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Lawrence Valverde - USA Pavilion Student Ambassador

USA Pavilion Student Ambassador from Harvard University, now serving at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo
September 30, 2010

A Real Man: Working at the Inner Mongolia Pavilion        Sep 30, 2010

If a Mongolian were to ask me if I’m a real man, I’m afraid I would have to answer that I’m only two-thirds. In a trivia game at the Inner Mongolian Pavilion, I asked guests what three qualities a real Mongolian man should possess. As the trivia game continued, my friend and I asked many other questions about Inner Mongolia and its culture, and guests who answered correctly would receive a coveted Inner Mongolia Pavilion pin. While the two of us were transported to Inner Mongolia for the day, our two Mongolian counterparts were back at the USA Pavilion as part of our pavilion exchange program.

The focal point of the Inner Mongolia Pavilion is a theater with a wrap-around screen covering 270 degrees. Every visitor experiences the sweeping views of the Mongolian grasslands the vibrant Mongolian culture expressed in everything from the clothing of the film’s characters to the film’s captivating score. But what makes the Inner Mongolian Pavilion unforgettable is what happens on the stages hidden behind the screen. At prescribed hours of the day, a spotlight shines, revealing a spectral performer behind the seemingly evanescent screen. At times, a Mongolian singer belts out a hauntingly beautiful Mongolian tune while other times a dancer performs the strong and sweeping movements of traditional Mongolian dance. If the guests are lucky, both singer and dancer will appear in unison.

Relaxing with the performers backstage I discussed wrestling with the male singer comparing and contrasting the Mongolian style with what I practiced in high school. I longed to let loose and really exchange pointers, but space was tight and the floor was a little harder than a wrestling mat or grassland turf. Instead, I learned how to say and write a few phrases and words in Mongolian. The way Mongolian words like Beiyrla roll around the tongue stands in stark contrast to Mandarin. This Mongolian word for thank you is said by rolling both the “r” and the “l” in succession, a feat most Chinese speakers find daunting. As any discussion about culture inevitable turns, our discussion too turned from language to food. I was taken by the Mongolian concept of two food groups, white and red. White refers to the excellent dairy products that come from Mongolia. Almost all Chinese milk, yoghurt, and cheese come from the region. Red, naturally, refers to meat, which Mongolians place at the center of any meal.

I long to be an honorary Mongolian. But alas I am still only two thirds of a man. I can wrestle and ride a horse, but I’ve never been trained in archery. The best of Mongolian men can perform all three with ease and excellence. My wrestling is a little rusty, but my horse riding is what needs more work. Before that though, I need to find a bow and arrow.