Tuesday, May 22, 2007


One of my students was telling me recently that during the Soviet era, almost no books from other countries were available in Mongolia. The late Russian greats (Dostoevsky, Pushkin, et al.) were represented, but few others. My student mentioned that there were a few books though from America: Did I know "Goodbye to Arsenal"? At first, I did not. Then I realized that was because, while his transliteration was perfect, the novel is better known as Hemingway's 1929 novel, "Farewell to Arms." Another one: "The Little House of Uncle Tom."

In one sense, I was surprised there were any American books in Mongolia then; there are so few now. There is not currently a single real (ie, not used travelers' books) bookstore in Mongolia . Admon, the main publishing house, does have a small bookstore-ish store, but it is mainly textbooks and the like.

Around and on Sukhbaatar Square there are people selling old Mongolian books and a smattering of English texts but, for the most part, there is no way to cultivate a library in Mongolia, in any language. Literacy is high, which suggests that if people had books to read, they might, but poverty and a low population count mean that even if books were available, they'd be too expensive for most, and that Mongolian translations would be rare.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Abuse. Again.

Recently, I was awoken by two dogs barking and what I determined were six men yelling. The ruckus was coming from the small courtyard my bedroom window overlooks. The courtyard, which fits about 12 cars, is enclosed on two sides by my L-shaped building.

I thought the noise would stop after the dogs growled away their typically somewhat imaginary predators, but it didn't. I got up out of bed and looked out my window. There, the six men were kicking, over and over, a person on the ground who was not moving.

"Hey!" I yelled out of my third-story window. "Hey!"

They looked up. Far off, a car turned on its headlights in our direction and looked as though it was going to come our way. The men looked at each other, looked at me, and then dragged the still unmoving person to the arched gateway that leads to the courtyard.

The car turned off in a different direction. The six men actually dragged the person back out into the courtyard and had the audacity to start kicking the person again.

This time, I didn't say anything. I just stood there, in my white tee-shirt watching them, letting them know I was watching them. They dragged the body off again and then I didn't see them anymore.

To me, Mongolian culture plays a significant role in this. Mongolian boys grow up wrestling (re: fighting) one another. No one stops it because it's deemed athletic, no matter how many people end up with black eyes. Alcohol also obviously plays a part. As does the seeming acceptance, or the belief of inevitability, of domestic violence.

Still, that does not make violence okay. And if I heard everything that was going on, so did every single other person who has a window facing that courtyard. Yet not one other light went on, not one other person yelled anything out their window. I know one of the men in the courtyard was wearing a red baseball cap, but that's all I can say with certainty. Had one of my neighbors looked out the window though, I'd bet they could identify the hat-wearer. I bet they know his parents. But my neighbors kept to their beds, seemingly placing their heads under their pillows, hoping the noise would stop so they could get back to sleep.

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