Trips and Tales (Part 105)
Enough about work for a minute, something that stands out repeatedly in my (limited) dealings with Mongolian nationals and in the tales of those (such as RM) who have sampled Mongolian hospitality is just how friendly and welcoming the Mongolian people are.
I suppose that a note of reality, even common sense has to be included; one that applies equally to many nations I am sure. In a country containing (a relatively modest) 2.9 million souls there’s plenty of variety for the whole gamut of character types to exist. Also as a paying or professional guest; you are already pre-disposed to be amongst folk that will be decent to you. Then there is the curiosity factor that arises when new, “interesting” people enter your country: hardly to be regarded by the same criteria as familiar locals. So yes, generalisations have limited use and plenty of potential pitfalls. Check out the Mongolian melon smugglers back in Trips and Tales (Part 85) for instance.
But, so far, I really like them. Am I detecting a certain, mischievous sense of humour? A predisposition to see how far these interloping, game Westerners will go when it comes to loading up with Kumis (fermented mare’s milk)? or eating something bizarre, pulled from the insides of a horse? There’s a tale coming up in a later in Trips and Tales that involves tourist camp organisers handing out the Mongolian vodka and then getting their charges involved in a little free-style traditional wrestling. Oh, it’s for entertainment all right, but who’s? Hmm. I think I’ll rest my case there for now.
Anyway RM didn’t get to try the Kumis; apparently it was out of season. That would appear to tally with his comments on the Mongolian winter: freezing conditions means no foals; means no mare’s milk. I assume that’s the chain of logic. Mind you I don’t detect a great deal of remorse in that regard. “You’ll probably get dysentery the first time you drink it,” a local woman had told him, helpfully. Is that true? Hmm, hardly a tag line for the ad campaign in any case. However, RM did indeed go for the “boiled horse colon”, which probably looks more appetising written in Mongolian script. And the verdict: well, he’s hard-pushed to settle at “OK”. Anything else? “It’s chewy,” he replies.
He then quotes a cautionary anecdote about somebody-or-other’s international guest who arrived to find that his beaming hosts had prepared a butchered lamb for him, as a gift. No worries, I’ll just pop it into my suitcase and take it back to the hotel; I can envisage that line of dialogue ensuing. The guest never returned, no doubt wondering if he did: what other poor beast would have to die in his honour. Or: he was a vegetarian, something that is not the norm in Mongolian culture. Well, it even provokes comment in ours for goodness’ sake, still. But with exposure to outsiders, it is easing in to Mongolian awareness. I was 20+ years behind the Quorn burgers before I caved in and started eating fish again, and that may help on a trip to Mongolia because, fellow pescaterians (piscaterians?): they fish.
Leading on from the awkward lamb-gift scenario, RM presents his take on the potential for etiquette gaffes that may force you pre-emptively do all manner of things out of politeness. “They are generally quite accepting,” he states, and such horror stories are “overstated” in his view. I suppose some common sense applies: the more familiarity with Westerners and their “funny ways”, the more understanding and forgiving they are likely to be. Sounds fair?
[Photo by Constantine Agustin]