Monthly Archives: September 2010

Oh hello! I see you found our apartment building.

Well come on up, and be sure to heed Skeletor’s Warning in the stairwell:

He may be rude, but he speaks the truth.


Ryan is very happy to see you, too.

Oh, this?  It’s just my furs.

Do you like it?  I got it at an estate sale right before we left D.C., and it is fabulous.  Right now I just wear it when I’m mooning around the apartment, but someday soon — oh yes, someday soon — I will wear it out and take Erdenet’s fashion scene by storm/avoid freezing my neck off on the walk to work.

So anyway, let me give you a tour:

Here’s our kitchen, which comes with many handy, fully-operational appliances.  Except for the oven, which doesn’t work.  It just sits there and mocks me while I dream about roasted garlic.

The door leads to our balcony, which we don’t use for anything, really.  We probably should’ve spent more time out there when it was still warm.

The living room, with its plants and extremely large sofa!

Another view of the living room, with its TV and twin Chinggises!  The TV gets a handful of Mongolian channels, a slightly bigger handful of Russian channels, and the Cartoon Network.

Here’s me in the bathroom, gazing at our shower.

Here’s my pride and joy, the Samsung washing machine.  The first time we used it, we discovered a nice little surprise: When it’s finished with a load, it plays the exact same song that our washing machine in Korea used to play.  Oh Samsung!  Your beeps and boops are the soundtrack of my life.

This guy needs no introduction.

And I’d show you the bedroom, but it’s kind of messy at the moment.  So here’s the view out the living room window instead:

And here’s a picture of the quivering, glistening, bloody mound of cowflesh that I bought at the market last week:

We had some of Ryan’s coworkers over for dinner last Saturday, see, and even though vegetarianism is slowly gaining currency in big cities like Erdenet, I figured we should suck it up and serve meat like good hosts.  And although trimming the fat off this bad boy was somewhat traumatic, hot DAMN this (organic, free-range, steppe-grass-fed) beef made a tasty chili.  I think the coworkers liked it, too.  Maybe we won’t be quite so vegetarian here after all.



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Let me describe my job real quick: My official title is Teacher Trainer, which basically means I’m a regular TEFL volunteer assigned to a bigger-than-usual work site.  My school is actually a collection of schools — two elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school.  That’s 4,000 kids and 16 English teachers.  Once a week, I’m responsible for leading a “Teachers’ Class” where I (in theory) hold language and teaching methodology lessons for said English teachers; the rest of the time, I (in theory) lesson plan and team teach with them.  It’s a pretty sweet setup, in that I’m not expected to solo teach any classes and I get to work mostly with adults (not that I don’t Love The Children).  Dividing my time between sixteen different people, though, is a logistical clusterfuck even without the language and cultural barriers.  I think I might get the hang of it by 2012 sometime?

So here are some things I wrote earlier this month, back when my work schedule was kinda nonexistent and I sure did have a lot of time on my hands during the day:

September 1

First day of school.  Sitting in my new office for the first time.  I thought that, for sure, it was at least 3:30 p.m.  When I looked at my phone just now it said 11:58.

Here’s what this morning was like:

Woke up.  Discovered one new mosquito bite on my leg.  An improvement!  Last week’s average was six new welts/evening.

Ate peanut butter on bread.  Drank tea.  Read things on the internet.

Left for school.  Noticed a preponderance of schoolkids all over the city, running around in their flouncy uniforms.

Arrived at school.  Lots of kids were milling around in the courtyard.  Per usual, I had no idea where I was supposed to be.

The opening ceremony started.  We teachers lined up on the front steps, and the kids stood in the courtyard.  There were balloons, and a sound system, and a microphone.  One girl performed a dance; one boy sang a song; various teachers received medals for various accomplishments.  Somewhere in there, I gave my speech (1/3 Mongolian, 2/3 English and translated by my supervisor).  Then the director presented me with a khadag and a copper bowl filled with aruul.  I accepted these things, hopefully correctly, and then went down the line of teachers, offering aruul to everybody one by one.  When I was finished, I went back to my place and my supervisor leaned over and whispered, “Are you happy you’re done?  Your face!  A little red!  Ha ha!”

September 2

9:30 a.m.
I arrived at nine.  I sat down at my desk.  I started copying things from one notebook to another, like a busy important person with many important things to do.

A cleaning lady came in then — she gave me a carpet and a plastic tablecloth for my desk, and she scrubbed my floor, and I asked her for her name, for the second time, like an ass.  Then another cleaning lady came in to inspect things.  Then the head maintenance guy.  Everybody asked me if things were гоё (nice); I assured them that things were very гоё!  Oh boy, so гоё!  Crazy гоё!  I liked my room very much!  гоё гоё гоё! This seemed to go over well.

Basically, as far as I can tell, the cleaning and maintenance staff are the only people at this school who a) don’t speak any English, b) aren’t embarrassed that they don’t know any English, and c) don’t particularly give a shit about learning any English.  Also d) they think it’s cute that I, like a very small child, can sometimes understand them when they speak slowly. Also e) they like to come into my office and help themselves to the contents of my candy dish.  This combination is like the Perfect Storm of Opportunities for Language Learning, and I know if I’m going to make any meaningful headway with my Mongolian these next two years (which is not really a given, knowing the extent of my laziness, how much I’m going to be speaking English at work [constantly], how difficult it is for English speakers to learn Mongolian and, oh you know, the difficulty of self-directed language learning in general), it will probably be with Zoksoo and Chimgee and Dasurin and Puja and et al.

Basically, I need to make sure that they don’t lose interest in me.  Probably I will do this by coming up with new things to say to them, and maybe also I will do this by getting some American candy for the candy dish.

September 7, 10:09 a.m.

So like, I wanted to be at the middle school when classes started this morning so I could just attach myself, barnacle-like, to any recognizable English teacher and then follow her into her lesson.

But I got to work later than I wanted to because of the sudden, ghastly onset of gastrointestinal issues.   Now that I’m finally here I’m sitting in my office, I have no idea when the next period is, I don’t know who is teaching and where, and I’m not sure I can find my way to the middle school without help.  Also I’ve forgotten how to say ‘middle school.’

Shaping up to be another banner day!

September 7, 10:52 a.m.

I Have No Idea Why I Knew That Word: A Play in One Act

A high school in Erdenet.  Katie’s office-closet. Late morning.

KATIE sits at desk, wondering what to do.  Enter RANDOM KID.  Outside the office, KID’S BUDDIES giggle.



(muffled giggling)


(puzzled look)


(makes cutting gesture with his index and middle fingers)

Oh.  хайч?

(Nods vigorously)

Uh, no.  Sorry.

(runs away)



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Do you know what time it is?  Do you?

Do you.

It’s time, my friend, for a MONGOLIAN FOOD BLOG, WHAT WHAT woah like am I for real why yes I am, sister.

I should probably clarify that the above “MONGOLIAN” is not meant to modify “FOOD” but rather the noun phrase “FOOD BLOG.”  Maybe one of these days I’ll come home from school and feel the urge to make buuz or huushuur.  But probably not.  People here like to ask me if I can make Mongolian food; I should learn how to say, “No, but I have observed it being made on multiple occasions!”  Or maybe, “I can make Mongolian food with the same amount of expertise that I employ to speak Mongolian.”  I definitely know how to express my opinion of mutton but I try to keep that information to myself, because I am a culturally sensitive person.

Check out the natural light in our kitchen, you guys.  I can’t tell you how amazing the light in this beautiful g.d. apartment is, especially after three years of sunless basement-dwelling in D.C.  Windows to the north of us!  Windows to the south!  Someday soon I’ll take pictures of the place and show them to you.  Maybe after somebody finishes unpacking.  That somebody is Ryan.  Ryan is the person who has not put his things away yet.  My things are not all over the floor.  His things are.  All over our floor.

And now on to the vegetables.  The bell peppers and grape tomatoes were purchased from my buddy at the Warehouse for Vegetables and Meat (not what it’s actually called). I call him my buddy because I’ve bought stuff from him three times now and he seems to like me, or at the very least he gives me a real big Professional Smile when he sees me coming.  This may have more to do with the fact that his stall is right next to a bunch of other pepper-peddlers, but whatever.  We are Friends.  I have Made a Friend.  Just let me have my Mongolian Vegetable Friend, okay?  Jesus.

The other things were purchased outside the warehouse, where lesser vegetables are sold.  I was in the middle of a Fluent Carrot Transaction (“Five…um.  Hello.  How are you.  Five hundred.  Okay.  Five hundred GRAMS, yes grams, okay five hundred grams, of…of…this…carrot…give me please? Aaaaaand how much thing?”) when I realized that one of the English teachers from my school was standing right next to me, listening in and grinning. Ha ha!  Oh hello, coworker.  Yes, I’m just, ah, carrots?  Buy?  Many carrots.  Me.

So basically, I sauteed everything but the potatoes and the tomatoes, and put in some salt and some red pepper flakes (thanks for the care package, Mom!).

And then I mixed together a can of tomato sauce, about a cup of Jif peanut butter (this, along with the non-root vegetables, is a sign of how spoiled we are here in Erdenet) and some hot water.  That and the tomatoes went in, plus because we’re not THAT vegetarian a cube of chicken bouillon got daintily added, like so:

I simmered.  I added potatoes.  I simmered some more.

I made some rice in our rice cooker and lo: Dinner.

This was slightly meh, though.  It’s gotten better, obviously, as the flavors have melded in the fridge for the last few days.  But it’s missing something.  I dunno.  Coconut milk?  Soy sauce?  Vinegar?  Lemon juice?  Hmm.

Anyway here’s a picture of me makin’ my speech on Wednesday.  And did I tell you I have an office all to myself?  God I’m so professional these days.


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