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.