Monday, February 25, 2008

Secure Livelihoods

We recently spent two days at UB2, a 'mountain resort' in nearby Terelj, reviewing VSO's 'Secure Livelihoods' programme. Our work is perhaps least clearly understood, compared to that of Health and Education programmes. Together, as teacher trainers, curriculum developers, business, marketing and tourism advisors, a vet and others, we reviewed how we support the development of secure jobs (livelihoods) with poverty-affected Mongolians in the transition to a market economy. The strategic move (by VSO internationally) away from (peri-) urban to rural partnerships will mean many of us finding ways to exit from developed partnerships.

This made me think about the relationships developed between VSO and its Mongolian partners; start-up enterprises, small non-governmental organisations (NGOs), in my case a private college-cum-construction company, and the tendency for these to become dependent on volunteers, and of the slippage of project conclusions.

Although I would like to help develop teachers' skills in curriculum development as summer nears, I fear that the rumoured bulk order of overalls for staff suggests otherwise. Teaching downtime may instead be devoted to laying bricks for our new building, irrespective of the lack of sustainable staff development plans for the college.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


The midpoint of my intended stay passed yesterday. When asked by new teacher Tsenguune about my impression at that moment, I said that I percieved progress. A few days ago I came upon a man fallen on his back at the local bus stop. I was alone but was able to raise him to his feet. In contrast to the man described in November, he walked away without being hit by traffic. My cousin had written to empathise, concerned about the previous instance, and I can now report a better outcome.

I have recently made several visits to the state Construction College, helping to prepare their submission for an Asia Pacific accreditation body (APACC), and providing me with quite a detailed understanding of the staffing, management and operation of that long-established college. The terms "benchmarked institution" and "ergekh kholboo", for example, raised issues for linguistic and cultural comparison, as did the question of international publications about Research & Development projects in that college. I also learned something about benchmarking in the Technical and Vocational Education and Training sector.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Walking again

In the ger district this morning, two small girls in pink quilted jackets waited on a hill for the local shop to open, and as I walked by, they called down to me in English.. "hello.........................good bye". It occured to me that in a few days it will be half way through my placement here. Today I felt that it was becoming warm enough (-17C max) by late morning to walk to work, so spring begins. The little bridge was stripped down to two steel beams again, the boards probably taken for somebody's fire again, people were gathering at the informal taxi stand, and there were a few people at the water tank. A weathered-looking couple carried a large plastic water container down hill, each holding one end of a stick threaded through the handle. The sky is bright blue and there is still a lot of compacted snow lying. The curled up corpse of a tiny dog caught my eye as I was walking and counting months.

Yesterday evening, with six Mongolian friends, I went to a local cafe for our 'English speakers club', established last year with Ruth, a VSO language teacher trainer, and drank Sea Buckthorn tea, while making mutual introductions, comparing jobs and reviewing Tsagaan Sar in English.

Im Ger Bezirk heute morgen, zwei kleine Maedchen in rosfarbigen Jacken standen auf einen Huegel, warteten auf des oeffnen eines kleinen Laden, und wie ich vorbei ging, riefen im Englisch hinunter.. “"hello.........................good bye". Es ist mir eingefallen, in einigen Tagen, wird die haelfte meines Mongolei-aufenthaltes vorbei sein. Heute hatte ich das gefuehl dass es waermer wird, spaeten Morgens in der Arbeit zu laufen, nun wird es fuer mich Fruehling. Die kleine Bruecke ist wieder zu zwei nackte Stahltraeger geworden, die Holzbrette wahrscheinlich wieder einmal als Feuerholz genommen; es sammelten Leute beim informellen Taxistand; einege noch beim Wasserlager. Ein trauriges Paar traegte ein Wasserfass bergunter, jeder auf eine Ende eines durch den Griff gefahrenen Traegholzes. Der Himmel ist Hellblau, es liegt noch bedrueckten schnee ueberall. Ein kleines Hundeleichen faellt mir im Augen, waehrend ich beim Laufen, die Monate zaehlte.

Gestern bin ich, mit sechs Mongolische freundinnen zusammen, fuer 'English speakers club' in einer Cafe getroffen. Der Klub wurde voriges Jahr mit einem kollegin Ruth, VSO sprachlehrer-traniererin, gegruendet. Wir tranken "Chatsaargana" Tee, stellte uns gegenseitig vor, verglichten unseren jeweiligen Arbeitsstellen, und ueber die Sache "Tsagaan Sar" im Englisch unterhielten.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Monday morning Vodka

The Mongolian Year of the mouse began last week, and the college has been fairly quiet and 'studentless' during the transition period. The main social activity for this season is visiting family, and preparing buuz (mutton dumplings - often hundreds) for visiting family members, but this means a relaxed schedule for foreigners. While some Mongolians visit tens of households, we visited three, well spaced over the New Year between Thursday and Monday. The first working day of the New Year on Monday morning at the college involved traditional armhold-greetings and reciprocal sniffing with the salutation 'Amaran uu' and rounds of Mongolian vodka.

While browsing one weekend in a bookshop at the 'State Department Store' - the UB equivalent of Moscow's GUM - I was surprised to discover a new architecture textbook, in Mongolian (A. Bat-Od, OPX 2007) which my mentor, who is credited in the preface, has never mentioned. Saves having to write one. It incorporates standards, useful example buildings, and excerpts from recent editions of Neufert and AGS. Nobody knows why the 2005 book, now in its second edition, was never known to the college or in the Library, but when I brought a copy to the college it was agreed to use it.

The World Vision project for a model energy efficient house has moved on slowly, despite the efforts of our consultant social worker, who prepared quite an impressive community consultation strategy. However, I caught a glimpse of a powerpoint presentation being prepared and lo, a client meeting was suddely held late yesterday. The discussion was mainly confined to contractual arrangements. Meanwhile I prepared a chart to try to discuss design principles to follow;
1. Barilgiin Talbei - Site and Orientation
2. Torkh Gadarguu - Envelope elements
3. Cistem - Building Systems
4. Narnii Gerel - Daylighting
5. Agaarjulaalt - Ventilation
6. Tekhnologuud - (Active) Technologies
7. Khemjilt - Evaluation
I was asked if I had ideas on a preferred facade design, and as a site has not yet been decided with the community, I referred to working with the above. Now I can hear noises in an adjacent room where an agreement is to be signed.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Art Meal / Kunst Essen

Blue Sun (Khoekh Nar) Contemporary Art Group staged their performance on Saturday as part of the exhibition at the Ulaanbaatar's Khaan Bank Gallery, mentioned in a previous blog, curated by Uranchimeg Tsultem. A table set for six was set with traditionally prepared Mongolian sheeps heads, which are repeatedly burned and boiled so that the blackened remains are "delicious". Six male artists sat with their different knives (it is a Mongolian tradition to bring one's own knife, bowl and toothpick; all of which can be found incorporated or accommodated in the traditional Mongolian costume) and quietly ate their sheeps heads, sharing morsels with the enraptured audience, working until nothing but dry bone remained. Mongolian New Year (Tsagaan Sar) will take place on Friday.

Blaue Sonne (Khoekh Nar) Zeitgenossicher Kunstgruppe stellte am vorigen Samstag eine Performance-stueck dar, bezueglich der frueher erwaehnten neuen Austellung in der Galerie des Khaan Banks. Dr Uranchimeg Tsultem ist Kuratorin. Eine runde Tisch war mit Mongolischer Schafkoepfe fuer sechs belegt; diese feinschmeckenden Lieblingsessen ist tradizionellerweise mehrmals gebrannt und gekocht. Die sechs Kuenstler sassen mit ihren verschiedenen Messer (nach Mongolischer gebrauch bringt jeder sein eigenen Messer, Schuessel und Zahnstocher, allerlei tradizionellerweise zum Kostuem gehoerend) Sie assen ruehig je ihren Schafkopf, teilten auch leckerbissen mit den erlockten Zuschauer-innen, bis zum schluss nichts als knochen uebrigblieb. Mongolisches Neues Jahr (Tsagaan Sar) findet am Freitag statt.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Competition / Wettbewerb

A lecture competition at the Nutrition Technology College? It sounded interesting; so I arrived at the college early in the morning fog, by microbus. We set off after 10am in the director's SUV over the icy streets, through the snowy industrial areas, past the railway station, to the competition venue. It had been decided that my engineer colleague Rob would speak to a power point presentation about energy efficient building design principles, with Ariunaa providing a 'simultaneous' Mongolian translation. After almost a decade of lecturing with powerpoint, and since reading Edward Tufte's essay ("There's no bullet list like Stalin's bullet list")*, MS power point presentations are one of my favourite 'bemusements', and I have so far avoided using it in Mongolia, in favour of simple paper visuals.
We made our entrance through the front of the austere timber lined lecture hall a few minutes before our appointed time, and unsuccessfully attempted to load the presentation with a virus-infected flash drive. A change of computers, and the presentation was underway, outlining the global warming dilemma and the need for ecological sustainability. Building design factors such as orientation were compared with expensive add-on technological solutions. Ten minutes passed quickly, and the organisers called for conclusion, one-third into the presentation. My director colleagues muttered, unfairly blaming the Mongolian translation. Had the teachers been trained in the subject area and made the presentation themselves, I suggested, the presentation might have been more valuable for everyone.
After answering questions from the judges, the college directors were ready to leave immediately, but we protested that we should hear at least one other presentation. It was a theory of studio methodology from the Korean-Mongolian Building Technology College, my first contact with this college. Dense pages full of lists of words were supplemented with complex six part diagrams and without any photographs, making comprehension difficult, in any language. I despaired.
We returned to the college via the Federation of Disabled Peoples Organisations, where I had arranged printing of my dissertation. On approaching the entrance on the new ramp, I encountered another visitor, walking on amputated leg stumps with the aid of trowel like wooden 'hand-shoes'; I later saw him meeting my printing contact about newly arrived wheelchairs.
The Federation had done an excellent job of the printing and we went to lunch with my colleagues amusing themselves about Mongolia's appearance in the global map of nomadic cultures. (p9)
The following day we learned that the competition/conference had been about teaching techniques, so it seemed our contribution had missed the mark. An ornate certificate of attendance was provided nevertheless, and it was admitted that our participation had been a 'guerilla' publicity exercise for CTC.
*Edward Tufte "The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint" c.2006

Ein Vortragswettbewerb? Das klung interessant. Ich kam im fruehmorgigen Nebel mit einem Microbus in den Kollege an. Nach 10uhr fuhren wir, im allrad mit dem Direktor, ueber den vereisten Strassen, den Industriebezirk und Bahnhofsplatz vorbei, zu den Gestaltungsort in Naehrungstechnischen Kollege. Bereits war es entschieden das mein kollegen Rob, ein Bau-ingeneur, mittels PowerPoint der prinzipien Energie-sparendes Bauentwurf darstellen wuerde, waehrend Dolmetsch Ariunaa 'simultan' Mongolischer Uebersetzung zufuegen wuerde. Nach dem ich ein Jahrzehntelang zur Uni-vortraege PowerPoint benutzt habe, und besonders nach meinem eindruck des Edward Tufte Essays ("There's no bullet list like Stalin's bullet list")*, MS PowerPoint gigs sind fuer mich zu eine schadenfreudliche unterhaltung geworden. Bis hin als Lehrer tranierer in der Mongolei habe ich darauf verzichten koennen, anstattdessen einfache Papierhilfsmitteln zu verwenden.
In eine kommunistisch-einfach ausgestatteten Vortragshalle kamen wir wenigen minuten vor unsere vereinbarte Zeit an, und erfolglos mit einer Virus-infiziertes USB-drive dem PowerPoint aufzuladen versuchte. Ein Komputerwechsel danach, lief den Vortag, der Globalen Kilmaerwaermungsgeschichte und der anfrage fuer oekologischer nachhaltigkeit in uebersicht zu erklaeren. Bauentwurfskriterien wie Sonnenorientierung wurden mit teuere zusaetzlichen technologischen Loesungen verglichen. Zehn minuten gingen blitzschnell vorbei, und mit der Beitrag ein-drittel fertig riefen der Organisatoren zum Enden. Meine Vorstand und kollegen geraueschelten, die Uebersetzung fuer die Zeitverzoegerung sei zu beschuldigen. Hatten aber Mongolischer CTC Lehrer-innen den fach gelernt und den Vortag selbst gemacht, schlug ich vor, waere den Vortag allerseits nuetzlicher gewesen sein.
Nach einige Fragen der Jurie beantwortet wurden, der Kollege-direktoren wollten sofort gehen, die anderen wollten aber wenigstens eine der Konkurrenten hoeren. Als naechste dran war eine Theorie der Studio-method von eine Lehrerin der Koreanisch-Mongolisch Bau-Technologisches Kollege, von dem ich einige Zeit etwas blicken wollte. Dichte seiten, ganz voller Wortlisten, einige complizierte Diagrammen dazu, sonst Bildlos, machte verstaendnis schwerig, trotz etwaige Sprachprobleme. Seufze.
Am weg zur Kollege fuhren wir den MNFDPO (Bund der Organisationen fuer Behinderten) vorbei, wo ich meiner Dissertation zum Drucken gelassen hatte. Als ich den Eingangsrampe beging, kam ich an einen Besucher, der an abgekuerzten Beine, mit hilfe ein Art holzernen Schuhe ging; spaeter sah ich den Mann mit den Druckberatungskollege in eine Besprechung um eine menge neuangekommenen Rollstuehle.
Der Bund hatte ein ausgezeichnetes Job meines Druckaufgabes getan, und wir gingen weiter zum Mittagessen, wahrend der Kollegen-innen sich amusierten ueber des Auftauchen der Mongolei in eine Weltkarte ueber nomadische Kulturen. (s9)
Am naechsten Tag erfuhren wir dass den Wettbewerb eher auf Paedagogie / Lehrtechnik bezogen wurden war, nun scheinbar hat unser Beitrag den Ziel etwa vermisst. Ein dekoriertes Zertifikat des Anwesendsein wurde jedoch an CTC bereicht. Mittlerweile gaben der Kollege-mitarbeiter zu, dass das Ganze eine opportunistischer Publizitaetsgelegenheit fuer CTC gewesen war.
*Edward Tufte "The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint" c.2006