Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Small Talk

"We are at the Sky Theater," he said louder that the last three times, "We are going to the Big Department Store now."

Obviously they were confused, or we were confused-or, as is nearly always the case-we were both 50% confused.

"Where are they?" I asked

"At my hostel," he said obviously irritated that the problem proved what we both feared: our language ability was less than amazing.

"I told them that I have my stuff with me."

We crossed the street one lane at a time waiting for the land rovers, new compacts, and Russian jalopies to go by. The sounds of honking cars, though directed at us, was a pleasant change of pace after months of only animals noises (goats being my favorite).

"She's calling again," he said digging in his dirty green corduroy pocket for his Peace Corps issued Nokia.

The phone conversation was a repeat.

"No. No. We're coming to the Big Department Store," he said in Mongolian with unintentional measures of silence.

We kept walking. Now along a busy chilly street. Plenty of cars. No talking.

Maybe ten minutes later (at around six PM) we were reaching the Big Department Store. His phone was ringing again.

"Ok. Yes. Tree. Yes. I see."

"We will meet them by the tree."

"The tree" was an attempt (successful to be defined by the viewer) at a Christmas tree: a green cone with blue flashing lights (my interior decorator father's arch enemy). An overly-excited amount of tinsel.

"Is that them?" I asked, already certain it was.

He beat me to them. Necessary greetings were exchanged and we were finally on our way.

I thought we were. You would think that I would know better by now. We had planned to leave at two and it was already after six - of course we weren't going to leave now. Which only disappointed me slightly. I was done with this city: bought the food I can't buy elsewhere, saw the people I might not see again, and now wanted to get home (to one of them anyway). But I said only slightly. It is surprising how quickly a person can lose any sort of will when your situation seems out of your hands. Which happens quickly when you are not fluent in Mongolian.

We loaded our things into the van and discovered that other passengers were still shopping. We would wait for them of course. To a restaurant. Green tea put in front of us.

"No, no. We ate."

"Four beers."

"I don't drink."

"You should study how."

"I studied. Thank you."

"Three beers."

"This tea is good, huh?"

Attempts at chit chat. Lots of calls to his host mom's phone. Now one from the driver.

"Don't get it," his host dad said as they slammed the rest of their beers.

"Should we go?"


Sunday, December 21, 2008


...isn't as bad as I made it out to be when I first came here...Not that it's beautiful but it's manageable. The smog isn't as bad as I have been told and there isn't someone waiting to rob you around every corner.

Training went well: two days of useful information for English teachers and one day of quasi-silliness that is required to write a successful grant. Volunteers and their counterparts were isolated in a resort a little ways out of UB which greatly reduced my expected in-city time. During (I mean, after of course) one of these fascinating sessions Peder and I started a limerick write-off. He won by a landslide which caused me to flee to my area of hopeful victory: music. It turns out that Peder had never heard the limerick song. I figured out the chords and forced a volunteer who I know from Javkhlant sing the limericks at the talent competition: a huge success (1st place). I also managed to play a lean version of "Mad Rush" by Phillip Glass (which got me second place).

After coming into the city I thought that I would leave for Javkhlant on Sunday: no-go. The buses don't leave on Sundays. Then, Peder's Mongolian mom called to say that she will be coming into the city on today (Monday). This means: free, non-drunken, minimized awkwardness ride to Javkhland tomorrow!

Coming back on Saturday I expect, then do a little seminar for the college where my landlady's daughter works. Then I will pick up some goodies for my family in BK and head home on Monday the 29th.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Yes, the holidays...

I have previously mentioned my Christmas plans. New Years? Well, my school celebrated a bit early this year. Here is how the party went down (in fact, this is how every party at my school goes down...):

1) Start at least thirty minutes after the said starting time.
2) Have two MC's who speak in an exaggerated manner.
3) Sing songs: in groups, solo, duets (never are harmonies present...)
4) Watch dances (which are mysteriously the same ones you saw at the last party...)
5) Do "disco" which means any dance that isn't a waltz.
6) Have a director of a school speak.
7) Eat food (lots of meat, some oily carrots too if you are lucky).
8) After the students leave, sit around the table with the other teachers and drink all the alcohol in the building.
9) Ask for a ride home (it is cold and dark by now...).
10) The End

I get to do it again when I get back from UB.

Right! UB. I am leaving today and will be there for a week. The following week in Javkhlant with no communication.

My hashaa family taught me how to make "lazy buuz" last night and enquired about my hunting skills and marmot eating history. Ummm. In pleasant news I convinced them that they wanted to try putting some of my spices in the buuz meat: curry, cumin, chilli powder, etc., etc. Yeah!

Oh, I had an appointment to make snowpeople in the hashaa but our new snow (which is drop dead beautiful on the surrounding mountains) is too dry. The entertainment substitute: thai kick boxing until three in the morning. A limping Tysen was the result.

I'm sure I will have plenty of stories to tell upon arrival in Bayankhongor. Until then enjoy your holidays, stay warm, and drink lots of hot chocolate.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

An Ode to the Glory that is Powdered Milk

That's right my friends, I feel that it is time to explain to humanity what it may be missing. Peace does not come through meditation, contentment, or control of vice but through sufficient amounts of that wonderful white powder combined with the water you bought this morning from a man with a very tired looking horse.

The reason is simple: milk is not pasteurized, and as a result it may cause minor to fatal stomach and other health problems... As we all know, people with stomach problems are prone to violence, and thus things non-peaceful. Simply by drinking a glass (or bowl as there is no word for cup in your language of residence) of milk may prevent such misfortunes.

Now, I hear some parental voices accusing me of hypocrisy at this point as I occasionally complained in my childhood about the wonder of this holy drink. I think that the problem was this: WARM powdered milk is perhaps as dangerous to the human psyche as unpasteurized milk. This ceases to be a problem when you live in a country that doesn't get above freezing for six months of the year.

In other, perhaps less interesting news: I can't wait for my training in UB on December 15th! I need a little break from teaching. Students are teachers alike are tired out and I am seeing some less than amazing work turned in these days... Yana (yikes....). I am putting together a program for this spring with Leslie and our friend Zulaa. The vocal works will include Wolf's Kennst Du Das Land, and maybe even some Clara Schumann, still working out the other details. On the solo end of things, this is how things look right now:

Gerschwin: 3 Preludes
Joplin Maple Leaf Rag
Gottschalk The Banjo
Adams China Gates
and a Mongolian traditional song arranged in a rag style by some guy from UB!

Already thinking about next years program too. Right now I am thinking:
Bach: Italian Concerto
Mozart: C Major Sonata
Chopin: Scherzo
Gerschwin: Rhapsody in Blue (solo arrangement)

I didn't feel so hot yesterday so I did some reading: Camus The Misunderstanding and more from Thus sprach Zarathustra. Nietzsche strikes me more and more as a little over the top angry at things. There comes a point at which it seems he should have just let some things go: yes, people ruined your life and corrupt youth, but being angry for the rest of your life (and in every other paragraph) gets a bit tiring... Maybe my opinion will change once my health returns...?

The copy maschine at work used to speak Chinese. By that I mean that tiny little screen that yells at you used to be in Chinese. In this way, when something was wrong we could just press random buttons angrily until it started spitting out paper. Alas those days are gone. Oyuntugs (my counterpart) figured out how to change the language to English. Now I am assumed to be an expert on Xerox copiers, shoot! I am the biggest luddite and now I get called in to troubleshoot this thing three times a day! Yana! No good, I predict that I will have totally destroyed the maschine before the new year... I will keep you posted.

Peder has just got a gig tutoring a doctor who wants to study to be a surgeon in America. Comes with a free meal every night... Meanwhile my ger tutoring has expanded. Mamu and Tsedevjargal come 3 or 4 times a week to make fun of my explanations of English grammar in broken Mongolian... They are fun and good students, so I actually look forward to seeing their smiling faces after trying to wake up and teach mostly tired and disinterested faced during the day.

Fahd and I are working on reviewing every restaurant's tsuivan in the city. Check it out at tsuivan.com. It will one day be expanded to cover all of Mongolia! How much fun is it? Guess.