Monday, July 10, 2017

Buy It Here: Art Supplies

So...this is a post I meant to publish over the last few months, but even though I pretty much had it finished, I never actually got around to hitting the orange button.  Better late than never, right?

You can never have too many art supplies.  When I was in Osaka to make prints at the Kamigata Museum, I visited an art supply store, because of course I visited an art supply store.  The best markers in the world - Copic markers - are made in Japan.  I ended up dropping $100 on art supplies - I bought some new Copics, for half the price they'd cost in the States, watercolor postcards, tracing paper, half-tone screens for adding the grey areas in manga panels, more waterbrushes.  It's possible I went a little crazy, but in my defense, I found more in one small shop there than I can get anywhere in Mongolia.
This only looks like a lot of art supplies...
One thing about being an art teacher is, you never know when you're going to need more.  I do a pretty decent job of ordering, and my school is very generous with the budget, but I either have kids who come up with new ideas for what they want to do, or what I ordered gets worn out faster than I expected, or else I realize that if I had a particular kind of pen it would work better.  So there are options in Ulaanbaatar - you're not going to have to grind your own pigments and mix them Rembrandt style...just be prepared for the fact that the selection is not as wide and may not be as high quality.
The party is actually three doors north of here now.
For example, you won't find Copic markers, which is a shame, but the art store near the State Department Store has Touch markers, which are a comparable Korean brand of alcohol-based markers.  If you walk up the right/east side of the State Department Store, across the street is a yellow sign that says "Art and Antigue."  This was originally where all of the materials were - in the basement.  Now there's a second shop, three doors north (away from the SDS, if you don't speak cardinal directions), which has most of what I'm looking for when I go looking.
Another shop I managed to stumble on (about a year ago when all I wanted to eat, ever, was pho) is the Marie's shop, sort of across and up from the Chinese embassy on Baga Toiruu.  Marie's is a Chinese brand of art supplies - when I lived in Shanghai I wasted an entire day going up and down Fuzhou Lu (I think) looking for stuff, only to later learn that their big store on Xikang Lu was basically my one-stop shopping destination.  The store here has quite a bit to offer as well.  I don't get over there often anymore, thanks to the Pho House moving, but when one of the brats mentioned wanting to work with spray paint for AP last fall, I remembered they had airbrushes, and was able to pick one up for 150,000 tugrugs.
After writing most of this but obviously before I got around to publishing it, I found another art supply store up the street from the State Department store, but on the opposite side of the street. Like many things in Ulaanbaatar, if you keep your eyes open and wander around enough, you'll probably find it.  Keep looking.

Monday, July 3, 2017

The End of All Things

I was sitting in Ulaanbaatar's Chinggis Khaan airport as I began this post.  My flight was scheduled to leave in an hour and ten minutes, and I was completely shattered.

It's been five years since my last leaving.  I remember thinking at the time that things seemed to go remarkably easy.  Maybe it was because I accepted the job with the American School of Ulaanbaatar in early March.  Knowing where I was going made it easier to accept the fact that I wouldn't be in Shanghai.  Also, the fact that I kind of hated Shanghai...

Mongolia, on the other hand, I loved.  I didn't expect to be there five years, but ASU supported me and my students were the best.  About a month ago I found myself asking why the hell I gave up my job.  I was paid well, had friends, loved my work - but I just HAD to go looking for something else.  >le sigh<

A few days later, I got up early on a Saturday morning to try and get a grip on my packing.  My own personal procrastinatrix showed up to crack the whip only after our fine arts banquet, graduation, the end of year camp were looming (I probably should have backed down and let a few things go this year...but that just wouldn't be me).  But during my morning look at the interwebs my delusions of productivity smashed to pieces when I saw a job posting for an art teacher at a school in Yokohama (if you've been paying attention, you've noticed I never mentioned the name of my former school up to this point.  This is where the new school becomes It Which Must Not Be Named and it's okay to reference the old one).  Instead of spending my morning packing and cleaning, I put together a cover letter and sent off my documents and prayed.  The answer to my prayer came that evening in the form of a facebook message from a guy I knew my first year at ASU whom I wasn't very close to, so at first I was a little pissy about being offered help, but eventually I told myself not to be a bitch and replied, thanking him for the offer but that unless he knew someone at School X, I didn't know that there was much he could do for me.

"Believe it or not, I do," he replied, and after three interviews and some cost-benefit analysis I accepted the job.
Now, over the last six months I have told myself many, MANY times, "You need to clean your apartment."  Because I did.  I never actually fully cleaned the damn thing, which made dealing with the detritus accumulated over the course of five years much harder to deal with, but since we can only manipulate time going forward, my options were limited.

I left Shanghai after moving about three times.  My first year I lived in an apartment right next to the school, and moved about 5 minutes by bike away for my second, onto Laohongxing Lu.  My realtor negotiated with my landlord to let me out of my lease early, and so a few weeks before I was scheduled to leave Shanghai, I had to move out of my apartment.  This turned out to be the practice round for leaving the country, since I wasn't bringing all my crap to my friend Meen's, who was letting me take advantage of a spare room, and the momentum really did help me get ready for the big bad goodbye.

Moving out of the teachers' apartments never actually crossed my mind during the last five years.  While they weren't super-deluxe high-rises, and my view left much to be desired (because who wants to look out their window at work everyday???) there was plenty of room and I was comfortable.  I was never too cold, it was a quick walk to work, and I felt secure surrounded by my colleagues, even the more eccentric ones, of which we had a few.

Admittedly there were more than a few times when I wished I were on the side of the building that wasn't directly across the parking lot from where one of these eccentrics would practice his sad sax every evening, and perhaps because I spent so much time going between the two, there were times when I used the wrong key.  But when I needed to run home at lunch for a coke (or occasionally at the beginning of a class because I promised to bring a kid my markers or some other supply for their project) it was hellaconvenient.  Nonetheless, the inertia of a life lived well in one spot was hard to break, and I was still dealing with tic tac shit the morning I flew out.  (If you're wondering what it looked like when my apartment wasn't empty...this was wrtiten in my first year, so it wasn't anywhere near as full, but it gives you the idea).
A wise woman (named Engrish) once told me, on my very first ger camp, that Mongolia gets under your skin and makes you fall in love with it, and it was true.  It's a beautiful country with wide open skies, but I think more than anything it's the people that make it the place that it is.  My frantic packing and cleaning over the last week was broken up with goodbyes - one last brunch at Blondie's, a final massage with Five, dinner with a family I'd known since the first year, and being driven to the airport by my principal. 

That aside, though, if you've been with me for these last five years, you've probably noticed that even though this blog is supposed to be about traveling there is an endless string of references to my students, and the hardest part of leaving has been leaving them.  The end of the last day of school was brutal, a massive attack as they stopped in, teary-eyed, for a final hug as I promised that I was coming back, that I'd see them in next year's musical.  And then there were my brats.  The original, "accept no substitutes," kids who have been with me since day one organized a farewell dinner for Time Lady and I, and came to the airport to say goodbye two days later.  It's been a long road since we first sat in the teeny-tiny classroom that was mine that first year.  Many of them are gone - studying in the US or England - and they've had their challenges along the way, but I'm proud of them and wouldn't trade the pain of saying goodbye for anything in the world, because it's a testament to how much it meant.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Last Ger Standing

So last fall I wrote about revisiting Tsenkher Hot Spring with Engrish and Five, and how it was one of those things I wanted to do again before I left.  I imagined going on several more ger camps before my last flight out, but after our dogsledding weekend it never happened.  Once we started working on the musical, it seemed like time sped up, and wrecked me in all sorts of ways.
I would have liked to camp one last time with Engrish and Five, but my actual last ger camp, as it turned out, was a pretty kickass substitute.  One of my colleagues decided that the end-of-school activities for our middle schoolers should be camping trips, and since this was a thing, I volunteered pretty quickly to accompany my nerds out to Gun Galuut, a nature preserve that I hadn't yet visited...mostly because I'm not a fan of "tenting" and the only ger camp - Steppe Nomads - is pretty pricey.  Fortunately, the previously mentioned colleague has a Mongolian wife whose family runs it, so they gave us a great price.

So I was going to a new place with a great group of kids, and my fellow chaperones were four of my favorite colleagues (albeit obvs neither Five nor Engrish, who actually would have come if she weren't so busy).  So far, it was a pretty sweet set-up.  Bonus: I got to see the Chinggis Colossus one last time along the way.
Now, lest you are a new reader, or else have forgotten exactly what camping in the wilds of Mongolia is like, here's a little breakdown: you drive way the hell out into the middle of nowhere, on roads that back home we would optimistically classify as "B-Grade", to stay in a tent made of felt, and possibly burn dried animal poop for warmth in the cold, cold night.   This time we had wood fires, but that didn't keep me from telling the kids on the way out that their first task would be to collect dung for their fire for the night, and suggest that if they didn't want to touch it, they could turn a plastic bag inside out.  LOL
If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: whoever said getting there was half the fun ought to be dragged out into the street and shot.  The Voice and I were in the bus with most of the boys,  and they were pretty quiet.  The chaperones in the bus with most of the girls, on the other hand...they suffered.  And then we went off-roading in school buses - always a fun time, especially when your intended route takes you under train tracks, but the clearance isn't high enough for a school bus.  We had to try three underpasses before we were able to break on through to the other side.  Luckily nobody got carsick, and we'd stopped for snacks and the bathroom along the way.  In the end, our supposedly 2-hour ride ended up being over 4, but we got there in the end.
Once we got the kids assigned to their gers and the buses unpacked, we went on a hike.  And by hike, I mean a really long walk.  I counted myself fortunate to be with the kids who were done pretty quickly, and when they wanted to stop and chill and play in the water, I was happy to oblige.  One of my hardcore nerds decided to try "fishing" by stabbing at minnows with the stick he'd been carrying around.  (Apparently reading Hatchet in fifth grade had a huge impact, because they could tell me all about it).  Another of my nerds joined him, and their third technique - using a handkerchief for a net - was a success!  They were disappointed that I wouldn't actually let them eat their catch, but hey, responsible-type adult person here.

The hike back to the camp took about twice as long.  Possibly because at one point I turned around and realized that the other two chaperones and I were together with a big group, and there were quite a few stragglers spread out across the distance, so I went back to fish shoes out of the mud and tell them that no, they could not walk back to camp in their muddy socks while carrying their shoes.
We had some down time before dinner, and afterwards organized a game of capture the flag.  The space really wasn't big enough, but we didn't want to annoy the other guests and had to give the kids at least some cover to work with.  Since they didn't grow up with fairly hardcore Mutrux relatives who demanded perfection in their survivalist games, the kids didn't really care - they got to run around and chase each other, so they were happy.
We were pretty disappointed, though, that we couldn't have a campfire.  It was too windy, and a lack of rain meant that we were liable to burn down the steppe if we tried.  Instead, the camp let us use the...actually, I have no idea what to call it.  Common room?  An enclosed space where we could make a little noise without bothering others and being exposed to the elements.  Sadly, there was no fire, so the s'mores ingredients I brought didn't get used, but The Voice had an awesome game called Musical Charades that he led the kids in, where you speak/sing/act as many songs or musicians as you can in a minute.  My ghost stories had to wait for the ride back, and if it was not as satisfying as telling them around the fire, at least by the time "Tailybones" was giving them nightmares they were somebody else's problem.
I brought my flute and The Voice brought his morin khuur, so we were able to finish the night with some music, and since both of us are decent musicians...

Okay, fine.  I'm a decent musician who can play by ear.  He is a highly trained professional who basically kicks ass on whatever instrument he picks up.  I could take him in a dance off or pictionary, though...

Anyways, between the two of us we were able to take requests, and it was a nice way to end the night.  In fact, it put me in such a restful mood that two hours later I slept through my alarm and missed my turn on watch.  Oops. After breakfast the next day we had just enough time for a safari before we had to get ready to go back to UB.  A change in the students on each bus meant that mine was a little livelier, but since I got the group that wanted to tell ghost stories and talk nerdy, I didn't really mind.  When we got back to the school, I found it to be a disappointment more than anything, because it meant that everything was over, and these kids that I absolutely loved weren't mine much longer.  But I couldn't be sad for too long - I was in the middle of finally interviewing with a school I actually wanted to work for, and I had the last interview the next morning.  More on that later.