Monday, April 18, 2011

Ice Festival 2011

Ice Fest!  It was so much fun but so cold!  My bus ride was fine and took 17 hours but most was during the night so I was sleeping.  I stayed with Crystal (a CYD volunteer) who lives in a ger.  It was quite interesting to watch her make fires!  At one point, her hand was in the flames and she didn’t even flinch.  I’m not even sure she noticed!  She is pretty hardcore after surviving the winter in a ger!  Cliff, Cody and Brian (other volunteers) gave me a tour of Murun while Crystal was at work.  It was a pretty nice town!  They had really good restaurants too!  We took a van to Khatgal (the town on Lake Khuvsgul) the next day and stayed with a 3rd year volunteer who is working at the Health Dept. there.  It is so pretty up there because there are so many trees and they are houses, stores, businesses, etc. look like log cabins!  I loved it!  The lake is huge (I think the 2nd largest in Asia) and the festival was on the tip of it.  There were boats frozen into the ice and ice sculptures everywhere.  A lot of the sculptures were of dinosaurs which I didn’t understand but I went with it.  There was also a giant slide!  It was scary though because the steps and everything are made of ice and the kids were just pushing people out of the way!  Also, don’t wear jeans on an ice slide – you don’t get very far.  The reindeer people didn’t come but that is who I really wanted to see.  I heard afterwards that it is bad for the reindeer’s health for some reason.  I got back to UB on Saturday morning and met some friends for an early lunch and they said I looked dirty!  I said, “Well, I just showered on Tuesday.”  I didn’t even realize it had been 5 days!  That’s sad!

The boys in their deels - so cute!

The town of Khatgal on Lake Khuvsgul

The enormous rack of ribs Crystal's dog was eating

Mongolian Wedding, Tsaagan Sar and my trip to Khovd

In February, Julia and I went to a Mongolian wedding.  It was very nice!  It was my student’s wedding -he is (I think) 21 and his wife is 4 months pregnant.  Their names are Gantulga and Agiimaa.  It was at a hotel and there were tables set up that looked like a normal wedding reception but there was no ceremony.  They announced the couple and they walked in and she was wearing a normal wedding dress.  Then they sat at their table and people sang, played Mongolian instruments and throat sang.  Then they stood in the middle and people had to go greet them and give them their presents.  Which I thought was strange because it took so long.  After that, different guests started singing and they kept passing the microphone from table to table and people had to sing songs to the couple.  I was at a table with Julia and my students and they asked me to sing a song in English but I didn’t.  I had no idea what to sing!  We don’t have traditional songs like that…what would you guys have done?!  Julia sang a short Swiss song about a couple and it was nice.  I felt bad that I didn’t but I didn’t know what to do.  Then there was a lot of dancing and we had a great time.  A bunch of his friends studied English in London so they were talking to us.  It was weird to hear their British accents!  We weren’t sure what to get them and there are no registries here so people just buy whatever.  The Kempinski Hotel where the wedding was held is right by our school/home.  On the last Sunday of each month, they have a huge brunch - it is about $30.  So we got them gift certificates to go to that. 
Me with my students - Moogi, Gantulga, his wife (not my student), Nandia and Anand
Tsagaan Sar is a Mongolian holiday that means “White month” or “white moon”.  It is celebration of the Lunar New Year.  Julia and I were invited to a student’s house.  Her name was Anuka.  She was really sweet.  We went over to her house and had to greet her grandmother who I think was 98 years old!  She was so cute!  We gave her some candy.  On the table they had a huge spread of mutton, candies, salads, buuz (Mongolian dumplings) and traditional cookies.  It was beautiful.  You have to eat white food first and then you can eat buuz.  She also gave us presents and most Mongolians get presents when they visit different houses during Tsagaan Sar. 

Silver bowl to drink fermented mare's milk out of
Our trip to Khovd in the western part of Mongolia was a lot of fun! Julia, her Swiss friend Jemima and I went on the trip. The bus ride there was not as bad as I thought. I had two seats to myself. My knees were bruised though from hitting the seat in front of me - it was a tight squeeze! We stopped regularly for bathroom breaks and twice to eat and actually got there in 41 hours instead of 50! One time we stopped to go the bathroom (which is just outside…) and I saw these tall rocks in the distance. I did my business and then turned around and Julia said, “Someone is watching us go to the bathroom!” I turned around and the rocks were actually camels and now they were standing up and staring at all of us. They were maybe 300 feet away. So cool! We arrived at 5:30 in the morning and Julia’s friend Lucian picked us up at the bus stop. We ate breakfast and then went to sleep until about 2 in the afternoon. Then we got ready and went to eat lunch and then to Lucian’s dance class. We learned a hip-hop routine and some bachata. It was a lot of fun. Later we went to Monglish - a meeting/dinner where Mongolians and Americans can talk and speak Mongolian or English and afterwards went to a discotech where we performed out hip-hop routine!

The next day, we went to Lucian’s class (he teaches German) and then to lunch. We went to buy our bus tickets but the bus we came in on was full and we had to take a meeker back. A meeker is like a small van - it is supposed to hold only 12 people but Mongolians pile in like it is a clown car! Later that night we went to karaoke but we were kicked out after only an hour! So the next day we went to the meeker at 2 and they were loading it up. We crammed 21 people in it and went on our way about 2 hours after we were supposed to leave. Just as we got to the outskirts of town, we were stopped by the police and they made us go back, where they put us in a lot and shut the gate so the meeker couldn’t leave. We then sat there for 3 hours while our driver was dealing with the police. I kept asking what was going on and the other driver said it was because we had too many things packages on top of our car. No, it was because we had too many people in the meeker. I may not speak Mongolian but I am not an idiot! The driver then came to get us and told us to go eat dinner and we would leave in 2 hours. 2 hours later, he told us to go home and we would leave in the morning at 9. So at 9, we got ready and waited for him to call us and he picked us up in another car at 11. We then went to the meeker (which was in a different spot) and let 2 hours later with the same amount of people - 21! I think that he left the police lot with 12 people and then picked everyone else up at another spot and stuffed us all in there again. Halfway through the trip, he let the 3 of us (me, Julia, and her friend Jemima) sit up front and the Mongolians sat in the back and played cards. I think they wanted us up front because we take up more space and can’t talk to them very well. But I’m sorry, I’m not going to let someone keep pushing me over and putting their arm in my side just so they will be comfortable and I will be miserable. You have to hold your spot (or your ground)! When we were getting closer to UB, we three would have to go in the back and hide from the police. None of the policemen even checked the meeker to see how many people we really had in the back until we got to UB. He opened it up and asked how many people there were and the driver said 16 which was a lie! He then said ok and shut the door. What an idiot! We got in at five o’clock in the morning and I still had to lesson plan and needed to make copies for my class. I was exhausted! I really wish we could have flown there but flying is so expensive here sometimes. When we were all in the back of the meeker, I had to close my eyes sometimes and take deep breaths because I felt claustrophobic. And then what if we got in a wreck?! It was definitely an experience!


Those two guys next to me are sitting on a duffle bag with three people to the right of them and five people behind us!

I can't wait to ride a camel!

The theatre in Khovd - I thought it was pretty!

Christmas/ New Year's/ Teachers' Party/ My Birthday/ Buddhist Center

I have not posted in a long time! I’m sorry for that but hopefully I can get you guys up to speed!

For Christmas, I organized a party for the volunteers on Christmas Eve at an Indian restaurant. The owner is actually Indian and speaks English. We paid a set price and he brought out tons of food. It was delicious! I have never had Indian food in the states, but it is one of my favorites here. It was a lot of fun! We had trivia and everyone hung out which we don’t normally do. We also did a white elephant gift exchange. I got an ornament and some phone units!

On New Year’s Eve, I went out to dinner with some friends and then we went to a party. Around midnight, people were leaving to go to the Sukhbaatar square (the main square in UB). So we went there and were running to make it by midnight. I think we were a few minutes late but oh well. We were drinking champagne and taking pictures. One guy’s bottle of champagne froze! He turned it upside down and nothing would come out! I was freezing bc I wore a sweater dress and only one pair of tights! Inside it is so hot so my legs were only numb for a little while!

We had a Christmas/New Year’s party for our school too - one with teachers and one with the students. They were both fun but people dress up as if they are going to prom! Santa Claus came to the teacher’s party and gave all the foreign teachers a present. He said my name as “Mindy Nicole” so I don’t think my school knows my name. Oh well… Every other teacher they said the first and last name correctly but they said my middle name! He gave us a bottle of champagne, a thing of chocolates, and a little planner looking thing that you can write notes in. It was nice. He was definitely a Mongolian Santa.

 I had a great birthday. We went to a place called The Bull - it is a hot pot restaurant. Everybody has like their own little fondue pot in front of them. You pick your broth and then order meat, vegetables and noodles for the table. It was delicious! I really want to go their again. Plus, if you have a big group, it is very cheap. I also had a special ger-shaped cake made. I thought it was adorable. My friends bought me a birthday hat and candles. It was really sweet. Afterwards some of us went out for drinks at an Irish Pub. It was a good night but I miss my friends in Georgia!!!

At the end of January, we had our teachers’ party. Yes, Mongolians actually celebrate teachers! I think America should pick up on this. We had a huge party with lots of food, vodka and dancing. At the end of the party, my department went back to our office and we were drinking and talking. My department head had sat in the office most of the party taking shots of vodka and she was passed out by the time we got up there. It was so funny! Then when the director of the school was leaving, she wanted to take my dept. head with her. They put her hat, scarf and coat on and told her, “Let’s go!” She proceeded to pass back out only to wake up a minute later and throw her hat off! I was cracking up! They finally got her to leave and then one of the teachers started cleaning up because we were getting ready to go. She went to my dept. head’s desk and picked up some trash on the floor beneath it and then she found…… dept. head’s false teeth!!!!!!!!!!! She grabbed them with her bare hands! They wrapped them in paper and then ran out to catch them before they left! There was also a Karaoke competition between the departments for Teachers' day.  My department got 1st place!!!  And no...they didn't let me sing!

In January, I was going to the Buddhist Center in UB. There is a monk named Glenda who is from Australia and she had talks once a week that explained Buddhism and how to fit it in your everyday life. She is so great to listen to and what she says really makes sense. Not that I am becoming a Buddhist but I do believe in Karma. One thing I thought was interesting was that she said the things you do in this life affect you in the next. Not in your present life. Then she went through lying, murder, etc. and said that if you do these things certain things will happen in your next life. For example, you might be born where there is a shortage of water or in a place where there is war. It kind of makes sense to me; what do you guys think?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Decorations

I painted my Christmas decorations this year!  Hope you like it!

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Two things I am tired of in Mongolia - people spitting and hawking lugies on the street and frozen vomit! No, I am not kidding.

I fell the other day and my knees are bruised and sore and I have scratches on my hand. No…I wasn’t drunk nor did I slip on the ice. I just tripped over the sidewalk I guess.

It has started to get cold here. This morning it was -11. It doesn’t feel too bad but then again I am wearing so many layers - tights, long underwear, jeans, wool socks, long underwear shirt, sweater, down coat, scarf and hat. I try to wear my gloves but usually I get too hot so I have to take them off. I’ll take the cold over heat any day though. I like being bundled up, but it does take so much longer when you arrive or leave a place.

Thanksgiving was so much fun! The Peace Corps rented out a hall and also bought turkeys for the volunteers. We all had to bring side dishes - I brought mash potatoes. It was good and I was craving leftovers the next morning but I didn’t have any. A lot of people came in town for the holiday and for a training we had the week after. After dinner, we had a skate party thrown by Rob the owner of AB&F. He is really nice and you will see a volunteer almost any time you go into his restaurant. Best burgers in UB.

The training was actually pretty good I thought. It was just the English teachers and we went to Nukht Resort - a hotel about 10 km outside of UB. We also took one of our counterparts with us. The hotel was very nice and the food was good too. Salad, chicken, even fried fish one afternoon! I roomed with my friend Joyce. We wanted to room with each other but didn’t want to hurt our counterparts’ feelings but telling them that. Then Joyce’s counterpart was checking in and she told Joyce she wanted to room with another Mongolian. It was funny how they didn’t want to room with us either! Our counterparts got along really well and they were so nice. One night they invited us to their room and my counterpart, Suvda, had her friend bring us ice cream, cherries, and yogurt from UB. We talked and watched tv. The OC was one (dubbed in Mongolian) and a Mongolian version of America’s Best Dance Crew. One of my students was on it! In class the week before, the other students said he was absent because he was dancing. They didn’t tell me he was on tv! He is so good and it was so cool to see someone I know on tv.

I got some good tips at the training and I’m trying to convince the teachers to let me team-teach with them. Peace Corps is all about sustainability. I’m supposed to work with the teachers and we can learn from each other. That way when I leave, they continue our projects on their own. Right now, I am teaching six classes on my own. I don’t mind it because I am used to it but I don’t feel like I am doing enough. We also talked about starting projects. I want to do something for the community that might not be TEFL based but it is so hard to come up with ideas for UB. The city already has so much! I guess I have time to think of something.

We did get a raise! We had to fill out a living allowance survey about what we spend each month and then the totals get sent to the government. But…they only get sent is 75% of the volunteers fill them out. The previous volunteers have not been filling them out, so this year we rallied! I went to the store and got prices for the things on the survey and sent them out to all the volunteers in UB to make it easier for them. We finally got the results back and people outside of UB will be making 250,100 tugrogs and people in UB will be making 300,100tugrogs! I’m so excited. We were making 196,400 tugrogs. This will really help a lot! I might be able to afford meat! The raise starts in January.

I’m planning a Christmas party for the volunteers in UB. It is at an Indian restaurant downtown. We will have it on Christmas Eve at 6:00. The Indian place is going to put out a variety of dishes and we have to pay a set price. I’m pretty excited. I am also planning a Dirty Santa gift exchange. Hannah (another volunteer) is coming over tomorrow and we are going to make Christmas decorations for the party and I printed out some Christmas trivia. I hope everyone comes and they have fun!

There are three Christmas trees up in Ulaanbaatar right now and they are really pretty. Mongolian celebrate Shin Jil (New Year’s) which they say is like Christmas but it’s really not. They have parties but do not exchange gifts nor are they visited by Santa. They have another holiday in February called Tsagaan Sar (White Star) where they exchange gifts with each other and eat a lot of buuz - meat-filled dumplings. Families usually make about a 1,000 buuz for this holiday and every guest is expected to eat at least 3 when they visit a house. I hope they make beef, chicken (yeah right) or vegetable buuz because I still do not like mutton!
These pictures are a little dark but you can still see the trees and decorations:
 That is my breath in the picture!  It was really cold that day...well...everyday it is cold now!

I made breakfast today with my neighbor Julia and it was delicious! French toast, hash browns, eggs, bacon, sautéed mushrooms and tomatoes! YUM!!!

Hope you enjoyed the blog and I hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  Miss you and love you! 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More Pictures

I have posted more pictures on Facebook and Spapfish: