March 31, 2009

12 Week Plan Finished!

On Sunday I finished my 12 Fitness Week Plan and I couldn't be more excited about it! I have gotten much stronger, leaner, faster and feel much better than I ever have before. My goal since coming to Mongolia almost a year ago was to get into the best shape of my life, and I can safely say I have achieved that goal. I feel incredible, consistently weigh in at 190 pounds (down from 255 in June '08), my waist has gone from 44 inches to 38 inches and my body mass index (BMI) has dropped from 30.8 to 23.


My new goal is to become ripped like my Dad and Barack Obama, as well as earn a ton of Presidential Fitness awards. The 12 weeks was a preparation for the regular routine which I have started this week to achieve those goals. I'm definitely excited about it and know this is just the beginning of a lifetime of being in great shape. Also, in case you are interested, I have collected some recommendations for anyone who wants to start their own routine. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you. Thanks, by the way, to everyone who has been so supportive and helpful to me. Particularly Chase. Thanks Chase.

March 28, 2009

Doctor's Day Crag Insanity

Mongolia is a land of national holidays: Naadam (Summer State Olympics, sort of), New Year, Tsagaan Sar (Tibetan New Year, sort of), National Woman's Day, National Soldier's Day, National Teacher's Day, National Children's Day, National Doctor's Day/Week, National Nurse's Day/Week, and many more. All Mongolians know these dates by heart, which is impressive considering I don't know the difference between the dates of Labor Day and Memorial Day. I know...and I'm representing my country...

Anyhow, this week/today was National Doctor's Celebration and Be Happy Time. It was awesome, and insane. If it had the theme music, it totally could have been Nickelodeon's GUTS : Mongolian Edition (Do do do do you have it?!). We all played in a huge multi-day volleyball tournament with over 100 doctors from our hospital and surrounding countryside hospitals, played basketball or some sport almost every evening, had a quiz show with doctors in teams with intermissions of videos creating by our health department workers (which I will post soon), had "funny songs" and karaoke, dances and the coup de grace - a "hike" out into the middle of nowhere that I'm still recovering from. That, my dear readers, is the topic for today. Enter one of the most insane things I've ever participated in:

My counterparts told me to meet them Saturday morning at 9am to take a 5 kilometer hike into the countryside. I was to pack some food and water and my football, soccer ball and frisbee. It had just snowed several inches during a storm Friday, so I also brought some extra clothes for when mine inevitably got wet. I showed up at 9:00, two more people showed up at 9:30, we all dilly dallied around and finally left at 10:30 after a "ceremony" outside the gym where several people got on a microphone and told all of us good luck. It was now becoming apparent that this was some kind of competition, as there were several teams of five people with banners all standing around. To the tune of intermittent sonic boom feedback on the speakers, and some hip dance music, we all started our trek out into the wilderness on the far east side of town. Within several minutes there was nothing around us but fresh snow and pure silence. After about an hour of walking, and personally taking on the flag of our Health Department as well as an extra bag, we finally arrived at a valley where Damdin Sukhbaatar, the national Mongolian hero himself, was born. Already in the valley were about 8 land cruisers and vans, with the same people who had talked on the microphone earlier to send us off. Now they were powering up a gas generator to play more music and talk over a huge speaker and microphone podium to give instructions. Remember, we are out in the middle of nowhere. We all formed into lines based on our teams, I could now count all 6 teams of five, and we were all told we could now take a 5 minute rest. Hahaha, thanks.

So we all gathered around and ate cookies and drank tea in our respective groups. I pumped up my football and soccer ball and then tossed the balls and frisbee out to some nearby people. They were a huge hit and would all get serious use over the next couple hours. No one had ever thrown a frisbee or football before, but everyone had a knack for it.

First competition, several of the microphone guys grab a flag and run up the side of a mountain. Or rather, they run for a little bit and then have to crawl the next several hundred feet up the snow covered, jagged rocks and dirt. Then several remaining people form us all into a line down below while my coworker Saradunai asks me, "Can you do this?" I tell her yes I can, though I'm not sure what she is asking. Once the mountain climbers are in position and barely audible, they drop their flag and the guy next to us drops his flag and they tell us to run up there. At this point I still don't know what is going on, but I was told to run fast so I did. It felt like the Crag from Nickelodeon's GUTS...except there were no guy-wires, or soft rocks, or protective padding, or people who were watching out for you to make sure you didn't kill yourself, or confetti when you got to the top. But you did get to take a piece of this crag home with you, if you got it imbedded in some part of your body... So I make it to the top, after much scrambling, and collapse at the finish line which is a rolled up t-shirt from one of the guys. It turns out that I was the fastest single person to make it up the monolith, but guess what I got for accomplishing that feat? The douche bag award, because I found out later that it was a team event and the only thing that counted was when the last person finished. We got sixth place in this event. Sigh.

Second event, after taking another break and eating more cookies and drinking more tea; we all, probably about 50 people total, gathered around a huge rock outside a ribbon that was being suspended in a large square. As a team, I'm figuring, we have to lift this thing. This is going to be interesting. "Can you do this?" asks Saradunai again. "I think so," I respond, remembering that last time I thought I knew what I was doing. As I am pondering this gutsy team event, the first team sends out a single guy who is blindfolded. He stands on the rock and then they say "Za" (okay) and he lifts a leg and puts his arms out to his sides. He attempts to balance for several seconds and then falls off the rock........ We just climbed an insane mountain, and now we are balancing on a rock? Yes. Yes we are. My turn comes up, as each team puts up one guy and one girl for this feat. I do okay but not great. Tunga comes up next from our team and dominates, staying up longer than anyone else. It was crazy. Our team finishes second place in this event, right behind the Theater team which was made up of dancers. This was their bread and butter...or cookies and tea.

Third event, the most insane of all. The men from the earlier microphone assembly squat run off into the distance, creating five points of insanity several hundred yards from one another. One is half way up the side of Crag mountain, one is down in the south of the valley, another is by a huge tree out in the distance to the west, another one is up on the top of another taller mountain, there is another next to a huge red flag in the middle of the valley and everyone else standing at a finish line with the huge ribbon from before. We are the last team to go, so I get a good idea of how this one works before attempting it.

The team splits up and it's a relay race. The first person kicks my soccer ball across the valley for a couple hundred yards up the side of Crag mountain while carrying a little ribbon bundle in their hand, they pass the bundle to the second person who runs/slides/falls down the mountain and runs to the next person who is on the south side of the valley. This person runs across to the west side of the valley where the fourth person runs around the tree, grabs my football from up inside the tree and hands it to a guy standing five feet away. Then this person runs up and down three (yes, three) mountains to a person on the top of the final mountain. Then both people, still carrying the ribbon bundle, run/slide/jump/fall down the mountain to the red flag in the valley where the whole team is waiting and finally the entire team dashes together toward the finish line. Congratulations, you have all frightened the American.

I got chosen, because of my previous douche bag ability to leave my team behind and be the fastest person up Crag mountain, to be the fourth man in the relay. This is by far the worst position. I thought it might be going into it, but I can now confirm it after collapsing when it was all over. It was the worst for several reasons. First, you have to run up and down three mountains. This is tough, but you don't start to feel it until you run completely down the last mountain. This is the second reason why it's the worst. Your muscles give out on this final run down for the same reason that people lose it when taking a step down the stairs after riding a bicycle or stationary bike for a long period of time. You are working your thigh muscles like crazy, pumping them, tensing them, making them exert force to push you up. Then all of a sudden you are telling them to become relaxed and catch you as you walk downhill. You want them loose enough to let you go down, but not loose enough that they give out and force you to take home a piece of the Crag. All this happens quickly, especially if you are supposed to be running...down the jagged, snowed covered mountain. By the time you figure out what is happening, you are jumping like a jackrabbit down the hill that has been slicked like an oil track by all of the other teams that have already run/jumped/fallen down it because your desire to not make your team disappointed is stronger than your desire to not eat dirt. This is a quick decision, not a rational one. For whatever reason, call it fate, call it luck, call it karma, I made it up and down the mountains never fully falling but only having to make several saves with my hands and hips and the ribbon bundle. My muscles were completely confused, but they supported the insanity that I was putting them through and only gave up right at the end. I couldn't blame them. All the other relay points had a short rest between finishing their section and then gathering at the red flag to sprint to the finish line, all except for the fourth relay point. After scaling the summits and dashing down the dirt, I was expected to tap into some energy inside me to blast through the finish line. That hidden energy left me earlier when I was frightened. Even given that though I would have expected to have had at least some energy left inside myself, but that was before I went through the previous ridiculousness that I had just gone through. Anyhow, to be fair, I did run very hard at the end and finished a mere second behind the rest of my team...but that didn't stop one of the microphone assembly squat Mongolian men toting the red flag from the last relay point from grabbing me by the arm and running with me through the finish line. I would have made it fine myself, but it ended up being more fun to fall through the finish line with him because they he lost his balance and fell while continuing to hold my arm and pull me with him. My legs didn't mind, at least they didn't have to stand up anymore. That was nice. Our team finished a respectable third in this event, and fourth overall. A couple obligatory drinks of vodka and several more cookies later, I was finally on my way back home able to relax in my apartment. I am still doing this now. How was my Doctor's Day? The short answer still is, "It was awesome, and insane."


March 26, 2009

Flexibility

Peace Corps teaches, maybe more than anything else, patience and tolerance, which I also call flexibility. We wait for transportation that says it will leave sometime between 9am and 6pm, we sit quietly for hours as people talk quickly in a language we don't understand completely, we drop everything we are doing to do some random thing, we pause, ponder and puzzle over how to say a sentence, we see things that in America would be unacceptable but here just laugh or say "Yanaa" ("Wow"). But note, we can relax here, we can enjoy a stillness and quiet that comes with being with your own thoughts, we get to do fun exciting things at random times all the time, we spend so much time thinking about what we are going to say in another language that we only usually say kind and helpful things, and we get to ask ourselves, "Hey, yeah...we don't we do that in America?"

We are more patient, tolerant and flexible here because we have to be, but personally I want to be more patient and tolerant my entire life because I choose to be. Most of us in Mongolia are better people because of these experiences. I certainly am.

The person who has a tremendous reserve of patience and tolerance has a certain degree of tranquility and calmness in his or her life. Such a person is not only happy and more emotionally grounded, but also seems to be physically healthier and to experience less illness. The person possesses a strong will, has good appetite, and can sleep with a clear conscience.
- The Dalai Lama

March 15, 2009

Laughter

You may well be one of the 78 million viewers who have already seen this popular video, but I thought I would share it anyhow. Being here in Mongolia, I have come to appreciate universal communication quite a deal including things like smiles, handshakes, thumbs up, pats on the back, hugs and laughter. Some things just don't need to be said. : )

March 9, 2009

Free Taxes Again!

I filed my federal and state taxes for free again this year with TurboTax and have already had my tax refunds electronically deposited in my account. If you have earned less than $30,000 last year and you live in NC (or a few other states), you can use TurboTax Freedom Edition too! Most websites offer you free federal filing but charge you between $12.95 and $19.99 for state filing. TurboTax Freedom is the only place I have found that allows you to do your state filing for free. So if you're a student or Peace Corps Volunteer, don't worry about filing out paperwork or paying someone online to file. Just try TurboTax Freedom and collect those tax refunds lickity split! : )

March 3, 2009

Pitching a Ger

Coming home from work last night, I noticed somebody had built a Mongolian ger right outside my apartment. Pretty awesome. This morning I thought I would take a video of it so you guys could see it. It's like someone pitching a tent in your front yard, except way cooler!

video