Sunday, December 29, 2013

You Can't Go Home Again

One of the biggest drawbacks of being a full-time international bonne vivante is the old idiom originally by Thomas Wolfe about how you can't go home again.  Things change.  People change, and because you are no longer part of the shared experience, you see everything differently than you would if you'd been part of it the whole time.  Just for example, you facebook chat with your sister one morning and discover she's become a breast-feeding nazi, though, thankfully, not one of the outspoken ones who have to post about it all the time (kidding, Babe!)  Seriously, though, things do change, but thankfully, coming from the Midwest, there are some things you can rely on.
Gossip, for starters.  One of the great things about going out with my mom and her friends is the fact that they have all sorts of juicy tidbits.  Driving to their Christmas party with them, I learned that while the new renter of one storefront on Glenwood's classic smalltown square was renovating, they investigated the source of some leaking fluid and found a dead body.  The renter of the upstairs apartment had died, and their rotting corpse was going to cost someone a pretty penny to hire a "cleaner" (which makes me wonder...is a legal cleaner cheaper than a shady one???)  This led to a lengthy discussion about the types of people that rent apartments on the square.  Personally, I would think this could be prime real estate, but apparently most of them are not rented by upstanding citizens.  Pity.

The Midwest is also a great place to get good "quotes."  I always get one ignorant comment while I'm home.

"Shanghai, huh?  Bet you're glad to be back in the land of air conditioning and flush toilets."
"China?  But you don't look like a native."
"Mongolia?  Where's that?"  My response was north of China.  "Okay, well, where's that?"  I had a hard time keeping a straight face as I said, "China?  You know, like 'Made in China'?"
"Well, what color are them Mongolians?"

So far the best quote I've gotten this trip was while we were talking about the gas prices, and I was asked, "Well, what about Mongolia?  Or do they drive there?"  I couldn't help myself and said, "No, we all ride horses."  My mom thought he was trolling me, but I'm not so sure.

Most of my best quotes come from church members, which is a little sad considering that we're a big missionary church.  This year I was in a mood though, and I'm pretty sure the Holy Ghost was busy letting people know that they might want to keep their well-meaning friendliness to themselves this time.  I've been a member of the Mormon Church for nearly seventeen years now, and while I wouldn't give it up or trade it for anything, there are definitely parts of being Mormon that suck.  Being a teacher who can't drink wine while she grades papers, there's one thing (deep down, I think it might have more health benefits than coke and make my students' writing less painful to read).  Even worse?  Being single at the age of 34 in a church that believes in waiting til marriage.  But the absolute worst thing about being Mormon?  The melody they sing for "Away In A Manger."  I grew up with the real melody of this carol, and no matter how many times my friends who were born in the church try to tell me otherwise, this bastardized melody I am subjected to repeatedly in the weeks leading up to Christmas is simply WRONG.  This year I actually got lucky, though - two Sundays back the Mongolians hadn't started singing Christmas carols and last Sunday was in transit.  And this Sunday?  There were lots and lots of songs in the program, but except for a quick rendition in the prelude music, this monstrosity was not to be found.  IT WAS A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE!

Speaking of which...Happy Holiday, people.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Grub Club: Peeps Edition

Last year, I mentioned that my mom and her friends, known collectively as "the Peeps," have their own version of Grub Club - the Lunch Bunch.  It's more about getting together to gossip and eat than to gossip and try new restaurants (a subtle but important difference), but it still makes me happy to know that we're sorta doing the same thing.

Anyways, they meet up on Tuesdays, and this year I made it back for their special Christmas edition.  Every year, they go to a place in Bellevue, Nebraska, called the Summer Kitchen and exchange gifts.  It's no Butterfinger Pancakes (which I'm hoping to tell you about after the return portion of my trip to Korea), but after nearly deciding to get pancakes anyways, I went for their Santa Fe omelette, which was served with hash browns.  The omelette was delicious, and although I would have liked the hash browns to have more flavor, they were sufficiently un-potato like to be edible.
Babysister's mother-in-law had an omelette, too, but hers came with fruit.  What kind of horrible idea is it to eat fruit at breakfast?  Seriously - I've tried eating fruit for breakfast before - it seems like it would be perfect, but I'm always starving again an hour later.
And my mom went for the scrambled eggs and ham (I would not, could not, in a car, I would not, could not near or far!) and cinnamon roll.  I tried a bite of the cinnamon roll, but was not tempted in the least - having a Cinnabon in UB makes me impervious to at least that stateside temptation.

After breakfast came the gifts.  Some were crafty.  Some were covered in shit tons of glitter (a fact that I decided I could use to nefarious purposes after the fact by telling my mom's friends they had "something on your face" and then rubbing a glitter covered finger on their cheeks).  My mom's gift shows that she has the same propensity for evilness that I do, which is kind of alarming in spite of the fact that it is probably where I get it from.  She bought her friends a fan (for their hot flashes), a copy of "Magic Mike," and a tube of lube, among other things.  The Santa headbands they're wearing were also part of their gift.  I'm just glad she didn't buy them all the Fifty Shades trilogy, but then, they've all read it already.  Even my mom, which is the most disturbing thing of all.
Breakfast was followed by a movie - "The Delivery Man," which was a lot better than I was afraid of (I thought it was going to be one of those dumb-funny movies and was much more inclined to watch "The Hobbit," myself, but it turned out to be kind of sweet), and some shopping.  I'm glad that my mom has her Peeps.  Friends make a huge difference in how tenable it is to live in small-town Iowa, especially when they come laden with gossip (ask me about the fluids that were leaking down the wall in a space on the square that's being converted to a restaurant...I dare you).

Monday, December 16, 2013

Super Duper List Writing

So, I entered this contest on Expats Blog, one of the sites that Defying Gravity is listed on, because publicity and the chance to win money and/or bragging rights is nice.  My mission, should I choose to accept it - and I obviously did - was to write a "Top List" about Mongolia.  But since I am formerly a teacher of small children (and because I have to do something a little more unique than "Top Ten Bestest Things about Mongolia EVAH!!!") I put it in the form of those alphabet books we used to sell at Barnes and Noble (H is for Hawkeye: An Iowa Alphabet).  So, with that, I hereby invite you to read "N is for Nomads."  If you REALLY REALLY love me, you can do me a favor and leave a thoughtful comment, or share it on whatever social media you use.  If love won't do it for you, I'll be willing to bribe you with postcards, my free tour guide services/relocation expertise in the event you come to Mongolia, and/or slightly used Lonely Planet guides.

What are you waiting for???  Click the link already!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Grub Club: Los Angeles


The time has finally come for one of our two newest members to make a pick for Grub Club, so Champ stepped up.  She had lofty aspirations of stealing the top score, a delirium possibly brought on by the food poisoning she seemed to have gotten at Caucasia, which is still in second place.  However, I wasn't too worried.  See, I've been to Los Angeles, early in my time in UB, and although they have remodeled, it seemed like the same old place with new lights and fixtures.

Anywho.  Geek got things started with this taco soup.  It was okay, but what she was really impressed with was her drink.  It was...well, I don't know what it was.  It was supposed to have both coffee liqueur and Irish creme in it, but she asked them to leave out the coffee in exchange for more Bailey's, and ended up falling in love.
In a continuing search to find a halfway decent Caesar in UB, I ordered exactly that.  It had all the right parts, but was missing the zing that I associate with Caesar dressing.  Maybe next time.  I actually did NOT get a coke this week, but instead ordered what they called a "Cherry Coco," which was a smoothie-ish drink without (of course) alcohol.  For my main dish, I had a penne alfredo sort of dish.  Except, they served it with spaghetti (blech!) instead of penne, because they ran out, but didn't bother to ask me if that was okay, so that took my ratings down a notch.

What I end up taking pictures of depends a lot on by whom I am sitting.  This week it was Geek.  She also had chicken burritos.  I've more or less given up on Mexican food here, unless I made it myself or Mexikhan finally starts serving dishes with tortillas, so I don't imagine it was too fantastic, especially since they served it with fries instead of tortilla chips.  What a waste.  However, it was, at least, nice and juicy, so it could definitely have been worse.

Geek is just about as fat as a chopstick, and if you wonder where she puts all the food she orders, the answer is "In a take-out box for the next day's lunch and/or supper."  Except when you have leftover soup, you can't put it in a box.  I've seen some pretty genius take-out solutions, but I think tonight's took the cake:

Yes, that IS an empty jar, filled with soup.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Extended Family

This fall I read a blog post by John Bocskay that a friend had shared on Facebook.  It was about how you can choose your family but not your friends.  If you're thinking this is one of those times where I purposely and also idiotically screw up an idiom to be funny, you're actually wrong.  Not only because it wasn't me changing the idiom, but because it's not idiotic in this case: if you've lived overseas, you know that you don't always get to choose with whom you will be friends.  The longer I've been doing this, the more choosy I get about who I will hang out with, and luckily I've managed to land places for a while now that had enough of a pool of foreigners to allow this luxury.  I also get what he's saying about choosing your family, but ever since I first read his post, I've been thinking about it from another angle.
See, living overseas has seen me "adopting" a lot of family members.  It's not like this is a new thing; my high school friend's mom was kind of the original adopted family member, and I even mentioned my adopted Cuban-Saudi daughter about a month ago.  Lately (ie, in my last two contracts) it's gotten a little out of control, though.  Before it was always kind of a private joke - now the whole school gets involved.  It started with my new sister.  When I was working in Shanghai, our students were constantly mixing JoAnn and I up, and somewhere along the way one of them came up with the idea that we were sisters...we look alike, don't we?  To their credit, we were together a lot - A LOT - and we are both fun specialist teachers, and tall.  To our discredit, we totally ran with it, because it was just too much fun not to.
This time around, here in Mongolia, it is probably my fault.  I was not very creative last Halloween, and I put on some frumpy clothes and a (really rubbish) British accent, made myself a magic wand out of construction paper, and told the kids I was Mrs. Weasley.  And asked them if they'd seen my son, Ron.  And it worked, because I just so happened to have a really wonderful 6th grade student with ginger hair, and since he has such an AMAZING sense of humor, and friends who felt like playing along, we totally ran with it, too...to the point where his classmates - my students - were completely confused.
It didn't help any that the 8th graders - completely independently - came to the conclusion that since his older brother and I had the same sense of humor, he must be my son (they also decided that I was fighting to the death with Geek and last year's math teacher for the affections of the science teacher, but we'll ignore that one.  Kids!)  He was in my homeroom class, and I was a little worried that their actual parents would think this was totally weird and inappropriate, so I was relieved when their mom walked into my classroom for conferences last fall and made a joke about me being their "other mother."  They grow up so fast!  My older "son" is a freshman now, and doesn't find as much humor in it, but "Ron" still says, "Hi, Mom," when he sees me in the halls, and his little sister even joined in when I saw them leaving the school several weeks back.

Why do I keep this going, besides the obvious reason that it cracks me up?  Because these people are awesome.  Don't get me wrong, I love my actual sister to death, and wouldn't trade her for the world.  And if I ever get around to having kids in the distant future, they have at least a 50% chance of being totally kickass, because, let's face it, I am.  But by virtue of living in these places together, sharing this experience, there's something that bonds us together that I love, something above the fact that it's flattering that JoAnn is smart, talented, and a helluva looker, or that my boys are bright and funny (and will someday be sarcastic, if they keep at it), that makes me feel honored that people might think we're related.

Honestly, it's probably down to the fact that all us white folk look alike, but hell, I'll take it anyways.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Grub Club: Namaste

My pre-New Year's resolution is to get my blogging back on track, so I'm starting tonight.  Blondie made her third pick this week, and after a heated after-midnight discussion with Champ and Wallflower (tentative nickname there) last Saturday, she went with the Flower Hotel location of Namaste.  There's another one near the top of the loop of Baga Toiruu, but enough people had been there that she went with this secondary location.
You can't have Indian without starters.  It's like a universal law, one that Newton somehow missed.  Since Blondie, Squeaker, Engrish and I got there early, we went ahead and had papdi chaat, which was one of Five's most favorite things (the holidays are upon us, and while I've got some kickass friends this year, I miss Five...and Domestic Goddess...and Lit......)  It looks like a big hot mess when it comes out (not pictured - it's tandoori chicken above), but this delicacy of chickpeas and a whole shload of sauces on...Indian chip thingies (I am actually not sure what to call them, obviously)...is a little crunchy and has a nice kick on it's tail end.
Geek always gets veggie pakora.  I'm not sure why you would want to go and ruin something healthy like veggies by deep frying it, but that seems to be her thing, in spite of being built like a pair of chopsticks.  Blondie and I have more sense - we went for the samosas.  Also basically fried vegetables, but the potatoes inside samosas aren't that healthy in the first place.
Squeaker went for - what was this, anyways?  Chicken pakora?  Let's call it popcorn chicken, because it was, more or less.  Except it was spicier, and that always gains points in my book.
Blondie and Squeaker also went for the biryani, although it was really for tomorrow's lunch, and they seemed pretty satisfied with it.  Everyone ordered a curry, too, and I was particularly happy with my chicken kadhai.  Blondie and I argued over whether her butter chicken or my kadhai was better, but I stand by my assertion that no dish without bell peppers can beat one WITH them.  She did garner a lot of 10's with her choice, but not enough to beat Khajuraho, so I remain the winner of Grub Club.  Go me.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Grub Club: Silk Road

I've been in love with the idea of the Silk Road since I fell in love with Led Zepplin's song, "Kashmir," which is about an epic journey along the medieval trade route.  One day, I hope to find a man crazy enough to think that traveling it across Central Asia, starting in Xinjiang province is a good idea; if I do, I'm going to marry him!  Given all that, the fact that there's a restaurant in town called Silk Road which has been intriguing me basically since we founded Grub Club should come as no surprise, although the fact that until Wednesday night I still hadn't been there might.
I will be forever grateful to Geek for finally letting me scratch this culinary itch.  (WHY hadn't I ever gone?  Too many other good things to eat, and the fear that it wouldn't be as amazing as I was hoping).  I had envisioned a restaurant that had dishes from all over Central Asia and China.  I had seen peeks of maps and photos of China on my way past it up the stairs to Veranda, so I didn't think I was too far off.  However, I was wrong.  Mostly, their menu was uninspiring.  There were some nice salads, and I tried their "Caesar," which really had nothing to do with a Caesar, but wasn't bad, for all that.
Squeaker went for a chicken dish which was beautifully presented, but lacking the richness of flavors I was imagining.  Geek and Engrish went for the chicken tacos, which were probably the best thing on the menu.  I took a nibble of the meat, which earned me a reproving glare from Geek, who still hasn't forgiven me for eating her tacos at The Grill Place.
One part of their menu that did seem to sit with their name was the pasta.  I had the spaghetti carbonara, which had a Cindy Lou Who breadstick sticking out of it.  I don't like spaghetti, really, but they didn't have other pasta choices, and if I didn't like the pasta itself, the carbonara was pretty tasty.  Silk Road is next to the Choijin Lama temple.  Go right at Joy Massage on Chinggis Avenue and take your next right; it's right there.  And you should stop in and buy a bag of those yummy caramel bon-bon Russian chocolate things at the shop you pass on the way, because they're in and they're to die for, although for once I actually passed on them, because I'm being good these days.
On a different but related note, a few weeks back I told you that Sho was apparently closed.  Well, today during my Sunday school lesson I get a message from Engrish telling me that not only have they reopened under new management, but they've got a 25% off promotion running today.  I'm probably going to a special kind of Mormon hell for selling my soul for sushi, but that was what I was supposed to do on my birthday (a generally all-around sucky day, except for a very long talk with a friend from my Korea days and a short one with my Dark Lord and Master), so I declared this my unbirthday and met Engrish there for a late lunch.  After devouring four rolls between the two of us, we decided some dessert crepes across the street at Triskell were called for, and since she was going to go get tickets for the Ice Circus for next week, I decided I'd walk with her.  We passed the post office, which had an intriguing banner on it, that she translated as a one-off performance at the circus today by my FAVORITE performer, which we decided we'd go to, and it was probably the best show I've seen there so far.  It was really interpretive, and seemed to be using the theme of Mongolian history, and they had Altan Urag playing for them.  They even used fire, and I'm not even referring to the hot star of the show - there were fire-eaters!  It was a fantastic afternoon....just don't tell my Sunday school class it was totally worth it.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fashionably Late

So Blondie has this theory about Coach.  He says he hates all sorts of things...cheesy people, for example, or our favorite place to buy imports, the ironically named Good Price.  However, upon closer inspection, he doesn't really hate those things (because he sticks up for one particularly cheesy coworker, telling her what a great guy he is, and ends up going to Good Price a LOT).  I'm telling you this in spite of the fact that I don't want you to start thinking this about me.  See, I spent a lot of time whining about how much I hated fashion this spring.  Ugh - fashion!  Partially I hate it on principle - the idea that you have to keep up with the Joneses in your clothes?  Bitch, please.  My philosophy is, and always has been, to wear what makes you look good and feel comfortable.

However, I have been known to watch America's Next Top Model.  You know, when all the hip young hagwon teachers are watching it, it's difficult to not give in to peer pressure.  And I can't deny that it was fascinating.  Strictly because I'm an art teacher and I was interested in the artistic aspects of it, of course...not because I got into the dramas between all the girls, no no no.  Actually, I'm being serious on that account - I was dying at the time for lack of artistic stimulation, besides which, c'mon.  I was teaching Korean kindergarteners back then; what did the theatrics of a bunch of glorified Barbie dolls have on my darlings and their impressions of the Exorcist???

(And - ahem - it's possible that for about five minutes in fourth grade I wanted to be a model. But anyways.)

However, my interest or lack thereof in fashion aside, I found myself in charge of the school's Junk to Punk fashion show last spring.  I kicked against the pricks for the entire lead-up to it.  I "hate" fashion.  I HATE organizing things.  This was not a happy time for me.  I may have yelled at my favorite class a week before it happened.  And then it was over, and I found myself full of all sorts of ideas on how I was going to do it this year.  And when this year rolled around, and I pretty much could have gotten away with killing it, I didn't.  So you may have to listen to me bitch about it in another five months.

This long-winded explanation is intended to tell you why, in spite of it being Sunday and me being debilitatingly sick, I found myself catching a cab with Geek into the Chinggis Hotel on Sunday evening.  This spring I learned about a number of fashion shows that take place in UB over the winter, and I was determined that I'd make it to one of them...it was sure to give me ideas for my own fashion show, right???  If I got to see some super weird as outfits, well, hey - Bonus!  And from the first model to step out on the runway (top photo), that bonus was paid.  The few scantily clad male...glove models (I finally figured out the first collection was both shoes AND gloves, Geek!)...were just icing on the cake.
However, the slightly bizarre if totally enjoyable start progressed to B. Erdenechimeg's collection of bags and shoes that I dig even more now that I've seen the petroglyphs out in Bayan-Olgii.  The simple, abstract figures of this collection definitely called to mind the rock drawings we saw back in October.  Not only did I love the design, the materials and colors were gorgeous.
I even liked the styling on the models.  They were wearing frocks that could have fit two of them inside, but it was a nice, neutral backdrop that didn't detract from the accessories, and I'm guessing it's not easy to do a fashion show for accessories and keep people looking from being caught up in the clothing.  I liked the masks a lot of the models had as well.  They continued the theme with the petroglyphs and were made of felt.  I found myself wondering if I could figure out how to make one.

Sunday's show ended around 8:50 which put us home well before our teacher bedtimes, and since the Nyquil Five left me did such a fantastic job of sending me off to sleep I was feeling much improved on Monday.  As there was one more show, we decided we'd go again.  Shoes, purses, and gloves are all well and good, but we thought we'd enjoy seeing E. Enkhchimeg's Spring and Summer collection even more.  We even managed to convince Engrish to blow off whatever boring thing she would otherwise have been doing (such as watching Downton Abbey without me), and come with us.  This evening, alas, did not go as smoothly as the night before.  In fact, Geek might have seen me having a certifiable Ugly American moment, after every single damn decision I made turned out to be a bad one (try to bypass traffic?  HERE'S SOME MORE TRAFFIC!  Decide it's going to be faster to walk?  J/K - NO MORE TRAFFIC!!! U MAD?????)  After a fantastic dinner at Hazara (which I can't link you to because it's the one grub club I didn't write about), which fortunately Engrish was able to order for us, since she walked over from her posh downtown digs, we made it to the show, where we were relegated to the second row.  And then waited.  And waited.  And waited, until this lady came out and opened the show mere moments before Sunday night's finished.  Apparently we were waiting for some VIP jackass.
She was singing.  The song was almost over before Geek figured out that it was the piece the blue alien opera singer performs in the Fifth Element.  I was too busy looking at the monstrosity of a dress she was wearing to wonder what it was she was singing.  I hope that was a gratuity.  Actually, no.  I hope she was paid extra to wear that, because DAAAYUM!  (Ugh.  I'm starting to sound like my students.  Stop me by any necessary means if I crack out the YOLO's!)

Anyways, here are a few highlights:
Off to a classy start....
The peplum has made it to Mongolia.
Forgive me a bad pun...THE END.

Eventually, UB Fashion Week's final show did come to an end, and the designer came out to receive our accolades.  How can you tell she's the designer?  The fact that she's the better part of a foot shorter than everyone else is a pretty good sign (also: people gave her flowers).  Her shoes had heels as tall as the models but she was STILL that much shorter.  After they all had their last catwalk, the audience came up and took photos with the models.  Engrish and I found ourselves thinking the same thing...NOT FOR ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD!  Engrish had helped herself to one of the glasses of champagne that were being served, but she was going to need a lot more booze than that.  After all, gorgeous white women such as Domestic Goddess are one thing.  Being in a photo with a Mongolian model?  Not just no - Hell, no.  Geek, meanwhile was trying to figure out how to get backstage and steal a purple dress that had been modeled earlier.  Probably Engrish and I could have helped her with that by creating a diversion, but she would have needed more champagne for that, as well.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Grub Club: Korchma? Again???

So if you feel like you've got déjà vu all over again as you're reading this post, don't feel bad.  You've read about Korchma before.  It was Five's last pick last year, before she decided she needed to save her money for saintly things like volunteering in Peru and Bhutan.  Prior to walking into the restaurant on Wednesday, neither me, Geek, or Engrish (who chose it) knew that the restaurant we were going to was, in fact, essentially Korchma in a different location.  But the decor and the menu were a pretty quick giveaway.
You might be surprised how different an experience the same restaurant can be.  They gave us a freebie starter here!  Nevermind the fact that it was slices of a fairly hard bread with mustard and slices of pork fat...  At first Champ (one of our two recent inductees) was the only one who would try it, but then Engrish decided to man up, and I figured if SHE could stomach it, so could I.  (Friendly advice: mustard and salt makes anything palatable).
We ordered a few other starters.  I hate potatoes, as you know if you've been reading my blog for any length of time, but I enjoyed their latkes (main rule of potatoes for Becky the Great: make them cease to resemble potatoes.  Done and done).  This was one of Geek's picks.  I have no idea what it actually was.  Looks like bacon, doesn't it, but it had a fair amount of sweetness to it, and was stuffed with what everyone kept calling coleslaw, but was actually cheddar cheese and - tomatoes? - in sour cream?  Whatever it was, it was pretty tasty.
Geek also got the cabbage rolls.  I didn't try them - maybe next time.  This time I went for the chicken Kiev, which is exactly the same thing I got when Five took us to Korchma, so I'm not including a picture of it.  It was still about the most delectable thing on the table, as far as I'm concerned.
Engrish and Squeaker (I think) both went for the sausage.  Do I have to call it kielbasa?  I feel like I should, but I'm not sure if that's the right name for Ukrainian sausage.  It looked every bit as greasy as you'd expect Ukrainian food to look, but they sure enjoyed it.
Finally, we have Geek's fried potatoes.  Except for the huge chunks of lard, they reminded me of the potatoes Vasilis' mother fried when I visited Bronte in Greece two trips back, so maybe I had to sneak one off her plate, and it was gorgeous.  Is it possible that I'm growing up and starting to accept potatoes as part of my diet????

Don't count on it.

This Korchma is on the north-east corner of Beijing Street and Tokyo Street, and since that explanation would pretty much ensure Blondie and people like her who don't know their cardinal directions never found their way back, it's catty-corner from the Chinggis Hotel.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

What I've Been Up To

If you haven't noticed, I haven't been as focused on my blog over the last few months as I was during most of the last year.  Which is not to excuse myself for late posts or whatever, I just haven't been doing that much to write about.  It's not Mongolia's fault, and it's not really mine, either.  It's just life.  I feel damn lucky to have a life as interesting as I do...but sometimes what I'm doing is just not good blog material.
For example, I've been having a helluva good time with my new friends...doing things my old friends and I did last year that I've already written about.  New people make all sorts of things new and exciting all over again.  Quiz night, for example.  We've been doing the Hennessy's quiz off and on over the last year, but only managed to take the first place prize again last Saturday.  (There should be a special prize for the most second place wins, because we would get that.  Alas, there is not.)
I'm also spending a lot more time trying to be what I consider a better teacher.  Teaching art is tricky.  You want your students to enjoy class, to be challenged, to be engaged, to learn, and to make things they'll want to keep forever.  I don't consider myself to be a tough teacher, and sometimes I feel like I'd be a "good" teacher if I were.  But would that make my students learn more, make me more effective?  I don't think so.  Instead, I'm trying to focus on making my time with them more engaging, and to be a better advocate for them, showcasing their talents and achievements more.  To that end, I went looking for the ceramics studio in town, and have spent a lot of time researching galleries that are around, in hopes we can put on a big junior/senior art exhibit this year.  It's not very exciting, legwork, and it doesn't make good blogs, but it's important.
I've also been reinventing Apples to Apples.  If you've never played it before, it's hilarious and a ton of fun.  You have green describing cards and red noun/verb cards from which you must pick the most appropriate comparison.  Well, toward the end of last year, somebody decided that we should make a special edition of Apples to Apples with cards relating to Mongolia and our school (I like to call it Apples for the Teacher).  We made it up on the penultimate day of school (the students were gone and the teachers had nothing to do) and played it that night at dinner.  It was so fantastic that this year I went all out and made templates on MS Publisher, typed the words into them, and printed them in color.  If you want to try your hand at your own edition of Apples, here are my templates.  But do yourself (and me - copyright infringement was SO not intended, Mattel!) a favor and buy the actual game first.  It will help you with your brainstorming and give you an edition to play with people who either won't get it or will be offended by your snarkiness.
Green Apples Template
Red Apples Template

Finally, forgive me for using a phrase as hackneyed as this, but I've been working on myself.  Or rather, failing to get back on the wagon of working on myself.  About a year ago I determined that I needed to cultivate some improved habits.  I did exactly that, but around summertime I kinda fell off the wagon, with the exception of my morning constitutional (a phrase which, in this instance, refers to a walk, not to a bowel movement!) which I've been neglecting for the last three weeks in the interests of my feet.  Part of this campaign was to get back some of the self-confidence I lost during my association with Socrates.  And to that end, in May I started taking a selfie every day (when I remembered), so that I would see myself as I actually was, the good and the bad.  I determined I would do this for 100 days, and although it took longer than 100 calendar days to complete it (thanks to my lack of memory at times), eventually I did.  I'm still not the most self-assured person on the planet, but it's helped.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Grub Club: Miko

I never liked sushi.  The all-you-can-eat teppanyaki places in Shanghai were like my gateway drug in regards to raw fish, but it wasn't until we went to Sho this spring that I could say that I actually liked it. 
I went back to Sho.  A lot.  And it wasn't just for their hot sushi chef.  Thus you might be able to imagine my horror when I tried to go there on my very lonely birthday and they were closed.  I was even more horrified when they were closed the next time I tried to go there.  I haven't been back, but I'm working under the assumption that Sho is one more page in the history of restaurants in UB.  :-(  Of course there are a couple of other places in town, but I loved the selection at Sho, and none of the other places I'd been had so many different rolls with so many things in them.

That changed last night.  Word on the UB Foodies street was that Miko sushi, newly reopened just south of the circus, was amazing, and I decided I needed to try it.  Three of us now have worked in Japan, so that was a little nerve-wracking (do other people feel nervous taking me to Korean places???  They should!) but it was well-received.  Engrish, who is FINALLY off her cabbage soup cleanse (blech!) started with the salad at the top, which was tasty and refreshing.  Geek, who-hates-anything-from-the-ocean-and-yes-I-knew-that-going-into-it-but-she-has-managed-to-cope-with-sushi-before-hell-she-was-the-one-who-picked-Sho (deep breath), went for the tempura veggies and some sort of chicken.  The chicken wasn't that great - our former Japanese residents couldn't remember what it was, and that's never a good sign - but that's what happens sometimes when you go for the less obvious choice.
We passed around a couple of orders of gyoza, Japanese pan-fried dumplings.  These are something Engrish, Blondie, and I routinely get at our ramen joint after our Tuesday night massages.  The ones at Miko were pretty tasty, although I think I still prefer Oishi Ramen's.
But of COURSE, the main event was the sushi, which apparently comes served on a boat and/or a bridge when you order enough of it.  I ended up having two rolls - Miko's UB roll (fried with cream cheese and salmon) and their Moscow (salmon, crab...uh....some other stuff....)  Originally I only ordered the UB roll, because I wasn't sure what else I would like (and I'd just gobbled up a Cinnabon on my way over from Good Price, where they are now being sold), but then I tried Engrish's Moscow and it was so scrumptious that I decided I should have one, too.  I'm pretty sure that sushi is healthy enough for you that you can pig out on it and not need to feel too guilty.  We were all feeling pleasantly stuffed when the sushi chef brought out one more roll - I want to call it a rainbow roll, but that may just be because I've done a lot of printmaking lately - and apologized while informing us they needed our table at 7:30.  We happily gobbled it up and paid our bill.

Do I still miss Sho?  Absolutely.  Their salmon citrus was the stuff of my new sushi dreams.  Also, they had a spicy one, I think they called it a Mexicana or something, with a little tempuraed fish inside, not to mention their hot sushi chef.  But at least I now have a place to go when the sushi cravings I never thought I'd have hit.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Winter in Summer

It's pretty pathetic, but I don't have much new to write about.  Saturday was our orphanage day followed by a winning quiz night at Hennessy's and Sunday was church, where I have a new (old) calling - primary teacher.  Which is kind of exhausting, teaching seven days a week, but I need the church, and pretty much all the time I like Mormon kids better than their parents, so it works.  (Why do I like Mormon kids better than their parents?  I'm pretty sure pitying me for being 34 and single has never crossed their minds.  Maybe it's never crossed their parents' minds, either, but I have preconceived notions, and perhaps one of these days I'll get over them, but for now, I'm still bad attitude girl).  One of these days perhaps I'll also do something new and exciting to write about here in UB, but for now, you're getting summer's leftovers.
I should know myself better than to think playing tour guide to a perfect stranger is a good idea, but back in June, when this chick in Korea emailed me to see if I wanted to show her around at Naadam, I was staring down the barrel of three weeks with no one to keep me company other than my own tour guides in Tibet and Bhutan, so I agreed.  I really liked and respected the ladies who showed me around on my vacation, and even though they had a nice paycheck to make putting up with me a little easier, after trying it myself, I have to respect them even more.  Of course, I was not getting paid, but being around a person ALL THE TIME and having to answer inane questions wouldn't have been much easier if I were.
Anyways.  After sitting out in the sun at the Central Stadium for long enough and having a couple of khuushuur, my new best buddy and I were ready to stretch our legs.  I suggested checking out the Winter Palace, based on the fact that it was close and I'd never been there, despite driving past it twice a day nearly every day.  Rumor amongst my colleagues last year had it that the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan was the first two-story building in Mongolia.  After being to Kharkhorin last fall and reading about the original capital at the museum, I have my doubts, but it's a nice story, and the palace really is a nice place to have a nose around.

My new bestie had all sorts of questions about the place, most of which I couldn't answer, although a few I DID know, thanks to spending the previous three weeks in the Himalayas.  She busily snapped pictures, scoffing at the same time over a friend who had a "fancy camera like" mine, who was always stopping to take photos of things.  She probably thought I was crazy taking photos of the flowers, but hey, at least my photos weren't all grainy because of sand or dust that got in my camera.

The last building we came to was the big event, although it was kind of anticlimatic.  There are all sorts of stuffed animals in this portion of the museum, but the part that I thought was amazing was the leopard-skin ger that someone important had once given to the Bogd Khan.  There are so many jokes to be made about it that I don't even know where to start, and I'm not even going to try.  But if you come to Mongolia, you should check it out, especially because one of the things I realized while I was playing tour guide is that there just isn't that much to see in Ulaanbaatar if you're only going to be there for three days.  Don't get me wrong, I love Mongolia, but we're not exactly spoiled for choice when it comes to pastimes in UB.  It requires a little more creativity sometimes, and that's a GOOD thing, as I might tell you about soon if you're lucky.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Grub Club: The Ivy (Finally!)

This week was the first time we had a repeat experience in grub club.  Engrish, Geek, and I decided, before even inviting anyone to join us, that it would be okay if one of our newbies chose a restaurant to which we'd already been, and I'm glad that The Ivy was our déjà vu.  See, last year I only missed one grub club, and that was when I was cheating on them with Five, Fire Marshall, and Domestic Goddess (she was making tacos!  How was I supposed to say, "No, I already have dinner plans"?), before they were invited to join us.  It got good reviews, but I never really cared enough to check it out on my own.
Well, luckily for me, Blondie decided she would, and as a result, she brought us along this Wednesday.  Engrish - who is doing a cleanse - pretended she was satisfied with her green salad, which was the same thing I started with, except hers didn't have dressing and was NOT followed by a scrumptious pasta dish.  The greens were fresh and the dressing was light - it was fantastic.
Blondie, on the other hand, went for the Ivy salad (I think it was the Ivy, anyways).  When she's not ordering a sandwich, she tends to go for a salad, and it was her delicious salad here a couple weeks back that made her decide to drag us along.  Thank goodness for salads!
This week we invited a couple more of the newbies along.  Our decision is still pending so I haven't given them call signs (ie, I haven't figured out what to call them, since I've already used PE and Lit), but one of them went for a pizza, which looked pretty incredible, while the other...
...went for the Ivy pasta, along with Geek.  Besides some luscious beef, spinach noodles, and parmesan, it had a bit of a spicy kick on the end, and since spicy stuff is my favorite stuff in the world, I was worried I'd chosen the wrong main course AGAIN.
Then my pasta arrived.  I ordered the garganelli, which had a creamy sauce with Italian sausage and mushrooms.  It. Was.  Amazing.  Each bite was better than the last, and it was probably only because I was on my bestest behavior in front of our possible inductees that I actually shared a bite with everyone (because you know how I can be).  It was so delicious and filling that I wasn't even that tempted by dessert, even though their chocolate fondant cake and cheesecake both sounded delicious.

The Ivy is about a half block west of the Circus on Seoul Street on the south side of the street, above the Ti Amo.  It's the same building as the Golomt Bank.  It's a pretty swank place, but we went in our jeans anyways, because we fly in the face of convention, and because dress codes are made for places besides Ulaanbaatar.