Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday Rider

On one hand, I'm a little bit ashamed to admit that I've only taken my bike out three times since I bought it - taking it to church and back on Sundays.  On the other hand, considering everything else that I have going on, I'm glad that I've done that much.

Last summer I watched the first three seasons of The Walking Dead.  It made for a couple of very stressful weeks, and I began to wonder if this was good for my sanity when, on one of my walks to the store, I saw three Mongolian men shuffling up the sidewalk in clothes that looked a little worn and dirty, because it made my heart skip a beat and I had to review the difference between reality and fantasy.

Today on my ride to church I decided that if there ever IS a zombie apocalypse, a bike is the perfect form of transportation.  You don't need electricity or any sort of fossil fuel to operate it, and it's pretty quiet.  It is faster than a shuffling zombie horde, and although it offers you no protection if you are surrounded, you can swing a sword a lot more easily from a bike seat than inside a car.  Since tire patches and bike pumps will be one of the farthest things from anyone's mind when they are looting stores, you shouldn't have to worry about running out, and other than your tires, a bike will never break down unless you do, and if you break down, you've got bigger problems than transportation.  And if the zombie apocalypse ever happens, I hope it happens before I leave Mongolia, because you'd be hard pressed to find someplace as sparsely populated as here.  Once you got outside of UB, you'd have a lot of open grassland, through which you'd be able to see them coming a long way off.  And it makes me wonder what would happen to a walker in -30C weather?  Would it slow them down???

Now I just need to see about those archery lessons...

On my way home I decided I needed lunch.  Last Sunday I was tempted to stop for shashlik (skewers of freshly grilled meat) when I passed the park at the bottom of Zaisan.  This Sunday I gave in to temptation.  I've only been through there once - every other time I've climbed Zaisan I've gone up the back and taken a shortcut down the side.  I knew they had shashlik, but I had no idea it was a veritable meat lovers' paradise.  The smell alone could drive a carnivore crazy.  I chased my meat with a fat Ghirardelli brownie from Good Price's bake case (hey, in for a penny, in for a pound!)  It might not be the most exciting weekend on record, but with the reconnaissance I did for my ceramics lesson yesterday, it was pretty productive, and satisfying.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Grub Club: Bonito Brazilian Barbecue

Engrish: weirded out by what passes for "sausage"
So, it's my pick again this week.  Last week Wallflower chose a restaurant that wasn't open at the moment, and we ended up eating at Mexikhan again - hence no blog. I once wanted to take us to a place that had closed: Bonito Brazilian Barbecue.  When we stopped by as we were going to Bluefin earlier this year and it had reopened, I looked at the menu and thought, "Well, maybe not."

But then again, maybe so.  I wasn't really ready to choose this week.  I have been distracted by things like yearbook and art shows and other fun (read: exhausting) stuff, and before I knew it, it was yesterday morning and I hadn't picked a I panicked.  EVERY restaurant I've heard about but never eaten at flashed through my head then promptly disappeared (they did go through my head, at least, because I later remembered which one I had decided on in that brief instant).  I considered Bangkok, but they've changed locations and now I don't know where they are, and I almost sent an email saying we'd go to The Bull for hotpot and maybe even try the penis this time (since I'm gearing up for Kanamara Matsuri next Sunday!) but in the end, I remembered that Bonito had reopened, and that it would be completely new and unusual (at least compared to what we've done for Grub Club thus far), so I picked it.

I didn't remember much from the menu when we were there, quite possibly because it was in Mongolian, but I remembered that there were different meat options.  I was afraid it was going to be just meat, so I was heartened when we figured out that it included a buffet, and the buffet had tons of vegetables.  There were several nice salads - I was a fan of the one in the bottom right-hand corner with the tomatoes, although Blondie prefered the one with ALL the shredded carrots.  They had soups, some nice bread, rice, a kind of bland spaghetti, and even some little dessert-ish things.  It kept me from starving while I was waiting for my meat to be cooked.  Blondie, Wallflower, Champ, and Engrish made it to the restaurant before me and ordered some of the exact same things that were on the buffet, which didn't impress them too much, but at least they weren't starving waiting for me or their food.

However, the meat was what we came for.  We were a little confused - Engrish has some mad Mongolian skills, but she's no protocol droid, and her understanding of what the waitress said was that the meat was all-you-can-eat, too.  It wasn't, and it's too bad we didn't figure that out earlier - I would have gotten more chicken when I had the chance!  Most of us went for the three meat option - sausage, chicken, and lamb - but Engrish thought somebody should try the five meat and see what the pork and beef rib was like.  The pork was fatty, as you can see.  The beef was...gamey?  Farmy???  It had a much more farmish taste to it than you expect from beef, even in Mongolia, and for a change, we all agreed that the "sheep," as our waitress called it, had a nicer flavor, even if it was much fattier.  The chicken was heavenly, and the "sausages?"  They were hot dogs.  It was such a disappointment.
If you've got Rio on your mind, Bonito will not satisfy that need, but if you're stuck in UB it may be as close as you get.  Sit so that you face the wall with the mural of the showgirl, Christ the Redeemer, and the soccer ball, and you might feel a little more like it - the Christmas trees on top of the AC unit really didn't do it for me!  It's just south of the Kempinsky on the east side of the street.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

How to Enjoy an Additional 9 Hours Stuck In Beijing

Well, I mentioned Mongolia's winds kept me airport bound last Sunday 9 hours longer than it should have.  It's possible that I jinxed myself, because as I was hustling down to my gate in the first place, I noticed the fountain and thought, "If I ever get stuck in Beijing an ungodly length of time again, I can work on a blog about it."  Well, the sad thing is, there's really not that much good to say about Beijing's international terminal.  This is what I came up with to do...
 1. Look at all the teapots for sale, and try to take sneaky pictures.  I'm introducing ceramics to my art program this year, and one of my classes will be hand-building a teapot.  I wrote up an actual, real lesson plan and everything, and am planning to use an excerpt from Sherlock.  I bought a couple of teapots in Pearl City last Saturday, but there was a bigger selection at the airport, a fact that I mourned for just long enough to realize how much more expensive airport teapots are.  Then I decided to take some photos so I could show a greater variety of examples.  Which the ladies at the tea place did NOT like.  I tried to go back and get more later, with my phone turned on silent.  It didn't work.
2. Visit Starbucks.  Again.   And again.  We don't have Starbucks in Mongolia.  Since I don't drink coffee, I don't miss it that much, but when I get the chance to enjoy a caramel cream frappucino, I take it!  Their mozzarella tomato basil sandwich thing is pretty good, too.  Not as good as Pizza Hut, but faster, more portable, and since Round Table moved into UB, the fact that they use actual pepperoni doesn't hold as much water as it used to.
3. Revisit past Beijing Airport experiences and wonder what might have been.  'Nuff said.
4. Pretend you're somewhere in China besides the Beijing Airport.  Ugh.  Seriously.  I'd deal with the stinky tofu if I could trade being here for being in a real water town.
5. Enjoy the melodic sounds of the fountain.  Except that there's no bench nearby on which to sit, and you're so crazy after being stuck here for six hours that climbing in has started to sound like a good idea.  So maybe the fountain's not such a great place to hang out at this point.

There's no McDonald's or Burger King or really any good restaurants once you're in the international terminal, and the security process is "thorough" enough that unless you're into that sort of thing, leaving is probably not worth it.  There is no Facebook or Youtube on that side of the Great Firewall, either, so you'd best hope you have a book or two, because being stuck in Beijing is hell.  If you're heading towards Mongolia in spring, you're better off going through another airport.  Like Seoul.  Which, given my luck, you may be hearing about in three weeks, but I'll be a lot happier in Incheon, for SO many reasons.

Sunday, March 16, 2014


It's taking a lot to get me going this morning.  I just got back at 1 a.m. from the ACAMIS conference, where I was representing my school in the Cultural Enrichment arm of the organization.  It was an energizing weekend, followed by a soul-sucking trip back (ie, never, ever let me take trips with a layover in Beijing during the spring - I don't like it enough to get stuck there).

Also, Chinese Coke > Mongolian Coke. 

I'll talk about the conference on my teaching blog, but there were a few things to share about a short trip back to Shanghai:
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Muppets:
Fashion is not so important that poor helpless Muppets should have to give up their lives for it.  Also, I bet that thing is not exactly flame retardant, not to mention spring has fully sprung in Shanghai, and it seems like she should have been really hot.  Who wears something like this?
Actually, this was parked just after where I saw her.  Maybe a person who wears a Muppet fur coat drives a car this color?  Don't care for the color, but I kind of dig the iridescent carnival glass looking rims on the wheels.
Food is always a highlight of time spent in Shanghers.  Last spring I didn't end up getting to go for teppanyaki; this weekend my friend Siobhan helped me to rectify that situation by making a reservation for me and 7 of my nearest and dearest at Uminosachi on Nanyang Lu.  The big bursts of flame didn't have that much to do with the food, as far as I can tell, but it made for an impressive show.  The fact that you can get all-you-can-eat teppanyaki (including sushi and sashimi) for 198 kuai (about $30) is excellent, and even after eating for a couple of hours, you don't feel sick from eating too much.
I ate some other delicious things - JoAnn ordered me a pizza from New York Style Pizza for when I got in on Thursday night (FYI - Air China's food sucks a big bag of ....), and barbecue from Bubba's for our Saturday night gab session, which I supplemented with the sweetest, juiciest strawberries, found as I was walking down Hongmei Lu, but nothing made me quite as happy as finding that Hongqiao airport had a Macca's serving breakfast at 7 o'clock Sunday morning.  I also would have killed for some xiaolongbao (soup dumplings), a visit to the jjimjjilbang in K-Town, or time with my friend Meen, but considering how long I was there and how much I fit in (I didn't mention the Ikea trip for frames, a stop at Marie's for assorted art supplies, or teapot buying at Hongqiao Pearl City), not to mention the fantastic conference, it was well worth a trip back into China and all the consequent frustrations.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Grub Club: Round Table Pizza

I am such a lazy slacker that I'm typing this at nearly 2 in the morning Monday night.  By all rights I should be asleep, but I fell asleep early tonight reading a book, so I was just awake enough around midnight thirty to hear my phone when my friend messaged me on facebook, and now my brain is all fired up, thinking about how she might be here visiting this fall.  And since that's a good kind of excited, I can live with missing a little sleep.
Last week I might have made my non-resting bitch face when I got Squeaker's email saying that we would go to Round Table for Grub Club.  (And Blondie might have called me out on it in a separate email.)  I wasn't impressed.  We all know and love Round Table - it's the first number I think of when I don't feel like cooking and am too lazy to go into town for dinner - but it's not new and exciting fare.  Still, when Squeaker, Blondie, and I finished buying felt slippers and joined the others there, I was very happy to see they'd ordered some parmesan twists - not my favorite menu item, but still pretty tasty and by then I was starving.
I go through phases where I like different things on Round Table's menu.  If they ever start serving jalapenos on their pizza, that would change in a heartbeat, but for now, I'm loving the Italian garlic supreme.  I decided to go for the wee baby pizza, since I'd already stolen a parmesan twist and was having cinnamon twists for dessert.
Engrish, who is part rabbit, feasted on this delicious salad before turning her attention to a huge honking pizza, most of which went home as the next day's lunch.  I may have caught her double-fisting this and a parmesan twist, but the photo wasn't a very good one.

There's a moral to this story.  Even Squeaker was downplaying the fact that she took us to bloody Round Table (which is part of a chain in the states), but it was damned delicious.  Not a single one of us went home hungry or dissatisfied with what we ordered.  Was it as exciting as trying something new?  No.  Did she win points for her strategy?  Nope, but she got quite a few tens anyways.  Will I be happy for whatever new and interesting restaurant Champ picks this week?  Well, I'm ALWAYS excited about ANYTHING Champ picks, since she's my (and everyone else's) girl-crush, buuuuut I will be on my way to Shanghai for the ACAMIS conference, so it looks like I'm going to be missing Grub Club for the second time in recorded history.  So stay tuned for that this week instead.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Like Riding a Bicycle...

Of all the things I miss about Shanghai (and contrary to my general attitude about my two years there, I do miss a few things about it), it turns out that the one I miss the most is the nice, flat-as-a-pancake, topography.
A couple months back I wrote about my ambition to be an elf when I grow up.  I haven't been a total slacker when it comes to this goal, although the progress is slow going, partly because my feet suck.  Seriously.  My feet are awful, and they have been since I let a friend talk me into a run - sheesh, almost four years ago.  I've tried giving them a break, I've tried working through it, I've taken Celebrex, but I have yet to fix the problem.  Undoubtedly this means I need to work harder, but I hate doctors, so I've sorta been at an impasse.  Well, lately they've been getting worse and worse, and I've found myself empathizing with Socrates' chronic body problems - different body parts, but no less frustrating.  I could continue this monologue about the lead up to yesterday afternoon, but let's jump to the chase: in order to get exercise and still stay off my feet, I dropped a cool mil on a bike.

I haven't biked much since leaving Shanghai.  It's cold a lot - A LOT - of the year, and when I interviewed with the principal before I came here, she didn't seem to think it was very safe.  Well, after a year and a half, I've decided if I can bike in the bloody Emirates and freaking Shanghai, I can handle the Mongol hordes.  So I walked to the Trek shop, found a bike I like, balked at the price a little, and eventually rode away on the beauty pictured above.  It doesn't have a basket, or a light, or a bell, although it does have a kickstand, since I realized it was missing one before I left the shop.  I might be able to remedy the first two while I'm in Shanghai in two weeks, but I think I'll be better off getting an airhorn - nobody's going to hear a bell here, since everyone either drives or has their music in their ears.
(Speaking of music in my ears...)
I hadn't biked that far when I realized how out of shape I really am, but I didn't let it stop me from biking into town and having a bite of lunch.  I was dying by the time I made it home - my back was aching and my tailbone was bruised.  Later that night when I got out of bed my knees were protesting too - it's strange to think that maybe I'm getting old!?!  But they were good sorts of pains, and they served to convince me that - along with a multitude of other things on my plate this spring - I am going to make this happen.  Try to forgive me if there are a lot of posts about biking in Mongolia coming up.