Hello everyone! I’m feeling a bit sleep deprived this morning, since the entire group was up late last night writing our second paper. Most days this trip feels like vacation, but every once in a while the school bit breaks through. In case you’re wondering, I think the midterm went well, and the paper I just turned in is only a non-graded draft, and I can breathe easy for a few more days.
Picking up where I left off last time, after the midterm everyone enjoyed a bit of time off by going out for karaoke. It was very fun, and my willingness to sing may have been slightly enhanced by the fact that I can legally guy beer here (sort of). It was a lot of fun, and good for group bonding. Also, it was my first time going out so far, so it was long overdue. The next day most of us walked over to the “Black Market” for a bit of shopping. The market is enormous, with stalls for everything from jeans to horse gear, antiques to incense. Luisa, Audrey and I spent a good three or four hours wandering around, and I came away with some really nice loot. My favorite finds are probably my yak hair sweater, poofy blinged out vest, and some bunny leggings that miraculously fit. I spent entirely too much, but when most things are under $10, you tend to forget that it all adds up…
After the market everyone came back and pretty much crashed. I worked on some homework and watched TV, and was very happy not to have an immediate deadline on my hands. After everyone had gone to sleep we were rudely awoken at 4:45am when someone started banging on the hostel door. The banging didn’t stop, and soon the person moved on to the windows. We were all very scared at this point, thinking some drunk man was trying to break into our hostel. As it turns out, after a full half hour of banging on all the doors and windows, we finally heard him say, “could you open please the door?” and we knew it was the German man who was staying down the hall. He had left his luggage here and needed it back as his plane was about to leave (or so we think. His English wasn’t great). Nobody could quite figure out why he was out until 5am, trying to get back, clearly past our 1am curfew, but our business director let him back in, and we all tried our best to go back to sleep. It was a frightening experience, but in the end we can all laugh about it.
Sunday we all loaded onto two rickety vans for our overnight at Terelij, which is a meditation retreat center owned by the abbot of Lamrim, the monastery where we have been taking classes. We were told that we couldn’t have a nice bus like last time because they wouldn’t be able to make it up the mountain roads. So I was a bit nervous heading out, but, as usual, the Mongolian drivers knew what they were doing. After about half an hour we stopped to look at a monument that seemed to have some significance I didn’t catch, but there were several tourists milling around. I was more excited about the fact that there were yaks nearby. They’re really cute! After about twenty minutes of stretching our legs and fawning over the yaks, we got back into the car and made our second stop at a cave where several monks hid during the Soviet occupation. It was kind of slippery, but interesting. Our third stop of the day was my favorite, Turtle rock!
I was excited at how much turtle rock actually does look like a turtle. And it’s situated in the middle of the mountains, so the view wasn’t too shabby either. All of us were given a chance to climb to the top, though Stuart hit his head once he got there. He was absolutely fine after Aleisha wrapped his head up, so no worries.
After turtle rock we made one more pit stop to look at another rock formation, whose name I don’t exactly remember. It looks like a man sitting, and the locals believe it’s an image of the Buddha. The Abbot built his retreat nearby, because he said it was an auspicious sign (Buddhism is all about auspicious signs), and he wanted to share with us. Afterwards we finally made it to the retreat.
Terelij is amazingly beautiful, and we were all very excited to be there. After a bit of nice downtime we were fed, and the Abbot gave us a tour. He began construction on the retreat in the late 90s, and it has come a long way. Every building is pretty, and of course you can’t beat the scenery. He also had an obstacle course bridge which was meant to represent the six perfections to become a bodhisattva, and that was fun. We were sad that the zipline wasn’t ready for us yet, but I was secretly glad: I’m terrified of open heights.
We climbed up to the highest temple, where the Abbot gave us a lecture on Buddhist teachings, and explained his reasons for building the retreat. Everyone was a bit tired, and we had some trouble paying attention. My favorite part was when he told us, “if you weren’t studying Buddhism, I wouldn’t really care so much about helping you.” We weren’t sure if this was a translation thing or not, but we all thought it was great.Most of us took it easy the rest of the evening, and at night we all crowded into one of the temples for a big pacrim slumber party. We had to be careful which direction we slept, because it is a serious sign of disrespect to point your feet at something/someone in Buddhist cultures. Also, your head should never face a door. Anyway, I went out on a night hike with Audrey and Luisa, and we did some moon gazing. It was so bright, we didn’t even need flashlights.In the morning I went on a hike with Sarah, Stuart, and Grace to find some rock paintings. They were really high up, and and the hike was a bit strenuous, but totally worth it. The view from the top was spectacular, though my fear of heights definitely kicked in. Getting down proved much more challenging than going up, and I spent most of the time sliding down the hill on my butt. I’m still picking burrs out of my clothes, but cest la vie.
Once safely back on level ground, a traditional Mongolian barbeque was organized for us. Normally, the meat would be cooked using hot rocks inside a goat skin, but they used a milk can for us. It’s not really what we think of in the US as “Mongolian BBQ,” but it was certainly interesting. At this point I was a bit mutton’d out, so the food was not really my thing, but most people enjoyed it. I had to wander away quickly because the smell was way too much for my stomach (mutton is very very strong).
Afterwards we were once again given free time. Professor Benard was feeling sick, so our scheduled meditation was cancelled, which was fine by me. Instead I sat outside to do some homework, and ended up falling asleep in the sun. Overall, a very pleasant afternoon. We had dinner and once again loaded up the vans. The drive back was much less eventful, and I was happy to get back “home”.
Just a few reminders about the blog: Comments are great, I love them, but keep them either on the blog, or in an email to me. I can’t talk about where I am on facebook, it’s against school security policy. Also, tomorrow is my last day here in Mongolia (it’s taken me almost a whole week to write this post), and from here on out I will probably have less internet access, and therefore, fewer blog entries. I’ve been spoiling you guys so far, and I’ll continue trying to do at least a bi-weekly post, but in Malaysia there are no guarantees
Also, remember, if you want a postcard send me your address! And let me know if you want one from a specific country.
Bayartai! (Goodbye in Mongolian)