Monthly Archives: December 2013

Christmas in Ulaanbaatar, Christmas in Asia


It’s actually New Year’s that’s celebrated in Mongolia, but the lights, songs and “Father Frost” are all very similar to what’s done for Christmas elsewhere in Asia.

In overwhelmingly-Buddhist Japan, the decorations were already in full swing when we were there in late November: lots and lots of lights, plus Christmas pop music and gift-shopping promotions. Malaysia, which has a substantial Christian population, also makes big deal of Christmas with public spaces decorated, music everywhere and, again, shopping promotions.

Mongolia got a lot of its New Year’s decorations and the Father Frost/Santa analog character from Russia in the Soviet era. Secular for sure, but definitely skews Christmas. There’s a decorated tree in the main square (photo at right), and Father Frost comes to parties in blue (or red) and white robes with a long, white beard. And his scantily-clad female helpers.

People like a celebration at the end of the year, and adding the Christmas trappings jazzes up New Year’s, as well as extending the festive time. Most offices have an evening party that includes dinner, dancing, often gifts and hours of dressing up time. (People seem to leave work around 3:00 those days, and beauty parlors are packed.) My office joined a big party for civil society organizations, which was fun and more economical, as well as bringing all of us different causes together. The husband’s office had its own big party, plus Monita, the equivalent of Secret Santa.

It’s all a lot of fun, but Ulaanbaatar is no refuge from those wretched, overplayed songs that seem to be everywhere. Generally kind of excruciating, but I had a delightful moment walking with a young colleague last week as she was cheerfully singing, “…Santa Claus will coming to town!”

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: | 2 Comments

Contest Entry: Top Tips for Moving from Malaysia to Mongolia


I entered this blog in a writing contest for expat blogs, where we were asked to write a list that would be helpful for people to know about our country. The number of people moving from Malaysia to Mongolia is so small — though we do know a few — that I had to go a bit tongue-in-cheek with my list.

A Three-Month Retrospective: Some Things to Know in Case You’re in That Tiny Group of People Who Move from Malaysia to Mongolia:

1.    Forget the calendar — no matter that it may still be warm in much of the northern hemisphere — and put those sandals in storage. Hide your cotton shirts and “sweaters” too. When you see them in the drawer, they’ll either make you feel cold or sad.

2.    Pack plenty of spices and chilies. Not only in your shipped luggage for your own kitchen, but in little packets to keep in your purse or pocket for everyday. You will understand why, and thank me, when you start eating Mongolian food.

3.    The language difference is profound: Malay is much easier to pick up than Mongolian, and you can find lots of English speakers in Malaysia if you need help. This is not the case in Mongolia.

4.    Counter to the Asian stereotype, Mongolians will say no and are generally much more direct than Malaysians. This can be refreshing, but it may also feel a bit abrupt.

5.    Relatedly, Mongolians are much more open about bodily functions, especially sexuality, than most Malaysians, and all of it is fun to laugh about.

6.    If you move with your overfed American cat, he or she may well exceed the airline weight limit on all possible routes, and you will look like a freak for travelling with a cat in the cabin. Just smile and assume there are some animal lovers among the airline personnel – it’s just a matter of finding them.

7.    Mongolians, unlike Malaysians, aren’t interested in what religion you are, nor will they ask you about it.

8.    The good news is that you can let pedicure maintenance slide (see #1 above). The bad news is Hat Hair.

9.    You will miss the lively political discussions you used to have with Malaysian taxi drivers.

10.    In Mongolia, there is no such thing as too much moisturizer. In Malaysia, there is no such thing as too many umbrellas.

11.    If you’re American, you will be surprised and a bit embarrassed at how many more of your fellow countrymen and –women have heard of Mongolia than Malaysia.

12.    Mongolians don’t talk about their president’s wife. I’m just saying.

13.    There is no escaping big, dumb American action movies. Same goes for Pringles.

14.    You will remember that seasonal change means much more than just how many times a week it rains. And you will learn that seasonal change in Mongolia does not mean getting to put your coats away.

15.    Alcohol is MUCH cheaper in Mongolia, which can be good until some drunk guy bounces off you on the sidewalk.

16.    Consider either Mauritania or Macedonia as possible next expat stops, because it will seem as if you’ve made random moves until people work out the alliteration.

17.    Note that diplomacy between the two countries has been a bit dodgy, and you may want to google “Altantuya” to find out more about this history.

18.    Durian is much more appealing than mutton. Scientific research data backs me up.

19.    Re: #18 above, Malaysia totally kicks butt in the Quality of Life Category – Local Fruit, but Mongolia has the edge in Quality of Life Category – The Unexpected. Anything can happen here.

20.    Regardless of which place you’re living, you are an outsider and thus an object of curiosity. People will stare at you. It doesn’t matter.

21.    (I won’t repeat the platitude about maintaining a sense of humor, but if I were to do so, it would be here at #21.)

Thanks to all of you who commented and shared this contest entry.
Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

Winter Visit to Khustai National Park


8:00 on a December Morning

We had a much-appreciated visit from my parents recently, who braved the onset of Mongolian winter to check out our new home. They had a trip scheduled to Japan, so we met there for a day in Kyoto, followed by two days at Naoshima, and then we all came back to UB. Showing them around was my opportunity to visit the Zanabazar Fine Art Museum and the National Museum of Mongolia, both of which are excellent.

We then headed out to see the countryside and spend the night in a ger camp. Khustai (there are multiple spellings; this is my version) National Park is close to UB, extremely beautiful AND has herds of wild horses. The takhi, as they’re known in Mongolian, “Przewalski’s horse” to other parts of the world, are an ancient wild horse that were reintroduced to Mongolia after becoming extinct in the wild. Wikipedia has a good overview here that explains the horses’ history and how they differ from domestic horses and their descendents — the wild horses of the western U.S., for example, are descended from domestic horses. Takhi have a different number of chromosomes, so they separated from other horses a LONG time ago.

IMG_0893Winter is a good time to see them, as they’re not as far up into the hills. We were able to get quite close, as you can (sort of) see from this photo. And yes, the fixed photo at the top of the blog is also takhi, taken when we visited UB in August before moving here.

The other adventure was spending the night in a traditional ger, a.k.a. yurt. IMG_0897 Here’s view of my accommodation. Very colorful and nice for tourists, but the same size and configuration as what a family would use. The stove is in the center, beds/couches on the periphery. The doors always face south, and it also is traditional, I just learned, to enter the doorway and head to the left, the area for guests. (I have noticed in stores that I instinctively head right, whereas Mongolian people are more likely to go left. Now I know why.) The walls are lined with carpet, which provides some insulation, but in the middle of the night when the fire had gone out, IT WAS COLD. We all had a good time, though, and there was something really satisfying about being there with no other tourists and seeing the landscape in the snow. The picture at the top of this post was taken in the morning as I went for breakfast. Stunningly beautiful.

NOTE A bit of self-promotion here: I am very pleased to be a new featured blog on, and the badge on the right side of this blog will take you to the Mongolia page there, where this blog is listed. Expats Blog is running a writing contest starting on December 16, for which I entered a post of tips for people moving from Malaysia to Mongolia. Because that’s a very small subset of people, the list is quite tongue-in-cheek, but please take a look, and if you like it, leave a comment there. And thanks for reading.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

About the Air Pollution

I am working on a grant proposal that’s due Sunday and don’t have time to write a full post. Meanwhile, here are two recent and very interesting posts from other blogs about the air pollution problem in Ulaanbaatar.

This one, Life in a Toxic Cloud, was recently published in The Huffington Post, and this one, What’s in a Mask, was written by an expat living in UB and working in media. It’s not just China’s pollution getting international attention.

As they note, the question of masks comes up all the time here. As both my mother and mother-in-law are regular readers, I will say quickly that, yes, we have the fancy masks. Just don’t ask if I wear it every day, because there are lots of excuses not to: my walk to work is short (eight minutes if I have to wait for red lights), the air doesn’t seem that bad, no one else seems to…blah, blah.

Tomorrow I definitely will. Try.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Art Island — Naoshima, Japan

This was our second Thanksgiving in Japan since moving to Asia. There is something familiar about Japan that doesn’t feel as foreign to us. We both lived there for short periods of time. We speak a little of the language. We know how to get from place to place and the customs and every day life are not as foreign as many other places. And, thanks to friends, we knew about this beautiful island that even many Japanese have never heard of.


This may look like a shot of gers in Mongolia but they are actually on Naoshima Island in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan. Known as the Art Island, Naoshima is now much more than just art. There are restoration projects of traditional Japanese houses, a sustainable rice growing project, environmental education and of course fabulous art both in the museums and outside in parks, on the side of cliffs, in our hotel room — just about everywhere you look.


Beach installation based on Jennifer Bartlett Yellow and Black Boats , 1985 which hangs in the Benesse House Museum

Here is a short description and history of how Naoshima came to be. No pictures from inside the galleries but here is a taste of the outside installations from around the island.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , | 4 Comments

Blog at

Ms. Muslamic

Islamic Feminism, Postcolonialism, Pop Culture, Ray Guns and Creeping Sharia

Hye Rachel

Give me all the lamajoon you have. What I'm worried you heard was "give me a lot of lamajoon." What I said was, give me all the lamajoon you have.

Judds in Mongolia

Learning and Teaching in the Land of the Blue Sky


Expat life and travels in Mongolia

Interfaith Ramadan

Expat life and travels in Mongolia

To Mongolia with Love

The views expressed on this blog do not reflect the opinion of the US Peace Corps or the United States Government

Dedicated to Durians

Malaysian Durian Lover's Reference Site

Cover Mongolia

Expat life and travels in Mongolia

Help Each Other Out

Expat life and travels in Mongolia


Expat life and travels in Mongolia


follow me to the ends of the earth...

The Daily Post

The Art and Craft of Blogging

The Blog

The latest news on and the WordPress community.