Author Archives: Uuganaa

Mongol culture through kids’ eyes …

Mongol culture through kids’ eyes …

Dear Mrs Ramsay

I am writing to thank you for coming to our school and giving us a taste of Mongolian life…’ continued the letters. They were the most sincerely written letters I had ever read. I could not believe how much they learnt from my visits talking about life in Mongolia and my childhood. I love receiving letters like these ones and I’m thinking of doing more talks now. These letters came after my talks in Glasgow, East and South Ayrshire schools:

Horse racing‘… I really enjoyed learning about the games you played as I found them really interesting and I wish that I could have played them. I liked the horse racing game best!… I also liked the yurt as if you were moving house you could dismantle the house and take it with you. I would love to be able to do that with my house because I would live close to my friends but not have to move into a different house…’ Ben

‘… I also enjoyed the story about the wolves going to get your animals but it sounded a bit scary. It’s still not going to stop me about asking if I can go there in the summer with my family… I wish you could come back again to our class to tell us more about Mongolia…’ Cameron

 ’… I also liked the story that you having to ascend up your house in the winter to scrape the frost off the window on the crown of the yurt… I really enjoyed everything. I hope you can come back soon.’ Lara

‘… I recognised the symbol in the middle of the Mongolian flag. It was the one with the normal and upside down drops with the dot in the middle… I hope you can come back to show us your new book because I would like to read it.’ Erin

‘…My favourite subject was when you were talking to us about the cow skin boots and how they were pointy at the front. I can still remember they were pointy at the front to protect the ground… My favourite fact was about how long the flight took from Mongolia to Scotland. It took 24 hours… It would be great if you could come to our Christmas show. I am a dancer and the show is called Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special. Please could you come it would be great!..’ Leah

‘… I liked the big boots because they had nice coloured patterns. I liked the boots because they had a nice texture…’ Calum

DSCF0846.JPG‘… I enjoyed learning about the flag and what the symbols mean on it because I like flag and I especially like country flags. I learned lots of things about Mongolia and I may even go there myself…’ Ethan

‘… It was very fascinating learning about the chess pieces because … I liked the Queen and the King…’ Courtney

‘… The last thing I enjoyed was the Mongolian house called Gurr. I was just wondering did you ever have a pattern on your yurt?…’ Alena

‘… I couldn’t believe how small the UK is compared to Mongolia. I liked the bones because it was a way to recycle dead animal pieces. The chess pieces were very interesting and well made…’ Jonah

‘… I also enjoyed having the bones in my hands because that was the first time I had a bone in my hand. … I would love it if you came back…’ James

‘… I really enjoyed learning Mongolian language. I really enjoyed looking at the ankle bones from the sheep and goats. I liked your childhood story and it was really, really good…’ Charlie-Jane

‘… I liked the special shoes because they looked very cool because they had stuff on them…’ Dylan

‘… I particularly liked learning about the yurt… I thought going up on top of it would be fun because I like going on top of things…’ Brandon

‘… I learned that not everyone in the world has a stone house. It looks cool. It would be good not to get sent to your room…’ Adam

‘… My favourite game was the ankle bone game. It looked extremely fun to play! I wish I had it… Are the clothes comfortable? They do look nice though… I hope you can come again and maybe to our Christmas concert. We are doing Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special Patna Style. In case you don’t know what it is I’ll tell you. It is a game show and it is on Sunday nights at 7 o’clock on BBC2 on the t.v just in case you want to watch it…’ Rachel

‘…I thought the games you played looked and sounded fun. I wish we had games like that in Scotland. I also enjoyed when you told us about the temperature of Mongolia…‘ Megan

‘… I really enjoyed looking at the shoes and clothes. I thought that the patterns on the clothes were very fancy!… They were fantastic colours as well… A very big thank you for coming all that way. I would like to give you a ticket to our Christmas show… Here you go! … I wish you could come because it would be great…’ Ashleigh


Down’s Syndrome Reality

Billy and my handsMany people write and talk about Down’s syndrome in many different styles, from a wide range of angles raising awareness of why it happens, what are the myths and so on. We as a family will never forget the consequence of Down’s syndrome. It affected us so many ways. Our two-year-old points at the cemetery and calls her brother’s name, her brother that she never met. October is a hard month as it whispers into our hearts that Billy’s birthday is next month. Other parents prepare birthday presents and cakes and we are silently crying, looking at children around Billy’s age coming out of nursery gates and feeling the heavy emptiness in our hearts.

I remember walking down the street with Billy, super-sensitive and ready to spot anyone’s glance and preparing myself to hear nasty comments. Perhaps now I might be offending parents and carers who are with their babies, with their teens by staring at them, trying to picture what it would have been like with Billy. Our family might look ‘normal’ from the outside walking down the street, but Billy is missing. What I’m trying to say is that we never know other people’s stories.

I don’t know what Billy’s first smile would have been like, I will never know. I had a glimpse of his smile while he was sleeping on a hospital bed. That was the only smile I was to see. So yes, be aware that there are many parents, relatives, grandparents, sisters and brothers out there remembering their loved ones because Down’s syndrome changed them, hurt them and made impacts in their lives.

Author Spotlight

DSC00331What a week?! It started with a radio interview on Monday and then a blog interview on Thursday AND a question and answer section on my publisher ‘s website on Thursday, too. I’ll tell you a bit about each of the experience and you are welcome to read or listen to the interviews by clicking on the links.

1. Reading and Writing Blog: Scottish Writer, Speaker and Blogger Rosemary Gemmell interviewed me for her blog. I met her last year as she was a guest speaker at our writers’ club. The questions included:
Tell us a little about how you came to Britain and how you became a writer. Was it difficult writing about your past in Mongolia? And about the sad loss of your son? 

2. Radio Gorgeous: The radio has been created for “bold, intelligent and vibrant women”. Donna Freed, a native of New York, interviewed me for their Author of the Week show. I talked about many topics including my childhood in socialist Mongolia and distilling vodka from yogurt.

3. Saraband. My publisher’s Authors Section now has a Q&A with me. The questions include:
The book’s title is quite provocative. How do you think people will react to that title? What are some of the big differences between Mongolian culture and British culture? 

Some people who read and listened to the interviews wrote:

‘I have just read and listened to the blogs and interview. Well done, the
interview was lovely and you were obviously at ease when you were doing

‘They were really interesting and moving. I am looking forward to buying a copy of your book. It sounds fascinating.’

‘… just listened to your interview, Uuganaa … it made me want to read your memoir even more,’

‘Fascinating! You sounded really Scottish …’



Ger is a Mongolian word for yurt. In Mongolian, the word ger also means home.

Does happiness depend on how many rooms or how much you have?

When I say I grew up in a ger some people think poverty. Well, I never starved of love.


My parents still live in this ger in rural Mongolia.

Here are some fun facts of growing up in a ger:

  • You never feel alone.
  • You are always in the same house wherever you move house.
  • There is no bed time different from adults.
  • You can see the stars through the window on top.
  • Everyone eats together facing each other because of the round shape.
  • In the summer, you can ‘see through’ the wall once the felt covers lifted up.
  • You can pretend you are asleep and eavesdrop adults’ conversation.
  • You can never be sent to your room.
  • You can grill marshmallows any day you want in the stove.

Muddy Boots

“See you later, baby.” I kissed my two-year-old’s forehead and headed to the station while she stayed with the childminder. The little one probably thought I was going to pick her up later in the day but I was going away for three days on my Big Small Isles Challenge in memory of Billy.

You’d probably already know about this challenge if you had seen my status updates on Facebook or Twitter. If not, I was raising funds for Down’s Syndrome Scotland taking part in this challenge hiking through the Small Isles. Thanks to my kind and generous friends and family we’d managed to collect 96% of the target by the time I set off. I was overwhelmed by people’s generosity and was very grateful.

Me and Billy’s BearBilly’s little teddy bear came with me on the trip. The train arrived and I stepped on the train to Glasgow where I was joining three other women for the next part of journey. A quick stop at Costa Coffee and we were off to Mallaig where were taking the speed boat.

The sea was rough. To be honest, I had never been on a small boat like that so I assumed that was the way it was. When we got to Eigg it was almost impossible to reach the harbour as the tide was so far out leaving not enough water for the boat to get close to the shore. After a few attempts of different angles to the harbour we managed to get to Eigg. The boat ride was rough, but much better than I expected. The driver hid his nervousness well, we were told afterwards. Apparently, the second group ride was better than ours even though we were the ones sent first as some of us were ‘vulnerable’ when it comes to travelling in the sea.

After a bit of a walk we got to our bunkhouse where were staying for a couple of nights. I shared a room with four other women and it felt like we knew each other already.

The next day the weather was bad and we were told we had to stay on Eigg. Our walking route took us to an Sgurr, the largest exposed piece of pitchstone in the UK and the most distinctive feature in Eigg’s landscape. It was formed as lava poured though a prehistoric riverbed from a volcano on the neighbouring island Rum.

It was pretty wet and muddy. I have to say it was quite challenging because of the slippery and rocky surface at times and the thick heather bushes clung to my feet as if they were pulling me back. I didn’t have any walking sticks as I couldn’t trust my weight on something I didn’t have any control over if it slipped. I could feel that my feet were getting wet and there was no point taking big steps avoiding big puddles, instead I focused on smaller steps trying not to slip.

Coming down was harder. One of my room-mates slipped into a hole just in front of me and dislocated her arm. She was very strong and still walked down a fair distance to get to the harbour where she got on a ferry to Mallaig.

My feet were pretty tired and we walked to our bunkhouse where most of us got a massage. Our room-mate did the challenge with her hands. She gave massages to many of us. Oh boy, the difference I could feel after the massage was fantastic. What a great idea!

These people there all wanted to do this challenge for different reasons. I was inspired, moved and touched by their stories. There was a woman who had had a baby five months before. She was amazing.

The last day started early with 7am breakfast and we were off to Rum, our next stop. Wow. Really. Wow. The morning sun displayed the most beautiful scenery. It was just breath-taking. We split into two speed boats and raced towards Rum in the glorious sun. I now knew why people like going on speed boats, why they want to have one and the thrill of it. We flew over the sea riding waves. It was magical.

When we came to Rum we were on our way straight to Askival, the highest mountain on Rum. This rocky mountain was much easier than the muddy path on Eigg. I realised I was pretty familiar with this kind of surface. So going up was quite hard but doable with a couple of stops for lunch and breaks. The scenery on top was just gorgeous.

This time coming down was the hardest. I felt as if my toenails had grown a few more centimetres. Now the guides were speeding up as we had to catch the boats. I was walking last as I would stop to take photos. I wanted to show my kids where I was and what I had done. When it came to the boat back to Mallaig, the ride was exciting as I’d swapped boats and the driver on the “not so vulnerable” boat zig-zagged across the waves.

It was truly enjoyable and I had the most wonderful weekend with lovely people. A reunion was agreed at my book launch in January …

Preview Copies

My phone beeped interrupting my gaze over the loch as the train for Glasgow speeded up. I took my mobile out of my handbag. ‘There’s a package arrived from the publisher’ read a text message from my husband. I couldn’t believe it. I’d been waiting for that parcel for a few days. Even the guys who work at the garage next door knew that I was waiting for it because every time I came home from somewhere I checked with them if anyone left a parcel. In the parcel were preview copies of my memoir ‘Mongol’.

Mongol preview copiesMy husband sent me the photos of the books. He even filmed opening the package which was so sweet. He knew it was so important to me, to us. It’s a very exciting prospect to have the book in our hands. For real. The words, sentences that flew out of my heart, my head are now on paper. The feelings I felt writing it all in there, in print. There were times my husband would look at the tissues on my desk beside the laptop and ask: Are you having fun? There were times I lived and breathed only for this book it seemed.

Still not having held a copy in my hands, later that morning, during a meeting my publisher Sara brought a copy for me herself. I held the book. Unbelievable. I looked at it and felt like calling my parents and my sister.

I had mixed feelings. It’s such a lovely feeling seeing my book, but it is sad. It is sad that Billy isn’t here. This book wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Billy. I promised Billy that I would make him live in people’s minds. I think that promise is this book. So I am pleased to see the preview of the book because it’s not just a book. It has a message. A message from a mother’s heart.

In Memory

This week has been very exciting and sad at times. I decided to raise funds for Down’s Syndrome Scotland by taking part in an organised charity trek. The challenge is called The Big Small Isles Trek.

I’d heard of these small islands in Scotland mostly through explanations of children’s names. Skye, Iona, Islay, Lewis and so on. Since I put my name on the list to attend this trek, I looked up the small islands I’ll be hiking through. The Small Isles consist of the islands of Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna. I was thrilled to see these tiny islands scattered along the western shore of Scotland and the trek looked really exciting.

But when I read that the challenge would involve speeding on a high speed RIB transfers between the islands I did feel numb. I get motion sickness and I can’t swim! Honestly, the bit that said “the physical challenge of climbing 4 mountains over 2 days (ranging from 137m – 812m high)” didn’t startle me but this speedboat kept lingering on my mind. I grew up in a landlocked country and I have a fear of water. What am I going to do?

I called my friend Freddie who is a lovely man who lives in the south of England. He said: ‘You can always take a travel sickness tablet.’ Oh, yeah. That was a great discovery when I came to Britain first. I didn’t think of that. So sickness sorted.

“I can’t swim!” “Oh, you’ll be fine. You will be wearing a life jacket!” Ha ha. Of course, I will be wearing a life jacket. The film “Life of Pi” sprang to mind. We only watched the film last week. I thanked Freddie, delighted with my solutions. Almost sorted.

Now the raising fund side left. I went on website and started a page in memory of Billy. It was pretty straight forward and my page looks alright. The process involved writing my story why I was doing the trek. That task was like a lid to my emotions. I went through Billy’s photos and wrote a short paragraph. It still made me cry. After three years. That’s another reason why we are not able to get involved as much as we would like to with the charity. It brings back memories. But this challenge gives us the opportunity to help and support the services Down’s Syndrome Scotland provides.

I know the trek is not long away and I don’t have much time. I’m meeting the fundraising adviser girl from Down’s Syndrome Scotland next week. Perhaps she will have many secrets about how I can reach my targets. Meanwhile, my brain is racing with ideas … Texting, emailing, tweeting and posting on Facebook.

Yes, we want to do this for other families who are going through tough times like we did and for our Billy. Our little boy with Celtic red hair and Mongolian blue spots.

Sun Rays

“You sit here, baby”. I sit my two year old on the edge of the supermarket check-out row, getting ready to bag the half open breadsticks, bananas, a bottle of “daddy’s juju” and some of my “bargains” of the day.

“She’s getting big, isn’t she?” the check-out assistant smiles at me. I look at my two year old. She knows how to charm people, smiling saying “Hiya”. “Yeah, she is”. I look at the woman’s name badge which reads Isobel while putting away the food in the bag. As Isobel beeps the white wine my girl points and goes “Daddy’s juju!” Isobel laughs and says “Is that what it is?” rolling her eyes making the little one laugh.

Every day I go to our supermarket and most days we know the shop assistants and have a chit chat about this and that. When I say we “know” it means we know each other’s faces really. Who would’ve thought these little conversations make you feel happy and that you belong here. As I leave the shop looking like a Christmas tree with bags hanging on any available limb with a child trailing behind I pass other people I know from school gates, local shops and businesses. Some comment “You don’t think you need a trolley, do you?!”.

I don’t know most of their names, but this is my community and this is where we are bringing up our kids. That makes me happy.

I’m probably one of the five East Asian looking residents here in this small town. I often get questions like “Are you the girl who works in the flower shop?” “No, I’m not”. “Do you work in the restaurant near the harbour?” “No”, I smile.

As we walk home I could see the sea at the end of the street glittering with sparkles. The sun is shining. I used to think the sun didn’t shine the same after Billy died. Now, I think the sun shines better because my baby boy’s in the sky, sending love with the sun rays.