Every time I thought we were about to get lost, Simya and Soyoloo would stop, talk, and then continue driving. Even when the “road” disappeared below the snow, they always seemed to find their way. And the end of a long second day of driving we arrived at Irtindala Village. I shot a few photos as we drove into town trying to catch the local dress of the people.
When we arrived at our overnight lodging the weather was about as cold as I had ever experienced; the low that evening was -30 degrees celsius (-20f). When I went outside to use the phone at midnight I was quite warm with all of my new gear on. I understand now how people in Siberia and Alaska survive; it’s all about being dressed for the weather. The only part of my body that was cold was exposed skin (my face).
Our hosts took very good care of us and cooked hot meat filled dumplings. I had a few faux pas moments when I inadvertently broke some social “taboos.” After I came in from my late night phone call, I announced, quite confidently, that I had seen 4 shooting stars (a good omen in the west). My guide and hosts looked down at their Chai cups and appeared distraught. Soyoloo leaned over and told me that this was “bad luck” in Mongolia, that 4 people had just “died.” I tried to make light of the situation and said, “Well, I’m sure they were bad people.” The joke didn’t carry well…
Later, Soyoloo looked at me with his eyes wide open and asked me to unfold my legs. I had one foot over my knee and the sole of my foot was pointed towards the wall where the Buddha statue sat. He explained that it was quite rude to show the sole of your foot to the Buddha.
We were never cold in this house; the coal stove ran day and night. In fact, I stripped down to only shorts and a t-shirt and I was still warm. Above the stove is a poster of Lhasa in the capital of Tibet. I found it interesting that my Muslim hosts in Bayan Ulgi had photos of the Ka’ba and our Buddhist hosts here have a photo of the most famous Buddhist temple.
A shot of the living room where we enjoyed spending some down time and where we also enjoyed some creature comforts like constant heat, tv, electricity, and running water. The sumo wrestling seems to be a big hit on Mongolian tv…
The next morning as we departed, I took a shot of our other host. The morning was sooooo cold, it seemed to take a half hour before the car warmed up.
Later, I found a list of Mongolian social taboos in my book and I chastised myself for not having read this page before my visit. Here is a list of cultural norms and social taboos in Mongolia:
- Say hello (sain bai-na uu) when you arrive (but repeating it again when you see the same person is considered strange to Mongolians).
- Avoid walking in front of an older person; or turning your back to the altar or religious objects (except when leaving).
- Leave weapons outside.
- If someone offers you their snuff bottle, accept it with your right hand. If you don’t take the snuff, at least sniff the top part of the bottle.
- When offered some vodka, dip your ring finger of your right hand into the glass, and lightly flick a drop (not too much – vodka is also sacred!) once towards the sky, once in the air ‘to the wind’ and once to the ground. If you don’t want any vodka, go through the customs anyway, put the same finger to your forehead, say thanks, and return the glass to the table.
- Don’t point a knife in any way at anyone; pass a knife handle first; and use the knife to cut towards you, not away.
- Don’t point your feet at the hearth, at the altar or at another person. Sleep with your feet pointing towards the door.
- If you have stepped on anyone, or kicked their feet, immediately shake their hand.
- Don’t stand on, or lean over, the threshold.
- Don’t lean against a support column.
- Don’t touch another peron’s hat.
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