Thursday, August 28, 2008

Significant Change

Architect Teacher Trainer; Small, Significant Change

In the VSO placement with the Mongolian Construction Technology College, development occurred in small but hopefully valuable ways. I was consulted relatively autonomously by the Mongolian Construction Ministry, Mongolian Wheelchair Citizens (МТИХ), World Vision (Bayankhoshuu), and the Gender Centre for Sustainable Development in the 8th Khoroo. But the two live architectural projects we undertook collaboratively in the college, in Sanzai and Yarmag, provided the most concrete opportunities for training architect teachers. The work can potentially have a long term impact with the existing teachers - Bolormaa, Tsenguune, Ariunaa, Hashbayar - and new teachers, Lhagva and Gursed (with their students Delger-Dalai and Tumen Od). The former developed their understanding about Accessible and Energy-Efficient construction, about Project Management principles, like time management and team planning, about Site Analysis and Architectural Project Planning, how to organise client meetings and briefings, and how to research and write architectural programme briefs for projects.

I feel confident that with support from the college, the teachers, Bolormaa, Tsenguune, Ariunaa, and Hashbayar will be able to continue the training we commenced over the past year in
- teaching research,
- languages for internationalisation,
- CV clinics, and
- internet based tools (flickr, blogging, google earth, wikipedia)
apploied to architectural and construction education.

Teachers Bolormaa and Tsengel-Oyun assisted in training with Suvdmaa (English teacher) and Bolortsetseg (Architect teacher) from the Technical and Technology College (TTC) in comparatively mapping degree curricula respectively of MCTC and TTC. This will develop ownership of architecture degree curricula in Ulaanbaatar which will need major reworking in the coming years. The latter college has recently applied to work with VSO. I would strongly encourage these people to continue to work together on professional development, and in future to extend their knowledge to develop the Mongolian Association of Architects.

New teachers have been recruited to MCTC and these will need guidance and encouragement in their professional development from the above trained teachers. I recommend the staff continue to work with Rob van Waardenburg VSO and that new consultants or volunteers will continue the professional development work for which the college and teachers should have ownership and be proud.

The college has been building a new five storey classroom building in the 21st district, with students labouring as practical trainees. The directors and architects agreed in January - among other suggested design and safety improvements - to make the basement and first (ground) levels wheelchair/barrow accessible by ramps. Access to construction and architectural education will not only be physically improved in this case, but also a process has begun for more participative and inclusive building design and college management.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


As a reward for enduring a year in Ulaanbaatar, we made a trip to see Tsambagarav in Mongolia's Altai mountains in the remote west. Flying in to Khovd over the mountains, I read Sunand Prasad's piece about the UIA (International Union of Architects) and remembered that my Mongolian colleagues (Dagshigdorj et al of the Mongolian Association of Architects) visiting UIA Turin had declined an invitation to attend a RIBA reception in my stead - at a beautiful 16th century Palazzo there. Thinking of their reluctance reminded me of my work, my final report in progress and exit interview on the 27th.

After driving by jeep past the impressive snow-capped Tsambagarav (4400m) to stay in a Khazak Mongolian family Ger, I noticed the family's work programme. Six hours of each day - 5am-8am and 5pm-8pm - spent milking thirty yaks for about 100 litres of milk, from which they make various cheeses, curds and yogurt. Yak wool/hair and crafts supplement the income from the milk products. I enjoyed the evening meal "five fingers" of dried and boiled yak meat mixed with pasta sheets just made by a ten year old girl. Delicious yoghurt followed. By the light of a single solar powered lamp in the Ger, I flicked through the letters of RIBA Journal, reading Iain Borden defend the Bartlett, then a review of "Instant Cities".

After giving the farmer host and his saddle a lift to a valley where he thought he might find his horse, we travelled north and stayed a night with another Khazak family in a Ger by a river near Altantsogs village, where thirty goats were milked once a day to produce 18 litres. While I was relaxing in the ger, a farmer slaughtered a goat outside the door and then unexpectedly brought it in to hang in our ger for butchering. A slightly threatening old man - a drunken Khazak relative - argued with me in Mongolian that Australia had been part of Germany. (In vain I painstakingly distinguished Austria from Australia)

Staying in Olgii town centre's 'Green Garden' Ger Park with its delightful gardens provided an opportunity to unwind. It was the farthest point from UB. Reconvening in our ger with two German trans-Mongolia cyclists we had earlier seen climbing Tsambagarav, two Spanish cyclists (project) from the Turkish restaurant and a backpacking English kindy teacher from UB joined in for a little spontaneous party.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Slow Travel

After arriving by train from London to Ulaanbaatar a year to the day before starting this blog entry, I was reflecting on slow travel, slow food, slow development and slow tourism in Mongolia. After the exhausting return from Arkhangai 'Art Camp' on a jolting 11 hour bus ride from Tsetserleg, it was a joy to take the night train to Erdenet, shortening the bus trip to Lake Hovsgol. Our cabin mate Gankhuyag turned out to be a (hearing) Mongolian Sign Language teacher. After wandering around Erdenet (10km from the station), we waited four hours for the bus to Mөrөn at the market and took the 15 hour journey. Somewhere by a roadside, as we took a 'comfort stop' in the green mountains by a river, a man on a bicycle held a fish aloft by his ger. I walked over and he showed me his catch of large trout and smaller fish, cleaned and silky to touch. Hours passed in the darkness until we (25 passengers and driver) stopped for 'Tsiuvan' (noodles) at a 'Guanz' eatery with one solar powered bulb. Everyone dozed on the bus rocking through the night, the fat brown farmer next to me leaning on me and nodding off to sleep.

After dawn in Mөrөn, we had a shower at a Batgaal's Ger guesthouse "5-8-7" and lay down for a couple of hours. Later we shared a car with two French tourists, mother and daughter, to Khatgal at the edge of Lake Khatgal. We borrowed bicycles from some local lads. Looking for air for a tyre at the local petrol station, it being a hand-pump affair, the proprietor (of 25 years) took me to her ger nearby, and her husband improvised a way of inflating the tyre.

In the past year I have gained a lot of experience of slowness. Speaking Mongolian has been a slow but rewarding process, but in the countryside slowness is emphasised: seeing the simple and slow way food is often hand-reared and prepared, seeing each joint of boiled mutton apportioned among a party, feeling every bump and creek crossing on the roads, boiling each cup of river water for tea. The hot shower at "5-8-7" was operated by the guest house owner, who boils a pot of water over a fire, then pours it into a tank on the roof of the shower house, mixing it to the right temperature.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

XanaduArt Camp with "Blue Sun"

I arrived as requested at dawn at the 'Art Studio' in an apparently abandoned building in the industrial west of UB. No one stirred until 7am. Then, while waiting until after 9am for our departure, three of us made a foray to the abandoned Khotsh Bank nearby, and charmed the guard, as he awoke, and gave us a secret tour of this intriguing building, with gallery and sports hall.

The details of the Arkhangai tour became clearer as two Russian ''Пургон" jeeps with drivers appeared and fifteen of us set off toward Khar Khorin in Ovorkhangai. An itinerary was produced, then verbally modified. After camping by the river in Khar Khorin and visiting Erdene Zuu monastery, we drove to Suvragakhairkhain, Chandmanikhairkhain, and the beautiful Tovkhon Monastery. Before camping by a river, a sheep was procured from a family and prepared. I drew, most others painted, sketched, sang and smoked.

Gradually, over three days, we progressed from eating the blood filled intestines and "Гийдэс" of the sheep to various other boiled, smoked, and barbecued parts of the sheep, culminating around the campfire one evening, as leader, Mashbat, presented each person by name with a selected named joint of meat. I somehow followed in Mongolian.

After we reached Tsetserleg, the province centre, I spent a day alone drawing the monastery and other buildings there, and the next morning, began the 11 hour bus ride over dirt racks pitching and jolting my way back to UB.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Going Bush

This coming week I will join a group of Mongolian Artists from the Blue Sun group, and my two previously mentioned visiting collegues, on an 'Art Camp' in Arkhangai.

Машбат, Далх-Очир, Бат-Зориг, Бат-Холбоо Од-Гэрэл, Ганбаатар, Энхболд, Бадраал, Орхон, Авид, Өсөх Баяр, Анхцэцэг and Магнай with Ana and Annu, will be my travelling companions in two Russian Пургон jeeps over 2200km.

After a long discussion about food and accommodation today, the financial arrangements seem clearer. Машка jokes about 'communism'. But many aspects of the trip remain "sketchy". Have sketchbook, will travel - watch this space.