Monday, December 3, 2007


--Only two million of the five million people in Inner Mongolia speak Mongolian. The rest are Chinese. The genuine history is that Inner Mongolians helped with outer Mongolian independence. Outer Mongolians do not know the genuine history of Inner Mongolians, says Uchida, sitting across from his friend the exiled Inner Mongolian writer, T. --And they do not want to know. This is a problem. One man in Ts situation applied to the United Nations to be able to go to another country and he was only given a year in Sweden. Now because of the war in Iraq, Sweden is not accepting.

Uchida is from Japan. He works at an NGO in UB that does traditional Mongolian medicine and spent a long time studying Mongolian language in Inner Mongolia.
--How did you know T? I ask him.
-- I read T’s books before he got here, and I thought what he was writing was dangerous, and exciting, and I figured I would see him here in Ulaanbaatar before long.
I was at the gym when they called. They asked me to come join them—Uchida did, since T does not know enough English and my Mongolian stays terrible until I am talking one on one with a person in person.
I tell them I am thinking of going to Inner Mongolia. They tell me I should go to Irkutsk. Uchida gets animated when he describes the Mongolian dialect in Buryat, the place in Russia where 300000 ethnic Mongolians live. waving his hands, saying when they speak it is like music. I mentioned I wanted to take advantage of my golden Chinese visa and they supported the idea—you must go to Irkutsk, they tell me in Mongolian.

We wait for the editor of T’s recent, Outer-Mongolia published books, the editor whose wife fell off when she was debarking a bus and so we can’t go to his house, on Peace Street, West of Sukhbaatar square where Chinggis Khan sits and the ambassadors had to go lay wreaths at his feet this past Saturday. It is cold and Uchida keeps looking at my legs in their leggings (today was a skirt day) because the sympathetic cold he feels for me preoccupies and horrifies him. While we wait the two men recite the names of Western political leaders and ask if I like them.
--No! Except for the five hundred million dollars he gave Mongolia.
--Margaret Thatcher?
--Oogui! Charcher!
--Oh, Churchill.

--I need to make a nose hat, I tell them in Mongolian. My Mongolian has only just gotten to the point where people can tell when I speak it that I am rather an odd muffin.

The editor approaches and we head behind a building to a bar. He is gruff and they all three speak in Mongolian. His black eyes fix on me for a moment as he sips.
--You do not say gevch, you say gekhdee , he corrects me.
I try to listen for words I know, listen to the cadence. I am sleepy. I gulp my beer. We all leave.

--Minii okhoo, T said to me, my daughter. --Good girl, you studied well.
I knew Mongolians were inclusive and bighearted that way. I have only read half of one book about Mongolian history—too much is interesting in my waking world to want to leave it for a paged one--but that one book says over and over again how kinship expresses everything here.

1 comment:

samraat said...