Everywhere But Home

News and musings from wherever my crazy life takes me. My body may be back in Illinois, but at least for now, my mind is still in Mongolia.

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Taboos and Tiger Time

October 18, 2012

Dear younger cousins (and for that matter, anyone else not yet in high school), if you’re reading this, please stop. I’m sure you’ve all had Sex Ed by now, and nothing in this post is especially racy or at all personal, but all you’re going to do is make yourselves uncomfortable. And me, thinking about you reading this. Go on, shoo.


Last night, I was intrigued to see some familiar taboos about sex in operation here. By this, I mean that I was sitting in the living room playing cards with my roommate and her brother, who was flipping through the channels until he landed on Game of Thrones. It was dubbed and I’ve never seen more than a few minutes of the show, but it’s kind of hard to mistake for anything else. The brother obviously wanted to watch it but didn’t seem to think its content suitable for the audience at hand; he changed the channel every time something sexual happened, only to flip back after a few minutes. I’m not sure whether he was intrigued by the outlandish costumes or the dialogue or what, but he clearly wasn’t familiar with the thoroughly NSFW nature of the show. We’d watch for a few minutes, and then he’d hurriedly change the channel, wait a minute or two, and then change it back. But because it’s Game of Thrones, it was never very long before he had to change it yet again.

My assumption was that he judged the sexual content to be inappropriate for his eight-year-old daughter, who was doing her homework next to us (albeit facing away from the television). But I suppose he could also have been uncomfortable watching it with his younger sister and her roommate. I don’t know.

Whatever the reason, I was surprised to see this particular taboo in operation, because a lot of America’s puritanical expectations don’t exist here. Women have absolutely no qualms about breastfeeding in public, for instance. If the baby’s crying, then they feed him – on the train, in the park, at dinner with their coworkers. They don’t cover themselves while they’re doing it, either, much to the discomfort of any American men present. The fidgeting and carefully averted eyes are pretty funny to watch.

Obviously, there’s a distinction between maternal and sexual nudity here. But to me, prudishness still feels like a privilege restricted to those with large houses. Don’t get me wrong, here; it’s not like I’ve seen Mongolians having sex in public. I’ll bet that’s pretty taboo in most cultures. But there’s only so much privacy when your entire house consists of one round room you could cross in about ten steps.

I think that’s one of the questions that occurred to all of us after visiting a ger – perhaps not the first one, but probably among the first few. Most families have multiple children, and once you’ve had the first, your privacy is pretty much shot. And unlike in college dorms, it’s not like the residents have the option of sexiling their roommates (or in this case, children). So, how do you…?

Most of us probably keep this question to ourselves, but one of the Peace Corps Volunteers actually posed it to a counterpart. She replied with the scenario dreaded by every dorm resident whose roommate has had overnight guests: you wait until the kids are asleep. “And when it gets really good,” she said, raising her hands to demonstrate, “you cover your mouth.”

She also introduced him, and by association, us, to a term too good not to share: “tiger time.” Gers are all traditionally set up the same way: the door faces south, the stove is in the middle, the shrine is in the north. But you can also section them off by signs of the zodiac, as well as directions. Which, according to Adam’s CP, puts the parents’ bed squarely in the “tiger” section.

But no matter how quiet the parents try to be during Tiger Time, sleeping children are far from a perfect solution. The logistics of the thing remain: they are, at most, ten to fifteen feet away. So I’ll bet that the percentage of kids who have witnessed their parents in the act is a lot larger here than in the US. One third of the population still lives in gers, after all, even well-employed city dwellers like Namuunaa’s parents. And even most apartments probably aren’t large enough to give the kids their own rooms.

Given all that, I hadn’t expected kids seeing sex on TV to be as big a deal. But apparently it’s something Khaliun’s father, at least, doesn’t want her seeing. Then again, one of the offending scenes was pretty much an orgy of painted people. So I suppose that could be it too.