Monday, 20 October 2008

coals to newcastle?

Yesterday morning was all fear and hysteria (on my part) at the prospect of giving our talks later in the day. Coals to Newcastle? Hubris finally punished in Erdenet?
We had lunch at our local Chinese, and then played snooker for a while to vent our manic energy.
We arrive at the Cultural Centre with plenty of time to spare, and set up. The hall is not a giant one as I had feared, but still sizeable. People arrive in dribs and drabs. At last around 40 people have turned up (not the hordes that invaded my dreams) , and we begin. It goes very well. We each talk for a quarter of an hour about our experience of Buddhism in the West; I lead a 20 minute meditation, and we have questions and answers. The audience are charming. Oiuna has borne the brunt of the evening, having to translate us as we go along, not something she has attempted before so publicly. She is excellent, and we are very grateful to her. We leave the building after fond farewells to our audience, and look up to take a last look at the huge poster of ourselves ( which secretly we would like to take back with us to London) - it has already been removed! The bubble of celebrity has burst.
We spend the evening watching Tom and Jerry, to unwind.

This morning we were given a tour of the copper mine, by a charming young man called Nassa, who had studied in the States and spoke passable English. Its a stupendous business extracting copper, and here everything is on a vast and superlative scale. I have seen nothing like it before, and find it very moving. Nassa is disarmingly frank about the health hazards of working here, and it seems as if health issues have not been uppermost in managers' minds until recently. We are invited to lunch at the office workers' canteen. Noticeably, there are Caucasian faces in abundance, as many Russians work here. We have become so used already to being surrounded by Mongol physiognomies. Copper is widely used in electronics, and you probably would not be able to read me now , with such ease, if not for gigantic and life-threatening operations like these at Erdenet.
We return to our flat dazed by the experience, and flattened by the copious lunch, and sleep awhile. Too soon, a taxi comes and whisks us to the outskirts of town, to the University. We are to address a class of Business students. ( Business, because they are the ones, we are told, who request outside speakers). Its a giant class of 150 youngsters, and again it goes very well. We talk very much off the cuff, and I lead another meditation, which for them is a very novel experience. Although they think of themselves as Buddhist they have no real experience of meditation, which to us seems very strange. I glance out of the window. Beyond the road that skirts the building is a great, featureless, brown hill. I imagine it in a few years' time, covered in streets and buildings as Erdenet advances inexorably into the landscape. It is already Mongolia's second city after UB. The University throbs with youth and energy.
Hardly recovered from lunch, we are invited to dinner by our two host monks, who have arranged our program here. We can hardly refuse. We are soon in a private room of a restaurant, lined in gold wallpaper, politely trying to consume our meal. The younger monk is the head of the monastery, perhaps thirty. He is the archetypal doer, and fundraiser. He has the build of a rugby player, and wears resplendent and rather flashy robes, and is constantly attending to his mobile phone, between mouthfuls. The older, and altogether gentler soul, has gently frayed cuffs, and a lovely quiet manner, with a hesitant smattering of English.
Later, and alone, we flop down to Tom and Jerry.

Tomorrow is our last day here, and then we go on safari to the wilds, in a jeep manned by Ouina's brother and brother-in-law. We will be mostly off metalled roads, and will visit the ancient Mongol capital at Karkoram and various Buddhist temples. I may be out of cyberspace for at least a week, until we return to UB.
A huge thank you to Ouina for her hospitality. Its been a huge privilege, and pleasure, staying here.

A plea for emails : I would love to know how you all are . I am aware there is an economic crisis and you are busy counting your shekels, but I want to know how things are at Goldsmiths and Edinburgh. What's up in Bow and Bethnal Green? What's happening in Devon and Kirkby Lonsdale? How are things in Primrose Hill and High Hurstwood? Blaendol House? Tayport, Fife? If you are shy to write to the blog, try me at
Happy birthday to you today, Rosalind. I think about you, and would be pleased to have news.
Bon voyage Kieran! See you next in Morocco perhaps!
Thanks 'Ronny' for your message, but who are you? Roman from Irkutsk? If so best wishes from us all!