Friday, February 27, 2015

Phi Phi Island SCUBA diving

SCUBA Diving at the Phi Phi Islands

          I know its been a while, but here are the pictures from my Thailand SCUBA diving adventure.  Now a few things before the pictures begin.  First while there are a lot I tried to limit it to the best ones.  Second, while I am a science teacher, I am not an expert on fish, so don't expect any scientific names.  So here we go.

The Phi Phi Islands

The Reef




Star Fish

Angel Fish

Giant Clam

Neon Tetras

Puffer Fish

Sea Turtle

Sea Anemone

Sea Urchins



Thursday, February 26, 2015

Tsagaan Sar Part 2

Tsagaan Sar Part 2

            Tsagaan Sar, or white moon is the first day of the new year according to the lunar calendar of Mongolia.  The New Year starts bright and early with the people dressing in some of their finest clothing, (I didn’t).  The early morning (7am) ritual depends on your birth year.  In my case 1981 it was to go outside and head northeast for a short distance away from the building.  I then had to recite the following mantra, “Om rad dagiini hum mama biziya ouha,” seven to twenty one times.  After that through something made of iron.

            Now my instructions for the New Year are as follows.  Beware of lung, heart, and colon disease.  Do not purchase random items from anyone.  Avoid melting iron, buying, knives, or things made of iron, or eating bull meat.  Be patient with bad food or drinks that are served.  Be careful around the time that rivers freeze.  There is also a list of prayers that a Buddhist monk should chant for me.

            The next event is to walk up the nearby hill watch the sunrise and perform a few more ceremonies.

            The Ceremonies involved walking around the Ovoo three times and then tossing some fresh milk with a ladle three times.  The direction of the toss didn’t matter, but you had to take the wind into account or you were going to get covered in milk.

            The ceremonies over we returned for breakfast, which was actually pretty good.  A fried eggs, cooked all the way through, a rarity outside of the states I know.  An odd looking but very tasty sausage.  It looked a little like a hot dog with split ends, but it didn’t taste anything like hotdogs.  If I had to describe it I would say it was like a very light tasting Italian sausage, with a very thin skin.  The bread was fresh and moist.  It paired well with the butter, and strawberry jam that was provided.  Real butter to not any of this highly processed partially hydrogenated slop people try to pass of as butter.  Lastly there was coffee, instant coffee, but I’m not complaining.  A I’m not a coffee snob, B I don’t really drink coffee, and C I was to freaking cold to care.  So anyway the patented Chris Meharg recipe for coffee.

1 very small scoop of coffee
3 extremely large scoops of creamer
3 sugar cubes
Fill the cup with hot water

            Ok, so it was more coffee flavored drink than coffee but I don’t care its tasty darn it.  It also makes me bounce around like a hyper active spider monkey, but let’s not go there.  Thoroughly energized we headed back outside for a little R and R Mongolian style, archery. 

            Right….. Archery, something I’m extremely good at, a veritable expert.  Yeah I’ve never shot a bow in my life.  Crap, what the hell am I going to do now….. Oh I know, Sinon in Sword Art Online II uses a bow.  I’ll just do what she does.  Hehehehe, I’m a freaking genius and who said anime doesn't teach you anything.

Here I go


            R and R completed now it was time to travel back to the nomadic family’s Ger for the official Tsagaan Sar celebrations.  The entire family travels to the house of the oldest family members, and this often takes place in the countryside.  Upon entering the Ger, the traditional greeting is given, the Zolgokh.  The younger person places their arms palms up outstretched under the elders arms in a similar position.  The pair then touch cheeks, like the French or Italian thing without the kissing.  If the both people are the same age then he arms are alternated with each person having one arm above and one arm below.  Gifts are also exchanged at this time.  Typically the children give a gift of money, and receive some sort of present.  I gave the family a small cash gift for their generosity of letting a crazy American into their home on such a special day.

Me- “Amar sain baina uu?” meaning “how are you?
Host- “mendee, amar sain uu?” meaning “fine, And you?”

           Let the feasting begin, all that lovely food that was put together on Bituun can now be eaten.  The feasting begins with Airag, also known as fermented mares milk.

            It may just look like harmless milk but it is anything but, and it is truly an acquired taste.  Since you cannot find it outside of Mongolia, the best way to recreate the flavor profile is to milk rancid milk, before it turns chunky, with very dry, bad sake, and serve it warm.  After sharing in the joys of airag, the feasting begins with taking some of the curds, and candy off of the stack we created the previous day.  Then it was time for the buutz, now while I love Khuushur, buutz not so much.  They are a bit greasy, and bland, not to mention chewy, as the ground meat that goes into the buutz contains everything minus the bones I think.  The lamb however….. Oh so good, a little dry, but still tender, and quite tasty.  The trick is to cut a piece that contains mostly meat, pretty easy to do as you just take the knife and cut what you want.  The potato salad was also pretty good.  After eating for a bit, the second drink of the day was passed around, Mongol Arkhi, otherwise known as Mongolian moonshine.

            Now Michael, while I do not recommend your company brewing airag, the Arkhi on the other hand might be something to look into.  The flavor profile is similar to sake with a slightly bitter fruity flavor, and while I’m not a super fan I could drink that with a meal.  It is a clear liquor, with an alcohol content running between 10-12%.  This where I ran into trouble I was sitting first in the row, and they kept passing it to me, and I have to drink before passing it to the next person.  Three drinks later and I was feeling a wee bit unsteady on the stool.  Now for the technical details, arkhi is made from Isgelen Tarag, or fermented yogurt.  This particular yogurt is made with cow, and or yak milk.  After the initial fermentation process is contains 2% alcohol, which is then distilled to make the arkhi.  The feasting basically goes on all day and the process repeats itself at each house you go to.  The closest I can describe is like having to go to multiple thanksgiving dinners, but you can’t refuse to eat.  Having buutz at each house is mandatory.

            After the feasting died down, which included a round of singing, from the Canadian and Japanese tourists it was time to head outside for some horse and camel riding.  Sadly I am still waiting for the pictures of me riding the camel, but here I am riding a horse again.

            Now for the horse racing, I’m ready coach put me in, I can do it.  Yeah, no that didn't happen, as only way it would end for me is my head buried in snow.

            It was an exciting and nerve raking event to watch as two kids fell of their horses, but they immediately jumped right back up and back on the horse.  I think the snow helped pad the crash.  According to my guide the Mongolians learn to ride horses before they can walk with many kids starting riding lessons at age three.

            The camel be good stick for when the camel is getting to frisky.

            One of the camels got a little frisky and looked like it was getting ready to spit so we moved away.  It then followed us around the ger, so one of the herdsmen waved the stick at it.  This deterred the camel for a minute.  Step two he whacks the camel on the side with the stick.  This deters the camel for 2-3 minutes, when it decides to come back he throws it at the camel.  Now the beast got the point and stayed away.  I don’t think PETA would survive to long in Mongolia, or receive a warm reception.

            The final events of the day, included horseback riding back to the camp, learning Mongolian dances, and trying on some Mongolian fashion.  I will spare you the gory details, but I did learn a few Mongolian dance steps, and didn't crush my partner’s toes.  It might have helped that one of the steps involved putting your leg between your partners leg and even with my height, she could easily show her displeasure if she wanted to.  The dance is best described as the Mongolian waltz, 4 steps, and lots of spinning, enough to make me more than a little dizzy.  I might have learned a few things, but I still stink at dancing.

            The fashion is a little more self-explanatory so here you go.

            Well just go and sign me up for the Mongol horde.  Oh, wait that involves horseback riding, this could be a problem.

Bonus 1- The hotel (Chalet) I was staying at.

Bonus 2- Mongolian Cows