The warm weather has left and we are into Autumn. Briefly, snow has fallen twice here. The daily highs are 40s, nightly lows are 20s (this does not take into account the wind). The central heat was turned on last week and our radiators started filling last night. 3 fins filled in about 12 hours...only 20 more fins to go! The water drips into the radiators from a main line and works its way through the system. Most of the other buildings were full on Thursday or Friday, so we must be at the end of the system. I have started wearing a wool hat (lack of hair). I found an awesome soviet style leather/wool hat with a bill and flip-down ear flaps in a local store. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough money to buy it when I was there (~$6), but I plan to go back this week. Ashley has ordered her winter boots (buryad boots). They are leather outers, fur-lined, and rubber bottoms. Supposedly, they are very warm. In a local 3ax (market), there is an old woman that makes them by hand. They cost ~$60 for the fur-lined ones and take about 2 weeks to make. Ashley has a much longer walk to work and her coworkers are worried about her in the cold, so we needed to order them ASAP. I still haven't made up my mind about winter boots, or which style to get. There are a few types (cowboy, basic, etc)....I just want to make sure that whatever I buy is made locally (not imported). We are going to buy winter jackets when we go to UB in November.
I had my first private Mongolian language lesson this past Saturday. It was awesome. The teacher is a staff member at a local NGO who is fluent in English. It is helpful at this point to have someone who speaks English to explain the grammar structures. For 2 hours, we primarily worked on pronunciation. There are a few letter combinations that are very tricky and the emphasis is also on the first syllable, which is very different from English. I am planning for 2-3 hours per week of tutoring. PC provides some funds for tutoring, but I expect to personally foot some of the bill. We also spent time working on common phrases (What will we eat for dinner?, When will you come back to the office?, etc).
The futon/couch has been successfully reupholstered. Actually, removeable covers were made for the cushions, which is even better. The seats were also fixed by covering the springs and adding more padding. Overall, very successful endeavor. The work was done by a local seamstress that works in my building. She spent about 2 days working on it and she went fabric shopping with us. The total bill was ~18,000 Tugrugs for material and ~25,000 Tugrugs for labor, which is about ~$35. That is substantially more economical than the $400+ for a brand new imported couch. Also, we had curtains made for the kitchen windows. When we moved in, the "curtains" were lace, which provided no benefit or privacy at night (we are on the ground floor). Once again, we picked out fabric and had a local seamstress put them together for us. They are gold/tan with a traditional Mongolian pattern and lined in gold, which matches the kitchen trim. It cost about $30 for everything, which once again, is much better than the $90 for new, imported curtains. I'll try to post pictures of the futon and curtains in a future post.
So, the apartment is pretty well complete. We reorganized and gave it a thorough cleaning. The natural light is great (southeast facing windows) and the potted plants are doing well, including the lettuce and basil. The geranium is going crazy and has almost outgrown its pot. We also got a small cactus from Ashley's work. I'm interested in trying to grow hops for next year....though more research is required.
Last week, we were invited to the birthday dinner for a coworker. It was very relaxed, and she cooked up a great meal of potato huushur and cake. (Note: most huushur or buuz are made with meat, so non-meat is a special request.) Also, we had dinner with neighbors last week. They know Ashley from work and live in a close apartment. They speak no english, so it was an interesting conversation since we are slow and painful in Mongolian. They served traditional tsoivan, which was excellent. On Friday, World Vision gave 10 families new gers and I went to the ceremony, which was very nice. The families were homeless or had inadequate shelter. The gers were 5 wall (medium/large) and ornately painted. On Saturday, we had dinner with a Korean volunteer living here. Korea has a volunteer program similar to PC and there are ~80 people in Mongolia. The funny part is that he spoke very little English and we speak no Korean, so we spoke "Mong-lish" over dinner, which was entertaining. He is a very interesting guy and we plan to meet with him regularly. Hopefully, he can teach us how to cook good Korean food!
Note: If you plan on mailing us a letter/package and want to write the address on the label, please make sure to copy it exactly as we have it. Mongolian does not use the Latin alphabet, so some of the letters are very different (ex. л <> A or n [it is an L sound]). A few items sent had "English" versions of cyrillic, which required intervention by the post office. Let me know if you have any questions about this. And please, keep the mail flowing, we love it.
For next week, please post questions in the comments section and we will make sure to answer them.
жастин (Justin, or more closely Jaasteen)