Archive for the ‘WOW!’ Category

Orangutan Rehab

Went to the Orangutan Rehab center for orphaned orangutans this morning. Amazing, amazing.  Species is seriously endangered–only 20,000 left, and they said they could be extinct in 10 years at current rate.  Horrifying.

It was linked to a big 5 star resort, which was weird, but they are apparently stage one of the rehab process, raising the orphans and teaching them to swing, climb, etc.  They currently have two 4 year olds, who were gallivanting around in the jungle reserve, and a 7 month old.  Photos below.

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Kazakh Eagle Festival

I went to the Eagle Festival yesterday.  TWice a year the Kazakhs hold their Eagle festival, showing off the huntings skills of their magnificent birds.  The first event is in October, in the west and is difficult to get to both geographically and, for a working teacher, practically.  Fortunately, they hold their second festival in Ulaanbaatar in ‘spring’–that balmy time of year when temperatures soar into the -10s.

Enveloped in multiple layers,  a few of the other teachers and I trekked to the Grand Khan Irish Pub (how’s that for a set of words you never thought you’d see together?) to catch the bus to Bogd Mountain, about 20 km outside the city.  It’s a sign of Mongolia’s lack of habitation that a mere 20 minutes outside the city, you’d never know it was there,  as the hills and steppes stretched around us.  It wasn’t actually snowing, but crystals floated through the air, sparkling like glitter, lending a surreal atmosphere to the surroundings.

There were probably only a couple hundred people there, including a crew from National Geographic Kids, and we had to do a lot of milling around waiting for the exhibition to start.  After a somewhat ridiculous fashion show inside the central ger–with marble floors no less (and who knew the inside of a ger could actually be colder than the outside?), we all trooped out into the sun again to the start of the opening parade.

Golden Eagles are about the most majestic bird I have ever seen, and far larger than you would think. Watching the hunters on their  ponies, in traditional dress with the birds perched on their arms, one had a sense of Mongolia’s past marching by.  After the ceremonies, there was about a km hike to the area where the hunting skills would be displayed.  Around this time, I realized that, while the rest of me was pretty warm, my feet, despite two pairs of thermal socks and my woolly Uggs, were absolutely freezing, and I started worrying about frostbite.  I was also a bit worried about hunting carnage, as part of the display was having the eagles kill a live wolf.  This, I did not want to see.

Fortunately, I ran into another of the teachers, who had driven, so we sat in her car and had an excellent, long-distance view of the hunting, as each of the riders, launched their bird, rode off, then called it back.    Apparently, the riders did not bring their actual ponies, but used Ulaanbaatar horses, so the horses were afraid of the birds and only a few of the eagles actually landed back on the arm of their hunter.   One bird got distracted by a bystanders fur hat and launched itself at the wearer.  Fortunately, neither bird nor bystander were hurt!  While galloping across the steppes, one rider’s horse stumbled and completely somersaulted, landing on rider and bird.  That was  heart-stopping to watch, but, again, no-one was hurt, which was pretty amazing.

Pictures are below–and I have a short video I’ll post later.

In other news, I’m booking a 5 day trip to the Gobi right after school is out, prior to coming home to the summer.  Very excited about that.  Then, a mere 3 months from now, it’s home for the summer!

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EARCOS is the big association of east Asian schools, and they run a series of conferences throughout the year. The big teacher conference is in March, in Borne0,  and they ask schools to send presenters.  We’re a small school, so we only get to send one.  Everyone who wants to present puts in a proposal,  then we present before the selection committee, who judge the presentations based on points, and the top presenter goes, with the school picking up most of the tab.

Six of us presented on Saturday, and showed them the Animoto booktrailers I’ve been working on with different classes for a couple years. Well, guess who’s going to Borneo?!

Yowza!  They hold the conference at a five star resort in Kota Kinabalu.  Rough life, but someone’s gotta do it…

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So we went to the supposedly “big” cashmere sale today;  it wasn’t much of a sale.  Never mind how much I spent–it’s embarrassing, but I figure it’s everyone’s Christmas present!  I did buy myself my first ever Cashmere sweater, 3 pair of cashmere socks for winter, and a scarf and hat. I was told you can actually buy  cashmere underwear, but I didn’t see any!  I managed to keep myself from spending $300 buying this beautiful, cashmere, traditional mongolian style coat, that actually fit!  I loved it, but was  freaked about about how much I’d already spent–all those extra zeros don’t help.  I suppose the stuff was cheaper than at home, but I have decided that Cashmere, anywhere, is not cheap stuff!!

Before we did that, however, we had our school fair today.  I was NOT looking forward to going, I must say–who wants to spend a Saturday at school running the cake walk!?  But it was actually a blast, and they brought in several craft vendors which means (of course!) more shopping opportunities!  : )  I have a very empty flat I need to decorate.

Anyway, the school brought in the gentleman below, who plays the Mongolian horsehead fiddle, and is a throat singer. The morin khuur (horsehead fiddle) is THE traditional musical instrument in Mongolia, and is supposed to sound like a wild horse neighing.  Wikipedia gives two traditions regarding its invention:

One legend about the origin of the morin khuur is that a shepherd named Namjil the Cuckoo received the gift of a flying horse; he would mount it at night and fly to meet his beloved. A jealous woman had the horse’s wings cut off, so that the horse fell from the air and died. The grieving shepherd made a horsehead fiddle from the now-wingless horse’s skin and tail hair, and used it to play poignant songs about his horse.

Another legend credits the invention of the morin khuur to a boy named Sükhe (or Suho). After a wicked lord slew the boy’s prized white horse, the horse’s spirit came to Sükhe in a dream and instructed him to make an instrument from the horse’s body, so the two could still be together and neither would be lonely. So the first morin khuur was assembled, with horse bones as its neck, horsehair strings, horse skin covering its wooden soundbox, and its scroll carved into the shape of a horse head.

It does make a beautiful sound, and he let me video him so I bought his CD.  The playing style is interesting.  I don’t think you can tell from the video, but he doesn’t press down the strings, the way you would with a guitar or violin; his fingers actually arch over the strings and press on the neck, but rest or vibrate on the string, which I guess changes the tone/notes.

On the other end, we have Mongolian throat singing, which produces a very bizarre sound.   The second video is of his performance–you can’t see him much, but listen to that singing.  Isn’t it strange sounding? Almost like a synthesizer, and he’s doing that with his voice!!

And here you see some of our students performing traditional dances.

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