We have been well rid of these people for over a week now:
And I think I’m finally ready to tell the tale of their tiresome, unwelcome, pain in the ass two-week-long invasion of our lives.
Just kidding, everybody! Mom and Dad! Just kidding. We all had fun and, despite making many jokes about wanting to kill each other, did not kill each other.
When you look out our bedroom window, you can see the bright-orange Erdenet Hotel, the place my parents stayed during their time here. This view used to signify nothing to me, but now whenever I see it I’m jolted by two little surprises: The first surprise is that my parents were actually there, in that building; the second surprise is that they aren’t anymore. It’s weird to look out at concrete apartment blocks, ger districts and steppe, and somehow feel your family’s absence.
So how do you like the visual representation of our itinerary up there? Thanks, I made it myself. That puny circle gives you a pretty good idea of how little of this country you can comfortably see in two weeks, if you’re traveling exclusively by road (or by “road”).
There isn’t much to say about the Ulaanbaatar leg of our trip: We ate well and we saw all 5.3 of the sights you can see. We also forced my poor, jetlagged, travel-addled parents to get off the plane and immediately go to Narantuul, the biggest, most stressful and most crime-ridden outdoor market in Mongolia. While there, we wandered around, bought sun hats that we never ended up wearing, and tried a cup of квас, the mystery beverage sold out of gigantic drums in Mongolian markets everywhere (Ryan, to квас lady: “What is this?” квас lady: “It’s a drink”). It was ten cents, dark, and slightly fruit juice-like; turns out it’s an Eastern European beverage made from fermented bread. Mystery solved!
Also, those 5.3 tourist sites all charge you for the privilege of taking photos, so please, I beg you, enjoy these more-expensive-than-usual pictures, and also guess which one will get Ryan reincarnated as a cow turd in his next life:
Before we left the capital, we made a day trip out to Nalaikh to visit my host family. I had been dreading this for a while: Ryan and I visited them back in March, and it was one of the most awkward experiences I’ve had here in Mongolia, which is obviously saying quite a lot. I mean:
1. I exchange texts with Aaw and Eej, telling them Ryan and I are coming to UB and asking whether we can visit; they are super warm and loving and all “my daughter, we are waiting for you”
2. Ryan and I show up at the appointed time; Aaw and Eej sit us down, serve us tea, start heating up buuz. The conversation is kind of slow and strained, but this is fine and to be expected and hey, at least we’re communicating better than we did last summer.
3. The buuz are ready; Ryan and I are both served a heaping bowl, and then Aaw and Eej both start getting their coats on. We ask where they’re going; we don’t understand the answer but they tell us that they’ll be right back.
4. Ryan and I eat our buuz. We stare at the TV, which is tuned to a Russian channel. We play with Aaw and Eej’s new, psychotic Siamese cat, which is tied up inside the house on a pink leash. A half hour passes. We need to get back on the bus to Ulaanbaatar soon. An hour passes.
5. Aaw comes back. We ask where Eej is; he says she’s at work. We say we have to go to the bus station. Confusion all around!
6. Still and all, Aaw gives us a ride to the bus stop and sees us off. With a weird look on my face, I tell him we’ll see them this summer, when my parents come to visit; with a weird look on his face, he agrees.
THE END GOD SO AWKWARD
So obviously, I was really looking forward to repeating this whole process with my parents in tow.
But it was fine! It was fine, of course it was fine, what was wrong with me. As you can see, Aaw opened a fine bottle of red wine with which we did (at least?) the traditional three shots. There was carrot salad, pickles, bread, and mutton buuz. My host sister showed off my old bedroom; my mom distributed her long-obsessed-over gifts to the family members that were there (my host sister and her kid immediately retired to the other side of the house to paw through their goody bags, so that was a good sign. Mongolians don’t fuss over gifts in front of you; it ain’t polite). We sat and we ate and we drank with Aaw, and everybody else either bustled around serving us or watched TV at the other end of the house. I told my parents that this was a very accurate recreation of my life last summer.
Eej wasn’t there, which was too bad — with her gone, there was nobody to goad Aaw into breaking out his accordion.
But anyway. After cramming as many buuz as possible into our mouths, we shook hands and took pictures and took our leave. It was a nice little visit. I’ve said this a lot, and it’s true: I didn’t have the deep, crazy love-connection with my host family that some trainees had, and my family is kinda quiet and not the easiest people to make conversation with, and god did I ever sit at that table last summer, rotting, wishing they would take me somewhere, anywhere, but! They’re decent people and they’re mine. So there.