nine nines of winter

In case I haven’t mentioned it before, it’s really quite cold here.  There are those who insist that it’s colder “back home”, but “back home”, I’ve never put on long underwear just to walk to a friend’s house.  Here, I wear a down-fill jacket fit for arctic temperatures.

The Mongolians know a cold winter.  In fact, they’ve got a system going, lovingly known as “the nine nines of winter” (Yucen Yuc).  Winter begins on the winter solstice (this season, December 22nd), and continues for 81 days, broken down into 9 sets of 9.   Each nine is marked by some action or observance.  Generally, it goes:

  • First nine – shimijn arkhi (mild alcoholic beverage made of milk) freezes
  • Second nine – arkhi (vodka) freezes (second distillation, also sometimes, they say Russian vodka freezes)
  • Third nine – tail of three-year-old yak freezes
  • Fourth – horns of four-year-old yak freeze
  • Fifth nine – boiled rice does not congeal any more
  • Sixth nine – roads blacken (ie, snow melting on blacktop)
  • Seventh nine – hilltops blacken (snow melting on the lower hills)
  • Eighth nine – ground becomes damp (snow melting on grass)
  • Ninth nine – warm days set in

We are in the second of the nines currently, which started on New Year’s Eve.  I’ve got some vodka on my balcony – not yet frozen.  But arkhi has less alcohol than bottled vodka, and I’ve heard some frozen vodka stories from others.  Up next, January 8th, we test some yak tails.

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