Wednesday, July 1, 2015

10-year anniversary: inaugurating the Mongolia Inside & Out series

This summer marks my 10-year anniversary with Mongolia.

2005: looking out over the Tamir River in Arkhangai Province, I can see my future rolling inexorably towards me through the lavender sunset and rain clouds

In the summer of 2005, having recently graduated and now looking for some adventure, I joined the Silk Road Foundation's expedition to the Xiongnu cemetery at Tamiryn Ulaan Khoshuu.  Little did I know that those four weeks would put into motion a chain of events that would shape my professional trajectory and personal decisions for the next decade.  In fact, the consequences of those beautiful summer days on the bluffs overlooking the Tamir River are still unfolding.

2005: who's that girl in the neon-pink shirt excavating a Xiongnu/Khunnu burial at Tamiryn Ulaan Khoshuu?
This summer heralds another anniversary: exactly five years ago I organized and led my first field research expedition here in Mongolia.

2010: back for more archaeology in the same neon-pink T-shirt (Bulgan Province)

It was a 3-week, informal reconnaissance survey with a tiny team, but it was still my first experience as a project manager and a team leader.

2010: finding our way between Ulaanchuluut and the Khunnui River in Arkhangai Province
In addition to 10 years of experience in Mongolia and 5 years of experience leading field teams here, I've now lived and worked in Mongolia for two full years.

2014: teaching field methods and introduction to Mongolia archaeology in the Khunnui valley, Arkhangai

In all this time, through all the ups and downs, I've accumulated a lot of practical experience and knowledge that travelers, students, researchers, expats, and anyone coming to Mongolia for adventure might find interesting or useful.

2007: milking a mare in Tuv Province - just one of many useful skills I picked up in rural Mongolia

2013: dressing for off-season fieldwork in Bulgan Province - how to stay warm with flair (i.e., advanced chullo-wearing skills)

To mark my 10-year anniversary, I've decided to start a 'crash-course' series of posts on Mongolia, based on what I know and organized around a variety of topics.  This Mongolia Inside & Out series will start at 101 and keep leveling up as I think of relevant topics or get feedback on subjects and issues that you, my audience, want covered.  Leave a comment if there is a particular topic or area that you'd like me to address; if I feel that can, I will!

2014: I now feel equipped to give advice on winter travel and all-season ovoo observance (Ugii Lake in November)

Why "Mongolia Inside & Out"?  My perspective on Mongolia is inherently dual. On the one hand, I am 'inside' Mongolia: I have made it my home for the last two years, I have gained 10 years of first-hand experience through my time in the country, and I have made Mongolia the focus of intense, long-term study and reflection.  On the other hand, I am forever 'out' when it comes to Mongolia: I am a foreigner (gadaad khun), neither fluent in the language nor seamlessly integrated into the culture, and will thus always look somewhat from the outside in when it comes to Mongolia and all Mongolia-related phenomena.

Inside AND out of the birthing cave, as my sins are washed away and my spirit renewed in the hidden canyon of 108 caves of Danzanravjaa (Dornogovi Province)

These posts will be a mix of the academic, the pragmatic, and the personal, full of suggestions and opinions rather than in-depth analysis.  The dual "inside and out" perspective that I bring to Mongolia is an inherently subjective one, based on my experiences and informing my recommendations for others.

2007: I personally recommend traveling by horse whenever possible (Dundgov' Province).
It's as simple as that!

My aim with this course is to share what I know in the hopes that it will help future researchers, travelers, and students build a great experience during their time in Mongolia.  Mongolia is a wonderful place that challenges even the most seasoned field veterans.  I've struggled through a lot of setbacks, crises, and difficulties over the past 10 years; if my perspective can help you, at least some good came out of all the stress and strain.

2013: my advice?  Don't worry about how your efforts look from the outside.  Whether you're struggling with a major career upheaval, the logistics of a research project, or pumping airag near Manzushir monastery, hard work may look awful on the surface.  But struggles and strain are all about what you take from the experience (especially when it's home-made airag)

Stay tuned for the 101 post in the Mongolia Inside & Out series.  The series will share my advice and perspective on everything related to making the most of your time in Mongolia: domestic transportation, cultural norms, Ulaanbaatar vs. the countryside (khuduu), ger etiquette and steppe hospitality, and where to get the best burger in Ulaanbaatar.  So come along for the ride that's 10 years in the making!

2007: plenty of horses (and opinions!) to go around in Tuv Province

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