Monday, September 24, 2007


The final day of the Mongolian Language course last Friday was celebrated with horse riding, eating delicious xor-hok and drinking sou-tei tsai in gers with local students at a camp in Madriin Tokhoi, and it was with aching legs that I presented myself for work at Bariilgiin Tekhnologiin Kolleg today. I had a meeting with the English teachers, where we discussed the structure of the school and developed a plan to devise a 600 word English glossary for local construction students. I was toured around the various staff and departments, making notes and diagrams of names, roles, and teaching areas; and was promised a curriculum document to study.

I was able to gain an overview of
1. Foundation Studies course - up to two years
2. Bachelor Studies, including specialist course
3. Vocational Studies

Some courses are in segments of two months at a time, and many involve lengthy training periods on building sites for over two years. My first week here will be occupuied with orientations in various areas, getting to know the curriculum, and working with an interpreter in order to begin some sort of needs analysis with the architecture staff in a meeting on Thursday.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Touching Down

As the previously ample-sounding five weeks' Mongolian language classes drew to an end, I was appreciating how slowly things progress. The previous weekend's exercise of making Khuushur from a whole sheep by cutting the meat gradually down into 1mm pieces while sharpening the knife on the base of a bowl (and attepting to converse) reminded me of the importance of ritual.

Waiting for a plumber to arrive on Wednesday, I had to remember this. After the morning passed without an appearance (I missed my lesson as I was ill) I then took the laundry to the city but in the as always densely crowded bus I later discovered with incredulity that my pouch/pockets had been relieved of telephone and camera. The loss of the now phone made the exercise of recontacting the plumber in the evening difficult, but I returned by the appointed time at 7pm and he rang at the apartment door at 8.30; then restoring the hot water magically within twenty minutes. Soberingly I was reminded by our friend, who came to interpret, that most of our neighbours in the suburbs opposite have to walk to the well for water.

To conclude our language course we travelled to Maidriin Tokhoi and joined other students to ride horses and talk Mongolian and English. The brilliant landscape and weather added to the experience of fulfilling a long held ambition for me in Mongolia, and I will be feeling the effects in various ways, muscular and spiritual, for some time yet. I must interrupt my first proper work day on Monday with a visit to the police international relations officer, who previously briefed us on security and pickpocketing, and who will no doubt chastise me...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Team building in Bayanchandmani

All the Baringiin Technologiin Kolleg staff participating in the excursion, about thirty in total, were presented on departure from the college with branded Northface jackets, and we travelled by bus about 70km north to a summer mountain camp, in time to slaughter a sheep for dinner. When one of the teams had taken their turn to prepare the first dinner we sat at tables in a mess building and there was more drinking of airag (kumiss), vodka and beer in readiness for the meal and many courses, all mutton based, followed by speeches, dancing and song singing.

When requested after dinner I was able to convey via the College Director (a German speaker) that I had found the shared meal and games an excellent way to get to know everyone teaching at the College. I continued during Saturday and Sunday to participate in eating, drinking, wrestling, football, walking and singing, which despite bruising, was really a good way to learn something about each staff member, from young Mongolian language teachers to elderly professors.

On Sunday my own team started at breakfast time preparing xyshuur (the local pasty-like specialty) from first principles, cutting meat into tiny pieces from every bone and using every organ of the sheep (and practicing my rudimentary Mongolian).

Towards leaving, after an altercation with the camp owner about the rubbish pile created, combustible waste was removed and the bottles were left in a pile for a recycler to collect. The departing bus waited as someone ran back to fetch the fleeces to sell for a few pounds each.

I felt I had been properly introduced to Mongolian colleagues' lives and interests and that despite many language and cultural differences, I had found some rapport with each one. I begin officially on the 24th after my fifth week of Mongolian language education.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

CTC opens

I excused myself from the eleventh day of my Mongolian language course to attend the opening day ceremony at Baringin Technologin Kolleg (Construction Technology College), the college where I will be working, in the western 'peri-urban' Songino Khairkhain district of Ulaanbaatar. The austere rooms of this socialist-era school building were brimming with new students, the morning groups comprising recruits in various vocational courses in construction, ranging from plumbing (no females), welding and bricklaying to decorating (one male) and architecture. The more balanced gender distribution in construction career choices has apparently turned full circle since the socialist times.

The opening day proceedings in the dusty square in front of the school door, draped overhead with a welcome banner, included speeches by immaculately dressed staff and college director, interspersed with songs by famous Opera tenorist 'Bold' and a pop singer. With two other foreign staff, I was then given a tour of each of the classrooms and introduced in Mongolian with German translation by the director, for the Dutchman and myself. The students responded to the director's greeting 'Sain Bain-uu' in enthusiastic unison with SAIN!

A newly prepared computer room was presented, and arrangements were made to see the living accommodation, where I later met two German speaking Mongolian staff colleagues, one a building materials expert educated in Dresden.

Being the first day of school in all of Ulaanbaatar and Mongolia, the return journey was marked by particularly insane traffic, but I returned intact to VSO courses on Heath, management processes in Mongolia, and an excellent presentation introducing a Mongolian Gender Equality NGO.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Mongol Khel

We have been in UB two weeks this morning and have had ten intense days of language lessons at Bridge College. It has been difficult but satisfying, and this morning I had a short conversation in Mongolian with a Canadian reforestation volunteer ( at a branch of our Guest House, with our host Saxhna, which was very encouraging.

The VSO training has been intense but useful and we are beginning to find out more detail about our programmes and placement details. Some accommodation has been arranged near where I will be working in Songinohairhan, and we may be sharing a flat with a Mongolian language specialist, which would be good for the language skills.

We have a few more weeks of language lessons and I hope this week to meet some of the people at Construction Technnology College where I will be working. At the end of the week we are to spend a few days separately living with local families, which will also be a good challenge for the language skills.