Cultural Notes: This is the serious

The phrase “guys, this is the serious” came from an older, ex-military, rather grim, man who really wanted us to take him seriously. It was a beautiful moment. Anyway some points of culture.

-Bathrooms are not required to have toilet paper. You’d think this would be a priority, but no, almost half the bathrooms I go to have to be avoided from lack of paper. I’ve taken to carrying a wad of toilet paper in my pocket. Once I entered a bathroom, found all the stalls to be devoid of paper, and then found that someone had just locked me in.

-If it wasn’t clear yet, one walks around Ulaanbaatar even more than one walks around New York City. There will be a traffic jam, and I’ll just walk nearly two miles around it. My legs are in great shape. There’s also tendency for Mongolians to have very strong lower bodies. The first thing I noticed about Mongolian wrestlers is that they don’t have much upper body strength, compared to American wrestlers. Their legs, however, are huge. One wrestler I interviewed said this was connected to horse riding, because a good rider must have very strong legs.

-Streets don’t have names in Ulaanbaatar, except for Peace Avenue, the main street that runs the length of the city. Addresses are given in relation to landmarks. You might mail something to “across the street from x museum.” Fortunately most people have PO boxes.

-I found this in the Secret History of the Mongols: “Four items of Mongol law illustrate the character of Mongol society under Chinggis. Any person who eats in front of another without offering that person food must be executed. Anyone caught stealing anything of value may be freed after paying back nine times’ its worth. Anyone guilty of hurting a horse’s eyes must be executed. And anyone found indulging in homosexual practices should be executed.” I feel like this captures a lot of Mongolian culture. The hospitality rules, the obsession over horses, and the intolerance.

-An interesting incident. We were walking home from a restaurant Friday night, when we saw five Americans, two of whom were wearing the traditional Mongolian hat. We were all furious and complained about how rude these people were all the way home. But it’s a little hard to see why we would be offended by this. We, all the students on the trip, wore deels all over the countryside. I just bought a horuum (traditional jacket) and I have a wrestling uniform. I myself have a traditional hat, it was required for wrestling. I think we were offended because of the reason the Americans were wearing the hats: they look funny.

There’s a sense that modern Mongolians don’t really use the hat anymore. The only people wearing them are the little old street vendors and wrestlers. We don’t wear our deels in the city because no Mongolians wear deels in the city except for the older generation, at least over fifty, or people from the countryside. There’s also a sense that one wears clothing for a purpose. Many people in the city, mostly workmen, wear semi-traditional boots (the really traditional boots are less practical) and plenty wear haroom, which is a good lightweight jacket. But no one wears the hat unless they’re trying to get attention, like a street vendor, and very few of them. Wearing the hat as a joke is insulting to the culture.

I’m a little unsure of the whole system of clothing. There’s a lot going on there, I’m actually about to interview a guy about the symbolism of the hat.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s