Monthly Archives: February 2011

Over the (Ski) Hill

Well, I seem to move slower now that I’m 30, as witnessed by it being two weeks since Chris’s birthday and a week after mine. Alas, we both made it through unscathed, surrounded by friends and with a feeling of overall merriment.

Chris’s birthday began with homemade Reuben sandwiches. They are quite a feat in Mongolia, as despite the plethora of cabbage, there seems to be no sauerkraut. What’s a girl to do? Email the Irish Aunt who works at a Polish school of course, and – ta-da – up pops a cabbage crop in my inbox! So yes, then began the sourcing of the ingredients: pastrami (from the German shop – close enough to corned beef when in a pinch), cabbage (everywhere), cheese (one market halfway across town), rye bread (what?! Don’t kid yourself. Any bread is fine), Thousand Island dressing (again, don’t kid yourself. Hello, ketchup and mayo). Prepare the stove top sauerkraut that I hear is the talk of the Polish town, toast some not-rye bread, toss it all together, and happy 30th birthday Reuben it is. They were great if I do say so myself.

Then off to work we went for a half-day before the continuation of our celebration at the Sky Resort, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Never heard of it? That’s odd, because it is just the place to be. It is Mongolia’s one and only SKI RESORT! Really. We went skiing in Mongolia. It was a tiny little spot with about 6 trails, but it was incredible. Mongolians ski like they drive, which is to say with no fear. I also realized that we don’t often see adult Mongolians playing (aside from playing with vodka), and they aren’t the smiliest of people by nature, so to see a ski hill full of smiling, playful Mongolians was a real treat. Many of them had these looks of complete awe on their faces, disbelief at what they were doing. It was great and made for a wonderful afternoon. It also made for a COLD afternoon as the temperature dropped about fifteen degrees in an hour. Brr.

Oh and did I mention that I skied in jeans? Ahh ha ha ha ha. There were also Mongolian flags atop each chairlift tower which was kind of cool (just in case we needed a reminder that the Sky Resort was not Vail).

Anyways, following skiing it was back home for birthday spaghetti with friends, some carrot cake, and then over to a friend’s house for Thursday night poker. We lost at poker, but the cake was delicious.

As for my birthday, it began with a birthday parade (Chris’s family’s tradition) where I was showered with presents and cards. One of those presents happened to be a pig egg mold, so I imagine you all can deduce what I ate for breakfast.

Duh.

Then off to work I went for another day of the office that turned into me wandering all over UB in search of a new power cord for my computer (I found one and it hasn’t exploded my computer – yet – so hopefully we’re okay in that department), then off to a meeting, then to VSO, and then before I knew it, it was time for wine at home and a delicious dinner at my favorite Indian restaurant with friends.

Mmm…Naan.

Oh and Chris got me a cake!

All in all it made for a delicious, wonderful birthday celebration. And now we’re both thirty. If nothing more, we surely will never forget where we were when we turned thirty.

Speaking of forgetting, it was really upsetting to us how many people forgot our birthdays. Bah ha ha, just kidding! Thanks to some craftiness from the Moms, we received over 50 birthday cards! Really. Cards, packages, everything…it was so wonderful; I really have never seen such a collection of cards. Here’s a glimpse:

And here’s a heartfelt thanks to:

Dale and Margaret
Kitty and Jay
Tiffany, Jeff and the Parker kids
Marianne Neifert
Kathy and Bob, Bob and Sharon, Dick and Ginnie (salmon?! you spoil us so)
Angela and Marc Rud
Jody (Momma Aardal)
Rosalind and Ron
Scooter and Linds
Pat and MaryAnn Ryan
Anne and Tim Mahoney (Matt and Pete too)
Bob and Rosey K
Topher and Susan
Aunt JoAnn Thomas
Big Kevin and Mary Sue
The Coyle Family
Schaefer Financial Management (our corporate sponsor)
Carolyn and Danny
Tracerooni
Momma and Poppa Kilpatrick
Beth and Matt Forbes
Ginger K (we made it to 60!)
Wonderful Mimi
Doug and Ellen
Janie and David
Jill Rosen
Robin, Joel, Cash and Emme
Caitlin Mary
Auntie Colanti and the gang
Pat Riley
Bea Magee
Dayle Cedars (sweet photo)
Mary and Dwight
Becky, Mark, Joey and Mason
Trisha K
Tsermaa Bagsh (our Mongolian teacher)
Becky D
Annie K

And that’s that. Now it’s Saturday morning, and we’re off to the orphanage in a bit for another visit. Then on Monday we leave for an Ice Festival at Lake Khuvsgal. It’s northwest of UB, not far from the Russian border, and getting there will entail somewhere around 20 hours in a Russian van that will surely break down or fall apart at least once along the way. It will be my first trip to the real countryside, and I have to admit I’m quite excited about it. Surely we’ll have stories to share when we get back in MARCH (time goes quickly in this funny place we call home).

For now, off I go. Here’s hoping that everyone is doing well at home. I make my reentry to the United States in exactly five weeks from yesterday, which also means that my brother and his wife will have a kid in just about that much time (as a good little sister, I do my best to remind him of that as much as possible). In the meantime, there are orphans to play with and Ice Festivals to attend, so away I go.

Muttony Buutz, Vodka, and What in the world are we wearing?

Wednesday night marked the beginning of our first big holiday in Mongolia: Цагаан сар (Tsagaan Sar). It’s known as White Month, and it marks the start of the Lunar New Year. This weekend we made our way into the Year of the Rabbit, and like all good Mongolians, Chris and I rang in the rabbit in style.

When we arrived in Mongolia nearly 6 months ago, we stayed at a guesthouse known as the Lotus Guesthouse. We were told that it benefited a local orphanage (fittingly enough known as the Lotus Children’s Center), but we never learned much more than that. Well, Thursday we finally paid a much overdue visit to the orphanage to hang out with the kids and celebrate Tsagaan Sar.

It turned out to be a great day full of coloring in pictures, making balloon animals, and – the biggest hit of all – molding bouncing balls for the kids with a kit sent to us by Chris’s mom at Christmas. I don’t have any pictures of the bouncy ball process, but hopefully I can get some soon from another gal who visited the kids with us. In the meantime, here’s some photos of us and the kiddies having a heck of a time with the giant balloons.

Friday we went for a little hike in the hills – nothing too adventurous. Then Saturday began the big day of visiting our Mongolian friends for Tsagaan Sar celebrations.

We put on our finest, and out the door we went to meet up with our friends. Boy oh boy, did we look good:

We’re wearing traditional Mongolian deels (pronounced dells, spelled deels). You can imagine Christopher’s delight at the realization that when both of us are wearing them, they can be referred to as our deels, or for those clever folks, Aardals. That fact alone is good for hours of entertainment.

Our first stop of the day was our language school teacher’s house. She lives right by where I work, so we hopped on the bus and arrived to her home in no time. Her husband greeted us and asked us to take a seat around the table covered in meat (beef and horse), salads (though not a piece of lettuce in sight), candy, cookies, and vodka. Sit we did, and feast we did.

Then it was back on the bus, home for a little rest, and off to the next house: my coworker from Bayanzurkh.

Her house was much the same as the first stop, the only difference being there were more Mongolians and fewer foreigners, and there was more – much more – vodka. Tsagaan Sar food is focused around buutz, little mutton-filled steamed dumplings, and vodka, and I have to admit that I was (pleasantly) surprised at how much other food there was as well. We had been warned time and time again that we would eat a nauseating amount of buutz and drink heaps of vodka; I will say that we ate a few buutz and drank some vodka, but nowhere near to the extent that I feared…which was a relief!

Today marks the final day of formal festivities, but from what we have heard people continue celebrating and visiting families for the rest of the month. For us it’s back to reality tomorrow as we return to our first full week of work in almost a month. Something tells me that it will be a rude awakening!

On a happy note, the temperature has turned markedly spring-like here in the past few days. We hover close to freezing throughout the day – colder at night of course – and it feels like there could be an end in sight. That said, these temperatures are unseasonably warm, so more than likely we will be back in the familiar frigid temps soon enough, but for now it is something to enjoy. Perhaps we can weather a Mongolian winter after all.

Inner Thoughts from Outer Paradise (Part 2)

So I last left you with Chris and me in a small boat on our way to a big boat for 6 days of sailing. Well, here we go:

Day 1 of sailing introduced us to our boat mates, 2 couples from Germany. The German Skipper and Lek, his Thai Crew, rounded out the group. Luckily for Chris and me, the Germans spoke English pretty well and were kind enough to let us in on most of the conversations, so we were able to enjoy some interesting chats throughout the voyage. For your viewing pleasure, here’s a glimpse at both couples:

First things first, we made our way out of Bang Bao harbor in search of wind, relaxation and snorkeling. It quickly became apparent that we had made a good decision to hop on the boat, as the day played out in perfect paradise form. We relaxed, read, ate delicious thai food, snorkeled, and finally tucked ourselves into a tiny little bay for a beautiful sunset and some German Folk Songs.

Day 2 things turned a little…different. The day started much the same with a morning swim, peaceful breakfast and off we went. An hour or so into our morning sail, the skipper appeared on the bow of the boat with, as he said, a story for us. Well the story turned into a true tale about his dear friend, 92 year old Heinrich, who had passed away recently. Due to a series of unfortunate events, Heinrich’s family could not come to Thailand to attend the funeral or collect his remains, so our German Skipper had taken it upon himself to fulfill Heinrich’s final request: to be buried in the Bay of Thailand. So yeah, it turns out that we had just become attendees at a burial at sea. Even better, the burial at sea was for a man who, during WWII, was a Prisoner of War taken to Siberia by the Russians. We were at a Nazi Funeral at Sea! Really.

Following some somber German music, kind words and Heinrich’s final trip to the sea, we toasted him with some kind of German apple flavored alcohol that, according to one of our German boat mates, tasted “like high school.”

Then it was back to the bow for a relaxing afternoon at sea, followed by another wonderful sunset and a Chang. Sunsets and Changs go very well together. That evening we took the wee little boat into shore on the island of Koh Kood for a fire show and some drinks.

The following morning Chris and I swam to shore for a leisurely morning walk on the beach, then waited for the little boat to pick us up again for a hike to a waterfall. We wound our way through a brackish little lagoon and finally docked for our walk through the jungle.

The walk through the jungle brought us here:

Chris went swimming and looking for fish…

While I made use of the rope swing…

Which made Chris want to have a go too:

At long last, it was back to the boat for another leisurely afternoon jaunt to Koh Mak, another little island in the Bay of Thailand.

After dinner on the boat, Chris decided to go for an evening swim at about the time the German folk songs began again. To our delight he discovered that there was a huge amount of phosphorescence in the water, which of course resulted in me jumping in the water too, and the two of us floated around with snorkeling masks on, waving our arms and legs wildly. What could we see? It was like being in a real life snow globe full of glitter. Or maybe like swimming with a massive swarm of fireflies? Whatever it was, it was AWESOME.

The following morning was another swim to shore, another walk on the beach, a delicious coconut fruit shake, some mango sticky rice, and a walk through the little village of Koh Mak. The others then joined us for a walk to another beautiful beach on the other side of the island, and it was at about this point in time where I simply could not believe I could be so fortunate as to find myself in such a beautiful world.

After making our way back to the boat, we settled in for a lovely lunch on the bow, followed (30 minutes later of course) by some fun jumping and diving off of the top deck of the sailboat. It was high!

That evening was spent in a harbor of the island of Koh Wai. There was a neat little jungle walk that brought us (and our cooler of Changs) to a sunset lookout. The sunset was not one of our best, but the hike and the view were spectacular.

(If you look closely at that last one, I’m peeking into the frame in the right corner. It’s kind of a silly photo, but for some reason I like it.)

Anyways, then it was back to the boat for bed, followed by our final full day at sea and the captain’s dinner.

Then it was back to our favorite little village of Bang Bao, where we said goodbye to our new friends and settled into a night of air conditioning and a good shower (our first actual shower in 6 days).

The following morning, satiated by a night in air-co, we headed back to the little bungalows we had stayed at our first few nights in Bang Bao. It was time to get adventurous and explore the island, so the first order of business was to rent a scooter. For about 5 bucks a day, the island was ours to explore. If these faces do not scream freedom, I’m not sure what does:

Now, some quick background: Chris grew up riding dirt bikes all over Parker. I grew up riding a bicycle around Manchester by the Sea. This motorized bike business was new to me, especially when it came to dirt roads, steep hills, and monkeys – literal monkeys – crossing the road. For the first hour or so I am fairly certain that Chris was convinced that renting a scooter was the worst idea we had ever made, and I was convinced that – despite the helmet – I was a goner. Things improved quickly though as I discovered the thrill of the wind in my ratty island hair, and Chris proved that his years of dirt bike riding had been excellent training for a day on a scooter. Once those two things happened, we settled in for an absolutely beautiful day of beaches, curry, a waterfall, elephants, some padthai, and an afternoon Chang. This was a day in which I, again, fell very quickly in love with world.

The following morning we still had the scooter (they really mean it when they say it’s a 24 hour rental), so we woke up early, rode into town to pick up some mini coconut cakes (the world’s most delicious breakfast) and then made our way to the beach for one final restful morning in paradise.

When we returned to our scooter, we found these mysterious footprints:

While we were at the beach, monkeys had been hopping up and down on our scooter! The nerve.

Anyways, our final restful morning in paradise was followed by our final restful afternoon in paradise in which we chose to consume our weight in seafood. Oh the glory (and the carnage).

Then it was back to Bangkok for a day where we proceeded to see just how much food two people could consume in a 24 hour period. The answer to that question was A LOT. One curry after another, multiple padthais, two coconut shakes, a mango shake, mango sticky rice, green mango with chili, pineapple, pretty much everything that wasn’t tied down. It was gluttony at its best, and we loved every second. Oh, and we rounded out the stay with a thai massage…slightly painful, mostly delightful. So long Mongolian tension…see you tomorrow.