Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Grub Club: American Burgers & Fries

Lit was supposed to be our Alpha tonight, but Fire Marshall usurped the honor.  Why?  Well, Domestic Goddess was out of town, and "that means it is my turn to 'cook.'  (Their spawn) knows that means days of leftover pizza."  Which is apparently one of the things his choice serves, although from the name American Burgers & Fries you wouldn't guess it.
Well, their milkshake brings all the teachers to the yard, and sadly enough, I'd felt a little peckish and already had one last night before dinner at Millie's.  To which I was like, "It's better than yours."  Damn right, AB&F's was better than theirs.  I know, because I saw the one PE ordered and I decided that I needed to try it.  Heck, I'd finished my one allotted soda for the night - I had to drink something.
Being in a place famous for their burgers and fries, we almost all had to try them.  I was not unduly impressed.  The meat was dry and the bun was cold AND dry.  This may have been my fault, because I guess you can specify how you want your burger done - default option being VERY well done.  The fries were really nice, though, and the onion rings, which Engrish ordered, weren't bad.
Mad Science went in for the pizza, which she could NOT, of course, finish.  When she asked for a box, they brought her a paper bag.  Guess it could be worse - it gets the job done, right?  Anyways, it was a far cry from my favorite burger joint in Shanghai, Johnny Moo (where they mixed cherry coke for me, gave me free refills, and had a nice basic burger - all for around $10), but if you'd like to give it a try, just walk north from the State Department Store (on the east side) for about two blocks.  It's on the left and says, "AB&F" on the sign.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Shadows and Light

Well, after nearly a week's hiatus I've reached the end of my Harbin blogs.   There's a limit to how much I can blog when I'm not in the moment, and I reached it.  But the ice sculptures at Zhaolin Park were my favorite part of the festival, and I wanted to share them, so here I am.  It's Sunday and I've ditched church for reasons I won't go into (because it's a little embarrassing) and only got out of my pajamas because I needed to go retrieve my walking clothes from the school so I could wash them.  Total lazy slothfulness.  Gotta love it!

Like I said, Zhaolin Park was better for taking "artistic shots," because of their size and how they were arranged in the park.  The park itself lent a lot of atmosphere...walking in the dark, between the trees, lit by the glow coming off the ice...
If I was a better writer, I'd write a story about this land, sunk in darkness, lit by ice lanterns.  I'd include the pagoda below, because, you know, it looks pretty sweet, and stood out amongst the darkness and shadows with its glow. 
Honestly, I almost didn't go to Zhaolin Park.  I'm glad I did, but the only reason I did was the fact that it was literally a five minute walk from my hotel.  At 7 o'clock, coming back from my last visit to Macca's, I decided that it was my last night in Harbin and I still had money to spend, so I didn't want to just sit in my hotel room and read.  Since Zhaolin Park was so close, it became my destination - it's hard not to love a part of the festival that is so close that if you start feeling freezer burned you can be back in your hotel really quickly.  Somebody reviewed it on tripadvisor and wasn't that impressed - I'm glad I didn't listen to them in the end.  No, the sculptures don't have the scale that they do at Ice and Snow World, but they made up for it in atmosphere.  And they were way cheaper.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Grub Club: Ceylonta

This week's grub club was a bit of a trial for me.  My legs are still a little freezer burned, and walking around looking for a place doesn't help much.  It was supposedly -15C when I checked the temperature at Ti Amo on Seoul Street before walking to where I thought the restaurant was, but I was still in need of a good thaw out when I got to Ceylonta (and not just because I was's really embarrassing for me to get lost, and infuriating when it's not my fault).  It wasn't Five's fault; it was her first time as Alpha Dog and she took her duties seriously, sending out a link to a good map and decent directions.  I had been hoping she would choose Ceylonta when I sent her Places Mongolia website, and I thought I knew where it was.

I didn't.
It's funny to be writing this now, after just finishing the leftovers from Wednesday night (they were so good that I was willing to eat them, even though they'd been in the refrigerator for two days).  The rice in the picture above was one of Five's picks (we were all eating off of each other's plates) and, in my opinion, probably the most delicious thing on the table.  She was pretty sure she'd be happy with the restaurant, since the pictures she tracked down showed rice, and that's a must if you want your Filipina friend to be happy.
My choice was the chicken kottu - a dish of noodles, chicken and vegetables.  It was quite tasty (although not in the same league as that rice!); spicy, but not overwhelming.  There were also enough vegetables in it to make me feel like I was eating healthy (whether or not I actually was!)
Then there was the devil chicken.  Five and Geek both gave it a try.  I snagged a bite of Five's, and I must say that it was diabolically deee-lish!
The best part of all - probably the best dessert in UB - was their hot bananas with cinnamon.  Damned if I don't love me some hot bananas!  I will admit that this photo doesn't make it look too appetizing, and to be honest, it's not the photo's fault.  This is really what it looks like.  But - OHMYGOSH, the taste!  It was absolutely divine!  Anyways, if you want to go to Ceylonta and you DON'T want to freeze as you wander around looking for it, this is the simple way to do it.  Start at the Natural History Museum (the one with the dinosaurs).  Cross over to the east side of the street.  Start walking north.  It will be just before you hit the second block, very close to Metro Mall (another mall in UB?  Who knew?)

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sun and Snow

I am beginning this post while attempting to eat dinner.  Normally I don't have any problem eating dinner, but then again, normally I don't "diet."  I made an exception for this one because it was fairly easy (3 days on, 4 days off, then repeat if you like), seemed pretty balanced (ie, doesn't let you eat any damn thing you like as long as you don't touch carbs), and is mostly comprised of things I like to eat.  I don't like broccoli, but I didn't like any of their alternatives much better, so I'm attempting to choke down the last sprig of the cup I was supposed to eat.

One cup of broccoli is a lot more flowers than I generally eat in a given day.  But I finished them.  I kinda felt like I had to after scarfing down a bunch of peanut butter cups after school (not included in the diet, but I had a killer headache, and damned if the junk food didn't make me feel better).
So, now that I've gotten that out of the way, the topic for today in the blog-a-thon is the snow sculptures at Sun Island.  As I mentioned, they were Domestic Goddess' favorite part of the festival, and I have to admit, it's a great location - beautiful trees, the glowing light of sunset (because I didn't quite time it as well as I wanted), blue skies.  Picture perfect.
Also lovely was the contrast of bright red accents against the white snow and blue skies.  Made me feel all patriotic...for China during Lunar New Year.  Seriously, though, I loved the contrast - I hope the red accents are up for the whole festival, because otherwise those schmucks who came early in January are missing out big time.
In fact, unlike some parts of the Snow and Ice Festival, you really got the feel for China here.  While a lot of the sculptures had nothing to do with China, it IS a good use of space, and a lot of the sculptures, such as the feng-huang (phoenixes) below were accompanied by sculptures that complemented them brilliantly.

Like I said, though, not all of the sculptures had anything to do with China.  I was especially delighted to see my friends from Easter Island.  I thought the sculptors did an especially nice job on the nose of the one in the middle - I'm pretty sure I've seen that exact nose on a Rapa Nui native.  Trust me - I know my noses.
All in all, the snow sculptures on Sun Island were amazing - not my favorite (that's still to come), but pretty remarkable.  The snow castles (not pictured here - you'll have to check out my facebook photos for that) beat the hell out of the snow forts Shaggy and I made growing up, and the amount of detail they put into these things was amazing.  On the other hand, they didn't have a snow queen, and if they did, the Princess' snow queen would take her in a fight, cause that woman was one scary bitch!  Glad to know my artistic genes won't die out if I never have kids.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

...Arctic Visits YOU!

Originally the last post was going to involve the aquarium as well.  I got halfway through it and decided I'd go ahead and make it two posts.
Harbin Polarland was not originally on my list.  I figured I had some extra time, though, and the posters advertising it made it look cool.  Although I've seen most of these animals in Omaha at the Doorly Zoo, I've never had pictures this good - oh, the difference a good camera makes!
The polar bears were hypnotic to watch.  They were swimming around and around their tank, and I loved how their fur swirled in the water.  Back when I had long hair I liked to watch my own hair swirl in the water - maybe that's a thing for me.  Whatever.  They were way cool.
They had arctic foxes (not ones you could pay to pose with, though), but I was fascinated by their wolves.  They were gorgeous.  One thing I've taken away from this trip is the knowledge that I will never own a fur coat.  I know it would be super warm, but unless the fur comes from an animal that is used for meat, I don't think I could bring myself to wear it.  It's such a waste of a beautiful life.
The seal and sea lion show is one of the aquarium's big attractions.  Parts of it were funny, but I've seen a seal or two in my life, and the narration was totally in Chinese, so I wasn't that impressed with it.  There was one part where the seal squirted water at the audience, though, which made me really glad I wasn't seated in the middle section.  I don't think my camera would have been too happy getting soaked - I sure wouldn't have been, especially since I was planning to go see the snow sculptures afterwards.

The stars of Polarland are their beluga whales.  They do an act to "My Heart Will Go On," called - get this - "Heart of Ocean" (copyright infringement much???)  The big finale involves the whales and divers smooching with their bodies creating a heart (I didn't get a good picture of that - it was really crowded), but the part that really amused me was when one of the whales got a little too...excited.  His diver (yep, his - you figure these things out pretty quickly under such circumstances) had to take him to the side of the tank to calm down before the little kids started asking their parents what that was?  I figured it served the diver right - you play romantic music, you lock lips with can't just lead a whale on like that.  Anyways, the animals were cool and it was a nice way to come in out of the cold before hitting up the snow sculptures.

Friday, February 15, 2013

In Mother Russia...

I've said it before and I'll say it again - Harbin's the most European city in mainland China.  Nowhere is this as apparent as in Santa Sophia Square.  I mean, I expect everyone to break into a rendition of "A Rumor in St. Petersburg" from Anastasia.  Yes, there are probably lots better Russian film references to make, but I teach little kids and love animated movies.  Moving on...
It may have looked like Mother Russia, but this was definitely China.  Know how I could tell?  The crowds of people rudely pushing their way in and out of the church was a pretty big giveaway.  Have I mentioned that, unlike Shanghai, Harbin doesn't empty out for Chinese New Year?  It bears repeating.  That was one of the nice things about Shanghai.
I was also reminded this was China because visiting the church was not the smoothest experience.  I got to the doors, observed this sign (pointing into the church), pushed my way inside, only to be told I had to buy a ticket outside.  I was a little upset.  So I pushed and shoved my way out, bought the ticket, and made my way back in.  Next time, I'll back up and go around the ticket taker - he wouldn't have noticed it in the stream of people going through (ok, I probably wouldn't do that, but it was a tempting thought).
I keep referring to Santa Sophia as a church, but it really isn't anymore - it's been transformed into a museum detailing the history of Harbin.  The pictures were interesting, but I spent most of my time taking pictures of the architecture (I've had architecture on the brain - thinking of how I'm going to integrate it in my classes this semester, because I believe it's something kids should think about).  Someone on tripadvisor (or was it Wikitravel?) wrote that you shouldn't expect the quality of a European church...well, you can't really compare them, because it only looks like a church.  The decorative motifs have had no preservation at all, which is a little sad, but what can you do?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

On Ice

The crowning jewel of Harbin in winter is, of course, Ice and Snow World (Domestic Goddess disagrees - she liked the Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Expo.  You can make your decision when I get around to making that post).  I guess if you're going to be ridiculously cold, you might as well do it in style, and they do. 

I took a quick spin around the park, started debating whether or not I actually wanted to go down any of the ice slides, and then saw the guys with the beautiful arctic foxes.  Aside from a slightly funny shaped head (compared to a regular fox, anyway) they were gorgeous, and before I had much of a chance to question the ethics behind making these animals pose with tourists, I had one in my arms and its Chinese handler was snapping pictures for me.  The privilege cost 20 kuai, but I guess they've got to earn their keep somehow, so I didn't mind too much.
I couldn't help thinking about my niece, the Princess, either.  As you might infer from the nickname I gave her, she is obsessed with all things princess right now.  In fact, I can't decide if I should send her the sky lantern I bought for her, or make her wait until I can be there with her to see her set it off - she may not be in love with Tangled anymore by then.  Anyways, I think she would have loved Ice and Snow World.  There were these large sculptures of some of the Disney princesses, but even more, I think she would have loved seeing the ice castles.  Heck, I'm not much of a girly-girl but I loved seeing the ice castles - there was something about them that was just magical.

See what I mean?
Ice and Snow World is best at night.  I didn't mean to go so early - I thought I would check out Polar Land, and then walk over, but when the taxi drove me over there, I realized they were not within walking distance.  Or rather, not what I consider walking distance when it's -25 C outside.  So I was a flake and told the driver that where I really wanted to go was Ice and Snow World.  Which he didn't understand because I was speaking English, but with heavy use of the word bing and lots of pointing, he got the gist of what I wanted.  And it was pretty neat seeing the ice by day, and watching the sun set.  I even decided that as long as I was wasting time I might as well go down the ice slides.  And after them, I decided to find out what this Harbin theater thing that started at 5 o'clock was.
Before the performance got started, there was an auction, which struck me as really amusing.  The paintings were beautiful and not too expensive but I had no use for any that big, so I just enjoyed following the auctioneer - "Wu-shi kuai?  Wu-shi kuai!  Yi-bai kuai?  Yi-bai kuai?  Wu-shi kuai, yi.  Wu-shi kuai, ar...  Yi-bai kuai!"
It's one way to keep an audience from getting too restless, that's for sure.  There were also waitresses that came around the theater to try and sell drinks and popcorn - I didn't end up having any, myself, but I was tempted and liked the idea - reminded me of the service at Avenue Q when Babysis and I went.

Something else I realized while watching the show?  The Chinese do not make the most appreciative audience.  They had skaters in these kung fu outfits doing freaking flips on skates, and they didn't clap.  I was amazed - I can skate going forward, and that's about it.  If I so much as try to skate backwards, I am likely to end up with a bruised tailybone.  If I tried to do a flip, I imagine I would decapitate myself on the blade of my skates.  Or if not me, definitely someone else.

The best part of the performance was this sort-of love story, with the girl doing acrobatics.  For the big finale of their act, she twined herself up in a silk ribbon and then let herself fall, twisting through the air as the silk unwound from her body.  I would undoubtedly have broken my neck.  She got to the end and simply hung suspended until her lover came and "caught" her.  It was beautiful to watch.

In my next life, I hope to be a little more graceful.

In my next life, I also hope to be a little more technologically literate.  I did something and my whole post just disappeared, and Ctrl-Z didn't make it go away.  I had to close out the tab and burn some incense to the Tech Gods that it hadn't saved after that.  Luckily, it hadn't.
When I got out of the skating performance, the whole park was lit up like a birthday cake and it was COLD!  I am, on reflection, very glad I didn't decide to come here when I was living in Shanghai.  I would have died.  I think I managed to get a little frostbite on my inner thighs in spite of my precautions (including buying heat packs to stick inside my long underwear).  Only living in Mongolia could have prepared me for that kind of cold.  I walked around this wintery fairy land snapping photos for most of another hour, and probably should have stayed longer - it cost more than $50 for admission - but dang it, I was cold, and the fact is, the sculptures were so big that it was hard to line up really cool, artistic shots of them (Zhaolin Park was much better for that).  So I wussed out and went back to the hotel fairly early.  And was completely okay with that.

Grub Club: Caucasia

The alternate title for this post was "COCK-asia: Where the music is loud enough to cover your inappropriate conversations."  Last night was Domestic Goddess' second at-bat with the grub club, and she hit it out of the park.  I was exhausted from my trip to Harbin, but I'd been interested in trying this place, so I pulled on my big girl panties and went anyways.  And I was SO glad I did.  For starters, there was the dancing.  Not, unfortunately, live, but I imagine it's difficult to find good Georgian dancers this far east, and the videos they were playing were incredible nevertheless.  Then they brought us all a free beer for the new year.  It was a nice thought, even if I don't drink.

I DO, on the other hand, eat, and with the best of them.  I was immediately interested in the dolmades.  I haven't had them in forever, and even if these were made with cabbage, they were pretty much delicious.  Mad Science and I split them and a Greek Salad, which had just enough dressing on it, and they coated their feta in sesame seeds, which was a new trick to me.
Fire Marshall and Domestic Goddess went for dumplings and this pizza-ish thing for their starters.  I had a slice of that and it was aMAzing!  Next time, I might just make a meal out of that, it was so good.
Our main course was the mixed skewers.  The meat was tender and delicious (even the fatty chunks) and came served with plenty of vegetables.  We had enough food for both of us to eat at lunch today.  And the sauces they served with the meat was a perfect complement.
The best moment of the night was when Domestic Goddess tried to order a beer to go.  They got a little confused, but did the best they could, and brought her a beer glass wrapped in saran wrap.  Then they realized she would need a plastic bag to carry it in, and brought that over, too.  All in all it was a great experience with helpful staff and delicious food.  And it just happens to be conveniently located just east of the Circus.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Eye of the Tiger

"Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?"
-William Blake
My real purpose in visiting Harbin was to see the snow and ice sculptures, good art teacher that I am.  Good traveler that I am, I was not about to visit a city without seeing everything it had to offer.  I have been experimenting with how I plan my travels this year.  It started with Easter Island - I wasn't going to buy the whole Chile Lonely Planet when I was only going to one, small island, so I bought the digital chapter, printed it, and brought it along.  It worked pretty well but I felt like a fool, paging through the loose prints as I was going along.  So after I bought the guides for Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces, I decided I needed a notebook to assemble the stuff I wanted to take with me.  Unfortunately, it was after I bought those two that I realized I wanted to go to Harbin as well, and buying single PDF chapters was starting to get expensive, so I printed off the Wikitravel page for Harbin and used it, instead.  This was great, because it was free, but not as satisfactory as LP, still, because it doesn't include info about wifi at restaurants and whatever.

At any rate, it was while I was looking through these pages that I was reminded that Harbin has a Siberian Tiger Preserve.  I've read Lost on Planet China by J. Maarten Troost, and he talks about it, but I'd forgotten, so I quickly put it at the top of The List of Things I Must Do in Harbin.

I am just as far from a biologist as you can get, as Socrates would be glad to point out if I still talked to him.  So I don't know if all the cries of animal cruelty you will read on Trip Advisor are justified or not.  The Siberian tigers, at any rate, seemed pretty happy with their lot in life.  It beats being extinct, I reckon.  I'm not sure if these guys could ever return to the wild after being fed three square meals a day by a bus that chugged along, plopping out gobs of raw meat for them, but that might be a completely moot point.  They do try to train them for it, but I don't know if their instincts would survive the easy life or not.  It was amazing to see them so close, and how similar they sometimes act to domestic cats.  Case in point: the dangling chicken.
What kind of animal park would deny you a chance to feed the animals?  (The American kind, that's what kind, but I'm hardly one to talk - my pinky finger narrowly escaped an encounter with an ostrich at a very young age).  There are a variety of animals you can dangle out of the enclosed passageway to tempt the tigers, but the chickens are the cheapest, and that is what one of the tourists in my group bought.  Now it was difficult to ignore the terrified squawks of the pathetic old hen.  She looked a little rough around the edges, so I tried to reassure myself
that she had, no doubt, lived a long and full life.  If I could ignore the poor chicken's terror, it was easy to see my sweet little Barnabas in the big fierce tiger - the way he jumped up to try and get his snack was akin to teasing my cat with a toy mouse.
We really out to be astounded that we let cats live with us.  Thousands of years of domesticity, and they're still not that far removed from the wild.  (Don't believe me?  Check this out...)
But then, even knowing this tiger has an instinct-driven need to kill me and eat me,  he was so fuzzy, and so cute rolled over on his back like that, that if I could go down there and give his belly a good rub I just.  might.  do it.  Whether that's insane or not.  What can I say?  I'm a cat lover. 
And speaking of cat lovers....uhh, yeah, enough said.

All that aside, in the end I saw cruelty that could not be ignored or explained away.  There were pens toward the end with other kinds of big cats.  It is strange to think of a tiger living and thriving in the snow, but that's exactly what Siberians do.  I can't think of many other cats that are built for cold temperatures - maybe bobcats or cougars?  I can think of lots of cats that AREN'T cold weather cats.

Leopards aren't.

White tigers aren't (they seem like they would be, I know, but in fact they're a mutation of the Bengal Tiger).

Lions aren't.  This is actually a liger, a cross between a lion and a tiger for those few people who haven't seen Napoleon Dynamite, but they had regular lions, as well.  This poor guy was shivering as he lay huddled in the corner on the cold hard ground.

And jaguars aren't. 

Maybe the state-of-the-art cat house at the Doorly Zoo in Omaha has spoiled me.  Surely the slack-jawed yokels who were shouting at the tigers trying to get a reaction out of them are not the same people running the establishment.  Surely a tiger park knows how to take care of its investment, and wouldn't endanger such very expensive animals by exposing them to temperatures they can't handle.

I hope not, at any rate.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Love-Hate Relationship

First things first: thank goodness for McDonald's!  Before I write a single word about China and the Winter Wonderland that is Harbin, I have to confess that I ate at Maccas.  A lot.  Probably more than I have at any point since Cairo, and that was mostly because of the touch of a travel bug.  This time, I have no excuse.  The best one I can come up with was that it was Chinese New Year's eve when I got there, and nothing else was open.  But it didn't stop there.  Oh, no.  I had it for breakfast every morning, and for dinner every night.  Don't judge - I've been living in Mongolia for seven months now!!!
So, moving right along...
As I mentioned in my last post, I decided to spend my time off for Tsagaan Sar in Harbin, China.  I didn't think about it being Chinese New Year then, because everyone kept telling me they're never at the same time.  When I started seeing all my friends in Shanghers posting about their holidays, I figured it out, and got excited.  Nobody, but NOBODY does fireworks like the Chinese, and at no time is this as apparent as at Chinese New Year.  Dammit, I missed the place, although this trip made me realize exactly how much of a love-hate relationship I have with it.  I missed speaking the language (I still don't know much Mongolian, although I could still probably manage to order my father a beer).  I missed the stupid fast food, and dumplings and OH MY GOSH IS THAT A CARREFOUR?!?  I knew I'd miss things even as I was struggling to make my decision last year.  There were also things I definitely DIDN'T miss, but we'll come to those later.  My trip started off on such a great note (other than the taxi driver trying to rip me off on the way in from the airport) that I'm not quite ready to get negative. 

After finding the Macca's I started wandering up the main pedestrian thoroughfare in old Harbin.  It's a city with ties to Mother Russia, as you may pick up on from some of my photos.  During the day, it's nice, and you can read the plaques on the buildings (some of them beginning to crack with disrepair) to see who lived there, or what kind of building it was.  At night, it's pure magic, especially with the ice sculptures all lit up, like they are above.  That first night I was wandering with my camera, trying to take shots of fireworks, and I figured up to the river was the place to go.  I slid my way up the street...and I DO mean slipped.  I wanted to see if I actually needed my crampons before I put them on.  I did.  It was nerve-wracking.  I've fallen on my butt lots of times, but the expensive and shiny new camera around my neck might not be as durable as I am.  When I got up to the Flood Control monument there were people there SELLING SKY LANTERNS!!!!!  I've been obsessed with the dang things since watching Tangled and finding out they were real, and I finally got the chance to set one off.  Of course, being an idiot foreigner I had no idea what I was doing, but this sweet kid was kind enough to help me out, and we had a moment when it went soaring off where we high-fived and I said, "Hen hao!  Xie xie!" and she said, "Bu ke xie!" and I said, "Xin nian kuai le!" and she said, "Happy New Year!"  Some things are awesome in any language.

The old area of town sort of became my stomping grounds for the long weekend.  I logged a lot of footsteps over the four days - enough to make my feet ache and to convince me that I didn't need to go to the treadmill this morning (I probably wouldn't have made it if I wanted to).  Along one of the nearby streets I stumbled upon the old synagogue and Jewish school.  It seemed strange to me that a city which was so far from the middle of everywhere would, nevertheless, have such a cosmopolitan air.  I guess that's the Russian influence.  Shanghai, of course, is fairly cosmopolitan, but the Harbin...ers?  Harbinites?  Harbingers?  Whatever.  Their city had a nice feel to it.  Or, you know, as nice a feel as it can have, considering how freaking cold it was.  And it was.

I've got to say, I needed this break like a caffeine addict needs her coke.  It was good to get away, even if I'm REALLY tired today, but even more, I needed the chance to get out alone and prove myself against a new city...I haven't done that since last summer.  Seeing new things is fun, but the real thrill is proving to yourself that you are clever and observant enough to cope when you're by yourself.

I live for that shit.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Tsagaan Sar Celebrations

Well, we're finally getting to a holiday - just a long weekend, really, but any port in a storm.  The last month has been exhausting and if you haven't been able to tell by my random facebook posts and my tone on here, I've been a little...blah.  Last Saturday's Winter Palace visit didn't happen.  It's closed on Saturday (wtheck?)  And it turns out the wrestling I was hoping for is on Sunday, when I will be in Harbin, and even if I weren't, tickets sold out - you have to wait in line overnight in order to get them.  Overnight?  In this weather?!?  No thanks.  Disappointing, but no.  So I've been kind of disappointed but I'm thankful tomorrow's Friday.
The holiday in question is Mongolia's new year celebration, Tsagaan Sar.  It's one of the two big holidays celebrated here, so it's a pretty big deal.  There were all sorts of things going on at school this week - we had national dress day for Monday AND Tuesday (I didn't take any pics; I was sick Monday and couldn't be bothered Tuesday).  Last night the owner of the school treated us to a nice big dinner, so grub club was canceled.
The Mongolian teachers put together a presentation for our edumacation, and one of the things they pointed out was that it is auspicious to have a big Tsagaan Sar meal; if you don't, it means you will be hungry in the coming year.  I made sure to load up my plate with plenty of delicious khushuur and buuz.
To that end, the kids have been involved in a food drive for the past few weeks.  There are plenty of families that don't have enough, so the senior class has been coordinating a collection for them.  Here they are tallying the final results and organizing them for distribution.
Back in November the school collected Movember money, and some of that went to our Mongolian sister school.  They came to school today and performed dances and songs for us to say thanks.
They had the most amazing assortment of costumes.  Someone told me this afternoon that their dance coach makes them.  What a Herculean task that must be - I've stitched a belly dance costume or two in my time, and I cheat by using ready-made skirts.  I can't imagine trying to sew one of these beautiful costumes, but less all of them!
I love seeing the way Mongolians take traditional dress and update it to make it fashionable.  These dresses were probably the most gorgeous I've seen, although the cashmere companies here do their part, too (fashionable AND warm).  The performances were amazing, and it was a great chance to try out the action setting on my new camera...I got some great shots, if I do say so myself.  Next time, I'm going to go easier on it, though - I had 600 some pictures to sort through this evening.
Ironically enough, I won't be taking further part in the festivities.  I'm finally going to make it to Harbin to see the ice and snow festival.  And I just realized today that Tsagaan Sar coincides with Lunar New Year as Celebrated by the Chinese, so it may be a very loud vacation, but I am excited about the chance to see the fireworks, and my new camera backpack made it JUST in time, so I am ready to kick some travel butt.  Stay tuned.