Tuesday, May 6, 2008

152


So the part of my life being eaten by the manuscript is over, suddenly. It was with me through the convolutions of my life changing and winter ending and spring beginning. In January I would shower, make coffee in my almost broken Chinese coffee maker with terrible King coffee coffee grounds, sit down at my kitchen table and work my way through the awful English translation of (director of Mongolian National Library) Dr. Akim's wolf manuscript, a 126-page manuscript every sentence of which needed to be rewritten. I still went to the gym (have only in the last two weeks become comfortable taking taxis here, which rip me off and which are just regular civilian cars with regular guys in them; friends of mine have been driven off with and I didn't want to take the risk; the funny thing is I walked miles every day in -25 cold in December, January, and February and now that it's warming up I take cabs…) and watched Russian MTV and did things that made me feel like a bad editor and a slacker. I would usually have a lesson with Tuya after that so sometimes I would take a break from manuscript rewriting and do Mongolian grammar.

At the reading, which was held in the National Library, everyone important in my life here was there—Todd, Michael, James, and Amanda, some of my closest expat friends; Jamukh and Deggii, two hardcore bonewearing punkrock poets from Mongolia who are always at the center of the arts; Dr. Akim; and Bill the head of Mongolia's Asia Foundation (the guy who generously funded the publication) and his awesome wife Betina; Eggii and Davaa who take care of me at the Asia Foundation when I need to do things like find an apartment; Chilaajav my boss at the Writer's Union who is also the head of TV and radio and just got back from a 4 city tour of the US for conferences and who spoke for a good fifteen minutes after the reading and checked his phone during; Mend-Oyoo, who heretofore as Chilaajav's archrival had not looked me in the eye and today introduced me and had me come up and stand in front; Batsukh my Mongolian grandpa who gives me guitar lessons and came to my house with a package for his grown daughter for me to take to Seoul where she lives and studies; Pete, the head of the largest bank in Mongolia, Khan bank; and perhaps best of all Tumen, the exiled Inner Mongolian writer I just helped to get UN refugee status for.

Akim was in the hospital up until right before the event—he was still there the morning of. He's your basic brilliant and sometimes confused old guy who still works and teaches and is usually home resting by 3pm. He had disappeared the weekend before, when the book manuscript needed badly to go to print but we didn't want to do it without his final approval, and we found out after the fact that he'd been in the hospital. Chilaajav had been in a private hospital once and I'd gone to see him there. It was like a subpar hotel where they were just monitoring, tested him. It's not a surprise that the older Mongolian men I know have heart problems. Just look at how they live.

So the book went to press late and for some reason the publisher, Edo, needed to send it to Beijing. So we found out at about 2pm, the book event being at 5pm, that there was no book. All 1500 copies were still in Beijing. Welcome to Mongolia. Bill was pissed, and I felt bad because no one could help that Akim had been sick and unable to give his approval til later. But by 5pm, Eggii had found someone somewhere who produced 16 copies of the book. Welcome to Mongolia. It looked great. We're still not sure why Edo needed to send stuff to Beijing.

Two weeks ago I lived at Edo for two days, manually putting in every tiny grammatical change, worrying over how to capitalize words in chapter headings, being served salty milk tea by the tank top wearing young guy on my side of the office and fending off the head of Edo, who worked on the other side but asked me out when he gave me a ride back even though we had just been talking about his wife and children. I came back an extra day because halfway through my first stay at Edo, the power went out. Entire aimags don't have power right now. There are some blinking lights on the street that blink at 6am when no one is out or awake and the lights aren't needed, and then they take the power out of entire districts of the city and counties of the country. I guess a boiler exploded? At the central power place? That's what I hear anyway.

So everyone was there. And the room was packed. And I gave an interview afterwards in Mongolian for the TV cameras that were there. Akim and I read two passages, him in Mongolian and me in English, and Bill spoke about the efforts I had made to help create a PEN chapter for Mongolia—and that this book is an example of the kind of thing that a Mongolian chapter of International PEN would make possible.

I think the best part was just watching Akim's eyes light up when his oldest and closest friends showed up. He and I were trying to rehearse—I was trying to get him to rehearse—the parts I had chosen to read (he made me choose) in his office and people started pouring in. Akim had naturally been looking a little under the weather what with heart problems and such, and it was so fantastic to see the sweet old man belly-laughing his ass off with his oldest friends. I got away with only three shots of vodka before the reading, and that was by escaping early. Akim's old friends filled up the front row and laughed at him and talked and applauded a lot. It was truly a transformation for Akim—from a tired old guy to this spritely happy tipsy old guy. Bill had the idea to do this event as something nice for Akim just because he thought Akim was sweet and wonderful, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

It was a success. People could understand me when I read, I didn't read too fast, and they said they'd never read Mongolian literature translated into English that was nice to read/hear, so I did what I wanted to do.

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