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S1, Ep 6 The Story of Ganbaatar: Back Home

Mongolia , deep sea navigation, storytelling in this podcast The Truth Lies

Episode 6 of The Story of Ganbaatar: the only deep sea navigator in Mongolia, Series 1 of our ‘The Truth Lies in Bedtimes Stories from See Through News’ podcast

In Episode 6, his studies complete, Ganbaatar returns home to discover his fate…

Music Notes: The music from this episode was recorded by ethnomusicologist Jean Jenkins in the spring of 1974, and is taken from the CD of Mongolian music produced for Topic World Series.

It’s a short form song called Garyn Arvan Huriin (Ten Fingers of the Hand), and is performed by Monyi, a camel herder from south-west Mongolia.

The lyrics tell of ‘long straight fingers with a ring of pure gold’, and ask why her lover has hemmed his sleeves in black silk, and given his love to a foreigner.

Garyn Arvan Huriin was a popular song in the 70s, often played on state radio, where Monyi may well have first heard it.

Episode 1 – Fact, Fiction & Mongolia

Next: Episode 7 – Professor Dalai Goes For A Walk

Written, Produced and Narrated by SternWriter

Audio production by  Sam Wain

The Truth Lies in Bedtime Stories is a podcast from See Through News.

See Through News is a non-profit social media network with the Goal of Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown by Helping the Inactive Become Active.


Episode 6: Back Home

It was a fine spring morning in the capital.  A light dusting of snow had fallen overnight, but green shoots were already poking through their white blankets. 

Ganbaatar breathed in a lungful of Mongolian air, and paused on a particular step. Five years before, he’d had his photo taken here, beside four young colleagues and the Minister of Agriculture, proud emissaries, destined to bestow the gift of fish farming to a grateful nation.

The other four had returned two years before. 

Not all letters from home had made it to Ganbaatar over his five years of study. It was understandable, as one month he would be on a Baltic trawler, the next an Atlantic container ship, the next an Arctic cruise ship.

But he had heard that whatever aquaculture expertise his four colleagues had acquired during their studies, was now being squandered.

Professor Dalai’s vision of Mongolians introducing fish to their diet hadn’t taken off. There’s not been another zhod winter since they’d left. Livestock herds had been built up again, the refugees had packed up their gers from around the capital, and moved back to their grassland homes. 

The old Minister of Agriculture had taken early retirement, at least that was the official line.  Some said it had been his cosy relationship with the Soviet Ambassador that truncated his career. Others said that even though it had been successfully hushed up, he’d killed his own career, along with three camels and a yak, during his drunken 3am joyride in his official limousine.

The new Minister, by all accounts an unforgiving kind of man, had quietly closed down the fish-farming department, and reassigned his former colleagues to more familiar Ministry of Agriculture jobs. They were now supervising milk quotas, regulating meat processing, and approving veterinary products.  

The only clues to their years of study abroad were the Certificates of graduation displayed on the walls of their offices.  You can say what you like about the Soviet Union, but they knew how to do Certificate, with their bold red hammer-and-sickle seals, and red felt frames embossed with gold writing.

Ganbaatar’s own certificate was safe. Before setting out that morning, he’d tucked it under his lucky wolf’s paw, and clicked his little leather briefcase shut. 

As he walked up the steps and approached the security guard’s desk, Ganbaatar swung the briefcase, surreptitiously jaunty.

Though naturally shy, Ganbaatar was secretly looking forward to showing his qualification to the guard, who was from same place up by the lake with the boat.

Everyone he’d met since his return three days ago had begged to see it. It’s not every day you get to hold in your own hands the first-ever International Certificate in Deep-Sea Navigation awarded to a Mongolian. 

Those who’d had the privilege had already told the story to others, who were already telling it to everyone they met.

But the guard was unfamiliar. Another reminder that much had changed in the five years he’d been away. 

The new guard nodded dismissively at Ganbaatar’s open briefcase, before returning to the sports pages of his newspaper. 

As he clicked his briefcase softly shut, Ganbaatar smiled to himself. Facing him, on the front page, was an article about the return of the country’s first qualified Deep Sea Navigator, and a photo of him with his Certificate taken at the airport.  Maybe the guard did already know about it, after all.

Ganbaatar turned, and continued his way up the wide concrete stairs, all the way to the Minister’s office on the top floor. 

The new Minister kept him waiting an hour. 

A modest man, Ganbaatar didn’t take offence. 

An hour later, he began to feel a premonition of worry that his triumphal return may have peaked.

After another hour, he was pretty much sure of it.

When he was finally shown into the new Minister’s office, and showed him his Certificate, he knew it.

‘What the hell have you been doing, wasting your time and our money studying Deep Sea Navigation?’ he thundered. ‘What use are you to Mongolia? What possible job is there for a Deep Sea Navigator?’.

At that moment, Ganbaatar’s hope evaporated, like ocean spray. 

He reached for the previous Minister’s letter telling him it was all part of a greater plan from his briefcase, that would be revealed to him on his return, before he suddenly realised this would only make things worse.  

All he wanted to do was go home. 

As he replaced the certificate and letter in his briefcase, he caught sight of his lucky wolf’s paw.  

Of course!

‘Minister’, he said, ‘I could join the crew of the boat on the lake by the Soviet border, maybe my experience would be of some help’.

Far from placating the new Minister, this infuriated him further. He exploded with fury, saying the boat had been navigating the lake absolutely fine for nearly a century, it was never out of sight of the lake shore, and get out of my sight.

The following week, Ganbaatar opened the door to his new office, a cramped, bare, dusty room at the end of a remote corridor as far away from the Minister’s office as it was possible to be.

It hadn’t been used for years. Ganbaatar opened it’s one tiny window, opaque with grime, to let some air in. 

A shower of dead insects covered his shoes.  

Outside, melting snow, a birch tree, an empty bench.

After a minute or two staring at the bench, he sighed, and turned back to settle into his new office. Having been given no job, all he had were his personal possessions. 

He moved the dusty chair from the dusty desk, opened his briefcase, and arranged its contents on the room’s dusty shelf.

There was his life, all in a row. 

The wolf’s paw. 

His internationally-recognised Certificate in Deep Sea Navigation.

A photograph of him with his international shipmates smiling on a trawler on a distant sea. 

Ganbaatar picked up the wolf’s paw and the photograph, and his eyes filled with tears. 

He walked to the window, opened it wide. He closed his eyes, started to sway from side to side, as if on a rolling deck. He began singing one of the sea-shanties he’d learned on the other side of the world.

In Episode 7: Professor Dalai Goes For A Walk, we’ll discover how Ganbaatar found  his new job at the Ministry.