Saturday, December 20, 2014

Meeting monks who are avid 76ers fans

The people who tabulate the demographics of Philadelphia's sport fans may have missed the monks of the Danzandarjaa Khiid monastery in Moron, Mongolia. I met three of them in a small café just a few yards from the monastery's central temple during my final day in Hovsgol Aimag. "Where are you from, and where are you going?" asked one with a characteristic greeting when I entered the room.

Meeting monks who are avid 76ers fans

Basketball hoop in Mongolia. (Photo by Robert Peck)
Basketball hoop in Mongolia. (Photo by Robert Peck)

The people who tabulate the demographics of Philadelphia’s sport fans may have missed the monks of the Danzandarjaa Khiid monastery in Moron, Mongolia.

I met three of them in a small café just a few yards from the monastery’s central temple during my final day in Hovsgol Aimag. “Where are you from, and where are you going?” asked one with a characteristic greeting when I entered the room.

On hearing Philadelphia, he and his friends all grinned excitedly. They could hardly believe their good fortune at meeting someone from the land of their favorite basketball team. They cried out “76ers” in unison, and then began to recite the names of their favorite players. It seems the NBA games are broadcast here by satellite TV and these guys love to watch our hometown team.

A fourth monk entered and after ordering some tea, spent the next few minutes trying to promote the Celtics. But the 76ers fans had him outnumbered, and being a good Buddhist, the lone Celtics booster decided to return to morning prayers.

American basketball has entered the consciousness of every Mongolian with access to television. You can see the effects throughout the countryside, for near almost every ger that has a solar panel and a satellite dish, is a home-made basketball backboard mounted on a tall larch pole.

The hoops, fashioned from pieces of salvaged metal, vary widely in size and height. I have seen some as low as six feet and others as high as fifteen feet from the ground - it’s hard to judge from a television screen just how high a hoop should be.

The courts are sand or gravel, and usually strewn with cow pies. Many of the backboards double as hitching posts for the family’s horses when they’re not in use.

Mongolia’s greatest sports heroes are still its wrestlers, but give the country a few more years and a new generation of sports fans may push basketball into the front row.

Perhaps some day we will see the 76ers take on Ulaan Bataar’s “Red Heroes” in the big arena downtown. If so, the monks from Moron – or their successors - will surely be there to cheer.

 

About this blog
The age of exploration is not dead. Over the next six weeks, Robert Peck and colleagues from the Academy of Natural Sciences and the University of Pennsylvania will be traveling in Mongolia, reconnecting with herdsmen Peck met 17 years ago and checking for evidence of climate change. Peck will chronicle his travels in the land once ruled by Genghis Khan on a blog at www.philly.com/treks


Robert McCracken Peck, senior fellow of the Academy of Natural Sciences
Peck is a writer, naturalist, and historian who has traveled extensively in North and South America, Africa, Asia and Europe. He has been honored by the Academy, the Explorers Club, and other organizations for his contributions to exploration and the interpretation of natural history. In 2007, the U.S. Department of State and the White House chose him to represent the United States at Mongolia’s 800th birthday celebration. Peck is the author of Land of the Eagle: A Natural History of North America (1990), Headhunters and Hummingbirds: An Expedition into Ecuador (1987), and other books and papers.

Clyde Goulden, Director of the Asia Center of the Academy of Natural Sciences
Goulden’s research in Asia began in 1994 when he and Academy colleagues were invited to initiate studies on a large lake in northern Mongolia, Lake Hovsgol. His work at the lake has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Global Environment Facility through the World Bank. He is associated with a research program to study the impacts of climate change on the lake’s watershed and the nomadic herders of Mongolia.

Tuya Goulden, researcher and international travel liaison
Tuya Goulden moved to the United States in 2006 from Mongolia and is a citizen of the U.S. In addition to college degrees from Mongolian universities, she has a master’s degree in tourism management from George Washington University. Goulden has been active in organizing expeditions in Mongolia for scientists in from the Academy and other universities. She is a research assistant for the Mongolian NSF-PIRE project on climate change impacts and serves as the translator for interviews with Mongolian nomadic herders.

Dakin Henderson, videographer
Henderson, a Boston filmmaker, has produced fiction and non-fiction short films, music videos and science-education documentaries. His films have won awards at Colorado College, the Shoot Out Boulder competition and the Ecological Society of America EcoFilm Festival. He currently works with the award-winning production team, Vital Pictures. Visit his website at www.shaxentertainment.com.

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