I'm dreaming of a -40 F/C Christmas

 So it is that fun time of year when it gets colder than the center of hell (according to Dante's Inferno).  Currently on Sunday, December 2 at 11:45am it is -2 F (-19 C).  Fun Fact - - at -40 Celsius and Fahrenheit merge.  It is beautiful!

When I talk with people who don't live in Mongolia they always ask me if I am prepared for winter.  It is like asking people on the Titanic if they were ready to go swimming.  The answer is - not really!  Coming from Nebraska, I am no stranger to cold but this level and length of cold is something that was new to me last year.

Nebraska winters can be bi-polar.  One day will be 40 F and the next will be 0 F.  Or, like last year, it could be 70 F the entire time.  Mongolia, thanks to Ceiling Cat, is more stable in her winter attack.  It begins to get cold in October and steps you down slowly and carefully to -40 C/F.  This gives you time to acclimate and get your winter things ready.

According to Mongolians, winter hasn't officially started yet.  There are 81 days of winter and the date when winter starts changes each year due to their lunar calendar.  So right now it is still 'fall' but I beg to differ.

If you want to survive the Mongolian winter just ELOPE!

1.  EAT! EAT! EAT!
Your body will burn a lot of calories just trying to stay warm.  So . . you must give it a lot of fuel.  I usually throw down a lot of Clif bars each day and drink milk tea that I lace with butter for extra fat.

The best way to stay warm is to layer properly.  I start with a base layer of thermals (I have transitioned to my thickest ones) and then put a long sleeved shirt on top of that followed by a cashmere sweater.  I also wear a thick pair of Smart Wool socks.  They are a life saver!

3.  Outerwear!  Outerwear! Outerwear!
You have to wear a good coat, warm hat, great gloves and a couple of scarves.  In the city, I wear a wool pea coat with a jacket beneath.  This will suffice in UB and keep me warm.  If I venture outside the city or will be outside for a prolonged period of time I switch to a beautiful North Face Down coat.  This keeps me toasty!  I usually wear two scarves.  One to keep in my body heat and another to cover my mouth. (When your mouth gets cold you lose the ability to enunciate and sound really special for a little bit!).
Gloves are really important!  My hands are ALWAYS cold so I put them in my coat pockets to add another layer to trap heat.  This helps a lot.  If you listened to the advice of your kindergarten teacher, you should know to always wear a hat.  This keeps your ears from freezing off.

4. Prance! Prance! Prance!
This just means to keep moving.  I will sometimes walk 5 km from a university to the city centre in -40 weather just to keep moving.  I get really hot that way and don't have to stand at a bus stop for 15-20 minutes outside in the frigid air.

5.  Entertain! Entertain! Entertain!
Going outside at night can be a real drag.  That is when it is the coldest and it is harder to see ice and you can fall. (I sound like I am 92 years old!).  So I find plenty of things to do to keep myself entertained.  Currently I have three books in progress on my kindle and I play a lot of card games.  When feeling less book wormy, I watch a lot of t.v. and movies that are on my external hard drive.  This year I am lucky to have a keyboard so I can practice some Bach and Widor to my heart's content!

So if you just ELOPE you can survive the Mongolian winter.

Fun facts about the cold of Mongolia:
You can feel your nose hairs freeze when you breathe in through your nose.
Sometimes your tear ducts freeze if you don't blink often enough.
Due to the pollution your snot turns black! (Hooray!)
Apparently your the cord on your headphones can snap due to freezing.
Your phones get jacked up if you don't keep them next to your body and warm.
No need for a freezer in your house . . .just put your food on the porch.

A normal late October outfit.  Light later of long underwear, normal socks, wool coat , scarf, gloves and a hat.

A normal December outfit.  Thick long underwear, heavy socks, a jacket, wool peacoat, two scarves, gloves and a hat.

My "crap it's cold" outfit.  Heavy thermals, heavy socks, down coat, scarves, gloves and a hat.
A good sampling of my winter gear.  1 layer of light long underwear, 2 sets of thick long underwear, 4 pairs of gloves, 7 pairs of socks, many scarves and hats.

Many of my sweaters.  I have a problem.  This is about 60% of the sweaters I have here.  The rest were in storage at the time.

My long underwear brings all the boys to the yard.  Maybe . . .
I call this "Portrait of warmth."
A sunset view of UB as seen from my balcony.  It does provide a nice view!

Well I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and I hope you are well and warm wherever you are!


Granny Panties and Hand-washing

So this post is about my favorite thing in all of Peace Corps-dom.  Hand washing.  Long gone are the days of washing machines, dryers, nicely scented detergent and fabric softener.  My laundry is now done with my two hands, detergent and a drying rack.  I want to walk you through my routine of hand washing.  It's a good thing.

Hand washing  Chris Lyons Style

STEP 1.  Open up a beer and immediately enjoy its foamy goodness

While enjoying this tasty beverage ask yourself a few IMPORTANT questions:
     1.  When was the last time I washed some jeans?
               If you can remember when, it is NOT time to wash your jeans.  Jeans are a pain in the ass to           wash and I hate doing it every time.

    2.  Can I put off doing this until another day?
            If the answer is yes, continue enjoying your beverage and worry no more.  If the answer is NO due to a lack of clean underwear or shirts, then proceed to step two.

Important note:  If you have snowflake tights now is the time to strap those badboys on.  You will need to be comfortable and flexible to move all that water.

STEP 2.  Say a little prayer to ceiling cat or laundry god or Kim Jong Il
I keep hoping that one of the above mentioned deities will send me a washing machine from the sky.  So far, no luck.  If those deities fail you, begin heating up water.  Clothes are about to be washed.

STEP 3.  Gather necessary accoutrements

Start with washing powder that you have poured into an empty glass jar because empty glass jars are fun.

Then it comes time for the weird smelling "New Top" bar of soap . . . to really get out those stains ( I just don't care enough so my clothes are stained all the time)

And finally, the  tumpin (pink bucket) and  liquid laundry detergent (it is labeled for black clothing but I like the ways it smells so I use it for everything.)

STEP 4 Sort your clothes and get ready to hate your life for a while
Since there is no machine and you can't do multiple loads of laundry, you gotta sort by color: lights to darks.  Also, the plastic bag is for resting the wet clothes on top of while rinsing and such.

STEP 5  Add detergent and agitate them clothes!

Spin your clothes around like it is Hurricane Filth.  (which it pretty much is).  I usually lose steam after 5 seconds so I go and finish my beer and just let them sit there.

STEP 6 While waiting for clothes to have all the dirt soaked out of them, think about how much you dislike handwashing

And then begin wringing out the soap

STEP 7 After washing and wringing all clothes, empty the dirty water and fill your bucket with fresh water and rinse them.  Some people rinse until the water runs clear.  I don't.  Case in point:
My water after rinsing all the soap out of my clothes: (it should be clear)

STEP 8 Get out your drying rack and hang up the clothes to dry.  If you really care, you should line up your seams so they don't start turning on you.  Again, I don't really care so I don't try that hard.

STEP 9 Treat your hard worked hands to some lotion from Bath and Body Works.  Incidentally this cashmere extract comes from Mongolia.  

While you are slathering your hands in cashmere goodness, reflect on what you have just done.

I don't know how the Mongolians do it. . . . they hand wash their clothes without complaining, their clothes look perfect and their seams aren't turning.

My clothes are covered in cat hair, the seams are turning and my blacks are no longer black.

AND my underwear is all stretched out.

SEE!  My granny panties.  They are beautiful!

If you have followed my sure-fire way for washing (or ruining) your clothes, they should be dry in 12-24 (sometimes longer) hours.  In the winter, you can throw socks and underwear on the radiators to dry in record time but that might lead to rust stains but I don't care.

Now go hand wash like your life depended on it!


Thoughts On One Year in Mongolia

I cannot believe it has been over one year since I came to Mongolia.  (Side note: I meant to write this on my one year anniversary . . . but that didn't happen!)  So much has happened to me and changed me over the last year.  I want to share some of these changes and thoughts with you.

1. Peace Corps
I still love the Peace Corps.  It is a fantastic organization that allows willing volunteers to share their talents, time and dedication with others.  Being a government organization, there are many rules and a lot of paperwork but it is SO worth it all.  At the end of the day, they are there to help assist volunteers to be as productive and creative as possible.

Being in a country that has around 140 volunteers, I have met many people from all different walks of life.  I consider them all friends and colleagues.  They have taught me a lot about themselves and have taught me about me.  I have a few VERY close friends in Peace Corps and I am honored and so very happy to have them in my life.

2.  Mongolia
Mongolia has changed me in ways I didn't know possible.  One year ago I came here having never eaten a boiled sheep's head.  I have now eaten that more times than I can count.  Before coming to Mongolia I didn't know much about it.  I knew it was cold, the land of Chingis Khan and a wide open country.  It is all of those things but I have found so much beauty in the country and in its people.

Mongolia, in places, can look like Nebraska.  It is wide open, full of fields and has farmers and fabulous sunsets.  It makes me happy when I see the canvas of the eternal blue sky painted with vibrant purples, pinks and oranges.  It also has rolling, verdant hills called steppe and looming ancient mountains.  Everything here is just gorgeous.

The Mongolian people are so kind, giving and genuine.  Their hospitality is amazing.  I am so honored to have many Mongolian friends who help teach me about this country, themselves and where they want Mongolia to go in the future.

3.  Music
A little over one year ago I spent many hours each day practicing and perfecting the art of playing the pipe organ.  I haven't seen or touched an organ during the last year and I miss it SO much!  But . . . I have immersed myself in Mongolian music.  I studied the morin khuur (horse-headed fiddle) at the School of Dance and Music.  It is fascinating learning about that instrument and learning a musical instrument in a foreign language was challenging and rewarding.  Recently, I have studied the art of throat singing (or hoomii in Mongolian).  Thank goodness I am not a professional singer . . . I am pretty sure my vocal chords have bled since I began practicing.

The music on my iPod has also changed immensely.  I still have an unhealthy amount of organ and choral music on it but it has been enhanced by a lot of Indie music.  This is due, in large part, to the gathering of volunteers to swap media.  I have learned of many new artists like: Of Monsters and Men, Ingrid Michaelson, William Fitzsimmons and Sufjan Stevens.  Each artist has had one song resonate with me at a particular time to help me deal with an emotion.  I am eager to explore these artists more.

4. Me!
Perhaps I have learned more about myself than I have anything else over the last year!  I am a much more patient person now.  Waiting outside in the -30 F weather for a bus taught me that good things come to those who wait.  While teaching English, I was frustrated with the slow progress that seemed to be happening but I waited and suddenly the progress was so evident and I was so proud of each student with whom I worked.

I have been reminded that love is stronger than hate.  Being a part of the LGBT community in this country and working at the LGBT Centre has showed me that being surrounded by love allows you to overcome hardship and come together to work for equality.  I am so honored and proud of everyone at the centre and those who are working so hard for human rights and equality.

I have come to the realization that there is something inside all of us that connects us as human beings and brings us together.  It is underneath our shame, sorrow and pain.

And so I have another year in Mongolia.  I am ecstatic about being given the opportunity to work here again with great people and fabulous friends.  Of course, I miss my family and friends back home but it is their love and support that allows me to continue my work here.

To you all in America, keep being cool by planting your gardens, finding joy in life, pursuing your passions and loving one another unconditionally.  I will see you all in under one year!

With love and respect,


P.S. I PROMISE I will blog next week about "ghetto gardening" Peace Corps style.


Just goin' to the Gobi

Yes.......you read that title correctly.  I went to the Gobi (just went to the Gobi isn't as much fun for a title).
My friend and counter-part Oogii and I went to the Gobi desert two days.  As my life goes....the batteries in my camera died and NO store in Sainshand had ANY batteries!  A similar experience happend between my youngest sister and my father during her senior year.  He kept taking picture after picture documenting her life.....but he forgot to put film in the camera.  Oops!  So.......I have only a few pictures of the trip and only one picture of being in the Gobi.

Come with me as I spin my tale of train rides, greeting the sunrise, energy centers, beer and camels!

April 19
After teaching a few classes at Gazarchin, Oogii and I made our way to the train station.  She and I each had two bags.  I had a normal sized back pack and a messenger bag and she had nearly the same.  Look....be proud people.  I am the QUEEN of overpacking and I totally didn't do it for this trip!

Our train left promptly at 4:30pm and we were on our way to Sainshand city in Dornogovi province.  It would be a 10 hour ride so I brought a lot of entertainment like my kindle and my iPod.  At the next stop, a two women joined us in our cubicle of English and awkwardness.  They were great!  They brought a lot of alcohol (because their husbands don't like them to drink at home) and some fabulous huushuur.  They were both curious about me and were surprised when I spoke in Mongolian (however limited it may be!)  One woman commented on how thin I am and how I am not really that masculine.  (You think?!)  She said her son was just like me.  Thin and not masculine.......I should get his number.

We drank a bottle of cherry wine that tasted like Robitussin and I proceeded to take two Tylenol PM and passed out for the remainder of our train ride.  Fortunately......I woke up at 1:30am which gave me time to fix my hair (I looked like I could have auditioned for the Broadway version of Lion King!).  We left the train and were picked up by our driver.

He took us to a store where I tried to buy batteries but they were non-existent.  Instead we bought sausage, bread and a bunch of beer.  Then at 3:00am.....four of us drove out in to the Gobi desert to start our trek!  But first.......we had to stop in the middle of the desert and consume our beers.  So there I am drunk at 3:30am.......riding around in a car........still effed up from my Tylenol PM..........there are no roads and I desperately wanted a pair of silk eye shades.

April 20
We waited for the magical time of sunrise to come.  Finally at 5am the sun was almost up.  We drove to the top of a hill near Hamar monastery to greet the day.  Mongolians greet the sunrise with palms facing the sun to feel its energy.  You can also take a box of milk and squirt it at the sun.  That works too.  Mongolians place a high value on dairy and use it a lot in their rituals.  They also throw it on stone piles called ovoos.

After the sun came up and I felt a little less drunk we went to the Energy Center.  This is a really large area filled with stupas and other symbols of Buddhism.  It was really quite neat.  The next stop on our Gobi jaunt was to the 108 meditation caves.  These caves were used by Buddhist monks for 60 days.  During those 60 days they were locked in the caves alone and were given food for only 30 days.  They spent their time meditating and following the teachings of their predecessors.  It was really fascinating to imagine someone doing that for 60 days.  I would go insane!

After eating a filling meal of tsuivan we proceeded to my favorite stop.  A camel herding family!  Gaah!  It was an older woman who lived in a ger with her daughter (around my age) and her two grandsons (maybe 3 and 4).  They had no electricity except for a large battery that would run a power strip.  They based their entire livelihood around this animal.  It was fantastic!

We politely asked if we could ride a camel and they obliged.  Our driver asked me if I could ride a horse and I very confidently said YES!  I am from Nebraska......and I have ridden a horse a few times in my life.  The last time was in Bolivia in 2001.....and I fell off the horse twice.......but I still rode the damn thing!  The camel bends down before me and I am instructed to get on.  After mounting my 'steed' I tried to make him stand up.  This is where he turned into a drag queen and judged me.  He wouldn't move!  I kicked him with my boots and gave him the command.  He just looked back at me and we had a dialogue between us that went like this:
Chris:  Camel....please get up and don't make me look stupid.

Camel:  Girrrrrrl.....suck it.  I am tired.

Chris:  Please?!  I will show you a kitten video on cuteoverload.com when you are done!

Camel:  No!  

Chris:  I like your outfit.  You look fierce.

Finally after our internal conversation the camel stood up.....but would not move in any direction.  It was at this point I was regretting the fact that I said I could ride a horse.  Here I am sitting on this damn camel and he won't move.....at all...... I wanted to delete the words from the driver's ear canal.  After a while I just had to own it.  It is kind of like when you clog a toilet at someone else's house.  You just gotta bow your head and ask for the plunger.  In this case I gave the driver the rope and he led me around............like I was riding a horse at the Y of the Rockies in Estes Park.  

After my embarrassing ride on the camel we moved on to the final stop which is called the Black Mountain.  It is an imposing mountain with a steep climb up many stairs to reach the top.......where only men can go.  I somehow made it all the way to the top.  It was breath taking!  If only I had my camera.......DAMN!

On our drive back in to Sainshand we saw a bunch of camels just hanging around.  My batteries mustered enough life to take one picture.  So my picture in the Gobi is of us chasing camels around in a car (It felt like chasing an Amish man driving a horse and buggy........)  

After that Oogii and I crashed in to bed and didn't wake up for 18 hours.  The next evening, April 21 we went back to UB on the train and made it in on Sunday morning, April 22 after an uneventful trip back.

So there you have it.....my quick trip to the Gobi.  

Here are like three pictures of my trip.  Thanks cheap batteries!

Oogii being cute as always!

Me being.....well.....weird.

The hallway of our train.  Much better than Amtrak!

Our morning in the Gobi.  Sun is almost up!

Feel the energy of the gorgeous sunrise!

Oogii honoring the women's ovoo by splashing it with milk.

Just chasin' them camels!

Za.  There is my blog for now.  I am running out of ideas.......WHAT DO YOU WANT TO KNOW!  Leave me comments or send a smoke signal or something..........Then I will blog about it!

Be well,



Have yourself a Merry Little White Month

Амар байна уу? is the phrase I heard 1,459 times during the Mongolian holiday of Tsagaan Sar (White Month).  This is the BIGGEST holiday of the year and people begin preparing for it weeks if not a month or more in advance.  It can be seen as a combination of Christmas and Thanksgiving with a twist.

Tsagaan Sar is the Tibetan Lunar New Year.  It marks the end of the long Mongolian winter and means that warm temperatures are on their way.  This is a very ritualistic holiday and many customs and traditions are imbued into the fabric of the holiday.

This year Tsagaan Sar occurred from February 22-26 (officially).  There is a sort of Tsagaan Sar check list which might look a little like this:

  • clean the shit out of your home.  Leave nothing uncleaned
    • Look, I love cleaning but when you do such a deep cleaning you realize how effing dirty you are and it is depressing.  I just dragged my cat across the floor and called it good.
  • Make a million buuz (meat dumplings)
    • Umm......I don't know how to make these.  So I made 3 dozen cookies and some pumpkin bread.
  • Have a lot of "white food" (dairy products) in your home to serve
    • I did make milk tea and sucked on some aaruul (the dried milk curd)
  • Have gifts to give to visitors
    • These gifts can range anywhere from skin bleaching cream, phone units, bowls, children etc. I am too poor and not very creative.  So I gave all my guests post it pads (Thanks 3M You are the BEST!)
  • Prepare your best deel to be worn for the holiday
    • I only have one deel that was given to me by my host family.  It is massive......so big in fact that I could carry a baby to full term and no one would know.  Maybe I can market this to Gap Maternity.  
Once you have completed this check list you can prepare for Bitvvn (bituun) which is the night before Tsagaan Sar begins.

Since this is such a major holiday the Peace Corps gave us at least 2, if not 3, trainings for this holiday.  We were taught the proper greeting which is "Amar bain uu?" and taught the proper arm greeting.  This arm greeting involves both people extending out their perpendicular to their body with palms up.  If the person is older than you, you put your arms beneath theirs to support them.  If they are younger than you, they go beneath you.  If the person is about the same age, one arm goes on top, and the other goes beneath.  You also smell each person on each cheek.  When doing this greeting you start with the oldest person in the room and then go down in age.  Ready......set.......Tsagaan Sar!


This is the night before Tsagaan Sar begins.  All of the family gathers together and they eat white foods like Aaruul, milk tea and buuz.  The sheep sacrum is prepared and placed on the table.  The ENTIRE rear end of the sheep is placed in the center of the table in all of its fatty glory.  The goal of bitvvn is to not leave hungry.

Here is how I spent my bitvvn:  I got together with two other volunteers in UB.  We wanted to go eat Mr. Chicken to get the bucket of chicken and the gossip magazine.  Due to the holiday this fine establishment was closed.  So we ate some food at a nearby pub and then went back to a volunteer's home.  Happy Bitvvn!  Also during Tsagaan Sar many stores are closed so you might go hungry.

Tsagaan Sar: Day One
It is traditional that all the people of the town should gather on a high mountain with an Ovoo (traditional holy site).  From there they greet the first sun rise of the new year with shouting and offerings of milk.  I think this occurred some time around 8am on February 22.  I promptly slept through this but ambition did set in so I got out of bed at 10 and ate an entire package of Reeses.

In the countryside the first day of Tsagaan Sar is spent visiting your immediately family....mothers, fathers etc.  In UB it is all about getting an invitation to see someone......you can't just go to their home without an invitation.  After much begging, hint dropping and crying I scored an invitation for the first day.  It was with a teacher from my school.  I went there at 4:00 wearing my maternity deel and my stomach was prepared for the onslaught of vodka, buuz and milk tea.

Thank goodness it was a younger teacher and this was a relaxed atmosphere.  We barely greeted each other and mainly just sat back and chatted for about 30 minutes.  Then she gave me my gift of phone units which was my cue to scram.

Tsagaan Sar: Day Two
This was February 23.  Kitty and I had no invitations so I re-cleaned my home in preparation of my students coming the next day.  I was determined to have my home so clean that Chinggis Khan himself would be happy with me and not invade my home.  This time I washed everything in my home including all my pans, my oven, my fridge and myself.  Finally after a long day of cleaning I went to bed with dreams of buuz dancing through my head.

Tsagaan Sar: Day Three
This is the day when it is fair game to visit anyone.  So I invited some students over.  Their invitation was for 1:00.  Before they could come over I had to go to my school to have a Tsagaan Sar gathering there.  The maternity deel was put back on and I went to school at 10:00am.  This is where things went really bad for this Tsagaan Sar newbie.  I greeted everyone the WRONG way!  Instead of "supporting" my elders I made them support me (ie. I put my arms on top of theirs). I also didn't smell their cheeks.  I kissed them like I was in Europe.......even the men who were a little uncomfortable.  It is also customary to pass around snuff bottles.  My director's wife handed me a snuff bottle and I thought it was a gift so instead of smelling  it and giving it back I promptly put it in my pocket.  During this visit I also knocked over a shot glass of vodka and gagged on some gristle in my meat. Eventually my director's wife asked me for the snuff bottle back so I awkwardly pulled it out of my pocket.   I tried my best to save my dignity and the holiday so I bolted to prepare for my students to come over.

I set out my trays of cookies and pumpkin bread and made milk tea.  I hid Kitty in the bathroom and prepared to be a good host.   Finally the magic hour came and so did my students.  We greeted one another and sat down to our cookies, bread and milk tea.  Half of the students liked the pumpkin bread and the others took one bite and stopped.  After chatting in my limited Mongolian I got out the gifts of Post-It Notes and distributed them.  My students looked at me awkwardly, said thank you and went on their way.  After cleaning up I proceeded to get back in bed wearing my maternity deel (so damn comfortable and roomy!) and listened to Jingle Cats sing O Come All Ye Faithful.  It was magical.

Tsagaan Sar: Day Four
I decided to find a traditional Tsagaan Sar by going to the countryside.  I visited my friend, another volunteer, in Bayanchandmani.  It is a small town North of UB by about 60-or-so kilometers.  Coincidentally, my counterpart Oogii was born there so she was visiting her family.  So I piled in to a meeker and went to the countryside.  I went to my friend's ger and witnessed a 12-year-old kid drive a car.  Alone.   Just him.  Then I Tsagaan Sar visited his haashaa family and scored a sweet bowl, a towel and some phone units.  It was awesome!

At 4:00 that afternoon I was invited to visit my counterpart and her family.  So my friend came with me.  He was well versed in Tsagaan Sar since he lived in the countryside.  I managed to not break quite as many rules this time.  Oogii gave me a gorgeous hvrem which is a Mongolian jacket that I can wear over my maternity deel.  It is fabulous!  I ate many buuz, bansh and drank some sort of fruit moonshine.

Finally, I went home the next day and my Tsagaan Sar was over.  I curled up in bed and practiced my cat massage skills on Kitty while watching more cats singing Christmas songs like this gem: What Child is This


My counterpart Oogii, on the right holding her son.  Sitting next to her is her mother and father.

Oogii in her gorgeous deel after giving my new, gorgeous hvrem.  I love it!

Compare it to my maternity deel:

Just to add to the holiday cheer here is me wearing my gorgeous snowflake tights, holiday sweater and Toms.  Tis the season to be flamboyant!

Okay......so thanks for reading this blog.  Go celebrate your own Tsagaan Sar and then watch this video: Cat Massage



Glitter.......80's swaying and snowflake tights! Peace Corps!

So.......I am a bad blogger.  Uuchlaarai!  Sorry!  There is no excuse for a two month gap.......but I was......busy?!.......or too cold to blog.  Both are valid reasons in my head.

Since November, life has been really busy!  I want to talk to you about the glorious holiday of Шинэ жил (Shin Jil) or New Year.  This is the Mongolian version of Christmas.  It occurs on December 31 or January 1 ......I am still not sure exactly which one.  Anyway........it is very similar to an American Christmas.  All around UB plastic trees were bedecked with lights, ornaments and a lot of tinsel and glitter.  It was an awesome sight to behold!  There are also many Mongolian Santa Clauses looming around every corner.  Like America, some look "normal" and some look like pedophiles.  Hit or miss!

Every organization and university has its own Shin Jil party.  Some universities have two.....one for the students and one for the teachers.  The one for the Gazarchin Students occurred on December 15.  Our student council planned the entire event.  It was held at a night club behind Sukhbaatar Square.  There was an entry tax of 16,000 tugriks but I somehow managed to avoid that.  I knew that people really dressed up for Shin Jil but I had NO idea how serious it was until I got there.

All the men wore well-pressed and very shiny suits.  They were all very slim fitting and looked quite nice!  The women......went to town!  It was like prom times 100.  They wore very formal gowns and their hair was curled and held with at least 3 bottles of hairspray per person!  Let's also take a moment and talk about the glitter.  They effing love it and cannot get enough of it!  I saw more glitter at this one event than I have ever seen at any gay bar or drag show.....EVER!  It was everywhere.......in their hair.......on their bodies and it seemed like it was falling from the sky.  I was in heaven!

The party started with some Mongolian waltzing....which, for the life of me, I cannot do!  There was a large champagne toast and then some dancing.  Mongolian club dancing is interesting.  In this case, all the students and teachers got into two big circles and took turns going in to the middle to show off their moves.  My kind of dancing is what I call the 80's sway.  You only move from the hips up and just kind of sway back and forth.  This allows you to hold on to, and drink, a beverage of your choice.  This also allows me to not burn any precious calories and I can still enjoy my soda.  Eventually a few students caught on and asked me if that is how all Americans dance.  I didn't want to seem like a loser so I said "yes."  Then they started 80's swaying.  Watch out Mongolia......the 80's sway is comin' back!

After the dancing, it was time for the awards!  Our school's director got up on stage, along with our training manager, and passed out awards to senior students who excelled the most.  I was called on stage to join the two of them and congratulate the scholars.  I kindly shook all of their hands and said congratulations in Mongolian....or at least I hope that is what I said.  The next thing I know, a microphone is put in my face and I am told to speak....in Mongolian.  Shit!  Didn't they remember what a shit show that was last time?!
So I said that I was very happy to be a teacher at Gazarchin and all the students made me happy.  I wished them a happy New Year and best of luck on their final exams.  They kindly clapped and I scissor-kicked my way off stage......just to show that I knew one dance move.

After the awards, the night was capped off with more circle dancing (read: 80's swaying) and champagne was consumed.  This put me in the holiday mood.  I was ready for any Mongolian Santa and prepared to give an amazing speech in Mongolian at any time!
Me and Byamba, a first-year student.  Notice her awesome glittter!!

My third year students and me getting ready to 80's sway!
Chinese teacher Saraa, my dear friend Ogii and me.  Notice my kick ass boots!

So that was the story of our Student's Shin Jil part.  Now for the faculty/staff party or as I like to call it.......the party where I wanted to be young again.  This party began at 6:00 on December 27.  It was at a really nice bar that had themed billiard rooms......like the London Room, Safari Room, Chinese Room and Japanese Room.  I tried to play pool with my director but upon trying to break the rack I launched the cue ball on the floor.  So.....I stopped while I was ahead.  

I borrowed an awesome suit from my student Bilguun.  It was slim fitting and not shiny so I loved it.  I was told to sit with my director at the head table.  I tried to not be too awkward!

So I noticed all the teachers were there wearing their awesome dresses, suits and hair finely coiffed and glitter galore!  Let the party begin!  The music that night was provided by our very own students.  They brought their guitars, drums and voices to make our evening fun!  I had a great time with our teachers but kept flocking over to the students to party with them.  They were all given champagne so I didn't feel like a total alcoholic being around them.  

The dancing was very similar to the Students' party.  I 80's swayed my way through this one too!  During one of the songs, one of the mining students showed off his хɵɵмий or throat-singing skills.  It is such a cool thing to hear in person!  So after he was done singing, I approached him and oddly told him in Mongolian that I wanted to learn throat-singing from him.  He agreed!  So next semester I will take throat-singing lessons!

As the night progressed, I was fed more champagne and many celebratory shots of vodka. They got a little angry because I didn't drink the vodka . . . only touched it to my lips. This only fueled my desire to be "young" again so I parked myself near the students' table and practiced my Mongolian.  They politely obliged and let me speak.  Eventually, the teachers took me back and we celebrated Ogii's award for being the best foreign language teacher!  I was so proud!  The night concluded with many photos being taken,  and a lot more dancing (80's swaying!).  It was a great time and I had a fabulous time celebrating with my colleagues and students.  Shin jiliin bayariin mend hurgey!  Happy New Year!
Buureg, our volunteer Chinese teacher, Batdorj and me.

Otgonsuren, Me and Ogii

The "head" table as we toast our champagne!

Mining students being awesome!

Ogii, me and Bilguun, our student.  I am a model.....right?

Ogii winning her award for best teacher!

Me awkwardly glomming on to the students.

So there it is......my story of Shin Jil.  Boom!  One of my resolutions for this year is to be a better blogger and a few other things.....which I will mention in another blog!  Also, I will mention the snowflake tights in the next blog....I promise!