Thursday, July 23, 2015

Eye of Tengri Elsewhere on the Web

Just so you know...

I also share drawings and photos of Mongolia on Tumblr under the name Eye of Tengri:

I post my artwork - usually related to Mongolia, or stuff I drew for lessons in Mongolia - on DeviantArt as well, also under the name Eye of Tengri:

If you use those sites, follow me there too!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Mongolian Word of the Week #63: Бурхан

Layman’s Pronunciation
god, buddha, boddhisattva
In Genghis Khan’s time it was burqan.

Бурхан is what most religious Mongolians worship. You could call it God, although it’s not really the same. And of course, I mentioned before in my first entry that Тэнгэр meant God, right? Well, kind of. Mongolian traditional religion is a melding of elements from Tibetan Buddhism and native, pre-Buddhist shamanic traditions, each with their own objects of worship. To understand  Бурхан and Тэнгэр, let’s talk about five kinds of entities that could be called “gods,” although none of them are quite what Westerners usually think of as “God.”

  1. Тэнгэр (Tenger)
  2. Онгод (Ongod)
  3. Devas
  4. Buddhas
  5. Boddhisattvas

Тэнгэр (Tenger - also encountered as Tengri) is a concept stretching back as far as we can see into the past. Тэнгэр can refer both to the physical sky, and also to Heaven, the manifestation of divine will in the cosmos. In this second sense, Тэнгэр is the closest native Mongolian thing to the Christian god. Тэнгэр is the creator and sustainer of the world. Humans, animals, and plants all depend on Him/Her/It. (I can’t say what pronoun is appropriate; Mongolian doesn’t have grammatical gender.) Earthly governments derive their right to rule from Heaven’s will, similar to the Chinese concept of the "Mandate of Heaven." Тэнгэр maintains the balance of nature and moral order. It punishes illegitimate regimes by making them collapse and will even smite much less significant individuals as well. It seems that it’s also possible to have a direct personal relationship with Тэнгэр. Тэнгэр was the only authority acknowledged by Chinggis Khaan, and he prayed to it every morning.

Онгод (ongod), singular онгон (ongon), are also ancient Mongolian. [1] Онгод are local deities of nature and may best be compared to Greek nymphs. These are the spirits that shamans usually interact with. Ongod can be divided into the broad categories лус (lus, water spirits) and савдаг (savdag, earth spirits). [2]

A poster advertising a sale on divine postage stamps

The next three categories came with Buddhism. Deva is the Sanskrit term for god, cognate with the Latin word for god, deus (hence also the English word divine). [3] The devas include all the gods inherited from Hinduism, e.g. Brahma and Indra, and other kinds of powerful beings as well. In Hinduism they are gods. But Buddhism denies that the devas are immortal, that they created the world, or that they can save human beings from their karma - in other words, the Hindu gods don't sound very godlike. But Buddhism never got rid of them, and in Mongolian they are also called by the word тэнгэр, or the Tibetan loanword лха (lha, prounced la).

Painting of a бурхан.

A Buddha [4] is anyone who has become enlightened and thus gained freedom from karma and the cycle of birth, death and rebirth (samsara), and supposedly lots of other powers as well. When a Buddha dies, he enters Nirvana and is never born again. The historical Siddhartha Gautama is one example, but there is theoretically an infinite number of Buddhas. Like devas, they didn’t create the universe. But being a Buddha is actually better than being a deva, because devas, no matter how powerful, are still bound by the chains of karma. In fact, Buddhas are known as the teachers of gods, as well as men. Thus in Mongolian the Buddha is also called Бурхан багш (Burhan bagsh), "God-teacher."

Bodhisattvas are Buddhas-to-be. In Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, Bodhisattvas have become as important as Buddhas, because of their special dedication to enlightening other beings. They take a vow to postpone their own entrance into Nirvana in order to help others find enlightenment too.

Another бурхан at Tsonjin Boldog

Today most Mongolians follow the Gelugpa "Yellow Hat" branch of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, which is headed by the Dalai Lama. Both Buddhas and Boddhisattvas are commonly referred to as Бурхан, and Buddhism itself is usually called Бурханы Шашин (Burhany Shashin), "God's Religion." Technically, they aren’t gods in the western sense. The historical Buddha never asked anyone to worship him and denied that he was a god. But in practice, most Buddhists around the world pray to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in a way that people from any religion would recognize. Mongolians keep icons of Buddhas in a гүнгэрваа (güngervaa) on the хоймор (hoimor) in their gers, light зул (zul) in front of them, and make offerings of food to them.

One more thing. What do you call the Christian God? Mongolian Christians call Him Бурхан. They also use the word Эзэн, meaning “Lord.” Referring to the three persons, the Father is Эцэг (Etseg), the Son is Есүс Христ (Yesüs Hrist) or Бурханы Хүү (Burhany Hüü, "God's son"), and the Holy Spirit is Ариун Сүнс (Ariun Süns). However, the naming is apparently controversial. For more, I recommend this interesting little article: "Case Study: Translating God in Mongolia."


  1. From Otgony PUREV's Mongolian Shamanism, fifth edition (ISBN 99929-0-239-6).
  2. Also from Mongolian Shamanism, specifically page 82.
  3. Watkins, Calvert, The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, second edition. Also source of the names of the Greek god Zeus and the Germanic god *Tiwwaz, who gave his name to Tuesday, and the demons of Zoroastrianism, which were known as daevas. All of these words go back to a reconstructed Indo-European root *dyeu- "sky, heaven, god." There is a lot of information and theorizing about this word.
  4. Buddha and Bodhisattva, both Sanskrit words, also go back to an Indo-European root - in this case *bheudh- "to be aware, make aware." Same source as Note #2.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mongolian Words of the Week #61 and #62: Унах and Унах

Унах and Унах

The thin line between riding and falling

Cyrillic унах

Transcription unah unah
IPA [ˈʊ.nǝx] [ˈʊ.nǝx]
OO-nukh OO-nukh
Translation ride   fall
In Genghis Khan’s time it was unuqu... ...and unaqu.

Today's Mongolian word of the week is two: унах and ... унах! Yes, the Mongolian language has two verbs both called унахУнах means "ride," while унах means "fall." If you look at the Mongolian script versions though, you'll notice that they are spelled differently, because the traditional script reflects an older form of Mongolian. Back in Genghis Khan's time, "ride" was unuqu, and "fall" was unaqu, differing by only one sound. Over the next eight hundred years, they fell together, becoming identical. [1]

So how does Mongolian tell "riding" apart from "falling"? There are certain things - horses, for example - that can be ridden and fallen off of, so this could clearly be a problem. How do they do it? (If you've already read Mongolian Word of the Week #53: Морь, then you may already know the answer. If so, shhh!)

The answer is in the way these verbs affect other words in the sentence. Think about how those verbs work in English. You would say "I rode a horse," but "I fell off a horse." Now let's look at the equivalent sentences in Mongolian.

        Би морь унасан. (Bi mori unasan.) "I rode a horse."
        Би мориноос унасан. (Bi morinoos unasan.) "I fell off a horse."

The difference is in the word for "horse." In the sentence "I fell off a horse," морь "horse" adds the ending -оос. [2] "Horse" is now in the ablative case, which means "from," "off" or "out of." Instead of a separate word, Mongolian uses a suffix.

A fanciful rendition of унах "ride" in traditional Mongolian script


The verb "ride" is the basis for other words such as унаа (unaa), "a ride." Many times when I was planning to leave town for Ulaanbaatar, other teachers would ask me, "Унаа олсон уу?" (Unaa olson uu), "Have you found a ride?"

Another word that is becoming very important is унаач (unaach) "rider, jockey," because of the growing debate over унаач хүүхэд (unaach hüühed), or child jockeys. Mongolian child jockeys compete in dangerous races, but many of them are uninsured and do not have protective gear. Some have been seriously injured, or even killed.

Although I have no evidence, I've always wondered if унах is related to унага (unaga), the word for a foal or baby horse.

Унах "fall" in Mongolian script


"Fall" has several extended uses, among the most important of which is "fail" - a usage I am quite aware of. It was not uncommon for bad students to have шалгалтад унасан (shalgaltad unasan, "fallen (failed) in an exam.") Perhaps it seems natural to people whose lives depend on horses to equate falling off with failure.

It may seem strange that Mongolian would say the same thing for "ride" and "fall," but it just goes to show how much ambiguity language can put up with. All languages have ambiguity due to same-sounding words, but manage to work with it. In Mongolian, the words around help distinguish "ride" and "fall." What ambiguities does English get by with?


Би морь унасан. Тэгээд мориноос унасан.
I rode a horse. Then I fell off the horse.

Унаа олсон уу?
(Unaa olson uu)
Have you found a ride?

Эрхэм гишүүд ээ, унаач хүүхдийн амь насыг хамгаалсан хуулиа хэзээ батлах гэж байна вэ?
Members of Parliament, when will you approve the law to protect the lives of child jockeys?

Шалгалтад унасан эмнэлгийн дарга нар хэн бэ?
Who are the directors of the hospitals that failed the test?


  1. In a common change in Khalkh Mongolian, one of the u's in unuqu became an a, making both words identical.
  2. The ablative case suffix can also be -аас, -ээс, or -өөс depending on the vowel in front of it, because of the rules of vowel harmony. The word морь is also a "hidden N" stem noun, which is why the -н- shows up suddenly in front of the -оос.

Los Angeles Naadam 2015

Naadam in Los Angeles
Naadam in Los Angeles

Two days ago I saw Naadam (Наадам), Mongolia's summersports festival, in Los Angeles, thanks to the Mongolian Association of Los Angeles (Лос Анжелесийн Монголчуудын холбоо). The event was held in spacious Griffith Park, north of the Observatory, south of the Zoo, and next to the golf course. Although I'd seen several Naadams in Mongolia, this was my first Naadam abroad. I ran into some Mongolians I knew here, as well as some fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs, for those who know) from Mongolia. The event also attracted quite a few businesses, such as representatives of Mongolia's airline MIAT and the Korean company Coway.

The main Naadam tent, on the north side
of the field, naturally
The main Naadam tent, on the north side of the field, naturally

I showed up at 11:00 AM, as stated on the announcement on the LA Mongols site, so I was put to work setting up chairs and tables. In Mongolia, the stated time of an event is often actually the time people start setting up for the event, so those who don't want to help ought to show up one or two hours late.

Just like the local Naadam in Khashaat that I witnessed, the events took place in the center of a giant ring of inward-facing tents.

Baby's first Naadam. Hello Rinchen!
Baby's first Naadam. Hello Rinchen!

The celebration got underway close to 1:00 when a procession in traditional costume marched around the inside of the circle with the Mongolian flag and finally raised it in the center of the ring.
Cultural performances dominated the first half of Naadam, including dancers, singers, a gymnast, a морин хуур (horsehead fiddle) player, and the rock band Dayan (Даян хамтлаг).

Getting ready to raise the Mongolian
Getting ready to raise the Mongolian flag
Young girls don their хатан (queen)
outfits for the cultural performance
Young girls don their хатан (queen) outfits for the cultural performance
Horsehead fiddle (morin huur) player
A selection of medals to be awarded to
the victors
A selection of medals to be awarded to the victors
Prize statues
Prize statues
Rock band Dayan performing at the 2015
Los Angeles Naadam festival
Rock band Dayan performing at the 2015 Los Angeles Naadam festival
The line for huushuur (хуушуур)
The line for huushuur (хуушуур)
Huushuur (хуушуур), creamy airag (айраг, fermented horse milk) and other food for the public was provided by Golden Mongolian Restaurant (Алтан Монгол зоогийн газар) Los Angeles's REAL Mongolian restaurant, who set up a tent on the west side. So many people lined up to get huushuur from them, a couple of my friends were in line for two hours.

After the cultural performances, the wrestling finally started.

Unfortunately, there was no archery or horse-racing - the other two major Naadam events. It's a lot easier to get a park use permit for wrestling than archery or racing, perhaps because of greater perceived danger, as I discussed in "Safety in the Art of Archery." Hopefully future events can incorporate more of Mongolian culture.

Naadam wrestlers
Wrestlers at the 2015 Naadam in Los Angeles. Notice the other guy on the side. Several matches take place simultaneously, so there's never a dull minute

One of the final events was a national costume fashion show.

Getting in line for the fashion show
Getting in line for the fashion show

There was an afterparty at a club in Koreatown, which I didn't attend, but I'd already had quite a lot of Mongolia for a day in America!

Monday, July 6, 2015

MWW 60: Барих

Wrestling: "Grabbing Each Other" in Mongolian

Cyrillic барих bErieeO
Transcription barih
IPA ['pærʲɪx]
Translation 1. hold, grip, grab, keep
2. put together, build
In Genghis Khan’s time it was bariqu.

Last week in Mongolian Word of the Week #59: Бөх ("wrestler"), I mentioned that wrestling itself is called барилдаан (barildaan). Барилдаан is ultimately derived from the Mongolian verb барих, (barih) meaning to "hold," "grip," "grab," or "keep" something. Getting from барих to барилдаан is an interesting demonstration of what Mongolian verbs can do, but first let me say something about verbal voice.

English and most European languages have an active voice and a passive voice: the active is when the subject does something to something else, and the passive is when the subject gets something done to it. Mongolian has a richer array of voices. In addition to active and passive, it has a reciprocal voice. The reciprocal means two or more people do things to each other. Often, it has a tone of competition or conflict - just like wrestling.

The reciprocal voice is marked with the suffix -лд-. Inserted into бариx, you get барилдах (barildah) "wrestle." Since барих is "grab," барилдах is basically "grab each other." (Isn't wrestling mostly an exalted form of grabbing?) The final step is to add the suffix -аан, which turns the verb барилдах "wrestle" into the noun барилдаан "wrestling." [1]

Hold on: more about барих

You can also мацаг барих (observe a fast), холбоо барих (keep in touch), зай барих (keep at a distance), and биеэ барих (control your temper). Among the many things that Mongolians барих is the жолоо (joloo) "steering wheel," and by extension the entire машин (mashin) "car." So one day while riding across the steppe the driver asked me,

Та машин барьж чадах уу?
Ta mashin barij chadah uu?
Can you drive (hold) a car?

To which I answered "Тийм, Америкийн Нэгдсэн Улсад" (Yes, in the United States).

Барих has a secondary meaning of "put together, build." As such, Mongolians talk about гэр барих, "building a home." (By the way, remember to check out my look at how a Mongolian home, or гэр, is taken apart and put together!) Hence the common word for "building, construction," барилга (barilga).

Барих is an extremely common, useful, and productive verb. Other than барилдах and барилдаан, it has given birth to many other words, such as
  • бариул (bariul) "handle"
  • баривчилгаа (barivchilgaa) "an arrest"
  • бариач (bariach) "chiropractor, masseuse"
  • баригдашгүй (barigdashgüi) "elusive"
  • баригдмал (barigdmal) "constricted" - баригдмал үзэл "constricted worldview"
  • барьцаа (baritsaa) "money that you put down: stock, security, collateral, advance, guarantee, wager, deposit bond" and many other uses in finance.


  1. Mongolian verbs are usually cited in the dictionary in the form ending in -х. However, suffixes are not added to this form, but to the stem, and to get the stem you must remove -х. Thus the stem of барих is бари- and the stem of барилдах is барилд-.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

MWW 59: Бөх

Little boy in a wrestler's outfit, or зодог (zodog)

1. wrestler
2. strong, firm
In Genghis Khan’s time it was böke.

Наадам (Naadam) is coming, so it's time for wrestlers. Wrestling is probably the most popular sport in Mongolia, and бөх is the Mongolian word for wrestler. Western-style wrestlers are called чөлөөт бөх (chölööt böh), "free wrestler." Western-style wrestling is important in Mongolia too, evidenced by С.Батцэцэг (S. Battsetseg), who won an Olympic medal in 2012. [1] Practitioners of judo and sumo wrestling can also be called бөх, and Mongolians excel at sumo too. (Ever heard of Asashōryu? His real, Mongolian, name is Дагвадорж (Dagvadorj).)  But by itself бөх refers especially to wrestlers in Mongolia's own national style of wrestling.

High school boys wrestling. Wrestling is a popular activity for boys all over the country. It doesn't require any fancy equipment - you already have it. Wrestling can happen anytime, and anywhere. (Even in the classroom, unfortunately.)

The activity that wrestlers engage in is called барилдаан (barildaan). They wear a distinctive tight outfit called a зодог (zodog) and attack each other with various мэх (meh, techniques). If they're successful, they get a цол (tsol, title, rank), and someone will sing their praises, known as цол дуудах (tsol duudah).

Бөх is also an adjective meaning "strong, firm, fast, hard," often together with бат (bat), which means practically the same thing. In fact, Бөхбат and Батбөх are also common names. I'm not sure whether the adjectival or nominal meaning is original. But one can talk about a бөх уяа (böh uyaa) "tight knot" [2], бөх бат хана (böh bat hana) "sturdy wall," and even a бөх нойр (böh noir) "sound sleep." [3] In general, strength, reliability, and endurance - all qualities of a good wrestler - may be called бөх чанар (böh chanar) or бат бөх байдал (bat böh baidal).

A victorious wrestler at a local Наадам (Naadam) shows does a victory dance, showing off his sequined зодог jacket.

Дүүгийн холбоо ураг төрлийнхөөс илүү бөх.
(Düügiin holboo urag törliinhöös ilüü böh.)
"A younger brother's relationship is stronger than a relative's." (i.e., "Blood is thicker than water.")

Бөөгийн хэрэгсэл ламд гай
Бөхийн зодог эхнэрт лай
Бурхан тахил чөтгөрт дараа
Буу саадаг чавганцад төвөг

A witch's wares are anathema to a priest
A wrestler's shirt is a nuisance to a wife
A god's prayer is trouble to a demon
A gun and shells are useless to granny [4]

  1. By the way, she's from my town. A famous traditional wrestler from my town is Ч.Санжаадамба (Ch. Sanjaadamba).
  2. While this may be in the dictionary, in my extensive experience with knots, I have always heard чанга уяа (changa uyaa) "tight knot."
  3. Böh noir makes me imagine a black and white movie about jaded detectives looking for Mongolian wrestlers in the shadowy alleys of the UB ger districts.
  4. By Р.Чойном (R. Choinom), my translation. A бөө isn't really a witch, but it fits the alliteration better.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

MWW 58: Зун

Layman’s Pronunciation
In Genghis Khan’s time it was jun.

Summer and the Solstice

Today is the summer solstice for 2015, so happy summer! - to the Americans at least. In Mongolia, it has already been summer for quite awhile.

In the U.S. we are used to thinking of summer as starting on the summer solstice (June 20 or 21) and lasting until the autumn equinox (September 20 or 21). If you asked an American, he would probably say the summer months were June, July, and August.

In Mongolia, the school's summer vacation зуны амралт (zuny amralt, summer vacation) runs exactly from June 1 to September 1. Nevertheless, if you asked a Mongolian, he still might say the summer months were May, June, and July, instead of June, July and August. This might be the reason a Mongolian man once told me that summer ended after Наадам (July 11-14: see here).

Even though we chose an astronomical event (the solstice) to begin summer, we chose somewhat arbitrarily. There is a succession of “landmarks” on the journey through the year, and different cultures have different ones that they find useful as signposts for the seasons. The way Mongolians have traditionally viewed the division of the year, the summer solstice marks the middle of summer, not the beginning.

Are you summering well?

Mongolians have several greetings tailored to the seasons. For summer, there's

Сайхан зусч байна уу? (Saihan zusch baina uu?)

which is pronounced rather like "SAKH-ung DZOO-such BAN oo?" and which may be translated as "Are you summering well?" To which the proper response is

Сайхан зусч байна. (Saihan zusch baina.) - I am summering well.

The зусч part here comes from the verb зусах (zusah) "to spend or pass the summer," and зусах is made from зун, with the N disappearing in front of the verb-making suffix -с (-s).

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Transliterating Mongolian

History books, travel guides, and text messages all spell words differently

In English, Mongolian words may be spelled differently from source to source. This has to do with with transliteration. Standard Khalkha Mongolian is written in the Cyrillic (Russian) alphabet, but English is written in the Roman alphabet, and most English speakers don't know Cyrillic. Transliteration is the process of taking something written in one alphabet and rewriting it in another alphabet. Transliterating into the Roman alphabet is also called Romanization.

Transliteration is usually done according to a system, and in many countries there is one official transliteration system. For example, Pinyin is mandated by the Chinese government for spelling standard Mandarin. In the absence of that, usually a group of professors will hold a conference and make their own system. Sometimes both happen, and you get competing systems. Chinese used to have the Wade-Giles Romanization system, although Pinyin has kind of killed it at this point.

Mongolian doesn't actually have either; there is no "official" way of writing Mongolian words in English. But in my experience there are three major non-official "trends" in the way I see Mongolian words spelled, which I will call "Academic," "Travel Guide," and "Text Message."

To get an idea of the way they look, here is a verse of the Mongolian national anthem written in several different ways:

Cyrillic Өндөр төрийн минь сүлд ивээж
Өргөн түмний минь заяа түшиж
Үндэс язгуур, хэл соёлоо
Үрийн үрдээ өвлөн бадраая
"Academic" Öndör törijn min' süld iveež
Örgön tümnij min' zajaa tüšiž
Ündes jazguur, hel sojoloo
Ürijn ürdee övlön badraaja
"Travelguide" Ondor turin min suld ivej
Orgon tumni min zaya tushij
Undes yazgur, khel soyolo
Urin urde ovlon badraya
"Text message" Undr tur.n mn svld iwej
Urgn tvmni mn zya tvshj
Vnds yzgur xel soylo
Vr.n vrde uwln badray

Quite different, right? But why? Because languages and alphabets are different, compromises have to be made between things like accuracy and convenience. You may have guessed already how some of these systems made the choice.


"Academic" refers to the typical way of writing words in serious books about Mongolia, which contain footnotes and are written by people who know about Mongolia, for people who know about Mongolia. They generally follow conventions for how Russian words get transliterated. Wiktionary uses a version of this.

"Academic" transliterations are based on the transliteration system used for Russian names, with the exception of ö and ü for ө and ү. (Ө and ү were added to Cyrillic to spell vowels that are found in Mongolian, but not Russian.)  They try to consistently match one English letter to each letter in the Mongolian Cyrillic alphabet. This isn’t easy, since the Mongolian alphabet has more letters than the English one, so diacritics (“letters with hats”) are used, like the two dots above ö and ü. They also take care to show long vowels by writing the the vowel twice.


"Travelguide" refers to the casual way words get written in travel guide books, news articles, and other stuff which is aimed at a general audience, and doesn’t usually include footnotes. It's less accurate than the first type, but more convenient, because the English letters used are usually pronounced kind of similar to the Cyrillic letters.

"Travelguide" spelling usually spells words with letters that have a similar sound in English to the Mongolian word. For example they write the letter 'y' in words that have a 'y' sound. In many formal works, this sound is spelled with a 'j.' Seeing this, Americans might mispronounce the word.

"Travelguide" transliteration makes concessions to the average English-speaking dude, who is too lazy to deal with things that don’t look English, like long vowels or “letters with hats.” It doesn't do this consistently though, even in the same book, so sometimes you see double vowels, sometimes you don't. So some accuracy is sacrificed for the convenience of people with only 2 weeks to take their vacation.


Both of the above types are for the benefit of English readers. But Mongolians have developed their own way of writing to each other in Roman letters, because most cellphones don't have Mongolian keypads. I call this "text-message" style. You also see this in Facebook posts. Lots of Mongolian students spell their names this way too, which confuses foreigners because often it looks different from the way the foreigners think the name should be spelled.

"Text message" transliteration is a different animal altogether, which values extreme conciseness. Mongolian text messages, like American ones, abbreviate ruthlessly. Mongolian text-messages go further than the guidebook version by eliminating most short vowels completely. Often only the first vowel in a word will be spelled. The vowels may be written out for emphasis (like when they don’t think the American will understand what they’re writing).

Luckily, it's often easy to guess what's missing, because restrictions on Mongolian syllable structure usually tell you where short vowels will be, and vowel harmony tells you what vowel will be there. It works so well, in fact, that in Mongolian’s sister language Kalmyk, even standard spelling works this way.

A lot of people will write text messages in their own idiosyncratic ways. For example, Cyrillic letter х is written as x, h, or kh by different people. However, some odd spellings are nearly universal, such as using English letter v to spell Cyrillic letter ү.


This is not an exhaustive comparison, of course, because none of these systems are official. I’ve seen some books that use their own systems. Speakers of Korean, Japanese, and European languages also the Latin alphabet differently to write Mongolian. Nor will I get into the way that traditional Mongolian script is transliterated, which is very different, because it reflects the Mongolian language of 800 years ago. But hopefully I’ve covered it enough that you won’t be lost as to why some names are spelled different ways.

It's also common to mix systems. Lots of books take a middle road between the extremes of "academic" and "travelguide" spelling. This is the way I write words on this blog. I care about accuracy, so I take care to write long vowels with two vowels, and distinguish ouö and ü. However, I prefer letters that suggest the closest English sound, so I write manai instead of manaj for манай. But just in case, I always include the Cyrillic spelling anyway, so anyone who wants to be really sure what the word is can check!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Children's Day / Хүүхдийн Баяр

Children's Day makes a fitting end to the school year

June 1 is recognized worldwide as "International Day for Protection of Children" and consequently is the most popular day in many countries for celebrating children. In Mongolia it is called "Children's Day," or Хүүхдийн баяр (Hüühdiin bayar). As you may recall, баяр refers to a celebration or holiday. Officially, the day is known as Эх үрсийн баяр (Eh ürsiin bayar), which means "Mother and Children's Celebration" in rather formal Mongolian.

The biggest party, of course, is in Ulaanbaatar. Thousands of parents and children from around the country gather for a ceremony in Sühbaatar Square, and other activities. However, smaller parties happen in сум's and аймаг's. Naturally, they are usually hosted at schools.

The Mongolian school year conveniently runs from September through May, so Children's Day makes a fitting unofficial end for the school year. In honor of Children's Day 2015, please enjoy some pictures from Children's Day 2014.

Children line up by the school to watch the ceremony

A little Mongolian boy checks his trading cards

Children's Day parties at schools provide a chance for students to show off their talents. Unlike most student competitions, which are dominated by high school students, on Children's Day the participants are mostly kindergarten or elementary school children.

Girls get ready to dance

Typical displays of skill include dancing and singing performances. Talented young artists get their drawings displayed on school walls. One year when I visited UB on that day, even the State Department Store (Mongolia's biggest mall) displayed children's drawings in the store window.

Singing is popular at many holidays, including Children's Day

On Children's Day, small children can sing too.

Opportunities for play include games like darts and шагай, and drawing on the ground with chalk.

Playing with sheep anklebones
Playing with sheep anklebones
Older children playing darts
Children drawing with chalk
Of course, winners get certificates.
At the end, everyone gets their picture taken.

Say Hi.
More photos
Take some photos from the other direction
Adults also find time to celebrate themselves too. Here teachers pose for a photo op in front of the school.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Mongolian Monuments - II

More Mongolian monuments, this time outside of Ulaanbaatar.

Camel in Terelj
Shaman on the western highway out of Ulaanbaatar

Цонжин Болдог - Tsonjin Boldog

OK, in the last piece about monuments, I said that Sühbaatar's statue was the most famous, but this one below may be more famous now - at least among foreigners, who've seen it in the news somewhere. (Sühbaatar's statue, being almost 70 years old and from a time when Mongolia was largely closed to the Occident, is unknown to most foreigners, even if it has emotional resonance for Mongolians.) Tsonjin Boldog is a vast and interesting historical 'village' of sorts, but the centerpiece, of course, is the massive, massive statue of Chingis Khaan on a horse.

The giant statue of Chingis Khaan at Tsonjin Bodlog
Smaller equestrian statue guarding the way to Chingis
The statue is so massive, in fact, that you can climb the stairs inside it and walk out onto the horse's head.

Chingis Khaan's face, seen from the top of his horse's head
Chingis Khaan's whip
Covered in glistening metal and sharp angles, and wearing a frown, this Chingis statue projects a hard, rough image. It's appropriate given his reputation as a warrior, but also quite different from the effect of the mellow, aged-bronze Chingis who watches the government building like a wise ancestor. Tsonjin Boldog's statue is bigger and better-known, but the one in Parliament is a better statue, in my opinion at least.

Эрдэнэт - Erdenet

Erdenet is the second-largest city in Mongolia.

The Russian-Mongolian Friendship Monument. (Найрамдал is 'friendship' in Mongolian. Дружба must be 'friendship' in Russian.)
Large Buddha statue outside town.
Bulldozer in Erdenet
Turtle? Maybe? I really don't know.
Anandyn Amar (Анандын Амар), 1886-1941. Early leader of the Mongolian People's Republic who was purged by Choibalsan.
Anandyn Amar
Odd-looking tower. I couldn't find out what it represents.

Хархорин - Kharhorin

Kharhorin: better-known in the outside world as Karakorum, once the capital of the Mongol Empire.

In front of City Hall

Stylized 'lion' guarding the bridge over a stream. This is on the way to City Hall and the post office.
More lions at Erdene Züü (Эрдэнэ Зүү) Monastery.

Цэцэрлэг - Tsetserleg

Viktor Stanislavovich Kiyakovsky (Виктор Станиславович Кияковский), 1899-1932. The other side reads: Монголын ард түмний эрх чөлөө, тусгаар тогтнолын төлөө амь насаа зориулсан зөвлөлтийн эрэлхэг чекистэд, "To the gallant Soviet secret service member who dedicated his life to the freedom and independence of the Mongolian people." Google turned up only a single English search result for him [1].
Монгол улсын өрлөг жанжин Г. ДЭМИД - Mongolian Marhsal G. Demid

Statue of a wrestler in Tsetserleg

Tower by the government building in Tsetserleg

The Buddha on Bulgan Mountain in Tsetserleg

Children playing by the feet of the Buddha
Sheep on a cliff outside Tsetserleg

Хашаат - Khashaat

Four Friendly Animals, near Khashaat sum
Giant star in the middle of Khashaat sum. Erected in 1971, it celebrates 50 years of  the Mongolian People's party.
Socialist star in Khashaat sum
Socialist star in Khashaat sum

And finally, my favorite little statue, the one that I saw almost every day for three years.

Book in front of the school in Khashaat sum


  1. The result is for the book White Terror: Cossack Warlords of the Trans-Siberian, by Jamie Bisher.