|In 1995, President Orchibat of Mongolia came to Houston to inaugurate the Texas Honorary Consul Office. He seemed quite pleased when I gave him his first cowboy hat. As Orchibat was a geologist, he was particularly excited about being in the oil capital. Also, we took the opportunity to discuss our oil exploration plans for the eastern steppe lands of Mongolia and I promised I would invite him to inaugurate our first wildcat oil well.
About one year later, Orchibat joined us in Dornad Aimag in the eastern-most tip of Mongolia as we began to drill the first oil exploration well in Mongolia since the Russians abandoned their primitive wells some forty years earlier and that still produce oil onto the Gobi Desert. The Russian concept of abandoning an oil well is not to plug and cement it but merely toss a stick of dynamite down the hole and hope it stops flowing. In any event, Orchibat was in his element in the steppe wearing his del (tunic) which the Texan also chose to wear. If Orchibat can wear a cowboy hat in Texas, I should wear a del in Dornad.
We then took some of the members of Orchibat's entourage to pay a visit to a Texas drilling rig and then on to our ranch west of San Antonio in the Texas Hill Country. The Mongolian visitors were full of questions including Enkhsaikhan who would go on to become the Prime Minister of Mongolia and Enkhbold, head of the Petroleum Authority of Mongolia. Dicky, the second from the left, was the tool pusher on the rig and gave the briefing. Tool pusher may sound like an ignominious job description but he is the one in charge of the rig hands' lives.
Ultimately, Dicky would move to Mongolia and oversee our drilling operations there. He happened to be on site when Prime Minister Enkhsaikhan went to inaugurate our first oil export to China. You might not recognize Dicky below with the beard. I am the guy in the furry hat between the two of them and can testify that it was 50 degrees below zero that day. I broke a bottle of champagne on the bumper of the first export oil truck which froze in the air. That is why Mongolians drink vodka as it is the best anti-freeze which is particularly relevant in a place that has two seasons: three months cold - nine months very cold.
One cold weekend I decided to be the first Texan to ski in Mongolia. I found some equipment to rent though it came with boots two sizes too small. I then began to climb up the mountain while my friend, Bob Vachon, waited at the base. I made my way down safely, met Bob and followed with the traditional shot of vodka. In the future, I would take the shot of vodka before the trek up the mountain to ease the pain of the boots and the bitter cold.
At the ranch, the Mongolian visitors were right at home in terms of riding horses, shooting rifles, eating steaks and enjoying margaritas. I asked them why no one ate their salads and the response was "animals eat vegetables, we eat animals." On the left at the end of the table is Bill Pentilla who was our spiritual Buddha and my close friend. Sadly, Bill died on a trip with me to Mongolia and left a void in many of our lives. The gentleman third from the left is Batbayar, or Baabar by his nom de plume as a famous author, as well as the political conscience of Mongolia. He was educated as a geneticist which we will cover in a bit. The Mongolian standing in the tan jacket was a well-known entrepreneur and playboy. He got crosswise with someone in power and wound up spending some number of years in a Mongolian prison which took the spring out of his step.
If you have ever been in a Mongolian ger or residence in the steppe, the meat provisions are quite apparent. In reality, life as a nomad does not provide much opportunity to cultivate anything though they do gather wild onions when they find them on the steppe.
On another occasion, I did try to introduce the Mongolians to the concept of fishing and actually eating the catch. However, they looked on and toasted the fishing success - little excuse is needed for a Mongolian to pick up a bottle of vodka. The concept of eating fish was totally alien to them. Ultimately, I did convince Prime Minister Enkhsaikhan to give it a go and actually taught him how to clean and pan fry fish.
Once Bill and I were on the steppe when some Mongolian cowboys rode up and had a beer with us. As Bill grew up on an Indian reservation in Montana, I looked at him and he nodded- as you could not distinguish them from American Indians. Some years later, I received a chilled DHL package in Houston with a note from Baabar to send it to the Smithsonian. It was a bit concerning that the package contained blood which was unlawful to send. I called a mutual friend in Washington who headed the Smithsonian's Arctic Studies Program. He said to forward it to his DNA testing folks in Panama. Not surprisingly, the DNA signatures between American Indians and Mongolians were identical. As Bill was of Finnish ancestry, he also maintained that the Finnish language was somewhat similar to Mongolian which I could not refute though neither Finns nor Mongolians speak much without vodka fueling the conversation. Bill ultimately married a wonderful Mongolian lady to close the circle.
With almost thirty years of Mongolian experiences, it is not surprising that we "Mongolphiles" have a warm spot in our hearts for these people and offer what aid we can from time to time. You would never come upon a Mongolian ger in the steppe without being invited in for a cup of tea which would be followed by fermented mare's milk and finally vodka. Remember the men sit on the left side and the women on the right side. Also, try to avoid sitting underneath the dripping meat.