Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Goat Horhog

Sunday 19th August
Having spent so much time being rattled around in vans but having had such a wonderful time in Kharkhorin and the neighbourhood, we decided to postpone our return to UB for one more day's rattle. Enkhbold drove us by Russian jeep to Ugiin Nuur - Lake Ugiin which, although 90-odd km off, had a good road all the way.

We stopped firstly at the ger of Enkhbold's father, Peljee, a herder who lives a short way out of Kharkhorin. I was very excited when, after entering, Peljee and one of his other sons got out their snuff bottles, so that I was able to get out my own and exchange bottles in the traditional manner with my host. Each person holds their bottle (with the top slightly opened) resting between the four fingers of their right hand, this is then passed into the palm of the other, as their bottle is received in your palm. As with offering anything in Mongolia, the left hand also supports the right arm, as giving is always done two-handedly. You take a pinch of their tobacco or just sniff at the open lid if you prefer (which I opted for, not wishing to blow my cool by sneezing) and then the bottle is handed back, again with the top partly open. Well, it was a proud moment for me, anyhow, only marred by having taken my bottle out of a plastic bag rather than an embroidered pouch.

We were treated to milk tea, of course, and also a big pan of clotted cream to spread on bread, which was very good indeed. We then said our 'daraa ulzii's with the promise to return for goat horhog that evening.

En route for the lake we also stopped to visit a site where I neglected to take any notice of the fairly wordy signs erected by a joint Turkish-Mongolian project - as a result I am not sure if what we visited was the site of the Bugut stone - sort of the 'Rosetta Stone' of the Turkic-Mongol period, or if it wa just a replica, or indeed something else. It doesn't look much like the photos on this informative webpage, so is either a replica or a very sorry job of reconstruction. The area does look like a burial site, although is presently a building site, with a wall in construction around it to make for a visitor centre/pilgrimage site. If this is the site of the Bugut stone, a very important historical artifact, then it's frankly a mess, but it may well be that it's something else.

Ugiin Nuur is big and broad, and we arrived in perfect summer weather for a swim, which I did alone as most Mongolians don't. The water is very pure, and is filled with fish. It seems to be a popular spot on tour itineries, probably owing to the good road from Kharkhorin and the novelty of open water in Mongolia. After the journey from UB to Kharkhorin I'm distinctly less inclined to head out to Lake Hovsgul next week, as it would be torture to endure days of jolting bus travel for only a few days visit.

Refreshed by a swim, we now headed back to Peljee's ger. We stopped on the way to visit cousins of Enkhbold, who of course served us milk tea and let me ride one of their horses. This was my first experience of a real Mongolian saddle, not as uncomfortable as I'd feared, although ten minutes in it hardly leaves me fit to make any judgement. The stirrups were left high as usual, which made them very high for me, and I would not have been comfortable at a canter to say the least.

We were greeted very warmly on our return to Peljee's with another Mongolian cream tea, served with hard scones this time - jam would have completed the experience. Peljee was also very happy to serve me a glass of real Mongolian 'vodka' - a wine-strength clear drink made from cows milk boiled with yoghurt. It looks and tastes pretty much like water, but has a reputation for leaving your head clear whilst getting your legs drunk: everything is fine until you stand up. It's a shame really that Mongolians acquired a taste for the stronger stuff, I think a lot less damage would have been done to society here if people had stuck to the milk vodka.

Various sons, daughters, husbands, wives and grandchildren were also visiting, and everyone helped with preparation for the evening feast. Even me - I walked out and helped to herd up the flock of sheep and goats and drive them from where they were grazing on the open plain half a kilometre away back towards the ger. Once we'd got the flock back they were allowed to wander off again - except for one unfortunate healthy fellow, who was very deftly separated from his fellows. Peljee wrestled the goat firmly onto plastic sheeting on the ground by the ger, turned the animal over and pinned down its rear legs with a leg of his own while his son Enkhbold held its head and forelegs. It let out one long, unnervingly human groan of despair, but that was all. Once restrained Peljee took out his knife and made a short neat cut in the goat's belly. I was curious because I had expected the animal to be despatched with a hammer blow or something, as all I knew about animal slaughter in Mongolia was that they don't cut the throat - traditionally they don't spill the animal's blood. Indeed, no blood was spilled here, Peljee thrust his hand into the goat's insides, and with a look of concentration felt around, I guess until he found the goat's heart and stopped the flow of blood. Throughout this the goat became increasingly relaxed, but it was some minutes before it died. The heart or something was removed and left exposed on the beast's belly, and it no longer needed restraining for its final moments.

I can well understand people who become vegetarians after watching the proceedings in a slaughterhouse, but I wonder if anyone could be persuaded the other way on witnessing this approach? Mongolians are pretty much the polar opposites of vegans, the diet being almost entirely milk and dairy, but the traditional way of life here has such an affinity with the livestock, which live such a free life until they're needed in the pot. As I have previously remarked, Mongolians are repulsed by the notion of eating lamb or any baby animal.

Anyhow, such thoughts turning in my mind, I took up the invitation to borrow Peljee's horse and ride out onto the plain, which being my first time alone on a horse I enjoyed a lot, even though the plain was too big and night too close to do anything more than go out and come back. I did get to make my way, or rather make the horse make its way, over a ditch twice, which felt like an achievement.

Back at the ger night began to fall, and from nowhere a strong wind blew up. Two of Peljee's grandsons were outside butchering the goat and had to transfer their operations indoors. Before too long there were nearly twenty people in the ger, a small 'four wall' ger, but with plenty of room for the party, which became very close and convivial. Peljee remained sat on the floor and was the very paternal focus of the evening, telling humorous tales and explaining for me via my wife various Mongolian traditions.

The storm quickly developed, rain lashed down and thunder and lightning played. Through the open door of the ger this was very dramatic - and using the open toilet facilities some way from the ger this was very dramatic indeed. Inside the butchering was eventually finished, and the horhog was prepared. Stones had been placed in the stove fire which had been stoked up high, these were now taken out and, red-hot, placed with tongs in a tall pressure cooker. In the bottom were a few pints of water, so steam quickly rose, and more stones and the whole of the goat flesh were added. Meanwhile the intestines were being filled with blood for sausages to be enjoyed on some future occasion. Once the pot was full it was placed on top of the stove, to cook for about an hour. Meantime, Peljee entertained us with a story of how a cooker had once exploded when he was making horhog, but that the burns on his leg had been healed by applying dog's blood, on the advice of an old woman. I would have prefered to hear this story sat further away from the stove, or at least wearing trousers rather than shorts.

We each took a turn singing a song, for which the reward was a shot of vodka. As always, and particularly in the warm and crowded ger, the Mongolian singing was deeply moving.

At last the food was ready. A few burnt bits of meat were at the top, but the rest seemed perfectly cooked. It was piled high on a big metal tray, and the greasy hot stones placed aside to be picked up and thrown from hand to hand, and held under armpits and against the brow for as long as we were able, for the well-regarded health benefits of this treatment. It is invigorating, and also a good way to acquire eau de goat.

The soup was served after the stones had cooled beyond efficacy, and was absolutely delicious - very rich and with a slight burnt taste that didn't detract from the flavour. The wife and I also got to eat most of the half dozen or so potatoes that'd been included with the goat, before taking the meat itself. It was very good, didn't quite drop off the bone the way the beef horhog I'd eaten way back in the winter did, but was very fine nonetheless, and even I managed to find the fat tasty.

A few more vodka toasts were drunk, and I promised to return one winter, when Peljee has promised me we will hunt wolf. We left under the most incredible night sky I have ever seen - clear overhead, with the milky way showing a thick, billowing band across a studded vault of stars, and yet on three quarters of the horizon lightning still flashing every few seconds from dark, distant clouds.

More photos at Flickr

Orkhon River Valley

Saturday 18th August
Today we made a trip up the Orkhon River Valley. As I have previously mentioned, the valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and probably the cradle of Mongolia's nomadic culture. It's a wide valley - 10km or more for much of its length, and there are no roads only dirt trails. Owing to volcanic activity in the distant past it's something of a bumpy journey.

We travelled by Russian ATV again, accompanied by most of the family this time, with the object of visiting Tuvkhuun monastery and Ulaan Tsutgalan waterfall. The Orkhon valley is incredibly beautiful, and after the overcast weather yesterday, we had wonderful blue skies and billowing cloud today - which lit the lush greens of the valley and the dark volcanic rock beautifully. The valley is a very popular destination for horse-trekking and I think there can hardly be a finer place on the planet for it - there are mountains, rocks and boulders, pine forests, the river itself and the wide plain. It's an absolute paradise of animalkind - of course there are herds of horses, sheep, goats, cows and yaks wandering freely, but we also saw dozens of chipmunks, a pair of marmot and at one point our van passed beneath a tumbledown boulder crag on which were perched a golden eagle hanging out with a ruffianly-looking dozen vultures: they stared at us with the nonchalant "who do you think you are?" contempt of cats as we past beneath them, just 30 metres away.

The Russian ATV we travelled in has to be the only other choice of transport for this region (well, apart from going by foot), although we did occasionally pass an ordinary car on the valley plain. Straight out of Kharkhorin we had to ford the Orkhon river which was flowing pretty fast, wide and deep (well, it can't have been much over three feet deep but that feels deep enough). We then followed the river as it flowed underneath rocks and mountains, before crossing out onto the boulder-strewn plain. Russian ATV's are built to take terrific punishment, although they pass a hell of a lot of that on to the passengers too.

After an hour or so we stopped by a stupa out on the plain, while the driver went over to a ger to buy some airag for our journey - he came back with six or eight litres of the finest fermented mare's milk. There was a richer, creamier taste to this airag than that I've tried previously. I like it, but it's hard to match the Mongolian enthusaism, especially during a day in which you might also be drinking a litre or two of milk tea, eating arrul (dried curds) and probably having a healthy supply of vodka too (although I managed to sidestep that duty today). It's no exaggeration to say that milk, meat and flour make up 90% of the rural Mongolian diet. Enkhbold, on being offered pine nuts, would later refuse joking "I only eat meat" - but it was one of those jokes which was in essence just the bare facts.

A good while later and we arrived at our first objective. We parked up the van in some beautiful pine woods, part of a protected area, and walked up a long path intothe forest and up the mountain. Finally we reached the end of the trees, beneath a singular rocky summit: the home of Tunkhuu Monastery. This small place of worship was founded by Mongolia's prime Buddhist 'saint' Zanabazar in the 17th century. There's a small temple - destroyed in the 30s and rebuilt in the 90s - and numerous meditation caves and, supposedly, the foot print of Zanabazar in rock. Very precipitous paths lead up to the caves and the summit - no deterrent at all to the many very elderly pilgrims who determinedly make their way up there. Beneath the summit there's a rock seat, by tradition Zanabazar's favourite spot for meditation during the 30 years he spent here meditating and practicing various skills and arts (including creating the 'soyombo' script, seen on Mongolia's modern state flag). The top of the peak is very flat, and houses a fine ovoo where, according to the sign, nagas or 'hidden spirits' of the mountain are offered prayers and praise - presumably the Buddhist translation of the older Shamanistic worship of the spirit of the place. The views are spectacular.

Some time later we'd made our way down the mountain, where we had a picnic of tinned sardines and airag. Enkhbold and the driver had somehow managed to polish off a bottle of vodka on the way, everyone was in a very jolly mood. We played 'dembee' - a kind of variant on 'paper-scissor-stone' (thumb beats forefinger/forefinger beats middle/middle beats ring/ring beats little/little beats thumb - keep playing until one of you scores a hit). The loser of each round would have to drink a bowlful of airag.

Eventually we got back in the ATV, and left the forest, to head further up-river. The road got rockier, big and small boulders of lava deposited everywhere along the plain. We continued for a good few hours before reaching our final target: Ulaan Tsutgalan, the 'Red Flood'. The waterfall was very impressive, pouring 27metres down into a steep sided canyon, created by a combination of erosion and the long-ago volcanic activity. After admiring the view from very close to the edge on the top, we made our way down into the canyon, to pose for photos at the bottom of the falls, and submerge our heads in the cool water. More photos at the top and a drink of the fresh-tasting Orkhon, before getting back in our vehicle to return the 125km to Kharkhorin.

On the way we went out to visit relatives of our host family, but when we finally got to the corner of the valley where one nomadic family after another had pointed us, we found that the family had long since left for distant pastures. The sun was setting now, and we still had a long way to travel. I have noted that the Orkhon valley is wide and uneven, and that there are no roads, just dirt tracks. In the day time it's easy enough to point your motor in the general direction of a distant landmark, and when the paths diverge, as they do every hundred or so metres, you can see ahead whether the way you're choosing veers off in another heading. This isn't so easy at night time, and in short we got pretty desperately lost on the way back, zigzagging aimlessly making only the most gradual progress. Often the van was bouncing over boulders under a cliff face or across a heavily rutted bit of plain. Before midnight we'd stop and ask the way on at any ger we'd passed - but I guess it breached etiquette to do so once people were in bed. I think we finally made it home about 2am, having taken nearly 8 hours to cross that 120km. We retired aching to bed, to be woken periodically by the dogs fighting outside, so fiercely tonight that the walls of the shack shook.

More pics at Flickr


Thursday 17th to Friday 18th August 2007
Ulaanbaatar to Kharkhorin by microbus (a compact 11-seater people carrier) costs Tg10,000 - about $9. It's about 360km - the road is being resurfaced for most of its length, so at present the journey takes about 8 hours over bumpy dirt tracks. My wife, her friend Tuya and I were very lucky on our way out as there was only one other passenger on the bus, so we had plenty of room to stretch out - on the return yesterday we weren't so lucky: there ten adults and four kids plus the driver - by no means overcrowded by microbus standards, but with the addition of one tape of the more bombastic Mongolian opera-style music played over and over for the entire journey, reasonably close to purgatory.

We'd set out around 4pm, then had to wait while the bus had an oil change, and didn't get out of UB itself until 6pm. The bus seemed to make pretty good time rocketing along - quite exciting after nightfall, with the headlights sending out beams into the clouds of dust, traffic coming at us and jostling to overtake those headed the same way over the twisting and turning tracks of a six lane dirt highway. Some time in the night we eventually reached a surfaced road again, and I stretched out and dozed off. When I awaoke we were parked outside a tall, irregular wooden fence, Tuya was banging on the gate and dogs all around were barking a protest.

We were staying in Kharkhorin with the family of one of my wife's old college friends. They live on the edge of Kharkhorin, in a yard with a ger, a 'summer cottage' and a little cook house. Through most of the year the family live in the ger, but in the summer they can also use their cottage - a modest, unheated wooden shack furnished, like a ger, with orange painted wooden box-furniture, pictures of wrestling heroes and a small buddhist shrine. Mother and father both work at the local hospital, their youngest son and daughter and the wife's mother all live here together. They have electricity, but of course no running water, and I guess their life is typical of a majority of urban Mongoloians in the country.

Kharkhorin is a city of about 20,000 people, there are no tower blocks, and very few brick buildings at all. It's not a prosperous-looking place, but it's noticeably cleaner than Ulaanbaatar - ramshackle, but without garbage and waste scattered everywhere. Our first morning there the sky was overcast, with light showers of rain, which seemed to suit the dark gritty earth here, and gave the place a fresh feel, reminding me of England's Lake District in typical weather. I love Ulaanbaatar, but after spending so long there it was very refreshing to be in a town that isn't awash with litter, where there isn't the constant blaring of horns and squealing of breaks, nor the pounding of drills and jack-hammers.

We walked to the Erdene Zuu monastery complex. This giant walled complex was once the centre of Buddhism in Mongolia - the first monastery was founded here by Zanabazar, Mongolia's Buddhist 'Renaissance man' of the 16th Century. By the time of the purges of the 1930s there were over 80 temples in the compound - most were destroyed, and the leaders were executed, the older monks disappeared to gulags and the young monks were sent back to their families. Since the 1990s a monastery has been reestablished here, and work continues both in restoring the temple complex and also building a modern school (with hopes for a sports field to "help our lamas win the World Cup in 2010") for the young monks. It's a very worthy project (the monastery also works in the local prison teaching felt craft to inmates and their handiwork can be bought at the monastery shop - the first such program in rehabilitation of offenders that I've heard of in Mongolia) - visit their website at www.erdenezuu.mn.

Later in the afternoon we took a tour round some of the local sights. Firstly we drove upriver a kilometre or two to a weir which standing at the foot of a small mountain ridge that cuts the upper valley out of view from the city makes the gateway for a rather spectacular change of view - the lower river runs swiftly but tamely down a single course, the old valley bed now stony and dry: the upper river bends and forks, leaving dozens of small ox-bow lakes form its twisting, sinuous course, and the valley is lush and green. Ger and herds can be seen here and there off into the distance: it's a breath-taking view of utter beauty, and well worthy of its UNESCO World Heritage status - climbing the mountain, as the view expands there's a strong sense of looking out across the millennia at a scene that is both living and essentially unchanged.

We walked along the ridge back in the direction of the city, circling the ovoo (cairns) we passedthree times, and throwing on three stones. We were headed for an impressive monument of three giant, curving wall friezes, depicting the three great Empires of Mongolia's history - that of the Hun, the Turks and the Mongols. Traders had stalls alongside the monument selling what I will politely call 'replicas' of Mongolian antiques. One trader was particularly keen for me to buy a very shiny cooking pot and stand from the "hunnu period" (5th century AD), but I did happily buy a small snuff bottle, that my host's wife insists is made from resin but I choose to believe is from the rather beautiful and carefully worked 'rare stone' that the trader enthusiastically praised. Anyhow, perhaps to compensate me for my gullibility the family were later to give me a very nice little hand-embroidered pouch to keep it in as a parting gift.

We also drove out to see one of the four stone turtles that mark the limits of ancient Kharkhorin, and the "bodjra" stone - a phallus resting on a grinding stone propped up by a circular stone basin. At both places there were more cheerful traders selling pretty much the identical antiques. The city was usually visible in the distance - ramshackle, with its ger, shacks and wooden faces, but friendly-looking. I like Kharkhorin.

Back at home we entertained ourselves by playing the very popular card game known as "cards", at which my wife and Tuya firmly beat me and my host's young son Nymka, as they were throughout giving each other strategic advice while Nymka and I were unable to convey much without a common language. In revenge I beat my wife convincingly at chess, and in revenge for my letting him down so badly at cards Nymka then defeated me with a humiliating fool's mate after I had thought I was beating him very easily. I've recently rediscovered an enthusiasm for playing chess, which I'd lost interest in as a kid because of being too lazy to improve my game: now the wonder of the net has revealed to me the basics of chess strategy after a few idle hours at work, and suddenly I find the game exciting again. I still get beat all the time, though.

That night our sleep was occasionally disturbed by ferocious howls from dogs fighting in the street just outside the cottage - it sounded like we were being beset by wolves and bears.

More photos on my Flickr page.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Work: Over, Travel Plans, Farewell Performances

I just signed the agreement on the termination of my contract, and so am finally at the end of my work in Mongolia. My flight is booked back to the UK for the 4th September, so I find that I finally have some time to see a little of the country. In nine months I've only spent the odd night out of the capital, which has made me increasingly envious of all the merry back-packers passing through the city this summer - at last I can get to see some of the country myself.

Tonight or tomorrow morning the missus and I will be squeezing into a micro-bus and making the long, bumpy journey to Kharkhorin - Mongolia's ancient capital and part of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape. We'll then be back in Ulaanbaatar again on Monday, to check in once more with the British Embassy on progress with my wife's visa application (impeccable service for the $1000 application fee - we can call in any time to be told "The Consul will look at your application when the Consul looks at it" in answer to our queries) and for me to meet my mother-in-law. We're then hoping for the three of us to be able to make a journey to the famously beautiful Lake Hovsgul (0.4% of the world's freshwater) region, where I am also hoping we can find and meet my wife's paternal grandfather, who is a shamanic priest.

The extremely talented Andrew Colwell (double bassist, flamenco guitarist, khoomei singer, morin khuur player, etc, etc) had a leaving do at New River Sounds on Sunday - he's flying back to the States today. In the last few months (since the demise of the jazz night at Mealody) he's been playing a great improv-based blend of sounds with two very talented Australians (Dave Lipson on didgeridoo and I-am-sorry-I-forget-but-will-rectify-ASAP on cello) and they gave a final show to a very appreciative audience. The band may be called Khimoor or something very like, and they have a self-made CD in the works - I'll see what I can do about posting a link or a snippet when it's done - because until you've heard the bass, cello, didj and khoomei in sweet harmony your ears have been missing something important.

Andrew had also sent out an invitation to the many musicians he's made the acquaintance of in his time here to come down and play a tune, so I took that opportunity to make my own farewell performance, and actually play into a microphone for the first time here, which is much easier on the vocal chords, but less easy on the audience's ears. Dragged out the Worried Man Blues and Dirty Old Town yet again, but also properly debuted my own actual self-penned song (to the borrowed tune of Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms) called I Don't Want to Work Anymore.

(Note to any of the potential employers back in the UK I have sent my CV to these last few weeks: please don't take that last song literally - of course I do very much want to work anymore and am just looking forward to my Well Earned Break, and using a bit of poetic license.)

Monday, 13 August 2007

Vodka Camp, Sheep Gizzards

On Friday I went with the rest of my colleagues from the Vodka factory to spend a night and the following day at a pleasant ger camp tucked away in hills a few hours West of Ulaanbaatar. I managed to survive the night, aided no doubt by a very fortifying plate of boiled sheep's stomach, intestines, liver, kidneys and black pudding.
Sheep innards

Friday, 10 August 2007

76 Toyboys

I've mentioned before the subject of corruption in Mongolian public life - from government through hospitals to the police force - and the general perception that it is widespread and inescapable. Last year a bill passed through parliament established the IAAC - the Independent Authority Against Corruption. Public officials are now required by law to register their earnings and other financial interests and those of their families. The figures that have come in now that the majority of officials have complied with that requirement (and published in last week's UB Post) prove interesting reading. There's a law which according to the Post "does not allow MPs to have a private business entity", so how do the country's 76 monkeys manage to get by?

The returned figures show how progressive Mongolia's MPs are in promoting women's rights, against a culture which generally puts women in second place: the majority of MPs earn less than than their wives. Considerably less in many cases. Prime Minister Enkhbold earned a very modest 3.2 million Tugrik - around $3,000 - last year, while the Prime Minister's wife brought home Tg24.2 million. L. Gundalai MP, chairman of the Popular Party, registered his earnings at Tg3 million , Mrs L. Gundalai is doing a bit better with Tg74 million, although even her paycheck doesn't seem to account for how the minister acquired his Toyota Landcruiser, Mercedes Benz, six motor boats, three horses and Tg500 million of shares in the SOS Medica Hospital. I guess, contrary to the general economic trend in the country, 2006/7 was a lean year for MPs. B. Erdenbat has the pretty thankless task of Minister of Fuel and Energy, earning him a paltry Tg3.2 million. His immediate family managed to improve on this with Tg66.3 million. And I guess if times get hard he can always fall back on his Tg17.2 billion worth of shares in Erel bank, Erel Insurance and assorted companies or sell one of his two Mercedes Benz 500s, or his Lexus 470 jeep, two Land Cruiser 100L jeeps or maybe one of his pair of Hummers.

Well, the list goes on (Supreme Court judge A. Batsaikhan has 20 pigs) and can be seen on the UB Post's website. It's interesting reading, and clearly shows that the law against MPs owning businesses is not achieving much.

In President Enkhbayar's case, the declared earnings provide more food for thought - he earned Tg121.9 million, owns a Tg35 million apartment, and aparently his family earned nothing. To quote the Post "He does not own any mining license, savings, land, credit, debt, shares, automobile, or commercial property." I don't think that many people in Mongolia believe a word of that, but (if only because of his good taste in translating Rudyard Kipling and Virginia Woolf into Mongolian) I'd like to believe in his honesty and probity. Of course he doesn't have to declare how many of his cousins and friends are doing very well indeed thankyou, and I shouldn't think that he'll do too badly in retirement. The real test is what he achieves in his job. The President has been a prominent supporter of anti-corruption laws - now that those laws are revealing to the public the extent of the problem (if largely by inference), what Mongolia needs to see now is action to correct this. Otherwise the cynicism with which government and indeed democracy are viewed will surely grow.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Asashoryu, Wayne Rooney

Much sympathy for Mongolian sumo giant Asashoryu, whose homesickness and running around in a Wayne Rooney shirt have cost him the biggest official rebuke of his colourful career. At least it gets him column inches in the Independent and Guardian again.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Mongolian Invasion

Reading the unfortunate news that Liverpool's Culture Company have cancelled this year's Mathew Street Festival three weeks before it was due to take place (will artists still get paid, I wonder? Presumably the paying of musicians is one of the smaller expenses of the event anyhow), leads me to buck up spirits on Merseyside by rashly making the premature announcement of my own ill-planned musical/cultural event: please mark Saturday May 3rd 2008 in your diaries as 'Mongolian Invasion Day'.

I haven't yet ironed out all the details (funding, licensing, etc) but I do have an artist booked - the incomparable Tserendavaa, one of the most highly respected performers of khoomei throat-singing in all Mongolia. My good, gallic friend, ethnomusicologist Johanni Curtet, has arranged a tour for Tserendavaa and his son in France for the early summer, and they've agreed to come over and perform for the people of Liverpool.

There may be workshops - for the curious I'm told that it is possible for some people to pick up the basics of khoomei in a couple of hours. I am also persuing contacts with Mongolian artists and dancers currently based in the UK - if I can get hold of a couple of ger then we'll set up in Sefton Park for a day or perhaps longer. By coincidence, 2008 will be the 100th anniversary of Marzan Sharav's "One Day in Mongolia" painting - I think I can borrow a high quality reproduction from a friend to exhibit for the day.

There could even be buuz for those who like Mongolian cuisine, and barbecue for those (like me) who like the idea of Mongolian cuisine. Furthermore, in a spirit of utter philanthropism, it's my wish to make this a free event providing I can secure the sponsorship/funding to pay the artists (and get them to Liverpool from France). Any offers of assistance with the event should be directed to me at ulaanbaanjo@yahoo.co.uk - particularly if you have a spare ger, bactarian camel, leverage with the Palm House or lactating mares. More details to follow.