New Year’s Day was wonderfully peaceful. Sun-duk and I stayed at home, watched television, played “Sequence”, took a nap, talked, and ‘communed’ with…
… Jean-Noël, who just wouldn’t stop moving. He must have been changing positions, today, because Sun-duk felt his kicks and punches everywhere, even in the ribs. He’s not quite hurting her, yet, but it won’t be long, now. She yelps out from time to time out of shock, so strong are his movements. The boy really is a rambunctious, pugnacious, little rascal!
Sun-duk called home, last night, another in a series of shocks we’ve experienced recently. We were told in August that Mongolian phones couldn’t make long-distance calls, but this turned out to be… let’s say an untruth. Maybe MFOS or Onol does pay the phone bill for us, and would prefer we deferred homesickness ‘til we’ve gone.
And the shocks keep on coming, thick and fast: Yong-gyu and Sun-hwa were scooting across Pusan on their moped last month when a taxi slammed right into them. Sun-hwa and the baby escaped unscathed, but her husband suffered a compound fracture of the right leg and has had to have small metal rods and pins inserted therein – permanently, perhaps. He’ll have to spend two more months in the hospital, and undergo several more months of therapy before he’s declared fit.
Luckily, they have insurance to pay the medical bills (the Korean health system is based on the American one, quite sadly), but both his mother, the owner of a butcher shop, and his wife, together with whom he operates a video store, were left wanting: he split his time as delivery boy for his mum and employee/proprietor of the newly minted “Bideo Chemp” shop. The profit margin has been reduced in both enterprises, as his absence has required the hiring of help. Sun-duk and Sun-hwa’s mother has also been recruited from Mokp’o to babysit Jin-hee and assist in any other way a sixty-one-year-old woman is capable of.
TELEVISUAL NIRVANA: The highlight of this weekend was the discovery of a culinary show on TV5 called Grands Gourmands, hosted by ebullient, rubber-faced Jean-Luc Petitrenaud. We visited the French Alps and Pyrénées, and witnessed the preparation of the most scrumptious, mouth-watering dishes you’ve ever seen – true works of art, all. It’s a truism that the country’s best restaurants are located not in Paris or Marseilles, but in the tiny bistros that dot France’s countryside, snugly nestled in tiny villages off the beaten track. The show reawoke my dream of someday calling the Pyrénées home. The people in that part of Europe are unbelievably warm and down-to-earth. Besides which, who can resist that gorgeous, lilting accent du midi?
Also viewed with delight: Astérix et Obélix (dubbed in Russian!), Cool Runnings (charmed by the musically intoxicating Jamaican dialect, this time ‘round), The Hudsucker Proxy, Barton Fink (there must be a Coen Brothers festival on the Hollywood Channel; Raising Arizona was on last week), Mary Poppins, Father’s Day (the American remake of the 1985 French classic, Les Compères – not quite bad, actually, though not even Robin Williams and Billy Crystal can best the inimitable collaboration of Pierre Richard and Gérard Depardieu), and, last but no means least, Trois Hommes et un couffin, that delectable early eighties movie which inspired the misbegotten Three Men and a Baby. Not only is Couffin infinitely more subtle in dialogue, theme, and atmosphere, it also happened to resonate in an especially strong manner for this soon-to-be parent.
Watching Barton Fink again, and not enjoying it as much as I do some of the Coens’ other work, reminded me of the basic dichotomy in their fan base. I recall following threads in a Coen Brothers discussion board (this was back in 1995, when the fastest modems ran at 28.8 bps and most web sites were still text-based) that basically bashed Raising Arizona, The Hudsucker Proxy, and Fargo and treated Blood Simple, Miller’s Crossing, and Barton Fink as the Divine Word of the Lords. Myself, I prefer the Brothers’ later, lighter films to the last three just mentioned. Blood, Crossing, and Fink are funny, yes, but darkly so, and full of abstruse references and red herrings that stir the imagination of the cult-minded.
Like anything labelled ‘cult’ by the media, these three early movies suffer from the attention of admirers with too much time on their hands and too slight a grasp on reality. They get off on pseudo-criticism, advancing the most convoluted and recondite analyses, certain that the ‘genius’ author or authors of a favourite oeuvre are revealing some great truth, perhaps even the meaning of life.
By coincidence, Tim Sebastian was interviewing Douglas Adams on Hard Talk, this afternoon, and discussed this very point. Adams recounted a number of stories dealing with the hilarious, if somewhat misguided, theories that had been put forward by fans of his groundbreaking sci-fi comedy serial, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He told in particular of one scholar who had published a lengthy paper on what he took to be Hitchhiker’s ‘fundamental symbolism’, which Adams refuted in a reply published in an academic journal, and promptly described as ‘wrong-headed’ and ‘completely barmy’. Though the novels are indeed intelligent and rife with clever allusions, they were penned, as Adams himself points out, by a 25-year-old boy with little life experience to inform his writing. “Hitchhiker has no messages, hidden or otherwise. I write comedy, not philosophy!”
I had planned on going to school to make photocopies of my exams, then spending the afternoon at the internet café to check our e-mail and update the homepage, but Sun-duk was loath to gather moss alone at home, so we repeated the past weekend’s exercises, without my once setting foot outside.
TV5 afforded Sun-duk the opportunity to learn more about Québec through a one-hour documentary that covered the province and the seasons, much to our mutual delight. RDI, the French-Canadian all-news channel, also informed us that the Canadian federal government would soon double maternity and paternity leaves to one year and six months, respectively, at, I believe, 70% of regular salary, job guaranteed. Sun-duk was incredulous that any country should be so generous and enlightened, and promised forthwith to have the remainder of our children in the Great White North.
Nearly five months after first buying the book in Beijing, I finally finished The Pickwick Papers. I’d gotten through more than half the novel by the end of September, then was only able to squeeze in the odd chapter over the balance of the semester. Not feeling quite up to transcribing my Chinese diary over the holiday season, I instead resolved to plough through the last 250 pages with as much eagerness as haste. I think I enjoyed it more in high school, though – it had been my first acquaintance with Dickens’ sharp wit and deliciously overblown language. I’d previously only read Tale of Two Cities and Oliver Twist, two very sombre works, to say the least, and this side of the English Prophet of Doom and Gloom took me completely by surprise.
9:00 a.m. – The American Literature exam was supposed to start at exactly nine this morning, but there are only five students in the classroom, and Khandsuren is nowhere in sight. I asked them if the exam was indeed scheduled for nine, and they replied in the affirmative. I asked them if their other exams had been scheduled for nine, and they again answered yes. I asked them if any of their exams had actually started at nine, and they said no - “Ten o’clock!” My, but the Mongolian education system is singularly laid-back!
9:30 a.m. – One of the assistants tells me in Russian that Khanda will be late (!).
9:35 a.m. – The 4A class sends one of their more serious students, Saraa, to try to wheedle some exam info out of me – to no great success.
10:00 a.m. – Another 4A student, Onorjargal, runs into my office to tell me Khanda won’t be coming, and asks whether I want to continue with my portion of the exam. I answer no, naturally, and tell them to go on home.
10:05 a.m. – Just as I’ve finished lacing up my boots, Onorjargal comes back in and asks me to wait – Khanda will phone me in a few minutes (Dashmaa has just arrived).
10:30 a.m. – The 4B student I’ve nicknamed ‘Miss Korea’ (she does so look like a Korean) announces that Khanda is waiting for me on the line. She tells me she’s been sick since yesterday, and we agreed to reschedule the exam for Friday morning (during my 3A exam).
10:40 a.m. – I ask Dashmaa to open up Khanda’s office so I can make photocopies for the conversation exams – evaluation sheets, to be exact.
11:15 a.m. – I take the bus to the Soros building.
12:00 a.m. – Upon arrival, I run upstairs to see if the repairs are finished and the office reopened. It is!
1:00 p.m. – The internet is down, thither I also go – to the internet café. There, I am able to link with Tripod for just an hour – enough time to update the Names rubric and portal page – after which, the connection is lost. What’s with Tripod the last two weeks? Maybe the cold snap we’re experiencing is slowing everything down or something. It’s frustrating, because I want to update our diary. At least I was able to download the rest of the Vidal articles and interviews…
NOTES: John has a Mongolian girlfriend. He met her about five weeks ago; she’s a neighbour or something. He brought her to the Soros bash last Tuesday, but I don’t recall her name, nor know her age or what she does in life.
Christine Bravo’s Union libre is on hiatus – will it return in the spring? It’s been replaced by a round-table talk show called Fous d’humour that not only is an exact copy of Bravo’s erstwhile programme, Frou-frou, thematically speaking, but is taped on the very same stage – table et al. – as Union libre - which also happens to be the former stomping grounds of Frou-frou and Bravo’s follow-up, all-gal, tell-all show, Cheri, dis-moi quelque-chose (at least I think that was the title).
9:00 a.m. – The classroom doors are all locked. Half-a-dozen students wait in the hallway. Khanda’s not here yet. Go to my office to write this.
9:10 a.m. – Bayarsuren, from 3A, drops by for a chat; they’ve got another exam this morning. She tells me that she got a C and a D on her Law and Legal Translation exams. I’m confused – didn’t Khanda tell me they could only get A’s and B’s? Well, maybe the final exams help determine whether they get an A or a B…
9: 20 a.m. – The doors are still locked; Khanda’s hasn’t arrived; fewer than one third of the students from 3B and 3C are accounted for. Why do I get the impression that ten o’clock is the unofficial start time for exams?
10:00 a.m. The 3A students are sure that I’m supposed to give them their exam today, when I was told quite clearly – and the schedule confirmed this – that it’s for tomorrow. After some hemming and hawing, I send them home.
10:30 a.m. Khanda’s come at last, and at 10:40, we give the exam to the 3B class; 3C is nowhere in sight. Where are they?
Because the students sit in pairs, I had to make an exam for each row of students to avoid cheating. In addition, I gave them only 45 minutes to complete their exam, so the good students, preoccupied with their own mark, were not able to help their lazier neighbour. Oh, the look on their faces! They couldn’t copy off one another! They tried, though, at the very end - especially at the one-minute warning.
I haven’t corrected the exams yet, but they look like unmitigated disaster, for the most part. If they had attended class regularly, done their homework (I gave them weekly assignments), and studied, they would have finished the exam in thirty minutes, with grades of at least 80%. Will they have learned their lesson?
The oral exam followed at 11:45. Khanda and I divided the class into two and had students choose a partner for improvised conversation. I gave Khanda an evaluation sheet (comprehension, fluency, grammar, and creativity to be graded on a scale of one to five) and twenty slips of paper with conversation topics on them. The slips were laid face down, and the students made to pick out two or three and go at it. Khanda like this method; usually, she said, Mongolian teachers give students a few questions one or two weeks before the oral exam; the students then come in on the appointed day and read the answers they’ve written down!
Later on, we discussed my classes for the next semester. It seems the Mongolian teachers hate teaching literature and methodology (their own… well, methodology and knowledge of these subjects leave much to be desired, as noted in these pages), so I agreed to teaching both subjects to 4A, not 3A. I also reiterated my desire to teach composition during the second semester, since everyone seems to hate speaking English (except for the very few for whom I will organise an English club).
MFOS needs to know my schedule as soon as possible, as well. Among the many activities Buman has planned for spring is one brought to my attention just yesterday at the Soros office: English lessons for members of the MFOS staff. I agreed to teach six hours a week during Tsagaan Sar, then two hours thenceforward.
I walked into 3C’s classroom and found my missing students; they said they had been told to come to school yesterday at 2 p.m.!! Khanda later denied there was any truth in that statement. After we administered the written exam to 3A, we both went back to 3C and told them to come back Tuesday at exactly nine o’clock.
At noon, we were finally able to give 4A their literature exam. I had written up only two questions in the expectation that Khanda would have many more covering October and November. In fact, when Saraa came to grill me Wednesday, she asked me if I knew anything about Khanda’s questions, to which I replied a resounding no.
Much to my surprise, Khanda had nothing prepared. Apparently, she didn’t know how to go about testing students on author biographies and bibliographies. I think the kids were disappointed, as well, since memorising biographical info and the titles of works is much easier than literary analysis!
The exam only lasted thirty minutes. (I had students sit by themselves; there were just enough desks for me to do this. Oooh, did I draw some angry glares!) There’ll be two or three A’s for sure, but the majority of the class drew blanks. I asked them to give me the main points of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and analyse Longfellow’s poem, Nature; we’d studied both in great detail in December. Not many, however, had taken notes or even listened – for which infraction they are now paying dearly. They came to my office ten minutes after the end of the exam to treat me to lunch – an obvious ploy to soften my resolve. I refused, claiming I had an appointment at the Soros office.
I didn’t exactly lie; Buman had called me last night to ask for some help on documents she’s working on. At around six o’clock, I was at last able to connect to Tripod properly, following two weeks of frustration. I had just enough time to update the diary and portal page.
CHRISTMAS FROM CORNWALL !!! Not one, but two packages, including a HUGE one from my sister and her family, arrived today from Cornwall. They were so cumbersome, in fact, that taking the bus home was out of the question – only the Soros van would do! I got home an hour before Sun-duk, and waited patiently for her arrival so we could open the gifts together.
Oh, the look on her face when she stepped in and saw the boxes – priceless! She threw off her coat, toque, and mittens, and fell on the presents with all the eagerness of a five-year-old on Christmas day!
The smaller box, sent by my parents, contained the cutest little baby clothes, three CDs (classical music for the foetus – a method of stimulating brain growth that Koreans claim as their own), as well as two dozen pictures from the Roy-Pilon November pilgrimage to Disney World. Sun-duk and I both remarked, with a trace of regret, how much our nephew Carl and niece Annie had grown in the last two years; they are now six and three years old, respectively. Sun-duk alone, however, had noticed the reappearance of brother-in-law Mike’s beer belly!
As for Josée’s package, it had been filled with all manner of goodies, which, combined with postage and delivery, must have cost an obscene amount of money. We can only say “Thank you!” to such generosity, with meek voices and lowered eyes, and the hope that some day, we will have lifted ourselves out of penury and found a way to repay her kindness.
The biggest entry in the Christmas sweepstakes was a baby gym – a sort of Korean yo with a flexible, crescent-shaped plush bar from which toys dangle, to the amusement of the very young and supine infant who has yet to discover the art of sitting up. Sun-duk and I really appreciate this, sis! And it’s so cute!
Other items of extreme interest: a beautiful frame for that first baby picture; a box of macaroni and cheese from Carl (a favourite of both his and mine!); a CD containing all 65 issues of MAD Magazine published between 1969 and 1974 (MAD’s “Golden Age”!); a cute sticker calendar that allows parents to follow “Baby’s First Year”; blue flannel pajamas for Sun-duk; and a special NHL Edition of that capitalist classic, Monopoly!
Well, what can we say? Thank you, thank you, thank you, dear family!!! Here’s to all of you, and may I find a job near Cornwall come summer!! :-D
The Russian high school was empty!!! I remember asking the caller last week if there would be a lesson this Saturday, and he had said yes. Am I going mad or something? Oh well, I called Sun-duk and told her I would work on the Mongolian page (the spanking new History section – check it out) before meeting her at Mercury Market at five.
Back home, we ate, relaxed (I read my MAD Magazine CD!), and went to bed. And that was the day that was!
NOTES: Last Sunday, at Reverend Chun’s house, we watched a programme on Arirang, the international Korean channel, where young foreign workers were invited to test their ssirum skills. (Ssirum is Korean wrestling, similar to both Japanese sumo and Mongolian wrestling.) Despite his smaller size, it was a Mongolian who took the men’s championship. His ace in the hole: experience! Although he assured everyone that he had never, ever tried ssirum before, he did admit to having wrestled semi-professionally in his homeland! Aaahhhhh..! Also, there are no weight categories in Mongolian wrestling, so he was used to grappling with big fellows. (See the Sports section of the Mongolian page for more details on Mongolian wrestling.)
After mass, today, Sun-duk and I went to Yahoo! Canada to try to register our site there, since Yahoo! International wouldn’t give us the time of day. First, you have to choose a directory, sub-directory, sub-sub-directory, etc. – we chose “Society”, “People”, “Relationships”, “Families” - before filling out an application form. Once that is done, they ask you whether your site could be listed under another category – we chose “Travelogue” – and if you think they should create a new category – we said yes, “Interracial Couples”. As Yahoo! Canada figuratively waves goodbye, they add that any site they decide to register is also automatically listed on Yahoo! International. That was news to me, so I did a check with one of the worst Canuck homepages I remembered coming across, and sure enough – there it was, in blue and white, for all five continents to see.
Yahoo! Canada has about thirty sites listed under “Families”, and we visited a dozen of them. Most were true vanity pages, devoid of almost any content; others were okay, but not great; others were the work of professional web page designers. None seemed to be as thorough and – ahem! – interesting as ours. Those that offered more than a few family pics wrote short autobiographies, tiny travel diaries, suggested favourite links, and so on. It gave us hope inasmuch as our chances of being listed on the world’s most popular search engine seem very high, now, indeed. Sun-duk really, REALLY wants our homepage to become the web’s first and premier site on and for Korean-Canadian couples – our small claim to internet fame.
A funny thing happened to us on the way home… We took the number 2 trolley, which is the only public transport vehicle which goes by both our neighbourhood and Sun-duk’s office. One stop later, we came to a complete halt. There was a motionless trolley in front of us, and another behind. People started getting off; the poorer passengers simply sat there, waiting out the delay. Ten minutes later, we decided to leave, too, and were amazed to see a line of fifteen or twenty trolleys, all held up by the head trolley, which seemed to have experienced an accident of some sort. Trolleys, of course, run on electricity, which is fed to the motor via cables. If one breaks down, they all follow suit.
Well, it was nearing 5:30, and the thermometre was dropping fast; so we hailed a ‘cab’, drove downtown, then took the bus home. By now, the temperature, according to my nose – at which frostbite started to gnaw after just a single minute of exposure – was around minus forty Celsius (Farenheit, too, come to think of it), with the wind whipping our faces raw. My whiskers bristled with icicles, and my toes, laughingly “sheltered” by one-millimetre-thick summer socks and cheap Chinese boots, went numb. I didn’t think anything would beat the December temps, which were uncommonly low, even by Mongolian standards; but January has arrived with a roar of truly Arctic proportions. (Yes, it’s a mixed metaphor, truly Jeffersonian in its breadth!) Sun-duk and I were in pain when we finally reached the apartment, and we spent the next five minutes rubbing some warmth and life into each other.
NOTE: Hard to believe that this winter’s dzud will be even worse than last year’s, when two-and-a-half-million head of livestock perished under horrible conditions… (see the In The News section (December) of our Mongolian page for more details)
No exams, today, but a slightly delayed trip to the hospital. Let me see if I can get through this without mentioning the baby’s sex once, thus sparing everyone our huge “Spoiler” warning…
We arrived at Yonsei at two o’clock, waited fifteen minutes, then spent almost half-an-hour with Doctor Enkhtuya. I won a battle I had been losing when I remarked to the good doctor that Sun-duk was eating much too much chocolate, as well as too many other sweets and oranges. Sun-duk let loose a vociferous “Tchh!!” before being stunned by the doctor’s corroboration. An overconsumption of sugar or acid on the part of a pregnant woman will cause allergic reactions – perhaps even allergies – in the baby. These reactions manifest themselves in the form of red splotches and/or eczema, which cause, in turn, painful itching and scratching. Sun-duk was absolutely crestfallen. Not only does she love – and I mean ‘love’ in the strongest sense of the word! – chocolate and oranges, but she’s been suffering from very violent cravings for these very foods. Oh, to have to quit cold turkey..!! Aigo!
We then went over to the sonogram room to take a look at the baby. We measured the head (50mm long) and checked all the vital signs – everything’s normal. The machine predicted a birth date of April 8 – the very date I predicted two months ago, and which I’ve been proselytising ever since on our site’s portal page! Hey, poolies – show me the money! ;-)
The picture was unclear, however, so we went over to the maternity ward behind Yonsei, where, for T3000, one can have an even better sonogram done with a more modern machine. It predicted a birth date of April 6 (boo-oo!); it also allowed us to see the body in greater detail. The leg bones were clearly visible (the thigh bone is exactly 51mm long), as were the ribs and arm bones. We managed to get a profile just once, for a few seconds – eyes, nose, and ears accounted for -, but no head-on shot. Since the printer was operational at last, we asked for a couple of pictures. We got one of the baby’s doodie – thus confirming the sex -, and one of the top of the head – no face (sniff!).
In conclusion: all’s well… And I didn’t mention the baby’s sex once!
ATTENTION, EVERYONE !!! We just want to point out, for those who haven’t fully explored our homepage, that the In The News section of the Mongolian page is a rich repository of interesting facts and articles on historical and contemporary Mongolian culture, economy, politics, mores, and life. A lot of effort has been put into transcribing these articles, which are found nowhere else on the net; so it’s well worth the detour.
I administered the written exam to the 3C class, but because of Khanda’s absence, I had to postpone the oral exam until Thursday afternoon. What a day that’ll be: three classes, three oral exams!
Gossip from Korea: I’ve kept in touch with two very good friends at Kyung Hee University, and it seems that after a spring semester of hope and renewal, the administration in charge of the foreign teachers has once again flexed its ignominious muscles and fanned the flames of discontent. It hasn’t happened quite as quickly as it did last year – many more people have renewed their contract, this time around -, but expect an exodus/housecleaning next summer and winter…
S.O.S. MONGOLIA - CNN Asia’s Veronica Pedrosa interviewed the head of the U.N. disaster relief organisation on the looming disaster in Mongolia, and, to a lesser extent, Inner Mongolia. We have been hit by snowstorm after snowstorm, and the temperatures have hovered between –35 and –50 Celsius for the last three weeks. Half of all Mongolians are still nomads, and their lives depend on their animals, who are dying by the hundreds of thousands yet again. The situation has been exacerbated by two consecutive summers of drought; some areas have even been hit by plagues of field mice and locusts. In Inner Mongolia, the rest of China’s population, largely sedentary and agricultural, is able to come to the aid of their countrymen very quickly. Independent Mongolia, however, is almost completely covered in snow and has almost no road system to speak of. Their economy is in ruins, and the country is relying on donations from the West to prevent its people from starving to death. If you want to help out, send some money to the food-aid organisation nearest you. Click here for pictures of the Zud.
OH, DEM EXAM BLUES: Khanda was AWOL again, leaving me to spend seven consecutive hours (with one ten-minute break) administering oral exams to sixty-odd students. The school director also sat in on the interviews for an hour – an hour that happened to be filled with the worst students in the entire senior class. I don’t know if she’s familiar enough with the teaching profession to divine that I’m not to blame for these dullards’ extremely poor English skills…
I’m also trying to figure a way out of my new schedule, which consists of 23 contact hours a week. They tell me they haven’t been able to find replacements for the departing teachers, so they’re trying to dump the extra courses on me. This time, I’ve got Buman on my side, though, so they’ll have to make do with 18, regardless of whether they find someone or not; I’ll even cancel classes to bring the number down to where my contract says it’s supposed to be, if I have to. Hey, they’ve pencilled me in for a seven-hour stretch on Wednesdays, no break! To H*** with that!
Sun-duk’s had morning sickness several times in the last two weeks. She’s ascribed it to the rice she eats for breakfast every morning, so she’s switching to bread. This latest development in her pregnancy has convinced her boss and colleagues that she ought to be given a bit more slack; as a result, she has been given permission to arrive at the office at ten o’clock and leave at five, effectively reducing her work day by two hours (and in direct contravention to the national labour law, might I add!).
French Movie Time: I missed the beginning, as well as the end, but I managed to catch an hour of a recent movie starring the incomparable Jean-Pierre Marielle, Philippe Noiret, and Kristin Scott-Thomas – the first two thespians completely outstripping any of their North-American counterparts in talent, performance, and longevity, in my very humble opinion.
It was another WWII film, this time focusing on an aspect of the war’s history which very few people, including myself, know about: French camps set up in southern France for the detainment of German nationals in 1939-1940. All of these Germans – many of whom were world-renowned scientists, doctors, artists, writers, musicians, and Nobel laureates - were francophiles who had fled the Nazis in the thirties. They were not interned in the fear that they would secretly help their Motherland, like the Japanese were in Canada and the United States; rather, the French government gathered them there to prevent the conquering Boches from exacting revenge on these “traitors”. Noiret played an uncaring general, while Marielle’s character, the commanding officer of the camp whose lungs were all but destroyed by German gas in World War One, overcomes his hatred of the enemy and attempts to find his prisoners a way out of France before it’s too late. Not a great movie (that’s why I went to bed early and missed the ending), but a pleasant cinematic diversion, and a great turn by Marielle. Scott-Thomas (Fifi in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Ralph Fiennes’ doomed love interest in The English Patient) also impressed me with her near-flawless French.
Le Téléjournal on TV5 had a special report, this morning, on a civil war of which we hear very little – Algeria’s. Of course, France experienced its own Vietnam in Algeria, back in the early sixties, but the ties between the two former belligerents have remained strong nonetheless.
The civil war was brought about by Islamic fundamentalists, who, after losing federal elections a decade ago (or, as they claim, after having the elections stolen from them), have been on a rampage, killing – sometimes with guns, but more often than not with knives and machetes - tens of thousands of innocent people who, they believe, support the government. This week, they killed 40 villagers in 48 hours – half of them children. Some had been hacked to death, others – the children, mostly – had their throats slit like pigs. One man survived the carnage by playing possum. Entire families were decimated, including those of men who fought for Algerian independence forty years ago. The images were horrific.
Another bomb: Lucien Bouchard has stepped down as Premier of Québec. This smells like a virtual coup by the hard-line separatists, who no doubt smell an economic recession in the air and aim to capitilise on future discontent to stir up enough support for a referendum and eventual secession. I haven’t read any Canadian newspapers on the subject yet, but here’s my prediction: the hard-liners will nominate Louise Beaudoin to head the party and the government. She’s a staunch separatist and a woman. The Parti québecois needs all the assets it can muster; the federal Bloc québécois only won half of Québec’s seats in last November’s national elections, and satisfaction with the Canadian system – even with its leader, Jean Chrétien – is high at around 60%, thanks to a robust economy and years of budget surpluses.
I came to school at 9:30, only to find a half-dozen students form 4A studying for this morning’s Methodology exam. An hour later, they walked into my office to tell me that they were ready. Unfortunately, Khanda, to whom I had entrusted my part of the exam, had yet to arrive. Finally, at eleven, Dashmaa, the secretary, strolled in to work and handed me the 25 sheets with my questions on them. The students had 50 minutes to complete the exam.
Khandaa checked in at 11:15; apparently, one of her law professors decided, on the spur of the moment, to give ,I>his exam this morning. Moreover, with her hectic schedule, Khandaa had neglected to write up questions for her part of the exam – the second such occurrence.
In any case, she assumed the heavy burden of writing each student’s grade in their little red books. (It’s a sort of student ‘passport’ which graduates must present to employers – a transcript, if you will. But of what real use is it when all the C’s, D’s and F’s are magically changed into B’s?) There are no duplicates of anything, surprisingly enough – much less on computer -, so there’s no preventing Khanda or the director from changing my marks, which I wrote down in pencil and are very low. Hey, they wanted strict, they got strict… Although nowhere near as strict as I would be in the West; otherwise, half the student body would have failed.
I haven’t corrected the Methodology exams, yet – I’m just too pooped to concentrate, so the students will get their grades Monday -, but I have looked at them. The students seem to have done much better here than on their literature exam. I doled out a dozen F’s, for that one, and the message appears to have been received loud and clear: “Study, ‘cause this guys means business!” They’ve already bought me two lunches in an attempt to soften me, but one of the meals was inedible… Should I deduct brownie points for this gross misdeed? ; - )
I met a new colleague at Onol, today; she’ll be teaching on Methodology to the 3A (teacher’s) class. It had been assigned to me, but I balked. The students can’t even understand me in conversation class - how are they supposed to grasp theory? This middle-aged lady is a translator, though, and has requested my assistance in giving a course she knows nothing about. The strange thing was that we only talked in Russian! She admitted that her spoken English left much to be desired. And just in case you’re keeping count: they still need to cut two or three hours out of my schedule.
I taught Sun-duk how to play Monopoly, today. We used the Collector’s NHL Edition that my sister sent us for Christmas. The game lasted six hours! Sun-duk went through peaks and troughs until she finally won, to her utter delight. She was impressed by the thought that had gone into making such a game – “much more complex than Sequence,” she remarked.
Of course, with two people, there aren’t enough houses or hotels to go around; nor is the bank sufficiently liquid in monetary assets to keep us ‘moguls’ afloat. We substituted coins for ‘luxury boxes’ and ‘arenas’, and wrote out a score of $1000 bills for ourselves in order to ensure that we did not deplete the bank’s reserves of $100 and $500 bills.
Last night, Sun-duk and I went to City Coffee to meet Douglas Campos, our friend from the UNDP; we’d made a dinner engagement with him two weeks ago. At six o’clock, forty minutes past the appointed time, we were forced to come to the conclusion that he would not come. Puzzled, but hungry, we stayed put and ordered Hong Kong Chicken Fried Rice, Malay Beef Curry, and Thai Chicken Curry. Delicious…
This morning, my students informed me that a helicopter had crashed in north-western Mongolia yesterday, killing nine people, including five foreigners – some of whom worked for the UN. They had gone to assess the zud disaster in Uvs province. I immediately thought of Doug, Eric, and Mme Guillou, the three UN members with whom Sun-duk and I are acquainted, and hoped they were not one of the casualties. The students told me that the dead were comprised of Mongolian, American, Japanese, and German nationals; that excluded everyone but Eric. Unfortunately, we won’t get know the names of the victims until tomorrow or Wednesday, as the authorities attempt to contact the families. Sun-duk’s contacts at FHI were just as clueless as us. It explains Douglas’ absence…
Sun-duk found out the names of the foreigners who lost their lives in Sunday’s crash. We didn’t know any of them personally, although we both came close to meeting Matthew Girvin, UNICEF’s programme officer, back in September, when we were applying for jobs. (Eric had told us UNICEF in Mongolia was operating on a tight budget and that there was little chance of us being hired.) With only seven or eight thousand foreigners in all of Mongolia, any tragedy or event in the ex-pat community is bound to hit close to home. This accident happened a mere two months after a doctor who had just spent two years in Mongolia perished in a plane crash on a humanitarian mission to Uganda. There’s a risk in working in third-world countries that is only surpassed by life in the United States; Sun-duk is growing more disenchanted with her major, and our principal door to successful careers.
A boring beginning to the new semester, but at least I can say that I have – for the present time – but 16.5 contact hours a week spread over four days: three hours Monday morning, 1.5 Tuesday, six Wednesday (all in a row!), and six more Thursday (two three-hour chunks separated by a ninety-minute break). I’m free Fridays to do what I please, since the Onol teachers seem uninterested in methodology and the students too lazy to form an English club with me as their leader.
I decided to put an end to the charade masquerading as English lessons at the Russian high school. I was supposed to teach the teachers, but my services have only been enjoyed, on a very intermittent basis, by the principal and her secretary. They never call to cancel; I’ve prepared classes and gone there seven or eight times, only to be met with an empty school or told, an hour later, that ‘everyone was too busy with other things.’ Since I’d already made up my mind in October that these lessons would not go beyond January, I though now was as good a time as any to pull the plug. I thought a phone call would suffice, but Buman insists that a face-to-face meeting is the proper thing to do. To avoid any hard feelings, I’ve told Buman that I will only accept the Mongolian-Russian dictionary as payment (they’re worth US$30) for the three or four times I actually taught teachers, writing off the four or five lessons with the principal and her assistant as ‘language exchange’ (Russian-English).
ALL’S QUIET ON THE FAR EASTERN FRONT: The cold snap ended this week, with mild temperatures of –20 to –25 degrees Celsius. Even Sun-duk calls the recent weather ‘warm’! It’s all relative, isn’t it?
Also quiet: the baby.
Jean-Noel has barely budged an inch in the past week. The ‘Book’ says this is normal; foetuses also experience ‘down times’. This seems to be one of those times.
The Russian school was closed again, today. I asked the accountant if they would be open next Saturday, and she said yes. Why doesn’t anyone call me and let me know what’s going on? Well, it reinforces my argument that this gig isn’t worth the trouble, and I can’t imagine the director will voice any objections to my ending this fiasco – especially since I’ve made up my mind not to charge anything.
I walked all the way to Soros in –30 C weather, only to be met with freshly varnished floors that prevented my doing any computer work. So coldly rebuffed, I beat a hasty retreat homeward and relaxed with my Jagi…
READ THIS: Although I include all articles of interest in the In The News section of the Mongolian page, I fear most people are disinclined to learn about one of the world’s remotest countries, in spite of my best efforts, through this diary, to stimulate interest in a people whom I find fascinating. Right here, right now, I resolve to include the odd article for the edification of those who would ignore this nation which once ruled the greater part of Eurasia.
Since it seems to take a disaster to grab most people’s attention these days, I’m starting with an excellent article on the Zud. It’s a first-hand, up-close, and personal account with ordinary people losing their livelihoods and slowly starving to death. For example, one man left his tent just before a snowstorm to fetch some of his livestock. The storm caught him by surprise, and he eventually got lost. He spent the night walking blindly until he came upon a neighbour’s tent the next morning. By the time he got to an area hospital, he had to have both his arms amputated due to frostbite. Another example: some families, looking for better pasture with less snow and ice, migrate – literally walk – hundreds of kilometres (one family actually crossed the entire country lengthwise) in the snow, ice, and wind, losing animals, extremities, limbs, weight... Trucks with aid get bogged down in the snow, and are only able to travel 5 or 10 kilometres an hour. But enough: please read on…
Assessment Team’s Survey of Eastern Mongolia -
by A. Delgermaa, The UB Post
”The surprising thing about Mongolia is the huge distance, which means a huge logistical problem in such cold winter conditions,” said Mr. Heinrich Gloor, leader of the UN Disaster Assessment Coordination Team which drove by jeep to the eastern part of Mongolia to conduct an on-site assessment of the zud situation. […]
Herders far removed from one another and from the administration centres are facing multiple human- and livestock-related problems during the harsh winter thus far.
Herders are migrating with hundreds of animals, sometimes hundreds of kilometres away from home, looking for better pastures. But there are no grounds for such hopes. “The drought of last summer and early snow from October and November has covered all the territory with icy layers,” explained Colonel Ch. Batchuluun of the State Emergency Commission. The first snowfalls occurred in the mountainous areas and moved to the southern Gobi regions later on.
Ten head of cattle belonging to B. Erdenejav’s family died during the night of January 11-12 on their way to better pastureland, and three calves were unable to walk, lying in the deep snow the next night. “We’ll come back again in the morning to see if they can go on. If not, we’ll leave them here,” told Erdenejav’s young boys who are driving about a hundred cattle to Jalaa, Tsenkher-Mandal soum, Khentii aimag. The family moved from Tov aimag to Kherlen-Bayan-Ulaan in Khentii aimag, the reserve pastureland which was once home to 410,000 animals, at a distance of 100 kilometres. But the migration was unsuccessful because the land was dry during the summer and prairie fires burned up what little grass remained.
The family was not alone in scouring the land. Approximately 100,000 animals and 40 families – some from Uvs and Gobi-Altai, a thousand kilometres away – came to Kherlen-Bayan-Ulaan this winter, according to aimag authorities.
Now Erdenejav’s family is migrating again, some 30 kilometres to Jalaa to save the livestock from starvation. But both humans and animals are exhausted. Legs of the cattle were bleeding, and the boys’ faces were frozen as they trudged along on unyielding, ice-covered steppes.
Herders were unable to prepare enough hay and fodder reserves last autumn because of summer droughts. To save their animals, families share their own food supplies with livestock, make strong tea, or prepare energy-rich foods with horse fat and liver for the feeble animals.
Hunger is not the sole reason for animal death. Temperatures sinking to as low as –50 Celsius at night, and below –30 Celsius during the day, are killing area livestock in pasture or shelter. “Sheep or goats get on top of weaker ones in order to feel warm, and the weak ones perish,” told Ts. Munkh-Ochir while preparing for his third migration in Tsenkhermandal soum. “The unusual drops in temperature, down to –50 degrees, are raising the death toll and are become a trouble spot of this year’s zud,” said Colonel Batchuluun. Further down the road in our jeeps, the Colonel spoke to me about the climatic changes of recent years – hot summers of +30 Celsius, cold winters of –40 to –50 Celsius. “It might be because of global changes. Moscow has had temperatures of above zero, while it was –60 Celsius in Siberia during the early January temperature drop.”
The situation was the same at Delgerkhaan soum, Khentii aimag, when our jeeps finally arrived after a seven-hour drive over a 60-kilometre distance – getting stuck dozens of times in the snow. The Tserendorj family herds 2,000 animals, half of which belong to the Mongolian Army. “Twenty have died so far – all to exposure,” Mr. L. Tserendorj said. The family does not intend to move, though. “Pasture is the same everywhere, so it’s better to stay and risk it,” he continued. The hay from a Japanese aide package was distributed in part to them, which will sustain the animals for a while.
The scenes of livestock death out on the steppe were increasing along the way. The lowest loss of animal life for a family was ten, the highest sixty. The winter is only starting.
Colonel Ts. Baast, the commander of the military unit located in Delgerkhaan soum, where Mongolian Army livestock are bred, says that antelopes and finches have frozen to death on the steppe, noting that wild populations are also severely affected by the zud.
Severe temperatures will last until the end of January, and more snowfall is expected in February, according to the Environmental Meteorology Institute. The disastrous situation is expected to last until May.
Snowstorms coupled with driving winds are killing people and animals. Herders suffer frostbite while tending or searching for animals. “I was walking non-stop,” explained I. Renchindorj, a 56-year-old man who is now missing both his arms. He left his home at seven o’clock in the evening to go for his livestock when a storm started up. “A few hours later, I realised that I was lost.” He did not stop walking, and found a family the next day at nine o’clock in the morning. Because of distance and transportation problems, he could only get medical care at five in the evening in Sumber soum, Govsumber aimag, after it was too late to save his arms.
Soon, herders will be facing food shortages. Currently, families are living on meat rations prepared last October, and merchants cannot reach them because of road conditions. “Very little flour is left from what was supplied by the Red Cross, and we can’t reach the soum centre to get the next shipment because of transportation and snow difficulties,” said Ms. S. Khandjav, an elderly lady living in Tsagaandelger soum, Dundgobi aimag. Her family lost most of their animals in last year’s zud, and now has only 50 remaining. But losses have started again.
”In late March and early April, weak people and weak animals are still facing a lack of food and grasslands,” Heinrich Gloor said, stressing that cold temperatures were consuming too much energy.
”I hope that herders are drawing the conclusion that pastoral livestock breeding is the cause of such losses in disastrous conditions,” Colonel Batchuluun stated. He proposes a wintertime system that allows animals to be fed rather than dependent on grazing.
WE LIKE MOVIES: Good movies, this weekend: The Hudsucker Proxy, Liar, Liar, Big Trouble in Little China, The African Queen, and, best of all, the classic Bringing Up Baby, starring the incomparable Cary Grant (my all-time favourite Hollywood actor) and Katherine Hepburn. Those ‘sophisticated’ comedies from the thirties haven’t aged a bit, as far as I’m concerned; they’re just as bright and witty and relevant as they ever were. Unfortunately, these odd morsels of cinematic quiche make me pine all the more for the gastronomic delicacies found in my collection of classic videos rotting away in Canada like so many cow carcasses on the Battleship Potemkin…
WE HATE YAHOO: I guess Yahoo! Canada won’t list us. It’s been two weeks, and nothing… They probably think it lacks ‘Canadian’ content. I’m afraid to try Yahoo! International again; I’ve already suggested our site three times, and in one of their disclaimers, they say they block people who suggest their sites too often, and label their URLs “spam”. It’s amazing how many homepages have absolutely no content, and yet are able to get themselves listed! What do we have to do? Break up our page into several separate sites and suggest each one again, one by one – “Mongolia”, “Korean-Canadian Couples”, “EFL Asia”, “Daniel & Sun-duk”?
I’m glad the 4A students got all their methodology theory out of the way the previous three semesters: now I don’t have to give long, boring classes on the whys and wherefores of pedagogy. I get to spend four months showing them how to teach communicatively and creatively – all practice. I’m parsing out the bits and pieces of my own considerable bag of tricks, guiding them through activities by eliciting both the teacher’s and students’ points of view. We had lots of fun this morning; I had four small groups organise exercises geared towards English conversation, then the group leaders had to give a short lesson in front of the class.
THE DOG DAYS OF WINTER: Winter’s going to last seven or eight months this year, they say. That means we’re not even half-way through! Well, it’s nice to know that Sun-duk and I are living in one of Mongolia’s most interesting periods, weather-wise, of the last hundred years. It adds spice to an otherwise dull experience, doesn’t it? I’ve been lucky in that sense: everywhere I’ve lived abroad, I’ve witnessed society on the cusp of big change – 1990 Soviet Union (the breaking away of the Baltic republics, two kidnappings, the worst food shortage since WWII, the collapse of communism just a year away), 1994 Turkey (led by that country’s first and, so far, only female prime minister), 1995 Cuba (the opening of the country to tourists from sympathetic countries – Canada, France, Germany), 1996 Paris (at the time of the metro bombings by Islamic extremists), 1997 South Korea (the first truly democratic elections, and rapprochement with the DPRK)… Yes, I’ve witnessed some history, and not just of the Gore/Bush variety…
Thursday night, on my way home from school, a man came into the bus with a big German shepherd! I’d never seen any animal on public transport before. Even though this creature seemed mild enough, not to mention very obedient, its owner had muzzled him. This struck me as an extraordinarily responsible, although no doubt, expensive precaution, and I applaud the owner for his judgment.
SOAPBOX DERBY: The United States and the Philippines – what a contrast. Bush, with his retro-Reaganism, has become president though he lost the popular vote to Gore; yet the American public apathetically sat in front of their television sets and let the Florida Republicans and the Supreme Court of Corruption hand power over to their puppet in a travesty of justice and common sense. Meanwhile, across the Pacific, People Power 2, a revolution of ethics and morality, ousted an unscrupulous leader by organising mass protests that even the military felt it couldn’t contain. American Republicans will call this Mob Rule; but in my eyes, this is democracy at work, of a type much truer than that which is preached and practiced in the U.S. End of rant.
KUNG-FU FIGHTIN’: I was watching Russian news, the other night, when I saw Putin walk into a dojo dressed in judo clothes. He then proceeded to give a demonstration of martial artistry in which KGB agents were taught back in the bad ol’ days of the USSR. It made me wonder: just how many world leaders today could hold their own in hand-to-hand combat? How many generals-cum-presidents of the past – De Gaulle, Eisenhower, Grant, for instance – were versed in the arts of pugilism and self-defence, and able to hold their own once in office? I like this man more and more; he’s showing the kind of strength that Russia has been sorely lacking. An affluent, confident Russia is ultimately vital for the prosperity of Europe and the world – not, as some say, a fast track to WW3. Just look at what post-war Germany has accomplished…
THEY’RE GER-REAT!!! As Sun-duk and I crossed the playground on our way home (it lies in the middle of our apartment complex), we noticed a family building their ger right next to the monkey bars. Why they were building there, and why they wee there at all, remains a mystery. Did they come from the countryside? Were they evicted from their apartment?
ALGERIA: Thrity-four more dead, this week, including family of 11. TV5 claims 100,000 people have died since the civil war began ten years ago…
FOOD FOR THE HUNGRY (PERSONAL): Onol’s cafeteria is finally back in business after a month-long layoff. I was only eating one or two meals a day on account of this, skipping lunch altogether and sometimes breakfast, too. They’ve hired two new cooks who didn’t know I am supposed to be fed free of charge; I had to get one of my students to translate for me.
MONGOLIA vs. NORTH KOREA : Something I’ve been mulling over for weeks: Mongolia is just as poor, if not more so, than the Hermit Kingdom. Just think about it. Which is more stable: a nomadic, pastoral lifestyle in one of the most punishing environments on earth, or a sedentary, agricultural society in a temperate climate? In fact, North Korea was richer than its southern neighbour until the early seventies. It was the industrial heartland of the peninsula until WWII as the south languished in rice paddies – highly reminiscent of the social and economic state of affairs that existed in the United States until only recently.
So why do tens of thousands of people starve in North Korea, and hardly any do in Mongolia, despite the odds being so fatally stacked against the Mongols? It’s not democracy, nor is it capitalism; the West has shown itself to be almost as generous to the suffering populations of enemy countries as it is towards friendly nations (Iraq is a good example). The answer is Pride.
Kim Jong-il is too full of himself to admit the slightest weakness; Mongolians are not. Aid pours into this country in the hundreds of millions of dollars; Kim allows but a trickle to seep into his playground.
Hope, however, is in the wings. Kim Jong-il visited Shanghai last week, and made comments that allow analysts to believe that he will adopt ‘The Chinese Way’ – a euphemism for capitalism held firmly on a short, authoritarian leash. If North Korea proceeds at the same pace as the Chinese, then things should be back to normal by the end of the century, I should think: democracy, social-democracy, free speech and all…
ROBBIE WILLIAMS: He’s a British/Scottish singer a cut above the rest. I can’t say as I’ve kept up with contemporary English-language music since the early nineties, but his videos on MCM, the French music channel, have caught my eye. His songs and visual style are several shades brighter than today’s pallid pop; he even sings in French! (He simply translates the lyrics to his English hits.) What really impresses me about this man is his presence: what a ham! Obviously bound for the big screen; question is when. Just by his videos, you can tell Robbie’s got more natural acting talent than Sting, Madonna, Roger Daltrey, Ringo Starr, John Mellencamp (whose pitiful effort at directing and starring in a movie of his own is now airing on the Hollywood Channel), or any other singer I can think of – with the possible exceptions of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
DEAD BIRDS’ SOCIETY: I noticed last week that three quarters of the tiny, brown sparrows that had been calling the Onol grounds their home had suddenly vanished – whisked to avian heaven, no doubt, by the intense cold of late December and early January. It’s enough to make Charles Darwin proud…
Even though Food for the Hungry International is an American organisation operating in a country that celebrates the Lunar New Year in February, the Koreans running the FHI show here have taken the day off – so Sun-duk was forced to stay at home on a day where I must teach from ten to five. Yes, this is Sollal, the Chinese New Year; all the markets are closed, everyone gathers at the ancestral home to meet with family, and drink, and eat, and gossip, and drive in ten-hour-long traffic jams…
Speaking of whom, she’s gotten quite round in the belly; ‘protruding’ might be a more apt word. The very sight of her now prompts people to give her their seat on the bus! No matter how loose-fitting the clothes, and no matter how many layers she puts on, Sun-duk is very noticeably pregnant – much more so than most Korean women in their last trimester, in fact. But then again, take a look at her husband!
Things that make you go BWAA-HAA-HAAAA!!!!: From one of the most iconoclastic comedians of our time, a man with whom I share more than a few political and philosophical convictions - the great George Carlin:
Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things.
One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor.
Atheism is a non-prophet organisation.
The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live.
If someone with multiple personalities threatens to kill himself, is it considered a hostage situation?
Is there another word for synonym?
Isn’t it a bit unnerving that doctors call what they do… “practice”?
Where do forest rangers go to “get away from it all”?
What do you do when you see an endangered animal eating an endangered plant?
If a parsley farmer is sued, can they garnish his wages?
Why do they lock gas station bathrooms? Are they afraid someone will clean them?
If the police arrest a mime, do they tell him he has the right to remain silent?
Why do they put braille on drive-thru bank machines?
How do blind people know when they’re done wiping?
Is it true that cannibals don’t eat clowns because they taste funny?
Do infants enjoy infancy as much as adults enjoy adultery?
If God dropped acid, would he see people?
If you ate pasta and antipasta, would you still be hungry?
If you try to fail, and succeed, which have you done?
Whose cruel idea was it for the word “lisp” to have an “s” in it?
Why are hemorrhoids called “hemorrhoids” instead of “assteroids”?
Why is it called tourist season if you can’t shoot at them?
Where are we going? And what’s with this handbasket?
If you spin an oriental person around three times, does he become disoriented?
And one of my all-time favourite Carlin musings: If a man is standing in the middle of the forest speaking, and there is no woman around to hear him… is he still wrong?
Courtesy of our good friend Matthew Williams, who e-mailed us these gems. For more on George Carlin, visit his homepage. You can also download all of his live albums from Napster. The stuff above is actually quite tame, so don’t be shocked by the profanity, atheism, and misanthropy George displays in his inimitable, curmudgeonly New York City rasp.
Sun-duk and the FHI crew spent the day at Khandgait, the ski ‘resort’ an hour away from Ulaanbaatar. She brought the camcorder along and videotaped the outing. South Koreans are very little used to snow that doesn’t melt on the spot, so they behaved like we Canadians do as children, fighting in the snow, sledding, sliding, building snowmen, and so on.
The people who built their ger in the playground have up-and-moved… to the front of our apartment building. Why?
Chinese television is busy celebrating the Lunar New Year in typical, dictatorial style: the airwaves are filled with members of the armed forces solemnly singing and dancing before cameras and huge theatre audiences. It’s too ridiculous for words! So much pomp and pomposity, men and women bedecked in garish medals and ribbons, hamming it up like third-rate, off-Broadway actors…
An old movie starring Matt Dillon and that Canadian actor, whazzisname… George of the Jungle/Dudley Do-Right… reminded me of George W. Bush. In it, a rich mediocre WASP (Dillon) is expelled from a private high school after falsely accusing a Jew of cheating on a final exam (he was the real cheater). As he made his exit in a chauffeur-driven limousine, Dillon told George/Dudley that his father’s money and connections would still get him into Harvard – adding that ten years later, no one would remember his ignominious expulsion, while his erstwhile scapegoat would still remain a “dirty goddamned Jew”.
While I don’t think George W. is a racist, he’s obviously not bright enough a man to have gotten into Harvard (or was it Yale?) without his dad’s pull. And even though he was only a C student, you’ve got to wonder how much slack his professors gave him. The parallels make one think, don’t they?
Yesterday, I decided to give four hours a week of my time to Onol’s teachers and students: 12:00 to 1:00 on Mondays and Tuesdays, and 10:00 to 12:00 on Fridays. Both groups have loosened up and begun to visit me, so it’s only fair that I be there for them. My schedule allows it, and I can always find something to do at the office.
Buman and I finally went to the Russian high school for the Big Announcement. Wouldn’t you know it, I chickened out again. The principal was so distraught at the thought of my leaving that she said she would raise my hourly wage and let me decide on the time and length of the lessons. I mulled it over, and thought aloud that if I only taught two hours a week every Saturday, from ten to twelve, as of March 3 (one week after Sun-duk’s departure), I might be amenable to this favour. So a deal was struck, and I was paid T86,400 for the eight four-hour classes we had from September to January.
An interesting sidebar: Principal Sorondzon asked me how much Soros was paying me – she REALLY wants me to work for the school next year! The US$1000 I quoted didn’t faze her a bit; all she did was punch a few figures on a calculator and said it was feasible! Although it would mean stalling my career (such as it is) for a year, I readily would have accepted this offer, if only because working for ten months in a totally Russian and Mongolian environment would make me perfectly trilingual and raise my Mongolian to the high intermediate level, leapfrogging past my Korean and Spanish. Unfortunately, Sun-duk would never agree to staying in Mongolia an additional twelve months, so I thanked the principal for her generous and tempting proposal, but politely refused.
Think of it from her perspective, though: with a native speaker of both French and English, fluent in Russian, semi-fluent in Korean and (before long) Mongolian, and a professional translator with two graduate degrees to boot, her school’s prestige would double, and she could charge parents extra for this Wonder of the Western World! ;-) Flattering…
So I’ve got five or six free weekends ahead of me before Sun-duk quits Mongolia and leaves behind a lonely, broken-hearted shell of a father-to-be who will only be too happy to practice Russian with a Mongolian Education bigwig just back from a business trip to Buryatia…
Mongolian herders pay livestock tax! I laughed when I read the article below in The UB Post - it’s so… medieval. I don’t mean that disparagingly; it’s just that I find it reminiscent of feudal Europe, when most people were penniless farmers whose only assets were livestock. So much in Mongolia hasn’t changed over the centuries, that the historian in me finds these titbits absolutely fascinating. The basic livestock unit against which all other animals are measured, for instance, is the sheep! But read on…
Mongolian herdsmen pay livestock taxes based upon the number of sheep they own. Though horses, camels, and cows may pooh-pooh such measures, each of the three livestock, so predominant in Mongolia, will be recorded as being equal to five sheep for taxation purposes. One goat counts as one-and-a-half sheep.
Herders who live in Darkhan-Uul, Orkhon, Selenge, and Tov aimags, and inside the municipality of Ulaanbaatar, will pay 100 tugriks, equal to approximately nine American cents, for each sheep they own. Residents of Arkhangai, Bayankhongor, Bulgan, Dornod, Dornogobi, Dundgobi, Gobi-Sumber, Khentii, Khovsgol, Omnogobi, Ovorkhangai, and Sukhbaatar aimags will pay 75 tugriks per head of sheep. Bayan-Olgii, Gobi-Altai, Khovd, Uvs, and Zavkhan aimag citizens pay only 50 tugriks each.
Livestock tax deadlines are July 15 and December 15 of each year.
Part I: I got up early in the morn and installed Hangul 97, a non-Microsoft word processor that Sun-duk had always wanted, onto our laptop; one of the pastors at FHI lent her a CD-ROM full of pirated software.
When I was done with that, I checked out the other programmes, and to my delight, discovered ‘98 and ’99 versions of ACDSee and Adobe Photoshop 5.0!! The first is one of the most popular image viewers/editors in the world – but you have to pay to keep it for more than a month. The second allows users to perform several dozen outstanding – and often completely bizarre - special effects on pictures and photographs. These will both come in handy as I try to update and beautify our homepage.
Oh yes, and er… we also installed Microsoft Excel and Powerpoint ’98.
Part II: The bad peanuts I gorged on last night brought with them a case of food poisoning that lasted nearly 48 hours. I missed church (no regrets, there), but a dinner date with Kelli and John had to be postponed, too. We had made an appointment to meet at a Mexican restaurant, Los Banditos. It would have been only my second Mexican meal in four years.
The weird thing is that I couldn’t reach either colleague – both our phones, home and cell, have been cut off. No one’s yet told me to pay the ‘bills’. (I put that last word in quotation marks because there are no bills in Mongolia; you either go to the utilities office and settle there or hand money over to the superintendent) We’ll try to take care of this during the week…
Last Friday, on Dave Sperling’s Korean Job Discussion Forum, I left a message asking for essay contributions to our Korean-Canadian Couples Page. However, when I looked for it this [Monday] afternoon, I couldn’t locate it among any of the 500 messages showing. I was obliged to conclude that it had never been posted. Then I visited our homepage and saw that there had been 90 hits over the weekend! In other words, my message only lasted two days!
I’m angry about that, because half the messages on that forum are totally unrelated to either Korea or EFL – it’s mostly idiotic bitching between theists and atheists, Protestants and Catholics, Christians and non-Christians, Americans and Canadians, Koreans and Westerners…
Why don’t I just re-post my message? Because there are so many frustrated, immature brats who are ready to pounce on any perceived bit of vanity, bandwidth waste or exclusionary tactics. The first time we advertised our site there, back in October, Americans got on our backs for having a site devoted to Korean-Canadian couples; single Canadians chastised us for omitting their demographic group; and Canadian-Canadian couples berated the entire phenomenon of interracial marriage, accusing all Canadian men of preferring “demure, servile Oriental geishas” to “self-actualising, independent-minded Western gals”. Sheesh!
BACK ON TRACK: Khanda was sick all last week, which explained her silence. I found out from her this afternoon that the textbook I’m using for the Methodology class, and copies of which I had planned on distributing to the students for the duration of the semester, were currently being used by another teacher at another university. Onol is one third of a triumvirate of post-secondary institutions which pool and share textbook resources. So I guess I’ll have to go on making photocopies, eh?
Khanda also showed me the British Literature “textbook” she had talked about at the beginning of the month. The “textbook” turned out to be simplified, bilingual English-Chinese editions of various classics, such as Gulliver’s Travels, Frankenstein, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. They contain no biography of the authors or critical essays; so I guess I’ll have to go on getting those from the internet, eh?
HOO…ray?!? I asked a group of 4A students to come to my office so we could talk over their presentation next Monday. As we gathered at my desk, they wondered if their lesson (it’s the Methodology class) could last just forty minutes. I answered no. Sixty minutes? Why? I demanded. They blurted out something incomprehensible, then groped for words until I understood them to mean that Monday was a ‘special’ day. How? I queried. Another minute of confusion ticks by. Finally, someone manages to stammer ‘no school’. Oh? Why? “Um… er… uhh… dzaa…”
All right, enough already! I bring them to Dashmaa’s office, and in Russian, ask her if next Monday’s a holiday. Her answer: winter break begins next week!!!
I was struck dumb. Apparently, Onol’s changed its mind and decided to synchronise its break with that of most other universities in town. An extra week’s holiday… but that also means an extra week of work in June. I’ll try to convince the administration to pile my final exams in the first half of June, so I can amscray to Korea and join my nascent family as soon as possible.
IT COULDA BEEN THE WRISTS: Probably a full two weeks after it actually happened, I noticed that someone had very expertly slit open my briefcase on a bus or trolley. Nothing was stolen; all I had in there were books and paper. Since I always carry my briefcase at knee-level, I assume it was some homeless, razor-blade-wielding child who did the deed - much to the chagrin of us both, I would imagine. I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner, considering I’m the only foreigner in my neighbourhood for miles around. In fact, I’m amazed that I haven’t been stalked, mugged, robbed, beaten, or even killed yet! Sun-duk wants me to move downtown next month, but I’ll take my chances out here in the boonies until June.
Wrap-up: My bag now sports two ten-centimetre-long gills for that “ventilated” look.
Updates: A one-way ticket from Ulaanbaatar to Seoul is US$370. Sun-duk won’t buy hers (probably for Sunday, February 25) until MIAT, the Mongolian airline, announces its Lunar New Year discounts next week.
Because Mongolia is one of the world’s poorest nations, with few foreign visitors or investors to pump cash into the economy, the government squeezes all it can out of us: entry, work, and exit visas; entry and departure taxes; fees for processing everything and anything… Sun-duk is shocked, but from this country’s perspective, it’s perfectly justifiable – and only a drop in a big empty bucket.
The cell phone’s been ”updated”. You have to go to the company office and buy ”units” in blocks of three months. Sun-duk asked her colleague to buy 100 units, or minutes, for us. Unless we can make international calls on the thing, we’ll never use up all those units by the end of April – and they cost $30. That’s almost a week’s wages for me.
BBC World interviewed Mongolia’s ambassador to the United Nations, this morning – a Mr. J. Enkhsaikhan –, about an official UN appeal for a paltry $12 million in relief to prevent nearly half the population from losing its livestock and starving. I don’t know how much of the zud is reaching Western media, but I hope the word is beginning to enter people’s consciousness and they’ll be sufficiently impressed to send some money.
Sun-duk didn’t agree with me that Mongolia is much poorer than North Korea, pointing out to the millions who have died or are dying of hunger; but I maintain the fairness of my judgment. North Korea was richer than its southern neighbour until the early seventies, and its infrastructure, both before WWII and still today, is significantly more developed than Mongolia’s. In addition, its climate is much milder and amenable to industry and agriculture. It’s only the communist elite’s pride, vanity, and lust for power that is inflicting all that suffering on the common people.
Meteorologists had predicted that the end of January would be just as cold, if not colder, than December. Meanwhile, Mongolia’s oldest man was asked about the coming lunar year, and he answered that the Year of the Snake would be a propitious one – that in his lifetime, there had never been a bad snake year. Most people scoffed, but he’s been proven right so far! The weather has been very mild of late – in the –15 to –20 range in Ulaanbaatar. People are beginning conversations with greetings of, “Nice weather, we’re having, eh? Warm!” That may be difficult to comprehend for some readers, but the difference between –20 and –50 (wind chill factor included) is ENORMOUS. And as every Canadian knows, -20 when one is bundled up well is not the least bit cold.
TOO GOOD FOR MY OWN GOOD: Well, now I’ve done it! My 4A kids expect every class to be fun and games, now, so when we got down to the difficult business of articles, this morning, they rolled their eyes and moaned. I explained to them that despite my own gregarious style and the lessons we’re learning in our methodology course, study must sometimes be a serious undertaking – dry, hard, tedious, and yes, even downright boring. After a lifetime of teacher-centred learning, and no doubt a trying internship month last September, they ought to know!