Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Down Side of Naadam

As is clear by now, I really love the Mongolian horses, and one of the most fun parts of a small-town Naadam was having horses all around us. People just seemed to bring ’em along from wherever they came from and were riding all over town. Horses were tied up by the food tents like a row of parked cars, and The Husband kept goading me into making an offer for this one or that.


Child jockeys.

Horse racing is one of the three Naadam sports, celebrating the tough glory/glorious toughness of traditional Mongolia, and the horse racing now includes a ton of prestige and a whole lot of money. Not only is the prize money high, but people invest and spend huge sums on training and pampering their best horses. It’s no longer the pure, romantic gallop over the steppes, but it’s understandable. The problem is who’s riding those pampered race horses.

Child jockeys.

As young as five years old, little boys ride full-out for 30 or 60 kilometers/18.6 or 37 miles bareback. It’s horrifying. This boy below actually seems old for the sport — the idea is to minimize the weight on the horse in order to maximize speed.

10484217_10152622388285746_5290746835543897710_oHere’s another boy post-race:
I kept looking for some positive side to this, asking our guide what the jockeys gain by racing, and there’s not much for the boys. Apparently, all the prize money and prestige goes to the horses, so what families value is having a winning horse, not a winning jockey.
To me, this definitely meets the standard of “harmful traditional practices” (though I am aware the term is usually applied to female genital mutilation, child marriage and dowry-related violence) because it’s so shockingly dangerous. The UB Post published a paid message from some of the international NGOs here that talked about how they understand this to be a deeply-held tradition and want to be sensitive to that tradition, but, really, perhaps it’s time to reconsider? Mongolia signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child back in 1990, so there are grounds to argue that child jockeys violate an international treaty that Mongolia agreed to uphold. I’m not sure, though, what it will take to stop this. The rights framework is there, and certainly it would be easy enough to set minimum weight standards for jockeys to meet.

We actually saw very little of the race itself. There’s an old belief that following the dust of four-year-old racehorses is lucky (see what I mean about all status accruing to the horse? I guess it’s good that the best luck ISN’T associated with four-year-old jockeys.) and over time too many people were on the course. In their Land Cruisers. So, we watched from a hill above, then went to the finish when the little clouds had passed by.
IMG_1357Hard to see, in more ways than one.

(NB: The two middle photos were taken by our visiting friend with the good camera.)

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Naadam Festival, Ulaanbaatar 2014

For those of you who read Spanish. (A friend points out that this is not written in Spanish, although understandable to a Spanish speaker. Perhaps it is Catalan? My apologies to Ms. Manzanares for the error.) Here is another take on Naadam, this time in Ulaanbaatar.

My sister-whom-I-haven’t-met also has a post in this blog about the difficulty of eating healthily in Mongolia. Hear, hear!

Alba Saura Manzanares

Mongòlia és un país desconegut per a la majoria de nosaltres tot i tenir una història mil.lenària la mar d’interessant i una cultura rica i molt ben conservada al llarg dels segles. Enguany he tingut l’oportunitat de viure a Ulaanbaatar (Улаанбаатар)  la capital, la festivitat del Naadam (Наадам) que significa ‘jocs’ i que és la festa més important que viu el país en tot l’any. El nom original és “эрийн гурван наадам” que significa “els tres jocs dels homes” els quals són la lluita lliure, les carreres de cavalls i el tir amb arc.


Uns jocs que es duen a terme entre els dies 11 i 16 del mes de juliol al llarg de tot el país i en els quals participen homes i dones, excepte en la lliuta lliure que de moment segueix reservant-se exclusivament al gènere masculí. El festival es desenvolupa majoritàriament al voltant de l’Estadi Nacional de Mongòlia, a Ulaanbaatar…

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Naadam, Small Town Mongolia

We got the very good advice to spend Naadam, Mongolia’s biggest holiday, in one of the smaller towns rather than in Ulaanbaatar. Naadam celebrates Mongolia’s three “manly sports:” horse racing, wrestling and archery. People come together for a few days, wear their best clothes and enjoy the competitions. It was so much fun.
The night before the official opening, the town had a concert that we were able to attend. It seemed like the entire population was there, all dressed up and greeting each other, while the acts ranged from groups of dancers, teenagers playing instruments, the high school marching band and some interesting fusions of traditional and modern music. Some of the performers had done too much karaoke and overestimated their talent, but some were excellent. And who doesn’t love a group of ten year olds playing recorders?
The opening ceremony was a mix of Mongolian history and folklore and local celebration, many of which featured horses.
IMG_1304The governor rode in on a horse, too:

1655664_10152622384730746_9138688145067128035_oThere were also dances and then a parade. The marching band:
IMG_1322Some of the town leaders:
IMG_1326Wrestlers of all ages:
IMG_1331Wrestling competition underway:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMuch as I appreciate the skill of archery, and the fact that women also compete, it’s not all that interesting to watch.
10494516_10152622387530746_1330336689149265954_oThe clothes were gorgeous.
(Photos of governor and archers were taken by our visiting friend.)

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July Comes to Mongolia

When we were visiting Mongolia for the first time last August, we met an expat who told us there are two seasons in Mongolia: winter and July. Well, July is here, and summer is in full swing. The photo above is one of many flower beds planted around the central city, and there are new benches and sidewalk paintings as well. More people are out selling things, too, not just at the little tables that are out almost all year round, but kiosks selling ice cream and camping gear — summer stuff.IMG_1266

Mongolia’s biggest national holiday, Naadam, starts at the end of next week. I’ll write more about that later, when we actually get to see some events; for now, it’s enough to say that this is the beginning of the national vacation, similar to Europe in August. Only our two most junior staff will be working after next week, and the poor dears will just be organizing the files and answering the phone (if it rings). There’s a giddiness in the office now, way more joking around than usual, and it feels like the last few days of the school year. The husband reports that many men in his government office have stopped wearing jackets and ties and started wearing short-sleeved shirts to work. One of them is even wearing a baseball cap in the office! Around here it’s all flowery sundresses, sandals and two-hour lunch breaks.

The other common sight/street hazard is rain puddles. Big ones. This time of year, it rains for a little while most days. Most of Mongolia’s precipitation happens in July and August, and average total rainfall for these two months is 161 mm/6.3 inches, which is not much but enough to stress the stormwater drainage system. The photo below shows a typical scene: three kiosks and a puddle that was at 2/3 capacity when I took the photo. People place rocks and bricks to step across, which is fine if you can creep along against the wall of a building. There’s NO WAY I’m going to risk stepping through the middle.


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