You cannot fully appreciate boiled lamb, until it is fed to you by the filthy hands of a heavyweight Mongolian wrestler wielding a knife the size of your arm.
Sitting at brunch in Manhattan, I overheard two snappily dressed men having a lengthy discussion about their morning routine and which creams they used for cleansing, toning and moisturizing their skin.
Mongolian men have a sheep’s tail hanging from a rafter in their ger (yurt), which they use as hand cream, foot cream, wound salve, and if necessary, a source of calories to survive the negative 30-degree winters.
Next, a heated debate rang out on whether arugula, Batavia, or celtuce lettuce contained more lactic material. One of the men pulled out his $1,500 phone to consult an article titled, "The Hidden Health Hazards of Lettuce.”
Mongolian men don’t eat vegetables. In fact, while Genghis Khan generally spared the craftsmen in the countries he ravaged, he always slaughtered the farmers, calling them parasites who were too weak to hunt.
In the West, particularly in America “toxic masculinity” is being attacked, and our boys are being taught to be more like their sisters. In Mongolia, where I now live and work, when I asked a young man why he signed up for mixed martial arts lessons, he told me, “I wanted to learn how to break people’s arms and choke them unconscious, because the police do not consider it fighting unless you throw punches.” Mongolia is a country of brutal winters and harsh summers, where even my accountant knows how to pick a good sheep and my doctor can wrestle.
In America, telling your son to “man up” could land you child abuse charges. Men are encouraged to cry in public, and told not to be dominant, not to show strength and to regret sexual virility. In Mongolia, by contrast, men are masculine creatures, heads of their households, tough as nails and prepared to die rather than yield an inch. In Mongolia, there are no participation trophies, and we can be reminded of what a man once was.
Back in New York, metrosexual guys cram into gyms where they pay top-dollar for hybrid yoga classes, “mindful workouts” and DNA Testing and Genome Mapping to make sure they are “eating intuitively.” In Mongolia, when boys are three years old, they start riding horses. When they are five, they begin wrestling. At seven, they are expected to go to the water point to get their family’s daily ration. They walk the equivalent of several city blocks, carrying five gallons of water on each side, even when it is 30 below zero.
Progressive weight training? A guy from the countryside told me, that they start out wrestling sheep when they are young. When they get older, they wrestle horses, and when they finally can wrestle a camel, they’re big enough to go to the city and try to make their way in the world.
“I wanted to learn how to break people’s arms and choke them unconscious, because the police do not consider it fighting unless you throw punches.”
Guys in American cities are reading up on plant-based diets, and the benefits of being vegetarians and vegans. In Mongolia, my friends tell me they don’t need to eat vegetables at all because the lambs they eat graze on the steppes all day, eating medicinal herbs. One of them told me, “I heard that some people in America only eat vegetables.” He had a surprised look on his face, when he concluded, “But I thought Americans were rich.”
Across the US, there are groups of women trying to get high school football banned because it appeals to our “morbid, masculine fantasies of sport.” In Mongolia, Naadam is the largest festival of the year, commemorating the founding of the Mongol Empire in 1206, it is the celebration of the three manly sports: archery, horse racing and wrestling, the same set of skills that allowed Genghis Khan to conquer a quarter of the known world. Wrestling, the absolute manliest of sports, is the highlight of the games, making Naadam champions into superstars. Several Naadam champions have been elected to the State Great Khural, the parliament. In fact, Khaltmaagiin Battulga, the president of Mongolia, was a champion judoka as well as a champion wrestler and a champion of sambo, Russian submission fighting.
Mongolians teach their boys to be powerful, aggressive, sloppy and domineering, whereas being tidy, passive, educated and kind are seen as feminine traits. Western guys go for that Calvin Klein body type, while in Mongolia, I see guys weighing 260 pounds, with 28 percent bodyfat posing shirtless in front of the mirror, because strength is considered a sign of masculinity.
Meanwhile, health is not. Over 56 percent of men smoke and over 39 percent engage in binge drinking. Each winter, the news media keep a running tally of alcohol-related deaths, men who drank too much, passed out on the way back home and froze to death. And the reason why Mongolian men eat, smoke and drink like they don’t care about the consequences is because they don’t care about the consequences. They live their lives without fear and without shame.
Accidents are in the top ten killers of adult men, and animal attacks are the fifth highest cause of accidental deaths, with wolves and bears being the most common culprits. Several times a year, there are news stories about Mongolians being eaten alive, but just as common are stories of men and women fighting off wild beasts with knives and clubs or their bare hands. Maybe that second helping of rice with meat and potatoes doesn’t look like such a threat to you when you know you may not live long enough to have a heart attack.
I walked into the gym and found a bunch of heavyweight wrestlers lounging on the mats, shirtless, huddled around a huge open pot full of boiled meat. It was sort of like what happens in New York at a café, they were eating it with their hands while dishing about their lives and their girls.
My personal opinion is that Mongolia is one of the last refuges of the real man, but to further prove my point I decided to take one of those “is he a metrosexual” quizzes from the internet and apply it to Mongolia.
The answers to the first several questions went like this. The Mongolian man has his hair cut at a barber, not a stylist or a salon. He never uses the word "collection" to describe his clothing and has only a vague notion that designers exist…somewhere far away, in another country. When he eats out, he orders meat, with a side dish of deep fried khuushuur, meat-filled, pockets. If it is a business meeting, or just a bunch guys out for the night, they order huge quantities of beer and plates of boiled meat which they pass around, eating with their fingers. After the appetizer, they order a main course of meat with a meaty side dish.
Q: Does he ever apply self-tanner?
No, but in the spring, when the temperatures soar into the 60s, he takes his shirt off.
Q: Does he order salad dressing on the side, so he won't feel bloated?
A more appropriate question for Mongolia would be “Has he ever eaten a vegetable?”
Q: How long does it take him to get ready on Saturday night?
In winter, he saves time on showering, but it still takes longer because he has to wear three layers of thermals.
Q: Does he know the calorie counts of food?
This question should read “Does he know what a calorie is?”
Q: Does he practice wine and food pairing?
He drinks fermented horse milk (airag) and it goes with everything…well, everything he eats, anyway.
Q: How many pairs of shoes does he have?
Three; street shoes, wrestling shoes and traditional boots which are good for both snow and riding horses.
Q: Has he ever gotten a manicure?
During sheering season he just does it himself with the clippers.
Q: Does he like showtunes?
Does the Mongolian metal band, The Hu count? He loves the song “Wolf Totem” about how Genghis Khan will return and the Mongols will conquer the world again.
Q: Does he ride English or Western horses?
No, he started riding half-wild, completely insane Mongolian horses bareback or with a painful wooden saddle from age three, and when he got thrown off and cracked his skull, of course, he got back on. How else could he have got home?
Q: Is he built like an underwear model?
No, he’s built like two professional wrestlers who work as refrigerator movers on the weekends while their girlfriends are shopping.
Q: Does he have pictures of male or female fashion models on his walls.
No, his hero is Genghis Khan, a man who, by some measures was responsible for the deaths of 40 million people. He also had multiple wives and legendary numbers of children. Roughly 8 percent of people in the region carry his DNA.
Q: If he eats meat, does he eat it rare?
He usually eats his meat boiled, unless it is a special occasion, then they hang a lamb from the ceiling and cook it with a blowtorch.
As can be seen from the results of this very scientific online test of metrosexuality, it can be concluded that yes, the average Mongolian man is still a real man, that our grandfathers would have admired, but global trends toward femininity know no national borders. Even in this land of the hearty, the older generation laments how weak the young people have become. In the old days, if push came to shove and there was no other food, men knew how to cut a horse’s neck, drink enough blook to stay alive and then seal up the wound. But today, many of them just duck in a convenience store and buy a Mars Bar. Hell! Those don’t even have meat in them.
Antonio Graceffo is an economist and wrestler from New York, now living in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.