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Mongolia Flag NAADAM


July 13. UB The Mini Naadam Festival  After our long day on Sunday we were feeling totally wiped out.  At around 9:30 we were still laying in bed and trying to decide if we had it in us to go back out to the horse raceway to watch the final event of the Naadam festivities, the Mini Naadam.  The Mini Naadam was staged out at the horse raceway for the benefit of the horse trainers who didn't get watch the National Naadam.  Jeremy had been told that it was very worthwhile.  After some wavering we finally decided that we should go.  After all, we weren't likely to come back to Mongolia for Naadam.  So, we were up and out of bed in a flash and in a cab out to the raceway.

When we arrived at the raceway there were very few people about.   The restaurant ger camp was coming to life but since the festivities were supposed to start at 10:00 and it was already past that we wondered if we had entirely missed the boat.  But, this was Mongolia, schedules are not strongly adhered to and things tended to just come in time.  After strolling around we walked up to the finish line area.  From that vantage point we could see a gradual flow of traffic steadily converging on a large Mongolian tent.  It was just a trickle of people but we followed our instincts and by the time we reached the tent it was clear that a circle was beginning to form.  We grabbed a spot on the metal bleachers and got ready to wait. 

While we were biding time we were joined by an Australian fellow, Bernie, who had come out to the race on the train.  He reckoned that he was the only foreigner on the train that morning and a Mongolian family had readily taken him under their wing to make sure that he found his way to the right place.  He was looking for some other foreigners to pair up with to share a ride back.  He has been in Mongolia for three weeks visiting his sister who ran the Lotus House, an orphanage, in UB.  He was a friendly guy and we found ourselves pretty impressed by the work that his sister was doing.  She had devoted 10 years to building this orphanage and was taking care of over 100 children.  After seeing the orphan problem in UB I had such respect for someone that would dedicate their life to helping those children.  If only all of them would take advantage of the help that was available to them!  Bernie had spent much of his time with a young boy who had learned English at the orphanage and was able to act as his translator.  That boy will have an opportunity to go so much farther in life than the little urchins we had seen trying to make a living from begging after tourists.  Of course each of them had their own story and own reasons for being unwilling to seek help.  Some came from abusive families and perhaps would always be suspect of authority figures.  At least a good many of them have found help in the orphanages.

After a good long chat with Bernie we began to see signs of things starting to happen.  The water truck driver was having a blast driving his truck around in circles to wet down the dusty earth.  He had plenty of water and made plenty of go a rounds, often catching up the front row of the audience in his spraying.  These people had come out pretty well dressed for the day but none seemed upset at having their good shoes soaked by the water truck.  Eventually the wrestlers began to materialize and amongst them was a Japanese journalist all decked out in the traditional wrestling outfit, ready to take on the professional wrestlers for the benefit of his audience back home.  Since Japan's top Sumo wrestler is currently a Mongolian it seemed appropriate to have a Japanese man participate in their wrestling event.  He made a good show of it too.  We saw his pointed Monoglian hat  bobbing up and down in the crowd of wrestlers and judges as he introduced himself.  It was clear that they were all thoroughly amused.  The Japanese man was very fit but still a good bit smaller than even the smallest Mongolian wrestler.  He warmed up like a Sumo wrestler by lifting each leg to the side and dropping down into a deep squat.  He knew that the crowds was laughing at him and he was really playing it up.

This was our third viewing of Mongolian wrestling and by far the best because we were so close to the action.  Just as in the bigger events the wrestlers began the event by lining up in two "teams", each doing a little dance around his judge and then all going up to the front of the stadium to do an eagle dance and circle the Mongolian flag.  The opening round was particularly fun to watch because the Japanese journalist was prancing around cautiously as he tried to figure out how to tackle his sizable opponent.  The Mongolian wrestler wasn't exactly sure what to do with him.  At one point the Japanese man had the wrestler by his vest ties and was trying to fling him around.  In the end it was a great stroke of luck that the Mongolian wrestler was caught off guard by the unconventional tactics and his weight was used against him to win the round.  The crowd roared and got even louder when the Japanese man ducked under the arm of his beaten opponent (the task of the looser, not the winner).  He made an elaborate attempt at his eagle dance and then began to walk the wrong way around the Mongolian flag.  The crowd roared again and realizing his mistake he turned to circumambulate the flag to his right. 

When the second round started the Japanese journalist's opponent was good an ready not to be humiliated by the novice.  The Japanese man was down in about two seconds. This Mongolian man just used his weight to press him right to the ground.  In Mongolian wrestling if any body part but the bottoms of the feet or the palms of the hands touch the ground the match is over.  

As the rounds continued we found ourselves more and more engrossed by the wrestling. We were, however, momentarily distracted when the large inflatable Konica canister (the only commercial element to the whole event - even Coke had stood this one out) that has been erected nearby started to come loose in the strong winds.  We watched it topple over and begin to roll.  It passed behind the big tent and gained momentum, finally taking air off of the row of cars that were parked at that back!  It was a comical sight.  The herd of horses down the hill must have been taken quite by surprise.  That sucker may still be rolling across the steppe as we speak.

Towards the end of the wrestling the crowds all direct their attention to the open steppe as the horse trainers came blazing across the landscape.  It was their turn to be jockeys this time.  The crowd returned their focus to the final round of wrestling as only two wrestlers but all of the judges entered the ring.  The judges who stood without wrestlers all turned, put their hand on the next judge and kneeled in unison as the last of them touched the one remaining wrestlers on their "team".  It was a symbolic transference of their energy to the wrestler for good luck.  The last round was not a clench contest like the National Naadam and the two wrestlers were pretty well matched but ultimately the biggest guy won.  After the wrestling concluded we saw the winning horse trainer shake hands with with winning wrestler.  The wrestler left with an enormous trophy.  As he made his way to his car the crowd followed him.  It was first time time that I had seen them treat the winning wrestler like they did the winning horse.  The touched him and wiped their forehead to gleen some of the wrestlers "power".  Rob, Bernie and I stood near his car and watched him drive away, giving us a nod and a waive.

Once the event ended the whole area became total chaos.  Everyone was piling into cars and the dust was thick in the air.  Rob quickly flagged down a taxi and secured it for our ride back to UB. We were all brown from the layer of dirt on our faces.  Fortunately the smaller crown meant that the traffic back to UB wasn't bad.  Bernie recommended another cafe for pastries and coffee so were soon lounging at Sacher's Bakery enjoying a late breakfast.  He had wanted to take us to see his sister's orphanage as well, which would have been interesting, but we were getting worried about not having prepared for our countryside trip so had to say "good-bye".  After sorting out our stuff for the trip we had time for some dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant.   

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