Thursday, 7 June 2007

Summer Teaching, Sore Thumbs

Thursday 7th June 2007
Extremely good news is reported in today's UB Post for Mongolia's hard-working primary and secondary school teachers: the state is set to increase their salaries to in the region of $300 a month. This is a considerable raise - at present teachers in state schools are earning $60 - $100 a month - even in private schools the salary is only $200. The article was a little bit vague about when this increase will take place, however, as there seems to be an indication that the aim is for teachers to be earning $350 by 2015... so I'm unsure just yet whether the news will be any cause for celebration.

Mongolia's brief Spring seems to be over, and a hot and sweaty summer firmly established - although I'm told it may yet snow again, as it did overnight a week ago. For now the heat is here - to happily coincide with my district of the city having no hot water for the past three days and, I'm told, none until the 15th June. Bracing cold showers are now the order of the day.

There having been a short period of doubt since the school term ended, I've now had my summer job confirmed: I'll be working for three months tutoring the management team at a vodka distillery - perhaps it's an environment that I'll find myself better suited to. The plan is to give a structured lesson each day and then follow the lesson up with conversation with my students. I'll assess each student's ability and come up with an achievement plan for each and, god willing, we'll work together until September on improving their English, hopefully to everyone's satisfaction. There have been hints that the job may get me out and about in the countryside occasionally, but for the most part I'll be office-based.

Other than any opportunities that work throws up, this does now mean that I'm highly unlikely to see much more of the country for the remainder of my stay - as it is my firm plan to head straight back to Blighty once my contract is up in order to get over to Ireland in time for this year's Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival. Oh, and of course to see family and friends and stuff. For the present, in as much as I am planning for the future, I'm thinking that if I spend a year back in England working I'll be able to come back to Mongolia with some money in my pocket, and that then I'll have the luxury of not needing a salary, and be able to do as I please. I'd like 2009's sequel to this blog to be a year in a ger, far away from the smog, general chaos and satisfying variety of restaurants and bootleg dvds of the metropolis. It is entirely possible that my childhood ambition of becoming either a lighthouse-keeper or an astronaut may intervene, but I'm advised that it is a good thing to have goals.

Be assured that if work does give me the opportunities I will get myself out into rural Mongolia. I recently met a University professor of traditional medicine who I'm helping with a translation of a paper he's written on the early influences of Indian medicine in Mongolia. A very interesting man, he has kindly offered to let me join him on one of his trips to the countryside when I am free to go.

I did get back to Manzushir on Saturday, with a group of friends. It turns out that there's a bus to Zunmod for just under $1 each way, although this time we were getting a lift in a hybrid camper truck that had started its life in Ireland. There must be an increasing flow of traffic from Western Europe braving the journey here: at the hotel outside my apartment there are two 'Rotels' parked up today - converted HGVs fitted with every convenience - that appear to have made their way here from Germany.

We stayed at a new ger camp tucked away in a small valley at the edge of the park, and a very pleasant evening was had by all. I think that the ger cost around $30 for the night, which price included unlimited wood. The wood was needed as it was a cold night - it snowed some time around 2am. Worryingly, the chimney of our stove was propped up by a piece of wood and did not look remotely sturdy. After catching the chimney as it toppled out of place early in the evening we alerted staff at the camp, who made a makeshift repair. Later in the evening the chimney fell down again, narrowly missing braining and branding one of our party, and filling the ger with thick smoke. We got out into the very fresh air and this time staff replaced the stove with one that wasn't falling to pieces.

Out in the streets the bars now have their tables and sun shades out. Dave's Place now commands a respectable corner of the Culture Palace's tall-columned terrace - where along with the English conversation club host Dave and a very talented travelling Irish trad musician Sarah, I played a few tunes last night to a very generous audience. I'm hoping to make it a regular Wednesday night thing for the summer, at least until somebody objects forcibly enough. We'll be playing a mix of bluegrass and sing-along rock favourites by request. I've really not been playing much since things stopped at Mealody, so it's good to get back into it. I seem to have lost all my thumb-picks, however, so if anyone happens to be heading out to Mongolia this summer, please consider bringing me a few, as a desperately needed act of charity. Golden Gates by preference - large size, medium gauge.