Sunday, December 28, 2008

UB Misadventures

Last post was mostly about IST and there wasn’t much written about the wonders of Ulaanbaatar. In this post, I will detail all the nooks and crannies of the gem of a city that is UB. To put it simply, for PCVs that do not live in the capital, coming into UB is like diving into an orgy of fantastic delights. For most of us, food is the number one pleasure! Most soum-ers’ (small town-ers) basic diet consists of mutton, potatoes, onions, and if they are lucky, carrots. For me living in a ‘large’ city like Choibalsan, I have access to other goods such as beef, horse, carrots, cabbage, pears, and a variety of other perishable goods on a daily basis. Though I have access to these goods, most restaurants can do so much with these basic ingredients, so most “western foods” are sub-par or is greatly influenced by Mongolian tastes (mayonnaise on everything.) UB my friends is a whole different story! The restaurants actually serve pizzas that tastes like American pizzas, hamburgers that has barbecue sauce and bacon with French fries as a side, and milk shakes that are do die for. For the limited amount of time that I was there, I feasted on hamburgers, BBQ chick pizza, Philly cheese steaks, sushi, udon noodles, Korean food, and the most delicious chicken tenders that I’ve ever tasted in my life.

After food, we went to bars for mixed cocktails and beer on draft. There, one almost felt as if he/she is in America, transported just for a few days to all the access and excessive goods that America has to offer. And if we were in a dancing mood, the clubs were always open and were rocking to “apple bottom jeans”, “dangerous”, and all the hottest hits that the Billboard top 10 has to offer.

It was on such a night that I shall begin a story about our misadventure in UB. A good many PCVs were at Oasis, a favorite club of ours, first dancing to Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’, and then moving to the techno beat. It was getting late, around 1:30 AM, so Kristen (another PCV) and I decided it was wise to get some sleep so we can do this again another day. We left the club and got to our guest house around 2:00 or so. I inserted the key, turned, and to my surprise the door didn’t open. I tried again, reinserted the key, jiggled it about and turned, again nothing. The third time, turned it left, then right, heard the click clack of the lock, but yet again failed to open the door. Maybe it was me, so I gave the key to Kristen for her hand at it. She gave it a go, but all in vain. Having no luck, we texted the other people that were staying with us but was still at the club. In 30 minutes, and with 3 sets of keys, the other PCVs arrived. One by one they tried, and one by one they failed to unlatch the lock. By 2:30 or so, we were all tired and just wanted the comforts of our warm beds waiting for us on the other side of the door. In desperation we called the person that runs the guest house, we explained the problem, but got no help but an answer just to try again. We did, but all was futile as he door would not give in.

Surprisingly under these circumstances, we were all calm and decided that the best course of action would be to find another shelter. We didn’t want to pay for a night at another guest house, so we all went ahead with the plan to head to the Peace Corps office. Along the way we found the Kebab and Cola restaurant to be open, so we went in for some munchies and fight off the cold. The heat was a welcomed relief from the negative degrees weather and biting wind. We ate and talked and was all in a genial mood, well, as genial as we can be. After the quick meal we headed for the office which was a 5-10 minute walk further. When we got to the PC office, which was supposed to be open 24 hours a day, we were all shocked to find it closed. We banged on the door, rung the bell, but it was to no avail. There wasn’t anybody home. By this time (~4AM) the cold had taken its toll, some PCVs’ eyelashes were frozen and tempers were heated by the strings of bad luck. The next course of action was to find the nearest shelter, and luckily we knew of a place that was close by. The 7 of us continued our journey onward, some coughing, some wheezing, and some freezing their butts off. We made contact with another PCV that has an apartment nearby, and by his graces, we were saved from roaming around the city in -15F or so weather. Since the PCV was also hosting others, the extra 7 people turned his living room into a cramped hostel. I decided to stay awake, since I knew that 3 or 4 hours of sleep will only make me grumpy. And that I did, awake and reading the latest issue of The New Yorker. Where else but UB!

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Monday, December 22, 2008

UB: The Land of Milk, Honey, and Smog

This past week I was in Ulaanbaatar (UB); the land of milk, honey, and… smog! It was for our in-service-training which meant that all the expenses were paid for by the Peace Corps. So instead of 16 hour bus rides, I got in to UB with my teaching counterpart (CP) in a mere one and a half hours. It was the first time that my CP (Tumee) flew in a plane, which is not surprising because the fare ($375) is equivalent to 2 months of her salary. I can see that it was an interesting experience for her because she was looking out the windows the whole flight from her aisle seat.

We landed at 11:50 on Monday morning and headed straight for the Peace Corps office. The place was teeming with volunteers and their counterparts. People from all over the country consolidated at this one single point. It was a reunion of hugs and more hugs. People were chattering about, sharing stories of hardship and triumphs. But as I had errands to run, I left my CP at the office to acquaint herself with the place and meet other people. She was also waiting on people to come to pick up meat, yes meat, transported as “extra baggage” on the plane. Mongolia is quite an interesting place.

Tuesday morning we left early (7:00) from our guesthouse to catch the morning ride to the hotel where IST was to be held. The bus was suppose to leave at 7:45, but as this is Mongolia, everything runs late. My counterpart who is usually reliable and on time didn’t make it until 8, and if it wasn’t for this “Mongol time”, she would have had to pay for her trip out to the hotel. We drove through the UB smog and in 20 or so minutes reached our destination, a suburb on the mountains with pine trees and snow peaks. The Nukht hotel as it is called came with all the convenience of modern life. The room was clean, the beds were spacious, the bathroom! Oh my, the bathroom was so nice that I actually took a bath in it. After we registered for our room, it was on to the seminar right away.

Wednesday, as with most days, we started out with a three course breakfast. At 9 we moved intro a large conference room and began the day. We were broken up into 3 groups and had 1 and a half hour sessions throughout the day with topics ranging from team teaching, classroom management, and games for the class. Occasionally we break for tea in between sessions, and at 12:30, it was time for the 3 course lunch, delicious salad, soup, and then the main course. Lunch was the highlight of my day! After lunch we had more sessions until 6:30. And at 7 we had dinner, which had only 2 courses…boo. As you can tell by this paragraph, food is very important in my life.

During the day we had our seminar, but at night we had our сэмнайр (semin-nair = secret party.) The beer, vodka, and drinks flowed very easily. There were small dance parties all around, we had one in my room, and since there wasn’t that much room to begin with, the beds were even used as dance floors. To my surprise, everybody was up Thursday morning and ready to work. So it was another 9-7 routine. But Thursday was a special night as we had our talent show. It was good times all around as PCVs and our counterparts sang songs, read poetry, and told jokes. Much was lost in translation, but that didn’t matter since everybody was having fun. After the show, it was on to the dance floor and we all got down to techno and hip hop.

Friday we had a mini session and then it was time to pack at 2 and say good bye to the good life at the hotel. We took pictures and said our good byes to people that were leaving that day, and then we drove back to UB. At this point, it is the end of the Peace Corps sponsored IST, so if people wished to stay, it was out of their own pockets. And here I shall end part 1 of UB days. Look forward to Oasis, locked doors, freezing cold and Irish pubs in the next installment.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Turkey and Mashed Potatoes!

This past weekend I had the opportunity to leave my site for the first time since arriving in Choibalsan in August. It was 5 days of bliss spent in the glitz and glamour of the capital city of Mongolia. But we shall begin our story from the 7 a.m. departure on Thursday morning. Jasmine (M18 PCV) and I arrived early to the bus station to catch the puragon (Russian bus) heading for Ulaanbaatar to find a crowd of drivers buzzing about, running to, and grabbing our luggage and bodies to fill their cars. While Jasmine inspected each car and talked to the drivers, I was still shivering from the morning cold and fighting off other drivers that came and asked “hottod yavho?” “Go to the capital?” I replied, “no, just wait,” in Mongolian. After finding a car that she liked (the determining factor was the design of the seat covers), Jasmine and I huddled into the paragon. The windows began to frost as we waited, 30 minutes passed, and then 1 hour, and then another. Cars in Mongolia will only go when all the seats are filled up. After waiting 2 hours, the driver decided that he will not be driving to UB today, so we grabbed our stuff and joined another group of people heading to the city by bus.

We moved to the larger bus to find 12 or so people waiting. Paid the 30,000 tugrugs (about 30 dollars) for the seat and acquainted ourselves with the back of the bus, cuz you know that’s where all the cool kids and sheep meat is. The area was packed with luggage, meat, and other goods. Normally there isn’t that much room to move around, but our ride was fairly comfortable in the amount of available space. But the problem of heat was another story. The buses here are not fully heated. The heat comes from the front of the bus, and as you go further and further back, the heat diminishes into nothingness when you get to where we were sitting. So while the people in the front were in a sauna, Jasmine and I in the back was fighting off the bitter cold. To add to that misery, they also open the windows so that it will be cooler. Sometimes people here are quite inconsiderate, I mean, if you are hot, why not take off your layers of clothes before opening the windows. Yes, and so we rode on for 16 hours. Along the way we stopped for food twice and made 2 bathroom stops. I don’t think I will complain about traveling in America ever again.

We got into UB around midnight. And right after getting off the bus, another swarm of drivers came to ask where we were going. We would have gone right away if it wasn’t for Jasmine and her box of assorted meats. Let me explain, her social worker had asked her to haul 15 or so kilo of meat from Dornod to UB for the son that is studying in the capital. So after hauling this dead weight for 16 hours, we expected someone to greet us upon arrival to take their package. She had sent texts and called prior to this, but what do you know, the kid never got there. Jasmine tried to call, but all she got was hang-ups and unanswered calls, so this went on for a good 10 minutes while the drivers are still asking us where we were going. Exhausted from the travel, we gave up and headed for my guest house. And so is the story of my first traveling experience in Mongolia. Not that bad, but definitely not a good time.

So after this experience, Thanksgiving in UB was the most appropriate celebration that one can have. Since I like making lists, and is tired of writing, I’ll just put ‘em out there:

I’m thankful for:

Family

Friends (Americans, PCVs, Mongolians)

Heat in my apartment

Warm-Hot showers

Long underwear

Hats that cover the ears

2,500 (~$2.20) tugrugs for a kilo of beef

Vegetables (Onions, carrots, potatoes, peppers: that’s all I get)

Spices (thanks once again family and friends)

Thanksgiving in UB (good food, good friends, good times!)

And you, yes YOU! I know you read my blog.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

The Joy of Teaching

While teaching comparatives and superlatives to my students I made some riddles to make it more interesting. After getting acquainted with the format, I asked them to make a riddle for me to solve. This is what I got from one of them:

First bee ate 3 buuz. Second bee ate 4 buuz. (buuz are steamed dumplings)

Which bee ate the least buuz? first bee or second bee? My answer: first bee

Which bee ate the most buuz? first bee or second bee? My answer: second bee

The student's reply: "wrong, bees do not eat buuz."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Spices Galore!

Hello friends, family and other visitors. Just want to give all of you another update while I have all of this free time.

So this whole week was a vacation for the students and teachers after the completion of the first term. The students had their tests, teachers handed out grades, so I did the same. I gave all my fourth and fifth graders As and Bs. I weigh the grade mostly on homework, attendance, and tests, with a good portion of the final grade based upon the first two criterion. The fourth grade is the first year when the Mongolian students are exposed to the English language, so there is a gross difference between the advance child and the ones that are playing catch up. My fifth graders, to my delight are generally eager and quick to soak up the lessons, minus a few that has a longer learning curve.


Some of my 5th Graders

The mini break is a welcome change! I got to relax, catch up with other PCVs, and got the chance to play host to homeboy Rich from Khentii aimag. We chilled, I showed him the town and fed him beef (which he enjoyed very very much). Jasmine and Lindsay, our soum (village) PCVs also crashed my apt which made for a very cozy and entertaining time. The week definitely flew by...Next party, Thanksgiving in UB!
Package Received!

A special thanks to Mary O, Hall, and DMac for the package full of spices! Also, thanks Alex for the care package with the random assortment of goodies. Be sure to know that I will use every last bits of the garlic powder, Japanese curry, and the variety of other spices!


Happiness!

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hamburgers for Halloween!

So how do you celebrate Halloween in Mongolia? You play "pin the tail on the cat", bob for apples, and dress up in fun costumes. Well, thats what my students and I did for the occasion. The students made masks, some made costumes, others just came dressed as themselves. We bought candies and apples for the event, and handed it out to winners of the games. All in all, it was an easy, hassle-free, and fun time!

On Saturday I hosted a "Halloween party" for all the Dornod (province) PCVs. It was just an excuse for the seven of us to get together to eat, drink, and relax. I made curry and hamburgers which to my delight was feasted upon by John, the some-time vegetarian. Julie and Jasmine made potato salad which was a delicious complement to the burgers. Sarah baked a moist and most savory cake, and the others brought beer to lighten the mood. We ate, we drank, we had fun. No costumes, but it was just a good time to catch up with all the volunteers.

In continuation with the hamburger theme, I once again made the all-american food for my teacher and staff at the school who are also my students. Like all the schools in Mongolia, almost all the teachers and staff are women. So it was no surprise to see six females accompanying me to my house. There, I fired up the hot plate and started to heat the oil. The ladies helped slice the bread, cut the vegetables, and made the patties. We hung out, talked, cooked, and ate the burgers, and I my friends had effectively promoted cross-cultural exchange! boo yah, there you go Peace Corps.

Hamburgers for Halloween pictures!

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Cribs: Mongolia

Sorry for the lapse in postings but there is this whole teaching thing that I'm doing...

I talked about my house in one of my previous post, so to give you some visuals, we will go on a virtual tour of my posh (ahhaha, I only wish) apartment.

Follow the link: Cribs: Mongolia Edition!

I leave you with a song by one of my students: the one on the red, his name is Rich!

- video

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

60th Anniversary

The first month of the new school year was centered around the planning of our school’s 60th anniversary celebration. Teaching was almost non-existent as both teachers and students were all busying themselves with their own assigned tasks. Teachers were making banners, posters, and beautifying the school. Students were clearing the school field, practicing their songs and dance, and following the beat of the drum as they march to Soviet style formations. The result was an intense 2 days of celebration.

The first day was the opening ceremony with all the pomp and circumstances. Everybody in town came to the school: past teachers, alumnus, and all the townspeople. It was a rare opportunity for everyone to see each other again. They were treated to music by the Dornod aimag Army band along with songs and dances performed by teachers and students. In the afternoon, it was time to showcase one of Mongolia’s national pastimes; the volleyball competition. As with my other posts, I will reiterate the fact that these kids are ridiculously good at the sport. And as with any other competition in this country, certificates and medals always follow at the end. At night, the party moved to the gym where platters of salad, bread, fruits, and horhog (real Mongolian BBQ) awaited the guests. There was once again singing and dancing throughout the night, occasionally interrupted when each class presented their gift to the school for the 60th anniversary. Gifts ranged from big stuffed teddy bears to traditional Mongolian instruments, to television sets and high end camcorders.

The second day of the celebration started off with a concert directed by the school’s music teacher. But before the performance, I had to sit through two excruciating hours of certificate and medal giving ceremony. It seemed like everyone was getting a medal except for me. After two hours of agony and boredom, the concert began. The performers were students from 5th to 11th grade. They sang and danced to traditional Mongolian music, Russian songs, and there was even an homage to Backstreet Boys’ “I want it that way.”

Following the concert there was a reception at a popular restaurant in the aimag (provincial) center. There, the vodka flowed and the music swayed all the alcohol induced Mongolians to a rhythmic dance. Even I stepped on the dance floor to try my hand at the Mongolian waltz. One step left, one step right, left, right, left, right, and then spin til you can’t tell if the dizziness was caused by the excessive alcohol consumption of vodka or just plain old dancing.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice!

So I've been getting a lot of inquiries into things that I may need in Mongolia. In short, everything is great here. The only special request that I can think of is for spices! Yes, abundant in America...but the culinary cuisines of Mongolia boils down to 5 or 6 different dishes, so the need for spices is minimal at best. Below is my address and a wish list of items that keep my taste buds somewhat satisfied. Oh, and send the package using USPS Flat Rate Boxes!!, I hear anything over 8lbs will save you a bunch of money.

Trinh Thach, PCT
Dornod Aimag, Herlen Soum
Secondary School #2
Mongolia
via China

Wish List:

Garlic Powder
Garlic Onion Medley
“Season All” Seasoned Salt
Curry
Garlic Salt
And any other spices you think is worth sending.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Choi Boy!

I currently live in the outskirts of Choibalsan, the capital of Dornod Aimag (province). The Aimag is in eastern Mongolia and borders China. Upon arrival, you will notice a marked absence of mountains that is oh so pervasive in other regions of the Mongolia. What we have instead is low flatland as far as the eyes can see, as it is home to the steppes of the country. There is no doubt that of its beauty, but when it is pockmarked with Soviet ruins and abandoned buildings, there is definitely a sense of loss of the natural wonder.

As I mentioned earlier, I live in the outskirts of the Aimag center. It’s a 10-15 minute mikro (sounds like meeker) ride on dirt roads for 7-8 km. I will write more about mikros another time because it deserves its own entry. For now, I’ll explain my living situation. I am in an apartment, which in Mongolia is a coveted living arrangement because of one particular amenity: hot showers. Though I didn’t specifically ask for an apartment, I’m glad that I have one. Sure, living in a ger would be fun and something to talk about, but the novelty will wear off when you have to haul your own water, cut your own wood, and make your own fire in -40 degree weather.

In the apartment there is one big bedroom, one kitchen, and one bathroom. Minimal standards to the typical American, but when you know that there is a family of 10 next door living in the same style apt., it gives you a better perspective of what you really need in life. I’m happy with what I have, and I’m thankful for that.

In my little town, there are four general food stores that stock the basic needs like bread, eggs, butter, and some vegetables (potatoes and onions, that’s all for veggies.) As for "landmarks", there is a kindergarten, a secondary school, and a train station. And that’s basically all the public infrastructure that we have.

In the Aimag center, I get most of the major food supplies; meat and other foodstuff that I can’t find at the local store. Oh, and there is also the all-knowing, all-powerful internet. The source of news and knowledge in an otherwise closed out world. It’s always fun to be in the 4th largest "city" in Mongolia because there are PCVs and other volunteers (VSO, French) from other countries in the area. We occasionally have dinner together, go out for some drinks, a time to relax and speak English at the normal pace.

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Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Beginning of Something New...

As the name suggests, Final Center Days were the last of our training exercises before our actual field work as a Peace Corps Volunteer. As with all our training sessions, the days were packed with information and training materials. But there was much anticipation going into it because our LPI scores and site placements were to be announced.

The training kept us busy from morning til 6 @ night everyday. Some sessions were useful, while others were nothing more than snore fests. One of the highlights was when we me our director/supervisor for the first time. We were announced pair by pair, up to the point when there were a couple of volunteers left, but no supervisors around. Because of the unreliability of the transportation system, people coming in late were by no means an odd occurrence.

I did finally meet my director when she came in for an impromptu Peace Corps talent show at the hotel we were staying at. She is a tiny lady in her forties, but beautiful and showed no sign of aging beyond her years that afflicts so many other Mongolians. She is really easy to talk to, and so energetic. I think we will work well together.

The FCDs culminated with the all important swearing in ceremony. 59 Peace Corps Trainees became Peace Corps Volunteers after being sworn in by Ambassador Minton. As typical of most PC ceremonies worldwide, there was also a host culture performance by the new PC group, the M19s. Dances, songs, and instruments were played. All the performances were spectacular, it far exceeded my expectations.

After the ceremony, the good byes quickly followed, and of course the tears started flowing. For the people that were living close by, they had to leave the same day, which in my opinion is quite shitty. For those of us that had to travel further away, we loaded our goods and headed to UB, the capital. Logistically, the whole experience was a nightmare. But we did get to the city and I finally had the chance to indulge myself with delicious Korean food! After three months of mutton and fat, bulgolgi was nothing less than foodgasm.

I had one night in UB, well not even a night since I had to get up by 4 to catch my 6 o’clock plane for Choibalsan. So a group of us just decided to stay up. Had crappy Reisling, followed by some beer, conversation and music, and finally goodbyes @ 4. I couldn’t as for a better night and send off.

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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Mad Dash for School

The first day of school will start tomorrow. So ofcourse everything had been put off till the last week before the students arrive. All the teachers, construction workers, custodians, and anybody with a helping hand has been at the school for the last week or so making a mad dash to wash, clean, and move their rooms around. Going in to the school each morning, you can see a marked improvement... and sure enough, with each passing day, the school is almost ready for the students.

Tomorrow will be exciting. First time seeing the students and all. There is also the ceremonial welcoming introduction, followed by my speech in Mongolian and song to be performed with my counterparts. Oh boy, it will be fun.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

You too can learn Mongolian

In order to gauge the effectiveness of our Language and Culture facilitators and our own ability to learn a new language, Peace Corps has Language Proficiency Interviews (LPIs) before Mid Center Days, and once more before we swear in as a volunteer.

The language learning program that the Peace Corps has is probably one of the best that I have ever seen. Using local teachers as facilitators, the Peace Corps Trainees gain invaluable language and cultural experiences. The other factor that is also important to note is that when you are forced to live in a new environment (Orkhon) with no language (Mongolian), it makes it necessary for you to pick up conversational and important phrases or else life can be tough.

After Mid Center Days, all PCTs were in the range of Novice Low, N Mid, and N High. I was tested as Novice High, which is the minimum requirement for language proficiency before you can head out to the field as a volunteer. After the Final Center Days and the second test, I am now an Intermediate Low. According to the Peace Corps language handbook, now I can do all of these things in Mongolian: introduce myself or someone else, initiate and close conversations appropriately, and can discuss simple topics with friends. Cooped up in my apt, I feel that my language is slipping a little bit now; I need to get out there and talk more.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Riots, Wrestling, and Monks

As promised, my new update. I will add more, but I think this entry will be enough for now. Enjoy!

Mid Center Days 7-5-2008

Back with the host family after 3 full days in Darkhan for Mid Center Days which was a nice break from the monotony of small town (soum) life, with the added benefit of seeing the other M19ers again. The bulk of the days were spent on training; cultural diversity, medical info, and our own specific sector. But the nights were ours, or so we thought…

As luck would have it, the week that we left for Darkhan happens to be the day after the 2008 Parliamentary elections, and results were starting to come in. As it was announced, riots started forming in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. In dispute were the 18 or so seats that could have went either way, which were mostly won by the MAXH (Mongolian Communist Party.) Bodies were flailing, stones were thrown, and fires started. The next day, the Mongolian president Inkhbayer declared a state of emergency and forcefully banned the sale of alcohol and created a curfew of 10:00 PM. Though the riots were isolated incidences in UB, we in Darkhan suffered the consequences too. Though there were no curfews, alcohol was banned in Darkhan, effectively killing the night life. Yeah, so three semi-dry days.

Not all was lost though; the fourth day in Darkhan was fun. Finally got on the courts again for basketball, and had a ginormous game of dodge ball with the trainers and Peace Corps staff. Basketball made my day, but I definitely felt the aftermath. My legs are so sore right now, kinda reminds me of the first day of cross-country practice. Tomorrow is Naadam.

Naadam: 7-8-2008

This past week, our soum celebrated the annual Naadam festival. It was a two day affair that brought out all 2,000 Orkhonites, from newborns to the oldest grandmothers. It was nice seeing everybody out and about.

Just some background on festival: Naadam is a sports competition commemorating the three manly sports of Mongolia; archery, wrestling, and horse racing. Out of the three sports, wrestling is probably the crowd favorite. There is a whole arena built the day before to accommodate all the necessary seats. The festival begins with an opening ceremony of songs and dances, and then immediately goes into the wrestling competition. Since our soum is small, there were 64 wrestlers allowed to enter. In larger Aimag centers and in UB, the number of wrestlers can reach up to 512 competitors. Out of the 64 wrestlers, 4 were Americans. Kevin, who is a PCV and teacher in the soum had his friend Chris, fellow M18er along for the ride. They had the full outfit, while Tom and I, M19ers that learned about Mongolian wrestling the day before with the help of our Language and Culture Facilitator was thrust into competition the very next day. I lasted longer than expected though, given the fact that I was sore as hell from the previous basketball/dodge ball session that we had in Darkhan. Out of the 4 wrestlers, Kevin with prior experience managed to muster a win, but was promptly demolished the very next round.

While we were able to wrestle, horse racing is strictly for the children. From what I know, our course was 26 km long, meandering through pastureland and hills. The winner was no older than 11 years old and he had the field beat by at least 30-40 seconds. The final manly sport is archery, probably the least competitive of the three. The set up: you have a bow and arrow and you try to shoot @ a target from a distance of 60 to 70 feet. It wasn’t that interesting to me.

But of greater interest were the hooshor stands. The fried meat in dough is the food of choice during Naadam. It also happens to be my favorite Mongolian food. Each delicious morsel of goodness was 300T, or about 27/28 cents. So you can imagine that I went to town that day. If there was a hooshor eating competition, I would stand a better chance of winning.

Monastery Trip: 7-20-2008

Probably one of the best days that I have had in Mongolia thus far, and no… it wasn’t because of the spiritual enlightenment. The trip started early in the morning, around 5 am when the PCTs, some of our family members, and our LCFs were sandwiched into 4 cars with each packing 8-10 people for the ride. The whole ride to the Amarbayasalant Monastery took close to 3 hours, but we could have made it there in 1 ½ hours if it wasn’t for unforeseen obstacles. From our town, we needed to take a dirt road to the “highway”, then after 20 or 30 minutes on a nice paved road, we were back on the bumpy dirt road. The ride for the most part was fun, you just have to think of it as a series of mini roller coasters.

Along the way, there were many pit stops, some necessary while others were just a drag. Our first real stop was for an Ovoo, the Buddhist shrine made from a pile of rocks high on a hill. It was necessary to pay our respects; grabbing three rocks and walking around the shrine three times, while throwing one rock each time around. The first rock is for the people that came before you, the second is for yourself, and the third is for those that will come after you. Oh, and it was perfectly fine to pop open a bottle of vodka @ 6 in the morning and having each person take a shot, as it is a matter of respect.

Other stops were not nearly as fun. Since the roads that we were traveling on were essentially made from dirt, grass, and rocks, when it rains, it makes for an interesting dilemma. Some of the cars got stuck on many occasions, and would only budge when extra man power in applied. Looking back, the car ride ordeal made the trip much more entertaining.

After making it to our destination, we decided to set up camp in a valley close to the monastery. We gathered wood and made fire. Had some breakfast which consisted of ham, bread, some vegetables, and downed it with some cold refreshing Hite (Korean) beers. The campsite was beautiful; a tiny freezing stream ran through the valley with wild flowers in full bloom, and the mountains were patched with evergreen trees.

After some breakfast, we headed out to the monastery. It was cool being there, but coming from Southeast Asia, monasteries are a “been there, done that” kinda deal to me. Though there were some cool stuff that I haven’t seen before like the prayer wheels which is a Tibetan tradition. Walking around the place, I felt as though it was all too touristy. There was no way I can gain a sense of spirituality in a place that had visitors outnumbering monks at least 5 to 1. Oh, and the monastery had a gift shop, go figure!

After spending an hour so doing the touristy stuff in the monastery, we headed back to the campsite for the beginning of the real fun. We busted out the Chinggis Khan vodka, the premium stuff in Mongolia which is 13-15 bucks a bottle, and commenced with out singing and dancing. The vodka & beer flowed and was only interrupted when the main course of Horhog was brought out. The sheep meat (bones and all) was prepared with hot river rocks as the main cooking agent. The aroma permeated the air, and we dug in. Meat, bone, fat and all… it was a delicious feast that was only rivaled by the amazing company.

-

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I'm on Mongolian Time

I apologize once again for my lack of updates, but it has been hectic for the last 2 weeks. I've moved out of my host family/community, got sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer a couple of days ago, and is now in Choibalsan to teach for the next two years.

I promise that the next time I post, it will be more info than you would ever want to read.

-

Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Taste of Mutton and Fat

I am in Darkhan for 2 days for a University Teacher, Teacher Trainer, and Primary Teacher Seminar that the 12 of us have to teach. So I will take this time to upload some pictures, enjoy!

http://www.new.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2089498&l=bfcb8&id=1701293

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

First Mongolian Update

Hello All!

It has been a while since my last post. I apologize for the lack of updates, but living in a small town of 2,000 makes it impossible to get access to the internet.

6-7-08

We left Darkhan for the countryside today. 64 newly minted PCTs on our first real individual experience with the Mongolian life. Driving out of the city, there was a sense of melancholy, but what waits for us was an exciting opportunity to live with our respective host communities and families.

As we passed miles upon miles of grazed land, my excitement was ever growing with each passing herds of cattle, sheep, and goat. And then we were there, a small soum (town) of 2,000 or so that is 60 km from Darkhan. Known for its beautiful river and green pasture, the 11 of us that will call this community our home for the next 3 months is the envy of all other PCTs.

The two vans of 11 PCTs were dropped off one by one. And as we enter each host family’s home, we were offered anything from tea, juice, and cold water along with the accompaniment of bread and jam and other Mongolian goodies. The Mongolians, to say the least are very hospitable people.

I was second to last to be dropped off, so by this time my stomach was quite full. Upon entering the haasha (compound), we were greeted by my host mother along with my host father and sister. As it is customary, more tea and food was to be eaten. When the van drove off, I was left alone with the family. You might think that the occasion was awkward since I knew very little Mongolian and the family had almost no knowledge of the English language, but surprisingly it went very well.

The Family:

The family unit consists of my father, a 45 year old government worker. My mother is a 40 something home maker who also works part time at the local weather observatory. I am the oldest brother, which is a refreshing change as I’ve always been the youngest of 7 siblings. In my host family (HF), I am followed by 2 sisters and a brother, all of whom are university students in Ulan Bator. The oldest sister (Saikhna) is 22 and knows a little English but will go to UB for work very soon. The middle child is a 20 year old son (Olgi). And the youngest of the bunch is an 18 year old daughter (Sambukhuu) that is still studying in UB but will be home in the next couple of days.

6-14-2008

First Week:

Today is my first full week in my host community with my HF. Everything is splendid! My host family is amazingly gracious. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner is always prepared ahead of time, so when I enter the house, I am ready to eat. The oldest sister in the family has left for work in UB with her boyfriend, but the younger one from UB is now here to help out with the family chores and cooking. My father is at work most of the time, but my mother is always around to cook and clean. As for my 20 year old brother (Olgi), he has been showing me around town. Olgi has your basic elementary English, so it is a treat to have him around as I am able to learn Mongolian through him and he is able to learn some English vocabulary through me. Most of the time, we are pointing at things and asking what it is in the language that we are trying to learn, which I come to realize has helped me tremendously in picking up new words.

Our time together mostly involves sports, either “basketball” or volleyball. The basketball court is of course on a dirt field with wild grass and vegetation sprouting from one spot to the next. And the hoop is fashioned from steel into a ring that is attached to a wooden post. It was fun playing with them, but they have no concept of clearing the ball after a missed basket by the other team. I tried to set the example by clearing the ball every time I got the rebound, but it was to no avail. So when in Mongolia, do what Mongolians do. As for volleyball, that’s a whole different story. The kids here are Obsessed with a capital O with the sport. You can walk 5 minutes through town in the evening and see 3 or 4 different groups of people from 4 year olds to adults in their 20s spiking and digging for the ball. I can honestly say that everyone in this town of 2,000 knows how to play the game, and play it well too.

More interesting topics to come…

6-21-2008

Did Hillary Drop Out of the Race Yet?

It must be an exciting time to be in the States for this election year; the campaigning, the conventions, the debates, and of course the omnipresent political ads. I love everything about the process, but oh my… the 30 seconds of sound bite can get very annoying after the 700th time that it has been played.

So you must think that I have it pretty lucky to be in Mongolia, so far away from all those irritating commercials, but you my friend would be quite surprised. Though far removed from indecision ‘08 of America, Mongolia is having Parliamentary elections of its own on the 29th of June. And to get the voters out in droves, the Mongolian Communist Party and the Mongolian Democrats (the two largest parties in the country) must have spent an exorbitant amount of money on just airing commercials. This is not an over-exaggeration, but the more than 50% of the commercials on-air are of politicians bidding for votes. One spot had a politician with a horde of followers all dressed in business attire, playing to the urban dwellers. Another ad had a politician in the countryside with the herders and horsemen, pandering to the masses with images of traditional Mongolian culture. If you can think of it, they have a commercial for it.

But what is surprising is the near non-existence of negative attacks of political opponents. Though my Mongolian language skill is basic @ best right now, but it seems that almost all commercials are about the actual candidates and his or her credentials rather than what is hidden in the closet of the other party members. And that is a breath of fresh air.

6-28-2008

On the topic of bathing once a week:

In America I was used to showering once a day, and if it was particularly muggy that day, twice in one. If I didn’t have the mandatory once a day shower, I would feel disgusted my body.

In Mongolia, tough it out! The water supply is limited; so once or twice a week, depending on the tractor driver with the tank of fresh underground water supply, my family buys two “oil barrel sized” containers filled with water (we have to fill the containers ourselves). That is our water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, laundry, washing, and whatever it is that one does with water.

With so little water to go around, bathing naturally becomes one of the last priorities in the minds of the Mongolians. From my 3 weeks or so experience living with my family, I have yet to see a single person take a bath or shower. What they do is wash themselves with soap & shampoo all over, and not surprisingly in this dry climate, it is more than sufficient. As for me, I hate washing in the tiny water basin (tumpin) that the PC provides for us. But by the grace of PC gods, I was placed in town that has a river running through it. So once a week, I go swimming in the river (this is another topic for discussion). I clean my entire body, and boy does it feel good!

7 days, that’s the longest streak of non-bathing/showering thus far. The weather is nice and dry, so I rarely sweat and that keeps me from feeling the need to shower. But come winter, when the lakes and rivers freeze, I’m sure the number will climb to a new peak.

p.s. I don’t smell that bad.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

....

I'm in Mongolia!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

T Minus a Couple of Hours

The past couple of days I've been in San Francisco for what the PC calls staging, an informal meet and greet with the fellow volunteers. We went over the basics; primary goals of the PC, safety guidelines, and all that good stuff on cultural awareness. Since I'm pressed on time and wants to sleep early tonight to wake up early for check-out and what not, I'll just make bullet points for all the cool happenings and interesting observations that I might have of the staging weekend.
  • I knew San Francisco was built on hills, but never thought it was this hilly.
  • I've never seen so many Asians outside of Asia in one city.
  • Training in the morning and afternoon, party at night!
  • So many cool people to hang out with, so little time.
  • Walked with a group of PC Trainees around SF for over 10 miles just to see the Golden Gate Bridge and for food.
  • Off to Mongolia very very soon.
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Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Night Before

Whenever I am waiting in anticipation for something the very next day, the night before my mind is riddled with sleepless thoughts. When I was younger, it was the beginning of a new school year and the thoughts of seeing all my friends again after a long summer's absence. Graduating from high school, it was the first day of college that had me awake the night before with innumerable questions. What will be college like? am I going to fit in? I hope my roommate is chill and cool! (Alex, yes you are) More recently, the night before my departure for Viet Nam, a country that I haven't set foot on for 12 or so years had me brimming with excitement. Thoughts of seeing old friends, family, and relatives made it unbelievably hard to close my eyes and wait for the next morning.

And as I write this post, the culmination of these three experiences aptly describes my current condition. I am excited to meet the fellow volunteers, but the idea of making new friends all over again is a bit daunting. I am eager to begin my post in Mongolia, but the thought of living in a new country for more than 2 years hit you with a little trepidation. So yes, the butterflies are fluttering.

Do I know whats fully ahead? No...
Do I want to know? No...

I guess I will just take it one step at a time, and I just hope that there will be more of these wonderful "sleepless nights" in the near future.

-



Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ever Closer...

Received my ticket and itinerary from Sato travel today, so the date is drawing ever closer. And a little over a week from now, I will be boarding a plane for San Francisco and then on to Mongolia we fly! So friends (the ones I didn't say good bye to already), make your appointments.

To those that were with me this past weekend, THANK YOU! thank you for a wonderful time, it was an experience that I will never forget (Flaming Lamborghini+ Scorpion Bowl= death of Trinh). Thanks to those that came out for the World Pub Golf, and thank you for the extremely awesome going away gift. I'm sadden by the fact that many of you were too far away to make it to the event, but it is your thoughts that makes me appreciate it even more.

And of course the Worcester HS crew, it was good seeing all of you again! I'm glad to see that we can revert to our HS ways on the flip of a dime. 5 years, so long.. so much has changed, yet I'm glad that we still retain our childish immaturity.

And thus ends my sentimental post.

-


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Moment

This was a post written way back in '05, and its my first declaration of wanting to join the Peace Corps, enjoy.

Monday, May 02, 2005

So it draws to an end...the year is almost over and my college career is so close to being done. Thinking about this makes me sad...but thats how life is, so I will accept it and just enjoy the present moment.

Sophomore year has been GrEaT.
As I type this entry, memories flood back. I remember the first few days of the year, how excited I was to be back, to see all of my friends again. We were all single then, each one of us with a goal to find a girl, (yeah its true..lol..im just trying to be honest.) Sad to say that I have not reach my goal yet, but I'm happy for Giac and Jae for finding two awesome girls that they can share their time with. I can only wait.

Through the year, I have also made new friends. My basketball friends, my tennis friends, my partying friends, and friends through other friends. Its sad that we do not have enough time to hang out, but I am sure that we will keep in touch.

As for myself, there is definitely some personal growth that I have gone through. Behind the veneer of child-like immaturity, I think I have finally made some progress as what I want to do with my life. This is not gonna sit well the 'rents, who along with all the other asian parents want their sons and daughters to become doctors or lawyers. It would have been great to be a doctor, but the sight and sound of the hospital makes me uneasy. As for lawyers, aren’t there enough of em already?

So what then is my true calling? I have thought long and hard about this, though some of my old friends might find this hard to believe, I really do want to join the Peace Corps. This is not my attempt to be cool and do something that is different. There has always been a part of me that wanted to do this, go back and do the same thing that people have done for me when I was in Vietnam. I can say that my first two years at Tufts have also influenced my decision. Seeing so many passionate people with tremendous goals have made me look into myself, and what I noticed was that I was lacking this passion.

I can truthfully say that money/wealth/material goods are not goals in my life anymore. I used to dream of such things, but then again what is it all worth in the end? Sooner or later we all die, yeah..its true, we do. So my new outlook is pretty simple, live a life that will make me happy. And I’m HAPPY right NOW…so that’s all that matters.

Wow, I wrote a lot...sad to say that this is the first entry that I wrote with actual content. But its good to let this out...now its time to start the 10-12 page paper...its on evanescence and change, how appropriate.


Friday, May 2, 2008

Staging Kit

My staging kit just came in the mail, how exciting! Now I finally know that staging is going to be in San Francisco from May 30th to June 1st. Yep, so another packet from the Peace Corps with a bunch of reading materials and more forms to fill out, but this time I am happy to complete it. I just called up Sato Travels (Peace Corps travel office) to set up the travel arrangements, and it seems like I will be heading out of Boston in the wee morning and be in San Francisco a tad before noon, just in time for registration... I foresee it already, its going to be one hectic day!

-

Saturday, April 26, 2008

For those first care packages...

Straight out of the Peace Corps Mongolia welcome book;
"Mail to Mongolia generally takes two to four weeks to arrive, and some mail may never arrive. Occasionally, letters may arrive with clipped edges because someone has tried to see if any money was inside."
Awesome! ahahhaha. But from what I hear from current PCVs in the country, the system is not that bad as long as you label your letters/package and include the word "airmail" on the envelopes. Oh, and the address provided now will only be in use for the first three months in Mongolia, while I am in my training phase, hence the PCT (Peace Corps Trainee) after my name. After our training, we will be ship out to our respective cities and have new mailing addresses.

Address in English:

Trinh Thach, PCT
Post Office Box 1036
Central Post Office
Ulaanbaatar 13
Mongolia (via China)

In Cyrillic:

Trinh Thach, PCT
Энх Танвны Корпус
Тов Шуудан
Шуудангийи хайрцаг 1036
Улаанбаатар 13
Монгол Улс
Mongolia (via China)

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Lost in Transit

I took a break from the monotony of working everyday this past weekend for a Boston trip. It was good times to say the least. Had an opportunity to hit up Tufts U. and chill with the undergraduates, say my last good byes before I head off to Mongolia. Along the way, went paintballing with the '07 homies, had some drinks, smoked some cigars, and played with Baxter (Reuben's dog). I would post pictures of all the awesomeness, but during my ride from Boston to Worcester, my camera was some how lost in transit.

So I guess I have to add another item to the packing list, a new camera! Pictured below is the Canon SD750, my newest toy. Its a beauty! We will see how it holds up to Mongolia's weather.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Packing for a 27 Month Camping Trip

So what do you need to prepare for a two and some odd years of service in a country that is known for bone chilling and debilitating cold weather? Thankfully the Peace Corps Mongolia office was nice enough to make a list for us. Some of the items were a given, while others I would not have thought of bringing along if it wasn't for the heads up from PC Mongolia.

My Packing List:
  • Sleeping Bag – Peace Corps provides for it.
  • Handy dandy Swiss Army Knife – To cut/gut my prey. I tried it out already, and I must say I am very impressed with all the tools that they packed in there. And the knife itself is sharp as hell. Bonus package of can opener+bottle opener+corkscrew!
  • Duct Tape – The most versatile product ever, you never know when you will need it.
  • Long Underwear (Tops+Bottoms) – To battle the cold. Got two pairs to try em out, and it works wonderfully well in the New England winter. Looking to get these in the near future, I hear wool is a better product to use in Mongolia.
  • Wool Socks & Gloves - Warm feet and warm hands = happy volunteer.
  • Variety of Spices – Can’t eat a goat without seasoning and spices.
  • Mongolian Grammar/Dictionary – For obvious reasons.
  • New Jeans – Its ok to have holes on your jeans in the US, not so in Mongolia.
  • Nalgene - Broke my last one.
  • Plastic Storage Bags - Thats what the PC suggests.
  • Flashlight - You never know when you need it...
  • Playing Cards - There are oh so many possibilities! ahahha

Teaching Supplies - I am taking donations!

  • Children’s Book - What better way to teach the language than introducing them to Dr. Seuss, Where the Wild Things Are, and hits like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
  • Catalogs - Projects and activities.
  • Erasers - Obvious
  • Index Cards - Apparently they don't have them in Mongolia.
I'm sure I am going to add more to the list... but thats all for now.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Learning Mongolian

For the past two weeks I've been trying to pick up Mongolian as a sixth language, yes 6th. Its funny how sometimes when I think, words in Khmer, Vietnamese, English, and sometimes even Japanese and Spanish pop in my head. So adding another language into the mix should make it even more interesting. But I digress...

Mongolian is different...very different from all of the other languages that I have learned thus far. So I'm starting new again, even learning a whole different alphabet. Just like when I was learning Japanese, when first encountering hiragana and katakana I was taken back. Same can be said for the Cyrillic alphabet, but just like learning the Japanese characters it was all about repetition and time. I made a bunch of flash cards and practiced daily, and with time my friend, I am happy to say that I've pretty much mastered the Cyrillic alphabet. Know I know my A, Б, В. Now on to reading and deciphering what it actually means.

Oh, and if you want to listen to what Mongolian actually sounds like, take a gander through the link.

[source: Wikipedia]

Cyrillic Name Transliteration
Cyrillic Name Transliteration
Аа а a
Пп пэ ( p )
Бб бэ b
Рр эр r
Вв вэ v
Сс эс s
Гг гэ g
Тт тэ t
Дд дэ d
Уу у u
Ее е je/ye
Үү ү ü
Ёё ё jo/yo
Фф фэ~фа~эф ( f )
Жж жэ ž/
Хх хэ~ха h
Зз зэ z
Цц цэ ts
Ии и i
Чч чэ č
Йй хагас и j
Шш ша~эш š
Кк ка ( k )
Щщ ща~эшчэ ( šč )
Лл эл l
Ъ ъ хатуугийн тэмдэг
Мм эм m
Ыы эр үгийн ы y
Нн эн n
Ьь зөөлний тэмдэг '
Оо о o
Ээ э e
Өө ө ö
Юю ю ju/yu




Яя я ja/ya

-

Monday, March 10, 2008

Dude, Where's Mongolia?

I've been talking a lot about Mongolia, but haven't actually given any substantial information about the country. Let me take this time to formally introduce you to the "Land of the Blue Sky." See that speck of land surrounded by Russia and China? yup, thats my home for the next 2 or so years.




A History Lesson: Wedged in between Russia and China, Mongolia have always been tied to its two neighbors. Most recently, it was part of the Soviet bloc and relied heavily on the USSR for support. But with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Mongolia's state planned economy was revamped and a new capitalistic economy is now emerging. What the future holds for the country is unknown, but the state is trying to move towards a free and open market, and the first goal in achieving that is by opening the society. And thats why folks, I will be going to Mongolia.

800 years ago, the Venetian Marco Polo traveled to the court of Kublai Khan. At that point in time, the Mongols were feared conquerors stampeding through the steppes destroying everything in their path. Today, the land in which the Mongolian inhabit is much the same, but the world is quite different. There is a noticeable difference between the city and the countryside, the stationary and the mobile. While the capital of Ulaanbaatar is a certified city, much of the country and its people still heavily rely on livestock. They move with the changing of the land, from one fertile grazing ground to the next. This is the life of a Mongolian.

Major Facts and Figures:
  • Ethnicity: 94.9% Mongols (Khalkha)
  • Religion: 50% Tibetan Buddhism
  • Language: 90% Khalkha Mongolian - Cyrillic
  • Literacy: 97.8%
  • GDP per Capita: $2,900
Fun Facts:
  • Lowest population density of any nation (3.9 people per square mile)
  • More cell phones than land lines
  • 2nd largest landlocked country in the world

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Accepting my Invitation

Called up Peace Corps headquarters yesterday to accept my invitation. Went over preliminary details with the Placement Officer on staging, passport, visas. Yes, more paperwork from them. I also have to send in an aspiration statement and a revised resume specifically for my line of work, which isn't too bad because I had time to prepare for these in advance. After that, I can only wait for staging on May 31st. 80 something days left right?

So I guess its official, can't back down now. To Mongolia, land of my boyhood idol: Genghis Khan! It will be an interesting experience to say the least. Over these last few days I've been searching far and wide on the internet to find anything that pertains to the country, and the more I look, the more I am excited to go.

Things I'm looking forward to doing in Mongolia:
  1. Ride on those tiny horses that homeboy Genghis Khan and his Mongolian horde used to conquer more than half of the known world.
  2. Take in all the beautiful sights and sounds; the miles of open grassland and mountains.
  3. Mongolian wrestling, you've seen it on the travel channel.
  4. Real Mongolian BBQ, basically any offering of meat: goat, lamb, horse.. whatever they dish out, I'm willing to take it.
  5. Living in a Yurt/Ger.
  6. Learning the Mongolian language, take a gander... this will take time.
  7. Meet my host family and immerse myself with the culture.
  8. Teaching... thats what I'm there for right?
Things I'm not looking forward to while in Mongolia:
  1. Negative degree weather is never a good thing.
  2. Learning yet another language, lets see... Khmer, Vietnamese, English, Spanish, Japanese.. now Mongolian? I find myself mixing too many languages together already, now its going to be even more dysfunctional!
I guess the Pros outweigh the Cons. If I think of anymore, I will add to the list. And here's a picture of the tiny horse I was talking about:



Friday, February 29, 2008

Mongolians! Stop tearing down my shitty wall!

Finally, over a year work coming to fruition. A lot of pain and anguish getting paperwork submitted and then re-done. Many hoops to jump through, and a lot of hurdles to clear, but its here:


Yes my friends, thats the actual invite package from the Peace Corps! I've been accepted to join the next group of volunteers shipping out this June to Mongolia. I'll be a Primary Education English Teacher, working with kids again, YAY!

So what exactly went through my mind when I got this package after months of waiting? I'm not going to lie, the first thing that popped in my head was... "Damn, shit is going to be cold." And after looking up wikipedia to verify, I was sadly informed that I was right.
Most of the country is hot in the summer and extremely cold in the winter, with January averages dropping as low as -30°C (-22°F). (wikipedia)
Yeah, weather in the extremes! To make matters worse, the winter is a lot longer than the other seasons. So this is what I'm going to look forward to the next 27 months of my life? I hope not.

After pulling myself together, I realized the people there have been surviving in those conditions for thousands of years, why can't I? Other than the weather, I really have no qualms with me being in Mongolia. I've seen those travel channel shows, often picturesque green fields with mountains in the backdrop. Horse riders, grown men wrestling, yurts, and roaming herds. Thinking of these images ease my thoughts, and cleared any trepidation that I had. This will be an adventure to look forward to!















Saturday, February 23, 2008

Finally, Medical Clearance!

After six months of running around from the doctor's to the dentist's office, it is finally over! I am now medically cleared for Peace Corps service. You can say that the hardest part of the application process is now officially over. But to detail why it took me so long to do all of this, lets examine the path that I took to get clearance.

6 Months ago: got the medical and dental package from the Peace Corps office, but since I had no insurance, had to search around for economically viable options. Found that the Veteran's Affairs was a federal institution, so made appointments with them to get the tests done. After making multiple trips and wasting a lot of blood for the required lab tests, I was finished with the medical part of the examination (or so I thought). During this time, I also did a little sleuthing and found that there are reputable dentists out there that provide free dental exams for PC applicants. Thrilled that I didn't have to pay for the extra fees, I shipped out to Medford and headed to the office and was pleasantly surprised to find out that the dentist is a double Jumbo, graduated for Tufts U. and Tufts Dental. The dentist was awesome! providing me with all the required information, your general dental evaluation, periodontal eval., and all the accompanying x-rays.. I think I saved a couple of hundred bucks through him. So after that, I sent both my medical and dental application to the Office of Medical Services (OMS).

4 Months ago: Received a letter from the OMS detailing stuff that I was missing; ranging from missing bloodwork to out-of-date shots and immunizations, this was a major annoyance since the nurse at the VA had told me everything was in order. As for the dental part, I knew that I had to extract my wisdom teeth for dental clearance, so the news was not that surprising to me. So after that, had to make new appointments to get more blood work, and more shots ( I guess they had to be within six months of the application). During this time, I almost became a regular at the VA, which was kinda weird since everybody that was there were in their 60s and 70s, and here I am, a 23 year old perfectly healthy individual that needed to take all of these tests to make sure that I am healthy.

3 Months ago: Shopped around for dentists to extract my wisdom teeth (without insurance). Looked around the Internet, searched forums, and found that each tooth extraction usually costs anywhere between 250 to 400 dollars a pop. NOT GOOD NEWS! Checked out local dentists, and they told me that I had to go in for a check up to determine how much it would cost. Still not good news. When all seemed doomed, my dad told me that he found a place that could do these extractions for 100 dollars a pop. I was kinda blown back by this, and was somewhat skeptical to find such a good deal. You know the conventional wisdom, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So I went in for the appointment, it was a quaint little office and there were a couple of people waiting in line, so I thought... ehh, it couldn't be that bad. Then it was my turn, went in and saw the guy, which first made me chuckle a little bit because he resembled Don Vito from Viva La Bam! After that, got comfortable on my chair, talked to the dentist, and what do you know, he is also a graduate of Tufts Dental! It seems like every dentist I meet graduated from my alma mater. Somewhat relieved and comforted by the thought that he's a Tufts Alumni, I eased up and let him pull those suckers out... within 20 to 30 minutes, I had $200 pulled out of my mouth! the guy was good, I didn't feel any pain at all, but that maybe because I was drugged up on anesthetic. Two weeks after, had the other 2 wisdom teeth pulled out, and I have to say... Good Riddance!

2 Months ago: After the teeth extraction and after I filed in the report, I was dentally cleared. But medically, the OMS sent for further inquiries. Somehow my PPD test slip was lost in the mailing process, and was sent back to me through the postal service, yeah.. unlucky! But aside from that minor inconvenience, I was tested positive for Hep B core Antibody. Shocking news, so I called the VA right away to go in for yet another test, this time a liver function test. So had that done, but had to wait for the results because I was going to travel with my family to Viet Nam.

1 Month ago: Got back from Viet Nam, called the VA, got the results (it was negative) and sent them in to the OMS. I couldn't possibly be missing anything else right?

1 Hour ago: In my gmail, Peace Corps: Application Status Update! Seeing that header on the email, I knew that I was finally medically cleared.

So now stop asking me about my status, when I get it, I'll immediately update you folks!

Now, I await for my invitation...


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