February 28, 2009

Tsagaan Sar

Here are some pictures from Tsagaan Sar, which Tunga took of her family. Tsagaan Sar is based on the Tibetan New Year's Celebration and is like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Halloween and everybody's Birthdays combined. There is tons of food, lots of presents, kids knocking on doors for candy, and especially older people who don't know their birthdays from the socialist period it is a time for everyone to say they are now one year older. It was a huge deal here in Mongolia and way cool to experience!

February 21, 2009

Life Skills Conference

Earlier this month my counterparts Tunga, Erdenechimeg and I were able to spend 4 days in Choibalsan, the fourth largest city in Mongolia about 5 hours north of where we live, to attend an HIV/AIDS Life Skills Seminar. It was tons of fun and we had a wonderful time. It was all done in Mongolian, so Alex, I and the other Peace Corps Volunteers were able to help out and observe a lot of the training, but it was definitely geared toward our counterparts' development. They did scenarios, talked about ideas for training youth, discussing sex and relationships and then did practice teaching together in three different teams. It was great to watch them have fun together, laugh during presentations and get so close to one another in such a short period of time. Thank you to Peace Corps for organizing such a great seminar, I am very proud that we were able to provide it to all of our Mongolian coworkers and friends.

February 18, 2009

It's a' Cold!

It was getting warm last week (the ice that's been here for four months melted for two days!), but now it's a' gettin' cold outside! I wanted to share a little video and the weather forecast for this upcoming week since I really haven't talked about the weather here before. It's in Celsius, which is all they use here. Also, an important thing to note is that this doesn't include the wind chill, which really is the worst part honestly. I have been in -30 degree weather without wind and it's nothing compared to when a 25 mph wind joins it. And being out here in the steppe, with no mountains or hills to block it, the wind gets crazy! The moment the wind hits your face your eyes cry, but before the tears can hit your cheeks they freeze solid. Hahaha! The trick is to cover up...or just not go outside. Plus side: I still love snow! Oh, and I still haven't fallen yet! You should have seen this one time, I almost did but I caught myself on my fingertips like freakin' Barry Sanders! I bounded up from a three-point stance laughing and looking around, but I didn't have an audience. Which reminds me of Nintendo's Super Tecmo Bowl, the best game ever made. I used to be the Detroit Lions ever time just so I could run with Barry. He was freakin' unbelievable. Long live Barry Sanders, and Mongolian snow, and not falling down...

February 16, 2009

Icing on the Cake

My good friend Shaw has always impressed me with a habit of his that I love. Every time we go on a trip or make huge plans, he will always say the same thing: "I just want to (insert simple expectation) and anything else will just be icing on the cake." His simple expectation could be to smoke a cigar, see a lighthouse, hike up a mountain, or eat some homemade ice cream while watching LOST, but his goals are always simple, achievable and then help put everything else in perspective for me. Every time he says it I just smile and realize that that's all I really want to do too, everything else really will just be icing on the cake. I love it and we always have incredible adventures because of it!

From here I out, and on every trip I take, I will always separate the cake from the icing. And believe me, it's almost all icing.

My birthday cake from the Lynch Boys, with my favorite sayings

February 15, 2009

Shaping Up

I've been going through a lot of great personal changes here in Mongolia. Maybe most notable is a significant improvement in my level of physical fitness. I feel wonderful, run faster, play longer, lift heavier weights and have more energy on a regular basis than at any other time in my life that I can ever remember. I have lost 60 pounds between May '08 and now, dropping from 255 to 195 and have also lost over 6 inches on my waist, going from a size 44 to 38.

A large part of this, especially recently, has been a commitment to exercising regularly and eating more conservatively. I just finished up the 6th week of my 12 Week Plan, which is getting me into great shape for the 14-day workout cycle designed by the Body Sculpting Bible for Men. I have been lifting weights an hour every morning six days a week, playing basketball weekly, and also cooking and eating healthier foods like oats, pastas, nuts, raw vegetables and fruits. I am also drinking tons of water and cutting back on all other drinks like sodas and so forth. It's making a huge difference in my life, and I really feel like I am starting to shape up. It's a wonderful feeling that spills over into all areas of my life beyond physical health, including mental calmness, emotional balance, and a strong feeling of inner peace. I am excited to continue working out every day for the rest of my life and am glad that being here in Peace Corps has allowed me the time to dedicate myself to this very important part of my life.

February 8, 2009

Advertising Happiness

My Peace Corps friend Brandon and I had a long conversation tonight with tons of great ideas thrown in , but I think one of the central ideas revolved around happiness and American advertising. "I've taken a lot of classes on marketing theory and so forth," Brandon said, "and the point I kept coming back to was that advertising isn't usually trying to sell you on how great a product they have, it's trying to create an unease in you, a hole, and then convince you that their product can help fill that hole and help you be at ease." It's hard to see the forest for the trees when you are living in America every day, but being here it's a little easier to not be bombarded by advertisements. The brands aren't in English, there are no billboards every quarter mile or more, I don't have a television or listen to a radio with commercials, and I don't read magazines with ads on every 5th page. In America there are a lot of people telling you that you aren't happy and sometimes it's hard not to believe them.

Today's Dalai Lama quote was, "If advertising is for a good cause, it is worthwhile. Buddha advertised enlightenment or Nirvana. If it is reasonable and beneficial, it is good, but if it is only for profit, cheating, and exploitation, or is misleading, then it is wrong." The funny thing about the enlightenment advertised by Buddha was that it centered on the idea that we need to get rid of want. We need to eliminate that strong feeling of desire in us for all kinds of things that don't bring happiness to ourselves or others. There's nothing wrong with having things, like a computer or car, but there is something wrong with always wanting the newest one, the fastest one, or any one except for the one you have. Buddha might have had a computer if he lived in this day and age, but I guarantee he would have used it differently than I do most of the time. It would have been a communication tool, a means of sharing lessons and knowledge with people throughout the world, and less of an entertainment, distraction or something that he felt needed to be constantly updated or replaced.

Happiness, I wager, has a lot more to do with how appreciative we are than how well stocked we are. A place of appreciation and love for the things around us is not vulnerable to attacks from other people telling you there is a hole inside you that needs to be filled. "We make ourselves rich by making our wants few," said Henry David Thoreau. This followed by, "Simplify. Simplify. Simplify," makes for a pretty nice little package. Would you buy that?

February 2, 2009

David's New CD

My close and very talented friend, David, has just released a new CD with Mision Horeb, his family's church. Here on MySpace you can listen to three of the songs from the CD, the first two of which David wrote and sings himself. You can also check out the CD here on iTunes and watch this video from YouTube to see how they made the songs. I think David is an incredible guy and I love the way he worded what he is trying to do by recording these songs and sharing them with other people, "It's a simple project," he said, "but I hope that it helps people live a life that brings them closer to Truth and inner peace." I hope so too.