Mongolia 2016: NUM Archaeology & Anthropology

By the time I woke up this morning, most of the others were alr gone. They had left in the wee hours of the morning, without a sound. It was just the four of us Singaporeans left in the dorm. The quiet was disturbing.

I rarely worry about cherishing memories, because I always believed I would remember the impt things. But for the first time in a long while, I was scared that I would forget even the smallest details of all that had happened. Mongolia had been just wonderful, and I never want to lose this part of me.

If I was asked what I did in Mongolia, I probably could not answer it well, because we spent a lot of time lazing around or playing games in the campsite. But it was the people that made all the mundane seem especially different.

The teachers made an effort to make all our fantasies of Mongolia come true, no matter what we asked for. From Mongolian vodka to horse-riding, they would always make it happen. There was also the prof who loved the city life more than us. She fell ill before any of us did, and spent more time than anyone counting the days until the end of camp. She was overly worried living outdoors would be too taxing on us, so she always told us to leave the difficult chores to the Mongolian boys, who were way more experienced in archaeological digs than we were. They probably did more than 70% of the work while we lazed around the campsite.

The Mongolian students were a fun bunch, playing card games, board games or ball games at every opportunity. We also played with water at the well and the river, and we even went to watch the fireworks in UB together. They gave us Mongolian names (mine was номин,) and we gave them Chinese names (小安, 小丝巾, 花瓶小帅, 大 Boss, 大可爱, 姚明.)

The Mongolian family probably found us a nuisance. We went there really often, when it was raining, or when it was too windy, or even when it was too hot. We got our milk from their cows, and our meat from their herd. Their home was ours too. The little boy in the family had this air of cool about him, in contrast to our highly excitable selves. I think he must be really popular with the girls in his school.

Our drivers drove us everywhere. They picked us up at the airport, followed us around, and then going one full circle, they finally dropped us off at the airport. They were with us throughout the way, and getting around Mongolia without them would simply have been impossible.

Finally, the eleven of us. There were four Singaporeans (me, Rachel, Melody and Darren,) three Macanese (Tammy, Carla and Tina,) two Taiwanese (Emma and Claire) and two Dutch (Erik and Hans.) Even though there was another American, she did not really include herself and left the trip early. The eleven of us went everywhere together except during the course split up; we ate together, and shared our stuff and our food. We went to the department store together and shopped for cashmere together. We laughed at our cultural differences, and laughed at each other. I could not have asked for better company.

The teachers (Saraa, Mendee and Saya,) the profs, the Mongolian students, the Mongolian family, the drivers, and the eleven participants, I will miss us being together.

The other thing I really loved about Mongolia was living with nature. The lush greenery and the vastness of land was breathtaking. The living in tents and taking a break from the world and my phone reminded me of how much more there was to life than rushing around and getting things done. Sometimes, we should just lay down, rest, and take it slow. And maybe walk around outside picking up crystals, Bronze Age stone tools, Qing Dynasty coins, Yuan Dynasty and Khitan pottery fragments, or archaeological artefacts off the ground because they are just lying there amongst the rocks and gravel on the Mongolian soil. Every evening, there was a beautiful sunset along the horizon and as it got dark, we could see the Milky Way if there were no clouds. Everyday, I can only wonder at what I have been missing out on living in the city.

On the last day of camp, the Singaporean girls woke up at 4.30am to see the sunrise, and it was simply beautiful. I was really excited as the sun broke through the clouds to reveal its round, orange self. And since we were up early, we got Tina and Carla to join us in playing a prank on the Mongolian boys by pouring water all over them as their morning call. It was to get back at them for all the unfair water fights at the well of negative temperature water, since they were the ones drawing the water and holding us hostage.

Regretfully, the six burials we dug all turned out to be empty. The guess is that they were either used as ritual sites or to bluff their enemies. Even though there was nothing, I still think it was a good find. I mean, what are the chances archaeologists actually find six empty burials all within the same area during the same expedition? This was a first, and it did stump our teachers as well. So I guess we did make a discovery, one more valuable to academia than the continued analysis of new bone findings. It was not such a great loss either, since we did get to see the discovery of bones at another nearby site we visited.

Despite all the good, mealtimes out in the field was really a problem. We ate mutton every. single. meal. After the sheep is killed, we ate its intestines, then bones, then meat. And it will be finished in about three or four days. And we would buy a new sheep. Every meal was some mix of mutton, shredded carrots, diced potatoes and cabbage. Dashi must be such a good cook, being able to make that many dishes out of the same ingredients over and over. But one day, the 煮饭收拾洗碗二人组 (me and Tammy) could not take the smell and taste of sheep any longer, so we hid in the tents and secretly ate the instant beef rice that Haein and Haeni gave me back in Shanghai. Following that, the Singaporeans and Macanese stopped eating anything mutton, so Dashi had to prepare seaweed with rice every lunch and I cooked ramen every night for us. Mealtimes back in the city was way better, but I think it still troubled Erik a lot, since he basically ate nothing, except his stale croissants.

I sincerely want to thank everyone who impacted my life on this trip, and who made this the most amazing part of my life after the disappointment that was Shanghai. I never want to forget any of you, and any of this, and I can only hope you feel the same way about me too ❤️

Mongolia has been awesome, but it is good to be home xo