What about COVID-19?

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Mongolia and China are neighbors, so it’s natural to wonder if the recent Wuhan coronavirus (henceforth COVID-19) outbreak has spread north. Well, so far, there’s no evidence that COVID-19 has reached Mongolia at all. As soon as the outbreak began hitting news cycles, the Mongolian government shut down everything they could to keep the virus from spreading.

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This is what’s happened so far:

  • Schools were already shut down/in quarantine mode in January due to pre-existing winter illnesses. (Hospitals were filling up with children and the elderly, so keeping people at home helps cut back on spreading illness.)
  • All land borders were shut down, preventing both people and goods from coming or going through China.
  • Flights into the country are heavily monitored before travelers disembark to ensure that those entering the country through air travel aren’t bringing anything in with them.
  • Schools were then shut down until March.
  • Religious activities and other types of gatherings were forbidden.
  • Schools were then shut down until April.
  • Once COVID-19 showed up in South Korea, flights from SK were canceled. (Or heavily monitored as well?)*

So how does this effect society? Well, a lot of people are still teaching via the internet, and I think folks are going a little stir crazy. We are not currently in Asia, so we aren’t experiencing any of the above restrictions; however, we are in one of the US states where there have been several deaths from the virus, so it will be interesting to see how or if things start changing here to reflect Mongolia’s approach. Noteworthy: so far there are still zero cases of COVID-19 in Mongolia that I know of.*

Now I’m going to go wash my hands thoroughly.

Beth sig

*I get a lot of my news through second or third-hand reporting as I am not fluent enough in Mongolian to read Mongolian news sources myself.

Mongolian Food: Snacks & Other

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Previously, we’ve shared an overview of Mongolian food, what to expect for breakfasts, and shared a bit about typical lunch and dinner meals in Mongolia as well as where to eat them in UB. But what about the snacks?! Snacks are my love language, so of course, they get a post of their own. (Ok, it’s technically a shared post, pedant. Get off my lawn.)

Snacks!

1280px-GimbapOne of the first snacks we learned about in UB was gimbap, which is actually Korean. They are similar to Japanese sushi rolls, but the ones in Mongolia are typically filled with long thin strips of hyam (similar to summer sausage), cucumber, and pickled carrot and/or radish. Sometimes mayonnaise is added to the mix before it’s rolled to keep the rice moist longer. The reason for this is that they are sold as snacks all over the city but aren’t necessarily made on location. You’ll find them in convenience stores, at snack shacks by bus stops, and in deli sections at supermarkets. They’re cheap, filling, and we’ve yet to get food poisoning from them regardless of refrigeration. πŸ˜‰ We’ve also had fun making them with students at our home.

Western-style junk food is very common in UB. Carbonated beverages, candy, chips, and cookies are all easy to find. We joke that grocery stores are 1/3 alcohol aisles, 1/3 chocolate aisles, and 1/3 everything else. Chocolate is much loved! There are American brands, but most brands are European. However, there is also the Mongolian brand Golden Gobi, which has some very nice chocolate bars. It’s worth noting that even if you find familiar snack food brands from your country, the flavors may be different in Mongolia than your home country. For example:

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Apart from Korean and Western snacks, Mongolian snacks include aaruul, deli sandwiches, pine nuts (read an article on the national obsession here), and fried dough snacks likeΒ boov andΒ boortsog.

Other Cuisines

This is a pretty common refrain for us, but have we mentioned recently that we had no idea what to expect when we first moved to Mongolia? We had images of gers dotting the steppes and rundown soviet leftovers in our minds so we were surprised by just how modern and international a city UB is. As mentioned in the Snacks section, Korean food is very popular, but other popular Asian restaurants abound: Chinese hotpot, Japanese sushi and noodles, Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Hazaragi, and more are readily available. There aren’t any African or South American restaurants that I know of, but there are American (not just KFC and Burger King), Mexican, English, French, Italian, German, Russian, and Turkish restaurants throughout the city center. Most of these foreign restaurants are on the pricey end to eat at regularly, especially for the average local or budget traveler, but if you’re a foodie, know that you won’t be disappointed if you come to UB.

Our favorite restaurant in UB, hands-down is Namaste, an Indian restaurant with several locations in the city. Our most frequented location is the one that’s northeast of the parliament building. If we want good food but don’t want to pay an arm and a leg, we like to pop into Coke and Kebab, which sells shishkebab and doner kebab for cheap. (This was a favorite during my pregnancies!) There are a few potential issues about eating out in UB. You might be told that what you’ve ordered is unavailable (like when we tried to order pho from a pho restaurant) or you might go check out a place or visit a favorite restaurant only to find it gone. Things change quickly in UB, especially when it comes to businesses! For more up-to-date foodie-related questions, I strongly advise checking out the UB Foodies FB group!

What kinds of foods would you want to try if you came to Mongolia?

Mongolian Food: Lunch & Dinner

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Rather than write out a list of foods, I figured it would be better to include another video of traditional Mongolian dishes. Mike Chen (Strictly Dumpling) does a good job of breaking down the traditional foods along with giving some great context for why Mongolian food is the way it is (namely: hearty, meaty, and fatty). Obviously, he’s not a local, and there are a couple of areas where he’s misinformed, but this video is well worth your time. (Made me drool!)

Modern Nomads, the restaurant where Chen eats in the video is a great place to go if you visit UB and want some traditional foods in a more foreigner-friendly package. You could also go to a Khan Buuz or a Khan Khuushuur, which are like Mongolian fast food (in that you get traditional foods rather quickly). However, small cafes dot the city everywhere and provide traditional dishes at a number of cost points. The cheapest chain that I know of is called Tse, where every dish is just $1. (Some of these restaurants are better than others.)

A few things I’d like to clarify from the Strictly Dumpling video*. The “gravy” that was served with the khorkhog is just the broth that results from the cooking method. It’s thicker than one would expect broth to be (probably because it isn’t strained at all) and definitely comes with plenty of melted fat in it. Personally, we really like it, but not all foreigners like fat! Another thing that stood out was what he called “grandma soup”, which is called banshtai tsai. Bansh are a type of dumplings that are made smaller than buuz. The soup part is really Mongolian-style milk tea! πŸ™‚ A final note: while there are vegetarian (and even some vegan) options in UB, if that’s a hard and fast rule for you, keep alternative food options with you as you travel through Mongolia. It is very hard to avoid animal products (or cross-contamination), especially in the countryside.

What are some traditional Mongolian foods that you’d like to try?

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*Please don’t take this as me bashing Chen’s video at all. In fact, I think his video is awesome, and I wish more people would watch it so that they have an idea of what they’re getting into when they get to Mongolia. Go support his other videos while you’re at it!

Mongolian Food: Intro

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When in the US, a lot of people ask us what Mongolian food is like, and a typical second part of the initial question is, “Is it like Chinese food?” In short: no, it isn’t, although there are a few similarities. To be fair, what Americans typically think of as Chinese food isn’t really what they eat in China either. (JUST SAYING!)

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Photo by DoDo PHANTHAMALY on Pexels.com

If I could boil down Mongolian cuisine into its simplest form, I would say that it’s meat and dairy. Traditionally, Mongolian nomadic herders would eat milk products in spring and summer (when the livestock is giving birth and raising their young) and meat products in the fall and winter–when animals are old enough to be butchered and prepared in a variety of ways.

The Mongolian diet is more varied than that, of course, but those are the base foods that the vast majority of Mongolians love to eat. (There are, of course, vegetarian and vegan outliers, but they are outliers for a reason!) I’m hoping to put together a short series of posts on Mongolian food in the next few weeks or so, depending on our schedule. It’s been a busy…life. πŸ™‚ My goal is to have posts on breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

Hungrily,

Beth sig

Small Town Life

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Caleb is an English teacher who I know of from mutual friends in UB. Recently, he’s moved to a small town in Bayan Khongor to teach English in a more rural setting. If you’re curious what life outside of UB looks like, I recommend checking out his YouTube channel! He’s only just begun making videos, but I anticipate his channel being very informative as it develops.

Enjoy!

Outhouse Wolves and Other Stories

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A couple of weekends ago, we headed west of UB with some colleagues from our school to spend the night in the countryside with a herding family. The connection to this family was that the patriarch was the brother of the husband of one of our school’s headmasters, which was great for a couple of reasons. 1) It wasn’t a tourist camp so we had a more authentic experience, and 2) because we were connected, it didn’t feel like we were with total strangers. Our host family was so friendly and hospitable, and we had a great time!

 

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TBH, I’m not exactly sure where we stayed–as is the nature of traveling cross country to an impermanent settlement–but it was somewhere in or around the orange circle on the map.Β Β―\_(ツ)_/Β―

What was neat about this particular location was that it held a variety of landscapes. We stayed in gers on the steppe, but we were surrounded by mountains and about a 30 minute walk away from where we stayed was a large stretch of sand, including quite a few dunes. We were told this stretch of sand runs from the Gobi up to Lake Khuvsgul in the north. So in a way, we visited the Gobi. πŸ˜‰

Camels:

crunchyside camelsCamels are one of the five key livestock kept by Mongolian nomads. (The others are horses, cows, sheep, and goats.) The Bactrian camel is native to Central Asia, and they are helpful beasts of burden in addition to providing wool for textiles and milk for dairy products. As you can see in these photos, the camels our host family had were in the process of shedding their thick winter coats and were semi-balding. There were camels that we used for riding, and other camels that were not–mamas and babies. One of the baby camels had been attacked by a wolf recently, so one of its hind legs was wounded. The family had been giving it antibiotics. The morning of our second day, that baby camel was on its feet and nursing. It was certainly favoring the wounded leg, but there’s hope for a full recovery!

Our ride took us a half hour out from camp to the stretch of Gobi sand (then back another half hour). The camels liked crowding each other as we rode, so I have some pretty gnarly bruises above my right ankle from when my camel crushed my leg into the neighboring camel’s metal stirrup, but there was no bolting, biting, or spitting, so I’d count that ride as a win. πŸ˜‰ On our return walk/ride, one of our colleagues sang us a traditional Mongolian long song. He grew up in the countryside–not the city–so for him, being back where he grew up is always relaxing and nostalgic.

Good Eats:

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One thing that happens whenever we spend extended time with Mongolians is that we eat so. much. food. Personally, I can’t complain because I love eating, but some foreigners feel overwhelmed by how much food they are offered and don’t know if it’s ok to turn it down. (It is, but be nice about it and try to eat something!)

Our hosts served us a variety of traditional foods, including milk tea, khuushuur, and khorkhog. Khuushuur are fried meat pies. Some of the khuushuur were stuffed with mutton, and others were stuffed with “sheep stomach” (which tasted like minced organ meats, and not just tripe). That picture of Z eating a khuushuur in the top left? Sheep stomach! He was also interested in watching the frying process. The top right photo shows how the khorkhog was prepared. One sheep was butchered and the meat and bones were layered with minced onion, hot rocks from the stove, salt, potatoes, and carrots in a giant metal bowl with water on the bottom. The whole thing was covered and cooked for about an hour, turning into the most delectable meal.

In the morning, we had leftover mutton from the khorkhog, boortsog, more milk tea, coffee (!), rice porridge, and fry bread. Sadly, I wasn’t in the ger when they made the dough for the fry bread, so I’m not sure I’ll be able to recreate it at home, but I am definitely interested in trying. Delicious delicious food!

Countryside Living:

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When we first got to where we stayed over the weekend, Z was fairly shy, but he warmed up and ended up quite sad when we left. He was particularly enamored with the kids and lambs that stayed around the gers, and very much enjoyed chasing them. I don’t think they minded much, but I did worry that their mothers would be less than thrilled.

I don’t like to be the type of mother who hovers over her children, but there were a number of concerns that I had to balance while we were out of our normal. Z is not around animals enough here in UB to know that some animals are safe and some are not, so I had to corral him away from some of the livestock–like the overprotective camel mama whose baby had been attacked. She was a mama on a mission. I was also worried that Z would wander into the outhouse, which wasn’t deep, but also had no door on it and was exposed on one side and the top to the elements. I don’t know about you, but I’m not keen on fishing my toddler out of a toilet. πŸ˜‰

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What I pictured happening to me.

Speaking of toilets, I needed to use it during the night. I had somewhat seriously told Eric as we got ready for bed that if I needed to pee before daybreak, I would just pee in one of the unused diapers we had brought along rather than go outside at night because of the wolves. (Ok, maybe just wolf–singular–but apex predator I am not.) Around 3:30am, well, I needed to go, and Eric (who was also awake) convinced me that I shouldn’t use a diaper for my bathroom break. I was still hesitant to use the outhouse–WOLVES, people!–but I decided maybe I could just pee behind the ger. I didn’t want to bring my phone for its flashlight because it’s hard enough to pee outside without peeing all over yourself in a squat without also having to juggle a light source. Anyway, once outside, I realized the moon was bright enough to cast shadows so I opted to use the outhouse. I know, I know. All that fuss for nothing. I was thankful for not needing a flashlight for that trip though because I have a record of losing items down outhouses. (RIP first Fitbit.) For the record, I squatted facing out so that if a wolf decided to take me down while in the outhouse, I’d at least see it coming and know my fate. My tombstone would have read: Here lies Bethany. Dead from outhouse wolves.

People:

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We are just so flippin’ blessed to have the relationships that we do with Mongolians. Over the years, we’ve worked alongside educators, administrators, students, business folk, and more. Our children have been loved by all. We’ve written numerous recommendation letters, proofread so many essays and applications, and coached and encouraged and been coached and encouraged in return. Mongolian doctors have delivered both of our babies and been invested in their growth. Whenever folks ask me what my favorite part of living in Mongolia is, I tell them it’s the people, and this weekend reminded me again as to why.

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PS. I had the bulk of this post written the night we came back from the countryside, but then things got really crazy so I only just finished wrapping it up.

New year, new baby

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For readers of this blog who do not know us in person, this may come as a shock to many of you, but we recently welcomed our second baby into the world. I had every intention of posting a pregnancy announcement on here around the same time as we announced on FB and other social media, but…I majorly slacked off on the blog for quite a few months so that just didn’t happen. Regardless, we have another kiddo!

Also born at Intermed Hospital in UB (which I’ve mentioned a number of times in the past), T joined us on December 22 at 3:40pm local time. She is healthy, keeping up her weight, and a joy to us and those who have visited us in the hospital and at home. (If you’re curious about Mongolian traditions surrounding childhood, you should check out this post from when Z was born in May 2016.) I’m recovering well from labor and delivery, and Z is handling a younger sibling pretty darn well. My folks came to help out with the transition from one kid to two–and of course to meet their second grandchild–which has been very helpful indeed.

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How you bundle a newborn in winter in the frozen north:

For the most part, we’ve kept T indoors as much as possible because it’s the middle of winter and besides the cold, the air pollution is too much for a newborn’s lungs to handle. In fact, this winter the pollution has been bad enough for the government to decide to shut down schools for the month of January. Hospitals are full of sick kids, and since pollution is worst during morning and afternoon/evening commute times, it makes sense to shut down schools to keep kids indoors at peak pollution times. If we do go outdoors, it’s primarily in the early afternoon once Z’s up from his nap, when it’s warmest outside and there’s the least amount of pollution.

I have some more ideas for posts percolating on the back burner so hopefully I’ll be posting more regularly in 2018, but with two kids under two years old, there’s no guarantee of anything! We’ll see. πŸ™‚

Shine onii mend! Happy new year!

Beth sig