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Ellen Shapiro

eGullet Society staff emeritus
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  1. Most of those 40,000 people are, I gather, using the Internet for e-mail. The eGullet site would probably break most of the older computers in use over there. But there is definitely good e-mail availability in the cities (I used it all the time there, and we planned the whole trip via e-mail from home, albeit without total accuracy!) and there is a push to modernize the country's telecommunications. Mongolia got thrown into a big depression when the Iron Curtain fell and has only recently started to steady itself. I'll bet you'll see those numbers grow a lot in the next few years.

  2. Thanks for all the kind comments; they keep me going as my fingers go numb from writing all this down not to mention reliving every bump on that damned horse.

    I've been searching around for a Mongolia map that I could put here without violating any copyrights, and finally I've come up with one from the US government that's kosher. You'll notice three arrows (I've added those). The one on the left is Olgii, the town we flew into in western Mongolia near where Eagle Hunter hangs out. The one in the middle is UB. And the one on the lower right, for reference, is Beijing. You'll see that Mongolia is totally surrounded by Russia (aka Siberia) on top and China on the bottom. You'll also see to the left of that left arrow, a border that comes to a point and almost touches Mongolia. That's Kazakhstan.


  3. To read all the parts of this series please click: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII


    We've already established that Eagle Hunter doesn't hunt eagles but, rather, is the owner-operator of a trained eagle that hunts on his behalf. And we've learned that Eagle Hunter occupies a high station in the Mongolian Kazakh social structure, roughly equivalent to that of a cross between a federal judge and a basketball star. But Eagle Hunter is no mere specialist. Eagle Hunter is a jack-of-all-trades, a veritable one-man Mongolian Kazakh dude ranch. Not only was I to witness the interaction between Eagle Hunter and his feathered companion, but also I was to join Eagle Hunter for several days of activities and events demonstrating his prowess at fishing, riding, and carving, as well as being introduced to his network of contacts in the weaving, dairy, and orchard industries.

    But first we had to locate him.

    That morning, everyone slept much later than I anticipated. Aren't farmers supposed to get up before sunrise? I assumed nomads would be in the same category; you know, 4am milking and such. Then again, everyone had stayed up much later than the farmers in the movies (take, for example, Kelly McGillis in Witness) so I guess it balanced out. I, however, was up by 7:30am so I took my water bottle, toothbrush and toothpaste, toilet paper and camera and tiptoed past the sleeping bodies and outside into the cool, clear, fresh air.

    Deep breath . . . okay I take back the part about fresh air. Um, is that? . . . I think I can identify that odor . . . sheep shit? . . . . wait, maybe it's goat . . . could be horse . . . okay, I've got it, it's the neighbor's yaks. Obviously it's yak shit. How could I have missed that?

    Other than the time I made tea while imprisoned in that little apartment, this was the first time I'd been alone and awake in the past 10 days. And I include going to the bathroom in that characterization. For the most part, outside the city and tourist areas, there is no going to the bathroom because there are no bathrooms. So J and I had developed a system, back in the day (okay, last week), whereby one of us was designated "lookout" while the other was designated "pee-er" (as in, she who pees).

    There's just not a lot of cover in Mongolia. The Pacific Northwest it ain't. No giant sequoias to duck behind. For the most part, no serious concealment at all. And I'm not terribly shy. I wasn't looking for total seclusion or even total visual obstruction. All I wanted was a tall enough tumble weed to maintain the illusion of pretending to keep at least part of one ass-cheek out of view when I turned my back (another delusional trick of modesty -- sort of like a two-year-old or a dog hiding by sticking its head under the bed -- I can't see them because my back is turned, therefore they can't see me) and dropped my pants. But of course we did have a jeep, so I had taken to squatting down and peeing directly behind the jeep, which I hoped was in the blind spot of the driver's mirrors (it's not so much that I didn't want to be seen but, rather, that the thought of somebody wanting to watch was too much to handle). J had quickly adopted this procedure and so we did the teamwork thing, with one of us standing by on lookout with back to the other, ready to sound the alarm if someone approached (more delusional behavior). Once in awhile, mostly just to have a few minutes to ourselves, we'd wander off and seek out promising pee spots together -- it would sometimes take all the intelligence and craftiness of both of us combined in order to find a suitable place.

    But here I was alone. Aside from the sleeping goats, sheep, horses and neighborhood yaks, I was very, very alone, as in alone in Mongolia. And this place was an oasis: there were some actual trees around (very unusual), not to mention a large river (even a small river would have been a treat compared to the Gobi). I had my pick of spots. Talk about an embarrassment of riches.

    One by one others emerged from the ger. The regular wake-up time turned out to be around 9am. Aiyka and the translator/guide were still asleep, but with the activity all around them they were soon stirring as well. Morning unfolded at a relaxed pace. Water had to be fetched and boiled (using twigs and animal dung as fuel, this can take some time), fuel had to be collected (enough for copious amounts of tea and cooking), and the cooking had to be done (everything always made to order from scratch, with the exception of the bread which was baked about once a week). We started off with bread and milk tea. There was jam (there because of me and provided by us, as was everything we all ate with the exception of the dairy products, one meal of mutton, and some of the bread -- that's what all of the boxes from the jeep were for), margarine and yogurt skin to spread on top. Then, about an hour later, we were served some kind of hot course. We had oatmeal that first morning followed by a cream of wheat type cereal the next and, on our last morning in Eagle Hunter's ger, we had cooked bulgur.

    By 11am, as the breakfast activity began to die down, Eagle Hunter was still not in evidence. Thus we were going to have to seek him out at his winter house, where he was allegedly cutting the hay. And so we embarked upon our search for Eagle Hunter. Eagle Hunter's eldest daughter, Chica, rode along with us. She would be able to help pinpoint Eagle Hunter's location. Chica joined the other three in the back seat of the jeep. She and Jan, only three years apart, were becoming fast friends.

    Along the way we stopped at a tiny graveyard -- only 10 or so headstones -- to pay respects to Aiyka's grandparents. Upper-class intellectuals, they had been executed by Mongolian soldiers acting on directives from Moscow.

    After asking around some, we found Eagle Hunter's winter home. Eagle Hunter did not appear to be present. We walked around and called out to him and, eventually, he appeared in the distance and began to approach. We had, at last, found Eagle Hunter.

    At this point, not much happened. Eagle Hunter greeted us and all the women started busying themselves making lunch, even though as far as I could tell we had just finished breakfast. Our crew was working on our meal and Chica was making lunch for Eagle Hunter's son and workers (Eagle Hunter and Chica would share our food). I got the impression we were going to be here for a while so I decided to go for a wander. After being eaten alive by mosquitoes, I settled down next to Chica, who was cooking the workers' mutton on a fire outside.

    I was beckoned in for lunch -- mutton stew -- about two hours later. It was 2pm, we were on our second meal, and I was still waiting for our day to begin. But after lunch we did indeed get some glimpses of Mongolian Kazakh life.

    First, we watched the hay cutters cut hay with their scythes. This was interesting for several minutes, though of course we watched for a much longer time than that (imagine having to actually do this all day!).


    And then, we finally got to see Eagle Hunter in outdoorsman mode as he went fishing. Might we have fish for dinner? This was potentially the most exciting news of the week. Alas, Eagle Hunter didn't have much luck with the rod this time around. We did, however, get some very impressive mosquito bites.


    Around 5pm we, with the addition of Eagle Hunter in the back seat (and Chica now in the way back cargo area) drove over to Bayan Nuur, the real Bayan Nuur (not the summer village). It was pretty much deserted. The only people there were two guys who were painting the entryway to the town's store. The store had a somewhat unusual and quite limited inventory: as far as I could tell, the only items stocked in quantity were vodka and Mickey Mouse dolls. Aiyka went in looking for a toothbrush and toothpaste and Jan wanted a soda. The rest of us followed out of curiosity or boredom. They both left empty handed. After getting a view of the town from the top of the "Dance Pavilion Mountain" we squished back in the jeep and headed for the apple orchard.

    Apple orchard? Aren't these people supposed to be nomads? Well, it seems these particular nomads return to their orchard every summer and camp out while the trees are bearing fruit. So there are pockets of agriculture in western Mongolia, and we were to visit one of them. After several rounds of asking for directions, we found the entrance to the orchard, which was locked.

    Eagle Hunter swung into action: he dismounted the jeep and let out a mighty holler, presumably intended to attract his friend, the owner of the orchard, aka Orchard Man. Looking to us for support, much as a rock star asking the audience to engage in a synchronized clap, Eagle Hunter called out again. The others joined in and there was a great hullabaloo. He didn't turn up.

    So we climbed back in the jeep, asked around a bit, and were unable to acquire any additional information regarding Orchard Man's whereabouts. Another round of hooting and hollering seemed to be the logical next step, so we returned to the same spot. Our driver wandered off to look for Orchard Man in the fields, and we were to raise a ruckus locally. Eventually, and having nothing to do with our strategy, Orchard Man came strolling along, greeted us, and opened the gate to the orchard.

    From what bits and pieces of information I could comprehend and assemble, I was able to ascertain that Orchard Man also owns an eagle. Perhaps this is how Eagle Hunter and Orchard man became friends, kind of like having kids in the same school. Come to think of it, I asked myself, where do these kids go to school, if at all? My train of thought was interrupted by some pretty unusual stares and gestures, directed at me.

    Our driver had gone so far off into the fields to look for Orchard Man that we had nobody to drive the jeep he had left behind. Except, it seemed, for me. The translator/guide had apparently offered up that I knew how to drive a standard vehicle. This she knew because, back when we were stuck in the lake in the Gobi, I had volunteered to drive so the driver could try to help push us out -- she was apparently a much better listener and rememberer than translator. So I was cheered and cajoled into the driver's seat.

    Driving a jeep over those roads was substantially more difficult than I had anticipated, and I developed a newfound respect for what a driver does in Mongolia. I could see why any driver, even an extremely skilled one, would be exhausted after a day of driving on this kind of terrain. Just a few minutes had rattled my nerves -- and I'm used to driving through Manhattan or, conversely on mining roads in Kentucky. These conditions were far more extreme.

    I came to a halt in front of Orchard Man's ger and we all piled out. Our driver, when he finally caught up, made a mock effort to hide the keys. Though he spoke not a word of English, we had our own little communications and I thought he was a gem. Such a great sense of humor -- I could tell even without understanding his words.


    We experienced additional Kazakh hospitality: we were welcomed into the ger, tea was distributed, the fried dough bowl was brought out as were the hard white cheese and old hard white cheese as well as the crown jewels: two bowls of apples, one full of yellow apples, and one full of red. The apples were tiny, tart and delicious. I savored one of each of these unwashed apples. (What's the difference? All the literature instructed that I not drink the water in Mongolia anyway. Then again, it also said to peel all fruit.) "Damde," I said. Orchard Man's wife smiled broadly (Orchard Man and Eagle Hunter had strolled off, perhaps to talk eagle business). Delicious.







    We walked around the dwarf apple trees and admired the dwarf apples. Everyone collected the drops off the ground and ate them as we wandered. I was called upon to take countless pictures and, as many times, I was reminded not to forget to send them copies of the pictures. I promised I would (one of the first things I did upon returning home was print 32 snapshots and mail them to Mongolia -- when and whether they'll arrive, I can't say). Aiyka, Jan and our translator/guide each bought a kilo or two of apples to bring back to their families in Olgii. As our driver started the jeep, the wife of Orchard Man ran over with a small bag of apples as a gift to me and reminded me to mail them the photos.




    Next, we were to see the Turkic stone, an alleged Mongolian archaeological treasure. I'm not even going to tell you about it, it was such a letdown. Suffice it to say, I'd been hearing about it forever -- it was even printed on our itinerary -- and it was basically a stone maybe four feet high with a face carved into it. Yes, it's really old. No, nobody knows where it came from. But really, who cares? Suffice it to say, it was not quite Stonehenge.

    At about 8pm we stopped to visit Aiyka's parents in their ger. Such lovely people. They had already finished dinner and threatened to make us something. Oh no. Oh yes, they served us a dinner meal. I observed the wily Eagle Hunter. He only ate one bowl of food and refused a refill. I predicted the worst and didn't finish my portion.


    In the dark, we returned to Eagle Hunter's ger. Eagle Hunter's wife was making us dinner. I groaned quietly. Luckily, dinner was served on a giant communal plate, so I was able to get away with a minimal contribution to the effort. Eagle Hunter opened the bottle of vodka Aiyka had brought as a gift (along with a sack of other food items) and started pouring a round. I was unable to refuse -- he filled my little glass. He welcomed me and we all had a drink. I was to make the next round of pours and the reciprocal toast. Down the hatch. With little left in the bottle, Eagle Hunter topped off his glass.

    I guess I wasn't going to see the eagle today.

    We were to spend the following day on horseback, with Eagle Hunter and his eagle companion, riding to a mountain that was still covered in snow. I was urged to dress warmly and there was much head shaking and furrowing of brows about my attire. Finally, everyone seemed satisfied with the addition of adorable little Jan's sheepskin vest (Jan was staying behind to have some time to herself). Four of us set out: Eagle Hunter, Aiyka, the translator/guide and me.



    At this point I started to wonder, where is this eagle anyway? Shouldn't it be safely stowed somewhere in or near the ger? Or does the eagle hover just out of range of detection, waiting for a special Beastmaster-esque signal from Eagle Hunter, whereupon it swoops down and joins its master?

    Let me pause for a moment to tell you all that I am not an experienced horseback rider, nor is riding horses something that ever appealed to me. Not that I have anything against horses; I had done the horse-and-pony rides as a kid and found them entertaining enough. But it never inspired me to take up riding seriously. The whole horseback riding thing had been J's idea and J's passion and I was sad that she wasn't here to join me, and a little bit freaked out that in the end I found myself sitting on top of this rather significant horse alone.

    I really did enjoy the first couple of hours on the horse. Maybe I even enjoyed the first 4, 5, even 6 hours on the horse. But for an inexperienced rider to spend 10 hours on a horse, well, that's just too much. And I don't have a bony ass, I assure you. Nonetheless I was feeling every step for those last few hours. I actually jumped at the chance to walk up the mountain, taking advantage of the excuse that both Aiyka's and my horses were struggling with the effort (my horse had in fact laid down in protest -- with me on it -- more than once).

    On foot, I charged up the hill and stopped at the snow line. I looked out in all directions, astonished by the landscape. When the others joined me we took a couple of rounds of pictures and I charged back down the hill where I had noted a handsome selection of promising pee spots behind boulders and dips in the landscape. It was so hard to choose but I finally settled on what I considered to be a winning combo: a glacial boulder/dip in the landscape bonanza.


    At some point during the day I started referring to Eagle Hunter in my internal dialog as Eagle Hunter Without Eagle.

    One of the highlights of the day was when, during our lunch break, Eagle Hunter Without Eagle was informed that we had failed to pack utensils. No problem. Eagle Hunter Without Eagle grabbed a stick, whipped out his knife, and made me a spoon, which I have kept to this day.




    Yes the black stuff is caviar.

    After our walk, I was happy to get back on my horse again. Eagle Hunter Without Eagle kept looking back over his shoulder to check our progress and when we caught up to him he informed us (me) that now we would be riding faster. Oy! And I thought I had been doing so well. I knew that had J been along, she and Eagle Hunter would have been fast friends. I could see her showing him horse-riding rodeo tricks and then, with a kick of her heels and a loud "he-ya!", she'd be off, leaving behind a cloud of dust and an impressed Eagle Hunter Without Eagle. They would arrive at Eagle Hunter Without Eagle's ger hours before me, and by the time I returned they'd be drunk on vodka and singing Kazakh riding songs in a round. But in reality, there I was alone on my horse and I had been instructed to get a move on -- so I did. I bumped along at (my) top speed for as long as my horse was willing and finally, after several attempts to continue in this manner, I got tired of torturing the horse so Aiyka and I settled into a comfortable pace together and we had a wonderful conversation (the translator/guide was riding far ahead) that passed the hours until we got "home." I was amazed by how good her English was and I encouraged her to practice and to let me know if I said any words that she didn't understand. I had really liked her from the get-go but it's difficult to develop beyond a certain bond in a friendship without at least having a little language in common. This was the final bridge.



    During that last hour on horseback I could have sworn I'd seen Eagle Hunter Without Eagle's ger a dozen times. And finally, at 8pm, it was undeniably there. All we had to do was forge the river three more times and I could get off once and for all. My horse tripped on a large boulder as we crossed the river -- I'm sure it was intentional, just to freak me out one last time as a final hurrah. I pulled up at Eagle Hunter Without Eagle's ger and, without waiting for an assist in dismounting, I swung my leg off that damn horse and immediately saw black spots dance in front of my eyes. I started to get dizzy and I was afraid I would fall over. I backed myself up and plunked my ass down on a rock until the spots went away. After about 15 minutes the dizziness passed too and I walked down to the river to clean myself up and wash my trousers (the only pair I had).

    Adorable Jan was already involved in cooking our dinner and it wasn't long before I was beckoned back into the ger. Again we ate off of a giant communal plate so I was able to fish for the bites I found most appealing. As a special treat, Jan also presented me with an egg sculpture, which was just another example of her adorable, sweet and good-natured spirit. I showed my egg around for all to admire.

    And the eagle?

    "Tomorrow," I was told. "Tomorrow Eagle Hunter will bring his eagle."



    To read all the parts of this series please click: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII

  4. WOW

    ??? What gifts were you giving/ Where did you get them/ Did you have them with you ???

    I brought the gifts with me from home. I had heard from people who had been there previously and read in my book that I should have little gifts with me to distribute. Generally speaking, I'd give a selection of gifts to someone in the ger (usually the oldest woman) and let them distribute accordingly. I brought everything from pens and hair scrunchies, to packs of needles and dozens of rolls of different colored thread to little swiss army knife type tools and Leatherman tool knock-offs. I also had some instant coffee, hot chocolate and little stuffed toys for children—oh, airplane bottle sized vodka. I had a lot of gifts. I didn't give them out to everyone. I think there is such a thing as going over the top and I feel it's extremely crass.

  5. To read all the parts of this series please click: Part I; Part II; Part III; Part IV; Part V; Part VI; Part VII.

    The Eagle Hunter doesn't hunt eagles. Rather, Eagle Hunter (the definite article quickly fell away as "Eagle Hunter" became a proper name of sorts) is a Kazakh fellow who has captured a wild eagle and trained it to hunt for him. The basic exchange is that the eagle is rewarded with fresh meat from the kill and both partners are (relatively) happy. Eagle Hunter and his eagle are alleged to share a meaningful "friendship" and, after approximately ten years, the eagle is re-released into the wild to live out its remaining days. No I don't know how long an eagle lives.

    The focus of this second week in Mongolia was to meet Eagle Hunter and see his eagle. Mongolia has no Empire State Building, Broadway, or New York Yankees. Instead, it has Eagle Hunter and a handful of his eagle-hunting colleagues. This is the holy grail for visitors to Mongolia. Eagle Hunter is, as we say in the neighborhood, the shit. There is even a Superbowl, a World Series, an Olympic Games of eagle hunting held every October (or November -- it's hard to get a straight answer about anything in Mongolia), wherein the hunters and their eagles are rated (no French judge here) on their capabilities as companions in hunting. But this was August -- we were not there for the games, but rather to spend time one-on-one with Eagle Hunter.

    To observe this unusual and rare phenomenon, you must travel to the western part of Mongolia (which is no walk in the park) and, once there, you have to actually find Eagle Hunter who is, after all, a nomad. It's not like he has a street address; or even a town that he lives in; and certainly he doesn't have a phone.

    I awoke the morning after the horsemeat-and-horse-blood-tea treatment feeling, I kid you not, a heck of a lot better. By the time my chains of bondage were broken -- okay, by the time adorable little Jan-the-cook unlocked the door of the flat -- I had showered and made myself a cup of tea (damn, I was loving this little apartment) and I was ready to face the world, or at least go out the door. Could it be that the "Mongolian treatment" had caused this improvement in my health? Simply not possible; or was it? At the very least I could not dispute that my cough was improved -- correlation, if not causation, was solidly established. I gave it the benefit of the doubt: nothing like horsemeat and horse-blood tea to relieve a girl's phlegmatic condition.

    We set out a mere couple of hours after our planned departure time. The jeep driver (different car and driver from the day before) and I occupied the two front seats and Jan, Aiyka, and the translator/guide filled the three back seats. We headed into the "countryside" of western Mongolia. I was dismayed to learn that all of the Mongolian I had cut my teeth on would now be useless. The people in this region were Kazakh and, it turned out, most of them would stare at me blankly if I addressed them in Mongolian. Then again, people who spoke Mongolian stared at me blankly as well, but at least I had grown accustomed to the dim recognition that I was attempting to speak a language they might know. Not so with the Kazakhs -- I would have to learn a new vocabulary of Kazakh words if I wanted to communicate the basics: hello, thank you, goodbye, beautiful, delicious (no need to ask about bathrooms or toilets -- there weren't any), etc. I did, however, find it a heck of a lot easier to pronounce the Kazakh words than the Mongolian words. The sounds were at least somewhat familiar, with a lot of guttural "ch" sounds like in Hebrew. Modern Mongolian, on the other hand, sounds like no language I've ever heard, with the possible exception of a made-up language from an old television variety show -- you can't even figure out where the words begin and end.

    The plan for that day, as determined the previous night by Aiyka and the translator/guide (once I had reminded them of the need for a plan), was as follows: Drive in the jeep 120km to village Bayan Nuur By Lake (turns out this village is only Bayan Nuur summer village; Bayan Nuur "the real village," I found out four days later, was elsewhere and deserted during the summer on account of the Bayan Nuur summer village where, with gers in tow, everyone relocates for the summer); stop at "the lake" (no one knew the name of the lake -- neither my translator/guide nor the people living around it; it was just "the lake"); cook lunch; and walk around "the lake" (Jan would cook with Aiyka, I would walk to the lake with said translator/guide). This was all to unfold by 1pm. The 3pm-'til-dinner slot was to be our time to meet Eagle Hunter, check out his eagle or eagles (at that time, I had no idea which), and take photos. Finally, we were to sleep in a ger built for us by Aiyka's brother.

    To say there was slippage in the schedule would be an understatement tantamount to calling Eagle Hunter "a guy with a bird."

    You've seen the photos of the "roads" in Mongolia so you probably have some sense of the speeds at which we could travel. But to break it down, 120km (that's 74.4 miles to me) at 30km/h equals 4 hours assuming no stops, mishaps, or anything. For this drive, 2 hours had been allocated. And you will recall that we began the day with a 2-hour deficit. Perhaps you're starting to get an idea of how scheduling works in Mongolia.

    En route to Bayan Nuur By Lake Summer Village we stopped at a ger to "experience Kazakh hospitality." That's what it said on the itinerary, and that's what they said in the jeep -- they had their stories straight and coordinated on this one. These Kazakhs, however, didn't seem all that hospitable. Unless of course you count letting us live as part of the definition of hospitality.

    Not that I could actually figure out what was going on. Despite having a dedicated entourage of translator/guide, wife-of-guide-company-owner, cook, and driver, nobody told me much. But as far as I could tell we weren't well received at the first ger. Here's what I saw: I was told we were stopping at a ger to "experience Kazakh hospitality." As our jeep approached the ger, the residents, unaccustomed to getting much vehicular traffic, emerged. There was much discussion and gesticulation between our team and theirs. We drove away, quickly and without comment. That's what I know.

    Things went better at the next ger. We approached. There was discussion. Our driver got out of the jeep. He didn't unzip his fly (this would be the most likely reason for him to get out of the jeep) and he didn't start cleaning the jeep obsessively (the other main reason he might get out: jeep drivers in Mongolia are very serious about cleaning their jeeps; you should have seen our other driver at the gas station -- the one we slept at not the one with the car wash -- the morning after we got stuck in the lake). Therefore, it seemed, we were going inside. My group opened the back door of the jeep (only one door seemed to open in the back; similarly, in our previous jeep, the one in the Gobi, only one of the little back triangular windows would open -- I wonder if it's some kind of Russian manufacturing requirement) so I followed suit.

    This group of people -- though tentative at first -- was, by the end of the visit, like my long lost family. We did indeed, as advertised, "experience Kazakh hospitality." Big time. And I'm not even talking about the two bottles of vodka we all drank together at 2pm when we revisited the same ger on our way back to Olgii five days later.





    Granted, I did hand out a shitload of gifts -- this is the Mongolian tradition, observed by both Mongolians and Kazakhs, i.e., the nomadic peoples -- but not until I had decided that I loved these people. When you receive hospitality from people in their ger, you reciprocate by giving some gifts, and we had been offered milk tea, a variety of cheeses, fried dough (little rectangular pieces), and airag, so I was delighted to observe the gift-giving tradition. Each person in the ger received a gift, and I later found out (yes, this was sort of a pattern) that not everyone in the ger was actually a resident of said ger. It turned out that the man who had initially welcomed us to the ger was actually a neighbor and the father of the ger wasn't home.




    They invited us to stop back to visit on our return to Olgii so that they could kill and cook an entire sheep in my honor, following which we would spend the night in their ger. How can you say no to that? When we left, we took one of the daughters of the ger with us. Not to give you the wrong idea, she was hitching a ride -- she wasn't a gift or anything like that. At least, I think she was a daughter or resident of the ger, but on this I wouldn't bet the family herd. Whatever her status, she needed ride to her cousins' ger which was located, we were told, "Somewhere between Bayan Nuur By The Lake Summer Village and Eagle Hunter." She squeezed in back with the other three, bringing the back-seat population to four.






    We arrived at the lake at about 2pm. After being welcomed into the ger of Aiyka's friends (where Aiyka and Jan would cook our lunch), and after having our requisite bowl of milk tea, the translator/guide and I embarked upon the scheduled walk to the lake. After a couple of hours, we returned to the ger, where we sat making conversation until lunch was ready about 30 minutes later. Actually, I sat on the wool felt guest-rug with a stupid grin plastered on my face while everyone else sat around talking. We all partook of the day's mutton dish, which was a cross between stew and soup with the requisite hunks of meat and fat and ramen noodles mixed in, followed by milk tea with yogurt skin added to taste.

    We piled back into the jeep. It was time to find Eagle Hunter.

    But there was still the matter of our passenger, who needed to be delivered to her cousins' ger. We drove a ways until we found a cluster of three or four gers. The girl directed our driver to ascertain if one of these was indeed her cousins' ger. It was. Not bad, we had found a specific ger in the middle of Mongolia on the first try. We bade her farewell but she gestured for us to wait. She disappeared inside one of the gers and returned with two cucumbers and tomatoes, and a recycled plastic water-bottle full of yogurt. Apparently, and unbeknownst to me, part of the lunchtime discussion had revolved around my proclivity for vegetables and yogurt. This was an astonishingly generous gift. Not especially the yogurt -- that's a plentiful item during summer. But tomatoes and cucumbers in western Mongolia -- these don't come easy. We had been given the Mongolian equivalents of truffles and caviar.

    Time check: departure from the cousins' ger, 6pm. Yes we're still talking about the events of a single day.

    In August it stays light in western Mongolia until 9:30 or 10pm, so I was able to continue to take in the scenery as we progressed toward Eagle Hunter's ger, wherever that might be. As we got closer (I hoped) we stopped a number of times to inquire at other gers where we might find Eagle Hunter, and also to ascertain which roads went to which destinations. Eventually, as we drove closer to the river, we found someone who was able not only to direct us to Eagle Hunter's ger but also to tell us which roads would be most promising. At least, this was my interpretation of events. Again, I don't speak Kazakh and my translator/guide rarely translated, so I'm just speaking impressionistically here.

    I did observe a grouping of three gers near a collection of sizeable old trees across the river and its tributaries. We barreled down a hill and, after crossing the first tributary, we swerved across the riverbed and changed to an alternate route about 15km downstream. Crossing the second tributary was a piece of cake and as my spirits rose we bumped down the steep riverbank over large boulders to the main crossing.

    Our driver paused a few meters from the river bank and steeled himself for the crossing. Aiyka, though she does not drive, has traveled in the countryside for years and had advised him on the best route for our crossing -- and he listened. As our driver feathered the clutch, I took a deep breath and clutched whatever handholds I could find. He hit the gas and we splashed into the river. We slowed, we pulled free, we slowed again, we pulled free again -- it was a laugh a minute I tell you. But despite several moments of concern, we were never far from dry ground, we were on a rocky riverbed (better for traction than clay mud), and I liked everyone who might be trapped inside the jeep with me. And Eagle Hunter's ger was within view (though at the time, I wasn't sure about this) and surely a guy who hunts with an eagle can figure out how to get a jeep unstuck from a river.

    It's indeed amazing how many thoughts can flash through one's mind in the blink of an eye. It couldn't have taken more than 90 seconds to cross that rushing river and those are only the most select thoughts that clicked through my brain during the crossing (the rest would be inappropriate for your ears, gentle reader). We hit dry ground and I let out a whoop and a cheer. Did I do that out loud? Yes, I guess I did, because everyone thought this was terribly funny and they all joined in. Our driver's grin was likely visible as far away as Eagle Hunter's ger.

    We pulled around to the front of the center ger in the cluster and I cracked open my door. I didn't know if we were asking directions again or if we were actually at Eagle Hunter's ger, but I was going to stretch my legs no matter what. Then, all of the women in the back piled out through the one working Russian jeep-door, so I began to be hopeful that perhaps we had actually arrived and that I might soon have the pleasure and honor of meeting Eagle Hunter.

    Our bags and countless boxes were unloaded from the jeep. Huh? That wasn't part of the game plan, even if this did turn out to be Eagle Hunter's ger. We were supposed to stay at the ger that Aiyka's brother had built for us. We had actually stopped there to inspect it on the way. Because it was very windy, I was told -- and I'm not sure if it was windy when he built it, or windy in that spot, or if he was simply concerned about the wind -- he had not done the most impressive job with our ger (I was getting to be a pretty good judge of gers by now). On account of our previous week's assorted fiascos (more of which had by now been relayed to Aiyka by our translator/guide during our drive from Olgii), Aiyka insisted that I come and inspect the custom-built ger for approval. Sure, it looks fine. Thumbs up. Whatever. But now they were bringing the entire contents of the jeep into Eagle Hunter's ger. There seemed to be no purpose in inquiring about this apparent change of plans; at this point I'd have been surprised only by a lack of changes in plan. I was totally in the Mongolian swing of things, operating on pure instinct.


    Inside the ger I was ushered to a stool -- the seat of honor -- and, as always, we all entered and walked to the left of the stove and sat down at the back of the ger facing the stove (and the door). There were a number of children and other young people around, ranging in age from about 3 to 20. There was an old woman in charge (she turned out only to be in her early 40s but all the people in Mongolia look older than their years due to the harsh nomadic lifestyle and the unforgiving elements: strong winds, hot and dry summers, bitterly cold winters) and she immediately began bustling about with bowls for tea while one of the daughters worked on the fire and another went to haul more water from the river.

    There was, as far as I could tell, no Eagle Hunter presently in the ger. We sat around for a couple of hours drinking tea and talking, with me as usual not understanding a word. I repeatedly had to fend off entreaties to eat this or that. I did eat some white cheese, a bowl of yogurt supplemented with sheep fur (or maybe it was goat fur), and some milk tea with yogurt skin, plus I nibbled politely on one of those fried dough squares. Aiyka and Jan had started cooking too. I left the ger to wander around outside. Some boys were jumping on the backs of horses, bareback and barefoot, and racing around as quickly as the horses would run. At one point, one of the little boys (approximately 7 years old) tumbled off onto the hard, boulder-strewn ground as the horse charged back toward the ger. I sucked my breath in, but apparently this was no big deal to anybody else (I can only imagine the reactions if something like this happened in Westchester -- or Long Island). Some of the older children walked over to him and helped him up and he was back on his horse in no time. There were also dozens of sheep and goats milling about, some lambs, and four or five horses -- all of which seemed to belong to this ger, not the other two gers, which had their own herds as well.

    As soon as we finished our dinner (yes, mutton), the beds were prepared. The four of us women would sleep in a row on the floor of the ger, in the same location as we had been sitting moments before, with the addition of "Kazakh mattresses": two felt wool carpets that were laid down one on top of the other. I continued to wonder if Eagle Hunter was in fact going to show up at the ger. It was approaching 11:30pm; no Eagle Hunter in evidence. As you may recall, we had been scheduled to see him beginning at 3pm. I finally inquired and my translator/guide finally filled me in: "Oh, Eagle Hunter is at his winter home cutting hay for his herd for the winter. He'll be back tomorrow."

    Got the schedule now?

    To read all the parts of this series please click: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII











    To read all the parts of this series please click: Part I; Part II; Part III; Part IV; Part V; Part VI; Part VII.

  6. The digital body I use is a Canon D60 SLR, which is part of the EOS system -- meaning it can take any Canon EOS lens from the film-camera series. I also schlep a lot of additional equipment -- half of what I carry on a trip can be camera stuff -- such as lenses (for deep in-country travel I rely mainly on the workhorse EF 50 mm F1.4 USM lens, and a 100-300/F4.5-5.6 EF USM Zoom for longer shots), strobes (two Canon 550EX Speedlites plus the ST E2 Wireless Controller), filters (circular polarizing, etc.), sometimes a tripod or monopod, cable release, lens-cleaning stuff, memory cards (on a 6 megapixel camera you need a few 1GB CF cards if you want to take 1000+ photos), high-capacity batteries (I definitely need to get one more of these; I wound up using a lot more juice than I thought I would, because everybody I photographed wanted to look at the photos on the camera's digital screen and that's a major drain on power -- I was fearful I'd run out towards the end of the trip but I made it home with 1/4 of my last battery remaining), film cameras as backup (this was a short trip so I only took one of my smaller Yashica T4 cameras, but on a longer trip I might take my Leica film SLR as well because, well, even if you find yourself in the middle of a war a Leica is still going to work just fine), film and batteries for those backup cameras, sometimes a few disposable cameras to give to people so they can take photos for me when I'm absent, and a special padded camera backpack to hold it all. Although, having looked over that somewhat daunting equipment list, I should emphasize that 90% of the shots one gets can usually be had with just the camera-body and a lens, and all that other stuff really just buys you 10% additional capability (an important 10% if you sell and exhibit photos, but not meaningful if you're shooting for personal use). And of course no matter how much gear you carry, you'll always bump into someone who's carrying twice as much!

  7. Steven, did you know that any of that awful stuff was happening at the time?  Or did you only find out once your fine lady was home safe?  Well, at least you had Momo to hug in times of fear.


    I don't tell Steven any of the really gory details until I get home. If I did, I think you'd find me handcuffed to the bed with only my right hand free to type posts on eGullet. I've been traveling alone on a shoestring to far-away places since I was 22 (when I traveled around the world by myself on my hard-earned babysitting money) so I've gotten pretty good at troubleshooting and looking after myself and others. I've found that while it's very tempting to report home (if there is even a way to do so) to family about the trials and tribulations I've encountered on my travels (in order to be comforted by the empathy of loved ones), I know that it’s also unfair because of the worry it will cause them in the long run (no way to contact me for weeks on end to follow up even if they want to). Generally speaking, there are always times of stress and even trouble on trips to far-away and off-the-beaten-track destinations, but heck, I wouldn’t have these entertaining stories to tell you if I didn’t go, would I?

  8. Awilda,

    A tour company, no. I have taken groups as large as 12 to Nepal, I co-lead a Sierra Club trip along Oregon's Rogue River most years, and I'm often willing to put trips together for groups of people. But it's not my business and I don't make any money from it. To date, I've never even covered my own expenses. My profession is that I'm a writer and photographer, not a guide or travel agent. But when I get really far off the beaten path and I tell people about my travels I often get requests to put trips together--which I sometimes will do. When I'm really passionate about a place (like Nepal) I'm eager to share it with people and whatever I can do to get people to travel outside the mainstream, I do.

  9. Rachel,

    If I may be so crass, Ellen, how much did you guys pay for your whirlwind tour of Mongolia? What is the currency/exchange, for example, how much did a pizza cost at Pizza Casa?

    The big expense, when you go to a developing nation halfway around the world, is getting there. Plane tickets are so variable in price, and so much depends on luck and when you buy them, or get them with frequent flier miles, not to mention how you combine them with other stops (for example I also spent a week in Beijing on the same trip), that my actual trip cost wouldn't be indicative of much. Once you get to a developing nation halfway around the world, however, things get cheap -- and if you want them to be cheaper than cheap, that can also be arranged. Of course you can also spend just as much as you'd spend on a vacation at Canyon Ranch, if you go with an upscale tour agency like Butterfield & Robinson. Not that B&R goes to Mongolia, but they'll get you for $500 per day in Southeast Asia when you can travel there on your own for like a dollar, and a lot of that money will go to Western companies and to middlemen, whereas I prefer to work directly with locals and limit the layers in the hierarchy of payment -- it's best for everybody, and it's the most respectful way to deal with the economics of it all. Certainly, once you're there, for $50-$100 per day you can travel at just about the highest level Mongolia can provide, and certainly you can travel quite well there for less. In terms of conversion, one US dollar is about 1000 Mongolian Tugrik (1084 to be precise, last time I checked). At Ristorante Della Casa-2, a large Pizza Mongol, with mutton and onions, is 2400 Tugrik. That would qualify as very, very expensive by local standards (annual per capita income is in the US$1000 range).


    Were you able to find any kosher restaurants there? I want to go but am a bit concerned about my dietary restrictions.

    I know, I know. It's amusing just to think about the idea of a kosher restaurant in Mongolia, but I'll take the opportunity to point out a couple of things about world travel for those with dietary restrictions: It's definitely true that there's a point of restrictedness (is that a word?) at which it becomes supremely challenging to travel outside of places that really cater to you. But it can always be done if you're willing to form a group. I probably couldn't take one Hasidic Jew to Mongolia on a tour, because at that level of observance that person would be very particular about what knife has touched what product, and what bowl has been used for what, but if a group of 12 wanted to go I'm pretty certain that I could set it up--we'd have our own cook (this is not unusual), vegetarian-only food (they'd have to eat a lot of noodles, and some mayonnaise too!), and other approved arrangements. At a lower level of observance, it becomes even easier in direct proportion to the lessening of restrictions: I can take strictly Conservative and even some Modern Orthodox Jews to Nepal, for example, as part of a mixed group because they tend to be satisfied with "no meat" as a sufficient level of kashruth so I can just tell the cook, "No meat." And, while I don't keep kosher, I did grow up in a kosher home, know the dietary laws, and still observe some of the practices of kashruth. And this has never been a problem for me traveling anywhere in the world--except maybe North Carolina. :laugh:

    [edited for clarity]

  10. Okay. I've had to digest this episode for a bit.

    How do you get such amazing colours in your photographs? Do you do much digital treatment at all?

    Jin, I try to "shoot em as I see em" and not alter the photos much at all. I've done the same thing to every one of these photos: I've run the entire set through a batch processing program called DCE Auto Enhance so that the gigantic 6 megapixel images from my digital camera don't blow out your screen--it reduces images to any size, in this case 600x400. It also does a little bit of contrast adjustment and the like so that the photos are properly optimized for computer screens. But I don't do any special effects in PhotoShop or anything like that--because I'm a film photographer at heart. I kind of see the world through my own lens. I know it sounds hokey--sort of like I'm into crystals--but it's just how it is.

  11. To read all the parts of this series please click: Part I; Part II; Part III; Part IV; Part V; Part VI; Part VII.

    The escape-fantasies began after I had walked about 10 miles barefoot through slippery mud (yes, it was clay) in an evaporating (not quickly enough for our needs, though) lake in the middle of the Gobi Desert (carrying no drinking-water) in the hopes of convincing a bunch of Mongolians (prospective Mongolians, rather, because they were too far away to determine who they were at first, and who, it turns out, spoke zero English) to walk back with me through the slippery mud "lake" to help extricate our vehicle. As their reward, they would get to walk all the way back to their trucks because we didn't have enough room to transport them. Nor could we transport ourselves -- I had to slog once again to the edge of the "lake" until the jeep hit dry ground before we were able to catch a ride around. (As you may recall, this had been our original, unheeded suggestion seven hours earlier.)

    When I returned to the jeep with the Mongol horde in tow, J casually suggested: "What would you think about spending next week on the beach somewhere -- maybe Bali or the south of Thailand . . . " Until then, my intractable nature hadn't permitted even the slightest bit of speculation about an escape plan, but the seed was planted and my imagination ran with it: hot showers, beaches, really good Thai food, spa treatments!

    It was something to think about, at least, as our driver's redoubled efforts to get us past the lake -- an automobile graveyard of sorts -- became increasingly punishing.


    At the all-time crazy-high of his driving insanity, a jar of pickles (the previous day, psycho-driver had purchased several jars of homemade pickles and, despite my protestations, refused to stow them sensibly) flew into the air, ricocheted off the ceiling, and crashed into J's back, whereupon it shattered, raining glass shards, pickles, and pickle juices all over J (and, to a lesser extent, the rest of us).

    The next logical step in this madcap progression would, you might expect, involve stopping and attempting to address the issue of the pickles--and more importantly, the glass shards that would soon be embedded in our asses. But our driver, veritably possessed at this point, refused to stop. His latest operating theory was that, if he stopped where he was, he would get stuck, even though we were no longer in the lake and were in no more danger of getting stuck than we would have been on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. May I also remind everybody that this was the same day on which we ran out of gas and had to sleep on the floor of a Mongolian gas station.

    Like a prisoner of war, it was the fantasy of eventual escape that sustained us. As we drove for 14 hours the next day, nestled among the residue of pickle juices and more than a few stray shards of glass, we watched intently for the lights of UB and, with the remaining vestiges of our sanity, in the back seat, we secretly planned our tropical beach vacation where mutton fur and gristle would be nothing but distant dreams.

    That night back in UB, our translator/guide, J, and I feasted at Ristorante Della Casa-2. We had planned to dine at Pizza Della Casa, which seems to be synonymous with Ristorante Della Casa-1, but we were thwarted by a surreal quirk of UB's transportation network: nobody in the entire city, and especially not the cab drivers, knows the names of the streets. Any of the streets. Like, if there existed a Main Street in UB, nobody there would know its name, because they navigate nomad-style, strictly by landmarks and perhaps the constellations.

    I would like to pause at this time to assure you that everything I'm telling you is the truth.



    Luckily, in the process of searching for Pizza Della Casa aka Ristorante Della Casa-1, we stumbled across the Ristorante Della Casa-2 outpost. Were I to tell you that our translator/guide ordered a pizza, and were I to offer you a prize -- say, a piece of "old cheese," if you guessed correctly -- do you think you might be able to guess what kind of topping she had on her pizza?

    All pretense of wanting to enjoy authentic Mongolian cuisine had been thrashed out of us somewhere in the desert, and at this point there was no hesitation about ordering Western food. Not that we could actually get any Western food, but even an approximation of bad Western food sounded dreamy to us. Even the copious mayonnaise (perhaps it's yogurt, I lied to myself) on J's salad didn't stop me from eating almost all of it.

    We were due to depart early the next morning on a flight to Olgii, the capital of the aimag (province) in the western part of Mongolia, where the population is predominantly Kazakh. Over dinner we told our translator/guide that we weren't going. J's symptoms had been worsening and she was barely able to fight gravity enough to stand up. And my upper respiratory situation was no picnic either -- J and I sounded like the entire population of a sanitarium as depicted in early 20th Century German literature.

    Our translator/guide called back to Olgii, the seat of power, where the owner of the guide company and his wife live, to inform them of our decision. This threw the wife (the owner was out "in the countryside" with a group of 14 Swedes) into a kerfuffle. So distressed was she that we weren't coming, she begged (via the translator/guide) us to reconsider. She would personally arrange everything for us, she would care for us, she would take extra good care of J, everything would be seamless, she promised. We declined the offer.

    I was due to spend the following day with our translator/guide visiting UB's greatest-hits attractions. J could barely extract herself from bed, but I made her agree to join me at the hotel's buffet breakfast (included in the cost of the room). As we prepared to head off to breakfast, it became clear that J's traveler's checks were missing. All of them.

    No, there is no American Express office in Mongolia. There is, however, a place that American Express has designated as its authorized backup-subcontractor-assistant-agent. Not that this office was authorized to actually issue replacement travelers checks, but J was asked to fill out an opus of documents, forms, and paperwork (which we did tag-team, swapping her paperwork back and forth) in the hopes that she could get replacements by the end of one week -- one day before we would depart the country forever (this was the optimistic scenario). The woman who helped us was, however, extremely nice.

    We began the search for medication. By the way, if you need to make a phone call in UB, there are no pay-phones per se. There are, instead, guys wandering around with phones. Not exactly the cellular phones we're accustomed to. They're like regular desk phones, but totally wireless. At first we speculated that maybe all these guys were wandering telephone-equipment salespeople, but we figured it out after awhile.


    Eventually we located a pharmacy, and after scrutinizing several shelves full of Mongolian medicines, some thankfully with a few English words on their labels, we were able to find something that we were pretty darn sure was an antibiotic, and possibly even one intended for human consumption (one might think that this, of all situations, would have been an ideal opportunity to make use of the fact that our guide was really a translator by training, but alas she was apparently not trained in this particular area of vocabulary). The medicine was in the form of a liquid suspension, which added an eerie aura of Middle Ages-style alchemy to the whole experience. Little did we know that the woman only sold J enough for two days, but at least it was something.

    We were so buoyed by our triumphs that day -- to be clear, I am referring to the events described in the three preceding paragraphs, which at the time felt like triumphs -- that J and I cast aside our weak-willed fantasizing and shallow dreams of spa treatments and tropical cocktails served in hollowed-out pineapples with paper umbrellas. We were going to press on to the western part of Mongolia and see some damn Kazakhs if it was the last thing we did.

    We made arrangements to depart the following morning, and the guide company's owner's wife was ecstatic. She and our translator/guide scrambled to get us new plane tickets and fortune was shining down upon us because we were actually ticketed to fly into Olgii and not into Khovd (hundreds of kilometers away) as had been our original plan on account of lack of Olgii availability.

    But the following morning, J was too sick to go. The antibiotics hadn't kicked in, she was miserable, and it was clear that if she subjected herself to the strain of additional travel she would only get worse. This time around we skipped right over the Thai beach fantasy and started talking about maybe Los Angeles as a nice place to spend a few days. This is known as hitting rock bottom.

    We also discussed putting off our departure to the west for another day in hopes of an improvement in her health, me going alone and her staying in the hotel recuperating, or just moving on to Beijing and spending the week there (we had plans to spend a little time in Beijing at the end of the trip anyway).

    J was insistent that I go ahead west and leave her to recuperate in the hotel. "What are you going to do, sit in the hotel room and watch me sleep?" But how could I leave her at that point? We still weren't even sure the stuff she was taking was an antibiotic. What if she got worse and was all alone? Not to mention, though I've always had an interest in Mongolia, I'm not the one who actually provided the final push to get us there. This was her dream more than mine. It was simply not an option to separate from her for even a day without first getting her medically stabilized.

    We continued the now-repetitive discussion at the buffet breakfast (included in the cost of the room). We tried to find the address of an American doctor in UB but apparently there aren't any. We tried to find the address of any Western doctor. Nothing doing on that front either. Then we got the bright idea that, since there were a bunch of US Marines staying in the hotel (I hope I haven't compromised our national security by mentioning that there are US Marines on assignment in UB, but I would like to go on record as the first journalist to break the story), maybe they would be traveling with a doctor. No dice. Their unit's medic wasn't slated to arrive until September 5th. We'd be long gone by then.

    I was back to fantasizing: I imagined standing up in the middle of the cavernous dining room, which was after all full of Westerners, expats, and various high-ranking officials (this was an ultra-luxury hotel by Mongolian standards), and shouting out, as in the movies, "Is there a doctor in the house!" Less dramatically, I resolved to ask everybody in the room individually. I surveyed the room, looking for candidates. I saw a Western woman, probably in her 50s, sitting with a teenage boy who I took to be her son. I got up from our table, forced myself to march across the dining room (yes, I am a life-long shy person), and asked, "Do you speak English?"

    "Yes," she replied pleasantly.

    "Do you happen to know of an American or Western doctor in UB?" I continued. "My friend is quite ill and we've been told by the embassy that there are no American or Western doctors here."

    "Why yes," she said. "Actually, we're traveling with a physician from the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles. Let's go see him right now."

    Turns out there was a group of Boy Scouts from LA doing some kind of service work in Mongolia. The doctor they had with them turned out to be a preeminent pediatrician, and he immediately gave Jennifer a thorough exam -- not to mention his mere presence was tremendously confidence-inspiring and comforting. After listening to her breathing and coughing, and checking down her throat, in her nose, chest, etc., he announced that she didn't have pneumonia, but she did have a bad case of bronchitis. And then the young man who had been sitting with the lovely woman at breakfast (he was, it turned out, not her son) produced from his bag a "Z-pack" (a course of Zithromax, the mother of all antibiotics for upper respiratory infections). And, as luck would have it, the doctor would be remaining in the hotel for the next few days and could be called upon to monitor J's progress. Things were looking up. J shoo shoo-ed me away and told me to get on my way to the west before it was too late. So it turns out that I would head out to the western part of the country in search of Kazakhs, while J would sleep off the bronchitis and recuperate in peace and quiet.

    I sat alone on the flight to Olgii. I was so exhausted from all the stress and troubleshooting, and the worrying. I zoned out and watched the barren landscape far below.




    (Those aren't actually photos taken from the plane -- they're taken from ground level -- but this was a good place to put them.)

    Olgii is the quintessential western town. Western Mongolia, that is. I arrived on Saturday, which is the day on which everything is closed, and Olgii looked like a ghost town. It was extremely dry and dusty and there was no one in the streets. All that was missing was the tumbleweeds.

    The guide company's owner's wife greeted me at the airport with her adorable nine-year old son, a well-loved Land Cruiser, and a driver. My translator/guide, also from Olgii, was greeted by her husband.



    Can you envision the tumbleweeds?

    I was whisked away to a special apartment for guests (apparently used for their small groups, as there was only one bedroom -- and I certainly qualified as a small group), where I would be able to stay alone (oh happy day!) for the night. After I was safely ensconced in the apartment, my translator/guide took her leave and Aiyka (the guide company's owner's wife) and Jan (the most adorable Mongolian cook I've ever seen, and I've seen a few) set about making us dinner in the apartment's kitchen while I washed the long trip off of me (with gloriously hot water) and down the drain. I have little memory of what we ate for dinner that night, but it was light and involved soup and home-baked (by Aiyka's daughter) bread with preserves from Russia, and margarine. Margarine? I never quite figured that out but, in the middle of this dairy-intensive nation, it is quite common to see margarine. I suppose the lack of refrigeration has something to do with it, but at the same time the Mongolians regularly eat unrefrigerated yogurt, cheese, and, yes, butter. Go figure. The meal was accompanied, as always, by bottomless bowls of milk tea.

    And then Aiyka heard my cough. (Remember, although J was acutely ill, I was far from being the poster girl for good bronchial health.)

    "Would you like me to treat you?" she inquired.

    "Oh, you have medicine?" I asked, hopeful.

    "No! Mongolian treatment!" she beamed.

    Okay, time to put the kiddies to bed. This is where the story goes NC-17.

    The moment I indicated my assent, Aiyka and Jan, who at that point I knew only as long as you have, descended upon me and briskly removed my shirt and started unfastening my bra. I was too dumbfounded to resist or question them. Whatever they were going to do, I hoped it wouldn't hurt.

    They wrapped me in quilts from the crown of my head to the tips of my toes. They submerged my feet in a plastic basin (also used for washing clothes) of hot water with a red powdered substance mixed in. I was told it was "a spice that Russians use a lot," I guessed paprika, and research by J later indicated cayenne pepper. Jan then brought over a saucepan filled with a dark liquid and hunks of something suspended in it. Whatever it was had been cooked, and it was hot. The solid contents of this brew were removed one piece at a time (I couldn't really see all that well what was going on because the two of them were buzzing around me and the quilts, while now opened to reveal my body, still somewhat obscured my view). They placed a piece of this stuff on my back and patted it flat onto my right kidney. The left followed. I was then wrapped up in sheets of plastic, Yentl style, so tightly I could scarcely breathe. With what little breath I could draw, I asked, "What is that?" I don't know why I hadn't guessed earlier: "Horsemeat!"

    I was repackaged in the quilts; not even my eyes peeked out. A hand broke through the quilt nearest my face and gestured for me to accept a drink. "Drink!" (Jan had virtually no English -- about as much as I had Mongolian -- and Aiyka was shy about speaking, even though her English turned out to be rather good). It was hot, very hot, so I blew on it for a while and it steamed my face. That alone was surprisingly comforting. Then I sipped and almost gagged. I couldn't identify the taste but to me, in my little cave world, I could have sworn that it tasted like blood. "Could it be horse-blood tea? Nah. But why not?" went the internal dialog. After all, I was already wrapped up in plastic sheets with horsemeat plastered to my back. Would horse-blood tea really come as a surprise? I managed about three sips, maybe four, and decided that it would be best not to ask for details about the tea. Denial and ignorance were my allies. The hand popped in front of my face again and the horse-blood tea (that's what I decided to call it) was withdrawn. "You didn't drink!"

    "Uh, it was very hot."

    "Not hot anymore! Drink this!"

    A new cup was thrust at me and I cautiously blew on this one. I hazarded a sip and it seemed slightly less offensive than the previous brew. I managed to get down a couple of additional sips. That cup was removed and a third steaming cup came into my cave-world. This one seemed to be something along the lines of actual tea. I blew on it, steamed my face, and drank approximately half of the potion.

    "Stay in bed for the next hour. Then go to toilet. Can you sleep like this?"

    "You mean wrapped up [in horsemeat?] like this?"

    "Okay, we unwrap you. But stay in bed!"

    Jan and Aiyka set about unwrapping me, and then put me to bed. I removed my pants, which by then had a ring of horse blood around the waistline from the dripping steaks that were pressed against my body. Aiyka whisked my pants away and returned moments later with the evidence washed away.

    There followed a large amount of gesticulating and what I was able to decipher was that I was to stay in bed wrapped in the heavy quilts, and they were going to lock me into the flat--they wanted me to stay in bed at all costs, even if it meant being locked in. The door was locked from the outside -- not something I was terribly excited about. Jan would come with the keys at 9:00 the following morning to liberate me and cook up some breakfast.

    What was the point of arguing? If my fate was to be trapped in a building collapse in the capital of the Mongolian Kazakh aimag with horse-blood on my pants, so be it. I was tired and the horse-blood tea had washed away some of the stress and worry of the past week. If there was a natural disaster (and at least a forest fire wasn't a concern, as there were no trees in sight), I doubt I'd have noticed anyway. And at least, in the end, I got my spa treatment.

    To be continued in Part III . . .

    To read all the parts of this series please click: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII

    A few photos from the meat market in Olgii:





    Construction workers are the same everywhere:


    Outdoor snooker redux:


    To read all the parts of this series please click: Part I; Part II; Part III; Part IV; Part V; Part VI; Part VII.

  12. There are big plans to introduce large amounts of cattle to the Mongolian grasslands (well at least to the bit that it is part of China), so you cow-free shots may become a rarity in the next twenty years or so.

    The Sheep's stomach looks like a inside out rumen form a fairly young animal. Did you notice if they used one of the other (four) types of sheep stomach to store different types of dairy produce? Rennet is produced in the true-stomach of young animals and it would be interesting to know if they make their cheese by storing milk in this stomach.

    I don't know what Inner Mongolia looks like but if it looks anything like Mongolia (Outer Mongolia to the Chinese) we can expect to see the expansion of the Gobi Desert into China. As it is, about 15 miles from Beijing there actually is a desert and apparently (according to Lonely Planet Beijing) winds are blowing the sands towards the capital at a rate of just over one mile per year. While Inner Mongolia is not exactly right next door, I fear that grazing cows on grasslands like those in Mongolia would be bad news. But enough about that.

    Regarding the cheese-making—I promise that there will be more details on that shortly but for the moment I can tell you that no, they don’t make cheese by storing it in stomachs of any kind (eating it doesn’t count, right?).

  13. And surely, surely, the mayonnaise-based, mayonnaise-laced, salads, as Maggie said, have to be Russian cultural lag ... I'd bet cash money.

    If you can verify the mayonnaise as being part of the Russian cuisine (I haven't been there and last I checked going to Little Odessa didn't quite qualify for getting my passport stamped), I absolutely agree that this is where the mayo comes from. It certainly didn't come from the Chinese and it had to have come from one border or the other (or, apparently, from California).

  14. Please behave.

    They get the majority of their imports from Russia and Germany. The ubiquitous mayo is some Russian garbage out of a tube. But we are definitely at the very far end of my expertise. I can also say, though, that there are a lot of Korean and Taiwanese connections with Mongolia. There are restaurants in UB with names like Seoul and the whole "Mongolian barbecue" trend came via Taiwan I think. I'll try to get this Mongolian food professor's e-mail address so we can ask him some of these questions!

    [Edit: because I remembered about the tube]

  15. Back in 2000, at least I think it was 2000, Fat Guy and I went to Singapore. We had with us an early model digital camera that took impressively weak photographs, so we never really did anything with them. But I was inspired by some recent eGullet traffic about Singapore to go back through my photo archives in search of the Singapore snapshots. Then I dug up some old information on eGullet about Singapore from back in the days when every user had an "X" next to his or her name. So, let me call this thread the Consolidated Singapore Info Thread. It includes some old posts (the original thread containing them has now been removed) and some old photographs, and hopefully the next person to go to Singapore (JACK!!!) will add some newer material.

    Here's what Fat Guy had to say about Singapore on August 6, 2001:

    Here's a quick tribute to the culinary diversity of the tiny island nation of Singapore, based on some notes I took last April when I was there for about a week. I'm assuming the specific restaurants I mention herein are still going strong, and if not you'll be able to find out for sure from your hotel concierge. Unlike in many nations, you should find that your concierge -- and anybody you meet on the street -- is happy to direct you to the best local authentic stuff.

    The lay of the land: Singapore stands at the unique culinary crossroads of China, India and Southeast Asia (particularly Malaysia, to which Singapore is connected by causeway). Those are the three main ethnic populations, along with the Peranakhan (or Straits Chinese) group, which also has its own hybrid cuisine. There are also numerous culinary subdivisions within the main groups, for example, several Chinese cuisines, such as Hainan and Hokkien, which you don't see much of here, are well represented there. And most of these cuisines exist at both the haute level and at the street-vendor level.

    Singapore does not exactly have much in the way of local cuisine. Certainly there is no indigenous local cuisine -- everything is recently transplanted. But there are a few dishes that have evolved locally and, though they're based in the mother cuisines, are pretty much unique to Singapore in their current incarnations, like their particular styles of fish-head curry and chili crab. And there are others, like Hainanese chicken-rice, that have been so heartily embraced by Singapore as to be as much Singapore specialties as they are specialties of their native places, in the same way that New York has assimilated pizza. Singapore is, in general, a metaphor for the way cuisines have developed everywhere in the world through a combination of imported technique, local ingredients and cross-pollination of cultures.

    One thing you will never find in Singapore, interestingly enough, is the curry-powder-flavored so-called Singapore-style noodles that are on many Asian restaurant menus here in the United States. That dish appears not to exist in Singapore. When you ask people about it, even the local food experts, they have no idea what you're talking about.

    So, on the one hand, Singapore doesn't have the richest culinary tradition in the region by a long-shot. Thailand, Vietnam, or most any other nearby nation will be more interesting to anyone interested in hard-core examination of very specific ethnic cuisines. On the other hand, Singapore has outstanding examples of the cuisines of almost every nearby nation, and due to its thriving economy and exceptional public health regime, Singapore has in recent years emerged as, arguably, the (or at least a) new culinary capital of Asia. Certainly, with the money (and chefs) running out of Hong Kong, Singapore has had the opportunity to close in on Hong Kong, and some would say surpass it. And they speak English as their official language of commerce, which doesn't hurt.

    When you get to the high end restaurants, Singapore really excels on account of its international chef pool and clientele. You will hear plenty of people say, "The best (Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, etc.) food available outside of (China, India, Malaysia, etc.) is in Singapore." Having not been to a lot of those places, all I can say is that the best examples I've had of all those cuisines have been in Singapore.

    Chinese: There are several noteworthy grand Chinese restaurants such as the Golden Peony (astounding formal Chinese favored by locals, in particular dim sum that will make it very difficult for you ever to eat dim sum in North America again, and with a female chef to boot) and the Imperial Herbal Restaurant (a top Chinese place where they design a menu for you after you consult with the on-premises herbalist; it's not a gimmick, they're really serious about it). Imperial Hot Wok is a slightly less touristed option. There are great herb and tea shops in the Chinese neighborhoods (there's a Chinese tea expert named Vincent, who used to be a banker, who offers "tea appreciation" classes in his shop). And there are the wet markets where Singaporeans buy live fish (and live everything else).

    Over on the Indian side of things, you have places like the Banana Leaf Apollo restaurant, where you eat in what has become a common style over there -- food is served on a banana leaf instead of a plate (it's also exceptionally good).

    For the Southeast Asian and local Singapore aspect of the local cuisine, I cannot sufficiently sing the praises of the street food culture -- even the more squeamish travelers will be happy with the cleanliness and accessibility of the street food served in the "hawker centers." These are covered markets where the government has created permanent digs for the former street hawkers. There has probably been something lost by this standardization of street food, but the tradeoff is that everything in Singapore is totally safe to eat and drink. And a bit of the hawker culture still remains, so remember that if you pause in front of a stall you will be solicited -- and you should always establish the price before buying (this is only really and issue in the seafood places where raw fish is displayed on ice or live in tanks and you pay by weight; elsewhere prices are clearly posted in English). Definitely try some of the great noodle dishes that Singaporeans typically eat for breakfast, such as the local version of the Malaysian nasi lemakh, as well as other breakfast and snack items like the local kaya toast, ginger tea and strong Arab-style coffee. Other prevalent dishes are the aforementioned Hainanese chicken rice and spicy chili-crab. The hawker centers are all pretty good, though you'll find that some are more extensive than others. If you go out of the downtown core to some of the residential neighborhoods you'll find a bit more regional specificity in the hawker centers, such as Hainanese chicken rice where they form the rice into balls instead of serving it in a bowl. There are also some upscale outgrowths of street food, like the fabulous but very casual open-air seafood restaurants down by the water (Red House Seafood was the best I tried). The fresh seafood situation in Singapore is just amazing, and very hard to recapture back home.

    For the best example of the Peranakhan culinary tradition, visit Jolly Wee's place, Chilli Padi. Jolly is probably the closest thing to a celebrity chef in Singapore, and he's the foremost authority on this cuisine. There's also Blue Ginger, where the chef, Vivien Lian, is the main figure in Nonya cuisine, which is the local hybrid aristrocratic cuisine.

    For those who are into this sort of thing, there is no shortage of cheesy spectacle-oriented dining experiences available in Singapore: Dining at the zoo with the orangutans, at the Jurong birdpark with the birds, on the Sentosa cable cars, and atop the world's tallest hotel (the Intercontinental -- or it might be the second-tallest now). Actually the food at that last one is excellent.

    There are also some key hotel experiences (a big part of the culinary culture almost anywhere in Asia), such as drinking a Singapore Sling at Raffles, and visiting the legendary overpriced coffee shop at the Mandarin Oriental (where some of the best haute renditions of traditional Singapore dishes are prepared).

    Singapore is frighteningly Western in its attitudes -- if everybody there wasn't Asian, you'd have no idea you were in Asia -- and there's been a major effort to assimilate Western food and wine traditions through the vehicle of an event called the World Gourmet Summit. If you happen to be going in April, you must consider this event. It's unlike any other I've encountered. I am usually a died-in-the-wool opponent of food festivals and press events, but this is an exception. Top chefs from all over the world come to Singapore to teach classes, prepare meals and train the local chefs. I was there for the 2000 Summit, and among the guests were Charlie Trotter, Michael Ginor and Santi Santamaria (one of Spain's small club of Michelin three-star chefs). One of the coolest events at the Summit is the Master Chef Safari, wherein you eat a four-course dinner prepared by four different chefs at four different restaurants. They bus you around to the various fancy restaurants (all of which, this being Southeast Asia, are in the major international hotels) and you eat the food, listen to the chef give a little talk and receive a food souvenir from the chef/hotel team (Santi Santamaria's olive oil is probably the most flavorful I've ever tasted, and I managed to finagle four bottles of it because they had miscounted the number of attendees). The whole thing is masterminded by this Swiss dude named Peter Knipp, who's like a cross between Fabio, Dracula and the Jonathan Price character from Tomorrow Never Dies. I think he's some sort of billionaire importer. He's decided single-handedly to bring the best of Western cuisine to Singapore, and there really are some excellent Western restaurants there. Maybe not the best use of limited time in Southeast Asia, but nobody could fail to be impressed by a place like Au Jardin Les Amis, Justin Quek's fusion place in the Botanic Gardens (he trained at Hotel de Crillon in Paris).

    The World Gourmet Summit runs concurrently with the Singapore Food Festival, which is basically the other side of the same coin: This is where Singapore gets to show off its various adopted and hybrid cuisines to visitors from around the world. So, when you go to the various local restaurants participating in the festival, you're likely to get a cooking demonstration from the chef, some printed recipes, etc.

    As a follow-up to Fat Guy's post, I posted a recipe for the Singapore Sling (the big drink of Singapore):

    And here's the recipe for the Singapore Sling as served at Raffles Hotel's Long Bar. Invented in 1915 by Hainanese bartender Ngiam Tong Boon.

    30 ml Gin

    15 ml Cherry Brandy

    120 ml Pineapple Juice

    15 ml Lime juice

    7. 5 ml Cointreau

    7. 5 ml Dom Benedictine

    10 ml Grenadine

    A Dash of Angostura Bitters

    Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and serve in tall tulip-shaped glasses. Garnish with a slice of pineapple and a maraschino cherry on a long toothpick. Serves two. Recipe can be multiplied for any number of people.

    I also posted this article, which I originally wrote for Concierge.com, on nightlife in Singapore:

    Q: What nightlife does Singapore have to offer?

    A: The question is, what nightlife doesn't Singapore have to offer!

    This tiny, densely populated nation (the entire country is about the size of Chicago and has a population of more than three million) offers just about every imaginable shade of nightlife, from pubs to dance clubs (techno, disco, house music, and more).

    What's more, Singapore is one of the cleanest, safest nations on earth. Even in the middle of the night, you'll have no security concerns, so even the solo traveler can party with impunity.

    Singapore has a sizeable expatriate community (about 2% of the population), and the expats tend to favor pub-like establishments. The locals lean more towards the clubs, though you'll find plenty of them at the pubs as well. But you don't have to choose, because, with most of the nightlife clustered in a square kilometer, Singapore is made for easy bar- and club-hopping. (The legal drinking age is eighteen.)

    Start with a stroll along Boat Quay, the heaviest concentration of yuppie-oriented pubs. The Quay is a bit commercial, a bit Disney-like, and a bit too self-consciously hip, but it's on the water, it's pretty, and it's certainly hopping. Stroll up and down the quay to scope the scene before settling down at any one establishment. On any given night, at least a few offer live music.

    All the clubs and pubs are lined up on one side of a pedestrian mall, facing the water, and all have sliding doors so you can enjoy the evening air; most also have outdoor tables. Culture Club, at 39 Boat Quay (011-65-536-2471), always has loud, pumping music.

    Last time I was there, the doors were thrown wide open so there was no physical barrier inside and out. Mostly full of young (early twenties) locals, it's not that different from Zappa's (45 Boat Quay), which is under the same management (same phone number as well). At 56 Boat Quay you'll find Route 56 (011-65-532-1106), which hosts a boisterous expat crowd. And at 58 Boat Quay there's the Boat House Restaurant Bar & Karaoke (011-65-438-5818). I haven't actually seen anyone belting out karaoke tunes (perhaps I haven't stayed late enough), but it's nonetheless a lively haunt, with a mostly local crowd.

    For another indoor/outdoor option, try the newly gentrified Far East Square, which is beautiful, peaceful, and full of young locals and expats. Carnegie's (011-65-534-0850) is a major expat yuppie pickup scene. This joint is positively heaving with activity, and you won't lack for good people watching (and meeting). Zing Bar & Café (011-65-533-3383) is quieter than most — it's a place to go for conversation when you don't feel like shouting over loud music. Zing even has an underutilized pool table. And Popolos (011-65-435-0960) pounds out a loud mix of pop music (I remember hearing some Will Smith), and hosts a nice blend of the local and expat crowds.

    If it's dance or die, head over to Mohamed Sultan Road where, at Sugar (#13, 011-65-836-0010), the minimum age is twenty-three and the building shakes with house music. The creative interior design changes to a new theme every three months, and Sugar attracts the hippest local crowd.

    Or, if it's the young and waif-like that interest you, walk down a few doors to Madam Wong's (#28/29, 011-65-834-0107), where you can push your way through from one packed room to the next, until you find a loud corner or couch that suits you. There's no cover at either place, just a first-drink (the same as a one-drink) minimum — but be prepared to wait in line. For a quiet evening, BarCelona (1 Coleman St, 011-65-336-7266, at the corner just beyond Madam Wongs) has live outdoor jazz on Wednesday through Saturday nights. It starts at 5:00 P.M. and wraps up by 2 A.M.

    But if I had just one night in Singapore and wanted the most genuine local nightlife experience, I wouldn't look to bars or clubs. Singapore's unofficial national pastime is eating fruit, and along Geylang Road you'll find outdoor fruit stands open until well past midnight. Buy a few mangosteens, or perhaps a jackfruit, or maybe even splurge on a durian (a fruit that smells bad but tastes wonderful). Most of the stands offer picnic tables for al fresco snacking, and, before long, you'll likely find yourself in conversation with a neighboring table of locals.

    A couple of other key posts from the old thread:

    Sng Sling wrote,

    Nice to see some notes on  my "home" town of the past 3 years.

    Steven's long guide is spot on (though the tall hotel is the Westin, not the I/C), but I'd quibble about a few of his choices.

    In general, the standard of Asian and regional food is better than Western. My wife and I love to eat out, but find the Western restaurants well inferior to Tokyo, Sydney or NYC.  Wine and western food is realtively expensive, so I'd recommend visitors to stick to local food and Tiger beer!

    Steven:  next trip, try L' Aigle d' Or at the Duxton Hotel for French.  Try Gaetano's for Italian, and have a sandwich at Bakery Depot in Republic Plaza for NYC quality bread.

    The Hainan Chicken Rice at the Mandarin Orchard hotel coffee shoip (Chatterbox) is sui generis and well worth the trip, but at Sฟ++ or so is more than three times the hawker stand price.  Awesome ginger dipping sauce.

    For a big, touristy hawker center, skip Newton Circus and go to La Pau Sat on Ronbinson Road near Raffles Place.  You'll miss the rip-off grilled fish stands and have great local food.  East Coast Seafood Center (location of Red House et. al.) is fun, but best in a group of 8-12 so you can sample lots of dishes -- chili crab w/ fried buns, black pepper crab, bamboo clams -- I think I'll ditch that marinating pork tenderloin and go to the beach!

    Next week, we're en route to NYC next week for our daughter's start at NYU.  We can't wait to hit the NY restaurants, and have been scanning the board and fat-guy.com for tips.  What's your best suggestions for a couple of great meals in NY??  We're staying with friends on the East Side at 75th but will be between there and the Village for a week...

    Fat Guy,

    Oops! I never could keep all those big hotels straight!

    One of my favorite things about Singapore is that if you stay in a hotel in Sun Tec City, and someone finds out, the first thing he will say to you is, "Oh, you're staying in Sun Tec City? Did you know the fountain is like the palm of a hand with water, symbolizing money, flowing into the palm -- and that the buildings are like the five fingers of a hand?" The first time you hear it, it's pretty interesting. I promise, however, you will be told this exact thing over and over again the entire duration of your stay in Singapore.

    "Oh, Sun Tec City, you know that fountain . . . "

    At one point, I couldn't stand the prospect of hearing another feng shui lecture, so I told a guy I was staying at Raffles. His reply? "Next time you should stay in one of the hotels in Sun Tec City. You know that fountain over there . . ."


    More about Singapore's favorite national hobby- EATING!

    Fat Guy gives a nice background on the culture here; but

    there is one dish that is found only in Singapore. Some locals

    even consider this their national dish due to the originality of it,

    and that is FISH HEAD CURRY. There's Chinese/Malay and Indian

    influences in this dish.

    The Chinese in Singapore are mainly

    Hainese, Hokkien and TeoChew provinces, thus we have clay pot,

    hot pots, rice noodles and gravy dishes, fish ball noodles, minced

    pork noodles, pork rib stews and soups etc.. There's some of

    the widest variety of regional Chinese dishes in the world. We also

    have Hakka, Hunan, Samsui,Cantonese, Heng Hwa, Hock Chew

    and Szechuan restaurants.

    The Indian community here are mainly Tamil speakers; so the food

    is influenced by those regions of India. You can get great snacks

    at hawker centers revolving around Roti Prata and curries.

    The Malay locals are mainly Muslim, so Halal food takes a priority.

    We have a huge English colonial history; thus tons of "pub " type

    food are eaten in bars and restaurants too. Many of the best

    hawker stalls in Singapore serve variations of Straits Chinese

    and Malay dishes that are influenced by Indonesian cuisine.

    Rojak is one that comes to mind.

    The Southeast Asian influences from the visiting labourers makes

    available such interesting eating directions such as Javanese, Sudanese,

    Burmese, Thai and Filipino to also examine.

    The Japanese influence is heavy in the Singapore. There's tons of

    casual to posh Japanese restaurants. The quality varies to the majority

    being owned and operated by Singaporeans who aren't as well schooled

    in the Nihonji palate as they like to think.

    This is just the tip of the ice berg in terms of depth of cusine in Singapore.

    My favorite places to eat are at hawker centers in the residential or

    older districts of Singapore. I live on the East Coast of the island which

    is gifted with some of the best there is on plate.

    There were several others, I don't mean to sell them short, but I made the cut after that last post for purposes of this digest.

    Finally, here's my mini photo album of Singapore and Singapore cuisine. I haven't gone through and labeled all the photos because I wanted this up in time for Jack's trip, but if you have any questions ask away and we can develop this thread into a big Singapore guide for all things food. Enjoy . . .

































  16. any and all vegetables seemed to be mixed with mayonnaise



    Who knows? It's all oral history and everybody has a different story, usually made up on the spot, about how things got to be the way they are. There's no Mongolian Larousse Gastronomique or even Bobby Flay so there's nobody to ask. There's some food professor at the university in UB, but what I read by him (I'll give some quotes in part-the-second) is about as informative as the Visit Mongolia 2003 site that Jon linked to. Maybe they just like mayonnaise?

  17. The Government proclaimed the Year of 2003 as the Year of "Welcome To Mongolia". In connection with this, it has started to issue a new designed visa to foreigners who intend to travel Mongolia.

    Jon, this exact verbiage was reiterated in the MIAT (Mongolian Airline) in-flight magazine! I'm planning to provide some very informative excerpts in the second part of this account.

  18. The dumplings that you have shown in the picture -- what are they-- they remind me of an Indian/Nepali dish called MOMOS.

    I'm going to give you one guess what was in them!

    And yes, they're a bit momo-like in appearance (you know our bulldog is named Momo, right?), but then again they're similar to a lot of different types of rustic dumplings you'd find all over Asia.

    what did you do for showers and bathrooms?

    In a lot of cases, the answer to that is, "What showers? What bathrooms?" For much of the latter part of the trip, I used the same bathroom the cattle used, aka the great outdoors. It's not like there's any lack of space!

    But in the Ger camps and the city, bathrooms were pretty normal -- a mix of Western and Eastern toilets -- and showers were plentiful (though usually lukewarm and sometimes cold).

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