Sumpteretc's Blog

What's on my mind at the moment

Category: Mongolia

Takh Back to Mongolia

Takh Back to Mongolia from Daniel Gallenkamp N.S.C. on Vimeo.

bump on the head

We had a bit of a scare today. One of our church members had called and asked if I could come to church early to help him troubleshoot a problem with a computer program he was trying to install and use. I agreed to arrive half an hour early and the rest of the family came with me. I went in to work on the computer, and Tiffany stayed outside with the boys to play for a bit before church. A few minutes later, I heard Elijah crying loudly in the hallway. I went out and immediately saw a huge lump on his forehead. Apparently, he had been running and tripped over a stepping stone. I don’t know if his hands were in his pockets or what, but he seems to have caught himself with his head. I would say the bump was sticking out 1/2 to 3/4 inch.

Medical emergencies in this country always bewilder me. Fortunately, our pastor jumped to the rescue and drove us to the nearest hospital. It was a cancer hospital, so they were a bit reluctant to see a child with an injury, but they did finally direct us to one doctor (?), who gave him a cursory examination and declared it a minor injury. Relieved, I brought him home, put ice on it, and had him lie down. He seems to be doing okay now, praise the Lord!

Second day of White Month

Well, today was the second day of Tsagaan Sar. By Mongolian standards, we didn’t do much; by my standards, I’m full. We visited three homes; I ate eleven buuz and drank more cups of milk tea than I can remember.

The boys playing anklebone games on the floor

Celebrating with our house helper and her family

Lunar New Year Birthday

Today was the first day of the three-day Tsagaan Sar, White Month, holiday here in Mongolia. It marks the beginning of the new year, which is apparently the year of the iron rabbit or some such thing. I can never actually remember what year we’re in, but it doesn’t seem to hinder me significantly. Today was also my wife’s 33 birthday, but it tended to get overshadowed by the fact that everything else in town is closed, so we couldn’t really leave the house. We ate out a few nights ago to celebrate and then gave her some presents at breakfast today, but most of the rest of the day was not too far from a normal day for us.

I went ahead and taught Elijah his homeschool. I figure I can’t give him both the American holidays and the Mongolian holidays off of school, so we’re sticking with the American ones. We’ll have to go do some visiting tomorrow, but Fridays are usually pretty light anyway, so we’ll probably be done with school by 10 or 10:30 anyway. In history, I think we’re approaching the end of our Greece study. Today, we looked at Greek agriculture and diet. We’ll wrap up our reading of Greek News tomorrow. In language arts, after much effort, I managed to extract this set of three couplets from Elijah:

Joel played with his cars on the floor
Then he ate an apple up to the core.
Then he goes to watch TV.
He watched a show; he saw a key.
He goes to Mom and tells her, “Come here.”
Then she asks him, “What is it, dear?”

I don’t think I have a budding Alexander Pope on my hands, but I could be wrong. I’ve read a few “professional” poems that aren’t significantly better than that. In science, Elijah was disappointed to hear that we were doing no experiments today (our usual Thursday routine). Instead, we just went over some water facts and then spent some time explaining an experiment from last year that he still had some questions about. I spent most of my time trying to describe air’s “desire” to move from high-pressure areas to low-pressure ones.

I got a little work done this afternoon, but also took time to play a game of Settlers of Catan with Tiffany and Elijah. I had a surprise victory, which happened so rapidly, it actually took me a bit aback. I also baked some lemon bars for Tiffany’s “birthday cake,” since I hadn’t had the foresight to get anything else ready. Elijah wanted me to help him get through a few levels of Plants vs. Zombies, and we watched “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.”

This morning, I also chatted with one of our partners in the US, trying to strategize some things for our future. I’m so glad for our support team at Spring Lake Wesleyan Church. Their team is trying to network with some of our other partner churches to build a synergy that will help us all work together better. I hope that we can really make this happen. I’m also continuing to brainstorm possibilities for countering the paternalistic dependency mindset that the church here has. If anyone has some resources to help me think more deeply about this or some action steps to suggest, I’d love to chat with you about them.

I also did a bit of online chat with one of our local church members who is currently in his hometown for the holidays. He’s facing some difficult family issues, and is having to take some big responsibilities at a young age. I can’t give a lot of specifics but please help me pray about this situation.

Ancient Greek Megachurch

I’ve been reading through Genesis in my devotions as well as in family devotions. This morning’s passage was Genesis 44, the story of Joseph arranging for his cup to be hidden in Benjamin’s grain sack. I’m never quite sure what to do with these narrative passages of Scripture that don’t seem to have a lot of overtly theological content. It’s my idea that Moses wrote them down to be a rallying point for building a national consciousness, so I try not to make personal application in ways that would be totally foreign to that purpose. I was reading a few commentators on this passage, and I was rather amused at Adam Clarke’s mental gymnastics to try to prove that Joseph was not involved in the practice of sorcery, despite the fact that he had a divination cup. What struck me as funny was the irrelevance of the discussion in the context of the story. What does it matter if Joseph was telling the future? The whole story was in the context of a massive deception that he was perpetrating against his brothers. Most of the commentators try to somehow justify the deception by saying that Joseph needed to know if his brothers had really changed. Why? Does our desire to know something about another’s character justify deceiving them? The entire idea strikes me as odd.

Anyway, homeschooling today went fairly smoothly. In history, we talked about the ancient Greeks’ approach to medicine–both those who sought healing from the god Asclepius and those who sought healing from the man Hippocrates–as well as the construction of the Parthenon and the worship of the goddess Athena. Interestingly, our book noted the cost of these projects. I’m trying to compute what they would be in today’s wages. If a skilled craftsman in America makes $15 per hour, then the cost of building the Parthenon would be about $360 million. Even more startling, the cost of the statue of Athena would be about $420 million. I don’t think we have many megachurches today with that kind of budget. In science, we talked about hair and nails–the keratin twins. Pretty intriguing stuff. We watched an entertaining movie about hair and took a quiz (Elijah did quite well), acted as hair detectives to determine who stole the hair products from a popular boy band, and read the nitty-gritty details about nails and nail care. Elijah is now somewhat of an expert on the topic.

I had a little birthday shopping to work on this afternoon, so I traveled across town to look for a particular item. After traipsing in and out of many a shopping center, I finally found the right kind of store. Then it dawned on me that I didn’t know the words to express what I was looking for. So I spent a long time looking around the relatively small store and finally realized I was going to have to ask for what I wanted. I went around Robin Hood’s barn and, in the clumsiest way possible, explained what I wanted to buy. The saleswoman pointed to the item right in front of me. I wanted to kick myself.

We had some American friends over for a couple hours this afternoon as well. They have some young sons, so it was good for our boys to get a chance to play with them, and we had a fun time visiting as well. We have mutual friends in America but don’t know each other well, so these times of fellowship are always welcome.

It’s -8 here, but at least we’re not facing the blizzard conditions of our friends in midwestern America. Bundle up, y’all!

Today did not get off to a stellar start. After going to bed around midnight, I was awakened at 5:00 with a splitting headache. I got up and took some Tylenol but could not get back to sleep. I felt like there was more to be done but nothing had any effect. Finally, I just collapsed on the couch and started watching John Wayne and Robert Mitchum in El Dorado. I haven’t finished it, but so far it’s been a pretty decent flick. I guess I expect as much from Howard Hawks.

So, anyway, exercise went by the wayside today. Fortunately, by 8:00, I was feeling better and able to teach Elijah’s homeschool relatively successfully. We’re still plodding our way through ancient Greek culture in history, today focusing on education and theater. He’s doing well in his reading, working this week on words ending in -lt, -nt and -ft. We also practiced playing “20 Questions,” which he is starting to get the hang of but needs more work. In science, we talked about the skin. I probably learned a thing or two. He had fun with exploring the skin on his arm at this website. It’s still pretty fact-heavy, but it’s interactive enough that it held his attention most of the time.

We all bundled out and braved the cold to celebrate Tiffany’s birthday at Thai Express tonight. Her birthday isn’t until Feb. 3, but since that falls during Tsagaan Sar, we figured we had better celebrate early.

unread books

Well, I only watched about 15 minutes of the State of the Union address, but I don’t suppose I missed a lot. I’m guessing it was mostly “Rah, rah! Let’s fix the economy and create jobs. We need more bipartisan effort, and I fully support our troops.” Did I get most of it? I’m cynical about a lot of things, but politics is high up on the list.

I’ve been reading Alexander Pope in my free time, and I am amazed at how many well-known phrases came from his “Essay on Criticism”–“a little learning is a dangerous thing,” “to err is human, to forgive divine,” and “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” I’ve barely heard of Pope, so I was shocked to hear such common phrases originating with him. I’m reading “The Rape of the Lock” now, which I have actually heard of, although I know precious little about it.

I spent a big chunk of my afternoon listening to a webinar on “10 Commandments to Counteract Dependency” with Jarvis Ferguson, Ibero-American area director for Global Partners. It was some pretty challenging stuff, as our church here is very dependent on North American dollars, and I haven’t seen significant moves to break free of that system. I want to encourage the church toward greater self-support, but we’re basically starting from zero, so it’s going to take some major brainstorming and probably progress at a rate slower than I would like. My friend Dave Horne gave me the book When Helping Hurts back in October, but it’s still in a stack of a bunch of unread books on my desk. I think I’m just going to have to make reading it a part of my weekly schedule, so that I can get some clarity on how to begin to resolve this issue.

This stack of books is actually beginning to bug me. There is so much that I would like to read, but I just don’t make the time for it. I’m devoted to finishing this volume of the Major British Writers before I get too heavily into anything else. After Pope, I just have Boswell and Johnson, so maybe I’ll get through it sometime this year!

Speaking of books, I saw an interesting sign here in Ulaanbaatar yesterday; it said “Center of English Book.” I think if you’re going to bother to have an English book center, you ought to go to the trouble of using proper grammar in your signage. I suppose they could have just been referring to the center of a particular volume, but….

Tiffany has been helping me with some of our donor communication, so we should have a print newsletter coming out in the next week or so. Since everyone reading this must sure have an e-mail address, you probably won’t get a print copy, but if you do, save me some money next time by sending your e-mail address to By way of communication, we’re also working on getting a video postcard put together. There are a few churches that have requested videos, but I hope we’ll be able to make it available to whoever would like to see it.

the slow pace of getting things done

Sometimes I forget how long it takes to get stuff done here. I spent some good time this afternoon down in the church office visiting with some of our office workers and some of our youth. But then I decided I ought to run down to the State Department Store, since they are apparently the local distributor of Lexmark printing supplies. I haven’t seen Lexmark ink anywhere in the country, but today I actually saw some on the shelves. It wasn’t the kind I needed, so I despairingly asked a saleslady if they had any others. She handed me over to a gentleman who opened a drawer and produced the ink I was looking for. Unfortunately, they only had a black/color combo pack, while I just needed to purchase the black. Moreover, the price was 70,000₮, which I thought was a bit overpriced. (I ended up buying just the black ink on eBay from a supplier in Taiwan; we’ll see how that works out.) The real struggle was getting home. I waited quite a while for a bus, and when one finally came, it was quite full, so I found a place to stand. The farther we went, the fuller it got, and the more uncomfortable positions I was cramped into. Traffic was pretty heavy apparently, and it probably took me close to an hour to get home. I probably could have jumped in a taxi and been home in 15 minutes, but I squeeze every tugrug until it cries.

My dad’s travel journal part 14

Tuesday, August 31, 2010:
Our last day! Elijah’s 6th birthday!. The high temperature today is to be 22 degrees Celsius (72 degrees, the way I understand it). Seven AM found us up and beginning to pack for the trip home. Actually, it was Elijah who got us up today. After a breakfast of pancakes, we had a mini-birthday affair for him. He opened all of his smaller gifts first: a ball glove, Army set, video games, clothes, a knight set, various medieval figurines, etc. Then, we took him to the bedroom and unveiled the castle (we had a sheet over it to keep it secret). He was quite surprised, but I think maybe he had been expecting to receive a computer. Not sure if I’m to blame for that. In trying to build up excitement, and yet deceive him, I may have led him down that path. We had brought an old laptop to Chris & Tiff…and I thought it was going to be for his use. It may yet serve that purpose. We moved the castle to the dining room table, so that he could get to it from three sides and begin to play with it. Space is an issue in the apartment, so finding a permanent home for it, while do-able, would be challenging. Leaving him to be entertained by his new gifts, Carol & I headed back to the bedroom to resume preparations for our trip home. Around 11:30 AM, we all left the boys with Tseggie (the helper), and went to the two Sora stores. We bought candy & pastries to share with friends back in the U.S., treats for Chris, Tiff, and the boys (including a $7 box of Fruit Loops, juice packets, pudding, and birthday noisemakers), Dr. Pepper for Carol, etc. We got back to the apt. about 12:30 and watched part of a ceremony at a school, off in the distance. I kept hearing a loudspeaker, so looked out the window and saw people performing (dance, marching, etc) in front of a school. Chris went to get the microbus from Pastor Otgonbayar, so that he would have it to take us to the airport. When he returned from that venture, we all loaded up and headed for Elijah’s favorite restaurant, B.B.Q. Chicken,…or something like that. The abbreviation does not stand for barbeque, as we would expect. It stands for “Best Believable Quality”.
They feature chicken…we had a 20-piece chicken strip meal. It came with salad, potatoes, turnip-like items, and then tall ice-cream cones. Elijah had his favorite, a “cold pop chicken”. I think I could sell a million of them in the U.S. It is a paper cup with the lower half filled with Coke. The upper half has another paper cup inside it, and contains chicken nuggets. A straw sneaks down the side of the top cup and dispenses drink from below. Pretty cool! We had some time left after lunch (it was 2 PM), so we went to a department store to look around and for Tiff to purchase sewing bobbins. We had taken her sewing machine to her, but failed to bring the bobbins. Downstairs, we went to a supermarket and purchased two large cases of bottled water. We then drove to Ewen & Pia Kiddo’s high-rise apartment, and played/relaxed in a park as the people invited to Elijah’s party,…gathered. We had met Ewen at church, but were now meeting Pia for the first time. We had met Sarah Meckler at church,…met Chris today. Chris sometimes performs as a clown and he does balloon art. He had created an awesome Superman from red & blue balloons. I think Elijah was pretty impressed by that,…as were we all. We also met a lady named Ruth. Her husband is Mongolian; she is German. Another couple arrived in their new (used) Land Rover. He was Josh, and hailed from Hutchinson, KS. His wife was Mongolian. When he & she married, neither could speak the other person’s language. Not sure how that worked, but apparently it did. Soon after marrying, they went to India as missionaries. Wow! They are back in Mongolia now, doing missionary work, and trying to find ways to wean themselves from the financial resources in the U.S. For 9 years, they have tried various business plans in an effort to make the Mongolian church self-supporting. He said that they might make a tiny profit, for the first time, this year. They tried exporting leather, selling cashmere, etc. At one point, a supplier ripped them off and they lost a large sum of their money. Now, they supply an industrial use oil to construction companies. I am amazed at the resourcefulness of these people. Each missionary (from different faith groups) attempt to spread the Gospel in many different ways. At one point in the day, I was having a conversation with Chris Meckler about the Ulaanbaatar traffic.
He told me that about 8 years before, a man had run for Police Chief of UB, and that he had promised to make changes that would improve the terrible traffic conditions at that time. Apparently, people believed him, and wanted change, so he was elected. He put a police officer at almost every major intersection, even at -40 degrees temperatures. It worked (though it’s hard for an American to see the improvement). People will now stop if a cop signals them to do so, because if you don’t and they catch you, it will be a difficult chore to get your impounded car back. Eventually, everyone had gathered for the party, so we loaded into 2 vehicles and headed for the river…at a location not far from the Zaison WWII memorial, which we had visited earlier. This location is often the destination for “play dates” for 13 missionary kids. Their moms get together to visit and to allow the kids to have “friends” from their own cultural setting. On the way to the river, we passed the new children’s amusement park, in the city. It has been under construction for many months. The missionaries were getting antsy for it to open. Some thought that they might be leaving before getting to visit it. We had seen people on the rides the day before…a trial run for the park, before opening day. This caused a degree of excitement among all of them. Later, we read a blog of Chris’s about going to it during the Grand Opening days. It was a huge mistake…because of the crowds. They have nothing like it in Mongolia, so it will be very popular among those who can afford its pleasures. Traffic was a bit heavy as we neared the river. At one point, we were so close to the car beside us that our mirror struck theirs. Their mirror just folded in, and both cars proceeded on down the road. At the river, we climbed down a very steep bank at the edge of the roadway, and then spread blankets on some open land nearby. The water was around 40 degrees, but the children were wading in it within minutes. One little girl was buck-naked, except for a hat (a decision made by the Swiss lady missionary). Actually, I think her mom had left, and this lady was watching her. She didn’t have other clothes along, so this was a solution. One couple asked the others to watch their child, as they had not had a “date” for a long time. This was an opportunity for them to go into the city and have some time alone together. About 3:30, I tired of watching the kids, and decided to give in to the urge to climb a nearby mountain. Within a few minutes, my heart was pumping strongly enough that I could feel it in my chest. I looked down on the party below and saw Chris heading to the vehicle to get Elijah’s birthday dessert, so I abandoned the idea of making it to the peak, and headed back down. Tiff had baked three large sheets of oatmeal/chocolate chip cookies and had cut them into squares. Then she stacked them all into a large pyramid, and put decorations all over it. Pretty impressive dessert! When I got down to the riverbank, I saw that the children were gathered around Elijah, and he was opening gifts from them. We gave out noisemakers and tiny cans of fizz-candy, and prepared for the cake portion of the affair. It was breezy, and Chris had a really tough time getting 6 candles all lighted at the same time. Joel, who recently had his 2nd birthday, was practiced up on blowing out candles, so what the natural wind didn’t extinguish…Joel did. Eventually, he was removed (by Grandma Carol), the candles were re-lighted, we sang, and Elijah quickly blew the little flames out. Everyone got bottled water and we began devouring the cookie pyramid. Some of the young boys decided that they wanted to climb a different mountain (down the road 1/4 mile), and had already set out for it. Chris & I decided that some supervision was in order, so quickly headed down the road after them. They had some ambitious plans, and I tried to modify them without being a total spoil-sport. Eventually, they tired of the climb…and we all headed back. Around 5:30 PM, we returned to the river, and all prepared to head home. Just before departing, a big herd of goats came scrambling down the steep rock face of the mountain beside us. They went to the river, and got a drink and then headed back up. One poor goat didn’t think he/she could make the trip down, so remained on the mountaintop…probably quite thirsty. A couple of us were bemoaning the fact that we didn’t have our cameras ready. It was a once-in-a-lifetime sight! After dropping off some of our passengers, we headed back home…arriving there around 6:00 PM. Tiff had roast, potatoes, carrots, etc for our final dinner together. After cleaning up a bit, and completing our packing, we headed for the hallway and began to say our goodbyes. I’m tearing up now, as I type these notes (men hate to admit to that). It was a bit emotional. Elijah had to flee to the bathroom. We had bonded…more than ever before. The boys had learned to love us, and we felt closer to the entire family than we had in some time. We were leaving our “kids” on the other side of the world. But…we know that they are gifted for the task that they are attempting, and we know that the God, who controls everything in the Universe, has them in His hand. They are where they ought to be! So…we quickly gave hugs and said goodbye, and hurried out the door and down the stairs. Chris drove us through the dusk…toward UBs Chingghis Khan International Airport….arriving there at 9:30 PM. He helped us unload and told us goodbye. We went inside and were immediately greeted by 3 Mongolian men, who wanted to shrink-wrap our suitcases (for a 12,000 tugrik fee). Chris had told us that it would happen, so we allowed it…wondering at the time what would happen if customs needed to inspect them. We checked in at the Korean Airlines desk, gave them our luggage, and went exploring. We could not find any signs that indicated our departure gate, but found one waiting area that looked promising. There were several gift shops, and we had kept out enough Mongolian currency to be able to get some last-minute souvenirs. After making some purchases, we went back to our seats. I did some more journaling. At 10:40 PM, boarding began. Departure was to be at 11:10 PM, but we taxied for what seemed to be 15 minutes. By 11:25, we were lifting off the runway and heading for the Korea. I watched the lights of Ulaanbaatar, saw the 3/4 moon pass our wingtip, and began to pray for the family we were leaving behind…their task…to spread the message of salvation…to introduce Jesus to a land that has long forgotten God. I am now catching up on my journal notes for today as we speed through the skies. I have questioned Carol about our time schedule, and still find it puzzling. Here’s why: We left on August 31st at 11:10 PM (Mongolia time). In a few minutes, it will be Sept. 1st (Mongolia time). We will arrive in Seoul, Korea around 3 AM, but will have gained an hour (so, it will be 4 AM in Mongolia). Around 11:30 AM (Korea time), we will head East…toward the U.S. Somewhere along the way, we’ll cross the International Date Line, which will make it the day before. But, we’ll be in the air so long that we won’t be home until the next day…which may or may not be…the day we left ??? I guess that maybe the airplane pilot, on one of the legs of the flight; will let me know where I’m at, and what time it is….they usually do. As long as we get there…who cares? Without their guidance, this journal becomes “out of whack”.
I am jotting notes now, at 11:50 Pm and we have received our headphones and some orange juice. We are supposed to get dinner soon after midnight. Go figure!
……Okay, it happened! I had seafood (whitefish, shrimp, and maybe squid)). The latter was really chewy…nothing to write home about. Carol had some (tough) beef. I am miserable…was bloated when trip started, and this meal was not the solution to that problem. I have already mentioned the amenities in the Korean Airlines bathrooms, so won’t reiterate them here, but a trip to one of them allowed me to come up with a razor, so I could get a shave during our long layover in Seoul. Tried to read a mystery book that I had brought along, but got sleepy and they turned off most of the lights. Had some restless sleep until 3:05 AM. As I resume my note taking, we are over water, just outside of the Incheon Airport in Seoul, South Korea. Now…our wheels are being lowered. We are only 3 minutes from touchdown. Looking outside, we can see that the ground is wet…rain has been falling. Our landing is flawless. You try hitting wet pavement at 200 mph. I am grateful for an experienced pilot. I put my notebook away as we taxi to the terminal.
Hours later,…we walked the darkened hallways of this great airport for a little while, not immediately finding the traveler’s lounge that we had seen before. Finally, Carol got us straightened out. We needed to find Asiana Airlines lounge, not KAL. There was a girl on duty at a 24-hour information booth, so I left my boarding pass with her and got a locker key. We left our carry-on luggage, and then went upstairs. A number of people were sleeping in the lounge, but we found two side-by-side reclining chairs and lay across them. Both of us slept soundly for 2-3 hours. The airport had begun to get busy by 7 AM, so we got up and faced the day, though our night had been kind of messy. We were somewhat rested. We had fruit smoothies for breakfast, and then, went to a “cultural experience”. They provided us with fans, paint, and some design samples. It was way tougher than we had imagined, so we spent the better part of an hour painting away. Next, we re-claimed our luggage from the lockers and my boarding pass from the info. booth. We had some left-over kwon (Korean currency), so we did some shopping for souvenirs.
Bought some milk chocolate candy with orange centers and a set of souvenir pens with little Korean people on them. By then, it was time to get to our departure gate for a 10:30 AM (Wed…Sept 1st) flight. Security was a bit tighter, now that we were headed for the U.S. Carol lost a sealed cup of water that we had saved from the prior flight. We sat in row 37 of this huge 747…right over the wings. I kind of dozed off while awaiting take-off. After about 30 minutes, I awakened to find that we still weren’t moving. Carol said that we were waiting for other planes to land. As we finally began our take-off, our plane shuddered and shook terribly,…as if we were driving over a highway rumble-strip. Since we were off the ground; that was an unlikely reason. Although worrisome for a bit, the plane soon smoothed out, and we were on our way home. I looked at my watch, and it said that it was 11:36 AM, but I think my watch is already off by an hour. As I am writing, we appear to be over the ocean. They have given us our slippers, toothbrush set, headphones, etc. (found blankets & pillows in our seats as we entered). Carol is seated next to a very slim, young Korean man, so not at all crowded. I note that she is having her devotions. Not sure when I wrote the next part, but my journal says, “…a long, grueling flight has now been going on forever”. Almost everyone turns out their lights, shuts their window shades, and naps. I don’t like shutting out the sun. I attempted to watch numerous movies, but slept through most of them. They fed us a couple of times…fish, beef, etc. We had honey-roasted peanuts (tasty) and another snack that was like a rice Cheeto. Strange!
I have now decided to change my watch to the current time in Atlanta, Georgia, so I have no idea what day or time it really is here. A cabinet attendant just brought us hot towels, so food must be coming again. The sky map shows us still over the ocean, west of Alaska. I noticed a while ago that we were up to 710 mph. At one point, I noted that we had a tailwind of 149 mph. That helps! I made some notes in the margins of my notebook…not sure when. One says that we are 7,860 miles from Atlanta. Another says that we are going northeast, up past Vladivostok, Russia. At one point, I noted that we were at 22,365 feet in altitude. While awaiting the pending meal, I decided to work on the U.S. Customs form that had been provided to us. It is now 6 PM in Atlanta, by my watch, …so it must be around 3 PM where we are now. Okay…I stand corrected…by my wife….maybe! We left at noon, from Seoul. So, there was daylight for several hours. However, the day/night map shows that at the date-line, it changes (maybe). It shows dark on one side and light on the other, but I can’t believe that there is anywhere on earth where that actually happens. Anyhow, based upon the fact that I’m sure it’s currently 7 AM in Atlanta, it must be 3 AM here. (Do you sense the confusion)? Enough of that nonsense! We had chicken/rice and beef/noodles for our meal. Mine had a hot sauce that you squeeze from a toothpaste tube. It wasn’t exceptionally good, but not horrible. Our seatmate just got up and went to the bathroom for the first time in 10 hours. We watched a few more short features on our little TV. Carol became ill. She was chilling and having pain in her neck. That is of concern when you are in the air, but at least we were now over the U.S., and could probably do an emergency landing, if necessary. We watched as we passed Kansas & Missouri on our way to the Deep South….DUMB! That’s what they do though, when they can save money by flying in to their own “hub”…in this case Delta Airlines. Now, we are 36 minutes from landing. I’m hoping that we can make it home without a side-trip to the hospital.
At 1:07 PM, we are sitting in a Delta Airlines MD88, in Atlanta…listening to a high-pitched squeal. This airplane is nothing like the ones we were on earlier. We should be airborne soon, on a 1 hour 37 minute trip to Kansas City, Missouri. However, let me go back in time for a brief moment. We arrived at the Hartfell Jackson Airport, in Atlanta, and had about a 1 1/2 hour layover for our connecting flight. As we were arriving, I was amazed to see a Delta plane leaving about every minute or so. A whole line of them was waiting to take off. Entering the airport, we lined up at immigration, to have our passport stamped. Then, we went down to get our luggage. That ate up most of a half hour. Then, it was off to the Customs area. One of the questions on our form was a query about whether we had been on any land that had livestock. In Mongolia, that’s most of the country. So…while our luggage was going through x-ray, a man took us to a basin, over which we held our feet, while he sprayed disinfectant on our shoes. We did not tell him that our suitcase contained the shoes that I’d worn 90 % of my Mongolian stay. No way did I want him detaining us in order to cut open the shrink-wrap and spray those shoes.
While the customs man was thus employed, he wasn’t watching his equipment, something he normally would have been doing. One of our suitcases stood up on the conveyor belt and became jammed in the tunnel. It stopped the machine, and was so jammed that we had to kick it to get it loose. In the process, it damaged the suitcase so badly that we discarded it when we got home. I didn’t make an issue of it there. What? Sue U.S. Customs? It was a suitcase that an airline had damaged on a prior trip, so I just considered it to have lived its life. Next, it was time to go through a security check. Whereas, the customs employee had been friendly, and had asked about our trip,…these people were a bit more serious. They didn’t joke around, but treated us okay. The lady had hollered at enough people, so I knew what she wanted…and did my best to make her happy. Because of the new body scanning equipment, we had to take off our shoes, belt, every item (even paper) from our pockets, etc. You’d think maybe that such sophisticated machinery would eliminate the need for some of that. Who wants to argue with them…just get me home! After clearing security, it was time to catch a train that would take us to Concourse C. (Keep in mind that we only have 1 1/2 hour layover). In Concourse C, we are surrounded by American-style food vendors. There was 15 minutes until boarding time, so we hurried to a Checker’s burger booth. We split a cheeseburger and fries and purchased that all-important, MR. PIBB! Now, Carol was in heaven! We hurried to Gate 9 and were on the plane about 10 minutes later.
As I continue to take notes, we are taxiing down the runway and headed for home, sweet home. I looked to see if maybe I could call Chris, and tell him that we’ve made it, but it is 3 AM in Mongolia. Carol had turned on her cell phone and found 3 messages (two were political ads…welcome to America). Delta’s in-flight magazine seemed to indicate that they had abandoned “free” snacks, but after a bit, they served us pretzels, peanuts, or cookies,…and a beverage. I looked around and began “profiling” people. There was a guy sitting nearby that looked a bit “Arabic”. He took out a laptop computer and started flipping through pages of a document. They had captions that indicated something about IBM security, and they had tiny pictures of the Twin Towers. I conjectured that he was actually studying something that had to do with his job, rather than posing a danger to us. He seemed harmless enough. During our uneventful flight to Kansas City, we stayed low enough in altitude to see the ground most of the time. Around 2:45 PM, our pilot announced that we were descending to KC International Airport.
As so often happens, my journal notes ended there. It is now over a month after our trip, and I am realizing that I’ll have to reconstruct, in my mind, any other portion of the trip that I want to report on. There is actually little to tell, but we did land safely, retrieved our luggage, called the hotel shuttle, and went to the island in front of the terminal, to await our ride. Within half an hour, we were at our car and headed for Overland Park. We stopped for a cheeseburger and a large drink. It was time to attack piles of laundry, a stack of mail, unpaid bills….and of course…return to work! We weren’t expecting jetlag to be an issue, as it hadn’t plagued us too much on our outward trip. Boy, were we wrong. We got up at 2 AM one morning. I think we were messed up for about 3 days. We passed out souvenirs, printed several hundred photos, and procrastinated at getting this thing (journal) printed. Time has passed. I’ve finally bitten the bullet and this is done. Those of you who thought it would never end…it did. We have had one more opportunity to see a portion of God’s great world…and we are thankful!
(For those of you who have been reading this in email form…thanks for your interest…and your comments. It has been gratifying to know that you have found this account to be interesting enough to be worthy of your time. Sorry for the bad grammar. Yes,…I know that I used fragments, split infinitives, various incorrect voices, and tenses. Spell-check informed me of that. If I was really going to be a published travel-writer, I’d have to work on that. Should you like to see our pictures…come see us sometime. We’d love to have you do that. It only took me a month to do the journal, so it will probably only take a year for me to complete the scrapbook. However, I have scrapbooks waiting to be finished…from decades ago…so who can tell? Seriously though, the pics are here. Love to share them with you. If you truly enjoyed the journal….send money…and I’ll go on another trip (smile).

My dad’s travel journal part 13

Monday, August 30:
7:00 AM…beautiful sun…as always…birds chirping, but very brisk air coming in the window as I open it. Could be in the low 40’s still, not sure. Smoke is rolling out of several smokestacks as I look out across the city from my fifth floor window. Ulaanbaatar has a smog problem. Gers often heat with coal, burn about 5 tons per year…per family (if I said 2.6 earlier in this journal, I was confused). Government officials are encouraging newer methods of heating. We are down to just two days of vacation left now. I have mixed feelings about that. I want to give Chris &Tiff their bed back and let them resume their normal lives. School will start for them the day after we leave. They will also have to begin home schooling Elijah that day. Busy…busy! But, we will miss them and the boys as another one and one-half years will remain for them to serve in Mongolia, before a furlough year begins. I am writing journal notes at 9:30 AM. It is now 46 degrees. We were served eggs, bacon, toast, juice, milk, and coffee for breakfast. We then played some Wii tennis and golf. We are to set out on a walking tour in a short while.
Well, I’m back. First, we walked about 20-30 minutes…to Chris &Tiff’s language school building. We met their director and she spoke (in English) to us. She thought that I looked like Chris (or vice-versa), and that Carol & I looked young. We saw some of the other teachers as they came in. Though we couldn’t always understand what was being said, Chris & Tiff proceeded to arrange their schedules for the upcoming school semester.
All of the teachers desire to teach them. I think it allows those teachers to learn to speak English more effectively. I noticed that the director had a ring on her finger with a swastika on it (different symbolism to the Mongolians). She made the comment that she hopes to have Chris & Tiff stay in Mongolia for ten years or more. I do not think that she is a Christian. We pray that they might have the opportunity to lead her to Christ. Already, their influence has been effective in the lives of other contacts.
Upon departure, from the language school, Tiff caught a bus and headed home to do some birthday party planning, cookie baking, etc. She was also expecting to maybe get a call from the Mongolian International University, offering her a job. The rest of us caught another bus, and headed for the countryside. We were going to visit the church at Gachurt. It was a satellite church, planted by the Eternal Light congregation. Next to it is a little hospital On the back, exterior wall is a picture of a woman nursing her child. In front of the church was a van with several people gathered around it. Looking inside, we saw that they had killed an animal (beef/sheep?), and were selling meat. When we got to the back gate of the church, the fenced compound was locked. Chris called someone, and a young caretaker lady came from a ger, inside the compound, and let us in. We looked at the church camp facilities, and peeked inside the church windows. They have a basketball court (of sorts), a wooden shelter house, a few gers, etc. The fencing around the property was new…installed since Chris & Tiff had arrived. Actually, I think the church may have been started soon after their arrival. The outhouse was interesting, to say the least. You walked in the door and two boards on each side were for your feet. The missing board down the center was the toilet. You looked down the gaping, smelly gap…hoping that the boards were sturdy. Carol decided against participating in that particular “adventure”. After leaving the church property, we headed for a nearby river. On the way there, Chris brushed against a stinging-nettle plant, and let out a yelp of pain (that plant causes an immediate burning, stinging sensation). We let the boys walk into the shallow river. It was swift, cold, & pretty. Chris told us that they use that river for baptisms. I can’t imagine keeping your mind on the spiritual aspects of baptism while being immersed in the chilly water. After walking a bit, allowing the boys to expend some energy, and doing some chatting,…we went to some nearby gravel piles, so Elijah could play on them. Some cows had joined us. As we were leaving, I decided to answer a question that had long been on my mind. I lay down on the ground and waited to see if the cows would come and surround me…out of curiosity. I have been told that a herd will do this. I played dead for a couple of minutes and they acted like I didn’t exist. All that happened was that I got dirt on my clothes and my family thought I was goofy. We headed back up a road, and waited in front of a small store, in order to catch a bus headed back to UB. We had seen one go by …the wrong direction. We were near the end of the route, so expected it to come back soon. Boy, were we wrong! We think the driver must have taken a “lunch break” before returning to town. We bought some cream-filled buns from the small store, and ate them while waiting. Nearby dogs begged for us to throw some to them. Nearby was a building that was home to John Knight…a U.S. missionary who had run an orphanage there. He had run into trouble with the government and was no longer operating the facility. Though we didn’t get to see it, Paul Finch (another American…his sister had been our English teacher at KCCBS) ran a facility that taught horseback skills to handicapped kids. His medical expertise had been of help to Chris & Tiff at an earlier time. Chris said that he has a lovely ger, complete with a refrigerator. Eventually, the bus returned, and we climbed aboard. It was picking up everyone in the countryside, that desired to go to the city,…thus it was so full that I stood, and hung onto a strap the entire trip. I don’t remember why now, but eventually we left the bus and caught another ride on a microbus. Proababy needed to do that to get to our destination. Carol got to sit on the fold-down jump-seat this time. She was not a “happy camper”. We finally arrived at our final stop, and walked home. For lunch, we had some morre leftover soup, tacos, cake, etc…about to finish them off now. Carol, Elijah, and I went to a nearby store and bought M&Ms and 6 ice cream novelties. Cost us around $1 for the ice cream. I really liked that! Around 3 PM, Chris, Carol, and I took a bus to the Gandan Temple area (in UB). After exiting the bus, we went to another temple area to look for a geo-cache. Couldn’t find it, and Chris later learned that it was inside the fence. When looking for a geo-cache, you want to be a bit secretive, so that non-geocachers won’t discover the “cache” and mess with it. This one seemed to be on a busy street corner, with hundreds of people in the vicinity. After giving up on our search, we walked up a hill and through a small village of buildings, and then entered the Gandan Monastery compound. On the way, some elderly man spouted off a bunch of words to me as I went through a narrow opening. I thought he was being kind of odd. Chris told me that he was just giving me a greeting. Gandan is one of the larger Buddhist facilities in the city and visited by many tourists. It is still an active temple for the Buddhist people. We looked at several buildings, and walked the wrong way around one of them (no consequences, other than maybe, strange looks from Mongolian people). The hightlight of the trip was the huge flock of pigeons that hang out there. Children came up trying to sell us birdseed. When we turned down one girl, in favor of a boy with a cheaper price, she became very irate at him…and expressed her irritation strongly. It was one of the few times, we witnessed much of any rage there. The pigeons would come and eat the seed…from your hand…after moments of reticince. Actually, they ate from other people’s hands, but it took awhile before I found acceptance. Go figure! We watched people spinning the prayer wheels…and there were a group of them gathered around what appeared to be a telephone pole…very apparently worshipping in some manner. It was sad to see that. In the adjacent streets, a number of fortune-tellers had set up shop. Since we had seen many Buddha statues, and had spent too much money, I chose to not visit the actual temple. We just walked around it.
Leaving the Gandan monastery, we headed for a business district, where I bought a computer thumb-drive for around 1,200 tugrik. ($10.00), and spent another 500 t. on a case for my camera. Chris would be using the thumb drive to send pictures from his camera with me. Back on the street, we saw a policeman carrying a handful of license plates. I asked Chris about that. He said that if you park illegally, they take yours off your car. You don’t want to do that, as it takes a lot of waiting in line to get them back. We jumped onto another crowded bus for the trip home. Buses are kind of interesting there. Some are electric (overhead wires), some powered by diesel or gas engines. Each has a driver and a “conductor”. Usually a female; the conductor collects your fare. I have no idea how she keeps track of the people who have boarded. Sometimes the bus is jammed, but she works her way throught the crowd, between bus stops, finding the new passengers, and making them pay. Many are just honest…and do so without delay.
Back at the apartment, we soon were getting ready to leave again…this time to get some supper. We walked to the nearby Altai Mongolian Buffet…similar to our own BD’s Mongolian Grill. There were many food choices and it was “all you can eat”. Several of us took a glass of juice that tasted kind of fermented. We had decided that maybe it was actually a wine…until we saw the staff hurriedly dumping it from the dispenser. Perhaps someone had called attention to the fact that the juice had spoiled, not sure. We finally got to eat some horse meat here, but because you place all of the foods into one bowl and have it grilled together, I never knew which piece was the horse. There was also a serving container with a sheep’s head in it (yes, the whole thing), and mutton beside it. I thought that I just as well try it too…could say that I ate sheep’s head while in Mongolia. I also had no idea when I ate it, as it too, was mixed in with other foods. There was a chocolate fountain with the desserts, so we had some fondue for that course. It was a very nice restaurant. They had a ger inside the restaurant, with a long table in it, for group meals.
We got back to the apt. about 8 PM. I read a Francis Asbury story to Elijah and then the boys were sent to bed. Elijah was very sad at this point. He was contemplating the fact that we would only be there for one more day. After the boys were in bed, Chris, Carol, & I went to our bedroom to finish preparing birthday gifts for Elijah. Chris & I assembled the huge castle. When that was done, we visited in the living room for a bit, and gave Chris & Tiff $500 to offset their personal expenses, incurred because of our visit. We finally made it to our room around 10:30 PM, and I was completing my journal notes at 11:10 PM. It had been another “large” day!
One final note about Monday: While at the evening buffet, the show, “Bizarre Foods” (with Andrew Zimmern) was on the television. It was showing Andrew eating in Mongolia. Chris said that the director of that show had contacted him by email for ideas about what they should do while in Mongolia. They never contacted him again, but they were doing some of the very things he had mentioned to them. He jokingly said that they should have had him in the credits. They were at the same “Black Market” that we had visited earlier in the week…and were on some of the same terrible roads that we had traveled. It was fun to see that.