Six students from the University of Pittsburgh Honors College trek across Mongolia in search of illumination, perspective, and the perfect cup of Yak-milk tea.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Bichmel Uceg

I made my triumphant return to Mongolian language class today, albeit an hour and a half late. To complement my work in Mongolia, I’m taking three hours of language classes every morning (except Wednesdays, when I spend long mornings teaching English to the college students at the Press Institute). I’ve started off in the beginners’ class, which has been kind of nice in that it’s allowed me to learn some of the basic language rules that I never learned in my most excellent “Survival Mongolian” class at Pitt or in our cool but somewhat disorganized class this summer. Unfortunately, beginners’ Mongolian starts at 8 a.m., while the second level class begins after we end at 11. The 8-11 class works regrettably well with my work schedule (except Wednesdays, but there’s no way around that), while it’s rather ill-suited to my ambitions of getting a good night’s sleep. Our apartment is about a 30-minute walk from the university, which means two things: 1) my alarm goes off at 6 a.m. – at least, the first alarm does – and 2) I have no hope of ever arriving on time.
It’s good to be working on the language again, though my plans are still a bit too vague to know whether it’ll do me any good after December. The one unpleasant factor? Bichmel Uceg, my mortal enemy, has reemerged with a vengeance. The term “bichmel uceg” refers to “written words,” sort of the Cyrillic version of cursive. When one of our summer language teachers attempted to write lessons in these tricky letters, our six-person class of Pitt students rebelled and insisted she return to the block letters (“parmal uceg”) that we had learned in the spring. Unfortunately, I don’t have the majority this time. My Chinese and Korean classmates (about three Chinese students, seven Korean students, an older Australian guy and I fill the classroom) have yet to really learn the block letters, so I’m stuck going with the majority. Just to give you a taste, the handwritten letter for T – one of the merciful few that actually looks the same in block Cyrillic and Roman letters – is a cursive “m” in this troublesome handwriting. Go figure.