Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tsagaan Sar - The Gist

Tsagaan Sar or TS since yes, I'm THAT lazy....

In my previous post, I talked a bit about this holiday and if you need more brushing up, JFGI (you can google THAT too if you're not up to snuff on your common chat acronyms.) Anyway, it was a lot of fun to be a part of this traditional holiday and overall Anthony and I visited 10 homes of our Mongolian friends and counterparts. Wait... hold it. Literally juuust got another invitation as I'm typing this, better bring that total up to 11; guess this holiday has yet to officially declare itself as over! I think people just continue to host until the buuz run out and the vodka runs dry. Let me briefly break some of the traditional celebrations down into phases for you. 

Phase 1: The greeting - TS has its own greeting which I really enjoyed. You greet your elders first and go in for a face kiss/sniff of each cheek as you place your arms under their arms to show respect, while saying ' ta amar sain uu?' Then snuff bottles are exchanged, typically by the males, and you reach for it with your right hand, left hand under right elbow, give it a quick sniff, and hand it back. Of course everyone is dressed to impress in their deels and looking fab.

Phase 2: The appetizers - Milk tea is served, mayo salad is consumed, then out comes the sausage and pickle plate. I'm always surprised at how creative they get with their salads, and equally surprised of the person that dreamed up pairing fruit with mayo - but it's actually not too bad!

Phase 3: The vodka - You are offered vodka and candy at several points throughout the meal. At Anthony's director's house, we were offered a honey pepper vodka in lieu of standard vodka. Not only did the pepper add more heat to my throat that was already on fire from several shots, but the honey did nothing to soften the blow, and they didn't stop at 3 shots, but instead decided to drink until the bottle was empty. Hmmm vodka for breakfast.

Phase 4: The buuz -During this phase, the famous buuz make their appearance. They urge you to 'id, id!' which conveniently, sounds like 'eat, eat' and has the same meaning, so one point Mongolia for clarity on that one! Since I'm a vegetarian (sort of,) I basically am force fed plates and plates of mayo salad (back to phase 2.) Many of our friends had competitions of who could consume the most buuz. Since I am a non-mutton eating individual, I decided to keep my own tally and guestimate at how many cups of mayonnaise I've consumed. I wanna say maybe 3?!? Gross.

Phase 5: The gifts - Small gifts are given out to you at every house visited, and since we didn't host at our house, Anthony and I decided to give all of our hosts a crisp $1 bill and a bag of caramel popcorn - gotta represent Amuurica! This is also when it would be a safe bet that you can be dismissed to leave and move onto the next house to do it all over again! 

Some of our Tsagaan Sar SWAG... I can practically feel the cavities.

The Oyuna Situation

Soooo THIS is a funny story of what I hope has happened to someone other than me. But I got a text this past weekend and just for fun, I'll give you the play-by-play of exactly what it said and is not at all atypical of texts I get from my Mongolian friends. "Hello. I am inviting yuo and Antony at 7.10pm at my home. Oyunchimeg." My friend Alyssa was also invited, but didn't know where she lived, so we decided to go together since I knew the way. So we make the 20 minute trek across town (leaving AT 7 because it's Mongolia,) and arrive at her ger. We walk in and start giving out the traditional TS greetings, when I notice Alyssa freak out as the realization hits her that this is NOT the Oyuna who texted us and I had confused her with another Oyuna (whose full name happens to be Oyunstesteg,) but we know from the same circle. We quickly and embarrassingly explained the situation and trotted off back to where we came and finally arrived at the correct Oyuna'shouse, which conveniently was only a quick 5 minute walk from my apartment... go figure! We ended up being 45 minutes late and her daughter met us outside and lectured us for being late, talk about irony!

My site mates and I at our friend Tonga's home with the typical spread.

Glad our first TS has come and gone and looking forward to getting back into the swing of things. Anthony and I will head to the UB on March 8th to participate in a Project Design and Management seminar with a Mongolian counterpart. Anth will be working on a resource room for children with disabilities in our town and I will be working on building a greenhouse that can operate year round. Stay tuned folks, there's always more to come!

Fun Fact: When going around town to the local delguur (store,) you will quickly realize that none of the stores have cash registers. Cash and change is usually kept in a small box that they dig through and just keep out. Often they don't have the correct amount of change to give you, so they offer you a piece of candy, gum, or instant coffee packet in exchange depending on how much they owe you. Bartering - 60% of the time, it works EVERY time...

Monday, February 13, 2012

Camels.... Two Humps

A few weeks back we got invited to visit the countryside with a friend of ours, who comes to our weekly English Club, and ride her camels, or timee. She is a really sweet woman and has a great family; When our kitchen chair broke, her husband fixed it, when she sees me walking around town, she pulls over to give me a lift. She is a natural at our monthly cooking class (like so many others,) and I could watch her cut and peel for days. So when she extended the offer, I didn't hesitate and plans were set. 

Tone and I, along with our site mates Chris and Eric, met up at their ger at 9am one Saturday morning to head off on the little adventure that awaited us 25 km away. We were immediately served fish and potato hushuur, which was bomb. Her son and 3 year old grandson, Jamka, accompanied us on the trip and soon we were off. When we arrived, they had 15 or so camels waiting for us, and before we were even invited inside, they were saddling them up for a little ride. I never before realized how TALL camels are, but it was a ton of fun riding around on them for a bit, and we all had a blast. They tied all of our camels together, so we traveled as a pack (do camels ride in packs? herds!?!) It was a bumpy ride at times, but definitely something I can check off of my Mongolian Bucket List and hope to do again.

 Chris, Eric, and I gettin our ride on

Making friends through dry humping....

Tsagaan Sar:
Tsagaan Sar is all we've been hearing about lately.... the apparent Super Bowl of all Mongolian holidays. It literally means 'white food' or 'white month' and is the lunar New Year. Most always in February, but varies based on the moon?... I'm kind of guessing as I go here.. ya caught me! Alright I googled it, and the White Month holiday is celebrated two months after the first new moon following the winter solstice... BOOM. From what I've gathered, it's basically back-to-back-to-back food eating contests, an opportunity to dress up all fancy-like in our deels, and learn a little something about fellow Mongolians, but regardless, it should be a good time had by all and something I'm really looking forward to. The traditional food served is buuz, which are steamed mutton filled dumplings, and each family literally makes thousands of them, to be served and consumed over the course of the week-ish long holiday. More updates to come post-Tsagaan Sar. 


Doesn't everyone enjoy a good before and after? No.... just me? Well this is one of the filtration candles that lives in my water filter. I clean them every few months, or whenever I remember, but its crazy to think of all the impurities these bad boys suck out. I've been told that Gobi-Altai's water supply is on the dirtier side, and most of the people who live here also use some sort of filter on a consistent basis or boil their water.

Fun Fact: If you step on, or kick a Mongolian's foot, you must immediately shake their hand. It's more like a grab n' squeeze situation, but this clumsy girl does it OFTEN.