By Maddie Washburn
Young girls in Ulaabaatar, Mongolia grow up aspiring to become contortionists. They aspire to perfect unnatural techniques that started in the 1970s that pushes their flexibility, mainly with their spine. It takes months to complete a new skill. Teacher Tsetseg Badarch, who performed contortionism in the circus, calls this "the art of patience." You can find Tsetseg in the quaint dance studio she rents on the 13th floor of a hotel building, teaching 40 students from ages five to 27. Practices are not always quiet or peaceful or lively. It is common to hear crying and screaming as young girls are pushed to improve. "It’s all for their own good. Mongolian girls are very flexible. Contortionists have a passion to do it from their early age and they are very talented," Tsetseg said. "They practice to develop their talent." Aside from wiping tears, there is always a sign of respect to be found for students toward Tsetseg. She cares about her students’ success. And there is passion for "the art of patience" in Tsetseg’s studio.
By Jessica Moore
In a small underground felt shop in the bustling city of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, one woman works hard to preserve Mongolian tradition. Altan-Useg has been making felt shoes for about three months. Although she is in her 60’s, she feels she is never too old to learn. "Before I couldn’t do anything with felt. Now I’m learning. I understand that humans are always learning until they die. And life is so wealthy." Altan lives in the Ger District of Ulaanbaatar, a low income part of the city. Her home is located a few hours away from the felt shop by public transportation. Tucked between many circular, felt-insulated tents is Altan’s house. She has no indoor plumbing and has minimal access to clean water, but she is happy. While smoke billows out of her and her neighbor’s chimneys polluting the air, she remains untroubled. "The pollution doesn’t bother me. I don’t worry about it. I don’t use a mask. I’m one of the pollution sources. What can I say, I produce smoke too," Altan said. At her home, she spends hours embroidering the shoes she made in the felt shop. Felt-making isn’t work; it’s her passion.