Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sad News

Dexter passed away peacfully at 10:00AM on Friday, September 30th at one month shy of 13 years old. Constant companion and a loving and loyal friend - not a day will go by when he's not missed. God speed old friend, God speed.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Back Home!

I arrived home safe and sound yesterday at 5:00 after three days in Seoul en route. Seoul was an amazing experience and it's now most definitely on my "must see" list as a place for a return visit.
All good things must come to an end however so this brings my Mongolian trip to a close.
Next up, a six-day ride through Jasper/Banff national Park and detour coming home through Idaho and Montana to ride the Going-to-the-Sun highway and the Beartooth Pass.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mongolian Opera


Fishing in Sengel


Muslim Extremists

August 17

I experienced my first run-in with hard-core Muslim extremists yesterday but it wasn’t as frightening as I thought it would be.

On Saturday evening we attended the wedding of the son of the chairwoman of the board of the local credit union. Since then she’s been too busy with all the family commitments that go along with a three-day Kazak wedding to meet with us at the credit union so yesterday we were invited to her house for lunch.

Like many Kazak families they have a family compound and within the fence there’s a western style house, some outbuildings and a Gerr that’s used as a summer residence. In their case, because they’re a fairly affluent family, the Gerr was not only their summer residence but a place for guests to stay and was used for traditional family gatherings. It was in the Gerr that we were welcomed for lunch and introduced to extreme Muslim behaviour. In this case though, it wasn’t anything religious or political. It was extreme warmth, extreme hospitality and an extremely good time!

The Gerr was decorated with beautiful wall hangings, family mementos and thick felt rugs, and felt more like something out of Lawrence of Arabia than a middle-class Kazak family in Mongolia. We were introduced to all their children and had a fantastic time learning about their family and little more about Kazak culture and history. And as far as Muslim traditions go, apparently you’re able to pick and choose. I don’t know much about the Muslim religion but I can’t say I thought it would include the copious amounts of Vodka that we consumed during the many friendly toasts. And just to prove that we have much more in common than differences, everyone was on their best behaviour while the Chairwoman was at the table but in the middle of the afternoon she and the children had to leave for another family function leaving the men behind – and that’s when the Vodka really started to flow! That is until the 80 year old elderly Kazak uncle joined us. He’s a much more traditional Muslim and the Vodka quickly disappeared while he sang us a few traditional Kazak folk songs and shared with us through our interpreter his family history. But once he left, out came the Vodka again! All in all it was a five hour “lunch” and by the early evening I had an “extreme” headache so I guess the Muslim’s here are extremists after all.


Back in Ulgii

August 16
Greetings from the remote, rugged and more than just a little run down Aimeg capital of Ulgii (or Olgii, depending on which version you use) Our arrival was a little harried but all’s well that ends well. We were originally dropped off at one of the two decent (decent being an altogether relative term ) hotels in town and I was quite excited. It had a great wifi connection, small but comfortable rooms with clean ensuite bathrooms and lots and lots of hot water. We arrived early and our rooms weren’t ready yet so while they were being cleaned I caught up on a few e-mails all the while thinking longingly of the first shower I was going to have in four days. Then, just as we were ready to unpack, our interpreter got a call from the host organization and said the whole thing was a mistake.......... we were supposed to check into a Gerr camp on the other side of town. So off we trundled to the Blue Wolf Gerr Camp – a collection of small and large Gerr’s in a fenced in back yard that has more the feel of an abandoned gravel pit than the open steppes one normally associates with a Gerr. Oh well, I’m comfortably ensconced in a HUGE five man Gerr with electricity and sporadic wifi and it’s a short walk to the shower building where there are real toilets and hot showers – what more can you ask for!

Our actual work here has been with a local credit union that you would recognize as a credit union anywhere. It’s a VERY small office in a hidden corner of a rundown office building but from this location four staff looks after the financial needs of over 300 members. They take deposits and grant loans and they play an important role in the community because many of their members wouldn’t be able to access these services through regular chartered banks. And speaking of members, the credit union’s two newest members are from Canada! Scott and I both opened memberships and I deposited $20,000 MNT to a new savings account and I have the Mongolian pass book and new member coffee mug to prove it!

Unfortunately the internet connection here isn’t strong enough to upload pictures so that will have to wait until I’m back in UB.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

More thoughts from the road......

August 13
I was told once that music is the international language - and I’m sure I heard or read somewhere that math is universal regardless of language or culture. Well, I have one more to add. An activity practiced and enjoyed by everyone, no matter where or when, and that’s fishing.

Yesterday was a full and busy day. We reviewed endless financial statements and offered our insight and advice on a broad range subjects. It’s interesting and rewarding work but exhausting because everything has to be done through an interpreter and things have to be confirmed and reconfirmed in order to ensure the message isn’t lost somewhere in between. But at the end of the day our Kazak host’s surprised us with an impromptu fishing trip along the banks of the most amazing river I’ve ever seen. Not for its swift running current or any real claim to fame but for just being. It was the most idyllic, peaceful setting I’ve experienced in a long time and could have been pulled directly from the pages of a Mongolian tourist brochure. And as I was sitting there with my new Kazak friends, eating freshly caught pan-fried fish and drinking vodka halfway around the world almost on the Kazak/Chinese/Russian border, it was more than a little surreal. Sometimes the world is a very interesting place indeed and the path we travel takes is in places we would never imagine.

Next stop..... Bayan Uglii – where I REALLY hope there’s running water!


Random thoughts from Mongolia

August 11
Hi Everyone
I’m not much into blogging anymore so this is my first entry in a very long time. I’m back in Mongolia on a follow up visit to my original coaching assignment last year. This time around I’m working with Scott again and we’re out in the remote western area of the country working with small rural credit unions. Our role is to offer whatever advice we can to assist credit unions and cooperatives in their struggle to lift people out of poverty through the cooperative model.

I’m writing this now (Thursday) but it won’t actually get posted until I’m back in an area with internet access. No such luck here. “Here” is the Soum (small town) of Tsengel, which is a small hamlet of approx 1,000 people in the far western Aimeg (province) of Uglii. I flew into the Aimeg capital of Baya-Uglii on Wednesday on the once weekly flight. Scott and I, our interpreter, a few Mongolians and WAY too many pushy, rude and loud, middle-aged European tourists landed on a dirt strip at a small post-Russian airport only five hours late from UB. The tourists and literally mountains of their hiking gear were whisked away by waiting guides and Scott and I were picked up by our contact in Tsengel and made our way approx 80 klm overland by land cruiser. A very looooong 80 klm on dirt roads that ranged from fairly smooth, to rough, to VERY rough to just two vague outlines in the dirt and grasslands.

Last year I was in a business class hotel in UB for the entire time. This time though, it’s a little different. So far there’s electricity but it’s sporadic and the wiring has a definite ancient Russian flair. I’m staying in what can charitably be called a hotel – at least that’s what the Mongolian sign says – but it feels more like a dilapidated hunting lodge. There are four rooms with four single Russian army cots in each room and a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. There’s a small alcove in the hall that has two wash basins but there’s no door for privacy and there’s no running water – just a pot that the cook fills with hot water in the morning. The rest of the “facilities” consist of a VERY basic outhouse out back, but because we’re on the border of Kazakhstan all the toilets are “squat” toilets so the outhouse just has a strip of flooring removed in the middle - no actual commode. Oh well, my legs get a good workout while I’m balancing to.... never mind! Throw in a large communal dining room where we hang out in the evening and the Kazak family (yes, the entire family) that takes care of the kitchen and runs the place and it’s like something out of Three Cups of Tea.

So....... no running water, sporadic electricity, no internet (although all the Mongols and Kazaks are running around with smart phones and seem to have no trouble with cell coverage!) and accommodations that at best can be described as rustic. Pretty crappy, right? I should be hating it, eh? Well, nothing could be further from the truth! Yes, I’d REALLY like an actual toilet and some nice hot water but if this is the price to be paid for seeing some of the most stunning scenery I’ve ever experienced, or visiting a far off exotic land I’ve only ever seen in National Geographic, then sign me up!

Today we spent the morning in meetings with the chairman of the board of the local co-op. An amazing man doing incredible things for his Soum. The co-op has an education program to teach better land use techniques and is actively pursuing a new crop management and animal husbandry program to increase yields and finally store fodder and grain over the winter so this Soum won’t be devastated by another harsh winter. He’s also running the local credit union, a herdsman co-op and has programs running to test new crops. Amazing. And let’s not forget the hotel – it’s owned and run by the co-op too.

In the afternoon we toured a new water irrigation system, looked at his crop management area and then spent an hour with a local Kazak family that’s been hired to maintain one of the crop areas. No tourists, no “put on” hospitality, just a very nice family offering us their home and their hospitality. They’re obviously very poor by our standards but rich beyond measure in so many ways we no longer appreciate or understand. They work hard but their tie to the land, their family and their community sustains and nurtures them and they warmly shared whatever they had available – as is the custom throughout this region. Freshly boiled milk tea, several kinds of cheeses, warm bread and sweets.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I arrived. This area borders China and Russia and is only 18 Klm from Kazakhstan. Most of the population is Kazak and Muslim, not Mongolian and Buddhist. No matter what I expected however, what I found were hard working people going about their daily lives. No Muslim extremism here, just quiet reserved people with a smile for a foreigner and warm hospitality for a weary traveller. And as always, I was reminded that no matter how far you travel the people you meet will have far more in common than differences.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Unconditional Love

Unconditional Love

Have you experienced unconditional love? I hope so. I have and I know there’s no greater joy. I’ve been blessed twice with this gift and only now have come to realize how lucky I’ve been. I guess its age creeping up on me but the thought of living without this love in my life is like a dark cloud on the horizon. I know the storm is coming. And like the weather, there’s nothing I can do about it except focus on the thought that seasons change, the rain will pass and the sun will shine again.

But what is unconditional love? Rosi loves me – and I couldn’t be happier. She’s my closest friend and staunchest confidant. But is her love unconditional? More importantly, should it be? Of course not. A marriage is all about trust and commitment and compromise. It’s a partnership that both have to contribute to. Ignore this relationship or take it for granted and love fades; replaced by complacency and resentment. So no, a wife’s love is hardly unconditional, nor should it be.

And what about Brad? As much my best friend as anyone and my son in every sense of the word. Does he love me? – I know he does – just as I love him. In a much different way than Rosi but no less deeply and no less committed. But is it unconditional? A son’s love is like no other but like any relationship it’s a two way street. Treat each other with dignity and respect and the relationship grows. But ignore each other or worse, treat the other poorly, and love soon fades. It’s not unconditional.

So then, what is this thing called unconditional love? In my mind it’s only one thing. The loyal companionship of a dog. I know many will disagree: those that don’t own a dog, or those that cling to the antiquated notion that dogs are just things – chattels to be bought and sold. But for a lucky few of us, we know. A dog’s love is given freely. Unconditionally. A friendly face first thing in the morning and a warm smile last thing at night. A sympathetic ear when no one else will listen and that one “person” whose happy to see us every time we walk in the door. Whether we’ve been gone five minutes, five hours or five days, it doesn’t matter. That my friends, is unconditional love.

“An old man and his dog were walking down this dirt road with fences on both sides, they came to a gate in the fence and looked in, it was nice - grassy, woody areas, just what a 'huntin' dog and man would like, but, it had a sign saying 'no trespassing' so they walked on.

They came to a beautiful gate with a person in white robes standing there. "Welcome to Heaven" he said. The old man was happy and started in with his dog following him.
The gatekeeper stopped him. "Dogs aren't allowed, I'm sorry but he can't come with you." "What kind of Heaven won't allow dogs? If He can't come in, then I will stay out with him. He's been my faithful companion all his life, I can't desert him now. " "Suit yourself, but I have to warn you, the Devil's on this road and he'll try to sweet talk you into his area, he'll promise you anything, but, the dog can't go there either. If you won't leave the dog, you'll spend Eternity on this road " So the old man and dog went on.

They came to a rundown fence with a gap in it, no gate, just a hole. Another old man was inside. "Scuse me Sir, my dog and I are getting mighty tired, mind if we come in and sit in the shade for awhile?" "Of course, there's some cold water under that tree over there. Make yourselves comfortable " "You're sure my dog can come in? The man down the road said dogs weren't allowed anywhere." "Would you come in if you had to leave the dog?" " No sir, that's why I didn't go to Heaven, he said the dog couldn't come in. We'll be spending Eternity on this road, and a glass of cold water and some shade would be mighty fine right about now. But, I won't come in if my buddy here can't come too, and that's final. "

The man smiled a big smile and said "Welcome to Heaven." "You mean this is Heaven? Dogs ARE allowed? How come that fellow down the road said they weren't?" "That was the Devil and he gets all the people who are willing to give up a lifelong companion for a comfortable place to stay.They soon find out their mistake, but, then it's too late.

The dogs come here, the fickle people stay there. GOD wouldn't allow dogs to be banned from Heaven. After all, HE created them to be man's companions in life, why would he separate them in death?"

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Alive and Well in Dawson Creek

Just a brief note to let everyone know what we've been up to these past few weeks.

I've been here in Dawson Creek since I started this contract on March 8th. I was home for a few days a week ago and I'll be going home again for Easter but other than that I've been here in the great white north. The contract is now firm through to the end of May but interspersed with working here I still have commitments to facilitate in Vancouver and Prince George so it'll mean some juggling but being busy beats the heck out of the alternative.

I'll be home in June but I have two engagements in Vancouver so it'll really be mid-June before things get back to normal.

In the meantime Rosi has been great. She and Dexter are holding down the fort at home and this time she's the one with the honey-do list. There are a few last minute details like tiling the backsplash etc before we can say our renovations are complete and she's making all the arrangements to have these done so we can have free time to ourselves when I get home.

The only down side to being this busy is there's been no time for riding. I toyed with the idea of bringing my bike up after Easter but everyone here tells me it's not unusual to have snow as late as the May long week-end so I'll have to reconsider. I guess I'll have to catch up when I'm home this summer.

On June 18thy I'm finally going to Boise to pick up my bike and I'm riding it to Phoenix to leave it there. Maybe I'll spend a few days on a few back roads just to clear the cobwebs.

The only other news is Mongolia. I've been asked to go back as part of the follow up team of coaches so I'll be there again for 2 1/2 weeks in August.

Anyway, that's still a few months away so no need to talk about it. For now, I'm doing rewarding work for a credit union here in Dawson Creek. I don't like being away from home but it's not forever and it comes with the territory when you're a contractor


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Back home in Canada

Hi Everyone
I apologize for not posting before now but things were pretty routine. We spent January in Mazatlan and had a great time. Brad came down for Christmas, Patty and John were down between Christmas and New Years and Tami was down on January. We drove home at the end of January and spent three days in AJ visiting my dad before the final push home, where we arrived on Feb 8thy.

We've decided on passing on buying in Mexico for the time being for a variety of reasons so we're going to look for something in the Phoenix area. Now that we're back I'm really busy with work for the next few months but by June we hope to be able to make a trip back with the specific purpose of buying something in the Gold Canyon or Mesa areas.

In the interim I'm heading to MB this Sunday for four days and then I'm off to Dawson Creek for a couple of months - maybe longer. Rosi is staying home with Dexter to hold the fort but may join me up there if I stay for May/June.

That's it for now