A Travellerspoint blog

Mongolia, Part 3

Mongolia, cont.

Nurvec, Kooka, and I returned to the caravan, which had started a bonfire to keep themselves warm as they waited for me. I explained to them that Kooka and Nurvec offered to bring 3 big army trucks to pull our caravan across the flooded river. I also explained to them that the road on the other side of the river is good. If we find a way to cross, we can arrive in Ulaangom in 2 hours while driving around the river would take 11 hours along a really bad road.

I noticed more and more Mongolian men on dirt bike/motorcycles appearing on our campout. They were coming out of nowhere, and it was hard to determine if they were rubbernecking or if Kooka called them to come help when the army trucks arrive [even though our team had not agreed to the army truck idea at all]

This is where it all becomes REALLY REALLY fun.

Confrontations between the Russian and Mongolians began. Our leader decided that we would sleep where we were, and in the morning drive 11 hours to the bridge over the river.

Since I knew both Russian and English, I told Kooka in Ringlish that we were going to sleep on location and drive to the bridge tomorrow, so he and his posse were free to go home. For some reason, Kooka would not leave. He pulled our leader aside, and later came to ask me to translate that Kooka wanted 60,000 tugriks [around 45 dollars] for his service. The leader, alongside some other stubborn Russians in our team, refused to pay him anything.

The Russians kept telling Kooka to go away, but he would not leave. He wanted his money. Kooka told me to tell the leader that if we decide to sleep on location tonight, it will be very dangerous. Half of the group should sleep, while the other half stays awake to keep watch.

Kooka and his friends wanted their money, and woundn't leave until they got it. Our leader finally decided to give him 40,000 tugriks. Kooka still wouldn't leave until he got the other 20,000. He explained that he needed the rest of the money to fix his 2nd flat and fill his tank.

The entire situation was really uncomfortable. After the leader realized that Kooka and his friends wouldn't leave, he gave up and surrendered the rest of the 20,000 tugriks.

The Mongolians left our team feeling defeated and cheated. They discussed amongst themselves how much they dispised Kooka for swindling us out of 60,000 tugriks. To be perfectly honest, I blamed the leader more than anyone else. I told him before to ask Kooka how much he would charge us, and this was our punishment for not listening.

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

We didn't feel safe in that area, so we got into our cars and began driving our caravan out of the open. The problem was that without Kooka, we had no idea where to go. We were lost. After an hour of circling around, the Hyundai minivan, along with its 10 passengers [myself included] got stuck in mud and couldn't get out. We had to spend the night in the cars. I have never expirienced more discomfort than sleeping in a car with 10 other people.

To be continued...

Posted by DanPan 11:27 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

Mongolia, Part 2

Mongolia, continued...

This is where the fun begins.

My first impressions of Mongolia were not so bright. There were absolutely zero trees in the entire countryside. Only mountains made of rocks, dust, and yurtas [round Mongolian tepees]. Sometimes, there was a random little river and some grass. It looked like the boonies of Mexico, where I went for missionary in 2009, except for worse.

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After driving into Mongolia, we stopped in the town closest to border called Tsagaannuur. The moment we got out of our cars, lots of Mongolian kids surrounded us, and we played "duck, duck, goose" with them.

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Some Mongolian man came up to us and explained in broken Ringlish [mix of Russian and English] that the river to Ulaangom was flooded and we would not be able to cross it. Although our plan was to do a day camp in a town called Hovd, we were driving to Ulaangom first to pick up our Mongolian translator, Nara.

The man invited us to his house in order show us a map, and we accepted his invitation. Last year, the team from Omsk got lost and went to some random yurta for directions. The family welcomed them inside, offered them some salty Mongolian tea, and showed them where to go. From then on, our Omsk friends thought that all Mongolian people are warm and welcoming - so they accepted this invitation without hesitation.

Our Mongolian friend introduced himself as Kooka. All 20 of us went to Kooka's house and were treated to some dough cakes, candy, and salty tea.

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After a long conversation full of charades and Ringlish, we learned that the river to Ulaangom was flooded, but we might be able to cross tomorrow. Meanwhile, Kooka kept suggesting that we spend the night at his house, and continue to Ulaangom once the water goes down. Ultimately, our leader decided to drive the caravan to the river to check it out. If the river was too flooded, we would sleep there and wait for the water to go down. We asked Kooka if he would lead us to Ulaangom, and he agreed to lead us for the first 45 kilometers.

Now, this is where the REAL fun starts. As we were leaving, Kooka called our leader aside and charged him for the salty tea and candy that we ate.

This was unexpected. For as long as the Russians could remember, tea and dough cakes were always free when they visted yurtas before. When the rest of the missionary team learned that our leader paid for the tea, they expressed their disbelief with

"I can't believe it"
and "I didn't trust that guy since I first saw him"
and "If I knew we would have to pay for it, I would have eaten more!"

I told our leader to ask our Mongolian "friend" how much he would charge us for leading us 45 kilometers to Ulaangom, but our leader just blew me off. He told me that if Kooka charges us, we will say "Sorry, we no speak Mongolian..."
If that didn't work, we would just explain to Kooka that we thought his guidance all inclusive into the price we already paid for tea. Our leader didn't seem worried, so I let it go. I warned him, and I felt like that was enough.

We began to follow Kooka, who was driving a dirt bike/motorcycle, out of Tsugaannuur and into the mountains. The road was was dusty and dirty. Oftentimes, our caravan would take careful precaution driving around the cliffs that our Mongolian friend would zoom past like they were no problem at all. After a while, we lost sight of Kooka, who kept speeding away through the winding mountain road.

After driving past a mountain bend, we saw him up ahead, standing next to his dirt bike/motorcycle looking down. When we pulled up, he pointed to the wheel and said "kaputt."

He had a flat tire. He told us to wait 20 minutes, but we ended up waiting for nearly an hour. It was getting dark by this time. The gravel highways of Mongolia have no streetlights to illuminate the roads, so we had to hurry. As we waited for him to fix his flat, 5 dirt bike/motorcyclists passed us, and each one of them stopped to help [and/or rubberneck.] At first I was amazed. Everyone stopped to help out their fellow Mongolian - I couldn't believe a nation could be be so kind to one another. But once I thought about it, I realized that these people live in the boonies of no where - more than likely, they have absolutely nothing else to do. This flat tire was probably the most excitement they had all week.

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After the tire was fixed, we drove out of the mountains and into a enormous valley surrounded by huge mountains. The roads were horrendous. The Lada got a flat tire. We kept following our friend until we got closer to the river. Suddenly, the roads became muddy and the road was insurpassable.

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We were 4 kilometers from the river, but our cars could not go further because of the mud. Kooka offered to take one person with him on his motorcycle to check out the river and return.

I volunteered to be that person.

I sat on the back of Kooka's dirt bike/motorcycle, grabbed onto him, and we began our journey alone to the river. Immediately, we got stuck in some mud. I got off to push the bike out, and spent the rest of the ride covered in mud.

As we rode through the valley as nightfall fell upon us, I began to realize the gravity of the situation I was in. I was in an unfamiliar country, full of unfamiliar people who speak an unfamiliar language, riding to an unfamiliar place, holding onto some random unfamiliar Mongolian man I only met a few hours before. What if he decided to kidnap me and steal my kidneys?

But then, I thought about situation logically. I am a huge Ukrainian man, twice the size of this small Mongolian dude. If he tries to hurt me, I could just sit on him and he would die. After this realization, I relaxed and we kept driving.

We arrived at the river, and I saw for myself that it was truly insurpassable. I couldn't see the bottom. Beside that, the current was so strong that I couldn't even walk to the other side. Our caravan would not be able to pass. Kooka explained that on the other side of the river, the road was good and we would get to Ulaangom in only 2 hours. Driving around the river to the bridge would take 11 hours on a very bad road.

By this time, it was dark and the mosquitoes were beginning to bite. We got back onto the dirt bike/motorcycle to drive the 4 kilometers back to our caravan. All of the sudden, Kooka pulls off the road, stops his dirt bike/motorcycle, points to the wheel, and says "kaputt".

We began to walk. I had no idea where we were or to where we were walking. I began to worry, but then I remembered that I could kill this random Mongolian man with one sit, and I calmed down.

Dogs [wolves?] began to howl-bark and Kooka bet down and picked up some rocks. I did the same. We walked to the closest yurta we could find, which happened to be the yurta of Kooka's friend. We arrived at the yurta and went inside. Kooka dropped the rocks before entereing, but I put mine inside of my pockets - just in case.

Unfamiliar yurta. Unfamiliar people. I was in the midst of it all. Kooka and I were seated at the coffee table in the middle of the yurta and offered some unfamiliar salty tea. Beside Kooka's friend, in the room sat a woman, an older woman, and two girls. Kooka and his friend began to talk in Mongolian while I sat and waited. Finally, Kooka explained that his friend could get 3 big army trucks to pull our caravan across the river. He told me to wait in the yurta as he and his friend go get the army trucks. I told him that I needed to get back to my friends because they are waiting and are probably worried. Kooka agreed to take me back to them.

Kooka's friend introduced himself as Nurvec. Nurvec got onto his dirt bike/motorcycle, I sat behind him, and Kooka sat behind me. All three of us began driving back to where we left our caravan.

As we were driving through the dark Mongolian night, I smiled to myself. Here I was, sandwiched between two random Mongolian men, in a totally unfamiliar country with a totally unfamiliar language. To top it off I had no form of identification on myself.

Though any normal person would panic in this sort of situation, I remained calm. First of all, I knew that God was with me. I knew that a multitude of people were praying for me back home. And I also knew that if these two Mongolian dudes, in between which I was sandwiched on that dirt bike/motorcycle, tried to hurt me - I could just sit on them and they would die.

To be continued...

Posted by DanPan 09:29 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

Mongolia

Part 1

  • *Yesterday, I talked to my sisters who encouraged me to continue this blog. I was ready to put my baby up for adoption. Now I realize it was my fault. My baby is suffering from parental neglect**

We left to Mongolia on a Sunday, after we recieved a blessing from the Central Church in Omsk. Beside Monica, Natasha, Natalie, and me, 16 other people from Omsk made up the team travelling with us to Mongolia. We drove in three cars; one Hyundai minivan, one Nissan, and one Lada. We also had a trailer with a trampoline which was attached to the Hundai for half of the trip, and the Lada for the other half.

I drove in the Lada with 4 other guys. It stank. Some Russian men have not yet discovered the miracles that deoderant can do. Beside that, the trip was really boring. Siberia is huge, and all you can see are fields and birch trees covered in very heavy smog. During history class, I remember reading that the Nazis became very discouraged when they invaded Russia, because they felt as though the country continued forever and never ended. I finally understand how the Nazis felt.

We drove until Novosibirsk, where we spent the night at a Bible college. We arrived there at 2 am, and by 7 am we were already driving again. We drove and drove and drove, through the smog and steppe, until we finally arrived in Biysk. Our friends from Omsk knew a small church there, so we stopped, ate, and kept driving.

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The smoggy steppe did not stop until we finally arrived at the Altai Mountains. Altai is an amazing place. The mountains are huge, the air is fresh, and the greenery reminded me of the countryside of Japan.

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We kept driving until we found a small hotel, where we slept for maybe 5 or 6 hours. By 6 am, we were driving again so that we could arrive at the Mongolia border as early as possible. We came at the Mongolian border at noon and it took us a good 3 -5 hours to pass the беспорядок known as the Russian control and Mongolian controls.

It is amazing how quickly the territory changes the moment you pass the шлагбаум into Mongolia. The asphalt immediately disappears. Furthermore, Mongolian highways are made completely out of gravel, dirt, and dust. They make Russian roads feel like heaven.

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To be continued...

Posted by DanPan 07:14 Archived in Mongolia Comments (1)

Omsk

In Siberia...Except In Summer

After Moscow, I had a three hour flight to the infamous region of Russia known as Siberia. I am pretty excited that I can finally tell people that I have had the amazing opportunity to live in Siberia! Except, I won't mention the fact that it was during the summer, when temperatures reach 24 C/ 75 F.

Due to visa complications, I came to Omsk on June 18th. This was much later than the rest of the missionary team I was going with, which had been in Omsk for a week prior to my arrival. Our missionary team had divided into two groups; the male members of the team went to work at a construction site of a new church, while the female members of the team visited orphanages and did day-camps in Omsk and the surrounding villages.

Guess which group I joined? The female group, of course! We all know our ladies needed a male full of testosterone to protect them from the mean Russian men who roam the dark streets of Omsk. I gladly accepted the position.

Natasha, Nata, Monica [females of our team] and I live at a local Bible College while we stay in Omsk. We periodically get together with the youth from the Central Church in Omsk and go out to orphanages and nearby villages, called "Syela", to organize "ploshyadki", or day camps, for the children.

During my first day in Omsk, the girls and I, together with the youth from the church, went to an orphanage for Children with Mental and Physical Disabilities. A number of the children there had Seckel syndrome and Down syndrome. Those that were mentally stable had to move on their hands and knees due to physiological deformities. We made balloon animals for these children and played with them. Never before have I seen a balloon animal produce such joy in a child until then.

Another day, we drove an hour and a half to a nearby "cyelo" to organize a day-camp for the village children. Even before we arrived, the children had gathered and where waiting for us. The moment we set up the trampoline, the kids went wild. While a group of the kids waited for their turn to jump, we entertained the other children with games or crafts. It was amazing to see how happy they were all because of a trampoline. Interestingly enough, although these kids lived out in the boonies, each one of them still managed to have a cell phone.

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We also visited an Oncological center with kids battling cancer. It was life-changing to see the joy in these kids' faces, behind their surgical masks, as we handed them balloon animals. That same day, we brought presents to a Narcological Center for children in rehabilitation from drug and alcohol abuse.

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Through these experiences, I realized how fortunate I am mentally, physically, and even financially. You never really realize how good you have it until you see the conditions in which these guys live.

Tomorrow we are going to Mongolia with a group from the Central Church of Omsk to organize a day camp. It will be a long two days in a car on the disintegrating, pot-wholly roads of central Asia. The trip will be far from comfortable, but we keep repeating the Russian proverb, "в тесноте да не в обиде" - meaning "in discomfort though not in loneliness."

Posted by DanPan 11:13 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

The Beginning

SFO --> Düsseldorf --> Moscow

One week has passed since I left SFO, and as I walked down the streets of Omsk - it hit me. One week is already over, and I feels like just yesterday that I began packing for my two month voyage around the globe. Before I know it, it will all be over. And beside that, there are people back home [named Mom and Pop], and others who have given me their email addresses, wondering what life is like abroad.

I don't always have internet and I know that a blog is a big committmet. It takes a lot of time and energy to maintain a blog. It's kinda like a pet, or a baby. But, I accept the challenge. This blog shall be my baby for the next 2 months. I will nurture it as though it were my own child.

I am starting this blog late, and a lot has already happened. BUT. I will adopt the mentality of the entire Russian populus and say, "Better late than never." ЛОЛ

The point of my two month voyage is missionary. I am going to Russia, Mongolia, Israel, and Ukraine to participate in camps targeted toward spreading my faith to children. This is my fourth international missionary voyage. I go year after year because I find myself in a full-time rut back home, wondering if what I am doing benefits me or anyone else. I know for sure that through these missionary journeys, geared toward the supernatural instead of the natural, I benefir both myself and the entire world.

I know that there are many who are against what I do . . . and they are usually those who don't believe in the supernatural. May their eyes be opened, like the windows of my room in this stuffy Russian house.

In the past week, I have already managed to visit Düsseldorf, Germany; Moscow, Russia; and Omsk, Russia.

I had approximately 9 hours in Düsseldorf during my layover from SFO to Moscow, and decided to begin my voyage there. I left the airport via the S-Bahn and got out at the Düsseldorf Hauptbahnhof. Pretty much, if you are ever lost in Germany, find a map and go toward the place that has the word "hauptbahnhof". It means Central Station, and you are therefore somewhere in the city center. I made my way over to the Rhine River, where I visited Düsseldorf Tower and the Gehry Buildings.

Rhine River and Dusseldorf Tower

Rhine River and Dusseldorf Tower

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After my layover ended, I boarded and hopped off the plane at Demededovo airport in Moscow at 2:30 am. Around 3:30, I was greeted by a friend of a friend named Timofei. One of the biggest perks about being a Christian is that you got connections all over the globe. Saves a bundle in hotel fees. Ahh yea!

Timofei took me to a village outside of Moscow called "Malie Vyazemi" to stay with his in-laws. Although it was the beggining of my trip, his mother-in-law had one of the most radiating personalities of anyone I have ever met. She was the typical "Moscovite" woman with the obligatory Russian ultra-outspoken personality.

I got in contact with Stacy, a old friend from Sacramento who is living in Moscow to teach English. She took me to the most famous Moscovian attraction - the Red Square, where I saw St. Basil's Cathedral, the Kremlin, Lenin's Mausoleum, the Kremlin Towers, the State Historical Museum, and GUM. GUM [pronounced Go-om] is a central mall filled with disigner stores and high class shopping for the rich kids of Russia.


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Beside the Red Square, I also saw Bolshoi Theator, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, and my favorite place in Moscow; MGU - Moscow State University; the Harvard of Moscow. The university is the oldest and most prestigious university in Russia, and also claims to have the tallest educational building in the world.

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I had a wonderful time in Moscow with my wonderful tour guide Stacy, who appears to have quickly assimilated into Russian culture. By the end of the day, I was all Russia'd-out. I hopped onto the elektrichka back to "Malie Vyazemi", to the apartment of Timofei's Moscovite in-laws. My flight to Omsk was leaving the next day, and my jet-lagged self needed some precious beauty sleep.

Posted by DanPan 04:00 Comments (1)

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