My dad’s travel journal part 4
Saturday, August 21, 2010:
Well, I already told you about the hard night…even before it happened (in these notes). Even the pillows were hard. The parts of us that stayed under the covers stayed reasonably warm. Because we were resisting the urge to take care of nature’s processes, we were uncomfortable in other ways as well. This morning there is a slight trickle of water, so I shaved and brushed my teeth the hard way. Tiff says that the water does accumulate and run faster…but apparently, I did not have enough patience. We were up by 6 AM and could hear the others tossing and turning in their beds. The doors squeak everywhere you go, so there was no way to sneak out quietly and let people sleep. The air was slightly chilly, but I was surviving in a t-shirt. By 7:30, the sun was shining brightly outdoors. Breakfast was in the basement (nice restaurant…with rather gaudy wallpaper). I think the place is actually a karaoke bar at night, so had black lights, etc. Karaoke is a common form of entertainment in the villages and cities. Our plates of food were quite attractive. There was a huge mountain of eggs, rice, and peppers on each plate. The eggs were finely crumbled…don’t think I’ve ever had them that way before. After breakfast, we retrieved our car from the garage, loaded up, and headed out. I think it was in the upper 30’s by then…maybe warmer…but plenty chilly. The sun felt good though. While we were waiting for the car, we noticed the water system. It appeared that the wind turned a windmill type blade (though a horizontal one), and that powered a pump. Water flowed through a small pipe to the roof of the hotel. Not sure if it quits working when the wind is not blowing or whether they turn it off at night. Either way…we sure learned about the importance of water during our stay. Our morning adventure took us to the monastery in Karakorum…known as Erdene Zuu. Buddhism is one of the predominant religions in Mongolia and has been for centuries. Part of the spiritual darkness that we observed while there results from these people’s belief in superstitions perpetuated by the Buddhists. This monastery is still active, but much of it is preserved because of its history. It dates back hundreds of years. The Manchurians damaged the original town of Karakorum when it was a capitol city. Then Stalin came along in recent times and tried to destroy all religion. He failed to destroy much of this monastery. We paid to get in and then paid 5,000 tugrik (about $4.00) so we could take pictures. This scenario was repeated at almost every museum…but I soon tired of the extra charge, so didn’t take pictures. Our admission fee included the services of a very pretty, very well-spoken Mongolian girl who served as our tour guide. She explained about the paintings and statues that dated back several centuries. I listened to her, and hurt on her behalf. I am fairly sure that she believes in Buddhism. They had lots of protector gods to which they pray and give gifts. Some of them look hideous, like demons…have skulls atop their heads, and one is eating a child. The temples are exceedingly ornate, with wood carvings that stun the imagination. Such skill…put to such a harmful use. Most Mongolians follow the teachings of the Yellow Buddha. What? You didn’t know there was more than one? Neither did I. They talked a lot about the Dali Lama and other lamas. I guess I should have made the connection, but I hadn’t. Didn’t even know that he was Buddhist. There was to be a service that we could have attended at 11 AM, but we decided against it. Though I have sometimes belittled those who fear objects used for false worship, I began to see how you would not like to welcome any part of the demon world into your life and home. One day while we were picnicking, Elijah was offered an object used in Buddhist worship. I would have suggested that he accept it graciously and take it home, but Chris told him “No”. Elijah has a pretty clear understanding that anything having to do with idolatry is wrong. I had to re-think what I believe, somewhat. As tourists, we did go into the Buddhist temple prior to their service in order to have a look-around. The monks were burning incense, laughing at something, etc. We saw people turning prayer wheels and presenting offerings of incense and money. Joel turned the prayer wheels backwards…Chris said, “undoing the prayers of those people”. The Mongolian people will walk past a row of maybe 30 copper cylinders, each having a prayer etched on it. By turning each of them, they are supposedly praying that prayer. This is a sacred part of the ritual of Buddhism. How sad that they never reach God with this exercise. After tiring of looking at all of the things in the monastery grounds (we are talking about a huge complex…not sure how many acres), we went out the back gate and walked to a huge carved turtle that had some historical significance to this site. Again, we found tables full of Mongolian antique souvenirs. Chris had told me earlier that a person trying to take antique souvenirs back into the states might have some issues related to their values, when going through customs. There is also a question as to whether they are authentic antiques or not. I took a chance on a brass Genghis Khan on a horse. Paid 25,000 tugrik for him (about $18.50). As we walked back toward the monastery, we passed a herd of sheep and goats. One of them was wearing a large shroud around his mid-section. After some observation, I decided that it was serving as a type of chastity belt, preventing him from fathering little sheep/goats. After we left the monastery, (maybe after lunch) Carol and Tiff went back to the gift shop. Not sure what Tiff went for, but Carol came back with a Snicker’s candy bar. We headed to a row of shops across the street, but stopped where a man had a large eagle. For somewhere between $3 and $5, he allowed me to hold it up in the air for a photo. For that price, he didn’t provide the photo, but we had cameras…so no problem. Chris & Tiff directed us to a tiny little restaurant at the end of the shops. There was barely enough tables in there for two families. The food was Mongolian. I had a dumpling soup that Carol turned up her nose at because of the fatty beef and greasy broth. She had a particularly common meat pie. We all shared a large bottle of juice. We often purchased bottled water and an array of fruit juices because they were inexpensive, plentiful, and safe for consumption. Our afternoon journey would take us to the village of Tsetserleg…about 70 kilometers away. Little did we know how rough that road would be. It was worse than anything we’d experienced before. Most of our day was spent on detour routes, through the fields at the edge of the paved road. There were hundreds of large and deep potholes…some seeming to almost turn over freight-laden trucks. We saw one SUV climb a slope and immediately begin spilling oil behind him on the roadway. He actually made it to the next town, but we wonder about the condition of his engine by then, because we saw a constant drip from his car as he went down the roadway. We were worn out from the stress of trying to sit upright and Chris was bedraggled from constantly trying to find the best way to avoid catastrophe. Along the way, we came to a very pretty and fast-moving river. We pulled off to enjoy it, and several of us took a “nature break” behind a bridge pier. Occasionally, during our trip, we’d see people publicly relieving themselves along the roadway. There was nothing else available in the way of restrooms. If a bus full of people went by and watched you…so be it! Mosquitoes became a bit of a problem along the riverbanks, so we soon climbed back into our vehicle and munched on some apples. We had drinking water along with us, but needed to not be wasteful of it, so the moisture from the apples was welcome relief. For those of you who are squeamish, we got used to drinking warm water from the same jug (community slobbers). Better than nothing’! For a short time after our stop at the river, we had a bit of nice paved road. Then, it got so bad that we almost couldn’t find a way to go further. We were only 15 miles from our destination. There are constantly people along the roads, needing mechanical assistance…but you can’t possibly be of assistance to them. We stopped once and four boys told us that they had problems with their “accumulator”. As we drove away, we assumed that they were talking about their alternator, but weren’t sure. Most towns had a tire repair shop and welder…two vital services in such a forbidden territory. Before I make this seem like a God-forsaken place, let me be quick to assure you of its beauty. The mountains and plains were awesome! Unlike some times there, they had been receiving adequate rainfall and everything was green. However, I was so impressed when I saw a tree that I had to take a picture. They have almost no trees in much of the country. There is logging around some of the mountain areas and you do see many buildings built from wood…but it must come at a great cost. I still fail to understand how the people who live in gers during the harsh winter survive. For endless miles, there is nothing. I know that they can collect dried dung for their fires, but they have nowhere to store it. We read that they use 2 or 3 tons of coal a year, but how it gets to them and where they put it…is a mystery to me. I never saw any.
I mentioned water collection before. Time and again, we’d see people with little two-wheeled carts hauling water containers. They might go for a long distance, fill up their container, and then make the trek home. Often this person is a child. We were told that the average Mongolian uses about 2.3 or 2.6 liters of water a day. That’s for everything (!) …baths, washing dishes, food prep, etc, etc. That’s a 2-liter bottle to us Americans. Can you imagine? I think we saw about a million sheep, goats, yaks, horses, and camels while there. Today we got to see yaks, maybe for the first time. This country produces a lot of wool and cashmere. It is how some of these people live. Each family seems to have about 50-100 animals in a herd near their house. Occasionally you have to stop for animals in the roadway…either crossing, going down the road, or just standing there.
Around 5 PM, we arrived in Tsetserleg. We looked around until we found the Fairfield Inn. I know what you are thinking…a nice hotel! Well…sort of. Actually, it was the best we stayed in. By our standards, you might not have been impressed by everything there, but compared to what we’d experienced…it was heaven! Their hotels just don’t look like ours…more boxy…less spread out. This one is run by a British couple. It has become their “ministry” in Mongolia. They hire Mongolians, win them to the Lord, and then provide a wonderful hotel experience while mentoring these new Christians in their faith. They also provide a haven for Christian organizations that need a place to meet for conferences, etc. In addition to that, they are open to the public, so attract tourists from around the world. Chris and Tiff got to visit with several people they either knew…or had heard of, people who are touching Mongolia for Jesus.
We did not have reservations, so Chris went in to see if we could get rooms. They only had one room left (only 9 in the hotel) for that night and it had 3 beds. We took it…and it was quite nice. New carpet, so we had to take our shoes off at the door and wear sandals that they provided. We started to go out on an exploratory trip at 5:45, but found out that the restaurant closed at 6 PM, so went back in to eat. This time….burgers, steak sandwich, hot dogs, lasagna, etc. What a treat! We took off walking after supper and headed for the downtown area. Remember…these are small villages, so the downtown isn’t something grand. However, we kind of fell in love with this particular town. It had its dirt and squalor, but seemed to be a place where one could live and raise a family. As we neared the town center, we could hear a loudspeaker. When we got in sight of the govt. building, we could see a small crowd gathering. We soon found out that the national circus had come to town and would be performing some acts on the buildings portico…for free! We enjoyed clowns, acrobats, gymnasts, and a contortionist. Elijah was the only one who had his own agenda for the evening. He played by himself, some distance away, and we couldn’t seem to get him interested in the activities. He is very imaginative and sometimes pretends to be in some kind of fantasy world. He can speak the language of that land, even sing songs in it. I don’t begin to understand that, but his daddy reads C.S. Lewis, so go figure! (smile). After the circus performance, many of the townspeople moved to an area of the square that had a fountain. It had only been there for a month or so. It was computerized and had accompanying music. People milled about and watched it, while enjoying each other’s company. Again, Joel got the attention from some of the locals. The evening was now drawing to a close. I’m not sure if we went back by way of the park this evening, …or not. While in that town, we discovered a park that was about a block long. Here again, you will see the difference in perspective. Tiff thought it was wonderful…wished she had a place like that to take the boys. We saw an overgrown, weedy, playground, with damaged statues, broken glass, and a forbidding fence. It all depends upon what you have. Reminds me of the verse that says much is required of them that have a lot. We are blessed beyond anything that we can imagine…yet we complain! While we didn’t go to Mongolia for the purpose of learning “life-lessons”, I hope that we came back with a changed vision of who we are and what we should be doing. It was around 8:30 PM when we finally began taking baths and preparing for bed. The showers have instant water heaters, the hallways have carpet, there is a lounge to relax and read in, hot tea is provided in the evenings, the hall has flowers growing…..Wow! Church isn’t until 2 PM tomorrow…so we hope to get a good, long night’s sleep. At 9:45 PM, I caught up on my journaling. Good night!