Sunday, June 2, 2013

Internations Bonne Vivante

Once upon a time, I'd never been abroad (it's been eleven years and about eleven months since I could say that).  I've never written in the blog about that first trip, because it was way before blogging; perhaps I should work on that, because the month I studied abroad in Venice had a HUGE impact on me, beginning with the moment at the Kansas City Airport when my Dad said that I was about to become an international bon vivant..."Or whatever the feminine version of that would be."  (I haven't studied any more French since then, but I'm pretty sure it's bonne vivante, which would sound the same, anyways).  I really liked that title - meaning something along the lines of "someone living the good life" - and if you go back and read my posts, I'm pretty sure I've referred to myself as such before.
You're not doing too badly if you're living in a calendar

Well, I figure I've been doing a pretty good job living the good life since coming to Mongolia.  Or a helluva lot better than I did in Shanghai, at any rate.  And the biggest part of that, as I've mentioned before, is the awesome friends I have here.  Unfortunately, one of the things that sucks the most about the expat lifestyle is the turnover rate.  Of the people I spend regular amounts of time with, about 70% will be gone next year, and that sucks the big one, because if there's one thing I've learned as an international bonne vivante, it's that friends (or the lack thereof) will either make or break your experience.  One word says it, if you know me at all: Bahrain.

And this is why I decided about a month ago to join Internations.  I had seen they had a UB group when I was first getting ready to come here, but I thought it was strictly a paid site, and I wasn't sure that it was worth it.  Well, Domestic Goddess and Fire Marshall cleared up my fallacy - it IS a paid site, but it is also possible to have a low-level free membership, which is what I'm currently taking advantage of.  Because although it is true that there are a helluva lot of new people coming to our school next year, and probability would suggest that some of them will be awesome, there is no guarantee that they won't be complete and utter...well, let's just leave it at that, suffice it to say that I thought it might be nice to have options.  In fact, this weekend I chose to ditch said (leaving) awesome friends (who are ger camping right at this very moment) in order to attend an event I found on Internations, and ended up going to a second one as well.
What kind of event would be tempting enough to drag me away from my friends in our final weeks together?  Cooking class, of course!  Not just any cooking class, though - cooking class in Terelj National Park.  I hadn't been there yet (actually, it is where my awesome friends were going ger camping this weekend), so it was an added bonus.  Getting to the family who was teaching us, though, was a trip - we drove pretty far into the park, got out, went "over the river and through the woods" before getting into what I would like to call a "steppe bus," which freaked out a lot of my fellow chefs (mostly French, with a Mongolian, Russian, and another American thrown in) but which to me felt just like being back on my grandparents' farm, feeding the cows.
When we got to the family's ger, we were treated to milk tea, bread, and tarag (homemade Mongolian yogurt) for breakfast.  Then the real work began.
On the agenda for the day: making khushuur and buuz, which are Mongolian fried and steamed dumplings, respectively.  Back at Tsagaan Sar (Mongolian New Year) when I asked my students what they were doing on the holiday they told me "eating lots and lots of buuz."  These dumplings are central to Monglian cuisine and are made essentially the same way - you mince a LOT of mutton, add in some garlic, onion, salt, and seasoning, wrap it in a bit of dough (there are different wrapping styles for each), and either deep fry it or steam it. 

The wrapping is, beyond a doubt, the hardest part.  I've made Korean mandu before, and hell, I'm an art teacher, so I thought I'd do quite well.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  There is some sort of pinchy-foldy technique that results in a beautiful pattern along the edge, and I couldn't for the life of me figure it out, no matter how many times our hostess showed me, or how many khushuur I made - although they looked a little better by the time I made my last one, and I was getting faster at sucking.

Our only man on the trip also happened to be in Mongolia pursuing a doctorate in anthropology, and he regaled us with a story of a Mongolian VIP - I can't remember in what field - who traveled to China.  The Chinese fed him their best cuisine and said, "Isn't this tasty, isn't it better than what you eat in Mongolia?"  To which he replied that it was tasty, but the Chinese eat like rabbits while the Mongolians eat like wolves.  Well, us Westerners like our rabbit food, too...a typical Mongolian family could eat JUST khushuur for a meal, but we had to have our salad, and we chopped up cabbage to put into the dumplings.  Our host family kind of thought we were crazy because we cut the biggest pieces of fat off; they were happy to keep them.  Anyways, I was exhausted by the end of the day and I've rarely been so happy to see my bed (which is why I didn't finish this last night, faithful reader), but it was a good trip.  If you're interested in that sort of thing and read French, it was organized through EcoVoyage Mongolie.

Did I mention a second event?  Yes, I did.  Having nothing better to do on Saturday, at the last minute I joined a paintball expedition.  A couple of Russian guys (Alex and Andrei, if I caught their names correctly) run a paintball course south of the Tuul, west of Zaisan, and one of the UB Internations Ambassadors decided this would be a great activity for us.  Although I am NOT, by any means, the most athletic person in the world, I was raised with Shaggy, and he's into that sort of stuff, so I've played paintball a time or two, and I was pretty eager to give it another try.
I was hoping, based on the map of where the course was, that they would be set up in some trees (the last time I paintballed was in the woods on my parents' property.  It's a LOT of fun when you've got that kind of cover).  Actually, it was a constructed course, with pallets knocked together and stacks of tires to hide behind, which is not as fun, but not bad, either.  We got into "bulletproof" vests, and camouflage suits with more protection built in (for both our skin and our clothes), and got gloves, masks, and guns.
It was 30,000 tugrugs to play, which included 100 bullets.  You could buy 50 more bullets for 5,000 tugs, or 100 for 10,000, which all seems pretty reasonable to me.  The worst part by far was getting out there (especially on Children's Day - have I mentioned that Zaisan is starting to get busy?).  If you are on the Zaisan Rd, turn right at the Minii Supermarket - this is the road that you'd turn left on for the Buddha Park or Zaisan.  After the road turns to dirt, watch on your left for a spray-painted Cyrillic word (pictured above) and follow the arrows.

As far as Internations goes, I will probably end up paying for a membership.  I kind of hate trying to meet new people, which means it would be very good for me to do it anyways.  And with that, I have to finish getting ready for school.  Peace out, people.


  1. The khuushuur at the table looks SOOOO Looks like this ger camp started a new trend in a khuushuur pinching and folding technology. Great.

  2. Hi Becky- I sent this to your fb but it said it was sent to your "other" folder so you might not see it. So I am posting it here in hopes that you see it here:

    Hi Becky,
    Deborah mentioned you in a chat we had last night, and then I saw your post in on the ASU teacher page. I will be teaching 4th grade at ASU next year. I found your blog from your facebook profile (the public bits) and I am really enjoying it! I was gonna comment about Internations and Grub Club and ask some questions, but I figured I should introduce myself first somewhere. So here.

    Anyway, if you add me back, you can get an eyeful of my crazy life (well, not too crazy these days). The short of my intro: I'm a single mom to a soon-to-be-four year old. I met her dad teaching ESL in Korea a while back- he's still there (long story). I have traveled solo to many parts of the earth. I am definitely drawn to the artsier/creative/funky aspects of culture. I am 37, and I plan to be an international teacher extraordinaire. I love to try all the crazy foods that are available to try. My particular hobby is anything related to death rituals (I volunteer for FindaGrave, and go to cemeteries or related places everywhere I go). I saw you were in Kathmandu- I spent hours at the Pashupathinat Temple there watching the river side cremations and the accompanied ceremonies).

    It's hard to predict where friendships will form, but I have never met an art teacher that I didn't like. From the little bit I can see, you remind me greatly of one of my best friends. She is an art therapist and just finished her doctorate in art therapy. At any rate, I will meet you soon. We will be living in ASU housing (Oyunaa says apt 410). Now you know who will be commenting on your blog, anyway. :)

    Vanya Lasagna (and Olive, the goober)

    1. Hey Vanya! I just replied on FB - you're right, I wouldn't have seen that message, as I never check my "other" folder. Looking forward to meeting you!