If you want a laugh, check this out. That’s the weather forecast for Choibalsan. Folks emailed me to ask if the temperature really did drop to – 45 F. Last week, tiim shuu (yes indeed). It only gets to -45 at night, though. I prefer -45 and calm to -20 and windy… which happens every morning during my 20 minute walk to school. You can’t avoid frozen eyelashes these days.

Mongolians believe winter has 81 days. They split the season into “nine nines” — amusingly subtitled cycles of cold.
I borrowed these from Jon Haley’s VSO blog:

  • First nine – Fermented milk freezes.
  • Second nine  – Vodka freezes.
  • Third nine  – The tail of a young cow becomes frozen.
  • Fourth nine  – The horns of a four year-old cow freeze.
  • Fifth nine  – Boiled rice no longer freezes.
  • Sixth nine  – The snow and ice starts to clear and the roads blacken.
  • Seventh nine  – The hilltops and mountains began to blacken.
  • Eighth nine  – The ground unfreezes and becomes damp.
  • Ninth nine  -Spring arrives! (Though it can still freeze, snow, and be generally unsettled)
  • In a few days, we’ll enter the fourth nine, the most bitter of them all. Those poor four-year-old cows. Wish them — and us — luck!

    Imagine a pageant…

    January 16, 2008

    …with critters and clowns; time travelers and tango dancers; Student of the Month awards and a teachers’ Cutest Miss contest; Cinderella and a quite underaged Prince Charming… welcome to Mongolian New Years’!
    That’s “Father Winter,” the Mongolian Santa Claus. His outfit is a marvelous mix of Mongolia and the West. Santa wears a traditional silk robe, sash boots, and hat. But they are all in red and white. Plus, he’s added pompoms and a cape.


    Father Winter’s girlfriends, the Snow Maidens.

    Meet the Snow Boys! My little imps, of course.

    I kid you not about the length of Mongolian rat-tails. This boy’s tinted his red for good measure.

    The 7th grade boys practice their merengue.

    Fourth graders … or bad-ass glam-rockers?

    Here’s the one word you need to know: “tsaa.” That means glitter, rhinestones, sequins, tinsel; anything shiny and sparkly. You gather up tsaa and stick to your body. And you keep on slapping it on. Because no matter how much tsaa you applied before leaving the flat, you will need more once you get to the party.



    Last Christmas, Merry Ho-Ho

    December 22, 2007

    Merry Christmas and Shin Jil Mend Hurgee (Happy New Year)! Hope you have a warm and wonderful holiday.

    I’m here in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital. We just finished a week of Peace Corps seminars. Ulaanbaatar means “Red Hero.” But locals rename the city to “Utaanbaatar” (smoke hero) because of the choking smog. UB’s runaway Christmas hit goes: “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart…”  Since folks here can’t quite make out the English words, we hear many Mongolians sing “Last Christmas, Merry Ho Ho.”

    Soon I’ll return to Choibalsan for our New Years’ celebration. Everyone will dress in garlands of tinsel and gallons of body glitter. My Mongolian mom wants to bedeck me in rhinestones and huge false eyelashes. Some ladies will dress as the mini-skirted “snow girls,” which, as Mongolian tradition says, Father Christmas created to cure his loneliness.

    My sitemates and I have spent way too many tugriks on silk dresses custom-tailored for the occasion. Mine is a red-and-black cocktail number, with a geometric paisley design, slits three-quarters of the way up my legs, and a splash of pure crimson across the bodice. New Years’ lasts for several days, though. So we’ll get good use out of those dresses.

    Aside from costume preparation, it doesn’t feel like the holidays yet. How could it feel like Christmas without L.A.’s holiday lights extravaganza? I love Highland Park and Eagle Rock. How I miss my home neighborhoods’ Filipino glitter balls and gargantuan neon glowing creches. My family and I would spend hours exploring the the cul-de-sacs turned into caves of Hannukah banners. Where else could you visit inflatable Homer Simpson Santa Clauses that hover back and forth under the light of outdoor disco-balls?

    Maybe Mongolian Christmas will live up to my hometown’s gaudiness.


    Meet Samandiin Javhlan, one of Mongolia’s most eligible bachelors. Why? Read our radio show excerpt to find out…

     C: Okay, number 2 of our top 5 Mongolian Male Idols. Migaa from Flash.

    S: Oh! Why Migaa?

    C: Migaa reminds me of my little brother. He is the same age. They are both 17 years old. They both like football and music. And they are both smart.  And oh so cute!

    S: Really?

    C: Yes. Now Migaa is studying in Korea. He left Flash to study in Korea.

    S: Didn’t he leave his girlfriend? That’s so strange.

    C: Yes, now he has no girlfriend. Harin zugeer. Bi ch bas. Nadad naiz zaluu baikhgui.

    S: Migaa is cute. But Migaa is too young for me. He was born on January 15, 1990. I like Javkhlan.

    [play Hairiin gegeen boroo sound bite]

    C: Number One. Javkhlan. Why?

    S: Oh… Javkhlan is the most famous singer in Mongolia. He is 27 and comes from Uvs aimag. Some of Javkhlan’s songs are: Hairiin gegeen boroo [sing], Setgelees ersen hair [sing], and Minii naiz.

    C: Ooh! Yes, I know Javkhlan. What does he look like?

    S: Javhklan is tall with dark hair. He has nice eyes and a great smile. Javkhlan likes to wear fashionable and colorful clothes.

    C: Wait. Is he married?

    S: No… he’s single. Javkhlan doesn’t have a wife. And he doesn’t have a girlfriend. [dreamy] Hoorhii amhtan.

    C: Wait. Sarah, do you have a naiz zaluu?

    S: Bish, bish, baikhgui.

    C: Hooh. Now I know why you like Javkhlan.

    S: Yuu genee.

    My name in Mongol Bichig

    December 21, 2007


    Mongol bichig = Mongolian script. My host sister did that script for me this summer. 

    The elements of my name, as written, are: Sa-ga-rah.

    Bagshnar Babes: Avenge Me

    December 13, 2007

    [Another transcript from our Mongolian radio show. A lapse into English absurdity.]

    S: Bagshnar babes.

    C: Wake up with a king.

    S: What the hell?

    C: You know, the king. The Burger King King? It’s their slogan. “Wake up with the king.”

    S: Ohhh, okay Cass. I get it.

    C: Man. I loathe the Burger King King with the passion of a thousand fiery burning suns. There is no word yet invented to describe the disdain I feel for that – thing.

    S: So you want to turn his house into a sea of flames?

    C: I’ll show him what flamebroiled really means.

    S: Yes, Cass, that makes a lot of sense. Why?

    C: Because he’s so freaky. I mean okay what would you do if first of all people wake up and he’s in their bed. And then he gives them a crossaintwich and then it’s cool. There’s nothing cool about that.

    S: I don’t like crossaintwiches. But if he just gave me a crossaint, I would take it. Like a chocolate croissant? Oh man.

    C: First of all, how can you not like croissantwiches, that’s just wrong. Second of all, if I woke up next to the King, I would grab my beast of a flashlight and beat the burger out of him. And if he offered me a stupid breakfast sandwich, I’m not eating that. No matter how good that smells.

    S: But I really like chocolate croissants.

    C: Sarah, you’re the kind of person that gets killed first in horror films.

    Bagshnar Babes: 60 Cent

    December 11, 2007

    [Check out the whole transcript at Bagshnar Babes: 60 Cent]

    S: When he was young, 50 Cent learned to play basketball and football. He also got shot with a gun.

    C: I love your brilliant transitions.

    S: I love your mom’s brilliant transitions. Dude, I’m trying to teach you something important that will help our listeners understand American rap culture. Do you already know everything about 50 Cent?

    C: Fo shizzle ma nizzle. I too am gangster. I know everything. I’m like an evil Santa Claus.

    S: Who am I — the elf?

    C: No, you’re one of the reindeer.

    S: Can I be Rudolf?

    C: How do you even respond to that?

    (Oh wait, you can. If it’s in English.) My friend Cassandra and I have somehow ended up as DJ’s on KIFE 102 FM here in the Cho. We have our own show, and that’s impressive. What’s not impressive is what we do with it.

    Here’s an excerpt from our first show: Bagshnar Babes: Meet the Babes. (bagshnar means “teachers” in Mongolian). You can read the whole transcript here.

    Cass & Sarah [channeling Wayne and Garth]:
    Bagshnar Babes!
    Tiim shdee.
    Welcome to Bagshnar Babes English Hour. Bringing you love from America.

    C: Yagaad Bagshnar?

    S: Yagaad gevel bid hoer Enkhtaivnii Korpusiin angli helnii bagsh.

    C: Yagaad Babes?

    S: Babe bol angli ug. Babe bol “hip hop” ug. Babe bol mongoloor hoorhon ineedtei busgui gesen ug.

    C: Yagaad gevel bid hoer yamar hoorhon yum be!
    [After playing songs for our three known fans, we like to remind our viewers just who we are with a tagline that gives unique insight into American culture]

    Bagshnar babes!
    … Can’t touch this.
    … The color of passion.
    … Just do it.
    … It’s what’s for dinner.
    … The other white meat.
    …What’s your anti-drug?

    Saikhan gol

    December 11, 2007


    Saikhan gol = beautiful river. From summer in Selenge. My host sister Boloroo, her husband Sugar, some young friends, and my eej (host mom).

    Now we enjoy -23 celsius cold (-10 farenheit). I’m in UB, trying to keep my eyebrows from sticking together.