The Taggart Family -- Life, Family and Friends

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Location: Salt Lake City, Utah, United States

This blog is a record of events in the life of Joseph Taggart and his family since his spinal cord injury while body surfing in Guatemala in January 2006.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

This week in Qingdao

The following is Joseph's latest update from Qingdao, China:

Monday May 26
After a weekend of rest, Monday was back to work as usual. It seems like Jason (my physical therapist) and his assistants are pushing me harder and harder as time goes by. We've been transitioning from simple upper body exercises that isolate a single muscle group, to exercises that involve multiple muscle groups at the same time. I think this is more effective in actually producing functional movement for me, but it sure does wear me out! We've also been working on rolling over onto my side from a sitting position. Jason assists with my lower body quite a bit, but I am improving my ability to throw my arm across my chest to get my momentum going. Without any kind of lower body or trunk control, rolling over it is a pretty difficult task. But I'm discovering ways to manipulate my shoulders to flip my upper body around. I'm much better rolling onto my right side, which involves throwing my left arm around, then I am in the other direction. It's encouraging to see this kind of improvement.

Many of the new patients coming in do not require physical therapy. These patients are here for vision problems, certain types of traumatic brain injuries etc. This of course frees up the equipment in the gym. Consequently I have been spending extra time on the tilt table instead of going to lunch at our scheduled time. A lot of times while I'm standing vertical I will strap weights to my wrists and work on shoulder shrugs. By rolling my shoulders around in different ways with the weights I can exercise parts of my upper back, as well as my shoulders and neck. Since I've been doing this I seen an improvement in my endurance in these types of exercises.

So far I feel like I've improved in a handful of specific areas, I believe this to be a direct result of the physical therapy I've done since I arrived. We have not discovered yet any kind of new muscle movement, systemic function or otherwise that can be directly related to the stem cells. This is of course is to be expected. As we have known all along, for spinal cord injuries most of the improvement is seen long after we leave the hospital, and over the following six months. I'm learning a valuable lesson in patience during my stay here. :-)

Before my fifth spinal cord injection on Monday, I had a good discussion with the doctors about the possibility of injecting the stem cells directly into my neck as opposed to my lower back. After reviewing the MRIs we took in Qingdao city, the doctors were not entirely sure if it would work. Their main concerns are the soft tissue areas around the injury, and in measuring exactly how far the distances between my skin and the actual spinal fluid. It was too soon to make any major decisions regarding this before my spinal injection that day, but on Tuesday afternoon for a CT scan to further investigate. As of today (Wednesday afternoon) I have not received word yet if there's been a decision made.

The spinal cord injection went smoothly. I did my best to sleep as much as I could to help the time pass during the six hours afterwards that I'm required to stay in bed. As has been done in all the other transplants, I was hooked up to an IV with fluids since the patients are not allowed to eat or drink for an extended period of time. This time I had then use my right hand that is less functional, so I can still do things like scratch my face and move the blanket around without getting the IV tubing all tangled up. Unfortunately finding good veins in my less functional hand can be quite tricky, and the nurse had a hard time doing so. Ultimately the IV "infiltrated" which means that it slipped out of the vein in the fluid was being deposited into the space between my skin and the meat of my hand. From what I understand that this is quite painful, and typically a patient with normal touch sensation in their hand would notice this right away. Of course I do not have any touch sensation in either of my hands, so there is no way of me noticing. By the time I woke up about half the bag of IV fluid had drained into my hand. When the nurses came in to do their normal rounds they noticed that my right hand was quite swollen (see picture). My hand was probably four or five times its normal width. It was really quite funny looking! The nurses quickly remedied the situation, and started a new IV in my other hand that worked just fine. Over the past couple days my right hand is slowly been shrinking back down to normal size. It's been very interesting to watch the process.

Tuesday May 27
Tuesday we found ourselves back into the normal routine. Physical therapy and the tilt table in the morning, acupuncture and electrical stimulation in the afternoon. We have been having the guys here teach Matt how to do acupuncture on me. It's proving more difficult than it looks. The needles are so thin that if you do not hit the skin with the right speed and momentum it just bends away and doesn't even penetrate. On Tuesday Matt had about six different tries and was never quite able to get the needle in, it was really quite funny. He eventually gave up and resolved to try again on Wednesday. I've been having the acupuncturist turn up electricity that goes to the needles by almost double. It still does not get the same reaction out of my muscles that the large electrical stimulation pads yet, but they certainly can single out the small muscle groups (like single fingers or toes, specific wrist motions etc.).

It amazes me how the physical therapists blend together Eastern, Western and ancient medicine all into one general practice. It's like they understand that good can come from all of that, and they simply take what works best for the given situation from each field and combine them into a more all-around approach to general wellness. It certainly makes some of the medical practices done in the United States seem somewhat narrow-minded. I think this encompasses well why I enjoy traveling to other countries so much. Because there is good everywhere, and there are many different ways to accomplish the same task successfully. Just because you've always been accustomed your whole life to doing something one way, doesn't necessarily make it the "correct way" or certainly not the "only way".

Tuesday night we had another little party on the hospital floor for all the patients and staff. Matt and I were in charge again of running to the store to buy the ice cream and goodies. It's fun having these little parties, even though everyone here comes from different parts of the world, we are all here for the same purpose, and we all have the same hope. It amazes me how quickly everyone becomes friends even when it is nearly impossible to communicate effectively. For example, last night after most of the patients had retired to their rooms, a few of us remained out of the common area to continue chatting. There is a thirty-something Romanian gentleman here who suffered a traumatic brain injury not too long ago. He and his father really don't speak a word of English, which makes it very difficult because the staff really only speak Chinese and English, and there are no other patients who speak Romanian who could help translate. Lawrence (the Romanian with the TBI) came in and obviously wanted to participate in the conversation. We all spent about 40 minutes talking with him about Romania, what kind of music you listen to, and what kind of food he liked. It was actually really quite fun. You could obviously tell that he is a great sense of humor despite the language barrier. It wasn't too long before we discovered he was a fan of the Spice Girls, and he was singing and dancing for us. Good fun was had by all!
Wednesday May 28
Wednesday during acupuncture Matt had another go at trying to get a needle into me. The physical therapist was kind of in a hurry today, so he didn't have a whole lot of time to wait for Matt. After a couple of tries he was still having a hard time getting a needle in, the looks like it'll be another day before Matt can call him self and acupuncturist. I guess I'm the perfect patient to learn to be an acupuncturist on, I don't feel a thing.
Anyway, I think that sums up the last few days pretty well. We are having a lot of fun, and keeping really busy.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Halfway Mark in Qingdao

Today's update from Joseph in Qingdao, China:

Sunday, May 18
On Sunday Matt and I took the opportunity to take a day of rest. It has surprised us both how worn out we get at the end of the day, and by the end of the week we certainly need a little bit of time to recuperate. We spent most of the day resting, catching up on e-mails, writing in our journals and reading. I have been listening to an audio book version of "Crime and Punishment" by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Matt has been reading "Twilight" by Stephenie Meyer.

I have had an interesting time answering e-mails from people who've stumbled across my blog. Most of those who have e-mailed me are people who are investigating stem cell therapy either for themselves or a loved one. People from all over Europe, South Africa, the United States and elsewhere have already contacted me. It's easy to feel both their excitement and caution about the treatments. I've been completely satisfied with my decision to participate in the therapies here in China, I pray that they too can come to a decision that they are equally satisfied with.

Monday, May 19
Monday morning physical therapy continued his normal. Jason, my therapist, and started having one of his assistants work on me at the same time he is. This makes my therapy sessions much more efficient, which is good, but it wears me out quite a bit more.

That evening Matt and I walked down to the Qingdao Agricultural University that is just a few blocks away from the hospital. We were hoping to find students who spoke English to hang out with. We are constantly being approached on the streets by people who speak a little English, but so far those who've spoken the best seem to come from the Agricultural University.

The main entrance to the University starts with a long open space about a city block long filled with large sidewalks and flowers. Eventually it comes to a handful of little bridges going up over a canal lined with trees and walkways. Once you cross the canal there is a huge open plaza -- probably 150 x 150 yards, it's called Rainbow Square. Around the edges of the plaza are tall administrative buildings with a large Chinese flag in the middle. Beyond the initial plaza are large green spaces with open water features, flowers and foot paths everywhere.

The student housing was quite large, it houses around 20,000 students. There were probably 15 apartment buildings each about 10 stories high. Everyone's laundry was hanging out off their balconies to dry. There were even a few Chinese flags together with banners, hanging off the sides of the buildings, probably expressing grief to those affected by the earthquake. There seemed to be a large book swap going on along the main sidewalk down the middle of the student housing. Everyone had their old text books and magazines lined up on display along the sidewalk ready to sell. Both sides of the main sidewalk were covered for probably 200 yards. Judging by the covers on the books there was obviously a lot of agriculture and farming studied, as well as English, business, mathematics and geography. The magazines for the most interesting, the male students seem to have a lot of magazines with Kobe Bryant, Yao Ming, and David Beckham on the cover. The girls mostly had typical fashion magazines, both Western and Eastern.

It seemed like everyone who wasn't at the book swap was over at the basketball courts. We watched them play for a few minutes. Of the 20 or so different games going on we could probably count on one hand and the number of baskets that were made. Looks like it'll be a few more years before a Yao Ming emerges from Qingdao. They were certainly giving it their best effort though.

We feel like we only scratched the surface of exploring the university and we really didn't find anyone who spoke English well enough for us to have a conversation with. Our friend Jack (the translator here) studies at that university, he's pointed out to us now where the English department is, so maybe it'll be easier next time.

Tuesday, May 20
On Tuesday night we were getting a little bit restless so we went out for a walk. We headed into a different direction than we normally do, and we went quite a ways. We stumbled across the entrance to "Century Park" (it turns out the other part we had been going to was in reality a much smaller impostor).

Century Park is probably six or eight city blocks all put together. There is a massive lake divided in the middle by a couple of islands. It would take ages explaining all the neat little pathways and sculptures that exist throughout the area. So I will let the pictures do the talking. We returned later in the week with Dad to take more pictures and do some more exploring. I know I've said this before, but I wish the United States would invest in its city parks like the Chinese do. It's unbelievable!

Wednesday, May 21
Wednesday afternoon I had my fourth stem cell transplant. That's halfway through! It's hard to believe that the time is going so fast. Only four weeks remain for our stay here in Qingdao. We have been having such a good time since our arrival, we've completely lost track of all time. If it weren't for my regular stem cell injections we would be hard-pressed even know what day the week it is.

The injunction went well, I stayed awake through the entire procedure despite the Valium and anesthetic they put in my IV. I can't feel anything back there, but it's interesting to hear the doctors discuss the procedure as they do it. Of course this is all done in Chinese, but I like to pretend I know what's going on.

I've been curious as to geographical origin of the stem cells I have been receiving, where the babies are being born, and where the stem cells are being processed. Here is what I have figured out so far. There is one central stem cell bank here in China. All of the stem cells used in China come from this central bank. It's located somewhere in the south of China in a city called "Fu Zhou" (?). To further complicate the matter, the cord blood is flown in from all over the country to the central bank to be processed. So the wonderful Chinese mother and baby that has donated their healthy cord blood to benefit people like me could literally be anywhere in the country. I was naïvely hoping that the donation was the least coming from somewhere in Qingdao so I could at least to visit the facility or meet a donor. Oh well.

In the central stem cell bank, various tests are conducted on the cord blood to ensure that it is clean and healthy. Then they spin the blood in a centrifuge to separate the stem cells. Once they are isolated, they are grown in a culture until there are roughly 10 to 15 million cells. At which point they are packaged and shipped immediately to us waiting for them here in Qingdao. I understand that they have a very short shelf life, and that patients receive the stem cells as soon as they reach the hospital. Apparently the packaging used this ship the stem cells is pretty impressive, I'm going to see if I can track down some of it to take a picture.

Anyway, back to Wednesday. My injection went great, and the six-hours seemed to go by more quickly than the other times. I'm still getting a fever the night of each injection, but it's fairly mild and the doctors say it's normal. After asking around most of the patients seem to either get a fever or a headache. I much happier with the fever.

Thursday, May 22
After talking with a few of the other patients. We figured it was time to throw another party in the hospital common area. Matt and I were in charge of purchasing the ice cream/drinks etc. for the event. On our way to the grocery store, we talked a couple friends of ours into going with us. Their names are Brenda and Mandy. Mandy is 21 years old, and suffers from a disease similar to MS. Brenda is her energetic and spunky mother from rural Missouri. We've had a lot of fun spending time with them. Neither of them have ever really spent a lot of time outside of the country before, so both have been really hesitant to venture out beyond the hospital. We had Mandy take a ride in our spare LDS charities wheelchair, kindly pushed by Matt, and we visited the jade shop on the way to the grocery store.

We've become quite good friends with the shop owner and his family. Usually everyone is there at the shop when we arrive, Grandpa, Dad, Mom, and their two daughters. Chang Zhi is their 12-year-old daughter who speaks just enough English to help her daddy barter with the tourists. We got plenty of pictures with them this time, and I'm sure as long as we keep bringing more American tourists to their shop will continue to be their new best friends :-)

Just as the party was starting back at the hospital, Dad arrived from the airport. He seemed pretty exhausted when he arrived, so he didn't stay long. He commented how was nice to be back home in Qingdao -- that made me think a little bit. This place really is starting to feel like home.

Friday, May 23
Since Dad only had one full day to play here in Qingdao before he left for Shanghai on Saturday we decided to go back to Century Park. I added about 8 miles to the odometer on my wheelchair cruising around the park that day.

One highlight of the day was a phone call from Jim Ely. He wanted to let us know that our friend Andy was successful in obtaining a visa to study in the United States. He will leave in a couple months time to study at a small college in Washington State. He is still in Beijing sorting out the paperwork, but we are all anxious to see him again and congratulate him. I really hope we'll get a chance to bring him down the Salt Lake City for a few days.

Another interesting phone call we got was from the CEO of Beike (the company offering the stem cell therapies). His wife was organizing an event for a bunch of bigwigs and they wanted to know if Matt and Dad wanted to go. He also mentioned that they would have an opportunity to drive a Maserati around Qingdao. Of course they jumped at the chance!

Saturday, May 24
Matt and Dad left around 9 a.m. with the driver to go and drive their Maserati. I stayed back in the hospital since they told us the event was not going to be wheelchair accessible. They said they had a lot of fun, had a wonderful meal, got a massage and drove the Maserati. (Dad Adds: The highlight of the day was meeting three remarkable women and hearing their stories. Jonathan's wife Rose, Sally the head of the Qingdao Chamber of Commerce, and Sarah [with Matt on right] an entrepreneur from Qingdao who now lives in Beijing, owns several companies and is restoring the historic Govenors House in Qingdao as a boutique hotel. She organized the event. We were impressed with their friendliness, sincerity, intellingence and remarkable lives).

Sunday, May 25
Matt and a bunch of the other patients all split a taxi into town with one of the off-duty nurses. They went to large shopping center filled with thousands and thousands of knockoff items. They said just about anything you can imagine was available there. And best of all, all prices were negotiable. Everyone came back with an assortment of goodies and treasures to bring home. Gucci belts, backpacks, throwing knives, Prada purses, clothes, jewelry -- a little bit of everything. The shopping center is not wheelchair accessible, so I spent another day hanging out at the hospital watching Chinese television, napping, and surfing the Internet. Sigh...

I just got my schedule, and it looks like I'm having another spinal injection tomorrow. But that's the only one next week, Friday and Saturday will be our days off.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Week Past in Qingdao

Update from Qingdao:
This is Joseph's update from Qingdao from last week:

Wednesday 14th:
We went through physical therapy in the morning is normal. I feel like I can lift my right arm straighter out to my side a little more than I used to. This is definitely a result of the physical therapy, meaning to say that I don't think it's from the stem cells. That is something I've worked on specifically since I've gotten here, but also worked a lot on my pec muscles. For example, I will spend time on my back making a push-up motion up into the air with 5 pound weights strapped to my wrists. My left side has always s been much stronger than my right, and it still is, but my right side is gaining strength. I'm excited for these muscles to get stronger because they will allow me to move things with my hands in front of me instead of just out to the side. This will be especially important if I do get the proper rotation in my right forearm that I am hoping for.

In the afternoon we continued with the usual acupuncture and electrical stimulation. I find all very relaxing and sometimes I have a hard time staying awake through it. It's nice to have an afternoon nap, but I think it throws off my sleeping patterns at night. It's kind of funny sleeping while I can feel my body bounce around as the electrical shock zaps my muscles. I have him turn up the one on my arms quite high, it's kind of fun to watch. Whoever thought I could get a good upper body workout while I'm napping?

That evening Matt and I had a very interesting conversation with one of the translators that works here the hospital, a very fun and energetic young man. He came in to our room just to hang out and chat for a little bit. A lot of the staff is starting to do this is they feel more comfortable around us, and of course we love it. It's fun to talk with them one-on-one about specific aspects of Chinese culture like dating, family life etc. The discussion then turned to the purpose of life. It was a familiar discussion to those of our background but from a completely different perspective.

A similar discussion occurred this afternoon (Saturday 15th) a nurse that I have a really good relationship with came into my room and we started chatting. She noticed a CD on my desk that had a picture of our family together Easter. We discussed the members of the family but she wondered who the bearded figure was whose portrait hung on the wall behind us. Some of the general knowledge is more limited than I would have supposed in this area.

Thursday 15th:
Thursday morning during physical therapy we are discussing with a few of the other patients here at the hospital. Many of them are quite candid about venturing out into the neighborhood around the hospital. Not because it appears dangerous or frightening in any way, but just because they are timid and afraid of not being able to communicate. Only a handful of them are even aware of the massive park (Century Park) one block away. So we arranged to take a few of them out later that afternoon. It's nice being able to go out for a walk, be in the gardens, get some fresh air, and listen to the little waterfalls and streams flow by. I wish Utah had more parks like Century Park.

Anyway, while we were returning from one of the parks. We noticed a camera crew filming in one of the hedge mazes with what looked like a couple of actresses. We wandered over to get a closer look and a few college-age girls approached us and began to speak to us in English. They were from the Qingdao Agricultural College, and were English majors. It turns out that the crew was from CCTV (Central China Television, like the BBC of Britain) and they were filming a promotional video for the suburban district that the hospital and the University is in. The English students spoke to the film crew and they thought it was a good idea to film us saying "I love Cheng Yang" (the name of the district) for their promotional video. We all had our turn being filmed, and I think we all pretty much butchered the Chinese, but it was fun regardless. The producer took off his CCTV hat and signed it and gave it to Kala who is the five-year-old girl here from Trinidad and Tobago. It was really cute. This officially means that I have been on the local news on four continents now. I feel so famous!

Friday 16th:
Friday was meant to be our day off. So we slept in a little bit, and had arranged to meet with Andy around 10 o'clock. We were going to go do some shopping and spent some time with him. Unfortunately there had been a miscommunication about when I was getting stem cell treatments, and it turned out that at 2 p.m. I would be receiving a stem cell transplant intravenously. These are different than the transplants the go in through a spinal tap, these are simply fed into my bloodstream through a regular IV. Although I was pretty excited to finally try and intravenous transplant, I was disappointed that it was going to be right in the middle of our day off.

Andy is a pretty amazing guy. He lives in the city center, about a 40 minute taxi drive away, compared to a two-hour bus ride. Last time we met up with him we gave him money so that he could take a taxi to and from the hospital. That way he doesn't spend his entire day on the bus. We began to be a little concerned when he had not arrived yet and it was already after 12 o'clock, over two hours late. He eventually arrived and explained that he had donated the money we gave him for the taxis to the relief fund for the earthquake victims in central China. He said that all the students at his university were making a sacrifice in order to help the victims. I thought this was very admirable. Of course when it was time for him to return home we tried to give him money for a taxi. But he absolutely refused it. I think sacrificing something for the earthquake victims is very important to him.

While we were grocery shopping I had a chance to discuss with him a little bit about his family and tuition costs etc. He told me that his parents are getting old, and he is worried that he will not be graduated from university in time to take care of them before they can no longer take care of themselves. They grow corn, wheat and potatoes that they sell to the government for cash. As I understand it, all farmers sell their crops to the government who sets the price and redistributes the produce. He said the prices are very low, and it is very difficult for his parents to sustain him here in Qingdao as a student. He also mentioned that they grow their own fruits and vegetables on the side for them to eat, so that they do not have to buy any food so there will be more money left over to support Andy. He told me he's very anxious for the day to come that he will be able to support his parents so they will not have to work in the fields anymore.

Andy has been living in a boarding school or at a university ever since he was eight years old. At the boarding school the schedule was planned out from five in the morning until nine o'clock at night. The study schedule was very rigorous, and only those who performed well enough were allowed to go on to college. If not they likely returned home to the fields to work. It's amazing to me of how strong the connection he feels his family, despite having been away from them for so long. I get the same feeling from many of the nurses and staff here at the hospital. None of them hesitate to tell me how much they love their parents, and how much they miss them, but usually they only get to see them once a year if they are lucky.

One last interesting fact about Andy -- he told me that before he came to Qingdao to study at the University he'd never seen a computer up close. Only on TV. He also mentioned that he had no idea what a cell phone was before he came to Qingdao. The village he grew up and consisted mostly of farmers, and had a very widely dispersed population of 1500 people.

The stem cell transplant went well. It went pretty quickly. They just took up an IV, ran a little bit of saline through it, brought in the stem cells, let them run through the IV, followed it with a little more saline then we were done. The whole thing took less than 40 minutes. Matt got some good pictures of it, but overall it was pretty uneventful. Again I can't really say that I have felt any different before or after any of the transplants. I know this is normal, and that the improvements likely won't be felt for months to come. But part of me kind of wishes I could get a little hint of some kind of new motion or sensation just to put my mind at ease.

Friday night Matt and I tried a couple of cool looking sandwiches we found at the deli. Imagine too small pitas about 4 inches in diameter. In between them were lettuce, ham and a fried egg. They were really good. We're still finding plenty of new foods to try, it's going to be very boring going back to the Harmon's bakery on Redwood Road!

Saturday 17th:
Friday night and Saturday morning early I had a really hard time sleeping. Sometimes when I get the stem cell treatments I get a bit of a fever, most of the patients do. I ended up waking up a little before four o'clock and was unable to get back to sleep. I was also feeling some abdominal pain. I think overall it was all a combination of the transplants, all the physical therapy, and just how active we have been since we got here

This afternoon while I was resting, Matt got together with a few other patients here at the hospital and they all went into the city for a few hours. They went out to the beach and a wharf with lots of cool little things to see. They all went out to eat at international restaurant, with everything from Mexican to Mediterranean to Korean to American food. After that the ladies all wanted to go to the mall where they could all by knock off fashion items. Every famous international fashion brand of shirts, shoes, purses etc. were available. This didn't interest Matt very much so he went and wandered around the surrounding neighborhood and took a few pictures. He enjoyed being able to get out and see new part of Qingdao, and was able to do a little bit of scouting testing out the wheelchair accessibility in case I get a chance to go later.

Saturday night Lee and her two daughters stopped by for a few minutes and brought us some more apples and oranges. We are now having to distribute the fruit they all keep bringing asked to the other patients, we have been eating tons of it, but there's no way we can ever keep up. Lee and her daughters brought a hymnbook and sang to us a few songs. They wanted us to sing a song, so Matt and I sang "called to serve" for them. They finished by singing ‘I am a Child of God ‘in Korean -- I'm not sure why but hymns always sound better in non-English languages. Lee and her daughters bring such a wonderful spirit, we really appreciate them coming by. We are going to get a chance to meet her husband next week, he travels a lot because of his business so we have not had a chance yet.

A few minutes after Lee left, Peter and Shelly swung by. They had been out visiting some of Shelley's family where there are a lot of cherry orchards. They went and picked cherries for us and brought them back. Talk about fresh! We've been overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of the local people here. I wish there were something we can do for them. They always leave such a sweet spirit when they come, we are very thankful for them.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Update from Mongolia III: Food, Culture and People

Mongolian Update III:
Tim's flight was delayed leaving Mongolia today, high winds (normal) prevented flights from landing (they can't leave if they don't arrive) so he spent the day working at the Church Office in Ulaan Baatar. This is part three of Tim's Mongolian updates:

The food is great in Mongolia especially the steak and the many different types of Mongolian dumplings, I am hooked on the Khushuur, a deep fried meat version.

Dinner on Daturday night was a special treat, when we were done for the day at the studio, about 7:00 PM, Soyolmaa’s husband picked us up for a real Mongolian treat: sheep’s head. We found the restaurant and it was delightful. I tried everything (and lived). We had soup made from the four key parts of Lamb (kidney, liver, heart, and intestines). I ordered the Yak steak with a sauce made from a Mongolian berry (really good).

The piece d’ resistance was the goat head, it was skinned and cut in half and cooked (or vice versa) and served in the half-shell (so to speak). The brains are supposed to make you smarter; the tongue a better speaker (or at least better in an argument); the ears make you hear better; the eyes, see better; the soft palette more skilled in a craft or with your hands and etc. I tried them all and didn’t throw up. Actually they all tasted a lot like lamb, just a variety of textures. The brain was kind of like a pate, and the tongue kind of mushy. The soft palette was sort of chewy, as I expected. I got good photos, I didn’t actually eat an eyeball just the meat around the eye socket. Soyolmaa ate an eyeball whole and really enjoyed it. If served one I would have eaten it, but was glad for the oversight (pun intended).

Mongolia has a culture that is extensive and different. Tuesday Soyolmaa took us to a cultural show here in UB, it was a delight. Musicians performed on a number of instruments that were quite different and very beautiful. The dancing was cool and the famous Mongolian ‘Throat Singing’ (see: Mongolian Khoomii info) was weird and wonderful. One unusual instrument was a 15 foot long fiddle called the morinkhuur or horse head fiddle. The last part was a trio of young contortionists (apparently a common thing here), I was blown away. The traditional Mongolian dress is beautiful, I enjoyed the people at the many weddings in the hotel where I stayed all decked out in their formal traditional wear.

The people of Mongolia are the true highlight of any visit. They are warm, friendly and inviting. The tradition of welcome stems from the need for hospitality in a harsh environment. It is great that so much of that feeling still pervades everyday life. Among the faces of Mongolia were many graduating university students around the city all week, all dressed up in best dress and visiting the major places. The young people are beautiful and the older people have life and character written on their faces. This is a great place to find wonderful people, especially the members of the Church with their radiant smiles and infectious enthusiasm.

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