Monday, 3 November 2008

more from UB

Testosterone departed, calm and decorum has been restored to the Internet cafe. The rowdy youngsters are back at school.
Yesterday we went skiing. My own efforts were rather feeble. While the others gambolled about on the slopes, I struggled with my unfamiliar cross-country skis that have untethered heels, and only ventured a few metres from base, uncomfortably.
The occasion was a visit with Oiuna, who has followed us to UB from Erdenet (she studies here) , to her sister's place 10 miles out of town. Sister and brother-in-law treat us to a gargantuan meal of mutton, cooked with superhot stones in an iron bucket in the garden. They used to be skating champions for Mongolia, and we looked amazed at old photographs from the 60's, of lithe streamlined bodies winning medals. Today they are more comfortably shaped, and marvellously hospitable in their dacha out of town.
UB and environs have been full of delights and surprises. We visited a mountain top Observatory where we gazed at the stars through a large telescope that is twinned with the one in Krakow! My own active interest in astronomy dates back to fifty years ago, when I wanted to be an astronaut. Since then I have not kept abreast of discoveries, and was surprised and bemused to be looking at 'black clouds' and supernovae. It was also bloody freezing in the observatory, with the roof wide open to skies. We were staying alone in the adjoining deserted hotel, which recalled 'The Shining" and the Bates' Motel in Psycho.
We travelled 50 miles out of town to see a gigantic steel statue of Genghis (pronounced Chingis, there being no hard 'g' in the language) Khan, 40 metres high on a rearing horse, and climbed to the top to survey his ancestral lands. His name is everywhere, and enshrines Mongolia's aspirations. Contrary to what I learnt at school he was a wise old bird, and was indeed voted Man of the Millenium by Time Magazine in 2000. I was intrigued to learn, from a museum caption, that his warriors wore silk underwear. "One would not normally consider underwear to be military equipment," it opined. Apparently silk has miraculous powers to resist penetration by arrows. A must therefore for your next forays to Hackney and Peckham.
We travelled by taxi through an amazing National Park that recalled the Dolomites, and seen superb dinosaur skeletons in the Museum. The Gobi desert, which we will cross in a few days, was once verdant pastureland, and is the world's prime source of preserved bones (together with California). Moving indeed to study those skeletons, not so different from our own, give or take the odd claw or 20 metre long tail. Familiar shapes from my human anatomy studies many years ago at medical school.
Stopping for lunch at a Czech restaurant we are assailed by the Pet Shop Boys, who transport me back a couple of decades to the unhappiest, and maddest, moments of my life. The Boys were the soundtrack to a doomed and crazy love affair, which opened up a Pandora's box of pain. Years of therapy, and meditation, and new friendships, shifted all that, but the tears I shed for that distant time, and for the main protagonist, now dead, are hot.
China begins to loom large in our thoughts. We travel there in a few days. We move from a friendly population of 2.8 million to one of 1.3 BILLION. How are we to cope? Are they all as unfriendly as Mongolians say?
Love to all.