Monday, December 31, 2012

Year in Review

So...t'was New Year's Eve, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, now that Pawn Stars is over and my brother is putting his spawn to bed.  And here I sit on the computer updating my blog.  I've been home now for a couple of weeks, and I have one more day before I start the series of flights and layovers that will take me back to Mongolia.  I'll write more about what these two weeks have entailed when I DO get back, but for my last post of 2012 I thought I would reflect on what this year has brought (in one sentence or less per month)...
January - dumping the chump (more or less).
February - jobhunting.
March - a new job.
April - kicking the blog up a notch.
May - the insanity of putting together a school art exhibition and mopping up the yearbook simultaneously.
June - Evil's wedding which I missed because my non-Irish principal was a bitch.
July - South American Extravaganza!
August - moving to Mongolia.
September - making friends.
October - a new (inferior) quiz
November - X-Files revival
December - Babysister's baby.

This post was inspired by Five and Domestic Goddess' suggestion that I post my book list to my blog.  For the last three years I have kept track of the books I read over the year in a facebook note.  In 2011 I read a total of 70 books; just shy of 6 books a month.  I bettered my score by more than one book a month...and here are the books that helped me to make it to a grand total of 85 books (7 a month with one to spare!) in 2012:
1. Furies of Calderon, by Jim Butcher
2. Academ's Fury, by Jim Butcher
3. Cursor's Fury, by Jim Butcher
4. Captain's Fury, by Jim Butcher
5. Princep's Fury, by Jim Butcher
6. First Lord's Fury, by Jim Butcher
7. Mastiff,  by Tamora Pierce
8. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
9. The Red Pyramid, by Rick Riordan
10. Clockwork Prince, by Cassandra Clare
11. Dragonsong, by Anne McCaffrey
12. Dragonsinger, by Anne McCaffrey
13. Dragondrums, by Anne McCaffrey
14. The Throne of Fire, by Rick Riordan
15. Alanna, by Tamora Pierce
16. In the Hand of the Goddess, by Tamora Pierce
17. The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, by Tamora Pierce
18. Lioness Rampant, by Tamora Pierce
19. The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett
20. A Hat Full of Sky, by Terry Pratchett
21. Wintersmith, by Terry Pratchett
22. Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortensen
23. Daughter of the Wind, by Suzanne Fisher Staples
24. The Death of Faith, by Donna Leon
25. Lost on Planet China, by J. Maarten Troost (I actually read it twice, but I'll only count it once, to be fair)
26. The Color of Magic, by Terry Pratchett
27. The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak
28. February Flowers, by Fan Wu
29. Communism: A Love Story, by Jeff Sparrow
30. Deadlocked, by Charlaine Harris
31. Dead Beat, by Jim Butcher
32. White Night, by Jim Butcher
33. The Shack, by William P. Young
34. Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
35. Girls of Riyadh, by Rajaa Alsanea
36. Slumdog Millionaire, by Vikas Swarup
37. The Midnight Palace, by Carlos y Ruiz Zafon
38. The Nine Lives of Chloe King, by Liz Braswell
39. The Shadow of Night, by Deborah Harkness
40. I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
41. The Serpent's Shadow, by Rick Riordan
42. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
43. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
44. The Shadow Plague, by Brandon Mull
45. Dragonquest, by Anne McCaffrey
46. The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
47. Once Upon A Marigold, by Jean Ferris
48. The Last Guardian, by Eoin Colfer
49. Guide to Teaching English Abroad, by English Teacher X
50. Way to Be, by Gordon B. Hinckley
51. Daughter of Kura, by Debra Austin
52. And Another Thing, by Eoin Colfer
53. Ashes of Honor, by Seanan McGuire
54. Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris
55. Living Dead in Dallas, by Charlaine Harris
56. Club Dead, by Charlaine Harris
57. Dead to the World, by Charlaine Harris
58. Dead as a Doornail, by Charlaine Harris
59. Definitely Dead, by Charlaine Harris
60. All Together Dead, by Charlaine Harris
61. From Dead to Worse, by Charlaine Harris
62. Dead and Gone, by Charlaine Harris
63. Dead in the Family, by Charlaine Harris
64. Dead Reckoning, by Charlaine Harris
65. Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
66. Last Breath, by Rachel Caine
67. Black Dawn, by Rachel Caine
68. A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs
69. The Mark of Athena, by Rick Riordan
70. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
71. Gathering Blue, by Lois Lowry
72. Messenger, by Lois Lowry
73. Divergent, by Veronica Roth
74. Insurgent, by Veronica Roth
75. Hidden, by PC Cast and Kristin Cast
76. Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary, by Brandon Mull
77. Keys to the Demon Prison, by Brandon Mull
78. Cold Days, by Jim Butcher
79. Gregor the Overlander, by Suzanne Collins
80. Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane, by Suzanne Collins
81. Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods by Suzanne Collins
82. Gregor and the Marks of Secret, by Suzanne Collins
83. Gregor and the Code of Claw, by Suzanne Collins
84. Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren
85. Notorious Nineteen, by Janet Evanovich

Next year's goal: I think I'll go with Five's suggestion and aim for 100 books read in 2013.  I'm going to try to read some of the "classics" but will, no doubt, have to heavily intersperse them with my preferred mix of fantasy and teen books to make it to my lofty goal.  Along those lines, I don't really do resolutions for New Year's - it's like a recipe for failure - but I have recently decided to build better body habits.  I spent a lot of 2011 trying to lose weight and a lot of 2012 teetering between trying to accept myself and being frustrated because I still wanted to be better.  Back around early November or so I realized that I should do both.  I have little doubt that my extra pounds help me stay warm in the mind-numbing cold of the steppe, and I've recently come up with some other reasons to be grateful for being fat, but although I'm in great health right now that can't last unless I take steps to preserve it.  So I started using the school's treadmills every morning to get a 30 minute walk in.  When I had done that for 21 days (the number of days it takes to establish a habit...it took a while since I give myself the weekends off and I missed at least a day each week), I started one-pop days.  I've racked those up much more quickly, although since I went on vacation I've had quite a few scratch days.  I need two more one-pop days, and I've decided that my next habit will be to have only one sweet (candy bar, cookie, cake, whatever) each day.  After that, I'm not sure what the next step will be, but I have about a month to figure out.  So there you have it.  I feel like I've grown up a lot this year, but paying off my student loans has freed me to be a little more spontaneous, and I'm looking forward to seeing where the next twelve months take me.  And this, friends, is how you ring in the new year blogging.  Happy New Year, y'all.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Men in Tights (or: Why I Love the Ballet)

One of the things I was NOT expecting to get my fill of in Mongolia was ballet.  Hell, I lived in Kansas City for 7 years, and saw not one single ballet amongst all the gallery openings, operas, plays, and symphonies I feasted on during my college years.  Chalk that up to the fact that the dancing segment of the conservatory never seemed to do anything, and the KC ballet was..eah, hard to get to, or expensive, or something.  In fact, I may be wrong, but I don't think I've been to a ballet since Mrs. Andrew took us (as impressionable young Bright Ideas students) to see the Nutcracker.
And there's a decent probability it would have remained that way a while longer, had Five not sent around the calendar for the Mongolian State Academic Theater.  Apparently she saw Swan Lake here last year and decided it was pretty decent considering that tickets were less than ten dollars.  And THEN she found out that Sascha Radetsky was coming over from the American Ballet Theater to guest star in Giselle.  He was in Center Stage, and while - as she pointed out - he's not a particularly good actor, he is a Fantastic dancer.  And he is nice to look at.  Especially in tights.  We were devastated to find out that tickets were 120,000 tugrugs for his shows, and while I just ignore anything I write remotely resembling a budget, Five does not, so we were not going to make it.  But then, our Fairy Godmother (otherwise known as the housing manager) decided she couldn't go, and gave her FRONT ROW SEATS TO US!
Well, that was it for me.  I am now officially a Ballet Fan.  I have scoured the schedule and plotted out which shows I want to see.  Last weekend a bunch of us went to see Scheherazade.  It was...interesting.  The dancing was splendid.  The music was excellent.  The storyline?  I have no idea what Rimsky-Korsakov was thinking.  There were two acts.  The first shows Shahryar discovering his wife's unfaithfulness and having her executed.  And then the second opens on a young woman visiting a grave, presumably Scheherazade, but it proceeds into a dance battle between two suitors, and the one she doesn't like kills the one she does, and then kills himself.  That never happened in any of the Arabian Nights stories I ever read.  Still, the costumes and dancing were awesome - the first act was almost like belly dance/ballet fusion, while the second seemed influenced by Persian dancing (or so I thought - my friends connected it to Mongolian dancing.  Who knows?  Maybe the two are cousins).
And tonight - holy twinkling titties, Batman! - we had Spartak.  I had no idea what it was about until I looked it up online, but the photos of it in the lobby of the theater sold me.  It's actually the story of Spartacus, composed by a Russian before Stanley Kubrick got ahold of it.  You can imagine how well the story of a king-become-slave-become-gladiator leading a slave revolt against their oppressive excessive Roman rulers went over with the Soviets of the day.  And do you know what's better than men in tights?  Men in Roman costume.  Yes, I'm shallow.  But the thing that made me want to laugh hysterically was the sparkling fake nipples on the slave dancers' costumes.  I'm not totally shallow, though - the music was exciting and emotionally stirring and, as always, the dancers did a beautiful job.

I can't wait for the rest of the season - we've got Swan Lake, Don Quixote, Sleeping Beauty, Coppelia, and some Mongolian ones to look forward to.  The National Academic Theater is that pink building on the east side of Sukhbaatar Square.  Tickets cost between 5,000-15,000 tugrugs (splash out - we've been sitting in the second row and paying just over $10 for the privilege.  It's totally worth it) except in a few cases (Spartak cost 20,000 T for some reason, and I already mentioned what it cost to get the yummy Mr. Radetsky on stage).  The ticket office opens in the morning from 10-1 and the afternoon from 2-5, although they are closed on BOTH Monday and Tuesday, so don't show up on either of those days (I made that mistake - not fun in -20 C weather).

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Grub Club: Venus Cafe (EPIC WIN!)

Although Grub Club doesn't have a charter, we did found it with the purpose of finding and trying new restaurants.  Several of the last few weeks we have failed to live up to our purpose, as we went to restaurants that most of us have been at.  Well, UB is pretty small for a capital city and several of our members are in their second year, but I like a challenge.  I was planning on taking us to Bonito Brazilian BBQ, but apparently they closed.  So I dug through tripadvisor looking for an alternative, and came up with a winner: Venus Cafe, highly rated home of Malaysian cuisine.
Three people didn't make it that night, and I tried to replace them with "special guests" but only Five ended up coming.  Which was good, because she and I were there alone for an hour, appreciating the smell of the food we WEREN'T eating, our private party room and its really cool silverware.
Note the nice heat lamp that the owner brought into the party room to warm us up.  It felt SOOO nice, especially when Engrish and PE arrived from their two-hour bus ride.  Apparently the new bridge is out (again) and that's been responsible for the bad traffic, although part of their problem was that they got on the wrong bus.  Four buses run up into Zaisan, and they got on the ONE that doesn't take them where they need to go.  Oops.  Also - check out the badass bowling pin coat rack.
Forgive me for forgetting to take food pics when the food looked nice and untouched - I was so overwhelmed by its arrival that I just lost control.  The curry puffs, in front there, were the first thing Five and I ordered - five of those bad boys for 4000 tugrugs and every bite deeeeeee-lishous!  Venus Cafe advertises themselves as having the best roti in UB and I can't complain, but then, everything was great.
The fried rice was my favorite though.  That plate in the back was sambal chicken fried rice and it was AMAZING!  PE had the beef fried rice as a starter, and we all devoured it.  The noodles were good, but could NOT compare with the fried rice, especially not the sambal chicken.  It had this delectable spiciness that...there just aren't words for it.  We tried the murtabak, too (above, left, with the sauce in the bowl) and that was good, too, but once I'd tasted the sambal chicken fried rice there was no going back to it.
This one's specifically for Five - normally we are a child-free group, but since Fire Marshall and Domestic Goddess were so late (basketball on top of the traffic) and we were a smaller group, anyways, we told them to bring their kid while they were at it.  Their kid who said when he leaves Mongolia he will miss their driver (Enkhe), Five, and a new friend at school.  But not me.  Ungrateful snot-nosed brat!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

'Tis the Season: Grub Club Special Edition

Okay.  So you may have noticed I failed to deliver a food post this week.  That's because we went to Hazara restaurant, which, while delicious, is nothing I haven't been to before (over and over and often had delivered in fact)...so I forgot to take pictures.  So in lieu of that, let me report on our staff Christmas party at The Garden, in...Japan Town?...ie, probably the most awesome Christmas party.  Ever.
Because you know when you walk in and see one of these, it's gonna be a good, good night.  Actually, they didn't turn it on but by the end Five and I decided we didn't care and started dipping out of the bottom, and that was good enough! 
The food was served buffet style, and it was really good, but I didn't take any pictures of it.  I probably should have, but I was too busy eating at first, and then I was too busy taking pictures.  Because apparently we can't just have a staff dinner - oh no, we have to have entertainment.  I ended up being part of the entertainment, first by singing "The Christmas Song," and then by taking place in the drawing contest (in which a partner and I had to draw a Christmas tree, blindfolded.
Not bad, eh?  This was part of a 3 round Christmas contest: trivia, drawing, and dance.  Dance, you say?  Why yes.  Every table had to pick a couple to get up and participate in a 6 minute dance off.  Hilarity ensued...
Domestic Goddess, Fire Marshall, and Mad Science are all shakin' their groove thangs, as you can see.  Fearless Leader was dancing his blues away, as well, but you can't see him in this shot.  Never let it be said that I hang out with dull people.
Japan Town, I asked before.  I take it back.  Yes, it WAS in Japan Town, and this proves it.  I took the early bus home, but before I left I had the unenviable task of figuring out how the hell to flush the toilet.  Strangely enough, I never wrote much about toilets before Mongolia, and now I seem to do so about once a month.  Hmm.  Anyways, I'll leave you on that note.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Eskimo Tools, and Other Cold Things

Just how cold is it here in Ulaanbaatar?  It is so cold the Others north of the Wall would be shivering.  It is so cold that Faerie Queen of Winter Mab would be wearing earmuffs.  It is so cold that I am asking myself just how badly I want that coke.

In other words: cold.  And it's only going to get colder.

I've considered occasionally (that occasion being around the end of May or beginning of June) the stages of hot.  I have never before had reason to think about the stages of cold.  Most of my adult life, there has been just one coat for me, and I wore it no matter how cold it was.  When it got too cold for a jacket, I started wearing my leather trenchcoat, and that was that.  But living in the world's coldest capital has given me cause to cast my mind upon it at long last.  Let's see...

First, it got cold enough to snow.  This doesn't mean a lot here - we apparently have had snow up in the hills at least once a month for many, many moons - so let's change that to "it got cold enough to snow regularly."

Then it got too cold for a jacket.  I wore a sweater and a jacket for a while, but around the beginning of November I had to give in and start wearing my coat (the red cashmere one I had made in China - I decided my trenchcoat should be saved for winters one could reason with.  Also, I couldn't button it up, even if it still had its buttons).  Followed by my hat, and shortly thereafter I discovered I needed a cashmere scarf to match my coat (I no longer had a black pashmina since my old one had gotten pretty ratty, and hell, cashmere is cheap here).

After that, it got cold enough that the snow did not go away.  This has led to complications such as slick-as-snot surfaces (say THAT five times fast).  I have come to admire our faithful...groundskeepers?  Guards???  Whatever their exact job title is, the men about the school have the Sisyphean task of removing the snow from walking and driving surfaces.  If the regular snowfall is not removed, it gets packed underfoot and becomes a thick, hard layer that is slippery, dirty, and spit-encrusted, because that isn't going anywhere til spring, either. 

Your better businesses will keep their sidewalks clear, and that's a godsend, because when your feet slide right out from underneath you and you hit so hard it brings tears to your eyes, guess what?  You'll find out about the next level of cold.  Any moisture coming out of your eyes will freeze to your eyelashes.  If you have a sniffly nose (such as the one I've been using for the last five weeks), the hairs in your nose will freeze together.  Frost will form on the outside of the scarf that is covering your mouth and funneling your breath up to your eyebrows and eyelashes, which will frost over, too.

And very shortly thereafter, the skies will turn white.  Not "snow-is-coming" white, but "forecast-calls-for-smoke" white.  Because everyone and his brother are burning coal to heat their gers.  Actually, that's not entirely fair.  There are plenty of people living in apartments, which are heated with radiators, and plenty more living in the sewers, heated by the pipes that bring the hot water to our radiators.  But the pollution is gradually getting worse, and I know a day is coming where it won't make me any warmer to stand in a sunny window because the smoke will be blocking out the power of the sun.

And people wonder why I've been sick as long as I have.  The good news is, at this point, I doubt it can get any worse.  The better news is that by the time I come back in January to find out, two-and-a-half weeks of fresh, Iowa air should get me over my cold.  The best news of all?  When I go to Harbin in February, I might actually find the weather manageable, rather than being unable to cope with it and, thus, missing the snow and ice sculptures that are the whole point of going to Harbin.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Mongolian Moments

I don't have anything better to write about this week (that I'm not saving for later, anyways), so I thought I'd share some Mongolian moments with you.  We've got two weeks (ten school days) left til Christmas, and even though the year has flown by thus far, it seems like a long time til then. 
For starters, a bunch of us went out for Chinese last Friday night.  It is kind of comforting to know that Chinglish is Chinglish, even in Mongolia.  I had to take lots of pictures of the menu because there were SO many mistakes, and I've kind of gotten used to having a menu that is mostly translated correctly. 
After the first couple of dishes came out, we lost power.  Strangely enough, it was just the block of shops we were in - across the street and in the apartments behind us, the lights were still on.  Even stranger, they kept serving us our food.  Maybe this happens often enough that they are prepared to carry on, with or without lights.
And then there's the bus after school.  Mostly, if we want to go in on a weeknight, we just take the 4:30 school bus, but a couple of times now, time has been of the essence, and I've taken one of the public buses instead.  The time before I didn't have my camera, and this time wasn't nearly as crowded, but there's a university up on the hill with us, which lets out at about the same time we do, so you start feeling like a sardine after the second or third stop.
And finally, there's the first of the month.  Some of my fellow volunteers were wanting a bottle of wine last night, and were about to go looking for it after coming back from the orphanage, but then we remembered it was the first of the month.  In an attempt to ease the use of alcohol, nobody (shops, restaurants, or bars) can sell booze on the first of each month.  I've heard they want to extend this to other days, possibly by district, but for now, it's only on the first of the month that the booze section is roped off. 

What else can I tell you?  It's cold and I fell down for the first time in a long, long time yesterday, due to the fact that the bank I went into didn't mop down their stairs with any regularity.  I have some nasty bruises and a shoulder that hurts from catching myself, but it could have been worse.  Anyways, stay warm...you'll probably be warmer than me regardless of what you do!