Ulaanbaata, June 23, 2012

We have been back in Ulaanbaatar now for a few days and mostly have been preparing for next Desert Sharing III Exhibition to open on Monday evening at the UMA Gallery in Ulaanbaatar.

Preparations have included working on some of the paintings started in the Gobi Desert, selecting and printing the large photographs for the exhibition. It is fortunate that most places here are open long hours so we can source materials and services.

As we have commented on previously, Ulaanbaatar is quite a different place to the serenity of the Mongolian countryside. The traffic in the city is chaotic and with the recently rain even more hideous to negotiate because there are huge puddles; or small lakes on the roads and footpaths. There are some crazy drivers who delight is speeding past pedestrians and soaking them with muddy spray. There is little attention paid to the drainage system and a mystery as to where the water is supposed to go.

Have met some Australian Soroptomist women for a second time in Tugsoo’s studio. They have been on a couple of adventures into the countryside and took a short horse riding tour. spring was not the best time to work with animals as the herds have recently come out of winter and as they described grossly thin and unwell. For a couple of mad horsey women this was very distressing. Summertime is when Mongolia comes alive. It’s the time for the large Nardam festival and all manner of festivities and holiday time. Schools and universities close for three months. Students often use this time to get out of the city and work in holiday ger camps to make some money, or anywhere they can find work.

Had another day in the country with Lkhamaa whol took me back to her relatives ger camp with the beautiful Yaks to meet Otga again and have a dress fitting for the traditional dell she is sewing for me. It’s a beautiful piece of Textile art and will be the most treasured spending I do in Mongolia. I plan to use the outfit as part of our Mongolian exhibitions in the Eltham South gallery. The dress is constructed from a turquoise blue silk with various bands of embroidery and the outer coat a red silk with black and gold braid. It is a traditional married woman’s celebration outfit. The sleeves will be made of green stitched silk and will hang down to my knees. This is so when the Mongolian cold weather sets in you can tuck your arms inside the sleeves. It is not a simple outfit for everyday use!

Staying at the ger camp currently as about 30 wrestlers in preparation for the Nadam Festival. We were lucky enough to be able to watch them training, in their colorful wrestling costumes. Otga usually does all of the cooking for the camp and at the moment is very busy with the wrestlers who need to be fed three Huge Meals a day! It’s hard to find sewing time between the food preparations, the wrestlers will train right up to three days before Nadam And have a couple of days at home and then fight for real against each other again.

It was surprising how quickly the spring brown grasses have turned to a healthy green and the scent of the new growth is unforgettable. I have probably talked about this particular smell of Monglian grass before. If only it could be bottled… The smell is a fine heady aroma of the best and freshest herbs including tyme, lavender, sages, clover and dandelions. The flowers are blooming now. Whereas Australia Springtime is usually the time our flowers come out here it is definitely summertime. The sad looking apartment blocks are becoming more alive with grass in the garden beds and many blocks have planted flowers such as marigolds. The city is changing and beginning to look less tardy.

The streets are also amass with political propaganda. Elections will be held on June 28, right in the middle of our exhibition. historically this has not been a good time I have found from experience to hold an exhibition. It has happened before that after booking a show the elections have been called. There are vans spouting party flags all over the city, huge billboards on the sides of apartment and city buildings, streets littered with faces full of promises to help the living conditions of everyone. One party is promising to pipe hot water into every ger in all the ger districts. That is according to locals a pipe dream… Other politicians promise to rehouse people in ger towns into the new apartment buildings. There are even promised to fix the traffic, the roads, cost of living and inflation. Speaking with people I meet there doesn’t seem to be a clear party that is considered Good. There are parties with members before the courts for corruption and all manner of questionable dealings. There is a flurry of road works taking place, but in most situations it seems cosmetic. It’s the big issues like drainage and complete resealing instead of ad hoc patching that needs to take place. The disabled here simply cannot get around, with any kind of ease.

I think one of the differences between life as I understand it and living in Monglia is that the people do not have expectations as the western life has. If you lived with the same expectations you would be very disappointed.

An example of normal life is after returning from our Gobi trip Unench parked his car, as he always does in his garage. This is not attached to the apartment but around the block in a car parking lane.

Overnight there had been some construction works, or perhaps it was from the new apartment block being built next door, a large chunk of concrete dumped outside his garage door. The concrete waste is far too heavy for one man to attempt to move alone. Phone calls were made to try and have the concrete moved. No success and who really is responsible? Unench has not been able to get t his garage since. Eventually this afternoon we found a shovel and a short of crowbar in our units verandah and between Mervyn and Unench they managed t move the lump. There are bits of building waste and rubbed all over the city dumped anywhere. I was surprised how calmly Unench and Tugsoo treated the inconvenience, in Australia we would have been jumping up and down and someone perhaps would have been sued.

Unench tells me there are laws in place here for such things as we have in Australia as far as people being injured from dangerous public works. The difference is if you tried to act upon it there would be no hope of any success. Perhaps somehow the blame would be put back on the injured party.

That’s enough for now, have to finish cataloging the new works. We hang the show tomorrow.





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.




Camp 4 – Gobi Desert White Stupa

During the night the wind dropped completely and the air was still, and silent. In the morning it was chilly and I didn’t want to get out of bed. It was lovely to sleep in the womb again of a ger and with room. We have everything here, food, stove and a mattress.

After breakfast our ger host Batsaihan came with us in the car to lead us to some 4000 year old rock carvings hidden in the valleys in the surrounding hills. We would never have been able to find the places he took us to today without his help.

First stop Was a visit to the stunning White Stupa Cliffs. These are cliffs of ochre and washouts with wonderful sculptural forms. The colored cliffs were a little similar to the painted desert in south Australia. A myriad of cliffs with washes of red, brown, yellow and white.

Second visit to the slate cliffs with ancient carvings.

Along the way we saw an array of animals to photograph including herds of horses, camels, goats and sheep. We saw a small herd of gazelle grazing on the planes as we left camp.

Two young children on horseback were herding a flock of sheep to meet another flock of horses and camel. We watched them bring all of the animals together and in an orderly manner bring all of the animals together in their separate groups up the valley. It was as if the whole school of children were being marched off in along a road together by age groups.

I was excited when I saw my first camels in the distance and Tugsoo kept assuring me I needed worry we would see many more. She was right. We passed several other camel herds and stopped at one large camel camp to watch the family milking the camels. It was an incredible picture, dozens of camels either loose or tethered to iron hooks in the ground and many young camels nearby. As well as the camels the family kept a large flock of colorful goats and sheet together. They were so grand all in together. Young goats were playfully jumping all over the pen and playing head butting games while the young sheep did the same in their sheep fashion. The goats were all colors, greys, white, brown, multi-colored and black like the goat I met yesterday. I have really fallen for these creatures. The camels were all brown and in a state of malt which made them look quite ridiculous and untidy. Unench says the winter camel is a striking animal with his thick coat. The wool from the camel fetches a lot of money and is not untidy to the family.

The milking went on the large camels stayed together until they were finished and all just wandered off into the sand hills in a leisurely manner, untethered. They will feed all day as far as they like and when it’s time come home to feed their the young camels tethered back at camp.

We took many photographs and the family invited us to return for tea on the way back. Hmm, I thought that will be the milk tea of which I am not particularly fond.

We kept driving on through sandy tracks which merged into sand and shale and then quite thick shale. The Flinders Ranges comes to mind. This landscape could easily be in the Flinders Ranges, except the vegetation is shorted than the salt bush and low mulga scrub.

There are beautiful grasses that have fine seed stems that appear soft in the light like spinifix except without the thorns.

We Have been privileged today to have our guide. He took us to the slate hills and walked the paths to the ancient carvings. There were all kinds of images spread for a twenty kilometer range through the hills. As he said, they appear to be carved into the edge of a book.

Unfortunately there were some carvings that looked as if they had been made in the last ten years. And places where they also looked as if they had been chiseled out altogether; removed. I would imagine in time this place will probably be closed to any visitors because the site is so important which such ancient relics.

One of the interesting things about this region is the rapid change in the landscape, the way there are sandhills, slate hills and amongst this mounts and layers of quartz. Apparently the mining companies had taken out a license in this region and the government had revoked it because of the importance of this region. The region has now been set aside as national park. We were fortunate enough to see some wild sheep in a valley. This is a very special sighting we were told, very rare. We saw them again later and tried to video them but they ran too fast. The wild sheep ran like the wind and more like the gazelles! Not like the sheep we are used, and they had the longest horns.

We called in on the camel family on the way out of the valley and the woman had prepared some goat milk tea and camel curds for us to eat. I apologized as best I could and said I could not drink milk. At least Tugsoo relayed my message. The woman then brought me a large cup of camel milk instead. I gingerly sipped and to my surprise it tasted like a yoghurt with a hint of coriander; somewhat spicy, sweet and tart all together. I did not experience the immediate bilious sensation I usually have if I drink cows milk. I am sure I could be gently led into enjoying camel milk. Then the plate of white marshmallow like curds arrived. Again these squares had the same sweet tart flavor.

We were treated with the most lovely hospitality. The ger was so beautiful inside. Decorated with fine tapestry work and rugs made by the woman. It is difficult to equate the inside beauty and outside camel yard as the same place. I felt so grubby in my dusty clothes, to sit amongst the woman’s clothes and neatness. Then from nowhere she magically presented two bowls of sweets and chocolate arranged beautifully in glass. How do they keep their gers so neat. Our ger back at camp is looking like a Ferrell camp, living out of suitcases and bags and boxes of food everywhere, and our camping pots and pans. And for is it’s just for a week or two. The camel family have everything they own in these two gers, and ever so neat. Simple presentation and exquisite beauty.

I watched the old man collect camel dung to burn in the iron oven. He looked very old, was stooped and moved very slowly. It is a hard life out here. There is no retirement. What is there was. Where would they go, the hell chaos of Ullaanbaatar? How to swap the beauty of the Gobi and a herd of camels for anything else. Image also what this must be like in the winter? Up to minus forty, forty-five? The land would be so beautiful covered in snow. How harsh for the people and the animals. They have summer camp and winter camp but even so, each season is so intense, extreme. We are at the beginning of summer now, the windy time. It has been dust storms and wind. In a month the temperature will rise to the high forties and may even reach fifty degrees. Nowhere to hide for the people and the animals and they still need to be milked, watered, fed. The gers also have winter and summer clothing. Winter gers have a double thickness of felt.

After our extraordinary tour of The ancient art gallery and return visit to the camel family we came back to our ger camp as the wind and rust was beginning. The wind has not eased off since and flurries of dust storm have been keeping us inside. After some lunch we needed to rest but the heat of the day was too much. Was it better to leave the ger roof and door open, at least there was light but the dust was coming in. Better to close door and roof, and then it was dark but close. I tried to sleep, too hot. Decided on a shower. Didn’t
T matter the water was barely warm, it was wet and satisfying. For a while. Back in the ger I thought the best place was to hang out in the bathroom. At least it was made like a refrigerator, thick insulated walls and four inch doors and I am sure warm in winter.

Somehow we got through the afternoon siesta and went off again at five o’clock to the white stupa cliffs we had visited in the morning. This time we frove to the bottom of the cliffs rather than where we viewed them this morning, stunning. Stunning. The wind has eased marginally and the dust flurries not as intense.

As I have not yet put brush to paper I was determined to paint. I packed a bag of paints and paper and decided to try my luck with the wind at the bottom of the cliffs amongst some small cliffs and look up at the wild forms. There were rain washouts to follow as paths. The wind seemed at first easier here, until I had set up and begun to paint. Everything covered in sand and chasing my hat. And Mervyn and Tugsoo coming back and saying how amazing the d cliffs around the corner were! At least I managed to get the paints wet and make my first attempt of a painting, also a small sketch on color fix paper which the gouache. Too hard and I wanted to photograph the red cliffs around the corner. Unench made coffee for all of us and brought into the gully. Oh what a life, sand, coffee, wind, sky and little black beetles crawling into my sandals. I don’t know what they thought they would find.

Back at camp this evening I showed the camp family photographs taken during the day and they were fascinated by the iPad and wanted to look at all of the photographs in it as well as th e photos from home.

The best sunset tonight, ger silhouettes against the red sky and fireball setting beneath the horizon. The wind is still blowing and there is a forecast for storms in the Gobi tomorrow. We are going to leave in the morning, early. Heading to another stunning camp. Tugsoo says there is a frozen lake, still, now in the summer gobi.

Looking forward to it, and arriving safely and finding a camp for the night,

Camp 7 – The Great Gobi Sandhills

As I write I am sitting on my bed looking out of the ger door into the dying evening light. It must be after 9.00pm. I am sunburnt and finally reached the point of not knowing what day or date it is. Now I am in the desert. It has taken weeks to get here. There is no Internet, no wifi or much of anything commercial or western. It is wonderful. I can write and wait until we get back to UB to wifi and upload the last week or so.

It is also hard to reflect on the last couple of days because I am still in them. From what I can remember we spent a hell of a day yesterday (seems like days ago) driving a couple of hundred kilometers to where we are now.

Yesterday’s adventure included a petrol stop in a remote sum looking for diesel. After we asked and found the gas station a little on the edge we town we had to wake up the owner. When we pulled up there was no sign of any activity. We were out from the ger town. A passer bye tod us the owner lived ‘up there in that ger. he is probably asleep, it was a big night last night’. Tugsoo walked up to get the owner. She was told by one old lady that no such man lived here. A child told her her father was in another aimag and someone told her he was also not there. Tugsoo then suspected a lie and cried she knew he was there. After much conversation the poor man rose from his bed and come down, with daughter carrying the key. He could barely walk and I was concerned he would fall. Unench did the bowser bit and soon we were on our way. I gave the man some lollies which made him smile and he proudly let me take his photograph.

From then in we drove along very rough rocky roads. It took two hours to travel twenty kilometers. The road was so bad and once more there were many forks in the road to choose our route.

We traveling through many family ger camps with goats and camels. One of the most interesting camps had a number of buildings constructed from mud brick and dung. This I was really much more than a camp. Tugsoo says many camps in Western Mongolia are also like this, particularly where the Kazakh live.

We found some lunchtime shade behind a small building that seemed to be a storage hut. There were camels grazing nearby where there was also some green grass and a spring with real running water. This is the first water I have seen for days! And this was also the beginning of the Sandhills.

The Sandhills run for 185 kilometers and continue up against the mountain range. It is spectator to see the growing height of the Sandhills snuggled up against the wild rocky mountains.

After what seemed an endless journey we came to the place where the Sandhill camps begin.
We asked how much and what we can expect and decided to go to the next camp and asked. The cost here is much more than previous nights. Maybe because this is so much more remote. We had expected the camps to be closer to the stunning sand dunes. We wanted to sleep inside of them. Not to be, the next camp and the one after that was even further from the sands, and more expensive so we went back to the first. It is great, we have views of sand dunes from our bed, with camels walking outside our gers and hot showers.

What more would we want, camels, moving sands, sunshine and good company.

After we settled ourselves we took a short drive to as close as we could without getting bogged in the deep sand and walked up onto the dunes and watched the sun fade.

Feel like we have finally arrived at our destination. Travelled all this way to sit by the Gobi sand dunes as here we are. We are not going any further south west than this point.


Camp 9 – Bayanzag South Gobi

The hottest day so far this trip! We left our most southern camp this morning after the night of playing with hopping mice and hedgehogs (three of them at our ger) and headed North East to Byanzag. We said goodbye to the Gobi Sand dunes too. The trip was back through the rocky mountains we had travelled through, but this time on the other side. We drove through some narrow mountain passes and eventually came out at a long plain that took hours of rocky road to cross. The plain was so hot the car temperature gauge read 45 degrees celsius as the hottest we noticed. There was no shade anywhere to stop for lunch; just the narrow shadow of our car. It wa so hot we barely stopped for lunch because it meant no breeze or air con.

Out in the middle of these plains and at a cross road between two mountain ranges was a market stall. A group of people with tables selling rocks from the nearby mountains, antique spear head tools and some dusty camel felt toys.

I bought a piece of blue crystalline rock I wish I new more about. Sometimes in this landscape I am sorry I did not study geology. There were so many beautiful rocks here and if they all came from these mountain, how rich they are! Some of the thunderbolt agate that emerges from the most unassuming rocks is just stunning.

We were fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to see a herd of gazelle racing across the plains. It was a rare sight; first we saw a couple of gazelle running from our left and we tried to photograph them and as we watched where they were heading we saw a herd of many hundred flying across the plains. Never seen anything run so fast, run like the wind. We stopped the car and waited and to our surprise they came back our way and across the road ahead of us.
They were too far to get a really good video but it was wonderful to know they are here and see.

We stopped for petrol at a remote sum Bulgan. It’s extraordinary to find these settlements out in the middle of seemingly nowhere. And it was so hot. At the bowser before us was a man in a deel filling up a jerry can and his wife and child standing by. They all got back on the bike together and rode back into the sum. Interesting how often the petrol places are out of town.

We drove on and on and eventually reached our destination for the night and the extraordinary landscape of the flaming cliffs. This is the place where the famous Mongolian dinaseour bones have been found. There is also much petrified forest and other interesting stones. The cliffs are indeed red, such red ochre sand with strange bits of conglomerate rocks running through the layers.

We are at a camp that is busy with politicians spread their propaganda thought this land.

Tomorrow we head back to the white stupa for the night, back tracking to Ulaanbaatar.


Fences, Power Poles and Pavements


Walking around the streets of Ulaanbaatar I am often fascinated by the array of small iron and steel fences dividing and segregating spaces along roadways, pavements and around the older Soviet apartment blocks.


There seems to have been great pride in the array of designs and colors of these fences around the town. Some of the apartment blocks have lovely colors decorating them, the diamond may be yellow, the upright red and horizontal green.



Closer into the city there are steel fences that make me cringe when I think of the potential for an accident with the sharp upright bars with sharp edges that seem to have no point in today’s busy life. The fences must be a left over from a past era and I am sure as the modern Mongolia unfolds these little steel constructions will be gone. There are not many roadsides or pathways today complete with the structures, most have sections missing or bent out of shape wearing with the age and abuse of a changing city.

The contrast of the countryside where the landscape is/was devoid of fences and the extreme amount of fences in the city is extraordinary. While talking of quaint and decorative steel and iron fences I could also mention the miles of bent sheet steel fences. And the razor wire fences and those fenced fences that abound national embassies…








Also of interest is the state of the power poles along the streets. At first I noticed the covering missing from the occasional steel power pole. And then it became clear most of the coverings were missing; often with a tangle of wires hanging out tied loosely with ‘scotch’ or with ribbed coated wires leading off into who knows where attached. We have noticed workmen in the street tapping straight into the loose wires and to what personal risk…




There is much work going on throughout the city at present, there is a sense of summer's arrival and the city is working hard to catch a glimpse. Hence, pavements are being dug up, or left behind from the winter chill that would have uplifted paving stones and thrown them about in a careless fashion. Lids are missing all over town from pavements and roadways; and to where? The steel lids constructed of steel allegedly make good barbecues. Cement ones are often tossed about line polystyrene in a seemingly easy fashion, as if the culprit was to return soon to replace it but forgot; several seasons ago. These ones are filled with street waste, papers, rocks, sticks and plastic bottles.

The amount of change I have noticed in the two years since my last visit to Ulaanbaatar I am sure will be even more enormous if I am fortunate enough to return here in the future. It feels as if every bit of Mongolia is undergoing massive change.





Hair Cutting Ceremony

It is customary for the children’s hair cutting ceremony to take place around the time of Children’s Day in Mongolia. Today we we’re invited to two separate families having their childns hair cutting day. At 11.00am ikhama and Tugi invited us to take part in the first cut and eat a feast with them. This is an honor for us to attend one of the most significant days in a child’s lie, the first hair cut. It was explained to me the boy, also Tugsoo has turned four, but from the mothers position he is a lady five because of the time spent in her womb. Iklama and Tugi’s family were present and a lovely table with food had been prepared.

We had taken a taxi part of the way and walked along the river wall where we were able to view the development of the town and the river. We looked down on many new outrages double story stand alone houses in the ritzy edge of town. A family was harvesting seeds from the wild trees growing along the river banks. We had to pick our way through fences and rubble to find a path in the general directn of where Tugsoo thought Tugi and Iklama’s apartment is. We did eventually find it, a new apartment in a new development on the sixth floor, no lifts.




The ceremony took place much as I have previously described. Firstly the child and then the first cutter takes a sip of special milk from a silver bowl and is handed the scissors with a blue silk tie. The first cuts of hair by the family are tied into another blue silk tie to be kept for a hand over ceremony when the cod reaches a good teenage age, say 18. When each person has cut aiece of hair and handed over gifts of money and presents there are more speeches and well wishes for the child’s destiny. Snuff bottles of tobacco like snuff and also shared as is vodka and wine.

Food keeps on coming all day.

We three left to then attend another ceremony of hair cutting across town. This time it was tugsoos relative. The house in in the ger district. Tugsoos sister is also a pasted at the local evangelical church and the congregation have. Built a simple timber structure next to their house. This is a coles area of houses and gers, lane ways, to fences and a multistory apartment building built out of slabs of second hand concrete. I don
T know how they can get away with this. Unench says it has been under construction the past five years and the give away was the multi-colored walls or mixed wallpapers that Alcorn the structure that we thought was being Demolished!



Interesting Times

Mongolia is undergoing many changes and this is a very interesting time to be here. Our last and first visit was in 2010. There was a sense of chaos then in regard to traffic and I note most people who comment on Mongolia usually write about the traffic; the seemingly distrust and disregard to road rules. Red lights then and now are taken as being non existent and pedestrian crossings as places to attempt to cross the road. India comes to mind. However, I suspect there is change on the way too with the traffic chaos. Even Unench was booked yesterday for illegal parking. If there is any sniff of alcohol on the breadth there is suspension of license. Rules are in place and now it looks as if they are being enforced. We are noting more cars pulled over by police with notebooks. There are a few more red lights installed, but even then they often do not make sense… Particularly on intersections where you would expect lights to help you make a right turn.

There are also visible concerns about the western influence on the Mongolian ways. It is illegal for advertising signs to be written in English; all signs are supposed to be written in Mongolian Cyrillic.there are many signs appearing throughout Ulaanbaatar in written in English. Mostly the say Internet Cafe or something to do with fashion or cafe or restaurant. No idea how this is policed or what the fines are. Now only the elderly seem to walk streets in traditional deep clothing. Young people are wearing western clothing and they appear to dress only in traditional clothing when we see the, performing in a concert.

Desert Sharing Exhibition – History Museum Ulaanbaatar

Desert Sharing: Two Women, Two Deserts, Two Cultures, One Friendship

In 2006 Mongolian artist Tugsoyun Sodnom travelled to Australia and met Melbourne artist Jenni Mitchell. They soon realized they shared a love of wild places; both previously spending much of their artistic pursuits and journeys into the deserts and countryside of their respective countries.

Excited to discover a kindred spirit in each other Jenni invited Tugsoyun along on a painting trip into the South Australian Flinders Rangers with partner artist Mervyn Hannan.

The three artists set off for a journey to Parachilna in the Northern Flinders Ranges. Togsuyon was surprised how many features of this rugged part of Australia reminded her of parts of countryside Mongolia. The wide expanse of horizon, the dry rugged cliffs and sandy soil had a familiarity; except for the fauna and vegetation which was fascinating in its difference and abundance for Togsuyon. Together as they journeyed the artists swapped the words for each feature of landscape and began learning and sharing customs. Even the use of soft dry pastel was a new experience for Tugsoyun who was more familiar with an oil pastel commonly used by Mongolian artists. The brilliant intensity of the хех тэнгэр; blue sky, was the same. As Tugsoyun shared stories of her beloved Mongolia Jenni and Mervyn vowed to visit and the project of Desert Sharing was born.

Days were spent painting together under the shade of ancient red river gum trees growing from the stony beds of the wide dry desert rivers. The gentle sound of the diamond dove call contrasted with the harsh screech of the many large flocks of white cockatoos along the river banks. And in the evening back at camp the artists marveled together at the spectacle of the wild sun fire as it set below the horizon backed by the beauty of a soft pink and mauve light.

On return from South Australia to Jenni’s Eltham studio Togsoyun and Jenni worked for several weeks side by side listening to the music of Mongolia, and sometimes that of Australia. The Mongolian traditional music seemed to fill the studio appropriately with a sound for the artists to paint the large canvases that followed. ‘I am usually more comfortable working alone, and yet with Tugsoyun sharing my space was easy, our work is quite different in appearance, but the essence derives from the same influence; that of the spirit of the landscape in its great expansiveness or the small fine detail as that of a small plant or composition of a stone.

The culmination of the three artists Flinders Ranges work came together in an exhibition held soon after at the Eltham Montsalvat Art Colony which was officially opened by the then Consulate for Mongolia, Peter Sloane who recognized the importance of the three artists embarking on an their cultural exchange in partnership, ideas and friendship.

Although Mitchell and Hannan were unable to join Sodnom until several years later; by invitation they were able to ship some paintings to Mongolia to be shown in two invitation exhibitions in Ulaanbaatar.

It was not until 2010 that Jenni and Mervyn embarked on their first visit to Mongolia; and their artist friends home city Ulaanbaatar.

Again the three artists were able to travel and work together. The first trip from Ulaanbaatar was made to Kharhorin; old capital city of Mongolia where once more they set up their paints and made sketches and small paintings of the Mongolian countryside.
‘The Mongolian Steppe appeared endless. In comparison to the breadth of an Australian desert landscape Mongolia’s countryside seemed even larger. The great Steppe plains interspersed by outcrops of green hills behind which lay further vast plains of countryside seemed to have no end’.

The fenceless countryside of Mongolia; a ger camp with family, herdsmen and satellite dish contrasts against an Australian with collections of tin sheds and outback humpies. Thousands of kilometers of fence posts and wire divide Australia into parcels of ownership. Nowadays the Australian outback station is more likely to be owned by an international syndicate and use light aircraft and bikes to muster stock that was once tendered by stockmen on horses.
The presence of the eagle is important in both landscapes: a symbol of the power and fragility of life.

You do not need to travel far across the Mongolian Steppe to find evidence of human life. From seemingly nowhere will appear a herdsman on a horse, or a small settlement of gers, a relic of a past Buddhist temple, an earlier carved stone or a fresh blue silk offering laid upon an Ovoo. In both our countryside’s bleached animal bones abound. These are among our countries differences and similarities and the subject of our paintings and photography.

The artists travelled together a second trip into the North Eastern Khentii Amig region to experience a different kind of landscape. This time, in Chinggis Khan birth country the landscape was more hilly with great open plains and rivers. The further north the more vegetation and birch forest appeared as a contrasting subject matter. Timber building constructions instead of Gers and a lot of water and swamp land to traverse. The abundance of wildflowers was fascinating to the Australians who were familiar with many of them at home as cultivated garden varieties.

The three artists have been preparing work over the past years from these journeys to present as the continuing story of Desert Sharing. Works from these share journeys will be on exhibition at two venue. The first exhibition opens at the History Museum May 28 Desert sharing ii and continues for one week, the second show in Ulaanbaatar, desert Sharing iii at the Union of Mongolian Artists gallery commencing June 35 for one week.

Selected Australian and Mongolian paintings, drawings, photographs and silk textiles will be presented across the two venues.

Each of the artists have travelled far in their pursuit of wild landscape including the Antarctic, The Arctic, Norway Africa, Europe as well as Australia and Mongolia.

The project will return to Australia In 2013 when Tugsoyun plans to return to Australia and continue the exchange of culture, landscape and exhibitions.

Ulaanbaatar May 22


Photo of paper mâché artist and some work.

Snow from last night could be seen on the hill surrounding Ulaanbaatar though very little had settled on the ground in the city. It felt very cold, reminded me of the arctic, temperature about 0 in the morning with a chill factor of -7. Exhilarating is one for it. The novelty wore off quickly and after a walk to some studios to meet some artist friends of Togsoo’s we returned to our apartment to spend the day organizing the show and writing. Mervyn finished stretching the canvases for the show. The state let the hot water run through the city pipes again today. The notice was that we would be another week without hot water. I wonder if the cold snap and the elections coming up soon inspired the hot taps to be turned on.