Sumpteretc's Blog

What's on my mind at the moment

Category: life in Mongolia

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.

Children’s Park

Well, it’s been closed since long before we moved here, but on September 1, the Үндэсний Сөёл Амралт Газар, or Children’s Park as it’s more commonly known re-opened. Kinda. It’s actually still under construction, but they wanted to have an introductory opening with the 12 or 13 rides that are ready to go. They are also selling tickets to the rides at 50% off during this period. They plan to have an official opening next summer, although there will be ice skating and other activities throughout the winter.

We knew Sept. 1 would be a zoo, so we decided to wait a couple of days. We should have waited a couple of more. Don’t get me wrong. Despite the ongoing construction, it is a beautiful place. There’s lots of nice green grass. Granted, it’s all roped off so that kids can’t play on it, but at least it’s there. The rides seemed to be in good shape and the surroundings, fountains, lake and walkway were all attractive. However….

They only had one place open to buy ride tickets. I waited in line for more than 2 hours to buy tickets. Sadly, rich people in Mongolia are not accustomed to waiting, and rich people were disproportionately represented at the park. So, many people would just go directly to the front of the line and try to get someone up there to buy their tickets for them, or just butt into line. Very frustrating. Finally, I got to the front. I was pleased to find that Joel did not have to have tickets. We were going to go on the boats, the merry-go-round, and something called the air bicycle. First, they told me I couldn’t use my credit card, despite the fact that they had a credit card reader and signs up saying that they accepted cards. I said, no problem, and named off the three rides for which I wished to buy tickets. They said I couldn’t buy tickets for the boats; I couldn’t really understand the reason why. So, I scrambled and bought tickets for bumper cars instead.

Fortunately, as soon as I came out of the line, Elijah said, “I don’t want to ride the boats today.” Crisis narrowly averted! We walked over to the merry-go-round and rode without incident. We headed for the aerial bicycle. Again, the same frustration as person after person crowded past us to get to their friends and family members saving places for them at the head of the line. Finally, we got on the ride and rode uneventfully. It was way past lunchtime now, so we headed to the nearby “Grab & Go” stand. Again, the pushing and the shoving. Just as I was about to make it to the window, the announcement came, “The food is all gone.” I headed to the next snack stand. The same scenario was repeated. There’s only one snack stand left. The line wasn’t long and I got almost to the window in time to watch the last burgers go out the door. Frustrated and hungry, we queued up for the bumper cars. After waiting a long time and making no progress, I went back to the ticket sales line and sold my 3 tickets to 3 people in line.

I think we need to wait for things to settle into more of a routine before we try that again.

Customs Nightmare

A couple of weeks ago, my mother-in-law generously sent us a package via FedEx, as she has done several times since we came to Mongolia. We have had a few situations where the packages got hung up in customs, but it has not usually been a big deal. This time, the package never showed up, even though we were sure it must have arrived, so we called FedEx. They told us they had tried to deliver a notification on Friday, albeit to a different neighborhood. Street addresses here is a wholly other subject. At any rate, the box was now at the customs office near the airport.

So, yesterday afternoon, I went to the FedEx office in town to pick up the necessary paperwork. After about a 45-minute wait, the FedEx guy showed up at the office and gave me the papers. He said I would need to go to the airport and pay the appropriate customs fees. I asked if I could just give him the money and let him pick it up. He said, “sure” and picked up his calculator. After some rapid calculations, he said I would need to pay $48.The items were valued at $85, and he was estimating the shipping at $225 or so. We needed to pay 15.5% of the total of those two. I was incredulous. We’ve never paid any customs fees. He said it was a new law. Any gifts under $1,000 were previously tariff-free but now subject to import taxes.

We decided to handle it ourselves. Tiffany went to the customs office with her teacher. There was a lot of bureaucratic nonsense, but a couple hours later, they walked out with the box, not having paid a dime.

On TV again

Well, it looks like for the third time in 17 months, I’m going to be on TV again. A crew from NTV came to our school yesterday and interviewed five of us students about our experiences with Mongolian language learning. The interviews are supposed to air Friday night at 8:00. I don’t have any good way of recording or digitizing it, but if I get a copy somehow, I’ll try to post it.