Friday, January 30, 2015


This is basically my life right now. I have no idea what is really coming - Mongolia is one big blank slate for me. Which is exciting, but also terrifying.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Monday, January 26, 2015

My Dad

A few years ago, my siblings and I threw a big surprise party for my dad's 60th birthday. I was in charge of the slide show, and came across some real treasures while digging through the boxes of pictures in my parents' basement. Here are the best of the oldies in no particular order, just because.

And remember, good times begin with Calico.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Big "T" truth

In 12th grade my AP English teacher, Mrs. Christensen (or Miss "C," as we called her) challenged us to think about what truth was - if there is such a thing as "big T truth," or if all truth (right vs. wrong) was relative. I've been studying the concepts of fundamentalism and relativism, and I really can't come to a hard and fast conclusion. I think there are certain things that everyone believes - murder is wrong, stealing is bad, and so on. But are those things wrong in every case for every person? What about war, or when God commanded religious prophets to kill someone for the good of a people? Or Robin Hood - stealing from the rich to give to the poor - is that always wrong? Is lying to your kids about imaginary holiday figures bad, or to your friend about how cute her hideous haircut is? Or is it something in-between?

Often, religion teaches people what is wrong and what is right. But are there certain morals that are inherent inside us, things that aren't taught, but we are born with? I wonder. Once I saw a documentary about researchers who were studying babies under age one to see if they reacted certain ways to moral choices. For example, they showed a puppet show in which one "bad" puppet was hurting all the other puppets, and the babies all had negative responses to the bad puppet. But when another show about a nice puppet who shared his toys with others, the babies had positive responses. Doesn't seem quite provable to me, but still. Makes me think.

I came across this in a book I'm reading about intercultural communication - that most major religions teach some form of the "Golden Rule."

  • "Hurt not others in ways you yourself would find harmful."
  • "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so unto them."
  • "Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you."
  • "This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you."
  • "No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself."
  • "What is hateful to you: do not to your fellow man."

Where did it originate? And if all of these religions came to the same conclusion independently, does that mean that this is the big "T" truth?  I suppose ultimately it doesn't matter. The world we live in now will usually dictate this for us, whether through laws, religion, or social pressures. I do think that the best way to practice is to decide what lines you yourself will not cross, but otherwise to practice cultural relativism: to suspend judgment of other people's practices in order to understand them in their own cultural terms. Then again, who am I to say so?

Friday, January 23, 2015

If you're curious...

It's looking like the Peace Corps tries to place most of the volunteers in Mongolia in gers ("yurt" in Russian), so I'm trying to get used to the idea of no running water and hauling in fuel for my stove. Other than the fact that everything I do there is going to be a lot more work than it is here, ger living looks like it can be cozy and rewarding.

If you're curious about what ger living looks like, this current volunteer in Mongolia made a great video that's worth watching.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Being mindful

"Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience."

-Buddhist tradition

I'm taking a Cross-Cultural Communication class at the U this semester, which is making me think about how I view life. You think you are culturally aware because you've spent some time in other countries, but I'm learning that you can never really appreciate all the nuances of other cultures. But I can begin to understand all the nuances of my own.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Dreaming of Mongolia.

I'm already getting restless and I still have almost 5 months until I leave for Mongolia! But all the research, practice packing, and Facebooking with current volunteers will hopefully make me extra prepared when I get there. 

Mongolia is going to be so different from the other places I've traveled to and lived in, though I think I will be grateful to have some academic knowledge of Buddhism and how important symbolism is in Asia. It's all reminding me of why I love Asia in the first place. 

The food in Mongolia, however, may not be my favorite. Not looking forward to drinking fermented horse milk. More to come on food there soon.

Some interesting cultural practices I've been learning about:

- do not approach a ger or a rider quickly and directly from front as this may be associated with aggressiveness and be perceived as an intrusion;

- place your right foot first when entering a ger, however, this tradition is no longer strictly practiced;

- do not step on the threshold of the door when entering a ger;

- roll your sleeves down. It is not an obligation to take off your hat, however, if you do it, do not deposit it in the ger because this corresponds to the desire to remain for the night;

- head to the left side of the ger. One will invite you to sit down, ask questions, offer to eat (often cheese in summer) and drink tea, sometimes airag and/or homemade vodka;

- do not refuse what the host offers to you as it is a serious insult to refuse hospitality or assistance. At least satisfy him/her by tasting it. Take what is being offered to you with your right hand. It is even better if you take with both hands or if your left hand supports the right elbow, however, never use your left hand. If the host offers you vodka, drink it or soak the lips and return the glass so that it is refilled and offered to your neighbor on the left.

- if you step on somebody’s foot, shake immediately his/her hand;

- fire is sacred for Mongolians, thus, do not throw anything (water, waste, etc.) there and do not point your feet in the direction of the central stove;

- gifts are offered traditionally at the end of the visit, but they will be opened and appreciated only after the departure of the visitor;

- Mongolians avoid conversations relating to death or diseases, accidents, divorces….