Sunday, February 9, 2014

How to Celebrate Like a Mongolian

As my original 6 readers know, before I moved here I lived in China for two years, and I've had the chance to experience the madness that is Chinese New Year three times (twice in Shanghai, and last year in Harbin).  It was my absolute favorite time to be in Shanghai, because as long as you didn't go to Yuyuan Gardens there wasn't a single crowd to be found (unfortunately the same can't be said of Harbin).
And I haven't even really done the crowd justice...
While I have a complicated relationship with China, I have to say that they know how to throw a party.  Even with the city emptied out (because everyone goes back to their ancestral home in the countryside) Shanghai sounded like a warzone for about two weeks.  There are three nights in particular that the fireworks go off for pretty much 24 hours straight - lunar new year's eve, three nights later, and seven nights later (the night honoring the Money God, which - as you might expect - people really go nuts for).  My second year in Shanghai, I went out on this night at around a quarter to midnight and wandered the streets, watching everything go off around me.  It was mayhem, and I loved it.

I don't know if you've realized this from last week's post, but Tsagaan Sar is nothing like that.  The only thing that it really has in common with Chinese New Year is getting together with your family.  Some of our kids here did go out to the countryside, but not all of them.  There IS an exchange of money, but it's more formal, more ceremonial.  In China, you hand out red envelopes to all sorts of people - maids, drivers, children, etc.  If I understood Engrish right, in Mongolia it's about a hierarchy, and most people end up getting back about the same about that they give away (all in crisp new bills), and you present it on top of a blue khadag (silk scarf) stretched over your arms.
But unless you've got some good Mongolian friends or some REALLY awesome students (ahem), you probably won't get to experience the airag drinking, snuff-sniffing, ger-tastic fun of Tsagaan Sar firsthand.  So this is how I recommend celebrating:

1. Pay off your debts:  By Tsagaan Sar eve, you're supposed to pay back any money you're owing.  Since my credit cards have been paid off, the only person I was indebted to was Engrish - 30,000 tugrugs for the ticket to see Arga Bileg.  Sadly, I didn't get to give her the money until three days into the new year.  Ah well, better late than never!

2. Take a hike:  It's supposed to be lucky to meet the sun (in a non-vampiric way) the first day of the year:
"We're up all night 'til the sun
We're up all night to get some
We're up all night for good fun
We're up all night to get lucky"  

(^See what I did there?)
Now supposedly which hillside you go up to meet the sun depends on the time or the year or something having to do with your birth.  I say just go up the nearest one, especially if it has an ovoo.  Dress warmly.
3. Clean that filthy hole you call home:  Okay, seriously, as sad as it is, I have a really hard time actually cleaning my own apartment.  I blame this on having a maid for a year and a half in Shanghai.  I'll get part of it done, and then wander off and play around on the internet, or something equally important.  So that was what I did most of Tsagaan Sar Saturday - I swept, swiffed, wet-swiffed, did the dishes, did the laundry...

No, I didn't kill the nest of dustbunnies living behind my headboard.  They're just too damn cute.

4. Cook a big meal: You're supposed to stuff your face during Tsagaan Sar, so who am I to say no?  Supposedly if you enter the new year hungry, you might go hungry throughout the whole year.  While that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing in some of our cases, I say when in Rome, do a Roman.  For my big Tsagaan Sar dinner, I followed the tradition of cooking white foods...buuuuuuuuut...Romans or no Romans, I believe enchiladas are a good food for every occasion, and Tsagaan Sar is no exception.  Mine just happened to be chicken (white) enchiladas with pepper jack (white) cheese and salsa verde (green is close enough to white, right???).

5. Finally - Have your nearest and dearest over for dinner:  Blondie, Champ, Wallflower, and another friend came over and partook of my enchiladas, making my Tsagaan Sar dinner just about complete.  The only thing lacking was Engrish, who is basically Mongolian and would have given a certain kind of legitimacy to my bastard celebration.  However, she was still with her Mongolian families having thousands of buuz (steamed mutton dumplings).

She may be practically Mongolian, but by that point she was wishing she was at my place eating enchiladas.

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