6/7/11 – wu-tang in mongolia

June 8, 2011 wheelerinmongolia

It has only been a few days since I’ve been here, and I already love Mongolia. There is much to say, and I don’t know where to begin. I suppose I’ll begin with the tumpin. Yesterday, I received my tumpin, which is a small, plastic tub (about two feet wide and half a foot deep) that I will be using to bathe myself. I took my last hot shower for a long while during a one night layover at a Best Western motel in South Korea. Until I get used to it, I will certainly be flopping around like a goofy salmon and splashing water everywhere. But, I kinda like that idea.

During our first night in Mongolia, we stayed at a relatively lavish, somewhat touristy ger (yurt) camp. The first thing I wanted to do when we got there was hike up one of the steppes and watch the sun set. Joined by a bunch of other volunteers, we sat and stared as the sky turned to pink and covered the vast, beautiful rolling hills. My mind was at peace.

The next day, we took a four-hour bus ride north to the city of Darkhan for more orientation activities. Darkhan is the second largest city in Mongolia, next to the capital Ulaanbaatar, which has a population of about 1.4 million, almost half the whole country’s population. Darkhan’s population is only 100,000, giving you an idea of how sparse Mongolia is outside of the capital.

Walking around Darkhan, I discovered many things that made me smile. I enjoy looking at graffiti to better understand some of a city’s urban social issues, counter culture, and generally what people in the streets are thinking about. When I turned a corner and saw a giant Wu-Tang “W” tagged on the side of a building, I nearly lost it. Out loud, I exclaimed to the Peace Corps volunteers walking with me, “No way! The Wu-Tang Clan is one of my favorite rap groups! I’m so happy that people in Mongolia listen to them, too! My friends in Eugene would be going nuts right now!”

Another highlight of the walk happened when I came across Darkhan’s Children’s Park, a beautiful and strange park overlooked by a statue of Buddha on a hill. In this park, full of painted gazebos and soviet play structures, there was some loud, resounding Mongolian hip-hop coming from somewhere. I was really grooving to it, and I was curious about where the speaker was. Then, I noticed a small statue of a panda with a speaker in its belly, hiding in the shrubs. The first thing I want to do when I get back to the states is install one of those in my yard.

Our orientation opened up with a show of traditional Mongolian performance art, including some incredible throat singing. As the singer’s loud, multi-toned voice resonated throughout the room, my synesthesia was going crazy. I found myself completely engulfed in golden tones.

In addition to attending long meetings concerning health and safety, I’ve also begun learning the Mongolian language. The Peace Corps has informed us that Mongolian is one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn, and the only two PC-Mongolia volunteers to master the language both had ph.D.s in linguistics. Still, I’m determined.

Tomorrow, I move to my pre-service training summer location: a tiny village (not on the map) called Shaamar, north of Darkhan, quite close to the Russian border. During the summer, 11 other volunteers and I will be living in separate host families and going to four-hour language sessions, followed by several more hours of job training, every single day. I’m pumped. My host father is a PE teacher, and him and his wife have four kids (age 3, 9, 14, and 19). None of them speak any English, which I’m happy about because I’ll have to practice my Mongolian. I’m pretty sure that there is no internet access in Shaamar, so letters will be the best way to stay in contact. If you’d like to send me any letters over the summer, you can send them to this address, and Peace Corps will forward them to me:

Joe Wheeler

Peace Corps

Central Post Office

P.O. Box 1036

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 15160 (via China)

I’m off to find some Mongolians to play basketball with. Much love to everyone back home!

A lot of fun, a lot of struggle, and a lot of mutton is coming my way!



Entry Filed under: Uncategorized

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. anne lowe&hellip  | 

    Hello my darling, dear son, I couldn’t be prouder of you if I tried. You seem to be settling right in to your new surroundings. The Wu Tang comment and the description of the wash tub both thrilled me! So glad to now have your blog and know you are safe and sound. All is well here, the sun is out and life is good except that we miss you. I will write you some snail mail. I think of you every day with a smile on my face, and love you so much, mama

  • 2. Jonas Myers&hellip  | 

    This doesn’t really relate to your post, except it kinda does. Here is a poem by Rumi, the great 13th-century Sufi poet, that I heard recently. I think it is wonderful, and I hope you think so too. You may already know it; either way, I hope its words inspire you in some way or another, as they’ve certainly inspired me:

    The Guest House

    This being human is a guest house.
    Every morning a new arrival.

    A joy, a depression, a meanness,
    some momentary awareness comes
    as an unexpected visitor.

    Welcome and entertain them all!
    Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
    who violently sweep your house
    empty of its furniture,
    still, treat each guest honorably.
    He may be clearing you out
    for some new delight.

    The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
    meet them at the door laughing,
    and invite them in.

    Be grateful for whoever comes,
    because each has been sent
    as a guide from beyond.

  • 3. mary lowe&hellip  | 

    Hi Joe, it’s your Aunt Mary. I ditto your mom’s comments from an aunt’s perspective. What a good writer you are!
    Much love, Aunt Mary

  • 4. Trudy&hellip  | 

    Joe, This all sounds so amazing. I am so happy for you and wish you the best of luck!! 🙂

  • 5. Kai&hellip  | 

    Wheels! It is so good to hear your voice coming through strong in these posts, I can tell you’re embarking on a journey that will stick with you forever. Hope you found some Mongolians to play buckets with, and you didn’t school em too badly with your nasty J.

    Have a little snail mail to send you with some pictures I think you’ll enjoy. I hope it finds you happy, challenged, and inspired.

    One love, brotha! Can’t wait to join you in Asia in about 2 months!

  • 6. Anna Murveit&hellip  | 

    Hey Joe!

    Hope everything is going well over there! I’m working at the USGS this summer and Julie Nolan, a geologist I met here, has a daughter working in Mongolia. Her name Kathy Nolan and she is on a year-long contract working for Innovations for Poverty Action (http://www.poverty-action.org/). Julie asked for your name so I gave her your name and blog information. I know it’s a big, sparse country, but you never know!

    All the best!! Love, Anna

  • 7. Robin&hellip  | 

    I love you, Woe Jeeler. I have a present and letter coming your way.

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