Letters from Mongolia: an overview

This article is an introduction to a particular modality of written discourse; the telling of short stories as a method of presenting ethnographic and qualitative research data.

CP with friends during an extended stay at Delgeruun Choira in Delgertsoght Sum in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia. Reprinted on CPinMongolia.com with permission. Photograph courtesy of L.Pagchog. 27 August 2005.

CP with friends during an extended stay at Delgeruun Choira in Delgertsoght Sum in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia. Reprinted on CPinMongolia.com with permission. Photograph courtesy of L.Pagchog. 27 August 2005.

Although I make no claim to having a particular expertise in this regard, short stories as a literary form offer a wonderful means by which to situate you (as observers) in what may otherwise be an unfamiliar social world and its cultural settings. For context (the anthropological ‘must do’) background information also circulates through each of the narratives in this Letters from Mongolia series.

The primary sources of these supplementing illuminations (to other articles on this site) are threefold. They are based on (i) the insights and perspectives offered by the Mongolian women themselves; (ii) my own participant-observations and their field notes; as well as (iii) the documented and often specialist scholarly perspectives found in published academic and other literatures.

Each narrative (in the form of a short story) has at its centre a Mongolian woman, although there are other people included in each telling. These are not biographies, although some biographical information has been included to add texture and to illustrate inter-connectedness.

The stories vary considerably in length. Some are very short whilst others, like the tradition of Mongolian Long Song in the Gobi, are nuanced and full of detail. At the time of data collection and writing (2004 to 2011) all of the women whose stories are told in Daughters of Tsongkhapa were born in Mongolia, held Mongolian passports and lived (most of the year) in Mongolia.

This particular cohort of women also saw themselves as being ‘Mongolian’ as well as (Mongolian) Buddhist in terms of the ways in which they thought about and engaged with their social worlds. So as to retain their “at the time” historical and other considerable value, only minor changes have been made to my original collection of short stories completed in 2011.

Here I must note that the determination of what is and what is not ‘Mongolian’ in a globalising world is not my field of interest. What I am much more interested in, is how these women in Mongolia ‘materialise’ (appear and/or actualise) themselves.

As a collection, my hope is that these previously researched short stories for CPinMongolia.com may offer you additional insight into the social diversity through which exchanges in this community flow. Although all of the women in Daughters of Tsongkhapa had other lives (in terms of work, career etc.) what connected everyone here at the time was their association with Mongolian Guru Deva Rinpoche and Zava Damdin Rinpoche (1976- ) and their extended families.

As much as possible, I have tried to draw a picture of each situation (in written as well as visual narrative form) drawn from the women’s own words. First-to-third-person narratives are indicated through the use of italicized text. (e.g. ‘She considered him to be a hard worker as well as being very bright’).

So as to assist readers less familiar with Mongolian cultural and Buddhist practices, an abundance of contextual and other explanatory information has also been included. For some readers it will not be enough, whereas for others who may already be familiar with the social worlds about which I write, it may be too much. Nevertheless I have tried to strike a balance between the two ends of this continuum.

Working simultaneously with multiple languages has also been challenging. Although rendered in the English language, connections to associated concepts in other languages such as Mongolian, Russian, Tibetan, Sanskrit are included throughout. At times, both Mongolian Cyrillic and Russian Cyrillic script have also been used. Each script produces different words and therefor different and/or multiple meanings.

Readers may find that some factual information (about location etc.) appears in more than just one short story. This is to ensure that adequate contextual information has been included to support a general understanding of each stand alone narrative text.

And finally, the shape of each narrative primarily follows the expressed (in conversation) concerns of the person whose particular story I am trying to retell. Where there have been no such direct conversations, the tellings although based on observation, background research and reflection, are of my own construction. Reflections of my own interests and concerns can be found in the visual and written narrative forms, the captions, the footnotes and the overall expositional arc of the 2011 manuscript (Nomadic Temple: Daughters of Tsongkhapa in Mongolia) as a whole.



During my post-graduate studies in Melbourne I was introduced to the strategy of writing short stories as a way of presenting ethnographic qualitative research data by Dr Mark Stevenson (now Assoc. Professor, Department of Anthropology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong). More than a decade later, I still enjoy practicing this modality of written expression. These particular thick descriptions (cf. Clifford Geertz) are too long to be called Postcards, so Letters from Mongolia it is.



Edited extract from Pleteshner, C. (2011). Nomadic Temple: Daughters of Tsongkhapa in Mongolia (Unpublished manuscript).  The Zava Damdin Sutra and Scripture Institute Library Archive in the Manjushri Temple, Soyombot Oron, Mongolia) pp109-10.



In keeping with ethical scholarly research and publishing practices and the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, I anticipate that anyone replicating the photographs, using or translating into another language all or part of this article and submitting it for accreditation or other purpose under their own name, to acknowledge this URL and its author as the source. Not to do so, is contrary to the ethical principles of the Creative Commons license as it applies to the public domain.

end of transcript.

If you found this Letters from Mongolia: an overview interesting, then I suggest:

Please refer to the INDEX for other articles that may be of interest.

© 2023. CP in Mongolia. This post is licensed under the  Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Documents linked from this page may be subject to other restrictions.   Posted: 14 April 2024. Last updated: 14 April 2024.