Rapper Def P makes a world trip by train across the northern hemisphere with his wife Fenske. He has written down his adventures in it book Heen en Onweer and can partly be read on our site. In this part, Def P discovers Mongolia, where he stays in a ger tent for a few nights. This time it is about orphans, archery and cow skulls in Mongolia.
Archery in Mongolia
After breakfast we relax a bit in front of our ger tents with Lisette. In the meantime, we enjoy the beautiful landscape around us. In the afternoon the three of us go archery. A Mongolian from ger camp explained to us how to handle a Mongolian bow. Then we can shoot to our heart’s content on a wooden scaffold, in which a cowhide is stretched. That is quite difficult and you need a lot of strength.
The boy doing it is about twice my width, so effortlessly pulls the bow and cord twice as far apart. No wonder the first arrow I shoot plunges into the ground with a piss arch from its distance. When I halve my distance, it starts to look a little less silly and my arrows even get stuck in the cowhide. The ladies have to move a lot closer and soon give up archery again. There is also a lot of wind that day and we are right there in the smelly smoke line of a mountain of burning garbage from our own camp.
Because we are having a good time with the three of us, we decide to make a long hike through the mountains. We soon leave the beaten track and walk about four hours in a row, criss-crossing through the wild nature. Quite tiring, but at the same time you also get a lot of energy from all the beauty around you. We see the most erratic rock formations, wild cows and horses, but also dead cows that have already half rotted away. This is really raw nature as we have not known it in the Netherlands for centuries.
I even find complete, white-bleached cow skulls there as we only see them in comics and cowboy films. I would have liked to take them home, but unfortunately that is not possible. We also see wild meerkats, a kind of strange giant marmots, giant hawks and here and there a ger camp. But above all a lot of untouched nature. I love to get a breath of fresh air there and leave all the hustle and bustle of the cities behind for a while.
We give her a big pile of paper money, which you could not have bought a hamburger menu from in the Netherlands
On the way back we find a small shop in which a small, old woman works, who has the door locked. When we knock, she opens the door hesitantly. She seems to find it rather strange to suddenly have three of those weird white people in her shop. If we buy just about all the chocolate she has in stock, the ice will be broken quickly. She patiently takes all the strips we point out and keeps typing an amount on her calculator.
With her shaky hand she seems to be pushing the little buttons almost randomly, so we are curious about the total amount. As a real estate agent who has just sold a house, she presents us the final amount and we give her a thick stack of paper money, which you could not have bought a hamburger menu from in the Netherlands. Relatively speaking, the old woman has probably done very good business.
When we arrive at our tent camp a little later, the Dutch team is also back from their group walk. We all eat at the long table and it spontaneously becomes a pleasant affair again. After the meal we are promised a show of Mongol orphans from the neighborhood, who will go folk dances in traditional costume. Normally Fenske and I don’t like this kind of touristic show at all, but there is a really moving story to it.
Two retired ladies from the Netherlands (it will not be!) Who have worked all their lives, thought that they should really do something useful with their lives. They knew that there were a lot of orphans in Mongolia, which nobody cared about. Usually those children wander around in groups. They live on rubbish and try to survive the harsh winters by sleeping underground against warm pipes. That is a really poignant problem here. I have already seen a fierce documentary about this beforehand.
The ladies tell us that they have set up an orphanage in Ulaanbaatar for the most serious cases. They also explained to us how much effort it takes to give the often mentally damaged children a normal life. Some children have been literally treated like dogs and were chained outside, occasionally doing chores for their “owners.”
The two ladies have managed to provide a safe haven for about twenty of these children. As one of the school subjects they learn traditional Mongolian folk dances there. The plan is to do this now and then for tourists, so that they can possibly earn something for the orphanage. We may now be the guinea pig for this.
It is clearly also the first time for the children themselves. You can tell they are all bloody nervous and happy like a kindergarten class on a field trip. When they start dancing for us a little later, their faces glow with happiness. We clap and cheer as loud as we can to make the children feel good. And that works very well. The children are starting to dance and sing more and more enthusiastically. I hear the rickety stereo has a broken wire and could stop at any moment. So I just sit on the floor to keep the cables together.
I am happy to see that there are people who do something so beautiful with their old age
Fortunately, the children have not noticed anything and happily continue to dance. Normally I’m really not very emotional, but I have to admit that I get a lump in my throat to see a group of small children who have already had such an extremely difficult life so happy.
Afterwards, they receive a standing ovation from all the tourists from the camp and a fundraising campaign is immediately set up. The loot consists of bags full of clothes that we no longer need ourselves and a lot of money. I am happy to see that there are people who do something so beautiful with their old age. With a good feeling we crawl into our tent that evening for a warm wedding night by the stove. Our stove is now working fine, so we don’t have to use the pure vodka to get through the night this time.
Back to Ulaanbaatar
The next day, during breakfast, we enjoy the surroundings of the nature reserve in which we are located. Then it’s time for a bumpy bus ride to the capital. When you drive into the city here through the dusty suburbs, you can really see how poor Mongolia is. When you get a little closer to the center, everything becomes a lot cleaner and tidier. However, the people here continue to drive as if they were tearing across the country with a tractor.
Traffic lights and pedestrian crossings seem to be placed here purely for decoration
They are clearly not yet used to busy traffic situations in Ulaanbaatar. Especially when crossing the road, you better be extra careful. Traffic lights and pedestrian crossings seem to be placed here purely for decoration, because what they actually serve for seems a mystery to the population.
We have to acclimatize for a while after the serene tranquility of the untouched nature. But the urban Mongolians also seem friendly and polite to us. The strange thing is that we here with our white appearance stand out much more than in Moscow, but that people react to us much more normally. We are hardly stared at or shouted at here and the people who do look at you or shout something do so with a smile. Then you still have the feeling that they mean well.
Unlike Moscow, we feel welcome and at ease here. Our hotel room is also fine. After two days of living as a Mongolian, it is wonderful to be able to take a warm shower again and wash the fire stench from our hair.
Smelly with the monk
After taking some very nice pictures in a primitive, but very photogenic suburb, we decide to visit the center. One of the beautiful photos that Fenske takes there is that of a monk in a red robe walking past. I am just a few meters away unashamedly discharging some gases, while Fenske asks the man with friendly gestures if he would like to pose for the camera.
The monk gestures to me to join, and I think it is rude to refuse. We solemnly pose for the camera. Right when I’m standing next to that monk, I smell like a cesspool is being opened. Every time I see that picture I have to laugh because you just see that I look guilty, and the monk smells like something really nasty.
The heart of Ulaanbaatar
We are heading for the center of Ulaanbaatar. It soon becomes clear to us that especially the richer Mongolians come here. The poor people try to adapt here by putting on their nicest clothes, but you can take them out anyway. As in almost every Asian city, you can clearly see the great contrasts between rich and poor. This is nicely emphasized at an art exhibition that we visit. There, a Mongolian artist made sleek paintings of authentic Mongolians in beautiful costumes. But if you look closely, you will see that all the patterns in their clothing consist of logos of expensive Western brands such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton.
They almost look like a kind of Buddhist collages. The art of the other Mongolian artists is also cheerful and colorful. This is another nice contrast to the depressive and gloomy art of the Russians discussed earlier, which I also really like.
The food and service in the Mongolian restaurants and bars is excellent. Much better than we expected. After we have visited all the sights in the manageable center, we have a drink on a nice, sunny terrace. In the stiff and strict Moscow we had little need to walk down the street tipsy, but here we feel so at ease that we decide to sample some of the nightlife. Besides that, we can finally sleep in a really comfortable bed.
Good to see that hip-hop can also contribute to social awareness here
That evening we look inside quite a few different bars, but it doesn’t get very wild at night in Ulaanbaatar. At least not where we are. What I do find interesting is to see a few video clips of Mongolian hip-hop groups on a TV screen that is on in a bar. It appears to be about the many orphans in the poor ger camps around the city. This ties in nicely with our special experience of the previous evening. Good to see that hip-hop can also contribute to social awareness here.
When we walk back to our hotel at night, it is remarkably quiet in the city. The busy daytime traffic is completely absent. What also strikes me is that they are only cars. No motorcycles, bicycles or mopeds. While in a country like Vietnam you see the opposite. If you cross there, you will see a horde of hundreds of roaring mopeds in front of the line. Like a threatening hornet’s nest. Ready for the start of a bizarre race without rules.
The other half of this chapter can be read in the book Back and Storm from Def P, in which the adventures of his world tour are linked to stories from the life of Def P. In addition to the countries and areas he visits during his train journey (Germany, Poland, Belarus, Russia, Siberia, Mongolia, Tibet, China, Japan and Canada), the book also contains special trips to Fidel Castro’s Cuba, a Bosnia in ruins, the Spain of the tourists, the slums in the US in the early 1990s and the slums of South Africa.