Tsogttsetsii has its own canine emperor.
As I’ve explained before, dogs are rarely pets in Mongolia. You might find a few dogs as pets in big cities where Mongolians have adopted the more modern custom of keeping them. In the countryside though, they are guards or strays, most running around without leashes and never invited into the home; they’re usually hostile to outsiders, and extremely aggressive, so most Mongolians openly admit to being afraid of them.
Not our canine emperor though, an enormous Tibetan Mastiff. I have no way of knowing, but this dog just strikes me as ancient, loping more than walking, and he’s never in a hurry, moving just as you’d expect an elderly dog to move. Most dogs take up with one particular yard and stick around to guard it and receive table scraps in return. Not the emperor, he wanders around as he pleases, which is usually dangerous for them as strays are routinely shot. There’s usually a day in the fall when men ride around on motorcycles and cull the dog population with old Russian rifles. Not much different than the pound really, although I’m not sure how comfortable I am with people waving superannuated firearms around while riding two-wheeled vehicles. People have obviously lavished care on this beast though. He’s got khadags (scarves with religious significance) tied around his neck—many, in fact—and most of them look old, like they’ve been wrapped on at different times and by different people, probably several winters ago.
He was out in our yard this morning, tearing happily at the leftovers of a haunch of mutton that our Emee (grandmother) had brought to him.
I’ve been one for loping most of my life, if the truth be told, but about a week ago, I ran. The Gobi Marathon is an annual event that takes place out in the desert, organized each year by a friendly German gentleman with a passion for running. The vast majority of participants are tourists or other foreigners that live and work here in Mongolia, but some Mongolians run as well. A group of close Peace Corps friends made the trip down to the Gobi to run either the half-marathon or the 10k. My friends Clif, Joe, and Justin ran the half, while Ashlie and I ran the 10k (I’ll try to include some pictures when I can, but some technical difficulties with the camera at the moment are making that a little difficult). Clif and Joe came in first and second in the half, and I took second in the 10k, giving Peace Corps one gold medal and two silvers, and Ashlie and Justin receiving finisher’s medals. Not too shabby, eh? Call it runner’s high, but I think I can see why people do this. Upon my return to the States, I think I’ll be ready to hang up my skates (at least occasionally) in favor of putting on a pair of running shoes every once in a while.
As a group, we also held a methodology seminar for English teachers from the South Gobi. We had a daylong event with classes and discussions focused on ways to be a more effective language teacher. About twenty teachers attended. People were engaged, participated actively, and even had a little fun when we taught them new songs and game ideas for their classrooms.