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.



Mary O said...

Hi Trinh,
Just wanted to wish you a warm and happy holiday. We've been out of school since December 11th due to crazy winter storms. When we finally go back, on the 5th of January, it will be as if we've had a summer vacation. Thanks for all of your postings - I really enjoy reading every one of them.

Toan Vo said...

Hey douche bag, happy holidays! Stay warm buddy...we don't want shrinkage now do we? lol

I kid, I kid. Miss you man.