Sumpteretc's Blog

What's on my mind at the moment

Tag: language

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!


Elijah reads a book!

Today was a landmark day for Elijah. He read a book by himself for the first time. Elijah reading "Pam"Granted, the book had a very limited vocabulary, carefully selected from a very limited group of letters, but it’s still a milestone. I hope that someday he has the passion for reading that I had as a child. (I wonder whatever happened to that.)

In history today, we studied foods from the Age of Exploration. We decided that the sailors’ diet of rotten crackers and beer was probably something best left to history. It was a good reminder to us to keep up our intake of fruit and vegetables, though. Fruit, especially, is expensive here, but Tiffany does a wonderful job of making sure we have a well-balanced diet.

In science, we finally left earth science and moved on to biology. I’m not sure I would have known the six characteristics that distinguish living organisms from non-living items, but I do now! Elijah did a little work identifying those characteristics, and then sorting some pictures into living and non-living categories. We also checked out some of the diversity of living things at EcoKids.

In math, we worked on “number between” in the 30 to 40 range, as well as reviewing counting to 70, counting pennies and dimes, simple addition, and writing the 40s.

We also started a new read-aloud book tonight The Light at Tern Rock. It’s recommended for ages 8-12, so I think some of it’s going over Elijah’s head, but it’s short, so we’ll read it this week and then move on.

In my language studies, I finished a book with Ariunbolor today. We’ve been reading the miracles of Jesus. Now, I think we may try a book that has a number of cultural and historical readings in it. Ariunbolor had never seen the book before, but I showed it to her and she seemed willing to give it a try. I feel like I usually have to direct the classes that she teaches, because she doesn’t come loaded with teaching ideas.

In my class with Yendii today, we worked through part of a page in a dictionary. That usually goes pretty slowly, as each word sends us off on some tangential conversation. I’ll think of some example from the Bible and share it with her, or she’ll give some anecdote somehow related to the word. (Yendii asked today how I could remember where so many things were in the Bible. Having a search engine helps, but I told her that I had read the Bible through for the first time when I was 7 years old, and then a number of times after that. She was flabbergasted.) For homework, I used each word that we studied in a sentence, and then started reading the next theme in our book. It had a very long sentence near the beginning, and I got so bogged down on it that I never got the rest of the theme read. It seems that it has something to do with the seasons, and a couple of girls in the countryside. All very beautifully written, just mostly unintelligible.

New teacher and blessings

On Monday, we started a new term at our language school, so schedules and teachers got moved around a little bit. I was somewhat nervous about what the new arrangements would be. Last term, I had two main teachers–Aijan and Uranchimeg. Aijan is a Kazakh believer who speaks English relatively well. This is a great help when I get stuck on some new grammar or trying to figure out some unfamiliar word. Uranchimeg is the owner of the school. She also speaks English well, although she usually waits longer to let me puzzle things out in Mongolian. Because Uranchimeg has other responsibilities at the school, I often had substitute teachers during last term. I knew, then, that it was unlikely that I would have her as a regular teacher during this trimester.

When the new schedule came out, I still had Aijan for five lessons a week, for which I was very thankful. My new teacher was Tonga, who I believe had been away from the school for a month or three. She is an older teacher, also a believer and she speaks English quite well. She teaches me four times a week. That leaves one lesson in limbo. As far as I can tell, that means I will always have a substitute teacher for my first class on Thursdays.

This morning, I had my first experience with this. I can’t remember the name of my teacher, but she spoke hardly any English and never showed much recognition to anything I said in English. I assumed then that she would review old grammar, run me through a few review exercises or maybe just give me a test. But, no… Her assignment for the day was to teach me blessings (ёрөөл бэлгийн үг) for various occasions, such as what to say when someone is playing chess or shearing sheep or boiling water or reading a book. Because she spoke no English and I speak little Mongolian, this presented a huge challenge. Here are a few guesses of what some of those blessings are.

When someone is milking an animal, say “full container.”
When someone is churning the fermented mare’s milk, say “oil ride high.”
When someone is shearing sheep, say “sharp scissors shear sheep very well” (surprisingly, that’s not a tongue twister in Mongolian).
When your children give you something, hold it high and say “Grow as tall as this.” Okay, that was a total guess based on my teacher’s pantomime.
When someone is sewing, say, “Every action.” What?!?
When someone sneezes, say, “God grace/favor/mercy.” Hmm, sounds familiar.

Home Improvement Update

Just a quick note to let you know that I haven’t totally abandoned this blog. I guess I just haven’t made it enough of a priority.

We’ve been working on getting our new apartment remodeled. Even though we’re hiring workers to do most of the actual labor, it has still involved heavy participation on our part. We have had to buy most of the material ourselves. If you live down the street from a Home Depot, you probably don’t understand why that’s a big deal. We, however, spend a lot of hours in 100 Ail, the building materials district trying to communicate to salespeople what exactly we’re looking for. If we take someone knowledgeable with us, we may have the same communication trouble with them. If we take someone who speaks English well, they may not have a clue about home improvement. So… it’s been interesting.

There are still a few hiccups to work out, but we have the week off of school, so we’re hoping that significant progress will have been made by the end of the week. We paid the cabinetmaker today, so there’s a good chance the kitchen will look a lot nicer a week from now.

Mongolian food wrap-up

Just a short note to wrap up our discussion of Mongolian food.

But first, the word for the day is буу (bo), which means “gun.” It came up because my teachers always ask me to share a news story, and I shared Dwain’s story of a drive-by shooting in Athens.

We haven’t eaten enough Mongolian food to really have an opinion on it, but most of what we’ve had has been good. We have stopped into a few tea shops or “eating-places” and just ordered randomly off of the menu. We’ve developed a good appreciation for tsuivan, which is a pile of noodles with hunks of fatty mutton in it. It’s greasy but tasty. I’ve ordered the “bishteks” before, which is basically Salisbury steak with a fried egg on top. Last night, we stopped at an eating-place to try their piroshkis, which are basically Russian empanadas. I loved them! We also tried a few buuz, which is the national food of Mongolia, I would say. It’s a few hunks of mutton wrapped in a pastry shell and steamed. It’s very edible although it will probably never be a favorite. Next week is the lunar new year in Mongolia, and most housewives are busy right now making hundreds of buuz for the visitors who will drop by their homes.

Our drink last night was probably one of the most common ones: milk tea. As I understand it, they boil a few tea leaves in salt water and then dump in a bunch of milk. The result is not very tea-like; it’s more like drinking hot, salty milk. That sounds pretty nasty, and it is a bit of an acquired taste but it’s not really too bad. The complaint I hear most often about Mongolian cuisine is the lack of variety. In the countryside, that would be a bigger problem, but here in Ulaanbaatar, there are lots of restaurants with many types of cuisines, so we’re not sweating it too badly at the present.

Where’s the Beef?

Naturally, Mongolians eat more than just white foods. After our introduction to all things dairy, we filed into another room to be introduced to all the parts of the sheep that you never wanted to see.


One of the teachers was cooking up a soup with lots of scrumptious innards, but he was kindly passing plates around so that we could sample each organ before it went into the stew.

Here, he is serving up some lovely slices of sheep stomach. Okay, in fairness we didn’t eat the stomach or the intestines. No, we ate the blood that was cooked inside the stomach and intestines. The liver tasted like, well, liver. The heart tasted pretty good at first; then it tasted like liver. I don’t think I’ll ever be a big sheep guts guy.

For the rest of the morning, students presented dishes from their (or random) countries. A couple of the Korean students made yummy little bacon wraps, and another Korean student made sweet filled pancakes. The Japanese student made something like hash browns on seaweed with bacon (I’m sure that wasn’t the actual title). The Americans didn’t work quite as hard. One student made barbecue beef sandwiches, another couple made ice cream floats, and we made refried beans. Pretty much everything was delicious.

Oh, I almost forgot. The word for the day is хонины мах (hoe-knee mach), which is literally “sheep’s meat,” AKA “mutton.”

American Food Shop

Tonight, I went to visit the American Food Shop, a store that has an amazing selection of imported products. Ididn’t spend the time to make a careful inventory of all that was there, but I did notice brands like Jiffy Pop, Skippy and Starbucks. Does shopping there make me a bad missionary? To be fair, all I bought was hamburger, freezer bags and vinegar.

On another topic entirely, my language teacher asks me almost daily, “Are you tired?” I’m not really, but I think my eyes start to glaze over after a couple of hours. I got some pretty good review done when I got back to the apartment. I’m finding FlashCard Exchange to be a very useful tool. It’s a bit painful to type everything in Cyrillic, but I like the interface. I’m thinking about paying for the full version. If you search for Mongolian on the site, most of the flash cards are mine.

Another trip to the dzag

People keep asking me how school is going. That’s a tough question to answer. I don’t mind the actual “going to school” part of it. It’s the learning that’s more of an issue. Sometimes I’m sitting there, the teacher is rattling away and my mind is racing trying to keep up. But I don’t have enough grounding in the language to figure out practical uses for everything. One moment, I’m bombarded with new vocabulary; the next, it’s some fine point of pronunciation or a seemingly obscure grammatical rule. I walk out of the classroom wondering how to process the three hours’ worth of information that I just received.

Today, I learned a few pairs of opposite adjectives. I learned a few of the verbal commands that a teacher often gives. We began to talk about the genitive case and the ways that it’s formed. I got some intense drilling on pronunciation. And I learned a few words for part of the body. I’m not sure how much of that I actually “learned” but I heard it all. If I could just immediately go home and work through the material, I might absorb it better but my day is rarely working out that way.

Elijah was going to a playgroup this afternoon, so I wound up making a trip to the dzag, or market. My brother-in-law gave me some boots that are wonderful in cold weather but fit just poorly enough to make a blister on the back of my heel when I have to walk too far. On my way to the dzag, I stopped at a couple of shopping centers to look for a seat for Joel. The only ones I found were a couple of walkers that I had looked at the other day. They had told me then that they weren’t for sale. I at least wanted to find out what they were called, so that I could ask for them at the market. So I asked the owner, “Ter yu bay?” which I think is supposed to be “What is that?” She got a calculator and showed me 16,000. OK! I told her I would go to the market and come back to buy it.

I went on to the market with a list of things Tiffany wanted me to pick up. She also sent a hunk of beef with me to have it ground. I pantomimed to three different people what I was looking for, but I’m apparently not that great at charades (although I did manage to convey spray bottle to another shop owner. You try it.) Finally, the third person sent a man with me to find the makina to grind the beef. He led me downstairs. I didn’t even know this place had a downstairs so I would have been a long time looking for it. I got the meat taken care of and headed back upstairs to finish off the list (minus chicken breasts, eggplant and celery, which I never located).

When I got back to the baby store, the owner started to get down the green walker. I pointed to the blue one. She said I couldn’t have it. She got down the green one and showed me that it was missing some key parts but that I couldn’t have the blue one. I was seriously confused. I decided to buy the green one and worry about the missing parts later. While I was fumbling around with my money, she told me “margaash” (tomorrow). Cynics say that margaash is one of the six most commonly heard words in Mongolia, so I don’t know if things will actually be different tomorrow, or if she just wanted me to leave today. Maybe I’ll try it if I get time.

First days in Ulaanbaatar

It’s 5:45 AM, and Elijah and I have been up since about 3:15. That’s an improvement over our 2:00 rising time the two previous mornings, but we still have a bit to go before jetlag is conquered. Elijah’s watching a movie, and I’m trying to do some things on the internet. The connection keeps going down, so I decided to just blog and then post when I get a connection again.

Let me back up to Wednesday morning. We arrived at Beijing on time and deplaned, expecting to have a three-hour layover. We were apparently the first flight arriving that morning, because immigration wasn’t really set up yet. We asked a police officer where we were supposed to go, and he walked over to a booth and processed our papers. We walked through security and into the airport proper. The new terminal that they built for the Olympics was beautiful and huge. It’s also apparently very difficult to heat, so they don’t bother trying. We looked at the departure board and noticed that our flight was leaving at 12:55 rather than at 8:55 as our itinerary had stated. The nice ladies at the information booth could give us no gate information at that time, so we wandered around until we found a spot with an electrical outlet in the floor. I powered up the laptop, found a free wireless connection and managed to get a few emails off. The airport had a couple of kids’ play areas so we spent some time there and then headed over to Pizza Hut for breakfast. They were out of toast, but we got eggs, bacon and instant coffee for about $5 per person.

Finally, after 7 hours of waiting, we were able to get on our flight to Mongolia. The gate was just a door leading out to a road, where we boarded a bus and drove out on the tarmac to the plane. We were really struggling with the boys and all the carry-ons. I dropped a roll-on suitcase on a guy’s head while I was trying to put it in the overhead bin; I was mortified.

We eventually got settled in and Elijah went right to sleep. I was sitting next to a Mongolian doctor who lives out in the countryside, and we chatted a bit. The flight was fairly short and uneventful. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, Elijah was deep in sleep, very hard to rouse, and extremely cranky. The doctor ended up carrying him into the airport. All of our bags were waiting on the carrousel. (We forgot to check for the car seat, since it was a last minute decision to take it.) We were glad to see Pastor Naraa and a number of others waiting for us. We weren’t sure if they would know about the later flight or not. Apparently, it’s standard practice to call the airport before heading out there.

Naraa and her husband drove us to “our” apartment. (It actually belongs to another missionary couple who are on furlough in Switzerland currently, but they are being gracious enough to allow us to live here while we work on our apartment. Shortly after we arrived and got our bags inside, another missionary, Liz, showed up to help us get situated. She had bought a couple days’ worth of groceries for us and offered her assistance in whatever we needed.

Soon, everyone cleared out to let us get some rest. We were in bed well before midnight, so other than watching a few early fireworks, we let the New Year show itself in.

As I mentioned, Elijah was up at 2:00, so I was too. Because it was a holiday, there wasn’t much that we could do. I did take a walk in the afternoon, looking for the Black Market. I took a couple of wrong turns and never found it, but I did manage to buy a few things at a supermarket and make it back home so that should count for something. It’s an interesting time to be in Ulaanbaatar. High rise apartments are being built all over the city. Actually, we learned yesterday that the construction is stalled because the banks are not lending money anymore. It seems likely that the area was being overbuilt as well.

The streets and sidewalks are covered with ice, so you really have to watch your step. This is also important because there are lots of open manholes. Tiff teases me about walking around looking at my GPS receiver; it would be especially dangerous here. Streets are difficult to cross, too; traffic is fairly heavy and vehicles aren’t likely to give way to pedestrians. Speaking of vehicles, there is quite a variety. I have mostly seen imports from Korea and Japan, but I’ve also seen a Cadillac Escalade and a Hummer H1, so somebody has some money around here.

Yesterday, Liz came by to try to help us with our internet connection. Naturally, it worked perfectly when she was here and for a number of hours thereafter. This morning has been a vastly different story. I’ll have internet access for a few seconds or minutes and then it’s gone. There has been some problem in the past with another tenant in the building cutting into the line and stealing the DSL connection. Since I started having problems at 3:30 am, I’m guessing that‘s not the issue this time. While Liz was here, she gave us lots of valuable information about where to buy things, about the home school cooperative, about a playgroup that meets weekly at her apartment, etc.

At 4:00, Uranchimeg, owner of Friends Language School, sent her husband to help me get some work done on our visas and show me the way to the school. I thought he might come by car but we were on foot the rest of the afternoon. It took us a while to find a place to get photocopies made of our passports and the quality was pretty lousy. By the time, we got to the microdistrict director’s (?) office, he had taken off for the day, even though he had just promised to wait for our arrival. So it looks like visa processing will have to wait until Monday. Then we walked to the school. It’s a good 17 or 18 minute walk, even with my relatively brisk pace.

Uranchimeg was very apologetic about the difficulties we encountered in getting to Mongolia. She said she had made a number of angry phone calls and visits to get things straightened out and that she would work on getting our visas extended by a month because of all the delay. She informed me that we would begin classes on Monday. I will go to school from 9:00 to 12:15 each day; Tiffany will attend from 3:15 to 4:45. She asked how we would be paying for our tuition, and I pulled $4,560 in cash from my money belt. She was startled (appalled?) that I was carrying that much cash. She warned me that Mongolian men might suddenly just attack me without cause. In all honesty, that was why I was anxious to get the money out of my hands and into hers. After picking up a student handbook and a few other forms, I walked back to the apartment alone, more or less without incident.

It was already dark by time I arrived home, which meant temperatures were dropping. We decided to try to make it to a restaurant down the street. Joel did not take well to being bundled up, but he did okay once we got out into the cold. Walking on slick streets with Elijah slows things down considerably, but we made it to BBQ Chicken without much difficulty. This is a Korean-owned (I think) fried-chicken restaurant. BBQ, in this case, stands for Best Believable Quality, and the placemats advertised the restaurant as “the world best family restaurant.” I thought it was a little pricey and nothing tasted quite right, except for the Pepsis. It was alright but I don’t think we’ll make it a weekly tradition. For some reason, we got a hand towel with the company logo on it when we paid for our meal.

We stopped at a supermarket on the way home, since Tiff had not had a chance to do that yet. We didn’t find everything we were looking for, but she picked up a few things. The meat and produce sections did not look too promising. We have not had any of either in our diets yet, so we’ll see how that goes.

Well, this is getting as long as some of my dad’s travel journals so I’ll wrap it up here and wait for a chance to post it. I’m happy to give more details about our adventure, but I don’t want to drive people crazy with all the minutiae of daily life. So, if you read this, leave me a comment or ask a question and I’ll try to gear my material to the audience.