August 5, 2008
I've been in some pressure-filled situations before. Now I have a new standard for pressure: pressure is seven sets of Mongol eyes and razor smiles watching you try to choke down fried cheese dumplings while you are sick and dizzy from jetlag.
On my first day of work, my boss treated us to lunch at a fancy Mongolian restaurant and my coworkers ordered a soup entree and appetizer dish for me. After grilling me for an hour during lunch, we began to relax a little. My coworkers want to take me to the discos and camping in the countryside. I was really surprised to feel such hospitality and warmth.
I know Charlie, the Susans, and Saerin (and others) want to know about the food, so here goes: at the restaurant, we were served tiny bread rolls with pate (duck liver). The soup dish consisted of dumpling skin and bits of roasted sheep floating in flavorful soup. The appetizer dish consisted of fried meatballs, a tiny rack of lamb the size of my index finger (on second thought, it was probably not lamb), and various dumplings.
So far, my favorite Mongolian food is a large, triangular flat dumpling filled with meat called horsha. It reminds me a lot of a dish that my mom refers to as "Chinese hamburger," only flatter. For breakfast, I ate rice porridge with sugar and butter. It tasted like mushy rice with popcorn flavoring. Surprisingly, pretty good!
The law firm (Anand & Batzaya Advocates) is a mid-sized firm specializing in corporate and intellectual property transactions with foreign clients. The people who work here are a friendly, passionate, curious, and worldly bunch. Here is their website address, in case you are curious: http://www.anand-advocates.mn/. Right now, I'm doing mostly translation and due diligence work for them. I work on the Slowest Computer In The Whole World.
I'm noticing all the small differences here and there that throw me off. Cold water faucet handles are located on the left side and hot water is on the left. The door latches are very different from the doorknobs found in the United States. I learned this the hard way: I was using the restroom at work and couldn't figure out how to unlatch the door and was forced to wait in the stall until someone finally let me out. I was so embarrassed that I was afraid to use the restroom afterwards.
I learned a few new things today. Holding up one's pinky finger is equivalent to flipping someone off. Cupping another person's fingers means that you're sorry. "Sain ba nuu" means "hello" and "bai yehrl laa" means "thank you." Say it with a lot of tongue twists and rolls.
The cultural aspects interest me a lot. Mongolians are Russian in mindset and Asian in appearance. Saikhnaa (that's my roommate's name - I finally figured out how to spell it) explained it as such: if a Chinese officer were to approach a Chinese citizen in China and ask for his or her identification, the citizen would comply promptly. If a Mongolian officer were to approach a Mongolian citizen in China and ask for identification, the citizen would be outraged. Mongolians view Russian culture favorably and seem ambivalent toward Koreans. Unfortunately (for me), they don't seem to be too fond of the Chinese.
The people here tell me how Mongolian I look, which I take as a compliment. Bear in mind that the typical Mongolian look varies widely: think slender, light-skinned women with dramatic eyes and distinct cheekbones; half-Asian, half-white looking Mongols with cornsilk hair and Caucasian features (presumably from the Russian influence?); Korean-esque Mongols; big, tall Mongol women with sturdy faces and arms. You get the idea.
Saikhnaa and I have been spending a lot of time together, walking around the city, cooking together, watching badly-dubbed tv. So far, one of my favorite moments involved sitting on a restaurant patio with a fantastic view of the city and watching the sun set. Saikhnaa and I were eating pizza, drinking Chingiis beer, the local beverage of choice, and talking about Life. My clothes were sticking to my skin, my legs were trembling from too much walking, and I kept thinking to myself, "Whoa, I am in freakin' MONGOLIA." Tonight, I'm meeting another volunteer for dinner. We've only spoken on the phone. Her name is Sophie and she mentioned traveling to Bayan Olgii, which I would be interested in doing. Hopefully, we'll become a dynamic traveling duo and get in all sorts of adventures.
Thanks so much for emailing me. I really appreciated it and it made me feel loved. I haven't had a chance to respond but will do so asap. Hope all is well.