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January 12th 2011
Published: January 11th 2011
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Preparations #1Preparations #1Preparations #1

Becky spent a full afternoon creating a fantastic Christmas garland.
I had a memorable Christmas/New Year period - not likely to ever be repeated as I will now describe in more detail!

Pre-Christmas in UB

For the first time since August, I caught up with my Mongolian 'foster mum'. I stayed with Duya and her family as part of the VSO In country training 'home stay' program. Since then, we have been in touch my email only. We had a great lunch at a Chinese hotpot chain restaurant called 'The Bull'. I, of course, opted for the chilli soup option for my hot pot and was rewarded with the hottest meal I have experienced in Mong - it was sensational to have tasty, hot food.

Staying at Farrah's apartment in UB (whilst she was having a break at home in the Philippines), I was lucky to have access to a much better internet connection than I do in Darkhan and had some fantastic skype video calls to various folk around the world. Of course, Mum and Dad were the most pleased to see me - we haven't had a video chat for months!

A note on Christmas and Christmas decorations! Do you remember the days before Christmas paraphernalia
Preparations #2Preparations #2Preparations #2

And Jo was multi-tasking all day!
hit the stores in July/August? Well, welcome to Mongolia in December 2010! Tinsel, decorations and gifts were only available from the start of December! And, because the Mongolians are not Christians, in general, they do struggle to differentiate between the two holidays of Christmas and New Year! In fact, gifts are given for New Year and not for Christmas. 'New Years' parties were held from 20th December onwards and some of my fellow vols were invited to work New Years parties on 25 December!

Speaking of which......

Christmas day in UB

It was an odd day indeed.

One of the first highlights was Ogi and her husband, the landlords of Farrah's apartment, knocking on the door. After ignoring them for some time, as we did not know who they were, we eventually let them in. They had come to retrieve their Christmas tree, which was stored in a cupboard in the apartment (if only we'd known!!!) We were highly entertained by the thought of erecting and decorating a tree ON Christmas day! Of course, why waste a visit, they also read the water meters!

The united nations of guests for the day were as follows:
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The bounty of goodies 'imported' for the occasion.
Me, Jo (VSO from UK), Kara (VSO from USA), Chris (Kara's partner, also USA), Becky (VSO from UK), Vincent (VSO from The Netherlands), Dymphy (Vincent's girlfriend also from The Netherlands), John (teacher from UK) and Alex (teacher from USA). The last two are our regular ring ins - friends of Chris' who often join us for drinks and meals.

Jo and I had done all the preparation we could by midday and were ready for our first drink but......where were our guests? A few text messages later and we were advised to start drinking on our own, the others were coming, but a little tardy for a range of reasons including the need to finish the odd 'Bloody Mary'!

The apartment was decorated with decorations sourced from the UK and Australia (thanks Mum and Francine) and the menu was sorted so the only outstanding issue was logistical in relation to a kitchen with one functional stove element, an oven that did not work when the stove element was on, and a microwave. Thankfully, John brought a small electric oven with him and we were set.

The main courses were - pumpkin soup, turkey with stuffing and roast
Christmas morning dawns in UBChristmas morning dawns in UBChristmas morning dawns in UB

We had Christmas decorations and a relatively fine day outside (not that I ventured out for a minute!)
vegetables, and plum pudding. Of course, added to that were loads of extras like chocolate cake, yoyo biscuits (which I made in accordance with Gran's recipe), nuts, chocolates, chips, etcetera, etcetera.....and beverages of mulled wine, brandy, red wine, bubbly, and Jack Daniels!

The food was superb and it doesn't take Einstein to figure out that the day deteriorated with the finish of the meal and the continuation of the drinking! After playing sensible games early in the day, we ended up with the classic drinking game of 'I Never' (where you make a statement such as "I have never watched the movie 'Titanic'" and anyone who actually has must drink).

In the meantime, we had skype video calls from Beth, my Canadian friend who was a previous occupant of the apartment, and Farrah, who must have been wondering what she would be coming back to given the noise and behaviours she was witnessing in her apartment! Jo also had Skype calls from her family which included one of our vols trying chatting up Jo's son - it was very funny!

12 hours after we started, the party finished and our guests wandered off into the night! What
The tableThe tableThe table

Replete with christmas crackers, Christmas serviettes, pretty glasses....why, we could have been at home!
a day!

Boxing day in UB

Boxing Day 2009 was a good one. My brother and I attended the first day of the Melbourne Boxing Day test match at the mighty Melbourne Cricket Ground. So what a contrast going to see 'The Nutcracker' ballet was for Boxing Day 2010! Most of the Christmas day attendees rolled up and we were ushered to seats in a private box at the side of the theatre - very posh! There were 4-5 Mongolians in the box as well and I was lucky to be seated next to one who spoke excellent English. She informed me that her brother was a former member of the Mongolian ballet company, who were performing this ballet, so she knew a great deal about their history and was also able to translate the opening speech for me! It was the 28th year that 'The Nutcracker' had been performed over the Christmas/Boxing Day period so this was a great tradition in Mongolia just as the test match is in Melbourne! The Prime Minister of Mongolia and his wife were also in attendance as she is a patron of the Mongolian ballet company.

I really enjoyed the
John and AlexJohn and AlexJohn and Alex

The ring-ins!
ballet. I had not been to any ballet since my eldest sister, Francince, finally determined I was not a fan, not for want of her trying, when I was around 8 years of age. I have already decided to see 'Swan Lake' in February, so I guess my apprecaition of the art has improved a little!

Pre-New Year in Darkhan

When I returned to Darkhan after Boxing Day, I was lucky to have Jo accompany me and stay for the week. As it turns out, very lucky indeed. We arrived back at my apartment, after an uneventful bus ride from UB, to find my apartment key was not able to enter the apartment door lock! It was a funny incident, now upon reflection, but very cold and tedious at the time. After plenty of phone calls to my interpreter and VSO, and freezing for over 30 minutes in the building stairwell, the outcome was a night at a local hotel and a locksmith arriving the next morning who broke into my apartment and replaced the lock. I say 'broke into' simply because his skills consisted of putting some oil in the lock, putting in my key (as far
Sorting out kitchen dutiesSorting out kitchen dutiesSorting out kitchen duties

Jo was adamant from the start...the men were to be responsible for all washing up. Get that Vincent?
as it would go in) and then hammering it in the rest of the way!

A NY tradition in Mongolia which we do not have in Australia is the NY cake! I have never seen so many cakes covered in excessive amounts of frosting before. Some were elaborate, including roses and snowmen, whilst others were relatively plain with Шинэ Оны мэнд хүргэед (that is, Happy New Year) written on them.

Fireworks have been banned in Australia for nearly 30 years. Needless to say, this is not the case in Mongolia. Just like the Christmas decorations, fireworks for the New Year celebrations were only for sale for a couple of weeks in the lead up to the big night. The range was huge, including a monster called the 'Bazooka' which let off 8 separate multi-colored fireworks many metres into the air.

New Year's Eve in Darkhan

Jo and I had a late lunch at 'The Asian Kitchen' before retiring to my apartment to sit out the night, away from the fireworks, enjoying plenty of cheese and biscuits, chips and chocolate to accompany our wine selection.

The fireworks commenced as soon as darkness began to descend and
John, Dymphy and VincentJohn, Dymphy and VincentJohn, Dymphy and Vincent

Waiting for the next course.
did not let up until after 1 am and, in fact, went on for several days afterwards, reducing now to just the occasion 'bang'!

Jo and I witnessed, from the safety of my apartment, some less than safe behaviour when it came to letting off the fireworks but were pleased not to witness any injuries on our watch!

We toasted the new years of all the time zones starting with New Zealand and finishing, for us, with Thailand/Vietnam/Indonesia. There were plenty of toasts in between, mostly thanks to Australia having additional time zones in the summer months (where some backward states and territories do not adopt daylight savings). We even toasted the little Nullarbor town of Eucla, given it has its own time zone between the official South Australian and Western Australian ones.

On top of the fun in Darkhan, I received texts, emails and a very special phone call wishing me a happy new year - thank you everyone - it is definitely going to be exactly that!

Early January

Unfortunately, the start of the New Year does not herald a change in circumstance and happiness for all. Last week, I returned to the
Flat out!Flat out!Flat out!

John has a big Christmas Eve and was not really up to a repeat on Christmas day. However, after a power nap, he fired up!
Darkhan Psych ward for my first volunteering shift of the year to find several new patients and plenty of the long term ones still in attendance.

We shared an enjoyable 2 hours playing games with knucklebones and I surprised them by joining in at cards as well. 'Durak' is a Mongolian card game that I learnt when with the Darkhan crew at Anak Ranch. I won the first game, last week, but it all went downhill from there!

Last week, I also returned to UB to chair the VSO In-Country Training (ICT) subcommittee and the monthly Volunteer Committee meeting. It is great being involved with both committees and I am eager to continue - as this at least gives me something worthwhile to do! (More on my actual placement issues may follow in the next blog!)


There have been lots of questions recently about the weather here, now that winter has officially started, and how I am coping.

Well, I know there is still plenty of this cold weather to come, but really, I think I am adapting well. It certainly takes more energy to walk around in these sub zero-temperatures and

This was early in the afternoon and already bad habits were on display!
I am relishing hot cups of tea when I return indoors, but today, for example was a perfect blue sky day! I think the temperature was a mild -16C, there was no wind, and the sun was shining brilliantly - hard not to be smiling under these circumstances!

There has not been any snow fall for more than 3 weeks now. Because it is so cold, there is still plenty of snow and ice laying around. Thankfully, the reprieve has meant the local council workers have been removing plenty of ice from both the roads and footpaths. I will one day sneak a picture of these guys/girls hard at work - it is fascinating watching gangs systematically remove the ice with croquet-style mallets (bash) and a stick with a piece of flat metal on the end (usually a piece of an old metal sign) as a shovel (scoop)!

Odd spot or two

* There are an abundance of 'Ugg' boots on show in the Mongolian winter. The label reads 'Made in Australia' but, given the cheap price, I don't believe it!
* The most popular plastic shopping bag in Mongolia is I love NY
* The
The happy vols!The happy vols!The happy vols!

The only group shot of the day!
buses in UB now feature a 2011 calendar. It starts with January and ends with December but is very odd apart from that. The week starts on Sunday and ends on Monday! That is, reading my usual left to right, Sunday, Saturday, Friday......Monday!

Additional photos below
Photos: 25, Displayed: 25


First course....First course....
First course....

Pumpkin soup...well this was before Becky prepared it!
Main course - turkey!Main course - turkey!
Main course - turkey!

Jo did an excellent job of organising the day and cooking and carving up the turkey.
Dessert - Plum PuddingDessert - Plum Pudding
Dessert - Plum Pudding

More thanks to Jo (and her daughter for sending over some of the ingredients, and Becky for being the courier!)
Christmas chocolate cakeChristmas chocolate cake
Christmas chocolate cake

Even the Christmas cake was not immune to Mongolian Christmas commercialism
No, she is not praying!No, she is not praying!
No, she is not praying!

Becky was chatting on skype with Farrah, the bona fide occupant of the apartment!
Secret santaSecret santa
Secret santa

Kara was delighted with her gift!
The theatreThe theatre
The theatre

A view from our 'box'. It is such a lovely auditorium.
The sugar plum fairiesThe sugar plum fairies
The sugar plum fairies

At the end of the most recognised sequence in the ballet.
The kidsThe kids
The kids

At the end of the show, accepting the adultation from the audience.
Darkhan Christmas TreeDarkhan Christmas Tree
Darkhan Christmas Tree

A lovely tree just outside the Children's theatre
Outside Darkhan MonasteryOutside Darkhan Monastery
Outside Darkhan Monastery

A slightly different look than in my previous entries - just a touch of the white powdery stuff.

Jo and I toasting (with Italian bubbly) just minutes before the official start to 2011.
Horse racingHorse racing
Horse racing

Playing my favorite knucklebone game with a few of the psych ward patients.
The IceThe Ice
The Ice

Looks likes piles of rock all around the place - but it is actually the work of the local council workers, removing ice from the roads and footpaths

12th January 2011

Happy Holidays
Looks like you are having a great time.
13th January 2011

Loved the photos
Hey Merryn Loved your holiday stories and photos. Hope your New Year is whatever you want it to be!! I've long ago stopped imagining what you might want it to be!! Who would think Mongolia??!! We're just back from four days of skiing in the Rockies. We talked about YOU!.. We woke up to -12F and started whining about the cold!!.. We decided that you would think this was pretty warm but none of us could figure what that temp was C!! So we just put on another layer of clothes and had a great time. Sign in winter clothing store "There's no such thing as bad weather -- just bad clothing" Hope you mom and dad can avoid the flooding. Love, Mary and Jon

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