this section of the GRE, and for that matter, any other part of our educational system that creates a distinct advantage or home-grown students?  Would it be useful or beneficial?  Politically expedient? Do we like our uniquely American system?  And how does it work the other way?  Are our students too Americanized?  I find sometimes that Americans have a harder time adjusting here than expats and visitors from other countries.  Is that tied into our education system too?

the vital importance of being earnest

Things are a bit quiet now, with trying to settle into a flow.  Last weekend, the UB Players performed their spring play – the Importance of Being Earnest. It was a wonderful production, with some very talented actors.  I helped with stage crew duties during the shows, and in true production style, we did throw in a few pranks on the last night – mainly replacing the tea with vodka and Mongolian sweet wine.  It was fun.  The play was of course in English – Oscar Wilde’s greatest talent (his wit and way with words) is also his downfall when it comes to translation.

Other than that, not much else is happening.  It is getting warmer, but not much in the way of rain.  There is some greenery emerging, but very slowly.   I’ve started my language classes and trying to be good about studying.  While I am not interested in becoming proficient in Mongolian, I do need to be able to get around better.

Generally, things going on – teaching yoga weekly and trying to practice on my own as I can; working on a research methodology manual and some training classes; wrote this week’s quiz (as quiz master); trying to find a good niche for my research, potentially focusing on the commercialization of agriculture; catching up on my American TV shows; developing a podcast format for OSF; learning Mongolian; figuring out travel plans for my parents; and planning out the next four years or so of my life. 🙂

opportunity and paul farmer

I find it ironic (perhaps in the Alanis Morissette way?) that the rest of the world comes to the US for opportunity, and I came to Mongolia.  But, in the two weeks I’ve been here, I’ve been given opportunities that would have taken a lot more experience or effort in the US.  For example, working with Open Society Forum has given me the opportunity to work on HIV/AIDS, education, governance, and even economic development issues. Normally, we’d agree that I’m not really trained to do this.  In Mongolia, though, the one-eyed man is king.  And so, with my limited experience with these issues, I’m the perfect “outside” expert.  Or take for instance, my new role as a yoga teacher.  Never taught before, and not really trained.  But, I guess we make do, and it’ll be a learning experience for both myself and the students.

Yesterday, a friend and I were discussing Paul Farmer, who used to be something of a hero of mine.  Now I’m disillusioned and jaded, and I see the man now has feet of clay.  One of the things I mentioned is his ranting about how we in the public health community “wait for the evidence” before we act, and in doing so, lose countless lives.  That might be true, but if waiting means ensuring that the right actions are taken, then waiting could also save lives.

But being in Mongolia has given me a fresh look on Farmer’s POV.  Is there such as a thing as a little knowledge being a dangerous thing, when the alternative is no knowledge?  Or perhaps, action is taken when pieces of the whole are cobbled together, creating, if not a full picture, at least a semblence of one?  Paul Farmer did what no one else was doing in Haiti.  And I am teaching yoga in a country where, as far as I can tell, there is only one yoga teacher.

I think Farmer’s mistake was in thinking that the work in Haiti would translate to the whole world.  So I suppose my mistake could be in thinking that teaching yoga here means I can teach it anywhere (without training).  I guess I will learn something from Paul Farmer after all.

everyone has a friend in mongolia

It’s Day 3 in Toledo and I am eyeing the boxes with despair.  Everything seems important, but obviously isn’t.  The last time I lived abroad, I brought much too much with me.  This time I’m determined to keep the packing to a minimum.

By the way, I hear the weather is nice in DC.  Rather cold here.

The assistance I’ve received for this trip has been remarkable.  Everyone seems to know someone in Mongolia, and those friends and colleagues have been great resources.  I am amazed by how helpful people are – from looking for apartments, to offering housing, to taking pictures, to providing packing and travel tips.   Restores faith in humanity!

Do take a look at your network though.  Chances are, you know someone (who knows someone) in Mongolia.   It’s a small world out there, and Mongolia is no longer the “frontier”.

the plan

So the current plan is to depart DC on March 9th.  I will then drive to Toledo and sort through my stuff (also, I need to do my taxes. Why don’t we have a flat tax again?) to decide what to take.  Then, supposedly, I will fly out of Detroit, potentially through Salt Lake City and Honolulu, stopping for a few days to visit friends and family and get a little warmth.   Then on through Seoul (for a brief layover) and into Ulaan Baatar.

The annoying thing is that my funding comes from State, so I’m subject to the dreaded Fly America Act.  Luckily, I seem to have picked cities that are all Delta hubs, so I think I’m gold on Delta all the way to Seoul, where I’ll board a Korea Air flight (which is probably codeshare with Delta anyway).  Of course, this depends on cost.

I’m still not sure where I’ll be living, but these are minor details to be worked out.  Perhaps I can spend a few nights at the spa.

In the meantime, I’m getting rid of stuff, so anyone in DC need anything, do let me know!  Also, I’m trying to see all the last few sights that I never got around to in 15 years here, so partners-in-crime welcome!