So, I have a lot to catch you all up on....here we go....
IST: The M21 (my training class) gathered in UB for a weeklong training seminar. Each of us brought one of Mongolian co-workers and the sessions were specific to our areas of work (health, business, etc). Each session was also done jointly in English and Mongolian. The classes ended around 8pm and we had social time afterwards, which usually resulted in playing card games with our counter-parts. We also had sessions on PC topics, culture, language, etc. Overall, the week was very busy, but very good. We spent the weekend before and after in UB, spending time with friends, eating good food, and getting Christmas gifts for people. Needless to say, we spent all of our money. UB is much more expensive than our town, especially when taking in account all of the great food options. Last time we took the bus to UB, it was freezing (literally). This time, it was scorching and we were trying to shed layers. A happy medium can't seem to be found. Also, the bus situation was precarious with regards to other situations.... Part of the way through the drive, a cargo door popped open and luggage fell out, so the bus had to back-up multiple times and people had to find the fallen luggage (our luggage was in early, so we didn't lose anything). Also, our bus was over-capacity leaving UB. Tickets are sold for the aisle, in which people are given small plastic stools, which they sit on for the entire ride. Late ticket purchasers are given the aisle seats. The plastic seats were already full when we left, but we continued to pick-up people on the ride. By the last town, there were probably 20 additional people standing in the aisleway and many seats had more than 1 person...it was packed and probably very unsafe. We arrived unscatched with all of our luggage. Some people take taxis to/from UB, but that has its own set of risks (poor conditions, drunk drivers, etc), so we will continue to take the bus. Our next trip is not for a few months.
So, after IST we had 1 week of work before Christmas and the holiday party season known as Sheen Jeel (New Years). Every place of employment has a Sheen Jeel party, which is usually a very elaborate evening. People have to pay for tickets to their event and it is not cheap. Most people get very dressed up and women wear dresses that would look appropriate at prom (lots of sequins, glitter, high heels, etc). The food is a multi-course meal accompanied by large amounts of alcohol (usually vodka), which is followed by games, singing, and dancing. Also, spouses are typically not invited to the party. My work one was last week and it was a joint party between 3 ngos. Ashley was invited. It was a fun evening and wrapped-up early because many people have kids/families. Ashley's party is tonight, and we are not sure if I am invited. We also participated in a secret santa gift exchange, which ended up being VERY different from the american version and it had very complicated rules. I didn't understand the rules well enough and we screwed up the process, but it turned out ok.
Christmas: 2 of our friends (Leon and Ellie) came up to spend Christmas week with us. They had never been to our town, so it was good opportunity to show them around. Unfortunately, it was bitter cold (-20F to -40F) during the day, so our tours were very short and involved many stops in stores/markets. We went to the best restaurants in town and then for Christmas dinner, made chicken parmesan, which ended up being excellent. 2 of our sitemates came over for dinner and brought an awesome peanut butter cake. We did a small gift exchange ($3 limit) and sat around talking for most of the evening. It was a very relaxing, but fun day, shared with friends. On Sunday, we had lunch with other friends, then watched movies and played with Bear. It was too cold to be outside for more than a few minutes. They left on Monday morning on the bus to go back to their town.
This week, many offices are closed for New Years and people are getting ready for upcoming school breaks, competitions, and the big celebration of Tsagaan Sar, which is early February.
Merry Christmas to All!