Sunday, September 6, 2015

Inside the Mongolian Mind

Statues in a park just off of Chinggis Square
Does planning for a worst-case-scenario invite said scenario into your life? Or does being prepared for it make it easier if/when it happens? This is a bit like our chicken or the egg conundrum, if you ask me. 

Zorig and I recently had a detailed discussion about this topic. I did my best to explain the American viewpoint, and he did his best to help me understand the Mongolian perspective. I'll attempt to share our differing lenses with you now. 

On occasion, Zorig will leave the city and travel to the countryside on trips with fisherman or to do reconnaissance for future trips. While I would love to accompany him, my job is a Western job and requires me to work M-F, with the exception of our holiday breaks. So, on occasion he may be gone for one or two weeks while I remain at home and continue my work. While I do feel at home in our apartment, in the city, and in getting to and back from Zaisan (where work is), soon the weather will change, it will be getting dark earlier, and there may be a situation where I need help or assistance. That is one thing that prompted me to ask the "worst-case-scenario" question. Additionally, I wanted to know--"if you get injured, or worse, while on one of your trips, what will I, or do you, expect of me?" 

Zorig evaded my question at first. In a way, he kind of pooh-poohed me. Upon pushing for a response, he asked me, "why do you think about such bad things? Why exactly do Americans want to talk about these things? Mongolians-we never speak of them." The discussion moved on and here is what I gleaned from his sharing. Mongolians feel that planning for bad things, making preparations, calls those very things to you. I can understand this perspective, this way of thinking. It's a bit like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Norman Vincent Peale began talking about this decades ago with his Power of Positive Thinking; and it was reiterated in recent years via The Secret

I also, however, understand the flip-side. Americans, in general (and perhaps this applies to all Westerners...I'm not sure), are encouraged to and like to have a plan for what a family member's wishes/wants are, IN CASE something bad does happen. We encourage people to have Wills, and Living Wills, and DNR instructions. We fill out forms designating our beneficiaries for our retirement funds and life insurance policies. We are encouraged to talk with our parents about their wishes about funerals/memorials/and what becomes of their belongings when they pass. When we go on vacation, we leave itineraries and contact information with those behind. This seems reasonable to me and it is, of course, what I was raised to believe and do.

All that shared, we arrived at an impasse. My way of thinking is perceived as asking for bad fortune to occur. His way of thinking causes me to feel uninformed or unprepared. Obviously, the longer I am here, the less I will need to know what he wishes in the event of catastrophe--I will be more at home and more rooted here as time passes (with the language, with my family, etc), and I will know him better as well. He has provided small guidance on whom I am to contact if/when I can't reach him in an emergency, but I also know that I will be relying on my American Wives and perhaps a person or two from ASU. But really, I can't make him concede and answer all my worries or questions. On this point, to keep our good fortune and positive outlook, I simply have to step forward into the unknown. 

To my Mongolian readers--if any of this feels not quite correct, feel free to comment and share your thoughts/opinions. To my Western readers--of course your thoughts are always invited as well. 


  1. I wanted to thank you for this post and also the whole blog. I am planning to move to Mongolia in 10 months, sight unseen, to teach English and I appreciate your view and insights. Thank you for sharing your new country and your thoughts/feelings!!

    1. Hello Cheryl. Thanks for the feedback....and sorry for the delayed approval. I was off in the countryside for a week. Mongolia is a whole new world, no doubt, but I am loving life here. It's very free and open.