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Mongolian Journal 2006

Cultural Pilgrimages

Sound Essence Project Executive Director, Susan Bradbury with a Mongolian woman and a raindeer.The Sound Essence Project ventured to Mongolia for a month, the summer of 2005. Board members Susan Bradbury, Britt Walker, Advisory board member Stella Ireland, and filmmaker Tom Ensign, headed to Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia with anticipation.

The heart of our work is cultural sustainability in Mongolia. We all were aware that our patterns of thinking and how our thoughts determine the value we place on a culture, an ecosystem, a nation. Our determination was to be culturally sensitive to the culture we were entering into. We continue to learn about the deep roots of nomadic ways of life.

Cultural heritage is celebrated and preserved through 1) oral transmission of stories 2) written works 3) ceremonies and celebrations and 4) art. A large focus of our time in the countryside was to meet Mongolians that were willing to share their stories with us.

The Mongols are deeply connected to the land. The countryside people live in synchrony and harmony with their ecological system. Their production of food is local and bioregional. Consumption and generation of waste is minimized.

While traveling through the countryside our thoughts rested on sustainability relating to continuity of economic, social and environmental aspects of society.

Most landscapes are influenced by cultural patterns of human use. The ever changing mosaic of habitat. The vast landscape and big sky made it difficult for us to see clearly the changes that had occurred over time.

We heard about Zud during 1999-2001 when the temperatures reached -40F and 2 million animals died. The people also spoke of overgrazing and the dust storms that are created with the loss of grasslands.

The Mongolian people we met on the way very generously opened their gers and lives to us. We were served Mongolian tea, bread and butter and yogurt. Many times a story or song was told and the ability to witness and film our experiences.

Our discussions around the campfire every night were based on the question how could we be of assistance to help maintain this way of life?

The Mongolian Storyteller’s Project is our contribution to preserve some of the traditional stories. We have pledged to go to Mongolia for the next 5 years to collect and record stories for an eventual documentary, book, and Storyteller’s Festival. We filmed Tsaatan and Darhad people telling traditional stories and singing traditional songs last year. We will continue the summer of 2006 to travel to the Arkhungai region filming storytellers.

Board member Bolortetseg C. Smith, has been instrumental in translating the stories.

Our pilgrimage lead us to Erdenet to award 4 students college scholarships.

We are committed to seeing Zulzaya Bayanbat, Oyan-Nomin Otgonbayar, Solongoo Adilbish, and Bayarjargal Batsaikhan through 4 years of college. Erkhembayar, an art student is working in Ulaan Baatar under Chimeddorj’s guidance. He also received a college scholarship.

We laid the foundation for a microfinance project, The Blessing Bakery, which began the winter of 2006. Cookies and breads are being made and sold in Erdenet.

This was a life changing journey for all of us. Susan, Laura Jimerson, and filmmaker Eero Johnson will head to Mongolia in the summer of 2006 to continue the work begun, and to implement a tree planting project. This is designed to create a sustainable environment, jobs, and a source of sustainably managed wood for the people. Read about our current adventures in Mongolia in 2006 here, in Susan's daily journal.

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July 16, 2006

Well what an experience. Laura and I walk through ankle deep puddles as South Korea is experiencing a monsoon, and arrive at the Korean Sauna. There is no English and helpful women pointing the way. You begin by stripping down and taking a very public shower. Then proceed to the first of many pools to relax, lounge and release stress. The women have us go to the cold pool with the very strong jets and straddle the big jet. Laura and I are hooting and squealing at this point. We are the only non-Koreans and they are laughing at us.

You then proceed to an amazing room with jade inlayed at the door and windows, aventurine on the walls and aventurine, pink quartz and amethyst on the ceiling. It is amazing. Very soothing and healing. This room is called The Beautiful Spirit and Beautiful Life Room. We then lay on marble with jade headrests to meditate and rest under infrared lights. The next sauna is cedar and smells amazing. All the women sit on the floor in lotus position. Back to the jade headrests and then to a pool only 6 inches deep to rest before our massage.
What an experience.

The massage is with a naked masseuse. Makes the wardrobe selection easy. There is four women at a time on magenta massage tables, stark naked. They proceed to rub every part of your body. When she spread my legs and . . . I had to realize that we are seen like a baby of sorts to be worked over and rubbed and cleaned.

This includes a facial and reflexology. All for 15,000 won. About $15. After this you proceed to putting on your white shorts and gray tee shirt they give you and go to the downstairs experience of color therapy, amazing food and healthy drinks. We then are pointed to a kiva like structure to go into traditional sweathouses with the scent of cypress. We are truly in bliss and feel Bellingham needs these. The United States needs this. People and families meet in the kivas and to eat together. Teenagers meet here. Relax and have time together. This bottom floor experience is with men and women and the rest is just the women's and the men's.

We are so happy to have this cultural experience. I have never seen so many shapes and sizes in my life. All the women really looked at Laura and I, and the children stared, as they probably have not seen such white skin.

I send you all love and we are off to Mongolia tomorrow night. Susan

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July 17, 2006

Darcy and Nancy,

Nancy I so appreciate you sending the emails to the Wild Women. I am standing in the lobby of a Korean hotel with the characters on the keyboard Korean. It is difficult to type so thank you.

Darcy I also appreciate you forwarding everything to SEP Board members.

We are off to Mongolia today and then it will be more difficult to email, as we will then have Cyrillic letters on the keyboard. This is why I resort to both of you helping me. I am so appreciative.

Love you, Susan

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July 19, 2006

Hello All,

An amazing thing has occurred. Bayarmaa was able to arrange a television interview for us. The television station is coming to interview us about the work The Sound Essence Project is doing in Mongolia. I hope the humidity is less so the sweat on my brow doesn't show on the screen. I am a whimp with the heat.

I had a slight case of heat stroke yesterday and missed an appointment with Bira Yanjmaa to distribute the stethoscopes. We will meet tomorrow and she has arranged a meeting with the Department of Ministry for a photo op and discussion of our project.

Later in the day I meet with a woman from the Parliament. We are having many wonderful opportunities.
I was taken to a factory today that makes traditional Mongolian medicine and we are talking about the idea of importing this to America.

Our room is amazing, large living room, kitchen, dining room, bedroom (Laura and I) Eero is on the futon sofa and a large Jacuzzi tub and washing machine for $35 a night for all three of us.

Tomorrow afternoon we will go to an event with 500 horsemen in armor and galloping across the countryside. The next day I go to the U.S. Embassy and then for a horseback ride for three days with Chimeddorj to Shaman women. We are truly blessed.

Henry, an amazing thing has happened with the
Sister City Project. Zanjan Fromer is working in Arkhungai and is from Bellingham. He is happy to introduce and collaborate with us in facilitating a relationship. Walt Jenkins, our friend that is here from Colorado is in charge of the Sister City with Denver and wants to collaborate with Sister Cities when we are established. He is doing a project to bring Mongolians and Native Americans in an exchange. He also is linking students via computer from both countries and would like us to participate. When you are in Mongolia I hope we meet and I will tell you more.

Henry you have laid the foundation for us and this had made our job so much easier to facilitate our projects and dreams. We may have to come up with another term besides Godfather. This is with endearment.

Eero and Laura and Bayarmaa and a cute young Mongolian man are off to see Genghis Kahn in stone on the mountain. I was there today with a Mongolian acupuncturist and this gives me time to relax from the co-ordination.

Thank you for everyone's support. Jody, the rose quartz sphere went to the President of the world of The Women's Federation for World Peace, in Seoul, South Korea.

I send my love and appreciation for your support and prayers, Susan

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July 20, 2006


Today was an amazing day. I met with the Department of Ministry regarding our stethoscope project and we are planning a ceremony August 10 to give some of the stethoscopes to new Doctors. Tomorrow I meet with the Parliament and then the U.S. Embassy before we head out horseback riding with Chimeddorj.

B. Yanjmaa and her husband drove me an hour and a half in the countryside so that I would not miss the Re-enactment of Genghis Kahn's Army. This was an amazing experience. We are now in the middle of vast land and vast sky, gers from time to time and the most beautiful music. We hear drumming and horses and music and 500 horsemen in full regalia with bow and arrows, swords, and spears come over the hillside. They gallop to where we are and begin an amazing afternoon of riding, fighting, racing. It really takes your breath away.

The regalia is very detailed, with full armor. The flags and chanting are astounding. We then go to hear throat singing and moren kor being played in the most beautiful fashion.

I hope all is well. The television interview went well and was aired tonight on Mongolian television.

You are in my heart, Love, Susan

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July 22, 2006


More amazing tales. Friday afternoon we met Chimeddorj, Orgil and Bat for a travel to the countryside to ride horses and sleep in this vast land. On the trip way out into the countryside we stopped to gather male rocks by the river. Female rocks have water inside them and will burst with very hot heat from the fire. Chimeddorj and his sons set about gathering many male stones. We proceeded further off road now to meet up with one of the artist that I met under the influence of lots of vodka last year. He brought 3 women and another man and we all took off on this adventure.

As we entered the valley we stopped and a bottle of vodka was opened for a ceremony to the gods and we all put our left ring finger in the vodka and flicked it into the sky and then to the ground. Shots for all and then back in the car to our destination. We entered an opening and it took your breath away. Pure green rolling hills, no trees and you can see forever. Two gers and a stove in the front of them as in summer they move the stove out of the ger. Young children and several couples greet us.

They are preparing a welcoming meal on the stove. Then it is time for us to ride horses. Please make sure Sheila Goodwin sees this as we discussed some of these circumstances. They had about 300 horses and for our evening ride they lassoed horses for us to ride with Mongolian saddles, which are made of wood. These are wild horses and are not used to having saddles on them. You ride quite high in the wooden saddles and you can imagine what our thighs felt like. The scenery is so beautiful that it distracted me from the interesting feeling I was experiencing.

After the riding the stones were placed in the bottom of the stove with dung from cows to heat them. They told us that cow dung smells better than horse dung so this is why they use it. Chimeddorj was the person feeding the fire. We were put back on the horses to ride out to the country again. We had no idea that the feast was in the planning and they killed a goat and a sheep on site for us as a special honor. It was slightly shocking to arrive back at the gers with them lying on the ground.

While the preparations for the feast ensued it was announced that I was going to be presented with a horse for the work we are doing in Mongolia with the people. We drove way up into the hills with a cowboy Mongolian, Chimeddorj and his sons and the man that would give me one of his horses. They had to lassoes the black stallion who is quite spirited. The third try and the horse was caught and a bridle was put on him and he was officially presented to me. One of the traditions is to tie a blue scarf around its neck. Also after pictures and petting I was to take off the bridle and set Midnight free. They gave me the option of taking Midnight with me, killing him for meat or keeping him for them to raise and visit again next year. I took the last choice.

The man is a blacksmith and makes all the shoes for the President of Mongolia. He is thrilled that Tim used to be a blacksmith and said that next year when Tim comes to Mongolia he wants to treat us very well in his ger. He is very happy to talk with Tim about blacksmithing.

I then was to ride with the Head of the 300 horses and Bat and I down this steep hill back to the 2 gers. This was part of the ceremony.  Upon arrival the sheep and goat had been prepared and now the rocks are placed in a big milk bucket type and placed on the stove with the meat inside. The rocks actually cook the meat. Every part of the animals are used and we get into some areas we are not used to.

To start with we eat heart and liver and then everyone goes inside the ger and Laura and Eero and I are seated with the Head of the Herd and the huge plate of meat is put in front of us. All of the hot rocks are passed around and put hand to hand as this is a way to relieve stress and take bad energy away. 20 plus are in the ger for this and we eat all this meat with our hands and drink soup with vodka and all is well.

The next morning the horses are milked and the best milk, very sweet, is served in the field. This is after hours of lassoing the colts. On horseback, they have me herd the 300 horses with them for hours. At first I can hardly bear the wood saddle another day and then I work into it (although I do have a huge bruise on my thigh).

We are to stay for lunch which is a soup made from the sheep and goat head sand literally taken out of the pot and we are placed in the seat of honor with Chimeddorj cutting pieces of tongue, etc. for us. I was able to sneak the stomach piece back in the bowl to exchange for brain. What an experience. When the eyeballs were on the table I started to sweat thinking they were next. We passed this one.

This group of people is full of love of the land and helpfulness to our filming and us, generous and very loving. We all cried as we drove off and left this piece of heaven behind. Next year Midnight will be three and ready to ride. He has never been ridden before. We are really talking wild horses.

I apologize for the length, but I wanted you to have the story fresh. Also, part of the keys stick on the computer and everything is very slow, so difficult to type, so forgive my errors and the difficulty is hard to describe.

I send my love,


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July 23, 2006

We only get a small amount of news, yet it is heartbreaking in regards to Isreal and Lebanon. In light of this ,we spent the day at Gandantegchenling Monastery swirling prayer wheels and offering prayers of peace to the world.

Gandan was moved to its present location in 1838. Over the next century the monastery grew to have a community of 5000 monks. In 1938, the communist suppressed religious communities in Mongolia. They destroyed 900 monasteries. The monks were killed, jailed or forced to join the army. Five temples of Gandan were destroyed and the rest used for Russian officials.

In 1944 several monks petitioned to reopen Gandan and it was under strict supervision of the socialist government. In 1990 with the fall of communism it was reopened to full capacity. We swilred hundreds of prayer wheels, spent time with a 100 foot gold statue of Bodhisatva and felt a calm and peace we sent out into the world.

I didn't mention before that the land with the horses and my Midnight was Russian training grounds. We all worked to continue the transformation of this energy.

We are off to ERdenet in one hour. I am meeting with a woman that saw my television interview and wanted to interview us for a magazine. Our plans now are for Arkhungai and Gobi - Altai.

We send prayers of peace and love to all of you,

Susan Mom

P.S. I really miss everyone today.

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July 27, 2006

Hello Everyone,

We have had interesting expereinces traveling to Tseterleg. The first night it rained terribly and we stayed in a ger , all 10 of us. This was by Ogii Nuur. We were not able to find the tree planting project, but found a wonderful lake.

The next night we ended up with Bolor's mother's friends' ger , with special food and drinks and a wonderful time by the river.

Today was very successful. We met with the Governor of Arkhungai regarding establishing a Sister City Project. The Govenor Jigmedtseden KHURELSUKH is very excited about the possibility and gave us official documents, a CD of Arkhungai in English and invited us to Naadam tomorrow. We are re-arranging our plans and going to experience this. Many Ambassadors and the President of Mongolia and State Officials will be there. This is the start of a long relationship with Arkhungai Province and Tsetserleg.

The Govenor is very happy about the work The Sound Essence Project is doing . We will expand to Arkhungai in the future. I already gave a stethoscope to a OB-GYN Doctor, a friend of Bolor's family.

Much love to all of you and thank you for your support.


P.S. It is funny as there are 7 Mongolians and 3 Americans so we really not a tourist group.

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August 9, 2006

Our trip has been so multidimensional. The vast land of Arkhungai, the yaks and horses and cows and goats and sheep. It will be forevver etched in my mind and heart. Bolor and Tuya, your mother was very kind and her extended family was so generous. The celebrations, the songs and the hospitality is just now being digested.

Laura has reconnected with the french guys and is out on the town in UB, Eero went to shoot another show at the monastery in town and I recently met with a woman that is working with gender issues and is a consultant for a Center Against Violence. We had a wonderful talk and strategized how we may collaborate.

The good news is a gentleman I met through Walt Jenkins last year, Ken Howard, has strong ties with Arkhungai and is in full support of helping us with the Sister City ties.

I have an important meeting tomorrow I will brief you about after the fact and a few more film shoots and we head to Seoul.

Eero met a great filmmaker, Gabriel, and we had coffee and talked film for a few hours. He travels with the Dalai Lama and various Rinpoches. Great guy and amazing stories of Bhutan as well.

Our last nights on the outskirts of Erdenet were a time to remember, the traditions of bone games and singing and horhok, the order of bones distributed when eating a goat, and community.

Dudley, I brought the Imagine Peace to this family as one of the girls is a student in the art show. As we were partaking of all of this, in a ger, they put on Imagine All the People Living Life in Peace? It was a mixture of emotions, thinking about this life in the countryside, the challenges of Israel and here we were in a place with people helping each other, weaving a tapestry of sound and Imagine Peace in the background.

I believe we must hold on to the energy of peace, the belief that we are family and the love. May this dissolve the forces that are not of the highest.

I send my love,

Susan Mom

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