Video: Ulaanbaatar Time Lapse

I’ve been trying my hand at time lapse photography since I arrived in Mongolia. I took a big hiatus during the winter since I wasn’t very interested in standing still for 40 minutes in -30 degree C temperatures (nor was my camera, for that matter). But, since it’s been warming up, I have been trying to get back into it.

I have a hit list of sites around Ulaanbaatar that I want to capture including, but not limited to, the Chinggis face on the mountain south of town, more people walking around during the day in Sukhbaatar Square and near the State Department Store, the Lenin Statue, the Sukhbaatar Statue, traffic at night from various vantage points, the big Mongolian flag near the stadium, Gandan Monastery at various times of day, and the Circus at sunset.

If you have any suggestions, please feel free to share!

Here is a collection of the shots I’ve amassed so far:

What Herders Do Best

Last February, I spent a day with some herders just 2 hours outside of Ulaanbaatar. I was accompanying a friend of mine and her aunt as they went to buy two fresh sheep for the upcoming Tsagaan Sar celebration.

We arrived at the first family’s ger (home) around 10:00 am. They served us milk tea and some freshly made buuz. Then the husband and wife and their young son hopped in my friend’s small Toyota and we headed off to another herder family’s home about 10 km away. We were lucky to be on a paved road for about half of the way, but relied on the little hatchback to do her best as we off-roaded it over the snowy terrain to the secondĀ ger.

Amgalan's son runs to Amgalan and Batbayar as they examine a sheep

Upon arrival, we were again greeted and served milk tea, a standard sign of Mongolian hospitality. With the horses gone off to get water, we had to drive the Toyota through the snow to where the sheep were grazing – another several kilometers away.

I’ve never seen the herding process before, and I didn’t really know what to expect. Perhaps it might be different if the men were on horseback, but I was surprised at just how time intensive and exhausting it was to round up so many sheep. I was also surprised to see the method of catching the sheep: basically spotting the one you want, running into the herd, and tackling it. It’s quite entertaining to observe.

Over the course of the next hour, the two herders caught four or five sheep. They would compare their legs and tails to judge which one would be the best for eating at such a high holiday. They were very concerned with finding the two best sheep, which, to be honest, all looked the same to me.

After they chose the two winners, they tied them up, and lobbed them into the trunk of my friend’s hatchback, and we returned to the ger.

Watch a Video of the Herding Process:

The next 4 hours were spent killing, skinning, and cleaning the sheep – not for the faint of heart.

Batbayar skins one of the sheep

The traditional Mongolian method for killing sheep might be surprising. They cut the sheep’s belly lengthwise, stick their hand into the chest cavity and stop the heart by pinching the aorta. It takes no more than 5 minutes and the sheep don’t make a sound.

A woman sorts through the organs of a sheep as she cleans them

After, the two herders each skinned one sheep – ripping the skin from the fat and muscle. The pair made the skinning process look rather easy – using the fat to grease their hands and separating the skin from the muscle. The young boy climbed all over his father as he was exerting himself, but he didn’t seem to mind much. After about 15 minutes, the sheep were fully skinned. They would sell the pelts and feet later.

Once the sheep were skinned, the women took over. They spent the next several hours methodically cleaning the innards inside the ger. Each wife was in charge of one sheep’s o

rgans. First they cleaned the small and large intestines, squeezing out feces and running water through them until they were clear. Then they mixed blood with onion and garlic, which they poured into the intestines. This would later be cooked to make a tasty sausage-like treat.

After all the organs and intestines were properly cleaned, they stuffed them into the sheep’s stomach. They stretchy tissue served as an extremely efficient sack.

Coming from the United States, where the commercial slaughtering process is less than ideal, it was refreshing to observe how intimate the herders are with their livestock. Not part of the animal was wasted – nothing is taken for granted.

Batbayar tells me about his life as a herder in Central Mongolia

After all was said and done, I sat down with Batbayar, the older and more experienced of the two herders. He was extremely proud of his profession, saying that there was nothing difficult about it at all. ‘With the fresh air in the countryside, herding is a really nice lifestyle,’ he told me.

Batbayar comes from a long line of herders out west in Zavkhan Province. He moved to this region just outside of Ulaanbaatar with his family and 400 goats and sheep just 5 years ago.

Batbayar told me that his family was quite busy recently, selling and preparing sheep for out-of-town customers almost everyday ahead of Tsagaan Sar.

He said his daily life is simple: wake up, take the herds out to pasture, look after them as they graze, and bring them home in the evening. There are additional chores like tending to the cows and cleaning out the pens. But, for the most part it’s the same everyday. “We never change our work, we just have one job,” he explained.


Mongolian children often learn to ride horses when they are as young as 3 or 4 years old

The two herders spent over an hour picking, catching and scrutinizing the sheep

Zaya holds down a sheep while the herders search for a second one

Batbayar examines one of his sheep

Amgalan leaves the ger to slaughter the sheep

Amgalan kills a sheep the traditional Mongolian way - by pinching the aorta

Amgalan's son climbs on him as he skins a sheep

The herders will sell the ankle bones of the sheep for pieces in a popular game similar to jacks or dice.

After the sheep are skinned, the women clean the innards inside the ger

Woman clean sheep intestines together

Blood is mixed with onion and later boiled inside the intestine

Zaya pours blood mixed with onion into an intestine

Women sit near the door to their ger cleaning sheep innards

Once all of the intestines have been cleaned, they are stuffed into the stomach, which also operates as a sack

Three days later the cooked sheep was featured on a table along with other food for Tsagaan Sar

Photos: Beijing Graffiti

I have been steadily collecting photos of graffiti around Ulaanbaatar. Mostly I’ll just snap a shot on my iPhone while walking around. I have yet to devote some serious time to walking around the city and taking pictures, but it will happen soon.

While in Beijing, I decided to collect some images of Chinese graffiti. Here’s some of what I found.


Photos: The Colors of Beijing

Walking around Beijing a couple weeks ago, I was struck by the city’s pallet. Red is a common color in China. It’s a lucky and joyful color. It’s the color of the flag, lanterns, doors, the all-important-stamps, Chinese New Year, the communist government, and the envelopes used to exchange monetary gifts.

But the red is only made brighter by its companion hue: grey.

Red and Grey. Those are the colors of Beijing.

After realizing this, I decided to collect as many photos highlighting the color combo as I could while walking around. It was an absurdly easy task.

Here are some of the images I captured on an average stroll through Beijing.


Video: Time Lapse of Ulaanbaatar, Winter is Here

Thursday night marked the beginning of winter here in Ulaanbaatar. It began snowing around 10:00 and that is when the temperature really dropped. That’s not to say it won’t get colder, I’m pretty positive it will, but there was the change from 30-ish degrees F to 15-ish degrees F felt dramatic.

I finally cracked and pulled out my extra big winter coat and am even wearing my long underwear today. I was hoping to resist wearing the coat, so that when I really did need it, the added warmth would feel like a relief. But then I realized that cold is cold and there is no use fighting. I don’t think I’m the only one. I’m noticing people are a bit more bundled up now, walking a little faster, and there seem to be fewer people out on the street.

Snow and cold aren’t the only indicators that winter has arrived. I popped by the State Department Store (a central landmark in UB) on Friday afternoon to buy a warm hat and scarf and was surprised to see a massive Christmas tree had been erected in front of the building. Inside I heard an unending playlist of American Christmas tunes and saw piles of ornaments for sale. It reminded me of the Christmas craze I saw in Nanjing, China back in 2006. Neither Mongolia nor China have large enough Christian populations for such obvious Christmas spirit to really make sense. I noticed that I felt the same way when I walked into the State Department Store on Friday, that I felt in Nanjing at this time of year: homesick. I’ve only been here for three weeks, and I’m not eager to get back to the United States. But there’s something about the empty acknowledgement of such a nostalgic holiday that really makes me wish I could be home for Christmas. Rather than ignoring the Christmas season, or flat out pretending it doesn’t exist, I am bombarded with reminders. What’s more, it’s a purely commercial portrayal of Christmas, which is the worst! One of my favorite songstresses, Erin McKeown, recently released a new anti-holiday album called “F*ck That”. I think she would appreciate my holiday experience this year.

But, the change in seasons does have its advantages. The light dusting of snow changed the look of the city for a few days. For the first time since I’ve arrived, I began to feel at home here. Maybe it’s because of my Minnesotan/Iowan roots, but I find snow to be incredibly comforting. It covers the dusty, brown roads and gives everything a momentary cleansing look.

This weekend also marked the end of my introduction to Ulaanbaatar. After spending three weeks with a fantastic host family, I’ve moved in with a handful of young adults (two Australians and one Mongolia) in the city center. But, I managed to get a few opportunities to take some time lapse photography from the balcony before I left.