Friday, June 24, 2011

Bi ochingder... (Yesterday I...)

I have an embarrassing language-learning story for your amusement:

Yesterday, the topic of our lesson was learning how to buy things in a store - asking how much something cost, etc.  So after we practiced amongst ourselves, the teacher sent us out to actual stores to ask the prices of things.

Horses Hanging Out in Front of the Hospital
(This is the second time we've bothered the people of our awesome little town with our attempts at speaking Mongolian. The first time went something like "HI HOW ARE YOU I AM FROM AMERICA WHAT IS YOUR NAME HOW OLD ARE YOU WHAT KIND OF FOOD DO YOU LIKE?" I got to talk to an old man who took my notebook, wrote the word "Ulaanbaatar" in really nice cursive, and pointed at it good-naturedly in response to every question I asked. I still have no idea what we were talking about.)

I was assigned flour and meat. Koty, Jill, and I teamed up and hit the store across the street from the school. They had bags of flour, which I successfully ascertained the price of and wrote in my notebook, and they had everything the other girls were looking for. But they didn't have any meat.

So Koty and I proceeded to a second store, further away from the school. Still no meat.  At least that made it less awkward then the first store, where we asked the price of six items and didn't buy anything.

We headed for a store a little further on, outside of which two men were standing, smoking. They worked at the store, and I asked in my stilted Mongolian if they had any meat. They did! Now, I decided to stretch my language skills to the max by asking about specific kinds of meat and how much they cost. I started with mutton.

The word for sheep in Mongolian sounds like "hon." The word for person sounds like "hoon."

Guess which one I used.
A Rainy Day - Felt Like Being Back in Binghamton!

Yep, I asked the store clerk how much man-meat cost.

This miscommunication was resolved when I figured out the question he kept asking me was "Whose meat?" and he pinched his own arm and repeated my mispronounced phrase. I drew a sheep, made a "Baaa!" sound, and quickly wrote down the price of mutton.

There was much laughter all around.

I also had my first micro-teaching yesterday, in which I taught seven ninth-grade Mongolian girls a lesson that was planned for fifth graders.  It was surprisingly not a complete disaster. They seemed like they might even come to next week's class, for which I will hopefully have a better lesson plan. (Micro-teaching is done in groups, where each group member solo-teaches for 20 minutes out of an hour. I only taught for 8 of my 20 minutes - oops - but my group is awesome and we rounded out the end of the lesson with an extra game so we didn't end early.)

One of the Micro-Teaching Classrooms Had to be Broken Into After the Key Got Lost - We Took Care of It

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Some Photos

Cows Hanging Out at the Children's Park


Sunset - From When I Climbed A Mountain

I rode a camel! Okay, okay, not a real one yet. ;)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Gers, Tumpens, and Things

Some updates from Mongolia:

I went along to visit my host mother's sister who lives in the countryside (about ten minutes out of town by car). I got to hang out in an authentic ger, eat yogurt out of a jug that was just hanging out on the floor doing its thing (Mongolian yogurt is really really delicious), watch sheep get herded by men on horseback, help take the felt cover off the outside of the ger and re-line the inside plastic sheeting to keep the rain out, and wander around in a field collecting dung to burn.

A cool story: One of my fellow trainees, Ben, has a host father who is a shaman. My language teacher/host sister was over at our apartment when she got a call from Ben's host mom asking her to explain to him in English that his dad was going to be dancing around, hitting a drum, and channeling spirits in the living room so he wouldn't be freaked out. She explained this, and then told him he had to pay attention so he could tell the class about it in the morning - which he did. It was very interesting. Mongolian shamanism predates Buddhism, but dovetails nicely with it now, at least according to Ben.

My Language Teacher Looks on Disapprovingly as Leo Washes His Hair

On Thursdays, we only have a half day of class. (Usually, we have Mongolian language lessons in the morning, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and technical sessions - teacher training - in the afternoons from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m.) So after our language class, since our teacher had noticed some of the trainees were looking a little greasy, we scheduled a tumpen-bathing lesson at Patrick's ger. Yep, there were some trainees that had not washed their hair in the week we've been here. (Don't worry, I perfected that skill ASAP.) So they got to bring their tumpens and shampoo in the ger while the rest of us snacked and took pictures. Then we all went to the Nice Bar (Yes, that is actually the name of the bar) to have a beer and enjoy a chance to talk in English for a little while. It was a good afternoon.

Another skill I have perfected is dumpling-pinching. I have now helped my host mother and sister make buuz (small dumplings that you fill with meat and onions and cook by steaming) and hoshur (big dumplings that you can fill with meat, or potatoes, then deep fry). I may not be able to go as fast as they can, but mine look just as good and don't open when you cook them, so I consider myself to have achieved an advanced level of Mongolian food prep.

A skill I have not perfected is doing laundry by hand. I will never, ever, ever, complain about doing laundry with a washing machine again. Ever. (It takes SO LONG.)

The other night, after I finished my homework and went for a walk with my younger host sister's teenage friends (who speak pretty good English, especially with the aid of my snazzy Peace Corps-issued dictionary, quiz me on my Mongolian vocabulary, and are a lot of fun), I came back and chilled with my older host sisters (one of whom is also my language teacher). We watched Mongolian X Factor (yep), munched on dried cheese curd (this fills the role of popcorn and tastes like chunks of Parmesan cheese), and swapped makeup preferences. This is my life in Mongolia.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


I am in Mongolia! Here are some pictures and a few quick stories now that I've managed to track down some internet.

My Travel Group in front of the Airport

Assignment: Go find an example of Mongolian throat singing on YouTube and see how cool it is. I got to hear it in person! :)

Story #1: After all of our cross-cultural training sessions, I had my mental list of Mongolian do's and don't's at the forefront of my mind from the moment I walked in my host family's door. It was hilarious when I realized they had the same kind of list of American do's and don't's on their minds as well! We were both doing our best to not offend each other, haha. For example, in training, they did a whole thing about how Mongolians share everything and don't have the same ideas of privacy as Americans. So it wouldn't be unusual if they just walked into your room when the door was closed without knocking; it's not at all rude, it's just what people do. Also, they will all hang out together in a big group when they're home and it's weird to go off by yourself. Mongolian hospitality demands that they feed you a lot of food and you at least take a bite of everything. 

There were skits about all of these things; I'd be willing to bet they showed the same skits to the host families during their orientation. Because my host mother asked me a couple of times (via her Peace-Corps-issued phrasebook) if I was overwhelmed, if I was tired, if I wanted to be by myself. She cooked me vegetarian food and took me to my room to eat it alone. And she showed me how to lock my door. This morning, she pulled out her phrasebook again and sounded out the English for "Are you missing home" and "How is the food." Basically, they're good people and that is obvious regardless of what language either side speaks.

Random Interesting Observation #1: Around the cities there is countryside, not suburbs. There are livestock just hanging out all over the place. Today, there was a whole herd of cows crossing the street in the city. The herds aren't fenced, and they're made up of a bunch of different animals mixed in together. So far I've seen sheep, yaks, goats, horses, and cows - no camels yet! (I'm in the wrong part of the country for that so far.)

Story #2: Today, when my host mother decided the 200 or so new vocabulary words she had taught me in one sitting might be enough, she taught me how to play a game.

This game involved animal bones. I feel like, despite my lack of ger, I have achieved an authentic Mongolian experience. I think the bones involved are ankle bones from cows (or maybe sheep - I get the words confused). Each side has a different name (the one that looks like a camel's hump is called "temee," or "camel," for example). You take about twenty of these, shake them up in your hands, and throw them on the carpet like dice. Then, you have to use your index finger to flick them and bump them into other ones. You can only bump camels against camels, goats against goats, etc. If you successfully do this, you get to capture the one you hit. The person who collects the most wins. (There are more rules. This is what I managed to figure out.)

Later, after I wrote out a few postcards (they're coming, they're coming), I got to actually play this game with one of the random children who may or may not live in my apartment, my host father, my host sister, and the guy who may or may not be my sister's husband. (They all introduced themselves in Mongolian, cut me some slack here!) I wasn't too bad at it, despite doing the wrong thing a few times and then having them all laugh and struggle to explain to me why the move I made was not allowed. My life right now is basically a combination of phrasebooks and charades, haha.

The View from my Apartment

Random Interesting Observation #2: America's Next Top Model was on my Mongolian host family's TV this morning.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

From San Francisco To Korea

San Francisco From The Plane

Quick update while I have wireless in the Incheon airport:
I made it to San Francisco! My second plane (from DC) was delayed an hour, so I ended up getting to the hotel over an hour late - but it was no problem. I managed to miss the paperwork line and still got there in time for the actual presentations! 

We did some activities, got some logistical information, and met each other. Everyone is awesome.

The next morning we flew from San Francisco to Incheon/Seoul, Korea - twelve hours. It turned from Friday to Saturday at some point, but the sun never set since we were following it west. I sat next to a Korean American from California on the plane, who had been living in Seoul for the past 6 years. We bonded, and he taught me some Korean survival phrases and explained how the public transportation worked. I learned how to say "I can't eat meat" in Korean - now I just have to figure out the Mongolia, haha!

Krissy and Jason, Two of My Group Members, With Their Breakfast Drinks

 Before we got on the flight to Korea, my travel group (Group 4!) got eggs and beer in the airport. It was delicious, and I think it helped circumvent jet lag - my body had no clue what time it could possibly be to justify this sort of behavior, so it just accepted the time I told it when we landed.

I Could See Russia From My Plane ;)
We landed in Incheon in the afternoon local time, and made our way to the hotel. Unfortunately, the airport is over an hour out of the city, so we didn't have time to go into Seoul (although a few brave souls forged ahead anyway). I went and grabbed dinner across the street with a handful of people - including two of my fellow vegetarians - and enjoyed kimchee, tofu, and beer. It was delicious, even if I had to pick pork out of my kimchee and tofu dish, haha. (I forgot to use my Korean survival phrases - oops!)

In the morning, after a lovely eight hours of sleep, Group 4 decided to grab the first shuttle to the airport. The breakfast at the hotel was awesome; mostly the same as an American hotel breakfast but with yogurt labels in Korean. I did have aloe juice though, which was amazing and had pulp like orange juice, but tasted like sunscreen. Doesn't sound good, but it totally was.

There was also coffee. Thank goodness.

We're about to get on our last plane of the journey, a three hour flight from Incheon to Ulaanbaatar. I don't know when I'll get to update next, but I will when I get a chance!


Wednesday, June 01, 2011

I'm Leavin' on a Jet Plane

Tomorrow morning, at 5:45 a.m., I will be boarding my first plane of many on my way to Mongolia. First, I will fly to San Francisco, where I will meet my fellow M-22's in person for the first time, and presumably fill out lots of paperwork. Then we will all leave together the next day for Mongolia (with a layover in Korea!).

This past weekend was awesome; the Farrell Family Reunion was moved up from labor day so that everyone could say "Bon voyage!" I am so, so fortunate to have such a wonderful family. The whole family was welcoming to my friends, my friends all had a great time, and everyone seemed to have fun.

I was especially thankful for all the great advice and well wishes around the bonfire - in addition to Uncle Mike's now-traditional improv blues number!  Furthermore, congratulations to my father on his second consecutive iPod Contest win. While I am a bit disappointed in the Farrell Ball score, I expect you all to manage to make it to 150 next year.

Today was an adventure in packing. Here is what the beginning stages looked like:

And here is the result:

A vast improvement, if I do say so myself! (Mostly due to my mother's packing-goddess skills. I have no idea how I'm going to ever re-pack without her expert direction!)

There were a few trips back and forth, balancing the suitcase on the tiny bathroom scale, to make sure I fit the weight requirements - but we managed to just make it under the limit! (I only have a couple of small piles left for my parents to ship.)

Those of you who know me won't be surprised that my main concern was fitting as many books as possible into my luggage.

So, after a great day of last minute preparations peppered with spending time with family and friends (lunch at Chat-a-While with Mom, ice cream at Jerry Tull's with both Mom and Dad, bubble tea with Brendan and Phil, and a couple of last minute phone calls), I am all ready to go.

San Francisco, here I come!

(I hope to get a chance to update this before I fly out to Mongolia on Friday, and as for internet access after that, your guess is as good as mine! If you don't want to worry about checking here for potentially sporadic updates, there's a box in the upper right of this blog where you can enter your email address and receive anything I post here in your inbox when I post it.)