Saturday, February 28, 2009

Tsagaan Sar

This blog is being posted for two, perhaps unequally important reasons:

1) For the general education of the American populous concerning a unique custom of the Mongolian people.


2) The repudiation of accusations that this blog is sometimes something less than informative.

Tsagaan Sar means, White Month. It is, in essence, the Mongolian New Year. Why is this month so very white? Because one must (insert a modal verb of your choice[?]) eat white food on this holiday. What is white food you ask? The answer is as obvious as you think it is. Yes, rice is white food. Buuz (see one of the previous blogs for the recipe) are also white (if you steam them long enough). And, forget thee not those white, sugar covered nuts which Tysen has only recently discovered. But let us not restrict ourselves only to food lest we leave out the white drinks: fermented mare's milk, milk tea, vodka (?), etc.

The celebration goes on for three days during which time people visit each other's homes. Upon entering a home the following procedure occurs without fail and always in this order:

1) Hold out a hadag (blue cloth) and say: "Amar baina uu?" or "Amar sain uu?" The person you are greeting may sniff your cheeks (like an Italian but no kissing).
2) Drink your milk tea. (Other drinks will be offered - take what you please but be warned that one shot is never enough, at least three if you start that monkey business...).
3) Have a snuff bottle handed to you. Be asked, "Are you newing well?" Say, "yes," and ask them the same when you hand back the bottle. You could take a bit and snort it if you want.
4) Eat buuz. Every time you want to be done eating your host will tell you to eat more buuz. "Id, id, id, id, id!" (Which sounds just like the command "eat" only with a "d" instead of a "t" at the end).
5) Have presents handed to you. If you are close to this person it may be something like a shirt and candy, if not...well, be happy with chocolate (I am currently the proud own of 6 choco pies).

Repeat this process as many times as you want/can. Do not let regurgitating buuz stop you. One volunteer ate 100 in a day. No lie. Check out the pictures.

"Against Happiness" (Book Review)

Against Happiness
In Praise of Melancholy
Eric G. Wilson

Americans have lost their appreciation of melancholy, argues Mr. Wilson in his somewhat poorly titled work (it is more in praise of melancholy than against happiness. Shock value, anyone?). Mr. Wilson believes that American culture is overly absorbed with being happy, and our forefathers better understood that life needs both happiness and melancholy to be truly meaningful. The author argues that one cannot help but be melancholy when one meditates on the human condition. The thrust of his argument is summarized well by the author's citation of Henri Frederic Amil:

"Melancholy is at the bottom of everything, just as at the end of all rivers is the sea. Can it be otherwise in a world where all that we have loved or shall love must die? Is death, then, the secret of life? The gloom of eternal mourning enwraps, more or less closely, every serious and thoughtful soul, as night envelopes the universe."

Understanding the temporal nature of, well, everything, leads the thinker from abstract, theoretical knowledge to personal experience. At this point Mr. Wilson brings in the big guns, quoting Blake: "To Generalize is to be an Idiot. To Particularize is alone Distinction of Merit. General Knowledge [does not exist, while] Singular and Particular Detail is the Foundation of the Sublime."

Following Blake's cue, Mr. Wilson goes on to argue that this understanding doesn't end in a perpetual state of melancholy. Rather, this mindset frees the thinker from a trite existence and both allows us to enjoy the whole spectrum of emotions/states of being and forces humans into action (a rather blatant Camus rip-off).

His final message to his readers is one of encouragement: stand strong melancholy souls of America! "We want to be left alone so that we can brood for as long as we want. We want this because we feel most alive, most vital, when we suffer this confusion over the things of the universe."

By citing some of literature's most mentally disturbed character's Mr. Wilson's arguments unintentionally glorify artistic creativity over mental health, most readers will likely find this disturbing. Besides this, the author does little in the way of new argumentation. Rather he sums up modern thought concerning "meaningful" existence and throws in contemporary and personal examples to fill out these rather old ideas.

Friday, February 20, 2009

February Update

Oyuntugs and I are working with the other volunteers in the aimag to create an English language resource library here in Bayankhongor. Right now we are working on getting books, movies, music, and furniture for the room. The government has given us two rooms in the government center! We hope to set up our library during the summer and open this September.

Other news: Molon Khaan (my cat) almost died about 700 times last night. He ate one of my buuz so I put him outside. Our dog (Bombor) found him and chased him into the neighbor's hashaa. Molon waited on top of a shed and would not come down, even when I offered him a chunk of beef that I had just bought (it smells terrible in the meat "market" if you were wondering). This was the state of things at midnight. I gave up, tired from making about 150 buuz, and went to bed. At almost exactly 4 AM I woke up to the sounds of Molon and Bombor duking it out...on top of my ger. With my ceiling shaking and threatening to collapse, I went outside hoping to rescue Mr. Molon. By the time I got outside Molon had been chased back onto the neighbors shed. I grabbed my chair and broom and scooped him up, ran into my ger before Bombor could break in and gave Molon some well deserved fish. Realized at about 9:30 AM this morning that I failed to bring the rescue equipment (aka the chair) into the ger. Dogoo (an early riser) no doubt wonders what the hell I was doing outside with a chair last night.

The recipe for buuz for those of you who wish to celebrate Tsagaan Sar (see Nathan and Leslie's blog for real cultural information...).

First: Boil and mash whatever you want to put into the buuz: "real" buuz are meat (sheep or beef, though tempting do NOT use camel or horse meat, I am told that this is unseemly). I use vegetables. My Mexican buuz this morning consist of: peppers, garlic, onions, turnips, potatoes, carrots, and a TON of spices. After mashing it I put it outside to cool, tonight I will finish the process...

Second: make dough. Easy, friends, easy: flour, salt, and warm water. Shouldn't be super sticky. Roll it out and use a circle cookie cutter (whatever size you like) to cut...circles of dough...

Thirdly (hehe): put a dab of your (now cold) mash onto one of your circles of dough. Pinch the thing shut in any number of ways (experiment, it will be fun, or, more likely, frustrating...).

Number the fourth: Steam those little suckers for about 20 minutes and eat! If you have leftovers be sure NOT to re-warm them. Instead dip them in milk tea and pretend that they are tasty this way!