Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Grub Club: Ba Shu 888

We are rapidly coming to the end of the school year, and grub club as we know it.  It's kind of sad, because there have been weeks when Wednesday night was the layover that got me through the long stretch, and many of the people who have been involved are leaving...or are already gone.  To this end, I was planning on my last pick for Grub Club being a good one.  I was planning on picking...a newly opened restaurant whose name will not be mentioned, in case someone steals it.  My new-ish friend, l'Homme, mentioned it the last time I saw him, and I thought it would be a great contender.  Unfortunately it hasn't opened for dinner yet, so that idea was a bust.  Instead, I decided to go to the other end of the scale: I made a play for the Epic Fail Award*.
That's right - Chinese.  Specifically a place next to the State Department Store called Ba Shu 888 (the number 8 is ba in Mandarin, so it's really Ba Shu ba ba ba, which I've been saying as often as possible over the last 24 hours because it is just FUN).  Over the last school year we've eaten at a few of them, but never for Grub Club.  One of the times we had Chinese I went into this place instead of the one my friends were at - when you tell me something is across from the State Department Store, I assume you can walk out the door and see it - and was intrigued by the fact that they have Peking duck. 
I've had Peking duck all of twice - on two consecutive nights when I traveled to Beijing from Korea.  The first night it was so delectable, I decided I needed to have it again.  Since then, I've been wanting to have it again.  Well, since it IS sort of a Chinese thing to do, I suggested we all share, so no one had to pay for the 35,000 tugrug duck all by themselves, and we all got to try it (Domestic Goddess wanted to be sure I actually planned to share.  When I pointed out it was my idea, she brought up Le Triskell...)  The duck was so-so.  The head was particularly gruesome, possibly because they seem to have broken off the beak.  It also came with steamed buns to put the meat in, rather than pancakes.  Some people liked that alright; I have only a Tobias Funke quote to say about that, "You, sir, are a mouthful."

(Have you seen season 4 of Arrested Development yet?  I'm so jealous.  I am dying here.  Tell me - no!  Don't tell me.  Don't ruin it!  I will get a VPN and a month's subscription for Netflix, I have to!!!)
We ordered a ton of food.  Some of it was decent, but most of us gave it a 5 or a 6 out of 10.  I think my favorite was the fried dumplings.  This chicken, the spicy sesame chicken, was good too, but a little dry.  Engrish wanted the fried beans, and they were pretty good, but not what was pictured, and not quite what we expected, either.  Overall it was okay, but if you're looking for Chinese food, the place next to Seoul Hair Salon, on the south side of Peace Avenue, is better, and at roughly the same location. 

*You may have figured this out, but no, I did not win the Epic Fail Award. That dubious honor remains with Fearless Leader's choice of New Orleans Cafe, by a margin of 1.3 points.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Great (One) Moment

Alternate title for this post: "Lantern Fest (Part Two)."  I like "A Great (One) Moment" much better, though.  I have been known to call myself The Great One from time to time, although I've done this less in recent years.  Am I getting less narcissistic?  Probably not...have you read this blog at all?  As for WHY it's a Great Moment (other than the fact that I have been waiting ALL YEAR for last night)...  That guy, Buddha - he sure had some great timing.  Did you realize that he was born, achieved enlightenment, and ascended to his final nirvana, all on the same day?  In different years, obviously, but still!  I didn't realize until I started researching last night's celebration that some Buddhists celebrate the three together, a day called Vesak Puja for a lot of the world, and Duichin ("a great moment") in Tibetan Buddhism, which is the religion a lot of Mongolians practice.

I found out about the Duichin Day celebration here last fall, after Fire Marshall took some pictures of sky lanterns being released at the state circus.  Let me go on a little birdwalk for a moment - Disney has restored my faith that there is more magic in this world than we give it credit for.  Did you watch Up?  (Technically, it's Pixar, not Disney, but work with me here).  The place that Carl is trying to get to, Paradise Falls, is based on a real, honest-to-goodness mountain in South America, Mt. Roraima.  And those lanterns Rapunzel watched for each year on her birthday in Tangled are real, too.  Fire Marshall's photo proved it, and when I found out that there was a big celebration with them, but not until May, it seemed like the wait was going to take FOREVER.
As a matter of fact, this school year has gone by ridiculously fast.  I can't believe that nearly all of my friends are leaving me in three and a half weeks.  But on the bright side, Duichin Day finally arrived.  I learned from InfoMongolia last month that it was supposed to take place on the 25th, and so we all marked it on our calendars but didn't hear anything further about it that was solid until Thursday (this is one of the annoying things about living here - a lot of times it's hard to get information about what's going on), in spite of my best efforts.  Tickets were 12,000 tugrugs and the event would take place at the central Naadam stadium.  The next day we went and bought tickets - supposedly they had some for sale at the door, but we decided we'd rather not chance it, and it was a good thing.  A colleague who tried to do so got shot down.  Of course, there are worse things that could have happened - there were lanterns for sale outside the stadium and you would have had nearly as good a view from out there, although you would have missed out on the chanting, prayer, and meditation, which turned out to not be that bad a way to kill time while waiting for dark to fall.
After the prayers and meditations, it finally started to get dark, and we all got to light our torches, which was not only pretty but helped warm us up (because by then it was definitely starting to get cold.
Meanwhile,  people had started to set off smaller, colored lanterns on the outside.  Watching them drift up, two or three at a time, also helped to pass the time and build our excitement.
FINALLY the time came for us to set off the big lanterns.  I already sent one up back during Chinese New Year in Harbin,so I kind of knew the drill, but these were much bigger - it took at least four of us to inflate it.  I'm sending some home for the Princess and my fam to light this summer, so let me take a few minutes to explain how you do this.  If you're not interested, feel free to skip ahead.  Basically, a sky lantern is a little hot air balloon made out of tissue.  At the bottom, there's a wire that runs across the diameter, with a little loop to attach a small block of paraffin.  You need to fold the loop to go through the hole in the paraffin, then bend the end on the outside of the wax so it holds it securely.  THEN you set the wax on fire.  It takes a little time to get it going, at least when you're only working with a lighter (the torches did a MUCH faster job of it), and as I've looked through my photos it seems that you should hold your flame under the hole.  Once the paraffin is burning, you lower the lantern close to the ground so that the hot air can't escape, and wait a while so that it gets enough hot air to float.  Gradually raise it up as high as you can, and then finally, let it go.  If it bobs back down, catch it and hold it for a little while - it's not supposed to do that and needs more hot air so it doesn't catch anything (some guy's hair, a tree, your car, the nearby hillside, ahem, Dad) on fire.
This was on such a huge scale, it was amazing.  In Tangled, Rapunzel calls the lanterns stars, and when you see it in person, with so many lanterns going up at once, you can understand why.  I've seen people set them off up here, probably from Zaisan, and in ones or twos they are not nearly so misleading, and I have to say, I think the white ones are much more beautiful than the colored lanterns.
According to tradition, Buddha descends to bestow spiritual blessings on the world at Duichin, and along with our tickets we were given a sticker to write a wish on.  If you look closely at the lantern in the middle, you can see the stickers outlined against the lantern.  I spent some of the time waiting for the lighting thinking of my Dark Lord and Master.  After my second Lotus Parade in Seoul, he mentioned that he shared the same lunar birthday as Buddha.  If you know him, you might be able to imagine what sort of inference he was hoping we would draw.  Well, I don't know about enlightenment, but according to InfoMongolia's blurb, "at this time, great expansions of consciousness...become possible," and if there was any period of my life that expanded my consciousness, it was the three years I spent working for him, so maybe there's something to that.

After we'd wandered out of the stadium, bought some lanterns of our own and contributed to the overall mayhem (I mean, really - so many people setting flaming lanterns into the sky at the same time is just a recipe for disaster.  It would SO not fly in any city in the states and I am surprised Fire Marshall didn't hurt himself cringing at the overall atmosphere), we set off for home.  It was a nice night, so Geek and I decided to walk home.  PE, Engrish, and Five were tired and took the bus, and for the first time ever, there was traffic going UP Zaisan.  They still managed to beat us home, but possibly only because along the way stopped to see a smaller celebration taking place at the Buddha park.  People were setting off lanterns there and from the top of Zaisan, which was really nice to watch when I got home.

I almost didn't go to church today, because I wanted to publish my blog before Fire Marshall did.  In the end, I decided I had to go, and as I was walking to the bus stop I came across the wreckage of last night's parties, looking like - well, I'll let you make your simile for what a sad, deflated sky lantern on the ground looks like.  And of course, this made me wonder where our big lantern had ended up, and if the person who found it might be able to read English, and what they would think of our wishes.  Anyways, it truly was a Great Moment, and well worth the wait...the best things usually are.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Lantern Fest (Part One)

Tonight I did something I've been waiting for almost since I first came to Mongolia, but I'm not going to write about it tonight.  I'm going to take you back in time to 2005, to the first celebration I attended for Buddha's birthday.  Forgive me for the flashback, but I've realized recently that I didn't start blogging til I got to Bahrain, and there were a LOT of great things that happened before then.  The stories aren't as fresh as they once were, but I've got a pretty good memory.
Strangely enough, it was the Mormon church that introduced me to the lantern festival.  See, that spring we had a singles' conference, and one of the events was a workshop to make our own Lotus Lantern.  I don't know if it was Lick or Ange who organized this (probably Ange because she is, you know, Korean, but Lick was a kick ass singles rep as well - the two of them made Korea for me in my first six months), but it was a really great activity in an equally great conference, and since we were told about the parade that day we all decided we would go.

I loved that damn lantern.  Remember last week how I said that my decorating colors tend to drift?  It was in the process of drifting when I decided to use the orange petals for my lantern (although it wasn't really set in stone until the day I bought the orange canaries...but that's another story).  I took it home and prominently displayed it, and if I'd realized we were supposed to bring them for the parade, if I'd realized we were going to march in the parade as token whiteys, I probably still wouldn't have brought it.  If anyone knows where to get those petals online, I'd love to buy some and teach my students how to make them.
So, after church one Sunday in May, most of us singles had dinner somewhere before heading over to Jongno (I wasn't among them - I was feeling dramatic and went off on my own for a while.  These things happen, especially when there's a boy involved).  They - whoever they are, the parade organizers, I suppose - had reserved a whole section just for us, so we got to sit and watch traditional Korean dancing in the street as we waited for the sun to go down and the parade to start.
They carried all sorts of lanterns, as well as having huge parade-float style lanterns, but the handmade ones were my favorites (hey, I'm an art teacher, after all).  One of the things I still kick myself over is the fact that I never did take any art/craft classes - if you're living in Seoul, learn from my fail, get your ass down to Insadong, and learn something.

So, as I mentioned before, we did march in the parade and they - fortunately - had backup lanterns for those of us who didn't bring the ones we made.  There were several Rebecca Teacher sightings that night.  My good friend Chingu went to the parade with a bunch of our coworkers (these still being the days in which I spent most of my free time with friends from church rather than school - long, unnecessary back story that I'm not going to get into here because it's totally irrelevant), and you know what?  It is amazing that even in a crowd of foreigners how the redhead sticks out (or maybe it was the pink shirt?) because she saw me marching in the parade.  And then saw me transferring lines on the subway.  And then one more time at some point that night, possibly getting off in Seohyeon before I magically disappeared.  None of our colleagues believed her, because they hadn't seen me.

Anyways, the Lantern Festival for this year happened two weeks back, but if you get the chance next year, you should check it out.  They have so many lanterns hung at Jogye-sa that they block out the sky, and there are all sorts of activities and things in Insadong, including the chance to make your own lotus lantern.  And with that, consider your appetite for part two to be whetted.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Grub Club: Rio Grande Lounge

I still haven't thought up a code name for our wayward science teacher.  I guess it doesn't matter too much, since he is leaving at the end of the year and will not figure largely in next years' posts, but he was grub club's Alpha Dog tonight, and I feel like I should call him something.  Hmph.  Anyways, whatever you want to call him, don't call him late for supper, because he was tonight's alpha, and proved to us that there IS good food on the Hill.

At the foot of Zaisan is a fancy-schmancy apartment complex called Bella Vista.  They've got a health club with a pool, and a beauty salon that's supposed to be nice, but honestly, give me gritty Mongolia most any day.  However, being introduced to their Rio Grande Lounge was a bit of a windfall...there are honestly not very many restaurants very close to the school (the Irish Castle has a great view but the food sucks - I can make just about anything they can, but better - I've never tried Cozy Nomads or the Zaisan Lounge, although since trying the Shashlik House I may be visiting the latter soon, and our new Chinese place, the Golden 'Ragon - inside joke - got old after going three times in one week).

I went for the chicken and mushroom pasta, and it was great.  Lots of parmesan cheese and a nice amount of herbs and spices to give it a good flavor.  It WAS expensive, though - 18,000 tugrugs!  That's what you get for eating at the restaurant in the hoity-toity apartments.
Mad Science loves her meat, and went for the beef medallion entree.  It looked delicious, but I was too busy enjoying my pasta (and drinking my third coke of the day - WATCH OUT!) to try it.
Engrish and PE, share-sies for life (or the rest of the school year, anyways) now that Five is out of the equation, had a bunch of stuff.  Their pasta didn't look as delicious as mine, so I'm showing you their soup instead.  I can't remember what kind it was.  Maybe pumpkin.  There was a lot of pumpkin on the menu.  They liked it.
However, they did not nose-dive into it, like Geek did with her Mexican Pizza.  Let me again stress that eating anything "Mexican" outside of the Americas is going to be disappointing.  In Korea, it meant fried...at Rio Grande Lounge, it apparently means that you'll get peppers on it.  With a name like "Rio Grande," you might hope for some Tex-Mex (for those non-Americans, the Rio Grande is the river separating Mexico from Texas).  Sadly, this was not the case.  But the pizzas were good, if given to having weird toppings (sorry, Asia...shrimp does not belong on a pizza.  Corn does not belong on a pizza.  And sweet potatoes definitely DO NOT GO IN PIZZA CRUST!!!)  And the setting was nice - Bella Vista is on the edge of the Tuul River, and from the restaurant most of what you can see is trees.  It's gorgeous.  If you want to make it there and check it out, head to the golden Buddha next to Zaisan, and walk south across the street.  Follow the signs for the health club - the Rio Grande is in B1 next to the gym.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Home, Sweet Home on the Hill

I've owed Babysis this blog since last September.  See, she's always curious to see my apartments.  Now, the best thing for her to do would be to come and visit, but now that Bunny's come into the world, the probability of that happening have gone from "slim to none" to "ice cube's chance in Hell."  So here we are.  I've been waiting to write it until I didn't have something more interesting to blog about, and since I had nothing more exciting to write about this week and I went into a cleaning frenzy on Friday night, it seems the time has come.
To start the tour, we've got my living room.  Since living in Shanghai I've learned to love window seats, and I was excited that both my windows have a nice, wide ledge.  In the living room, I decided to make it into an additional sitting area.  I bought a felt rug from one of the tourist shops in town and a couple of Kazakh-embroidered pillows to embellish it with.  You can also see my desk, which is where all the magic happens...or it would if I didn't spend so much time checking my facebook and my blog stats.
This is the other side of my living room.  I just attached the DVD player I bought from Domestic Goddess to my projector, so my home theater is better than ever before.  The chair in the corner is my favorite, because I like to snuggle up in the corner.  This is probably my favorite room as far as what I've done to it.
Then there's the kitchen (and the entryway - you can see the silhouette of my Peruvian toritos guarding me against evil spirits above the door).  Be sure to note the kick ass installation of coke cans on the top of my cabinets.  One thing I like better about my apartment here than any I've lived in in Asia is the fact that it has an oven.  I actually don't use it that much, but on nights like tonight I decide I'm going to throw together some enchiladas and invite over some friends (because, let's face it, who knows when I'll clean up again...my guess would be sometime around the 19th of June...)  Yes, the refrigerator is tiny, but I don't keep that much food in the house, so I don't need a huge one.  Also, that IS a tv on top of the refrigerator.  It came with the apartment, but the Mongolian stations...well, let's just say there's nothing worse than watching Lord of the Rings dubbed in Mongolian.
And finally, we come to my bedroom (no, my apartment is not that big.  Yes, I skipped the bathroom.  I lost steam after FB chatting a couple of people Friday night and decided to watch Brave instead...thus, it's not clean, so you don't get to see it.  It's not that interesting anyways).  My bedroom used to have a decor I liked to think of as "Early Harlot Renaissance."  Strangely enough, my decorating themes tend to drift like continents every 5,000 miles or so.  Since moving to Mongolia the red in my bedroom has slowly been replaced by blue.  It wasn't even intentional, or it wasn't until I ordered the new quilt - another reason why I'm writing this blog this weekend.  One of my coworkers found this company here that recycles cashmere sweaters into quilts.  They're a little pricey, but very nice, and the proceeds go to help get women out of prostitution, so I decided to order one.  And that was when I looked at my room and realized that my red duvet cover no longer went with my room (also, it was getting a little tatty - I bought it in an Indian shop in Dubai and the quality never was fantastic, much as I loved it).  So I ordered a blue one and this is what they made me.  Engrish kindly picked mine up Friday when she got hers, since I was busy putting my art display together for Saturday's open house.  I really like it...except...it's got a few patches with brightly colored flowers.  I guess they accent the bits of color in my Mongolian painting, but they're just so damn bright.  Still, it's soft and warm and sleeps like a dream, so I'm a pretty satisfied customer.  If you're interested in getting one for yourself, you can email Belgee at belegsaikhan@yahoo.com and she'll give you the details.

Other than that, there's not a whole lot to say about my place.  I've thought a little about moving into a different apartment for next year - the building is split down the middle and it's a little quiet on this half sometimes, especially if Engrish moves out next year, and if I moved into Lit's place, I'd have lots of cabinets and a great view of the mountains, instead of a whole lot of construction.  But in the end, it's a lot of hassle, packing everything, and I kind of like my flat.  But mostly it's because of the hassle.  I'm not sure if I've said this here, but packing and moving is just about my least favorite thing in the world to do - I'd rather write reports, take finals, or go to the doctor, and if you know me, none of those things rank very highly on my list of things to do in my free time.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Grub Club: Shashlik House

Domestic Goddess and Fire Marshall have lived near a little kebab restaurant called the Shashlik House for nearly two years now.  It's not open in the winter, but during the summer it gives off amazing, grilled meat smells, and on the way to and from Merkuri, Fire Marshall would often say, "Let's eat there!"  His totally mean wife would never, EVER let them.  But the great thing about being Alpha Dog in Grub Club is that you can make us to whatever you want, so this week, Fire Marshall finally got his way and we went to the Shashlik House for dinner.  Do they even take reservations?  Probably not - we just showed up.
Most of the skewers are grilled outside (chicken being the exception, probably for health reasons).  We sat outside on their "patio," which was nice because of the smoky grill smell wafting on the air.  When we give our marks, we include one for atmosphere; I rated it high because it had an authentic "hole in the wall" feel.  Fire Marshall made sure to wait until everyone was there before pointing out the dead dog in the parking lot.
Several of us were already in town and showed up well before 6:15.  The rest of us were waiting on a taxi that didn't come, and then got stuck in traffic.  We waited a while, but Five was already tipsy from drinking half a mojito on an empty stomach, so we ended up ordering a few kebabs to start us.  Five complained of the lack of rice (before even seeing the kebab plate, which included not only rice, but some veggies and a nice dense bread as well), so we looked at the menu again and figured out that "plav" must be pilaf, and sure enough, it was.  This was NOT my favorite dish because it had little chunks of fat for flavoring hiding in the rice.
They didn't have beer, so Fire Marshall ended up hitting the Minii Delguur nearby for a couple liters of GEM draft.  In the end, I tried the chicken, beef, and pork, which was my favorite.  The tomato and cucumber salad was also delicious, and everything was very reasonably priced...for the first (and probably only) time ever, the bill for ten of us was a mere 100,100 tugrugs.  We also grossed the heck out of Five, who is a germaphobe.  Domestic Goddess pretended she was going to eat some food off Five's spoon.  In response, I licked my fork and offered it to her.  Not to be outdone, Domestic Goddess licked her fork and offered it to me, so I went ahead and licked it, too.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Happy Campers

This weekend Five, Engrish, and I decided we should get out of town.  It seemed like a very, very good idea - by the end of the day Friday I was dragging some serious ass.  I thought a nice, relaxing weekend in the fresh air would do me a world of good.  Well, at 4 this afternoon I decided I was wrong; let's face it, people, I'm a city girl, and as much as I like getting out and seeing stuff, this does not recharge my batteries.  Sitting in a restaurant eating a nice meal while finishing a good book, now THAT keeps me going, at least for another day, and that is exactly what I did this evening, in spite of the fact that a bunch of my friends were planning on fixing dinner together.

But this post isn't about what keeps me going, not really.  It's about our trip to Mandshir Monastery.
Mandshir Monastery is on the south end of Bogd Khan National Park, about 14 kilometers south of UB.  Domestic Goddess and Fire Marshall were planning on hiking it on Sunday (til they were unavoidably detained), and Enkhe said a "sport hike" would get you home in five hours.  Now, this weekend I decided that I'd make a pretty good hiker if I weren't so fat, and I did a few rounds with Anasazi, but I am pretty sure it would take me more like a full day to make it back to Zaisan.  And that's just fine by me.

Mandshir Khiid, like so many other monasteries here in Mongolia, was destroyed by communists, around 1937 to be exact.  The temple in the background was rebuilt in 1993 (if I'm remembering rightly what the guard told Engrish), but the rest of the area is in ruins.  I couldn't help remembering the political persecution museum while wandering the grounds; the monastery was once home to 350 monks, and I found myself wondering how many of them had shared the same fate as the ones whose skulls were now resting in the museum.  And if not, where were they now?

We passed some older people on our way back down from the temple, all kitted out for hiking (Asians.  Maybe I should have rubbed myself on Dog Rock in hopes I have their stamina when I'm old and grey!)  And I starting wondering if any of them had come here when the monastery was intact. 

Geesh.  Normally I don't think this much when I have friends to distract me.  And in the old days, before I got a spiffy new camera, I doubt I annoyed my friends quite as much on the rare occasion when I traveled with them.
There's a cliff behind the monastery, which begins the path back to UB, and we climbed up to the top to check out the stupa there and the view of the valley below.  It was really breathtaking and I didn't even come close to slipping once.  As I was climbing up, avoiding patches of scree the best I could, I felt like a true member of my family.  I mentioned that I am a city girl, but I'm one who was raised in the country, and my Dad used to take my older brother and I on what we call float trips.  We'd load up a cooler, and stuff it, some fishing poles, and other supplies into a canoe, and float down the creeks he grew up on, camping along the way.  I have a natural sense of direction, and I like to hike every once in a while, but moments like this really make me feel connected to them.

Along those lines, I also realized this weekend exactly how empowering it is to make a fire.  We stayed at the Ovooni Enger Ger Camp, even though it was nearly a kilometer from the monastery, because it was the only one open, and we paid for the privilege.  80,000 tugrugs a night is pretty pricey in this country, especially for a 3-person ger.  Food was not included.  And there was some sort of problem with the bathroom - the pump wasn't working or something - but they let us use them anyway, flushing them by pouring water down them.  So I was not impressed.  I was doubly not impressed when I woke up in the dead of night, cold, because they hadn't come and stoked our fire for us.  I tossed and turned and stewed about it, and finally around 6 I decided to DO something about it.  There was not much to work with - a chocolate box, some split logs, and the matches I bought in Zuunmod while Enkhe was dealing with his two blown tires - but in the end I managed to get it going.  And by the time it was going, I was over my sulk.  Here was another of those woodcrafty skills I ought to have, and it turns out I still did.  I was so excited about it that while we were hiking I kept stopping Engrish and Five so I could collect tinder and kindling.  I picked up bark, pinecones, needles, twigs, dry brush, twigs, and other nice, dry bits of wood.  And when night finally fell (the sun stays out later and later these days - it's ten past 8 just now and it's only just ducked behind Zaisan) we didn't have to wait for one of the camp guys to come start our fire.  I made the little teepee of tinder, surrounded it with the bigger twigs, struck a match, and - WHOOSH! - suddenly there was fire!  This might have been obnoxious to Engrish and Five, too, because I wouldn't shut up about my damn fire, but then, I restarted it again at 4 the next morning and kept it going, which let them sleep in, and they appreciated that, so I think they forgave me for my enthusiasm.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Hajj to the Khad

Domestic Goddess lent me the first in a series of books - JV Jones' Sword of Shadows series - earlier this year, but it wasn't until I left for spring break that I got to start reading it.  I am STILL working on the third book in the series, but I've decided today that this is a good thing.  Some of the parts of these books - her descriptions of the Want (a barren sort of landscape you can't necessarily navigate your way out of), the clans' Stone Gods - suddenly reminded me of Mongolia.  Particularly today.
It's Mother's Day, and what better day to make a pilgrimage (hajj in Arabic) to Mother Rock, or Eej Khad, in Mongolian.  Mongolians have been visiting this site for a really long time, bringing her gifts and asking her to grant their wishes.  There's a method to this ritual.  You're supposed to walk clockwise around the rock three times, for starters, which is what this family is doing.  Along the way, you scatter rice and fling milk or vodka against the enclosure wall.  Apparently these are her favorites, but I was also told that you're supposed to bring something that you value, so I opted for a coke, which I didn't fling at the wall...partly because it's sugary and if she's anything like my mom, Mother Rock would not appreciate me making a big sticky mess.  But mostly because I didn't realize you were supposed to do that first.

Mother Rock, like all Mongolians, also likes sweets.  There was a huge assortment of them on her table - I added a Twix, because I didn't have the chance to buy my favorite Russian creamy caramel bon-bon thingies before leaving town (stupid high school activity!)  At this point in this post, you may be wondering what a good little Mormon girl like me is doing making sacrifices on a "pagan" altar.  Actually, I'm glad you asked.  I believe that most aspects of religion come from the same source, even when over time their roots have been obscured, so it was in this spirit that I approached Mother Rock.  Today was the day I was baptized sixteen years ago, much younger and slightly more innocent.  One of the doctrines I loved about the church was that we have both a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother, who is so special and sacred that not much has been revealed about her. 
You are supposed to whisper your wish into Mother Rock's ear - women into the right ear, men into the left.  After standing in line for five minutes without taking a step forward, I decided not to stand on ceremony (why should I?  I hadn't managed it yet!)  I walked around, and when there was a moment of people shuffling, I walked up and added my bright blue khadag to the many already placed on Mother Rock, before stepping back to speak my wish in a silent prayer.  Enkhe warned us that we had to be careful with Mother Rock, that it was bad luck to anger her; I hope that she (and who I believe she represents) could feel the reverence behind my actions, even if they didn't quite fit the prescribed course.
Mother Rock isn't the only special stone at the site.  This is Dog Rock.  Apparently you are supposed to rub whatever part of your body ails you on the rock, and it will heal you.
And this is Money Rock.  By rubbing your wallet or some money on it, you're supposed to become a very rich person.  There are even people trying to pick grains off Money Rock to take with them.  For me, I'm very healthy, and I have money sufficient for my needs - the thing for which I asked Mother Rock was all I really need, and for that I'm truly grateful. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Grub Club: The Moose

I am inconsolable this week.  I was hoping that this weekend we were going to be able to take part in a great Mongolian tradition...Castration Day...by eating a big bowl of testicle stew.  I am not being facetious.  To my mind, there couldn't be a cultural tradition that screamed quite so loudly I AM IN MONGOLIA!!!  But, alas, we got the wrong date.  We were told it would be Sunday, but Enkhe's friends are doing it on Monday, and what do you think is the likelihood of our boss letting us off to go eat fresh testicles???  Not very likely.  Enkhe said his friends would freeze some for us, but I have a feeling testicle stew is best served fresh.  So I guess this is one of those things that must wait til next year (and next year, I will be sure to figure out which lama picks this date, and bribe him to call it on a Saturday)!
Yesterday was Geek's second choice, and she did a pretty great job, scraping up an 8.6 in ratings with The Moose.  This was a restaurant that Engrish almost chose in the last go-round, so she was glad that Geek picked it (until it got such high ratings, anyways).  One of my sixth grader's parent's owns it, so we were intrigued, and by the time our little whitey parade (plus one yellow-not-black-sheep) had wended its way down from Zaisan, we'd worked up quite the appetite.
Domestic Goddess and her Spawn started with the cheesy garlic bread, which was dee-lish (I know, as I snagged a piece).  Engrish and PE are back to sharing their food, and they picked this Caesar salad.  Caesar salad was always my favorite kind of salad (probably because it is just about as unhealthy as a salad can be - salads aren't really supposed to have more cheese than lettuce, are they???), and after one bite of theirs I decided I would save most of my main course for today's lunch, and order a Caesar instead.
The Moose has all sorts of American food options.  Domestic Goddess and Spawn each had an order of chicken wings, which everyone agreed were pretty tasty.
Whereas Geek got the burritos for her main.  She seemed to like them well enough, but Domestic Goddess wouldn't finish the bite that she shared.  I'm not sure what possessed them to serve french fries with them, but this was probably a warning.  I have learned two truths in my years abroad...one, that it is almost impossible for anyone to screw up Italian food.  Two, that it is almost impossible for anyone outside the Americas to get Mexican food right.  This is not an American superiority moment - I've had "Mexican" everywhere from England (thanks to Socrates) to Japan, and it is almost always a disappointment.  So do yourself a favor and skip the burritos.
Domestic Goddess also had the Chef salad (you should know, if you haven't figured it out already, that she usually takes most of the food she orders home - this time for Fire Marshall, since he was playing darts at the Steppe Inne last night).  While a salad that has more cheese than veggies on it is just fine in my book, a salad with more meat than veggies is just...well, she liked it, and that's what matters.  If you're into that sort of thing, I'm sure you would like it, too.
And finally, here's my main, the Philly Cheesesteak (which I heated up in my oven while uploading these pictures), complete with my beverage of choice, Coke.  And as I was lining up my shot, I suddenly found myself wondering how one goes about getting a sponsor for one's blog.  I do an awful lot of coke drinking in these things, and it seems to me that the Coca-Cola company should be giving me a kickback for all this free advertising I do for them.  As for the cheesesteak, it wasn't bad, but it was a little tough.

The Moose is in the former location of American Ger'll (it may be the same ownership too - I never went to American Ger'll, so I don't know).  It has nice ambiance, but a really crappy location, just before the Peace Bridge as you're heading into town.  You have to get off the bus next to the stadium, cross the street, and walk up to the foot of the bridge, or from town, take the first stop after the bridge and walk backwards.  Or just walk all the way there.  It's kind of an in-between spot.  And with that, it's time to do some laundry so I can get ready to head off to the countryside after school tomorrow.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Rocky Road

There is just something about Mongolia that makes you want to set off at a gallop on a horse.  Maybe it's the ridiculous blue sky, maybe it's the wind in your hair.
Or, you know, maybe it's the roads.  I've written before about how awful Mongolian roads are.  I'm not even talking about off-roading - this is a picture from up here on the hill, in hoity-toity Zaisan.  It is a rich neighborhood, but it was built illegally on national park land, so the city won't do a dang thing about it.  The expensive apartment complexes don't want to do anything about it, either, because the huge trucks with construction stuff are continuously coming, and will just ruin the pavement all over again.
Don't believe me when I say the potholes are big enough to swallow a small car?  Here's one of said trucks, stuck in one of our holes.  They are offloading the materials a couple of rods at a time and carrying them over to the site.  The roads around the school are actually fairly smooth because our Queen had them paved, and has low-clearance bars in place to keep the bigger trucks from coming onto her street.  Last summer, supposedly someone cut them down, and supposedly the next day she had them back up and reamed out the people responsible for it.  Good for her, I say.

Today we went to the orphanage.  For the first time in ages, the buses were crowded, and I sat on the step up to the seats at the back.  The college-aged girls in the seats next to me were practicing "Just Give Me a Reason," by Pink (who my homeroom class decided I "would be" if I were a pop star), and when the radio played a Mongolian tune they and all their friends joined in.  I love this about Mongolians - they get involved in music, in performances, clapping and singing along.  They got off around where the cemetery is on the way to Gachuurt, and one of the boys pointed it out, making them all squeal.  I watched them get off the bus, and the people standing at the stop, and really felt that they were part of my extended human family, something I know is true but hard a hard time feeling while I was living in Shanghai.  I really feel like I fit in here better than I did there.  Maybe it's because, like Mongolia, I have some rough edges; whatever the case, I really do like it here. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Grub Club: Korchma


 Five claims she's bowing out of Grub Club.  I'm going to talk some smack right now and attempt to convince her she needs to keep coming.  How, you might ask?  Well, Korchma was her final pick for the year, and I think it's a crappy way to go out.

Don't get me wrong.  It was a sweet little restaurant, and the food was decent.  But the service was really slow and we were not our normally raucous selves.  And you can't let yourself go out on that sort of note.

Also, the kinds of cute shit that Domestic Goddess does on a weekly basis at these things is solid gold.  She could charm the pants right off our waiters (and occasionally we wish she would).
I have had reservations about former Russian bloc countries and their cuisine since the days when Socrates would try to convince me of how much I would love living in Ukraine.  I mean, me, the Queen of Spice.  I have never heard ANYONE rant about how wonderful Russian food is, and I imagined (rightfully) that Ukrainian food would be cut from the same cloth.  Cabbage and potatoes?  Not unless it's kimchi or French fries (okay, or Peruvian potatoes of any kind, thanks to the Evil One - who, on a very vaguely tangential side note was responsible for me spending 100-some kuai on ceviche - that sucked - at the Peace Hotel...I knew it was probably going to suck, but what I had with her in Peru was SOOOOOO good that I was willing to give it a shot).  It was, however, not as terrible as I was afraid it would be.  I ended up ordering the chicken Kiev for my main, and it was pretty good (sides of cabbage and potatoes - which my fellow grubbies liked alright - notwithstanding).

When Lit packed it up to head back to the states, she left behind a poor, defenseless science teacher.  We have been concerned for his welfare, without her here to take care of him, so somebody - I suspect Mad Science, like it's some sort of show of scientific solidarity - invited him along tonight.  I think he was a little overwhelmed by how we operate, as well as by the stack of cokes we put away.  This week's Grub Club fell on the dreaded first - the day of no drinks.  Fire Marshall was particularly sad, since Korchma actually had GEM draft on tap.  The dry night didn't particularly affect me, except for the fact that my friends are a little more tame on such nights - it was hard for Five to scrape together a couple of quotes.
There were several different kinds of "damplings" on the menu, and I originally ordered the cheese ones, which were sweeter than I was expecting, and I only ate one.  Domestic Goddess offered to take my cheese ones so I could order the cherry ones that suddenly sounded like a much better idea, and that's what happened, although the cherries only got to us RIGHT before we left.  The blend of flavors, cherry with sour cream, was so exquisite that I nearly forgot to take a photo of them.  I passed them around, but most people had already popped their complimentary stick of gum in their mouth, and as a result, I got to eat a few more than I would have if they'd gotten there on time - win!

And speaking of not being there on time, I ended up averaging the scores of the last couple of rounds of restaurants while we were waiting for Fire Marshall.  Turns out that Fearless Leader didn't even come close to grabbing the title with Le Triskell...in fact, Five's Ceylonta beat him by a tenth of a point.  But do you know who DID unseat Domestic Goddess and Caucasia?  Myself, with Khajuraho, again by a tenth of a point.  AND it was a clean win, since the waiter didn't bring us free beers to skew the mark.  It was a huge upset, and one that I was particularly proud of.  I'm up again in three weeks, but I haven't the vaguest idea of where I'll take us - if anyone out there reading this has any ideas, I'm open to suggestion.