July 1 2012 Ulaanbaatar

The realization we are leaving here in a day or two has just hit us as we headed into the UMAGallery to pack up our exhibition. The last few days have been a little difficult as we begin the wind down being in Mongolia and think again of Eltham. Not much food shopping anymore and we are working out how to get all the stuff home. Yes, still stuff as well as the boxes we have sent by UB Post. It’s is far cheaper to send goods to Australia by regular post as to pay the $40 excess baggage fee at the airport. We will probably still have excess baggage as we have the paintings to bring home.

This morning we three visited the nearby monastery to do as the monk artist yesterday suggested. He had told me I needed to visit the monetary 58 times and pray. Tugsoo had offered to continue the good work on my behalf after we leave.

The process was a little different to what I had understoodl I was led to believe we would see a monk and he continue the good words of guidance. Instead, Tugsoo and I lined up at a glass window where several women were taking money. It seems you have to tell the ladies what you wish to pray for and pay what you think is reasonable and say how many times the monk will say a prayer for you. Tugsoo suggested I pay 5000tg approx $4.00 and the monk will pray ten times. My prayers will be read tomorrow morning. Oh, I was a little disappointed. I had expected a meeting with a priest and a sense of enlightenment. This instead was just a monetary transaction. All I received was my receipt with the tg amount and the number of prayers. I understand it is up to each individual to offer the amount of money and number of prayer times.

After this transaction we were ready to head into the city. I wanted more. I headed into the beautiful temple and Tugsoo and walked around the large carved hard red wood timber rosary that lay at the feet of the enormous gold Buddha. As I caressed each giant red wooden ball I was reminded of the small redbud balls carved years ago by hand by Grace. She would have really loved to have seen these giant red sculptures. The wooded balls were shiny from the many human hands that had touched them.

We were given at the door a little packet of holy water in a plastic sealed bag. This was to be used in the evening to wash. Tugsoo said it was ok to add more water to the concentrate. We were also shaded in a sealed bag some ground cypress to burn. I think and hope it is cypress for it looks and smells very similar to marijuana. You can s mell if often burning in small cal drums around the city and in particular at the black market.

I had also been told yesterday not to receive gifts from anyone offering a patterned cloth. It was ok for me to buy and pay for a patterned item, but not to receive as gift. If I did receive it I was to pass it on to someone else. I would also benefit from white and green cloth. I bought a white and green silk from the Buddhists, and a green set of beads.

As we left the temple and headed by foot into the centre to the gallery a dog began to follow us. He was limping a little. He had kind eyes and Mervyn and I liked the company. I did not have any food to give him. Mervyn though the dog just liked to be with us for the company too. He crossed roads with us and stayed within a foot step or two. I gave him a pat but also remembered we had not had our rabies injections. Dogs here we have been told can pass on rabies just by licking you and it is not a good thing to catch. So we all kept a healthy distance while enjoying each others company. At one point we crossed the road or ‘j’ walked really and had to step over one of the small iron fences in the street. oh dear, momentarily I had forgotten our friend and as I stepped out of the way of the traffice saw the dog looking st how he was to get over the fence. Now if it was our poodle sartie he would have just jumped; or slipped tween the iron bars. Our friend dog was too large. It happened just near us was a bit of fence with a iron rod missing. I showed our friend dog the whole as as the traffic started bearing down he got it and stepped though. We were all together again stepping though the rough streets and deadly man holes without covers together.

We passed a golden statue of a man in boots. The sculpture was leaning against a pole. I was surprised to see the dog see the bronze boot and shy away. It was as if he knew what a boot can do…

We made it to Sumbucca square and Togsoo went off to gallery while Mervyn and I went in search of last minute shopping such as the Mongol Messenger and the artists book we looked st yesterday. I also admit, I did want to buy a fury camel I had seen some weeks ago. Tugsoo had said to visit a bookshop across from the square. We had hoped our friend dog might meet up with the other dogs that hang out in the park by the city square but no. Our friend dog was still with us. This time he stayed close as we all together negotiated the road. We went into a book shop and he sat and waited. Did not find the book. It was hot now. The street too sunny and for friend dog too, he was looking a little tired and hot but he kept with us and waled in any shady patches in the street. At another road crossing (with lights) he sat Dow in the green grass under a tree and we thought perhaps now he had enough and may stay in the cool. The lights turned green and up he came with us.

Across the other side of the road was a small stall selling drinks and sweets. I bight a bottle of water, and a paper cup. The water was cool. I poured a cup of water for friend dog and held it out to him. He would not drink. I put the cup down on the path and he drank gratefully. It was time to leave each other. I put the cup to the edge of the street in the shade. Friend dog seemed to know it was for him and we parted ways. He sat with the cup of water and did not follow us any more.

There was a man selling street paintings on the corner too. He was smiling with amusement as he watched me buy water for the dog. He seemed a kind person and i like to think they two shared some time together.

Eventually after eating Indian food for lunch at a great little restaurant we came across, buying last minute items we, we made it back to the gallery to pack up our show. Already the next batch of artists were waiting for us to leave so as they could hang the next show.

It didt take too long. Back at our apartment we repackaged the works and Mercyn took all of the canvases off the stretchers and rolled them up again in readiness for our flight on Tuesday.

Dinner with another Mongolian Tugs poet, and Tugsoo as well as two Soroptomist members from New Zealand. We met Tugs yesterday when she delve us around to the Mongolian artist collectors gallery apartment.

Two more sleeps to the airport…

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June 30 2012 Ulaanbaatar

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These pics were taken at a textile stall in the Black Market. Traditional braids used on traditional clothing. Textiles and sips are among some of the memories I will take away from Mongolia. If there is one thing Mongolia does well it is the beautiful clothing using traditional and modern silks to make deals and shirts and all manner of clothing. Most smart restaurants cloak the chairs and tables with fabric and much is used in curtains and all manner of things.

Today we visited yet another of Tugsoo’s artist friends. This time a wonder painter of ink work and a sculptor who also happened to have a gallery home housing amazing antiques from hundred of years and mostly Mongolian relics. He is also from a buddhist monk dependency and was the keeper of some ancient hand written works by monks. He was very interesting and gave me a reading from the knuckle bones and coins. I am to go to the temple 58 times to pray. Tomorrow Tugsoo and I will return to the temple nearby to begin my work. As we are leaving I’m a few days I will not be able to complete my prayer work. Tugsoo will complete it for me.

Interesting, it is the temple which is nearby and which we have walked through several times and of which I stopped in a photographed the Hugh wooden balls that reminded me of Grace’s carved Red gum balls. They are actually prayer beads – enormous ones.

I bought one of his ink paintings as I had admired them greatly in the History museum and was very pleased to meet the artist today,

After our visit we went back to the UMA gallery and sat with our show for a while. Mervyn and I went off in search of a book of the artists work we had looked st in his home. It was a long shot as it was published in 2006. Could not find it anywhere and presume it is well out of print. What was special was that it had photographs of Mongolian landscape and then his ink drawings printed as overlays of ancient warrior drawings and other ancient life activities that would have taken place at the place of the photo. It helps the viewer see the modern landscape with a sense of history’s I have never seen this before.

Elections are over and it still the democratic party seems to have the majority of votes. The result is like Australia, close to a Jung parliament. Deals are being done and. As our friends said maybe 10cents worth of change.

Desert Sharing III

The DESERT SHARING III project Exhibition opened last night at the UMA gallery in Ulaanbaatar Mongolia. It was opened by David Lawson, the Consular General and Trade Commissioner for Australia who has announced the Desert Sharing Project is now officially part of the Australian and Mongolian’s 40 year celebration of Consular Relations.

The exhibition was well attended by the artists of Mongolia and other foreign visitors. Many speeches were made, mostly in Mongolian and music played.

For this showing of the Desert Sharing project Dr. J. Saruulbyan was invited to exhibit hs work too.
Saruul is the Mongolians History Museum Director and a fine writer, poet and painter who comes from Khenti aimag. It was due to his invitation we had our last exhibition Desert Sharing II at the museum. Of that he had been impressed we had gone to the far north east of Mongolia to work in his country. Most city Mongolians these days have roots in the countryside and have deep connections with their land. The pride of place is strong in Saruul’s work and when he talks of country.

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Preparations for DESERT SHARING III EXHIBITION

Preparations for exhibition at the UMA Gallery in Mongolia are almost finalized. Today we delivered the works to the gallery.

Opening tomorrow evening at 6.00pm. We have Australian Consul and Trade Commissioner David Lawson to open the show along with the director of the Mongolian History Museum Dr. J. Saruulbuyan. We have also invited Saruul to exhibit with our work. Saruul as well as being director of history museum is also a very fine visual artist as well as a writer and poet.

The UMA Gallery is very large and we can accommodate Tugsoo and Saruuls large paintings. Unfortunately we were unable to bring large works because of the difficulty bringing from Australia.
We have smaller works and many photographs from various Australian and Mongolian landscapes taken over the past years travel together.i have had prints made in Mongolia 60 x 40.

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Camp 12 – Back to Ulaanbaatar (End Gobi journey)

It was difficult to sleep with the noise of the German and Korean tourists partying on all night. The bed in this camp is also the most uncomfortable we have had, which is a pity as it was our last night out before UB.

We had a little visitor who had managed to cut a hole in the soy milk overnight with his little teeth. We have fed much wildlife this trip.

It seemed to be cooler today with an overcast sky as we left the camp for the curious journey back home.

The camp guides suggested we take the local roads back to UB as the main road is not good. This entailed a rough instruction if just keep to the tracks and follow a north easterly direction and you will eventually find your way to UB. We had previously vowed to keep to the main roads as we kept getting lost in the unsigned posted tracks that litter Mongolia. Never the less Unench set off over the mountains and up and around rocks and barely visible car tracks. At one point the ‘road’ disappeared completely at a ger camp. We were then sent off on another ‘track’ that came to a group of horses and people.

This aw a very special day, it was a full moon and the day the local ger camps meet to try out for Nardam. Nardam of course being the most famous and important festival held each year in July in Mongolia. Nardam is a horse race run over 25 kilometers and mostly by young children, it is spectacular for traditional costume and more horses than people. We were fortunate to attend one two years ago when we we’re last in Mongolia. So we understood a little of what we saw.

There we’re two lines set up on poles which the horses were hitched too. A very famous horse trainer was here giving the young ones special instructions, a couple of family groups mostly in deel and a monk ringing bells and saying prayers for the racers with beads.

We stopped to ask the way and were immediately invited to share some airag. We had pulled up just as the monk was doing bit and the adults were preparing the vodka and milk drink. A small table was set up in the green field with cloth and a bowel of sweets and milk products. I watched as one of the woman poured milk in small dishes and vodka into a silver dish she first offered the priest the vodka of which he took a drink, then it was offered around and to us first. The vodka was then mixed with the milk product and we were each given a dish to drink. Tugsoo kindly offered to drink mine after I took a polite sip. I am unable to drink dairy and in this country that is a difficult thing to negotiate. After the airag came the fresh made yoghurt. I am finding this a little more palatable and actually enjoyed the small sips I had before passing it over. I am not sure how mvuh I can handle… And as far as vodka, I have been sworn off it after my last ‘taste’ on the last day of the exhibition with the museum director at lunch. Never again…

We stayed here for what seemed like quite a while. I was. Ross I had run out of memory space this morning and rattled through scan cards to see what I could delete so I could take some good photographs with the canon camera. This was a photographers treat and a privilege to be here at this special occasion for the Mongolians. We hoped we brought them luck, the foreign visitors I’m their patch. We were still more than two hundred kilometers from UB.

Eventually we left the party of beautiful horses and outfits. I will always remember the Mongolian horse, it is a wild horse yet living with families. They are wild in their nature and not shy to fall down and roll in the dirt and standing grunting and snorting and rubbing each other affectionately. They seem the often stand head to end with each other and shot flies for each other with their tails. They are the most beautiful of creatures in their carefree manner of abandon. The colors are both rich and creamy and the most beautiful cream horses, chestnut and darkest of chocolate brown.

We continued on our road across the steppe of grassy tracks and rocky outcrops. We have now pretty much left the Gobi and entered the Steppe country. The grass is greener, thicker and the scent more heady with the early summer flowers. We saw several groups of one to three cranes, some flying, some just hanging around a water patch. Wedge tail eagles were hovering over a haul with the. Implant of black crows and a myriad of others. Hard to photograph. The sky was a deep indigo with rain shadows creating random fingers of brushstrokes behind us, it was raining, hard, somewhere, the storms have been on our tail for days and reports of damage, let us pray we beat it to the city,

And the highlight of the day, well, equal with the horses was down in a w unite valley the discovery of a white camel; and baby, the camel appeared to have been separated from her herd as she was quite unkempt. Her hair long and left over from winter. She looked well enough with her most gorgeous little white baby camel, perhaps three months old. The innocence and shyness of the baby as it stayed behind mother. We stopped for a cuppa here and to watch them watch us. We kept a reasonable distance and the mother was aware and watching us but showed no sign of leaving her place. She let us come close enough to photograph well and we too respected her space and didn’t her to feel threatened or try to attack us as they can.

We left as the heavy clouds groaned and rumbled warnings and sent little sparks of electricity to get us in our way,

Not far from our camel Unench stopped the car. He had heard a strange noise. We were now on top of a rock hill with a herd of goats and a distant ger with smoke rising from the chimney.

Yes, it was a flat tyre. The last day of our trip and the first flat tyre. Luckily he had an air compressor at hand and the tyres had been filled with some goo a year or too ago that helps heal small holes. Fixed and on again. A further check didn’t seem to be of concern a few kilometers later.

Hours later and much track hopping, grass growing taller and more paddocks more fertile, animal herds more abundant and somehow we reached the main road. This was still gravel. And worse be ause of the heavy vehicles and trucks breaking it up. Then a small section of a few kilometers of brand new bitumen which we were not supposed to drive on. We, like the other traffic did until it too ran out. [of money?]

Back on the gravel and periods of sandy holes and stones and then the tyre. It was completely flat this time. The sky was threatening and lightening flying all around, the blue bruised clouds visibly thickening all around. No choice, Mervyn and Unench had to change the tyre. It was like a miracle as we watch the rain fall on the hills all around and somehow miss us.

Before we knew we were back st the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar and the smell of fumes and noise of traffic and faces of hopeful politicians everywhere. What has changed, not much except from every available billboard and orifice was a poster of a politician. It took exactly one hour in traffic to get home.

Back in our apartment by 7.00pm and life goes on.

Tomorrow we begin to organize the second exhibition for the Desert Sharing Project.

the traffic to get home.

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Camp 3 – Gobi Desert Suvarga (White Stupa)

Interesting sleeping arrangements last night in the Mangagovi hotel in the middle of the Middle Gobi. As there was only one small bedroom left with two bunks to share between four people we had to be creative. Unench pushed the two bunks together so there was just enough room between them to squeeze a body and just enough room for HM to sleep on the floor between the bed and wall. Mervyn and I sleep crushed against the wall on one bunk and Tugsoo had one whole single bed to herself. There was much noise in the street below our window; it was Saturday night and we were in a hotel, of sorts. At least we could check the car for retribution as it was parked beneath our window.

Breakfast arrived, a fried egg, cold rice and gherkins. I had sudden memories of 1979 when I visited Moscow on a contiki bus tour. at least I still had my coffee pot and fresh coffee to brew in our room on the portable gas stove. We are pleased we bought the second stove on route.

After yesterday’s fiasco with the rear bumper bar there was a first revisit to the police station where a meeting had been arranged for the culprit, the poor vodka affected driver, Tugsoo and Unench to meet the police for a handover of money for the car damage. Apparently the culprit only lost his license for a few months and not two years as first mooted and he did spend the night in the lockup.

A visit to the market to buy a bucket with lid, a basin for ger washing and some more food. We have enough food now to open a roadside stall.

Then it was time to get out of town as quickly as possible. Started to follow the road south and soon realized this may not be correct. A road to our right began to look more promising. We tirned around and headed back to town, after first trying to drive across the desert plain until a small creek stopped us. Start again and this time road pointed south west towards wherever Tugsoo was taking us on the map next.

Mongolian roads are usually just gravel tracks that criss cross the countryside in the general direction of the next place. Often we would come to a clear fork in the road and decisions wild have to be decided depending on the point of the compass in the dashboard. There was a lot of traffic on the road today; large trucks, Russian army jeeps, four wheel drive vehicles and us. As the land became more hilly and the dunes grew in number we needed to guess which track approaching vehicles were using. Sometimes there maybe a dozen or so well used tracks and the keep left or right rule did not apply on the desert roads.

Dust began to build up, at first just made by vehicles and then odd spires of whirling dust grew into another constant dust storm whipped up by the increasing strength of the wind.

The earth became drier and stonier as we headed south and vegetation sparse. Strangely we still seemed to be following power lines. This time brand new silver towers of steel marching along in an uncanny straight line up and over the dunes. The roads snakes both sides of the lines and occasional distractions where the line may disappear. The silver towers were so new they were without wire. We met the linesmen much further south coming up perhaps from china connecting the wire.

We drove for many hours before stopping for lunch at a disused camp we saw off the road and away from the dust stream of passing vehicles. From the mirage came two black goats. They were some way off and I wanted to photograph them and hoped they would not run away. I took some bread with me and walked towards them. The largest goat looked at me and was unafraid. I keep walking towards them and soon she came towards me and I held out the bread. She ate hungrily from my hand. She was Al’s limping and seemed very hungry. The young goat as dark as the mother shed away and would not let me approach. The female then followed me a little more but not approach the vehicle. I came back to our lunch camp and announced I would give my lunch to the goat instead of eating. I took some more food back to her and she ate as hungrily. Mervyn then came down with some popcorn which she ate from the bag. And then she was happy to follow us back to the car and wanted to get into all the boxes of food. I gave her some water and felt sad we had to leave her to continue fending off this harsh desert land. She had obviously strayed from a herd for there was no sign of other goats in our sight.

We drove on into what was becoming a dustier landscape and the track grew to a kilometer wide with unsignposted options All the way. We passed two roadside ger camps that Tugsoo and Unench said were restaurants, at least places we cough have horshoew made. They were terribly black and desert affected looking institutions.

After one hundred kilometers Unench became worried because he had thought we needed to turn left somewhere about now. We stopped an oncoming vehicle and asked directions. The driver said he did not know, he was a bus with several passengers. He said he only stuck to the main road and we should not take any left turns in the middle of the desert as it was too dry and harsh and remote and we would get lost. So we kept on and stopped again at a well. We had been watching another Russian vehicle heading parallel to us some distance away turn left at the well. It was time again to have some discussion and Mervyn and I thought we should be heading to the left as we had seen two more distant vehicles driving fast, must have been a good road.

Unench decided to drive strait ahead and we found some linesmen who indicated keep straight for twenty kilometers, looking out for three gers and a well and take the difficult to see track left a d ahead will be the place we are looking for. So we did and he was right, we saw in the distance a ger camp of three and a little away a well. The track was about three vehicle tyre markes in the dust. At least we could now see the rocky outcrop we were looking for and kept heading for them across the stony plain.

Then a small marked wooden sign said ger camp with a arrow. We were traveling through undulating gentle rock outcrops now, rising in soft rounded mounds from a flay ancient lake bed. At least that is what it looks like. The idea of ancient dinosaurs buried in the crust of the hills and deep beneath the lake surface comes to mind. Then Tugsoo said she had been here many years before when archeologists had been first exploring these parts and there were many many boxes of bones found.

The dust storm had blurred the countryside and the sand was a deeper orange than the earlier grey of the desert. The landscape seemed more familiar to the Australian deserts I have been. I imagined the very flatness and amount of dust in the sky could produce a lovely sunset.

Finally we reach a very remote and basic looking ger camp. A number of gers sat in a tight group together in the dust. An ablution block looked out of place with the gently flapping canvas covered gers. Brightly decorated orange doors were welcoming as traditional gers are and we hoped we could stay. This is not luxury but the way these gers sat on the flat plain remote and inviting was strange. Tugsoo went to ask about gers for the night and it seemed these were not the ones she had in mind, they were further up the track a few kilometers. These were cheap, only 12,000tg each, had water, shower and available.

We had a look and decided these would do, the showers were clean and we were here and the only visitors. When the wind dropped, in the evening or tomorrow the owners would take us out to the interesting spots in the hills.

Tonight we have separate gers for Mervyn and myself and Tugsoo and Unench.

I am now laying out of the wnd writing. I have had a shower, wet my har and feel great. The wind is howling outside. We have closed the flat on the roof as the plastic cover is non existent, and it is dark, cooling. I would love to share the rhythmic sound of the wind as it whips around the ger. the felt softens the howl which can be heard in the distance. I don’t think the wind will drop tonight. But then again it might just stop. Last time the wind stopped the rain came. There will not be any sight seeing today. We are here at camp now and battened down. And it’s lovely, a soft bed, stove, (our gas one) and I am making banana pancakes. The batter is resting as I write.

…later

After a feast of banana pancakes with cherry jam we ventured outside as the wind had dropped considerably as the day began to close down. This time of year the wind picks up after lunch and dies down in the evening and morning.

We noticed the owners began to move around now as they were able to work out of the debilitating dust and wind. The afternoon glow of the sun was stunning- a 360 degree view mirrored the gers. A round ger on a round landscape. The shadows were long and the wind had made little furrows against the low tough vegetation that reminded me of the plains in the Flinders Ranges and around Lake Eyre.

I took many photographs of the gentle landscape bathed in the golden evening light. As I looked around to the east the land seemed to have a both a purple and gold glow together. The wind was a gentle chill on my skin. This afternoon heat was the first time I wore a summer shirt, the temperature had risen well over 34 degrees Celsius, according to the car temp gauge.

Out here in the middle of the Gobi desert at this quite camp we were able to recharge our batteries between 8 and 11pm while the generator was running.

We have made plans tonight to visit a special place with the owner of the camp tomorrow. About 32 kilometers away in the rocks are many cave paintings some 4,000 years old.

Ulaanbaatar and Desert Sharing

We are still here in Ulaanbaatar and the weather seems to be improving daily as summer emerges.

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Our exhibition is drawing to an end tomorrow, and now we are beginning to get some media attention. Today a journalist came to visit the show and was so impressed she thought we needed more attention. Not long after we returned home Tugsoo received a phone call and the message we would be on the 3.30 Eagle TV news. We had 15 minutes to sit and watch our exhibition and hear our names in Mongolian. Tomorrow we have to return to the gallery where there will be another TV crew to interview us and apparently other newspapers are now interested. The story I wrote for the Mongol Messenger is also to be published this coming Friday.

Although it seems a little late it is better now than never and hopefully good publicity for our next show in June after the Gobi.

The national elections are coming up soon and this is also always a bad time for arts publicity, anywhere in the world. And especially here at the moment when there is much tension on the ground between the nomadic country people and the new industrial and mining companies.

We have noticed the difference, or is it just coincidence? While there are wonderful people we have been meeting there are others in the street that look at us as intruders. I dot remember this happening on our previous trip. It is helpful in understanding how new Australians and visitors must fell at times when they are not tolerated by a minority of our population.

Our friends say that here the difference between the rich and poor is widening, as in other western societies. I am aware of more people on the streets collecting bottles. There are also many one person street stalls selling nuts or offering the passerby an opportunity to weigh themselves on a set of scales. The warmer weather is bringing out the entrepreneur. Clearly there is much poverty in Ulaanbaatar now. In contrast can be seen in the numerous multistory buildings and flash cars on the road. There are car yards all over the place selling new or second hand Japanese imports; with the right hand drive instead of left as the rule is here. It would make sense for Mongolia to change the law and drive on the right like the majority of their cars.

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These photographs were taken this evening when we met a friend at the Blue Sky Tower for dinner. The Blue building that dominates the inner city is today working as a hotel with several businesses and restraunt. Two years ago when we were here it was unused, condemned because of the danger of pieces of glass falling. We had arrived early for dinner and took a look at the view from the top floor Restraunt. It was magnificent to see from the 23rd floor the road map laid out. Below us. And the view of high rise apartments reaching out to the hills and the amount of residential development on the outlying hills and valleys.