Sunday, January 4, 2009

Shin Jiliin Bayariin Mend Hurgeye

Shin Jil: (noun) - A week long celebration in Mongolia that gives joy to all the tinsel manufacturers, vodka distillers, and George Michael's record company.

Car Trouble:

My Shin Jil (New Year) actually began the weekend before the appointed date. It was on a Saturday and boy was it a trip getting to the restaurant. After the school concert that featured a clown as an MC, Grandfather Winter and his Snow Girl, and a troupe of kindergartners dressed in panda, lion, and bear costumes, the teachers and I headed for the mikro (bus). At first there were 6 or 7 of us that were in the bus, which in a vehicle that is designed to fit 15 or 16 people is quite the luxury. As time passed, more and more teachers came, first a group of 3, and then 1 or 2 came to comfortably fill the seats. The engine started so I thought that we were making our way for the restaurant, boy was I wrong. For the next 30 or so minutes we drove from one apartment to the next picking up other groups of teachers. So they came and sat in 3s and 4s. Now there are at least 20 teachers meshed together and under the dreadfully cold circumstances it made for a much more toasty ride. After picking the teachers from the apartments and their homes, we should be on our way right? No, no, no… There are of course teachers still waiting at the school. We drove to the school, 1 teacher filed in, and then another, and another, and another. To make room, the four men in the back row each had a female teacher on his lap, me included. The other seats probably had to do the same in order to make room for all the teachers. So after all of this we finally made our way, driving along the bumpy, icy, and quite dangerous dirt road. When we made it to the paved road, the bus under tons of pressure gave way and broke down, which was no surprise to anybody there. We filed out of the bus one by one, and when I did a head count, there were 30+ people in the mikro, which is my personal record now. To complete the journey, we called for taxis and in a flash we were at the restaurant.

The school party was at a Chinese restaurant that was decked out with a Christmas tree (they don’t celebrate Christmas here), tinsel strands that are individually taped on to the ceilings, and booming renditions of “Last Christmas.” On the tables waiting for us were fruit bowls, salads, and bottles of vodka and juice to quench our thirst. Throughout the night we ate well, sang Mongolian songs, made speeches, presented gifts, and danced the night away. More bottles of vodka came out the woodwork as the night progressed, and like the vodka, the champagne was also flowing well that night. The party ended at 12 and we made our way back to our town. Once there, a group of teachers wanted to extend the party longer, they asked me to stay but as I was sick, my excuse worked and I was able to dodge a very dangerous bullet.

New Year with a Mongolian Family:

On the actual New Year’s Eve, I celebrated the night with Tumee (my teaching counterpart) and her family. She invited me over for hooshor, my favorite Mongolian dish. At that time I didn’t even realize that it was the day before the New Year. I brought over some beer, soda, and borsik (Mongolian sweet bread.) We ate, drank, and talked until 11:45 when the fireworks began bursting in the air. From our town, which is 7 kilometers away from the Aimag center, we saw the sky lit up with yellow, red, blue, and a variety of other colors and shapes. We also had our store of fireworks, so we joined in the celebration and lit the dark sky with a myriad of colors. After the pyrotechnics, we came back in for a typical Mongolian New Year celebration meal; buuz (steamed dumplings), cake, and champagne. It was a good end to a good night.

PCV and VSO parties:

The next day I went to the Aimag center to celebrate the New Year with PCVs, VSOs and a group of Mongolians. All of us were invited to Raj’s house, a health VSO member from India. The bachelor pad was bumping with music, and we celebrated once more with beer, vodka, champagne, and chocolate. Everybody had a great time, so much that we decided to do it again the next day at Jim and Julie’s house.

Jim and Julie had a beast of fish (at least 15lbs) that they didn’t know what to do with. That day I was staying over their place so I became the third host of the party. While J&J was away on errands, Julie had me bake apple bread. It was my first time baking, yikes! Julie knew this, so of course she left me unsupervised with a recipe book and all the ingredients for me to play around with. I peeled and then diced the apples, mixed the sugar, oil, lemon juice and all the other necessary items. Then I carefully poured out the flour, salt, and added 4 tbsp of baking powder in another bowl. If you are a baker, you would have caught my mistake already… yes, 4 tbsp of baking powder, ahahah. I thought that the tbsp scooper was the tsp, honest mistake since the damn thing was labeled. Luckily I hadn’t mixed and was able to scoop out the extra baking powder. Then I added the three mixes together and baked, desperately hoping that it wasn’t ruin by the mistake.

While the apple bread was in the oven, Jim and I worked on the ginormous fish. Jim gutted the beast and we decided to cut it into four portions. Each part would be seasoned differently. One of Jim’s two pieces was dedicated to curry fish, the other one was doused in butter and garlic, lemon juice and assortment of Italian spices. As for my part, I had one piece in a mixture of olive oil, salt, garlic salt, vegetable flakes, some Italian seasoning. After we took out the apple bread which was still un-tasted, we broiled the 3 portions. The last piece was left to the frying pan and with a little salt, garlic butter, and oil it was fried to perfection. While doing all of this, we were also preparing mashed potatoes and vegetables as a side, Jim the main chef, and I his sous chef. As the guests began to arrive we finished up the preparations and had them test out our experiment. They tasted, marveled, and then had seconds, thirds, and fourths. Tremendous triumph! Considering that this was the first time that we handled fish. Though Jim’s test was over, my apple bread was still under review. After gorging on fish and wine, the crowd moved on to dessert. Judy, another health VSO member was the first one to try my apple bread. She cut herself a piece; put it in her mouth, and from watching the expression on her face, 2 for 2! Twas a success. Not bad for a day of firsts. As the night rolled along, Julie got out her guitar and played for us. We sang, we drank, we had a good time! One of my favorite nights in Mongolia thus far.



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