Last weekend (July 1-2) was a big deal for my soum (town) because we celebrated Naadam which is the second biggest holiday here. National Naadam is July 11-13 (so right now) but most smaller towns and cities celebrate at different times. Ours happened to be then and it was pretty fabulous. I think it was the best time I've had in the month I've been here - even the sunburn was worth it.
Naadam celebrations began in 1921 with Mongolian independence from China, but they talk about the Chinese about as much as we talk about the British on July 4 in the States. The celebrations include the three manly sports of wrestling, archery, and horse racing. I didn't get to see the horse racing because it took place somewhere else and I missed most of the archest because I was far too entertained by the wrestling. But I think the wrestling was the best part any way.
Friday was complete chaos because I'm TEFL and we were supposed to have a microteaching session that afternoon. Luckily the PC staff here took pity on us and let us reschedule because (a) it was Naadam and none of our students would have shown up and (b) we wanted to see as much of Naadam as possible. Friday's celebrations included a concert with national songs, instruments, and dancing. The lighting was horrible for my camera, but everyone should look up Mongolian throat singing because it's incredible.
Saturday was when most of the action (and my sunburn) went down. Like I said, the wrestling is highly entertaining. Since all the Mongolians were too engrossed in the wrestling to fill us in (understandable), we had to make up our own commentary and explanations for what they were doing. I'm sure the real reasons make a lot more sense and have more significance than what we came up with, but ours were at least entertaining.
Here's how the wrestling does down from a confused American's point of view: When the wrestlers first decide to enter the competition, they stand on the side and smack their thighs three times. Then they go to a snazzily dressed man (a judge of sorts) and spin like birds around him. The "judge" takes the wrestler's hat so the wrestler can do be a bird again around a pole, after which he smacks his thighs again. We were told afterwards that the smacking signifies being ready to wrestle. Then the two men wrestle - sometimes they grab on to each others' shoulders, sometimes onto the rope holding the "shirt" on, and sometimes onto what we called spanks (for lack of a better term). Some of the earlier rounds had insane size differences between the two men wrestling - we poor Americans thought the smaller men were going to be snapped in half. The Mongolians laughed at us whenever we pitied the smaller men, but eventually we caught on and were completely into it.
|The wrestlers in their outfits spinning around the "judges"|