Saturday, May 18, 2013

From ‘Wild East. Travels in the New Mongolia’ by Jill Lawless

Mongolia…. is the size of Western Europe but has only 1,200 kilometres of paved roads. And Mongolians are almost preternaturally patient people. I decided the two things must be related.

…..Mongolian character: self-sufficient, hardy, stoic, resourceful.

The Mongols came thundering out of nowhere, they conquered the world, and then they went home.

That’s not much of an exaggeration. In the 13th century, under the leadership of Chinggis Khan (Genghis to you), the Mongol armies carved out the largest contiguous land empire the world has ever known. They conquered an area stretching from Korea to Hungary, from Vietnam to Afghanistan. And they did it all within a few decades, combining the speed and seemingly superhuman stamina of their cavalry with ruthless and inventive siege tactics. They were probably the greatest shock to the system they outside world has ever known. The arrival of the sweaty horsemen must have seemed no less cataclysmic than an alien invasion.

I went for three decades without eating mutton once; in Mongolia it is difficult to go a day without eating some.

Mongolians have what my Lonely Planet guidebook dryly referred to as “one of the world’s most rudimentary cuisines.”

Most Mongols I’d met had nothing good to say about the Chinese, their culture, language, or business practices.

Vodka….. lubricated all social gatherings in the Soviet world, from drop-in parties to weddings to state banquets; it cemented business deals, and it greased the wheels of government. …. And Mongolia has had seven decades of Russian tuition in the art of vodka consumption. ….. Lonely Planet Mongolia …..suggested that all errands and commerce in Ulaanbaatar be accomplished before noon; after that, a large segment of the population would be staggering and aggressive or catatonic…. It wasn’t that bad. …. Many men – I never saw a woman drunk – were unfamiliar with the notion of drinking in moderation. They started to drink and didn’t stop until they were unconscious. But I had been to England; I was used to this.

There was no particular social stigma attached to public drunkenness, and many men shrugged off the consequences …..the fistfights with friends, the raging hangovers, the tussles with police – with humour and grace. …..Mongols had a taste for alcohol dating back to the empire period, at least. ….. “Chinggis Khan’s son and successor, Ogodei, basically drank himself to death ….”

….Before the communist revolution, Mongolia had hundreds of Buddhist monasteries and more than 100,000 monks. By the end of the communist period, there was one functioning monastery and perhaps a couple of hundred monks.

…a Mongol proverb ……. “If you’re afraid, don’t do it. If you do it, don’t be afraid.”

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