Saturday, October 29, 2016

It's the Freedom I Love Best

I hate to say it aloud...but winter has arrived to Ulaanbaatar. On the Celsius scale we have sunk into the negatives and I expect we'll be there until after Tsagaan Sar (end of February this next year). While it snowed first in September, we've had a number of dustings in October. Here's a snapshot of Enji and I on the morning of October 5th as we departed to catch our school bus (which picks up just 50 yards from our apartment door--so nice!) 

The days are getting shorter and we will soon leave for school in the dark and return just as night descends. While the darkness drives me to *want* to be inside, it doesn't much affect Mongolians. When I look out our kitchen window and down onto the pedestrian plaza underneath it, it is always busy with people--adults and children--going this way and that. They are bundled up in their knee length coats, scarves, and hats. There are yet peddlers on the street. Example--the selling of pine nuts. I can't imagine the work of harvesting these little nuggets, but they are for sale everywhere. 
Pine nuts for sale on the plaza

And as Zorig tells me, ALL Mongols eat these. I have tried them, and I like them, but I am not adept at splitting open the little shells. Even with lots of practice. Zorig will buy a a little plastic bag holding about 4-5 cups of them for about 5,000 MNT, or maybe a little more. That's hardly more than $2. I'm beginning to think he's correct--I've observed pedestrians chewing away at them, watched drivers and passengers in vehicles chuck the shells out their window, AND while riding the public bus I've found the sliding window sills insulated with the empty husks. Yep, samar (mongolian word for nuts) are a popular pass time in Mongolia.

I was all alone for a couple stops
This past week we had book club (we read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. I felt "meh" about the book, but thoroughly enjoyed our discussions!). This time last year I felt uncomfortable walking and riding the bus around at night. I wanted to get home asap. While the cold can drive a person to do that, I am a year older and specifically, a year older at living in Mongolia. It WAS cold on Thursday night when I left the Teacher Apartments at ASU and hoofed it to the bus stop. But there were also less people out and about making it feel uch later than it was (only 8:30 PM). I hailed the bus driver of a number 55 bus....I don't think he planned to stop. But he did a rolling-door-open for me and I hopped on. I was the only person on for most of the trip--which compelled me to take my phone out and snap pictures. I NEVER do that anymore because it can make one a target for pick-pockets. My phone is on silent and tucked away for any and all bus rides--well except this one. :) 
One other passenger, going over Peace Bridge

I opted to ride the 55 a little farther to see which route it took past the Nomin San (Central library) stop. This led to me walking farther than planned--but now I know. It was a cold night...but there were lots of people out and about. In fact, when I arrived to the pedestrian plaza near home, there were a number of teens skateboarding around the Beatles Statue. I checked the weather when I got inside--it was a 16 F outside. I tried to think--would an American teenager be skateboarding in sub-freezing weather? I want to say "no"....but I'm not sure. Teens can be unpredictable. However, I'd certainly say that Mongolian teens are acclimated for this weather. 

As I rode that bus and walked home in the cold night air, I felt free and elated. I tried to think about how that compared to life in America--to discern what I like about living here the most. And just a couple days before Enji said to me:  "I have a question for you. And be totally honest! Have you ever regretted moving here?" 

"No. Never," I said emphatically, and smiled. There was NO hesitation or pause. It is the truth.

And yet, I know life here can frustrate me. And sometimes I pretend to imagine what it would be like if I returned to live in the U.S. When I do that, I realize all the things I would miss about living abroad, living in Mongolia. I would miss:

  • making way less but saving way more (incredible financial freedom--something I never experienced while living in the States); 
  • the incredible freedom of using public transportation (I LOVE that I ride a public bus and do not have stress around driving. Not to mention the cost!); 
  • the relative inexpensiveness of things: I cringe at the COST of everything in America; 
  • my free and in-the-moment shifting calendar of plans. I do not miss my overbooked schedule (in the US I often knew what I was doing weeks and months ahead of time) and LOVE the spontaneity that IS a way of life in Mongolia; 
  • the wide open expanses of land. Living in a country that is nearly fence-free does something to one's spirit that is difficult to put into words;
  • living in a culture where i perceive there is far less judgement and criticism--I experience it very much as a live-and-let-live experience.'s a different experience of FREEDOM. We talk a lot in the U.S. about how we are free country and we support many personal freedoms. However, I'd argue we cage and box ourselves in. I know freedom far more personally here.;
  • the way children can be found anywhere and are allowed to just be. Children run around restaurants and play with other children; parents aren't always confining them and making them be still. And no one is bothered--there is a collective "watching" that takes place. Also, the way older children watch after and genuinely ENJOY being with younger children. Mongolia does this really well!;
  • The directness of people saying what they want and need. Some perceive this as rude, I find it refreshing!!
There are, I'm sure, many other things. Us American Wives have been discussing this topic recently on our group page. With most raising children in mixed-culture homes there is always the question of how to hold traditions of both cultures. And how to do that when the can seem so very different from one another. I can see it in my discussions with Enji. He has only seen and known the Mongolian way of life; I try to share with him a Western approach. I am not trying to say one is better; but he will have some choices in his life and will perhaps want, in some cases, to make a more Western-like choice. That's the think with teens-becoming-adults--you can give them advice and suggestions and try to show and tell them what you think is best. But in the end, they are creating their own life and have to make their own path. 

I'll stop here with my musings. I have a weekend getaway to finish packing for. It will be my last trek outside the city for a number of months. I'll  leave you with a question to reflect on....or post your thoughts on: What do you love best about American culture or society (Or your home culture, if by chance you are not one my American friends or family members)?  If someone came to live in your country from somewhere else, what would you hope or wish for them to appreciate or feel the most?

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