Thursday 21st December 2007
In this climate, and Christmas being just round the corner (which we teachers from God-fearing Christian nations get off as a holiday out of respect for our deeply held religious beliefs), I saw it as my duty today to do my best for school morale by bringing my banjo into work with me today. I am ever reminded of the importance that the great Ernest Shackleton placed on the banjo in helping bring his men through the ordeal of 18 months or so trapped in the Antarctic: “It’s vital mental medicine, and we shall need it.” I played in most of my classes (although managed to also actually teach some, too), and also in the school lobby and staff room. On 26th December the corporation which owns the school and numerous other enterprises, including the Grand Khan Irish Pub, have now formally requested that I perform at said prestigious venue (which a colleague informs me is the most expensive restaurant in Mongolia) for the corporation Christmas Party. The request was made through the school - I was given the number of what presumably turned out to be the manager (who I'd already met many times) to phone to make the necessary arrangements. I am not very good with Mongolian names yet. After googling the correct name of the pub - now changed in all posts - I discover that my ambition of being the first banjo player to pick at the Grand Khan has already been crushed - see link on the side panel
Was charmed yesterday to uncover another little feature of my soviet time-capsule of an apartment (which I have had to sign a contract for today - have refused to sign the inventory until it is itemised - I need to know if I can take the collection of cheap pottery elephants and the puppy emerging from a barrel with me) . Up on the wall by the door to the flat there is a battered little plastic box which I had thought was some kind of heater or ventilator. My young home help (whose name I asked and found out is Puru Tstszga - her little sister is Mungun Tstszga) gestured at it and I realised that it has a little plug. Once inserted the right way round the box came alive and beautiful cello music played in a haunting blend of classical western and oriental style wafted out. The radio is tuned to only one station, and I guess was there for the voice of Big Brother back in the communist era. I tried to stop them but Puru and Mungun insisted on tidying my flat yesterday which took them about an hour. I gave them a few candies and some bacon to give to their parents (ok - it’s Mongolian bacon which I tried and don’t like. I buy expensively delicious imported Hungarian bacon for my own consumption now) - and of course also thanked them by playing 'Old MacDonald Had a Farm.' Mungun thanked me by bowing down to the floor in a ‘salaam’ gesture. Through someone at school I am aiming to hire a cleaner so I can avoid either cleaning up for myself or becoming dependent on child labour.
The UB Post, which is one of two Mongolian English language weeklies, has printed the National Statistic Office’s report on the ‘Economic and Social Situation of Mongolia.’ I learn that my salary is certainly a comfortable one here - for the first time I find myself beating a national average: by more than four times. What’s more, I am going a good way towards keeping my monthly expenditure below the N.A. (T242,000) - having no rent to pay and being such a tight-fisted bastard. The average monthly income in Mongolia (T190,000) is up 42.6% on last year. I don’t know how inflation stands here but the stats say household expenditure is up 9.6% on last year, so I guess the average Mongolian’s standard of living has probably improved (the average salary being T52,000 below the average expenditure notwithstanding).
Production of beverages, handbags, fur, petrol, clocks and coal are up! But, sadly, knitted goods, spirit alcohol, metal sleepers and macaroni noodles are down.
Concentration of Nitrogen Dioxide in the 13th microdistrict was 19 times the maximum allowable quantity for air quality; various other stats relating to atmospheric pollution baffle me but look suitably ominous. Incidentally, I can’t believe that I managed to write about my trip to the country without mentioning the wonder and sheer joy of breathing such (however cold) fabulously clean air for a day.
Crimes against freedom, human rights and reputation are down 50%! Attempted murder is up a mere 5.7%,’ negligent murder ‘(well, you know, with the best will in the world, it’s going to happen from time-to-time) a better 9.1% and death by ‘unfortunate occasion’ (most regrettable) a respectable 20.5%.
Finally, the report tells us that for the first 11 months of 2006 the nation had in total “2,492 disasters of T5.4 billion loss registered” in which 178 people died, 1061 ger and houses burned down and 14.6 thousand head of livestock were lost. No indication in the report as whether this is up or down on 2005.
Now to do my bit for the flagging Mongol spirit alcohol industry. Cheers!