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Mongolia Flag NAADAM


July 11. UB The Naadam Festival It was finally the day of Mongolia's National Naadam Festival Opening Ceremony.  We got down to the stadium early and snacked on some local food while we waited for the gates to open, watching the variety of Mongolians and tourists gather.  A conspicuous population of tourists had arrived in recent days.  Our section was filled entirely of tourists, the most noticeable of which were large French and German tour groups and a 20+ group of Mormon Missionaries.  It made for an interesting mix of people.  As we predicted our view was not a spectacular one.  We were at the west end of the stadium and the performance was directed at the main bandstand area where the President was sitting.  

We secured good seats above the entrance to our section and were joined by the three Singaporean women we had met at Bernard's a few days earlier.   The section got full to the point where the stairs were also packed with people.  The other sections of the stadium were also well packed.  One section to the right of us was populated with mostly military men but the others were filled with Mongolian people, many sporting umbrellas to keep the sun off of their heads.  That was our privilege for paying 20 times as much as the local people, our section had an overhang.  On the stadium floor the performers were assembling at the edges.  At the four corners Coca Cola umbrellas were set up to quench their thirst as they waited, and provide some choice advertising. 

The ceremony started with a parade of soldiers on horseback  that entered from the east end of the stadium, swept around the back, and stopped at the front.  They were carrying the five precious symbols of Mongolia, large golden tassels that were ceremoniously installed in front of the President.  The ceremony proceeded with a large military band and a dazzling display by people doing acrobatic tricks from horseback as they crossed the stadium.  The back of the stadium floor was filled with people in traditional costume and the sides were flanked with archers.  It was a colorful display and was well orchestrated but had the feeling of an Olympic Games opening ceremony.  That was reinforced by  all of the performers turning to the back of the stadium, raising their arms and swaying (sort of "We Are the World" -ish) as they walked towards the rear stage where a Chinngis Khan look alike was seated.  And, for the grand finale about 10 skydivers swooped down onto the field with flags trailing behind.  

After the opening ceremony finished the first round of Mongolian wrestling started.  The wrestlers ranged from small children to older men and there were no weight classes.  The competition was concentrated in the middle of the field so it was difficult to become too engaged.  We were glad to have gotten a closer look at the wrestling up at Zuunmod.  Many people filed out of the stadium after the first couple of rounds.  As the wrestling continued they ran some short distance foot and cycling races around the stadium track.  That sort of diminished the wrestling event for me.  As a national sporting event they could include whatever event they wanted but the traditional Naadam only used to be wrestling, archery and horse racing.  The inclusion of track events didn't seem to complement the traditional events very well.  Mongolians are superstitious about the winning wrestlers and horses and these new events just did not carry the same mysticism.  

Outside the stadium people were milling around, eating and drinks, shopping at stalls, and waiting for the wrestlers to exit from the stadium.  We stood outside the exit and saw several wrestlers leave but most were clothed in their dels.  I was hoping to get a close up of their outfits and the opportunity finally presented itself with a tiny little wrestler that couldn't have been more than five. He was being led away by his slightly older brother when we motioned to ask for a picture.  The older brother nodded and moved away.  The little wrestler took a very mature stance with his hands on his hips and his right foot slightly forward, like he'd done it a million times.  His face was totally serious but cracked a smile when I showed him his photo on my digital screen. 

From the main stadium we walked to the nearby archery competition and easily found seats.  Archery was probably the least popular of the three main Naadam events so the bleachers weren't packed.  We could see Jeremy down in front snapping shots of the archers.  Even in the plethora of photographers that swarmed the opening ceremony we had been able to pick him out but in this small setting it was hard to miss him.   The event switched between men and women during each round.  The men were lined up directly in front of the bleachers while the women had a slightly closer position.  Their traditional outfits were fantastic, shin length silk dels (coats) with decorative hats and ornaments.  One of the older men, who lined up at the head of the row, was great to watch.  He calmly motioned for people to clear the field, smoothly raised his bow, shot his arrow and returned his bow to his side without even casting a side glance at the hoard of photographers snapping and videoing within a couple of feet of his position.

After a round of archery I went to get a view from father out on the field.  As I exited the bleacher area I heard singing coming from a nearby tent.  When I went around the front to investigate I discovered what could only have been the anklebone throwing competition.  We hadn't been too interested in the event because it wasn't part of the traditional three but, unlike the track events, it was conducted with a real Mongolian flare.  The large tent was filled with clusters of competitions, each arranged in a oblong group.  At one end there were a few men managing the rows of sheep anklebones in a small target box . At the other end the competitors kneeled on one knee holding tiny hand-held crossbows, each with a flat piece of bone that they used to fling at the anklebones.   It was the perfect ger sized sport and anklebones are also superstitious to the Mongolians.  I had purchased a game that consisted of four ankle bones that were rolled like dice to determine someone's fortune.  Combined with the traditional clothing and singing, the anklebone throwing competition seemed to fit nicely with the more traditional Naadam events.  

Rob was still engaged in the archery when I got back.  People had thinned out a bit so I got up close to get some photos but the heat was tiring me out.  Still not having gotten a close up of an adult wrestler I went to wait outside the stadium exit while Rob finished watching the archery.  By the time he joined me I still hadn't seem a wrestlers emerge without his del so we entered into one of the stadium sections right behind the wrestling.  They asked for our ticket but when we reached our hands down to retrieve them we were just waived inside.  So few people were watching the wrestling at this early stage that it didn't seem to matter where your real seat was supposed to be.  All of the waiting wrestlers were clustered up against the front of our section which afforded me some good shots of their costumes and lively behavior.

Before making our final departure from the stadium we grabbed a bag of hooshoi (a sort of fried mutton turnover) and gobbled them down.  The stalls around the stadium were as busy as ever and some were even running out of food.  The Coca Cola representatives were passing out paper Fanta visors and even some of the monks were wearing them.  Near the stadium entrance were two huge inflatable canisters of film advertising for Konica.  This was no longer a traditional cultural event, this was modern day Mongolia.

ULAAN BAATAR July 2-3 July 4-5 July 6 July 7-8

NAADAM July 9-10 July 11 July 12 July 13

COUNTRYSIDE July 14 July 15 July 16 July 17 July 18 July 19 July 20-21


BALDAN BARAIVAN July 25-30 Intro About Baldan Baraivan Mani Buteel Buddhist Festival The Restoration Work Another Naadam & About CRTP

ULAAN BAATAR July 31-Aug 1