Ulaanbaatar's Surprise Party
Help With A Tsam Mask
By now I am used to having things happen around me unexpectedly. Not knowing Mongolian prevents overhearing news on the television or radio. The English language UB Post
is sometimes helpful for things that are now recent history, not so much good for seeing what might happen tomorrow. On most days not knowing what will happen next is an appealing aspect of living in Mongolia, even though there are also times when it can be exhausting. For two years I have been like a young puppy in a new room, exploring everything and wondering how that
got here, or how this
works. I have also, unlike a puppy, worked under the assumption that the reason I don't know what is happening is that I am a foreigner, and those who are natives have an easier time of things.
One year ago I had just had a very lucky day, stumbling onto the 375th birthday celebration of the city of Ulaanbaatar. It was a day of parades and closed city streets and at night, fireworks. Clearly it doesn't happen every day, but in a way that makes sense because of, well, maybe our love of numbers divisible by twenty-five, it was the year for a big celebration, one that I would remember for a long, long time.
Or so it seemed at the time. But then, after Judy's Halloween talk last Monday at the library, Boloro, an English teacher from the Monglian National University of Arts and Culture, told me about a parade on Thursday. It would start at 2pm and end somewhere in the vicinity of Ankhara Street, between our apartment and her university, which is where I taught last year. I knew the location well but didn't connect the dots about the reason for the parade. Boloro didn't know the reason for the parade either, but later texted that there would be another event at 10, near the Central Tower.
On Wednesday evening I noticed that stages and platforms were being assembled in front of the State Department Store, diagonally across from our apartment. I imagined that it was an early start for Christmas or New Years decorations. On Thursday morning loud banging began outside at 4. I saw trucks on the street in front, and odd shaped pedestals dragged across the street blocking traffic. At 8 I called my landlord to ask what was happening outside. He had no guesses—had not seen the commotion, had not heard anything about a parade. I asked him where the Central Tower is, and just before ten walked there to see if I could figure out what was happening.
Aside from the festival tents selling Mongolian food, Mongolian clothing, Mongolian produce, and Mongolian books, there was a large banner hanging on a building just south of Sukhbaatar, now Chingis, Square. Roughly translated, it read Happy 376th Birthday Ulaanbaatar!
Ah, the 376th! This year it is being launched from just beneath my front windows.
Although it was not nearly as grand of a celebration as the 375th, it still had enough energy to be fun for everyone but commuters, stopping traffic on the main east-west artery through downtown. So as marchers marched, those drivers who had not considered the pointlessness of doing so laid on their horns. The rest enjoyed the show along with the pedestrians, even getting out of their cars to watch.
Fortunately the 376th did not go on all day like the 375th. I wandered around to see the preparations for the hour before the parade was to begin, and spent another hour as a Mongolian with a microphone announced the celebration. Then, after a dance program in the middle of Peace Avenue, some smoke bombs, streamers and a balloon launch, the presentation of a birthday cake float, and a drum corps routine, the parade. I followed it until it turned north on the Little Loop, then left it to catch the bus with Dugarmaa to go to Mongolian Immigration to pick up my visa.
By the end of the day, I was officially a researcher and student until July 30. I think. By midnight, the tents and stages put up the night before were gone.