Posts Tagged 'expats'

thanksgiving in mongolia

Thanksgiving in Mongolia was suprisingly like Thanksgiving in America, though not without considerable effort.  First, there was the matter of the turkey.  Not a common sight here, but the embassy staff receives a special shipment of over 1000 turkeys in mid-November.  This year, unfortunately, they didn’t arrive, due to some ill-timed bad weather.

But, Thanksgiving isn’t the same without the turkey, so a good friend rallied his resources and managed to get his hands on one, raised by a farmer in the far east of the country.   Apparently, this lucky soul only had 10, and the US embassy suggested to him that now would be an opportune time to sell them.  So he did, and $98 later, our 3.4 kilo crowning jewel arrived.

The rest of the ingredients proved easy enough to find, except perhaps sweet potatoes.  Yams were possible, but this year Thanksgiving fell on the same day as Mongolia’s constitutional independence, and as a national holiday, the markets were closed (though some stores remained open).  So no yams either, but potatoes, beans, corn, carrots, bread for stuffing, pumpkin, and all sorts of other goodies were procured in advance.  The night before, we set to cooking, producing pie, ricotta cheesecake, and the foundations of several other dishes besides.

The day of, vegetables were chopped, and the bird soaked in a pot of salt water.   3.4 kilos is nothing spectacular, and the only indication that we had a turkey was its long neck.  When you are used to American butchering of fowl, the sight of the long neck and the cavity on the other side is a bit disconcerting.  After several minutes of grossing ourselves out, we managed to marinate the bird and put it in the oven (where it barely fit – 3.4 kilos was perhaps the perfect size).

Because two of us live in the same building, we managed to move chairs and a table from one apartment to another, so that we were able to squeeze 12 people around one table.  Everything else was prepared, and an extra chicken obtained just in case.

All told, we had the turkey and chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, roasted carrots and leeks, sauteed spinach and mushrooms, savory zucchini ricotta cheesecake, apple-walnut stuffing, sesame green beans, rolls, pumpkin bread, a hearty salad, pumpkin pie, chocolate pecan pie, strawberry cake, ice cream, and even fresh mongolian cream.  And, at the 11th hour, as we lamented for the 10th time that we would have no cranberry sauce, a friend walked in with a bag of hawthorn (or perhaps goji) berries – small, bright red, and most important, tart.  So we boiled them in a sugar syrup, added orange rind and juice, and made the best approximation of cranberry sauce that we could have manged.  Dinner was complete.

no greater love

I promised a post on food sometime, but I think Michael sums it up quite well in a series of articles in the Atlantic.

There will be a urban foods post sometime soon though, lest you think I actually eat this stuff.

tuck and roll

And then I fell off the horse.

But first, the long weekend (Monday was Children’s Day, a national holiday) started with the most Mongolian food item I’ve ever eaten – banshtei tsai.  Basically, it is suutei tsai (I need a post on foods one of these days) with bansh. It is quite tasty, but difficult to wrap my brain around (much in the same way that red beans and corn as dessert can be a difficult concept).

Dinner that night, however, was thoroughly American. Tex-mex, even.  We had fresh tortillas with white bean chili and havarti, and a super delicious cake from the German bakery (it was Michael’s birthday).

Saturday was a do-nothing day, with pancakes for brunch, a walk around town (during which time, we schooled the Americans on proper etiquette), and then lots of beer and wine on the rooftop.  And, I finally got my apartment cleaned. I also made a trip to the market, and with a glass or two of wine in me, I managed to dredge up my rusty Chinese and chat with the people selling Asian foods (for which, I think, I got a bit of a discount on my sesame oil).

OSF had a children’s day celebration, which greatly resembled an insane children’s birthday party.  15 or so kids, inordinate amounts of food (I had ice cream!) and lots and lots of toys and balloons.  And of course, the kids running around like crazy.

And then Sunday was yet another do-nothing day, with beer on the patio at Ikh Mongol.  It was nice to catch up with some PCVs I’d met before too.  Sunday night, we got ambitious. Friends came over and we managed to make spicy calamari with peppers, scallion pancakes, and mooshoo tofu, and the best of all, seaweed salad with mushrooms and black soybeans. Decadent.

Super yum.  And then Monday, after pizza, we went to the ger camp to ride horses.  I wouldn’t say I’m an expert rider, but I’m not bad.  I have fallen before, and don’t think I would fall again (at least not due to any deficiency of skill).  I am however, not very knowledgeable about equipment, which, ultimately, is the cause of many accidents and injuries in just about any activity.  And just like one wouldn’t fail to check gear when biking or rock climbing, one shouldn’t fail to check gear on a horse.

Of course,  I didn’t.  And to make matters worse, once I realized the girth was loosened, I still continued to ride, saying that I would fix it later.  And of course, as we headed downhill and my horse lowered its neck, I went, saddle and all, over its head.  In my defense, I didn’t fall off.  The saddle did.  And luckily, it was a slow walk, so minimal damage done.

I did, unfortunately, bear the brunt of my weight on the head of my left fibula, leaving us to wonder if it is merely bruised, or potentially fractured. I have opted not to find out, and will go with the bruise.

But never let it be said that I don’t know how to fall.  I ducked my head, brought up my arms, and tucked.  If the rock hadn’t caught my leg, I would have rolled.  No damage to any vital body parts = successful day in Mongolia.

The weekend didn’t end there though – the girls came over that night for our regular girls’ night dinner, and we had yummy salad, pineapple chicken, coconut rice, sweet chili tofu, and lots of wine.  And, of course, yet another cake, this time for Jocelyn’s birthday (picure forthcoming).

And then, as if I hadn’t eaten enough…  we had a real birthday dinner on Tuesday night at UB’s finest dining establishment.  Course after course of salad and pasta and antipasti and meat and fish and then of course the most amazing dessert ever.  Accompanied by copious amounts of wine and the piano.  Fabulous fabulous weekend.

Pictures as always, here.

bicycle built for two

After a few weeks in the city again, and with the weather getting warmer, there is an inescapable need to get out of town.  Even if we only go 50 km or so outside of the city, it’s enough.

Last weekend, a bunch of us took a brief trip to a ger camp just an hour or so out of town.  It was someone’s birthday, and also an opportunity to check out a new horseback riding club.   So, we rode horseys for a bit, hung out for a bit, and generally just tooled around in sunshine and fresh air.

Of course, as this is Mongolia, the weekend was marred by high winds, which made the day a bit cold on occasion.  Luckily, the dining ger had a stove, so we were able to warm up as the sun came down.

Of course, there’s not a whole lot to do when it’s cold and you have no electricity in the middle of nowhere.  So out came the vodka, cranium, birthday cake, and cowdung fire.  Which then of course made the next day one of complete laziness on the grass.

I was of course, awake for the sunrise, which was beautiful.


After a morning of doing not much of anything, our hosts served up a horhog, which involved a goat (though not the one they had originally tied up behind the kitchen ger) and some really hot stones.  Basically. Then we piled into the van and headed back to town on Sunday evening.

The weekend didn’t end there though – as a rare event, all of the Fulbrighters were in town for the weekend, so we managed to meet up for dinner – yummy Japanese (except one, who couldn’t make it).  And because no weekend is complete without it, we then rode tandem bikes around Sukhbaatar Square.

Good times. More pictures.

the vital importance of being earnest

Things are a bit quiet now, with trying to settle into a flow.  Last weekend, the UB Players performed their spring play – the Importance of Being Earnest. It was a wonderful production, with some very talented actors.  I helped with stage crew duties during the shows, and in true production style, we did throw in a few pranks on the last night – mainly replacing the tea with vodka and Mongolian sweet wine.  It was fun.  The play was of course in English – Oscar Wilde’s greatest talent (his wit and way with words) is also his downfall when it comes to translation.

Other than that, not much else is happening.  It is getting warmer, but not much in the way of rain.  There is some greenery emerging, but very slowly.   I’ve started my language classes and trying to be good about studying.  While I am not interested in becoming proficient in Mongolian, I do need to be able to get around better.

Generally, things going on – teaching yoga weekly and trying to practice on my own as I can; working on a research methodology manual and some training classes; wrote this week’s quiz (as quiz master); trying to find a good niche for my research, potentially focusing on the commercialization of agriculture; catching up on my American TV shows; developing a podcast format for OSF; learning Mongolian; figuring out travel plans for my parents; and planning out the next four years or so of my life. 🙂

travel diary: ovorkhangai

My second trip to the countryside followed on the heels of the first (back to back, actually).  This time, we headed southwest to the edge of the Gobi, to Ovorkhangai aimag. Ovorkhangai is known for being the home of Kharhorin, the old capital of Ghengis Khan.  We didn’t make it that far, staying instead in the aimag center, Arvaikheer.  The purpose of this visit was just to get out of town and relax a bit, and I traveled with an AYA volunteer.

We stayed with PCVs (the best network in Mongolia) who showed us how to make khushuur (we used tofu and cheese with the potatoes and veggies) and toured us around.  There isn’t much to see and do in Arvaikheer, so of course, we went shopping.  I managed to restrain myself and only picked up a single pair of cute shiny red wedges (velcro with bling. whoot).  Shopping in an aimag center is interesting – some of it is thrift shopping, and I could have sworn one of my old jean jackets donated to charity was on sale.  And some of it is imports from China, with prices that seem unreasonable for the countryside.

And of course, I ate about 500 piroshki, fried bread stuffed with meat and rice.

We tried to go to karaoke, but ended up sitting at the bar for hours just chatting (the karaoke room was also occupied for most of the night).  It was fascinating to listen to the PCVs talk about their experiences in Mongolia, ranging from some amazing times to some ridiculously crazy times.

And in the midst of it all, we managed to not get killed by the crazy drunk guy in the market who went out of his way to pick a fight, and didn’t let the stares from the folks from the hudoo bother us too much.

Arvaikheer sits on the edge of the Gobi, so it was really dusty.  Our second day was also incredibly windy, which made our hike up the nearby hilltop a little uncomfortable.   But even in the midst of the dry and dust, there are pockets of green, a sign that spring is definitely on its way.

Our return to UB was uncertain, as there was a travel advisory for dust storms.  When they blow in with other storms (ice, rain, etc), the busses tend not to run.  Ours did, however, and at a good pace, getting us back to the city in slightly less time than our trip out.

Now I’m back in UB and a little more thankful for the modern conveniences I have here. Like a shower.  Nothing like not bathing for a few days to lower some standards….

Pictures can be found here!

travel diary: selenge

I finally made it out of the city, tagging along on a trip to Selenge, an aimag in the north on the Russian border.  The trip was a site visit for visitors from LGI to explore mechanisms of local governance and financing.

Selenge aimag is about 5 hours north of Ulaanbaatar, on the border with Russia (on a side note, Baikal is about 400 km further north).  It is the agricultural center of Mongolia, reportedly producing up to 70% of Mongolia’s local wheat.  Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean much, when most of the wheat in Mongolia is imported (or rather, flooded from China and Russia).  The government has plans for commercializing agriculture (though there are a number of political obstacles involved), and the progression of that plan will be interesting in the months and years to come.

So we drove up to Sukhbaatar, the aimag center, on Thursday afternoon.  Sukhbaatar is pretty much on the border, and from certain areas around town, you can see Russia.  On the way, we noticed the dry and dusty landscape outside of UB, that turned into pre-spring pasture land.  Eventually, the straight lines of agricultural land appeared, though nothing has been planted yet – the soil has been tilled and treated with fertilizer in preparation.  Just kilometers from Sukhbaatar, pine trees appeared, with struggling forests on the horizon.  Compared to the brown of UB, it was a treat. All along the way, the visitors from Poland and Hungary entertained us, until I could have sworn I was traveling with the Post-Soviet Comedy Club.

I spent Friday in the company of a Peace Corps volunteer, who is in Selenge teaching English.  We chatted a bit about goings-on in Selenge, and about Peace Corps and Mongolia in general.  I met OSF and the visitors for lunch, where we stuffed down khooshur in alarmingly large quantities.  Then some site visits, starting with a food processing factory.  This factory makes dairy products and various bread products and pastries, and the hope is to increase capital to increase production.  At the end, we tasted the treats and drank some vodka with our hosts, thus starting my drinking binge at 2 pm on a Friday afternoon.

Next stop was a fertilizer factory, where I’m not quite sure what kind of fertilizer was being made.  I then met up with  the PCV once again, and we lay out on the roof of his ger and chatted about traveling and crazy adventures in Mongolia (rafting? flying a plane?) while drinking beer.  Then, I met up again with OSF and the aimag administrators, who took us a bit out of town to get a great view of the valley, where multiple rivers merge.  More vodka ensued, as well as smoked fish, which comes from the local rivers.

After that, we had dinner with the new owner of the flour mill, which aims to be back in production by September.  The mill is enormous, and I’m skeptical that the aimag will produce enough wheat for processing.  But when I asked, there was no plan to import raw material from Russia (despite being on the border…?).  Dinner was at the mill, in a ger, where food just kept appearing.  And of course, more vodka.  And beer (Tiger). And wine (Lindemanns).   So, I was good and drunk by the end of dinner.

Of course, the day can’t end like that.  The PCVs in town went clubbing, so I tagged along, with the daughter of the mill owner and my colleague from OSF.  The club – unintentionally ironically named “Collectiv” – looked like what I expected.  It also played techno from about 10 years ago, and about an hour into it, we begged for some American music (we got Britney). Add two more beers.

Like all provincial towns, the club closed at 11:30.

We spent the second day in a soum of Selenge, called Shaamar.  While the visitors met with the government, I wandered around for 2 hours taking pictures of the countryside, trees, farm animals, and houses.  In a way, the landscape reminded me of West Virginia or perhaps the Blue Ridge Mountains.   After that, we headed back to town.

So, 3 days, one province down.  We also stopped briefly in Darkhan, which is an autonomous muncipality (Darkhan-Uul).  So that might count as two.  And course, 4 shots of vodka, 3 beers, and a glass of wine.  Next stop: tomorrow, I head to Ovurkhangai and its aimag center, Arvaikheer, to hang out for a few days.  And then it’s back to work.

I have some ideas now about my research and I hope to develop that more in the next few days as well.

Pictures can be found here!