Most people say…”Where is Mongolia?” and I honestly didn’t really know either, but I knew that I was on my way there to sing at the Giant Steppes Jazz Festival, so I figured I should probably find out lol.
With two weeks notice, I was on a plane headed to a foreign country I didn’t know much about. I knew it was in between China and Russia, the money was called Tugrik and I couldn’t get any in yyc, it was a great place to buy slippers, the climate was the same as yyc..and oh there would be lots of sheep to eat..here we go!
Flew to Seattle and had a 7 hr layover there spent with a dear friend, and then on a 10 hr Korean Air flight to Seoul, then about 3.5 hours to the capital city of Mongolia, Ulannbaatar. Arrived lated in the evening, and the time difference between yyc and UB is 14 hrs. Arrived at the Hotel Miami, and was escorted to my room, now..not many people speak English at all, so was grateful for the many new friends I made who could help translate. Got to my room and it was kind of…ummm..terrible, it had disgusting old carpet, broken lights, it smelled terrible, and oh there were these on the bedside table….
Mongolian Condoms…perfect! Just what made me want to jump into bed…I then tried to see if I could get another room at what is now 2 am..and of course this was challenging giving they don’t speak english, I have lost my translator and have NO concept of the Mongolian language..I think they managed to let me know that they were all full…so I had a little “Big City Princess” cry…I blame it on jet lag…and tried to sleep.
Woke up to no electricity, apparently this is kind of normal in UB….and had a cold shower in the dark, again apparently of the norm. Got ready and headed to the Jazz Club, yes an actual Jazz Club in UB, we don’t have one here in yyc, but in Mongolia there be jazz clubs. This is when I got to meet the owner of the “UB Jazz Club” and one of the organizers Ganbaat, here is a pic of him and I with Deigi and Tuya photobombing!..Ha…just noticed that. Great cat, and he spoke english which was a bonus.
He also gave me my “official” Mongolian name..”Dennie”..aka Mongolian Princess Dennie..;)
So it was July 1, so kind of Canada Day, but we were a whole day ahead and there was a few touristy things that we took care of, like visiting the monastery with the GIANT Buddha, and hanging out in Chinggis Square where I saw my face on the biggest poster ever! I felt like a star! It was the coolest thing ever, the picture doesn’t really do justice to just how big it was, but man it was awesome! Oh yeah, they did switch my room later at Hotel Miami, which felt like a major upgrade, so was very grateful!
Being Canadian, after all this I wanted a Mongolian beer! Turns out, the first day of every month establishments are not allowed to sell alcohol!! We managed to be able to get around it by having a special room just for us, so that was great, and then the vodka started to flow…I think the last time I shot vodka straight was back in high school..and I recall not having such fond memories.but this is how they do things in Mongolia, so I figured, why stop now?
The Giant Steppes Jazz Festival was great fun. We played every night, either in the club, or on an outdoor stage and our final gig was in the Opera House. Along this journey I got to meet some incredible musicians from all over the world, from the amazing Japanese Dixie Land Band to a fantastic German Bari Player to a stupendous Korean drummer. The audiences were always enthusiastic and definitely liked to party. I also met a lot of fabulous local musicians, including all of the players in the GMUB Big Band, yup UB has a Jazz Big Band with Singers. All very talented and I received so many gifts from all of them.
One person I absolutely fell in love with was a man named Hishi from Japan. He played the Tuba and was such a delight to be around, we sang songs together, danced, laughed and we deemed him to be truly Canadian as he said sorry a lot, knew how to make a water bottle sling out of a bandana, and could start a campfire no problem. We also rode camels together…a treasure!
One of my favourite moments was when I was improvising with words, I started saying, Why is there so much meat in Mongolia…where are all the vegetables? (Trust me this is kind of true..a lot of meat in UB, a lot) and a couple (who understood English) later told me that they went home that night singing “my song” and giggling why doing it. How great is that?
Another beautiful moment was when a young woman pulled me a side, after the Opera House Gala Concert, and admittedly said “You know I thought piano and voice would be boring…but I was wrong…we need you to come here more, we need more of you here..” I knew in that moment that I had done my job.
Here is a quick little video of me singing in Mongolian
To end the festival we all went back to the club and had a giant jam! It was an absolute blast, so much that the power went out, yet the music continued on. We ate and drank merrily together and celebrated the time we had. Lots of hugs and tears as a lot of us were saying good-bye at this point…forever moments.
Next we were off to the countryside! aka..camping, First off though we had to stop at the Big Chinggis Statue! You could also have a giant eagle sit on your arm here..no thanks..We went and climbed all the way to the top, yes this was a “tourist” moment. I have to say it is a pretty spectacular statue..here’s a pic of the Canadians, Japanese and Mongolians all together
Then after an extreme 4 X 4 experience we arrived at a Ger camp, and actually got to stay in a Ger which is a Mongolian traditional house which has played an important role in the nomadic civilization of Mongolians for centuries. This is also where Hishi started the “campfires” for us.
Actually did a couple of hikes, in my Toms, this is once again..not usually my style…same with camping, but I made it through and shared a lot of laughs. On our way back to UB, we stopped at a the beautiful Terelj National Park, this is where I rode my first camel, wasn’t all that pleasant really and yes they are very smelly..but my husband back home said “I want to see you on a camel” so I got out of my comfort zone and did it! With Hishi of course 🙂
Then back to the city just in time for Naadaam Festival, which happens every year. There is an opening ceremony and then the games begin which is wrestling, archery and horse racing. It happens at a stadium where there are a ton food and market vendors, and very interesting versions of some of the rides one might see at the Calgary Stampede. It is a big deal in UB, they even had a huge outdoor Opera going on the night before the Opening ceremonies. The opening ceremony was really cool and it was a perfect day for them. The stadium was packed!
And that kind of “Coles Notes” it for my trip. I did get to meet and have beers with the Canadian Ambassador and his wife, I got beat up really good by a small Mongolian woman when I went for a “massage”, I did buy slippers, but no Cashmere, I shed a lot of tears when saying good-bye to my sweet friend Oyuka, who was an absolute peach, I ate a lot of really good food, I got to see a fabulous performance that showcased all the different Mongolian art forms, dancing, long song, throat singing etc..overall a wonderful experience.
Thanks again so much to the Giant Steppes Jazz Festival for inviting me, to the AFA for funding this journey, and to all the incredible new friends I made. A journey I will treasure forever. xo