Sumpteretc's Blog

What's on my mind at the moment

Month: January, 2010

UB Might Get Hit with 10.0 Magnitude Earthquake

That was one of the headlines on the front page of yesterday’s UB Post. As is commonly the case, there was little in the actual article to substantiate the sensational headline. We have had a few quakes in Mongolia in the past month or so, but mostly in unpopulated areas. A minor quake shook the south side of town, though, and coming in such close proximity to the Haiti quake, people are naturally nervous.

The article quotes G. Olziibat, Earthquake Survey Department Head of Mongolia’s Astronomy and Geophysics Survey Institute (how’s that for a title?), as saying that a worst case scenario would put Ulaanbaatar in the path of a 10.0 magnitude earthquake, although a likelier situation would be a 7.0 tremor with its epicenter in Hustai National Park, near Ulaanbaatar. The survey institute went on to say that they needed 3 billion tugrik in funding. I suppose that’s just the way it goes in science, but it still makes me raise an eyebrow when I hear, “We think a 10.0 magnitude earthquake may hit the capital, but we can’t say for sure unless you give us over two million dollars.”

Just a quick note on another news story from the front page: “Mongolian Antelope Invasion Causes Alarm in Russia.” The Russian source indicates that up to 40,000 Central Asian antelopes have crossed the border from Mongolia to Russia and that another 60-70,000 are in border areas. What struck me as funny is that the Russians are sweating this on two fronts. First, they are worried because of the massive impact the antelope are having on livestock fodder. But the second problem relates to poaching. They have already placed five people under investigation for hunting the antelope, because it is listed in the Russian book of endangered animals. They’re being overrun by 100,000 antelope, yet they’re endangered. Mongolia has about 1.2 million of these antelopes, by the way.


The big news from Mongolia right now is that 19 of the country’s 21 provinces are threatened by zud, which is a natural disaster characterized by summer drought followed by very heavy winter snow and below-average temperatures. As a consequence of this winter’s extreme cold, over one million head of livestock have frozen to death as of January 19.

A few of my favorite links

I don’t have anything too dramatic to post about tonight, so I thought I would just take a few moments to post some links to sites I visit almost every day, in hopes that they will be able to help someone.

If you need virtual flashcards for some task (such as reviewing Mongolian vocabulary), I highly recommend Flashcard Exchange. It’s one of the few sites at which I’ve actually been willing to pay for a membership. But even the free service is worthwhile. What I like about the premium service is that you can use the Leitner study system. This basically means that I can create a card file with a set of new vocabulary words and review it a few times. Four days later, I get an email telling me it’s time to review that set again. Seven days after I review it, I get another email. This is repeated after 12 days, 20 days, 1 month, 2 months, 3 months, 5 months, 9 months, 16 months, 2 years, 4 years, 6 years and 11 years. If you haven’t learned it after 11 years, you’re on your own. 🙂 I have about 15 files that are up to the 5 month mark, but the past few days have been tough with lots of card files coming due.

Another site that I have visited occasionally in the past but am now visiting daily is YouVersion. This site from keeps rolling out new features, such as the new YouVersion Live. This is an application which allows church services, seminars, etc. to be intensively interactive. I’ve never visited a service where this was used (nor do I have a mobile device), but just looking at some sample services is pretty interesting. I primarily use it for the Bible reading plans. I have QuickVerse, which has plenty of reading plans, too; but I decided to use an online platform this year. I’m trying a plan called Professor Horner’s Bible Reading System. It’s 250 days long and requires you to read 10 chapters a day from 10 different books. It’s pretty intense and I sometimes wonder at its value, but so far I’m keeping up with it and gleaning some good stuff. You can even sign up with a partner to hold you accountable for sticking to your plan.

Let me also take this opportunity to plug a few of my favorite podcasts:
The Dave Ramsey Show
Dilbert Animated Cartoons
Heartland Christian Fellowship Sermons Online (when it’s updated regularly)
Mars Hill Bible Church
The Moth (sometimes has explicit language)
Car Talk
Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me
The Techology Show
This American Life
WNYC’s Radio Lab

Waiting for Цагаан Сар

Winter continues unabated. Nearly every time I go outside, I feel like I’m going to lose my left pinkie. Maybe it’s time for a new pair of gloves. They’re 16 years old, so it’s possible that they’ve done their duty. I don’t know what today’s high temperature was, but it wasn’t high enough. It’s currently -31. Our school director chose today to talk about a sledding outing for the school. It was hard to drum up much enthusiasm. The colder it gets, the smokier it gets too; so by noon, it was getting hard to breathe outside. Tiffany was tired all day; I thought maybe it was carbon monoxide poisoning. Just got to hang in there. It’s supposed to be up to 8 by the weekend.

The ground is still covered in ice, as it no doubt will be until spring. This evening, I went to teach my English class at the church. Only a couple students showed up, so we called off class until next week. I boarded the microbus to go back home. After a long wait, we started up the hill towards our home. About halfway up, we skidded sideways on the ice. I was crammed in right next to the driver, so I hope he didn’t take my sharp intake of breath as criticism of his driving. A few hundred meters later, we were approaching a “bribe receiving area.” There were a half dozen policemen stopping microbuses, apparently at random. The driver asked the conductor if she had something–“reserves,” I think the word was. She said she didn’t. A policeman waved us down. The driver, after considerable banging on the door, managed to get out of the vehicle. The policeman was pointing at the front tire. I hope he was telling the driver it was unsafe for these conditions, but I really have no idea. They went behind the micro to do their dealing, so I didn’t see the outcome. I had to watch the driver of the microbus in front of us paying off his cop instead.

Finally, I got home. Fortunately, I’ve been able to keep my footing the last few days, primarily by intensely concentrating on every step I take.

So…we’re anxious for Цагаан Сар to come. That’s “White Month,” the lunar new year and the supposed end of winter, or at least the worst part of it. There’s always some debate on when it actually falls, though. It is supposed to be two months after the first new moon following the winter solstice, which seems fairly straightforward. According to the UB Post, though, “High ranking Buddhist religious figures from major temples and monasteries, astrologists, representatives from scientific research institutions and university professors gathered at the Office of the President Ts. Elbegdorj to ‘narrow down’ their views last Thursday regarding long-debated disputes about when to actually celebrate the first day of the Lunar New Year calendar….” They finally decided on Feb. 14, so I’m guessing there were some representatives from Hallmark Cards there as well.

Losing It

Today, in my language class, we talked about some of the many meanings and applications of the word алдах, which means “to lose.” These include: to have successes and failures, to drop, to give away a secret, to lose one’s life, to be nervous, to be careless, to accidentally set fire, to lose the paunch, to shout, to behave improperly, to lose one’s way, to become a mess, to be afraid of, to burst out laughing, to lose faith, to lose money, to lose sleep, to lose color, to sigh, to miss hardening (horse), to be uncomfortable, to leave water running accidentally, to lose consciousness, to let something out, to lose one’s footing, to be stolen, to lose one’s strength, to measure incorrectly, to lose time, to look weak or sick, to lose blood, to urinate, and to be in a muddle.

I guess, in English, we have quite a few expressions about losing things too. The loss by which I’ve been most beset the past couple of days is loss of balance. Yesterday, after dropping Elijah off at kindergarten, I headed to the bus stop to catch a micro to school. The ground was a sheet of ice, and when I stepped on the top step of a set of concrete stairs, I found myself momentarily flying through the air and subsequently flying down the steps on my rear end. Stunned but apparently unhurt, I made my way to the bus stop and on to school, marveling at the sight of Mongolians who seem to be able to use the icy ground to their advantage, fearlessly skiing down both steep and gentle slopes. I made it safely to right in front of the school, where I again хөл алдсан, i.e. lost my foot.

My in-laws kindly bought me some nice snow spikes for my shoes which do an excellent job of keeping me upright, and they work well with my dress shoes and probably with my tennis shoes. Unfortunately, however, on these -40 temperature days, I prefer to wear the boots my brother-in-law gave me. They do an admirable job of keeping my feet warm, but they are so bulky that the spikes tend to slip off of them. I have twice had to backtrack a block or two to track down a missing set of spikes. So, it’s a choice of warmth or sure footing.

However, just a few minutes ago, my stocking feet slipped on our parquet floors and left me lying in the middle of the living room. So perhaps I should be worried more about some inner ear infection and less about what kind of shoes I’ll wear tomorrow.

I guess sometimes losing isn’t all bad, though. Check out this classic song from Steve Taylor:

A few years ago, I chose the theme “Jesus is for Losers” for our youth retreat at Harmony Hill Youth Camp. I believed it then, but I think I’m growing in my understanding of what that means. Until we begin to realize how seriously we have lost our way, we can’t really comprehend how much we need a Savior.

Elijah goes to kindergarten

Well, today Elijah began school at the public kindergarten next to our apartment. He’s doing well with his homeschooling and is learning all that we want him to learn, but he doesn’t have a lot of friends, particularly Mongolian ones. I understand the homeschooling arguments about socialization, but in our context, he just wasn’t having enough outside time to really build healthy relationships.

So, a couple weeks ago, Tiffany met with the kindergarten director to see about enrolling Elijah at the school. The director didn’t seem particularly enthused by the idea nor by our intentions to pick Elijah up each day at 1:00, but she consented. Tiffany sat in on the classroom where Elijah would be attending and was satisfied with what she saw.

To enroll Elijah, we had to take him for a medical exam. We were told to go to the district 10th health center. We weren’t sure where that was, so Tiffany and I went wandering around on Monday. We asked a number of people and got a number of directions, some right, some wrong. Finally, we found the place. The receptionist looked at us like we were crazy. Why are you here? Do you have a card? You need to go to your family hospital. Hmm, our family hospital? Where is that? The receptionist gave us a phone number. We weren’t sure who we were calling, so we had a friend call and we found out the building number of the microdistrict family hospital. Then some more wandering. Finally, we found it and got the “card,” i.e. prescriptions for a urine test and a “white worm” test.

Tuesday, Elijah and I braved the terrible cold to walk the half hour or so back to the health center. It was about 10:45 when we arrived. (Hardly anything in Mongolia opens before 10 or 11.) The receptionist took a look at the prescriptions and said, “You’re late. You have to come before 9.” So the cold trek home and repeated on Wednesday. Anyway, it eventually all got done, and he’s in school.