Monthly Archives: March 2011

Springy Thingys

Everybody, thank you for your support, re: my awesome financial graphics. Ryan said it might be more effective to present our expenditures as percentages of our monthly income, but I kinda think things are less damning that way. As a for instance: During those three weeks in February, we spent 14% of our income on beer and 10% on restaurants. Those numbers actually seem small to me; they don’t make me feel nearly as ashamed of myself as they should. And O, we should be ashamed of ourselves.  We have sinned, and we must repent.

It does, in fact, feel like a moral failing every time we run out of money before the end of the month and have to dip into the next month’s stipend, and/or take out money from our American savings.  We’ve never had this problem before.  Not after right after college when our combined income was about $.02; not in D.C., when I was unemployed for months.  The worst part of all this is that we’re probably rolling in dough compared to our counterparts.  I make a little less than my teachers, but Ryan makes a little more than his coworkers.  Plus there’s the matter of children, elderly parents, and rent — unlike most people we know, we don’t have to pay for any of these things.   And yet here we are, blowing through money like it’s our job, whining about how we can’t afford to have a beer after dinner.  We are swine.

But whatever, my only pair of jeans that still fit developed a second crotch-hole this week, so my outrageous clothing spending shall continue apace!  (Peace Corps says we should spend something like $4 per month on clothes.  That $4 can buy you one of the following: A couple pairs of socks; a shitty pair of winter tights; four patches for your holey jeans; 1/3 of a pair of shitty Chinese-made pants; two new zippers for your shitty Chinese-made pants that keep not zipping up; almost one set of extra rubber treads for your winter boots; two skirts’ worth of hemming or taking-in; one pair of eurotrashy sunglasses that will break immediately.  Obviously, the “clothes repair” section of my brain has been annexing other, increasingly useless sections, like maybe “how to drive a car” or “cheese”)

I could always just eat my way back into my other pants.  Considering the amount of egg piroshki I’ve been consuming lately, this is a very real possibility.

ANYWAY enough with this grubby money-talk.  It’s springtime in Erdenet!  I didn’t wear long johns today!  Hurrah!

Here I am, looking constipated during the last (please god) big snowstorm of the season. It was a couple weeks ago; the snow started coming down hard in the afternoon and as soon as I was done with my last class, everybody’s favorite modeling-obsessed 11th graders tracked me down to do another photo shoot:

Erdenemunkh, the girl on the right, was one of my 11th grade Olympics participants.  She ended up tying for fourth place with another girl from our school, Bulgamaa, who is also a hardworking lady with excellent English.  I think they were a little disappointed in themselves, but by the time I saw them at the end of the day I was in no condition to offer them any comfort — from 8 am to 7 pm, Laura, Carolyn and I did nothing except proctor the exams (students’ and teachers’; guess which group kept their eyes on their own papers, and which was made up of flagrant cheaters), check the correctness of the essay keys (many a question was thrown out, thanks to design and grammar errors.  Thanks, Ministry of Education) and score hundreds of essays.  This was yesterday, so the trauma is still fresh in my mind.  The less said the better.  Christ Almighty.

So I should explain the other set of pictures I uploaded recently, from Men’s Day, aka Soldiers’ Day.  The dudes of the school — teachers, workers, the director — were gathered in the gym at the end of the day for an hour of silly games.  What kind of silly games, you ask?  Here we have the “Unroll Toilet Paper As Fast As You Can With One Hand” game:

The “Fish For Cotton Balls Inside A Jar With A Sticky Piece Of Candy” game:

The “Stack A Bunch Of Magnetic Nuts With A Rod” Game:

The “Thread Pasta On Other Pasta With Your Mouth” Game:

And finally, The “Get In Formation And March And Sing Military Songs” Game:

This last one was actually impromptu, and kind of touching?  In ways I can’t explain?

I’m sorry this post kind of sucks.  Ryan and I are leaving in ten minutes to go vacation for a couple days in Ulaanbaatar, Land Of Good Pizza and Beer.  Huzzah!  I shall return with stories, and love handles.

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Money money money MONEY

Hi guys.

First of all, I feel I need to address my last post, re: what I wrote about the distribution of household chores in our household.  Here is a reconstructed conversation Ryan and I had earlier this week:

RYAN
WTF is up with your blog.

KATIE
Heh?

RYAN
I mean, what are you even trying to say.

KATIE
Wha?

RYAN
Are you mad at me?  IS THAT WHAT THIS IS.

KATIE
.

RYAN
You think I only do 38% of the housework around here.  And you told everybody.

KATIE
Ooooooh.  Oh!  Well, I mean…I didn’t mean it to be accusatory?

RYAN
.

KATIE
I was just making a crack about Women’s Day, and stuff!

RYAN
.

KATIE
I’m not trying to say you don’t pull your weight.

RYAN
Whatever.

KATIE
I mean, there are other things besides cooking and cleaning!  You contribute things to this marriage.  Other things.

RYAN
Name one of these things.

KATIE
…Financial…

RYAN
.

KATIE
…literacy?

RYAN
Hhmph.

KATIE
I’m sorry.  I shall print a retraction!

RYAN
NO DON’T THAT MAKES IT EVEN WORSE

So, there you have it!  I take it all back.  Ryan is a very competent househusband.  Also, I had totally forgotten how he always empties out the bathroom trashcan, the one full of poopy toilet paper, which is almost definitely the worst chore around here.  And finally I just think it’s kind of interesting, the things people choose to specialize in when they cohabitate.  How did I decide to be the cook?  How did he decide to be the tax payer?  Neither of us knew how to do these things when we got married, and yet, here we are.  Obviously gender roles have a lot to do with it, but, whatever, another post for another time.

I bring all this up because a) I like to embarrass Ryan when he has the nerve to question the things I write about him on my personal web log, and b) I actually do want to talk about finances.  Hooray!  For while Ryan is in charge of the big stuff —  doing taxes, moving money into our IRAs, shaking his head scornfully when I waste money on random doodads — I’m the one who, maybe once a year or so, sits down and categorizes every single thing we spend our money on.  Then I try to analyze everything, and then Ryan is like “Why are you doing this with a pencil, please just do it in Excel” and then I wail “But I don’t know how to UUUUUUSE EXCEEEEEL” and then he gets sucked into helping me complete my hours-long project, just like I had planned in the first place.

The point is, for three weeks in February, I fanatically wrote down every single purchase we made.  Today, I tried to organize this data.  I spent way, way too long moving things around and categorizing and re-categorizing and making charts and whatnot, so frankly, if this is not interesting to you, I don’t give a poop.  I spent time on this today and YOU WILL READ ABOUT HOW WE USE YOUR TAX DOLLARS DAMN IT.

Enjoy!

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And a very happy International Women’s Day to you too, madam

Hello.  Are you a woman?  If so, yesterday was your day!  Congratulations.  I hope you enjoyed yourself, missy.

Ryan and I both had the day off from work.  As far as I can tell, people celebrate Women’s Day in Mongolia through the giving of flowers and cakes to ladies.  My coworkers also informed me that yesterday (and yesterday only) Ryan was responsible for all the housework and cooking.  So as it turns out, every day is like 38% Women’s Day in the Leitch-McGibony household.*  Who knew?

*
Let’s Break Down Those Numbers Shall We

Cookin’: Katie 96%, Pizza Delivery Guy 4%
Dish Washin’: Ryan 78%, Katie 22%
Laundry: Katie 50%, Ryan 50%
Sweepin’: Ryan 56%, Katie 44%
All other ways of cleanin’: Not done often enough to calculate; sorry, mothers
TOTAL: Whatever

So anyway.  Ryan and I were out and about, staving off depression by walking around and looking directly at the sun, when I got a call from one of my 10th grade students.  “Happy Women’s Day, Teacher!” she said.  “Where are you?  I want to give you a present.”

Fifteen minutes later, she met us in front of the shopping center with a rose and a bar of chocolate.  She thanked me for being her teacher and for helping her prepare for the English Olympics last week.  We hugged and chatted and then parted ways: Ryan and I to the market to buy socks, she to the orphanage, which is where she lives, being an orphan and everything.

Here she is, accepting her 1st place medal in said English Olympics last week:

Obviously, she rules.

Another 10th grade student from our school nabbed 3rd place.  Here I am with both of them, as though I had anything to do with their success:

I guess here is where I should explain the English Olympics, for those of you who are fortunate enough not to have ever experienced them don’t know.  Before I do, I’d just like to reiterate the disclaimer at the top of the page: These opinions are my own, nobody else’s but mine, etc.  I say this because I don’t think I’m capable of describing the Olympics in a positive or even neutral way.  I can’t sit here and say, “In Mongolia they do this certain thing in this certain way!  And isn’t that fascinating?”  When it comes to the Olympics — a series of extremely high-stakes yet inexpertly designed language assessments that cause an inordinate amount of stress for teachers and students and that almost certainly measure nothing at all, thanks to their exclusive use of unvalidated (and occasionally grammatically incorrect) multiple-choice items — “fascinating” is not the word.

Where to start.  When I say the Olympics are high-stakes, I mean that they confer enormous amounts of prestige on the winners, their teachers, and their schools.  Jobs are on the line.  Everybody is under pressure to perform, including me.  I’ve been informed by various directors on multiple occasions that “because we have an American teacher, our students will win the Olympics this year.”  The people saying this to me are usually making intense eye contact and their tone of voice is, shall we say, apocalyptic.

Basically, every year, at every school, the top five or so students from each grade are selected as that grade’s participants in the aimag (i.e province) Olympics.  Some schools pick their competitors super early in the year; we got around to it in December.  Emotions ran high during this first elimination round.  I was tasked with putting together a multiple-choice test for the 10th and 11th graders (thereby making me part of the problem — unvalidated multiple-choice items!  Are really terrible!  NOBODY SHOULD EVER USE THEM GAH), and I had to do a tie-breaking speaking assessment with a couple of 10th graders (I spent about ten minutes with them one-on-one, with a rubric in front of me, trying to pull an Oral Proficiency Interview-type thing out of my butt.  This was apparently an excessive amount of time and effort on my part — my supervisor sat next to me the whole time, tapping her pencil and checking the clock and sighing).  Before the results were announced, my supervisor asked me to write a letter to the winners.  I ignored her and wrote this:

To those who earned high scores on this test: Congratulations!  I know you must have worked very hard to achieve your level of English proficiency.  This is no easy feat, and you should be proud of yourselves.  I look forward to working with you in the coming months as we prepare for the Olympics.

To those who did not place in the top five, I would also like to extend my congratulations.  You, too, should be proud of your achievements in your language learning.  I understand that you may be disappointed, and I understand that the Olympiad is an extremely important competition.  But please remember that test scores are not the only measure of achievement.  A truly successful language learner is motivated, enthusiastic, and, above all, unafraid of making mistakes.  Don’t give up!

It was posted next to the list of finalists.  Pretty sure nobody read it or understood it, but it made me feel better, kind of, at least?

Then come the Olympics preparations.  Teachers keep the competitors after school for hours at a time, day after day, week after week, running them through practice grammar tests.  These grammar tests are usually old Olympics tests, i.e., a neverending series of decontextualized, unvalidated multiple choice questions.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a teacher come to me with a test, pointing to a question like this, asking me which answer is correct:

1.  He ___________ here for three years.

a) lived
b) has been living
c) will have been living
d) other thing that is ALSO CORRECT IN A VACUUM

Surprisingly, the only thing I’ve been asked to do is run my own Olympics prep class for the 10th and 11th graders every Friday.  This is fine by me — I get the ten brightest, most motivated kids all to myself for two hours, and I get to have my own small, petty rebellion by insisting on calling it a TOEFL prep class.

So anyway, this is boring and I should stop whining to you.  At this point, you can probably imagine how the aimag competition itself is run (Our aimag’s language methodologist, to another volunteer here in Erdenet, three days before the Olympics, in passing: “Oh, by the way, will you and your friends make a speaking test for the fourth graders?”).  Despite all this, those two ladies up there should be proud of themselves.  They’re bright as heck, they’re hard workers, they’re movers and shakers, they’re going places damn it.  And they also beat the pants off a bunch of private school kids, which is always satisfying in a class-warfarey kind of way.

If I continue to whine about the Olympics, though, it’s because it’s not over yet: For some reason, the 9th and 11th graders get their own special competition at the end of this month, and the winners get to go on to a national competition in Ulaanbaatar.  I can’t tell you how excited people will be if we manage to send a kid to the finals.

And then there’s the Teachers’ Olympics, which is basically the same thing, but for teachers, and it actually affects peoples’ pay grades.  Just, I mean, OH MY GOD AW7RG I76#$&#$ RFY

Okay I’ll stop.

Hey look Ryan took a nice picture of me this weekend!  Wonders never cease:

And check out what was waiting for us outside our apartment yesterday:

It took everything we had — oh lord everything — not to bring her inside.  I put a little milk outside our door for her.  Other neighbors set out plates of rice.  For a brief hour or two, we entertained visions of her becoming our building’s mascot.  We would raise her together, the denizens of Apartment Building 11, and it would be glorious!  Ryan and I would be able to both have a pet and, come 2012, leave it in Mongolia guilt-free!

Then, later in the afternoon, we checked to see if she was still there and she wasn’t.

Nuts.

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