Genghis Khan exhibit in Chicago the biggest ever

Genghis KhanA new exhibition at the Field Museum in Chicago spotlights the world’s greatest conqueror.

Genghis Khan brings together the largest collection of 13th century Mongol artifacts ever. The exhibition traces the career of Genghis Khan from his birth in 1162, to a noble but obscure family, through his conquest of an empire that was larger than the Roman Empire. In fact, it was the largest ever, stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the gates of Vienna, and he built it in just 25 years.

More than 200 objects are on display including a Mongolian house, silk robes, weapons, and even the mummy of a Mongolian noblewoman.

The exhibition shows that while Genghis Khan was a bloodthirsty warrior, he was a clever statesman too. He established a complex and efficient form of government, a postal system, paper currency, diplomatic immunity, even wilderness preserves and laws against littering. His conquests had a profound impact on the development of Asia and Europe.

Genghis Khan runs until September 3.

Photo courtesy the Field Museum.

Amazing Race 13 recap 8: Kazakhstan makes Bizarre Foods look tame

India was easy compared to Kazakhstan–sort of. This week’s Amazing Race 13 was a glance into some of the more unusual aspects of Kazakh culture. As teams sped through the streets of Almaty, even though much of the city looked western and urban with architecture that reflects its former Soviet Union ties, the teams experienced more of Kazakhstan’s agricultural tradition than perhaps is apparent in Almaty daily life.

I’m not sure how much more I learned about Kazakhstan, but I do know what not to order in a restaurant. Plus, Borat made this country famous, something the teams referred to when they found out this is where they were heading.

Travel Tips:

  • If you’re a vegetarian don’t attempt to eat the rear end of a sheep
  • If you make a mistake, the quicker you admit it, the faster you can make up time
  • If you ask people directly for help, you’ll have much better luck than just randomly shouting out, “Can someone give us directions?”

Cultural traditions and Recap: If you find yourself in Delhi and want to head to Kazakhstan, there are three options: through Frankfurt; through Dubai; and through Moscow. In the Amazing Race, it doesn’t matter which flight you are on because when your team shows up to the Alel Agro Chicken Factory in the middle of the night, you’ll have to hang out until 7:30 a.m. when it opens. That means the team that went through Dubai (Andrew & Dan) had time to get there by the time the gate opened. As a bonus, the sunrise over a chicken farm was lovely.

Once the gate opened, the first task of the day was the mad dash to the clue box. Nick, in true competitive spirit, snatched a clue right out of Andrew’s hand, thus propelling Nick & Starr towards the Fast Forward with Terrence & Sarah close behind.

While these two teams tried to down soup made from the butt end of a sheep as belly dancers danced, the other teams donned white jumpsuits, masks, shoe coverings and gloves in order to find one of seven golden eggs among the 30,000 chickens that were milling about the chicken shack.

As the chickens clucked and pecked, one person from each team cajoled the chickens to move in order to find one of the prized eggs. As the team members searched, the other team members clutched their masks to their faces and shouted encouragement. Although I wondered about the stench, I’d rather have done this then the Fast Forward.

Downing the soup was a dreadful process that probably Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods would have had trouble with. Both Nick and Starr tried not to barf with each bite while Terrence tried not to barf as soon as he eyed the guy eating the sheep’s head. Terrence, a vegetarian hadn’t eaten meat for 15 years.

Sarah gamely scarfed her gross looking soup down, but it was too much for Terrence. Why they didn’t give up sooner? I have no idea. Instead, they watched Nick and Starr almost make it to the last bite before they headed back to the chicken factory to look for their golden egg. I was curious about what else the restaurant served. Here’s a link to other food descriptions that sound much better, except I would not want to eat sheep’s head.

As soon as each team found their golden egg, they hopped into a giant crane truck with a driver who was to take them through the city to Koktobe Arch at the foothills of the Tienshan Mountains.

Dallas & Toni were off to the foothills first, while Dan & Andrew had the worst luck–again. Their driver had no idea where to go, and in their resulting miffed state, the guys had a hard time attracting positive energy and someone to give them directions. Instead they thought that the Kazakhs were the “worst people,” even though people in this country have a reputation for their great hospitality.

Toni and Dallas made it up the mountain first. There they were met by Mongol warriors dressed in traditional warrior attire riding on horseback. One of the warriors was a falconer who waited with them for a falcon to sweep in with the next clue held in its claws. That was cool. And, there was a brief glimpse of the beauty of the surrounding mountains. No time to linger, though.

Once teams got their next clue from the falcon, it was off to either dress up in a two person cow suit to find a glass of milk while walking through Almaty mooing at people, or to learn how to play a simple tune on two Kazakh instruments. Each team picked dressing up like a cow –even Sarah & Terrence once they backtracked from their failed attempt at the Fast Forward.

The cow costumes were part of a children’s puppet theater troupe. Dallas & Toni had a great time with their mooing and met with many laughs and smiles from the people they passed. Andrew & Dan, growing weary of each other, had a hard time getting people to help them with directions by continuing their poor tactic of yelling out something like, “Can someone help us?” It took awhile for them to attract help.

Tina & Ken found the milk stand fairly quickly, Tina downed a glass she found on the counter even though it was warm. Unfortunately, she didn’t notice the clue on the bottom of the glass. Off this pair went, searching for another milk stand before they figured out their mistake. Back to the stand they went to get their glass. Then they made the mistake of taking off their cow suit at the puppet theater before heading to the meat stall in the Zelyoniy Bazaar, even though, Toni & Dallas, seeing them, told them they needed the cow suit. The meat market person wouldn’t give them Tina & Ken the clue, so back they went to change into the cow suit once more.

By this time, Toni & Dallas had already found their last clue and were heading to the Pit Stop at Old Square where they came in second behind Nick & Starr.

By the end of the episode excitement ensued as Dan & Andrew messed up and took a cab to the Pit Stop from the meat market. Phil sent them back so they could return to the Pit Stop on foot. He told them to hurry. They hustled. The hustling paid off.

Who was eliminated?: Sarah & Terrence. Despite Sarah & Terrence’s success with each task once they gave up in the Fast Forward, it wasn’t enough for them to edge out Andrew & Dan. Andrew & Dan were ecstatic to find out they were still in the game.

Although disappointed, this couple who uses endearments for each other in about every sentence took the loss in stride. Terrence just can’t eat meat. It’s as simple as that.

Words of Travel Wisdom: Saying things like “Good job my love,” makes difficulties easier to take. Even if you don’t win a million dollars, traveling with the person you want in your life can give you great things and make a relationship stronger. Money can’t buy happiness. (It could help though, don’t you think?)

What Nick and Starr won: Horsepower wave runners. This is the first time a team has arrived at the Pit Stop in first place four times in a row.

Personally, I’d like another team to come in first once in awhile. I was also sad to see Terrence & Sarah go. I’ll miss hearing their endearments.

A Canadian in Beijing: Sing for Beijing

I was told that a gig that goes right, technically, is a rare occurrence in China. In fact, when my show was over tonight, people said: “you handled that well!” rather than “great show!” or “great songs!”

The situation they’re referring to is the fact that the guitar I borrowed had some pick-up problems that I wasn’t aware of until the gig began and it buzzed and squealed intermittently throughout the set. The only thing that would relieve it was yanking out the cord and plugging it back in. I got quite good at pausing, muting, yanking, plugging, un-muting all in time with the music and without stopping the lyrics, but I have to say that I was extremely distracted! I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. In the end, I just had to use a microphone on the guitar (below) which forced me to stand very still!

Isn’t there a saying about a craftsman only being as good as his tools? (or “her” tools, in this case!) But I won’t blame my tools as per the other expression (“a poor craftsman blames [her] tools”) but I’ll simply say that I was challenged but persevered. And, I did sing rather well despite the cigarette smoke.
My set was followed by Hanggai, an amazing Mongolian folk band with throat singing and traditional instruments. I was able to leave all of my gig frustrations on the stage and instantly become an audience member and I thoroughly enjoyed their music. Sometimes haunting and angular and sometimes sweet and rich. It was beautiful.

The first shot shows me in the last song when I was loaned a guitar by the headlining artist, Ramona Cordova. I had to sit because it was a strapless guitar (!) but I was really appreciative nonetheless. Ramona’s music is gentle and sweet and his voice has amazing range. I sat back and took in his ethereal high notes and relaxed stage vibe.

I met some nice people, had some laughs, drank my free beer and returned back to Wudaokou with humility. Here is a picture of my two Australian friends, Sarah and Jenny, who were there cheering me on.

I’m now able to say that I played some songs on stage in China. Before I leave at the end of this three-month stay, I’m sure there will actually be an Ember Swift show. I still have lots of time and this experience of building a brand new music community is teaching me so much already. For instance, the next time I have a gig here with a working guitar, I will definitely not take that clear signal for granted! Maybe that’s a clear signal to me to simply appreciate what does work more often. A good attitude? My voice? My ability to make friends? My ears? All were in fine working order at Yugong Yishan last night.

No complaints.

Photos of me performing by: Sarah Keenan

Word for the Travel Wise (01/10/07)

MongolianReady to go shopping in Mongolia? Time to hit the market then, but first you have to know the word that will help you get there.

Today’s word is a Mongolian word used in Mongolia:

zakh – market

Mongolian is an Altaic language and spoken by over two million people throughout Mongolia (where it has official language status) and by up to three million people in northern China. Wikipedia doesn’t offer much for increasing your Mongolian vocabulary, but it has great background information. Learning Mongolian online will be tough without an understanding of their alphabet or script used. Omniglot is the perfect place to begin to start learning the alphabet. For quick reference use LP’s Mongolian Phrasebook on your trip.

Past Mongolian words: mori, gudamj

Word for the Travel Wise (12/03/06)

Mongolia FlagToday has been an extremely long day of driving. I have no desire to see another car, steering wheel, vehicle, or anything to do with the road. I’m pooped. Only the call of duty keeps me up and that is bringing you today’s word and more! See how much I care?

Today’s word is a Mongolian word used in Mongolia:

gudamj – street

Mongolian is an Altaic language and spoken by over two million people throughout Mongolia (where it has official language status) and by up to three million people in northern China. Wikipedia doesn’t offer much for increasing your Mongolian vocabulary, but it has great background information. Learning Mongolian online will be tough without an understanding of their alphabet or script used. Omniglot is the perfect place to begin to start learning the alphabet. For quick reference use LP’s Mongolian Phrasebook on your trip.

Past Mongolian words: mori