Anthropological reflections on Mongolia by Mark


Sorry, this isn’t a political post.  Instead I wanted to share a few things on being in a different culture and trying to figure out why some things are they way the are in Mongolia.  The creed I learned from Jim Eberline on culture has served me well, “Its not wrong, just different.” 


Every day as we go to language school we get a glimpse of a mural on an apartment building behind the school, its pictured below.

Look at it and ask yourself the question- what is it, what does it mean?



I’m fascinated by the mystery of this mural.  I don’t know when it was put up but probably some time in the past 30 years or so.  My first thought was “What is the Virgin Mary doing on a mural in Mongolia?”  This mural would be at home in Mexico, where I have seen a few like it, or even some places in the US.  It appears that there is a woman holding a child.  I’ve asked my teacher who it is and she says she doesn’t know.  Its not Genghis Khan, who adorns everything else here so I’m still left with the mystery of who it is, why is it here?  What does it mean?  I don’t know.  Just because someone lives in Mongolia doesn’t mean they know either.  There are many things that we do in our respective cultures that we do but don’t always know why we do them, nor do we attribute any special significance to them but they are different from other cultures.  Not wrong, just different. 

Another interesting thing a learned this week is about directions.  If I were to ask you what left and right mean in regards to directions on the compass you would probably reply Left is West and Right is East.  Most western cultures are established on a Northern orientation.  When the United States was being settled we knew about Magnetic North and used a compass.  In Mongolia the opposite of the directions is true.  Left is East and Right is West- a Southern orientation.  The question I have is why? There may be a few different reasons.  When a ger (the circular tent that is lived in, you can see one above) is set up the doorway is always chosen to face south.  This catches maximum light and warmth.  Also if you think about how Mongolia is situation the North is only cold (Siberia is up there and besides mosquitos and nuclear waste – that makes bigger mosquitos  there still isn’t anything there- look on a map at the size of Siberia compared to Russia!).  The south here is  much more favorable position.  This throws me allot when I think about directions, keeping it straight in my head.  Its definitely different, not wrong, just different.