Off to the Gobi Desert!

Friday, September 9

We had another fascinating day, keeping busy from morning till night. We’re heading to the Gobi Desert bright and early tomorrow, so we’re all scrambling to pack up and squeeze in a few hours of shut eye. There’s a music concert complete with fireworks raging outside our hotel window, so I don’t know how much sleep we’ll actually get.

We’ll bring you up-to-date on our travels when we return to the city on Tuesday afternoon. Until then, we will be out of range for cell, email and texts, so don’t worry if you don’t hear anything.

by Tanya English

Traditionally, Mongolians are deeply superstitious and they believe in both good and bad omens. They believe that if the spirits are placated, they will protect the people and their herds and flocks.  They are particularly protective of their children. They often put charcoal on their children’s foreheads before going out at night so that the evil spirits will think it is a rabbit with black hair on the forehead, not a child. Some Mongolians have names that mean “Not This”, “No Name”, “Nobody”, “Don’t Know”, etc. in order to confuse evil or jealous spirits and avoid misfortune.

If Mongolians see a shooting star they never mention it or point at it. Shooting stars are seen as an omen of death. They say each star represents a person and when you see one it highlights that person’s death. They spit over their shoulder and say, “It’s not my star!”

They do not step on the threshold of the door or speak to someone across the threshold because it is believed that the spirit of the house lives on the threshold and the threshold offers protection to the family.

They erect ovoo (cairns of stones) at a crossroads or on a hilltop and sometimes decorate them with the horns of a sheep, a horse’s jaw-bone or skull, and prayer flags. Travelers can dismount and walk around them clockwise 3 times, sprinkle vodka, and pray to the local spirits. If you can’t take the time to stop, honking your car horn 3 times is enough.

In one local religion, the soul is believed to wander around through the body, taking up residence in different parts depending on the day of the week. If you plan to cut your hair, you need to consult a witch doctor to make sure that your soul isn’t in your hair that day or if the scissors snip at the wrong time, you could die instantly.

If they step on someone’s foot they shake hands with the person because it is an invasion of their space and they may otherwise become enemies.

If two pregnant women meet and shake each other’s hands, the sex of their babies will switch.

They don’t whistle inside a ger because they believe it may bring a natural disaster such as a very strong wind or heavy rain that causes flash floods; or that your money will go bye-bye.

They cover all mirrors in the house when someone dies or their soul will be trapped.

They never put water on, step on, or put rubbish in a fire because fire is sacred.

When offered a shot of vodka, you can dip the tip of your ring finger (using your right hand) into the drink, raise your hand above your head, and flick your finger to the four winds. This is offering a taste to the gods.

Something good will happen to you if your top eyelid twitches. If your bottom eyelid twitches you will cry.

If your right ear rings, that means people are talking good things about you. If your left ear rings, that means people are talking poorly about you.

Some say that you will get a gift from someone if your palm itches.

You can’t have someone take off your ring for you or they’ll take your happiness along with the ring.

When greeting one another, they rarely kiss each other on the cheek. An older person will often grasp the head of one younger during the greeting and smell their hair or face.

Two people may light their cigarette from one match, but three is not permitted. Lighting a cigarette from a candle is considered bad luck.

When they arrive at a ger, they yell, “Catch your dog!” This is because each ger is protected by one or more guard dogs.

There are many more and it will be interesting to see if we witness any of these behaviors while we are in the Mongolian countryside.

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