Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year

01/01/2014


            First let me say Happy New Year to everyone, and sorry that it’s been so long since I’ve updated the blog.  In my defense it was a very busy time of year, I had several units ending at the same time (12- DNA, 9- Electricity, 6- Animals) so lots of tests to write and grading to get done.  The faculty Thanksgiving, and Christmas parties, I’m actually on the social committee.  Not to mention getting sick and prepping for my trip to Thailand.  Don’t worry I will get you caught up to speed on everything, including a wonderful 18 days in Thailand.

            So I will begin in the present with the rather interesting ride I had from the airport to my apartment late in the afternoon.  Now I will say that if I wasn’t so tired, my first flight left Thailand at 11:55 pm the night before, or cold, I only brought warm up pants and a wind breaker to wear over my shorts and a t-shirt, I probably would have realized something was wrong.  As I trudged out of the airport, a guy asks me if I need a taxi, which I do so I play along.  Clue number one was his car was in the regular lot, but I just want to get back to my apartment.  Clue two when I ask the price of the fare, now in Mongolia when talking about a taxi fare it’s assumed that you are talking in thousands of Turgiks.  The quote is 40, when it only took me twenty to get to the airport, he gives me thirty five and we’re off.  Again I rarely take taxis and Chiang Mai was pretty cheap.  Thus upon arrival I hand him 40,000 Turgiks expecting change, only to get rebuffed, he wants forty American, which is 75,000 Turgik’s almost four times what should normally cost.  I told my agitated and supposed taxi driver that it was all I had, took my bag and beat a hasty retreat through the school gate.  Woohoo security guard.

            Despite my long day traveling, I did manage to stay up to welcome in 2015, but I did have some help and no it was not caffeine.  Mongolia like some other Asian countries has a different yearly calendar than the west and as such celebrates a different start to the New Year.  This celebration is called Tsagaan Sar and operates on the Mongol Calendar which is a lunar calendar made by a Buddhist monk (Ishbaljir) in 1747.  Tsagaan Sar takes place in February and I’ll give you the full story then, and yes there is a story with it, or at least I think there is.  The reason I’m mentioning this now, is that despite their own New Year’s celebration the city is going crazy.  Wild Spider Monkeys on Red Bull crazy, tonight with fireworks going off all over the place, some of which are right next door.  I did get a good show for the few minutes I could sit on the freezing cold windowsill, before freezing my but off.  Now I can only think of three reasons for the raucous and rather spirited celebrations taking place across the city tonight.

1- It’s because the Russians banned Tsagaan Sar or imported the New Year’s Celebration
2- It’s another excuse to throw a party
3- All of the above


Well that’s it for the re-launch of Musings on Mongolia, and here are some new years fireworks.



PS- My New Year’s Resolutions in no particular order

1- Continue to travel.  I’m looking at getting to South Korea or Taiwan over Spring Break, China and potentially Taiwan if I don’t do it over Spring Break during the summer, The Mongolian Eagle festival which might be over fall break (It was this year), and either Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, or Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei over winter break.  There might also be a Mongolian trekking tour in there somewhere to.

2- Finish writing Gunslinger Girl World Tour (I'm on chapter 17 of 30) and start the final part of the trilogy

3- Finish watching all of the anime stored on my hard drive (I bet some of you thought I did that already)

4- Keep up with both of my blogs and post about my trips to Thailand and Japan

5- Figure out how to use and implement google classroom

6- Take some Mongolian language lessons

7- Look into getting a Masters in Biology


Monday, November 17, 2014

Another day another 1850 Turgiks

11/16/2014


               Sorry it’s a little late this week guys, but it’s been a little busy here recently, so it’s also going to be a little short.  Well to start things off electricity still hates me as I fried my blender this week when I tried to use it to blend some peas for a Bio lab.  However all of my recent electrical mishaps are proving quite useful in my Science 9 class as we are now in the electricity unit. Science in action people!

               The big social event of the week was quiz night at a local bar in the city, against other teams of expats.  Getting there was a bit of an adventure, because the only safe way to drive in Mongolia is with a tank.  The buses well, I don’t think the drivers love the accelerator a little too much.  If I wasn't leaning against one of the poles I probably would have been thrown to the ground.  One of my fellow quiz team members took to hanging from the handles like a spider monkey and swinging with the bus.  Just looking at him doing that made my nonexistent dinner want to explode all over the bus.

Bus




Traffic




               My small team came in 5th place and I managed to help with a couple of questions.  We are thinking of doing it again in December.  Now for the pub food.  It was pretty good and reasonably priced at around 17 dollars US.

Cesar Salad- Woohoo green leafy stuff yum yum




Dubliner Irish Stew- Tasty but they really need to trim the meat, some were a little fatty and one had an artery attached




Mongolian Bacon round 2


               Mongolian bacon wins because it has bones in it


PS- I’m going to the ballet this weekend, Giselle, my seat is in the first ten rows.

PPS- I’m going to be doing my anime biology panel via skype at Sangawa Con in Pittsburgh as long as it works out on their end.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Cold Weather and Food

11/9/2014


Weather

               The ice man cometh or something like that.  It is now officially (for me anyway) cold.  I have broken out the sweatshirts and jackets.  I hear the screams calling for the Guinness Book of World Records, but you aren't the ones here in Mongolia.

Friday
High 36 (I don’t think it actually got this high)
Early Afternoon 19
Low 13


Saturday

               Morning-  -3F and smoke.  You could see a dark blanket laying over the main part of the city and you might think it was raining a bit until you realize you’re in Mongolia.  I was advised not to run outside anymore and save my lungs.

Basically something like this



               Evening- Not much better

Sunday
   Pre hike 7F
       Post hike 23F


               This off course means that the Cross Country kiddies are now inside running the hallways of the school.  Apparently the rule here is we have to go inside when the temperature drops below freezing, which I certainly agree with.  If only because I really don’t want to run when it’s that cold.  This of course led to an interesting discussion with one of my Mongolian coworkers who thought that it wasn't that cold out and the students should still be running outside to teach them perseverance.  Um maybe that would work if it wasn't me out there running with them.

               On a side note sunset 5:25am and sunrise 7:45am.  Sadly my students have informed me it is only going to get worse with light coming as late as 9am and darkness arriving as early as 4:15pm.  Dang it I really don’t want to teach in the dark, like last year.

Food


               It was another adventurous week in food for me here in the deliciously exotic Ulaanbaatar.  The first item on the list is extremely tasty and delicious.  I’m sure you’ve heard of all lovely non-dairy milk alternatives.  As for the uninformed you have Soy, Almond, Coconut, Rice, Peanut, Hemp and Oat.  Yes you heard me right, Hemp milk, which I’ve never seen before, but I have to think it would sell well in certain areas of the country, cough Colorado, cough Alaska, cough Oregon, and cough Washington.  Now before anyone has a stroke, I didn’t have Hemp milk.

Oat Milk- It does a body good



Got Oats




               All kidding aside oat is milk is actually pretty tasty and only 130 cal per serving.  It has a consistency similar to 1% milk, and is a bit sweeter than regular milk.  It’s not overly sweet though and it goes well with cereal.  The only other thing worth noting is the color which is more of an off white tan.


Chris 0 Mongolian Bacon 1

               At the insistence of certain extended family members I purchased a unique food item during my last grocery shopping trip, Mongolian Bacon.  I don’t know if that’s an actual thing here in Mongolia or not, but the package was in Mongolian so its close enough for me.  At first glance it’s pretty obvious it’s not a particularly lean cut of meat.



               Now the plan was to cook the bacon, sauté the mushrooms in the bacon fat, then boil up some mushroom flavored pasta, before mixing everything together.  Sadly things did not go according to plan, as my bacon ended up looking like this.



               The few pieces that weren't burnt to a crisp tasted alright, but they were still a bit chewy.  I still went ahead with the plan cooking the mushrooms in the bacon fat.  Big mistake, everything ended up tasting like a burnt inedible mess.  So it was another cereal for dinner night.
Cereal so much more than a breakfast food.


Chris 1 Horse 0

               One thing I have learned during my travels in Japan and my short stint here in Mongolia so far is, when in doubt go with the picture on the package.  Since Yak meat is unavailable, I went with what I think is horse meat since it had a picture of a horse on the package.


               I sauteed the meat for 5-6 minutes, braised it for another 40min and then threw it in to cook with the pasta and peppers for another 10min.  In the end it was horse meat and red bell pepper carbonara.  Not the tastiest thing in the world but much better than my experiment with Mongolian bacon.  (Note- it stank up the apartment while I was braising it)  The meat itself is a bit tasteless and a little chewy, but not unpalatable.  I might try it again at a restaurant cooked by someone who actually knows what they are doing.

               Oh and Michael Kumis or Ariag (Fermented Mares Milk) is normally available in the spring and summer so it might be a while till I can get some.  I have also learned through the grapevine that it is either really good, or absolutely disgusting (if it’s watered down).

Electricity hates me

               I have had some issues with electricity in the past, electrical sockets, model trains, electric fences, space heaters, physics experiments, and gel electrophoresis.  However I thought I had put all of that behind me.  Sadly I was mistaken.


               Strike one was setting up one of my extra surge protectors because I only have one plug in one of the rooms.  As you can imagine it did not go well.  Several big sparks and a scorched surge protector later, left me with a blow circuit breaker for my apartment.  Needless to say I had to throw out the two surge protectors I was working with.


               Strike two happened a few days later when I finally set up my air filter, due to the winter smoke starting to build.  It’s now so cold that the gears have started using their stoves for heating.  It’s not bad yet, but you can smell it in the morning.  My trusty air filter that I lugged all the way from the states lasted all of about twenty seconds before popping and smoking.  I tried looking at it, however I doubt it’s worth taking apart as my whole place smells like burning.  On second thought, I might have my Ninth graders take it apart to look at fried circuit boards and such since we start the electricity unit on Monday.

Hiking the Ridge line behind the school

               Since it won’t be too much longer before the weather drops into the negative freeze your but off category, I went hiking out on the ridge line behind the school.  Distance wise the hike wasn't that long but height wise we climbed up pretty far.

8am in Mongolia


The first part of the climb


Solar Powered Ger


The school for reference- The yellow building on the right


No that’s not fog


Rest stop


Presidents House


Snow or Frost


View from 1800m- Yes the smog is getting worse.


A Magpie I think- (or as the Canadians call it a rat with wings)


Ovoo

               This is a Shamanistic or Tengriism shrine found on mountain tops or other high places.  These are used for mountain and or sky worship and may also have some Buddhist symbolism.  Now what you are supposed to do is stop and circle it three times add a rock to the pile and leave an offering of some kind.  Yeah I kinda didn’t do that….. Doh!!!


Bonus
Mongolian Customs
If you step on some ones foot, you have to shake their hand.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween

11/02/2014


               Happy Halloween everyone even if it’s a little belated.  Now from what I am able to discover between asking around and digging on the internet, Halloween is not really a holiday the Mongolians celebrate.  That did not mean that the school was bereft of Halloween activities.  Face painting took place before school and during lunch, a costume contest during homeroom, plus a haunted house and a scary movie showing after school.  Luckily my part in the festivities was rather limited as I had cross country practice after school.  I was utterly shocked by the turnout at practice today, on a Friday, Halloween, and the temperature hovering around freezing.  We had a record turnout for the Friday long run, which revolves around running until I tell everyone to turn around and go back (20min each way).  It was a glorious practice, best of the season, I had so much fun it was almost criminal.

Since I’m in Mongolia



               If you haven’t figured it out by now, yeah no one showed up.  Thus I ended up with the afternoon off and took a nap, woke up thinking it’s late at night, only to find out it was 6:20pm.  The days have been getting really short recently, dark at 6pm light at 7am more or less, and no daylight savings time.

               Now back to Halloween, it was like being at an anime convention today, with all of the different costumes, League of Legends, Fairy Tail, Naruto, Madoka Magica, Bleach, plus all of your associated zombies, vampires and assorted horror movie creatures.  My personal favorites out of the bunch were the following

Konan from Naruto (sorry no real pictures for obvious reasons)



Erza Scarlet (Purgatory Armor) from Fairy Tail, which was worn by the art teacher



Food


               The rest of the week wasn't nearly as interesting, just the same old same old.  I did find another grocery store that sold Mongolian meats buns.  Now against my fellow teacher’s advice I just had to try some, two thin ones and two big ones.  I sautéed some mushrooms, because everything is better with mushrooms, and added a little bit of Bolognese sauce.  If you thought the sauce was homemade than your nuts, what do I look like, John.  Anyway the meet buns were glorious, and they traversed my digestive system correctly.  The camera is on the fritz so these will have to do.

Big ones


Thin ones


               Not much else is going on or planned for this weekend since grades are due, So I’ll leave you with a couple of supposedly haunted places from Japan.  The first two pictures are the lover’s rocks at the Kiyomizu temple.   The legend is that if you touch the first rock and walk with your eyes closed to the second rock and manage to touch it your true love will happen.  No I did not attempt this.



               This one is not a myth or legend, but this is what happens when you can’t read the local language and go wandering off into the hills behind a small temple in Kyoto.



                  Well this looks interesting let’s see where it goes.





               This is a little weird, but I am in Japan so who knows.  Maybe it is some Buddhist thing since it’s behind a Buddhist Temple.  I think the stone is a Ryuseki stone, which is usually some kind of monument or marker.  In Sakura Wars they are used to seal demons, so who knows what this one is doing.



               Ok that was a little creepy…… Um, ok its getting a little chilly…… Ok, that sounds weird…..  Ok, now I’m officially creeped out….. Oh hell…. Cheese it, I’m running…..


               I am not one to put much stock in the supernatural being a science teacher and all, but I was for the first time in my life officially creeped out.  One quick run later and I was back at the bottom of the path.  I did search out a local guide and priestess to ask them about what I had stumbled into and their answer only made it worse.  What path behind the temple, you mean that you can go up the mountain their……. Bloody hell if the locals don’t even know then where the hell was I.  And the moral of the story kids is try to learn the language, don’t go wondering off, and red signs usually stop you idiot.

Okiku’s Well- Himeji Castle



               Okiku was a handmaiden at the castle and the lover of one of the castle lords loyal retainers.  During her course of her work she overheard a plan to overthrow the castle lord.  She warned the lord of the castle and the plot failed.  The plotters then accused her of breaking some dishes that were a family treasure and had her killed.  After her death a voice could be heard coming from the well counting the broken pieces of the dishes she broke.  Sometime later the lord of the castle discovered all of the conspirators and her killers.  Let’s just say it did not end well for them.  The lord of the castle removed the remained and had them enshrined at a local temple making her a goddess.  The voices then stopped.

Matsuyama castle

               Legend has it that a large demon bat lives in the well.


In closing a Mongolian Folk Tale 

How the Camel Lost His Good Looks.
They say that long, long ago the Camel used to be one of the most handsome animals. He had a long fluffy tail and nice and mighty horns.
All the animals in the forest and the steppe were envious of the Camel. Many of them wanted to have the kind of tail that the Camel had, or the kind of horns he had.

The Camel knew of this and said proudly: ``You won't find the kind of tail I have, or the horns, anywhere else in the world!''
But it would have been better if he had not boasted.
Once he came up to the river to have a drink of water and there met a Maral. ``I'm invited to a party. Will you lend me your horns, just for a while?'' asked the Maral.
The Camel lent him his horns.
Later on that very day the Camel met a Horse.
``I'm invited to a party,'' said the Horse, ``will you lend me your tail?''
The Camel agreed and stayed on the bank of the river.
The Maral and the Horse ran off. All day long the Camel was drinking water and looking up the road while waiting for them.
But there was no sign either of the Maral, or of the Horse.
The Maral had deceived the Camel and skipped over to the taiga. He stayed there for ever and never went out into the open steppe. He got accustomed to the horns as if they were his.
The Horse never gave back the borrowed tail and when he comes across the Camel, he gets frightened and runs away.

That is how the Camel lost his good looks and sweet temper.

FYI- I first heard Christmas music being played in a small face with really good Cheese Cake on October 18th so I think that beats the States for extending the Christmas season.

PS- Mike it's all your fault.  I went and asked for Yak meat at the supermarket and they looked at me like a crazy person.

PPS- i still don't know why the pictures are sideways when they don't do that in word.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A little bit of everything

October 26, 2014

Congratulations

               It was a pretty uneventful week in Mongolia, and I was busy with school work, laundry, and pretty much life in general.  Now before I forget congratulations John to making me an uncle, congratulations Dave, and Joy welcome to the family.  Now Joy I have to ask did you test Dave’s strength by having him break the neck of a cooked sheep.  This one part of the traditional Mongolian marriage ceremony.  Joy I know he gave you a ring, but did he also remember the sugar and tea leaves in a white handkerchief.  Personally I think he forgot, oh and don’t worry the Yak, Camel, and Goat are in the mail, they just got hung up in customs.  Don’t ask me why though, it’s not like they have Mongolian Yak flu or anything.

His name is Bat and he likes grass 


Her name is Bolormaa and she is good for cashmere


His name is Nergu and is a little feisty


Food

               Now in other news I got to venture into the city a bit more, this time for hot pot.  For those who don’t know (John I know you do) it is an East Asian stew.  What makes it a bit different is that you are served the broth and stew components separately.  In this particular restaurant I chose the milk bone tomato soup, and group picked a number of different components.  We had 4 types of mushrooms (1 might have been a truffle of some sort), 2 types of beef, pork, udon noodles (excellent), spinach pasta, herbs, tofu (I’ll pass), and some other thing I didn’t try.  Supposedly part of the fun is mixing everything in the soup once it’s boiling and cooking it yourself.  I know some people like that, but it’s not my thing.  Don’t get me wrong the food was excellent and the conversation even better, but I would only do it with a group.  Now for me personally the best part of the meal was the pickled garlic, oh so good
.

             The only other hot pot I’ve had is Shabu-Shabu, which is Japanese hot pot.  The Mongolian variety is better since the soup is actually flavored.  In the Shabu-Shabu I had it was just boiling water.  It also helped that this time I actually knew what the heck I was doing.  In Hakone I had no idea and looked like an idiot in the dining room.


Ulaanbaatar

National Library



Parliament


A Beatles Statue- Don’t ask me why it’s in downtown UB, I don’t even like their music


The houses of Leaders

               On Fridays I have the enviable duty of taking the Cross Country team on the long run of the week.  Since I got tired of running the hills around the school I took them on a nice little run down by the river and went past the Mongolian President’s house.  At least according to my students.  Sadly I am unable to confirm anything or get any pictures of it off the internet.  So instead I give you the Emperors Palace in Tokyo, Japan.


Important discussions

               Over the past few days I have been having a heated and important discussion with some of my students.  The topic of discussion is my choice of anime viewing.  There are currently four very popular Shounen (action) anime right now, Bleach, Naruto, One Piece, and Fairy Tail.  Right off the bat Bleach is thrown out because we all agree that it’s too old and should have ended years ago.  Naruto is also discounted because it’s old, being going for too long, and the Mangaka (author) refuses to kill off one of the characters.  The entire western fan base pretty much agrees on this for the most part.  Thankfully it’s ending next month.  Now my students really like One Piece, which is about pirates, really stupid pirates.  I will give the show credit for good music and some interesting powers, but overall I’m not a fan.  I prefer Fairy Tail which is the newest of the four, and is about wizards.  It has great music, good animation, interesting powers, and an interesting plot.  It’s also going to break the bank for me when I finally decide to buy all of it 200+ episodes and counting.  We basically agreed to disagree.


               Well that’s about it from Mongolia for this week, and if anyone has any ideas for a Halloween costume since it looks like I might have dress up for Friday let me know.