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« Tour Diary: Canasta in Mongolia - Day 2 Preview: Down With Webster @ Schubas »

Artist Thu Feb 09 2012

Tour Diary: Canasta in Mongolia - Day 3, Tsetserleg

This next update comes from Canasta pianist Megan O'Connor (subbing in for Sarah Kneebone who couldn't make this trip) after a brief lag where the band was without internet access. Now back in the capital, wifi is plentiful and so are the posts. [Read all about why this indie Chicago band is touring in Mongolia, and the previous posts.]

Canasta's tour van: Mongolian style (photos courtesy of the band)

"Not sure how long we were in the van after leaving Ulaan Bataar, but at least twenty horse herds, one batch of camels and a few yaks later, we pulled in to the small town of Tsetserleg. (I want to get our driver a bumper sticker that says "I brake for cashmere goats." He was truly amazing.) We decided to throw on an extra layer of long underwear and take a walk around town. Pretty empty outside, all we saw were a few stray dogs, some dance music blasting from a doorway, and a couple of men walking around in deels, the traditional Mongolian coat. (More on deels later. Wow, Mongolians know how to stay warm.) We spotted a small Buddhist monastery, about halfway up the side of a small mountain foothill and decided to climb to it. The cold air and the high altitude made it hard for us to catch our breath on the way up the long staircase. The air was cold. Very cold. But really, "very cold" is a woefully inadequate description. This air felt like something alive and aggressive trying to invade us. Like Dementors. Still, the view from the monastery of the village and surrounding mountains made the climb worthwhile. We said very little, just looked out and took many pictures. The sun was slipping behind the mountains, and so we rushed back down the hill to the hotel, red-cheeked and shivering.

Just being inside felt incredible after our walk. Dinner at the tiny restaurant in our hotel involved mutton and horse (tough for our vegetarian Jeremy, who has eaten a lot of rice this week), and a bottle of vodka, which, when it comes to warming you up, is almost as good as a deel. Otgon, our fantastic embassy translator, showed us how the Mongolians toast, and we spent some time flicking vodka with our ring fingers.

Canasta and Lenin in Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia

The next day, after meeting the dapper young Governor of the aimag (province), we went to the local theater and had a workshop with music teachers and musicians from around the aimag. An exchange of ideas and music followed, and one of our trip highlights was watching a mind-blowing performance of throat-singing, dancing, and musicians playing traditional instruments like the horse hair fiddle. During the Q&A, they asked us about our day jobs. If you are ever looking for a challenge, try explaining to a room of Mongolians about your job at an animal shelter. I was met with a sea of shaking heads and incredulous laughter. I am pretty sure I would have made their night if I had told them about the concept of Doggie Daycare.

After some soundcheck and equipment issues (I imagine someone else in the band will have more to say about this), we played a show for the people of the town. The folks of Tsetserleg must rank among our very favorite audiences. They were enthusiastic and responsive, clapping along to "Magazine" and waving their arms to our cover of "No Diggity." The night before we'd befriended a three-year-old, whom I consider to be my best Mongolian friend, and gave her a shaker (generously donated by the Old Town School). We were delighted to see her in the front row with her parents, shaking her new egg shaker furiously, though perhaps not quite in rhythm. We also got to meet Tim, a Peace Corps volunteer living in Tsetserleg, who brought a bunch of excited students along with him. Playing for them all was a blast.

Before I wrap this up, I must write about some important Mongolian etiquette. My favorite: if you step on someone's toes, or bump into them under the table, you must shake hands. For a clumsy person like me, this means constant hand-shaking. I love it: it makes bumping into people a way to make friends.

A few others:

  • Never shake hands with gloves on.
  • When entering a ger (yurt), do not knock. Instead, yell out "Nokhoi khor!" ("Hold the dog!")
  • Never let your hat touch the floor.
  • When you have to go to the bathroom on a long journey in the middle of vast and desolate Mongolian countryside, you say to the driver "I need to check my horse."
  • And never, EVER play the "I've got your nose" game. Seriously. Don't do it.
  • Za za. (Means "OK" in Mongolian. I love this, and plan to use it constantly from now on.)

Wish us luck & warmth & drumsets."

<-- Read Day 2! | Read Day 4 -->

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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