Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Microbus - to Khar Khorin, Sansar, Boemboegoer


Blue Sun contemporary art group featured in two new exhibitions last week. Hearing of their plans to establish an artists colony an hour from the capital, and knowing of their interest in showing the work of Ana Rewakowicz, I went to Xanadu Gallery on Thursday evening to meet Dalkhaa (Yondonjunain Dalkh-Ochir). There was an impressive array of landscape paintings from a trip of about 2500km around Bayankhongor province last August. Particularly interesting to me was the map of the journey and the process of camping as a group and practicing 'plein air' painting.

The following evening, the exhibition at the new Gallery at Khaan Bank on Seoul Street incorporated sculptures, installations and video works, curated by Uranchimeg Tsultem. One was Dalkhaa's street installations in rainy Stockholm, shown in video form. Another was a series of freshly cut slabs of tree trunk, set on sawdust on the stark polished marble floor. With an English art scholar colleague, we struggled to communicate with the artist about the concept in Mongolian and English, but I gleaned something to do with connecting with nature. This made a welcome diversion from work at the college and inspired me to travel in the Mongolian countryside, come summer.

Research and basic project management preparation continues on the energy efficient dwelling, as students and staff begin to disperse for the Mongolian New Year break, known as White Month - Tsagaan Sar. It was snowing this morning, and the environment outside fits the description well.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Energy Efficient, Accessible, Inflatable?

In a recent meeting, my mentor, Professor Dagshigdorj, apparently struggling for a theme about which to seek advice, asked; "What can we do about the smoke problem?"

Western Ulaanbaatar, where our school is located in a peri-urban ger district sprawl, is particularly beset by smog problems in winter. The poor air quality is unhealthy and visibility is very poor at the current -20C temperatures. In the absence of wind, the basin setting of UB, with its five surrounding mountains, contains the low lying smog created by the city heating, traffic and power stations, and usually attributed to the ger districts' many coal fired stoves. "Did I have any relevant experience in the developed world?" I thought quickly, Graz has similar air quality problems, also the implementation of London's Clean Air Act in 1956 (and over the last 50 years) would be relevant, as would the ozone hole in Australia and subsequent carbon minimisation legislation in the construction industry.. a very broad topic. We resolved to unravel and discuss these further.

Our college had also recently been called upon by World Vision's local Bayankhoshuu district branch to advise on developing a model Energy Efficient House. Passive design, active technologies and materials would all be taken into account. In this school, however, Mongolian professionals' knowledge of techniques of auditing energy consumption and building efficiency at design stages seem to be limited. Life-cycle costing, to account for payback time of energy efficient design, also appears to be an unfamiliar concept. We need to develop this capacity in the school staff, but time is short.

As a coincidence, it emerged that World Vision is planning to develop an Independent Living Centre, potentially duplicating efforts with the Mongolian Wheelchair Users Association (MTIX), mentioned in the previous blog entry.

Weekly subject group curriculum development meetings have now been planned, but postponed. Tonight I hope to meet representatives of the Blue Sun Contemporary Art Group, who this Summer in UB are to show the inflatable works of Ana Rewakowicz, a Canadian artist colleague whose new monograph I am currently reviewing.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

A Friday

Yesterday seemed a relatively effective workday, two out of four planned meetings eventuated. I went to the VSO offices for a morning meeting which had already been twice postponed, with MTIX, the Mongolian Wheelchair Users Association, ostensibly about design for Independent Living. I took a microbus from Khar Khorin market, near my apartment, to Boemboegoer market in the city centre, (about half an hour) then walked to Seoul Street and caught a taxi for another mile to a place with a shortcut path to VSO's offices at Crystal House Business Centre. (Total 300 + 500 togrogs = 35p) My Building College colleague and translator Ariunaa was waiting in the lobby, and after unlocking the meeting room, I printed my prepared notes on Design for Independent Living fro the internet in the volunteer's room. Disability expert Nickson Kakiri, our new VSO volunteer joined the meeting, and we were then summoned to help bring Chuluundolgor and Avirmed of the MTIX up four flights of stairs to the meeting room.

The meeting focussed as much on the need for a business plan to pursue MTIX's wish for developing an Independent Living Centre in Mongolia as it did on capacity building or expertise skill sharing. Very few wheelchair users, Chuluundolgor suggested, let alone professionals and the public, were aware of the potential for Independent Living for disabled people in Mongolia,and the art and science of designing and adapting buildings for people with various limited physical abilities. We discussed the politcal problems of fundraising and government 'obstructions' and Nickson shared his international experience. We resolved to plan some training for those interested in Design for Independent Living principles. I recommended a Mongolian architect expert from the University MUST, and an architect steering committee member of the nascent Mongolian Architects Association, as well as a Construction Ministry contact.

After this meeting Ariunaa and I returned to the college after a detour to a bank. She explained she helps a friend in the remote Dornod province by collecting and sending his chemotherapy treatment from Ulaanbaatar. After collecting funds and visiting the central pharmacy with a prescription, she rises early to go to a microbus station where a messenger, usually a Dornod 'neighbour' will cheaply convey the valuable syringes to her friend.

Returning to the Construction College on time, our planned meeting, for which I had prepared notes on an Energy Efficient House pilot scheme with World Vision, had been cancelled. I had a brief meeting about my proposal for teacher training at Darkhan Construction College, and the planned subsequent English training was also cancelled, with rumours of a teachers' crisis meeting.

New Year - Shin Jil

I finally understood what all the palaver had been about, with teachers reportedly rehearsing routines until 11pm at night etc., when I attended the college New Years party, which featured speeches, several performances, four or five costume changes and elaborate evening dress. Fortunately I wore a tie. Surprisingly for a college with some of the worst maintained toilet facilities I've seen, taped up dirty hand basins, and unevenly sized stair risers, there were generous cash prizes for the best teachers in the vocational courses and the professional courses, and a car for one of the general staff. The glittering party at a small restaurant called Khanbi Oergoe entailed many toasts, of champagne, the ever-present vodka, and wine and beer. There was food but the evening was dominated by speeches and presentations with performances of dancing santas and scantily clad female colleagues, of dancing and socialising. I hardly remember ever being so popular as when I brought photographs (www.flickr.com/ctc2008) of the evening to the college in the new year.

The glamorous evening made a wonderful contrast with the ensuing days spent at a remote Ger camp in Terelj national park to the east of the city. A few hours after leaving the city on Sunday morning we were walking around a monastery high on the south face of a beautiful mountain. Arriving at the Ger camp belonging to a certain Bold who had travelled with us from UB, we sat around the Ger stove and drank Mongolian milk tea. Reading (Tim Winton's Dirt Music) and knitting filled the time between feeding the stove and collecting water and firewood. We rode the herder's horse around and collected dry dead wood from the snow, then built a bonfire on the frozen Terelj River (assured it would not be affected by the fire heat) The New Year countdown (not usually marked in the countryside) was marked by a visit from the neighbouring herder Narantsteseg, with whom we danced and sang around the remains of the bonfire. Toileting in the snow on this -30 degree cold dark night was made well worth the effort by the incredible night starscape.