Below is a great update from Greg about our down time between trips to the grasslands- enjoy!
Well, everything is set for our documentary to start shooting tomorrow morning. The families that we are shooting are all prepped and waiting for our arrival, provisions and transport are squarely packed for the next 5 days of wandering the eastern Mongolian Steppes, and we have an incredible script that should really tell the inspiring life challenges of the nomadic herder.
A picture of one of the herders we will be filming in the documentary
Only one problem remains; our video team is stuck in Ulaanbaatar. Somehow, someway, Eznis Airlines overbooked flights and ran out of planes to fly to Choibalsan. Instead of taking off tomorrow morning, we are hoping that we are able to get them on a flight that leaves tomorrow afternoon. All things considered, our timing is only slightly off, and we should be back on schedule to finish filming on time. That’s Mongolia for you. In the famous words from the Beetles, “Ohblahdee.”
Brenda in UB- where the film crew is currently stuck. We just spoke with them on the phone and it sounds like they should arrive tonight!
Alright, well, considering that we are only able to show you limited pictures from our trip, we thought that we would, to the best of our ability, paint you all a picture of the cultural experience that is Choibalsan, Mongolia. Picture if you will, a vast sea of rolling, yellow grasses that rise and fall with near sculpted magnificence, while a endless expanse of radiant blue sky stretches from horizon to horizon speckled with weightless, picturesque clouds that appear as if plucked from a dream.
A small group out of the thousands of gazelles we have seen while in Toson Khulstai- it’s calving season, and the grasslands are a great place for this process to occur.
Raising like a giant from this wonderland of grasses sits the concrete and metallic jungle of man known as Choibalsan. Choibalsan is a large (in Mongolia’s standards) city of approximately 50,000 inhabitants that sits on the verge of simultaneous economic collapse and boom. While the city is actually quite small, driving through its streets, one is almost instantly lost amongst the constant rush of traffic, lack of adequate (let alone any) traffic signs, and mindless meandering of highways and side roads. It almost appears that as Choibalsan’s infrastructure was being developed, the city planner let his 2 year old child take a crayon and scribble lines on a piece of paper, upon which, sometime in the 1960’s the roads were developed according to said plans and never again maintained.
We are currently residing in our driver’s back house, which for lack of a better term is less of a house and more three and a half walls of nailed together 2 x 4s with a plastic tarp over the top. The “house” is located walking distance to town, and every night, we have a spectacular front row seat to the Choibalsan symphony: a cacophony of endless and repetitive dogs barking, car horns blaring, and people stammering in a tongue alien to our ears that really takes off around 2 AM. Overall, we can’t complain because the lodging is free.
Brenda climbed up the structure behind our host’s ger to snap a few pictures of the city from a higher vantage point
A room with a view
Another shot from above
Our walk to town is even more of a cultural experience. As I leave my front gate, we are struck with the a glimmering street of radiant colors that dance and sparkle in the noon day sun. While a spectacle to see, the perpetual crunch and crackle under our feet remind us that we are not in a wonderland, but instead strolling amongst the shattered remains of beer bottles and the broken skeletal remains of empty vodka containers. Taking off down the street, the familiar squeak and scrape of rusted metal reaches our ears as every “fence” is really just a hodgepodge of tattered scraps of metal that have suffered from the exposure of too many harsh Mongolian winters. Wooden shanties and weathered gers appear through tiny cracks in the fencing, but one must be cautious to not wander too closely to the fencing as each house is armed with seasoned guard dogs that have the appearance to have been spawned from the underworld.
A beautiful day in the neighborhood
Shall we talk about the smell. As the afternoon approaches, a northern breeze picks up that carries with it the unique experience that is Choibalsan. While plumbing has yet to be established within the city, each family has a outhouse standing over an open pit upon which to dispose human waste. In the afternoon breeze, a concoction of human waste, contributed in part from multiple families, permeates the air with a kicker of rotting animal flesh from stray dogs and butchered animals. The evidence of such loss of life is also prevalent in the smattering of various animal bones strewn throughout the city.
Alright, so while this message may appear to be a harbinger of disease and dysfunction, we shall finish with the people. Choibalsan is a budding city, caught in the middle of its storied past and bright future with its people proving as the linchpin to the entire city. While the city may be in disarray, each land owner’s personal dwellings are utterly spotless; completely devoid of clutter and unsavory attractions. Our own host, spends about 20 minutes each morning and night removing aesthetically displeasing, toothpick sized wood and discolored rocks from his half acre yard. The rest of the city is filled with fashion minded mid-20 and 30 year olds that stroll around pot hole ridden streets in 4 inch high heels and fancy, American style clothing.
One of Greg’s new friends
Greg is just so darn friendly
Further, vehicle and beast alike share the roads as sputtering, beaten down cars merge effortlessly amongst horseback riding herders returning to town for needed supplies. Additionally, the faces and personalities of the Mongolian people are so beautiful and accommodating that it is easy to forget the inequities of this society while we stop to shake the endless hands of Mongolians who want to come by just to say hello, and on occasion, take their picture in front of various structures around the city. Brenda has been having one of the most interesting times as, according to her research, there are approximately 30 Africans within the entire country. As such, every time she walks down the street, people stop and stare at her. She has personally been asked to take multiple pictures with various inhabitants throughout Mongolia, and while she has been somewhat perturbed at times, her entrepreneurial brain is attempting to find a way to start charging for people to take her picture.
Brenda exchanging numbers with her new friends from the internet cafe
All in all, we are quite well, and we are all looking forward to our last three weeks in Mongolia.