Happy Lunar New Year, friends.
It's day three of the four day (city folk only celebrate for four days, apparently people in the countryside celebrate for a full month) celebration and I think I'm going to survive.
On Tsaagan Tsar eve we were treated to a very nice meal. Our friend Od invited us to her house. After several rounds of salads, steamed sheep meat, and candy; Od's mother brought out two heaping platters of byy3 (meat filled dumplings, pronounced boatz) and placed one plate in between Erin and Holli and one plate in front of me. Her mother explained that the girl's didn't have to finish their plate, but that there are higher expectations placed on the men. I ate about 30 dumplings before polishing off my plate.
The next day we went to church at Tsaiz. Following worship everyone did the tradition Lunar New Year Peace Greeting. We hold arms (the younger person with his or her arms placed on the bottom) and move our heads from cheek to cheek. Young people kiss each cheek (like rich people sometimes do) while older people sniff on either side of young people (like no one else in the world does). I can't really describe it any other way - it's bizarre and heartwarming at the same time.
After worship we were invited to a family's home. Nanda speaks English and Korean fluently. Her family presented a lavish feast and ran us through the gauntlet of White Moon (Tsaagan Tsar in English) traditions. We Peace Greeted, we ceremonially sniffed the tobacco flask, we snorted snuff, we drank fermented horse milk (and how does one milk a horse, again?), an we chewed on hard candy made from horse milk and oil. Then we began the feast - after many rounds of salads and delicious steamed beef we began eating byy3. Luckily, my plate was hidden by the five-tier unleavened-bread Tsaagan Tsar cake and no one was counting my byy3 consumption! Even without social pressure I ate WAY too much.
The Seo family, GBGM missionaries from Korea, joined us for the festivities and it was fun to practice my (EXTREMELY LIMITED) Korean with their daughters. We shared a lot of laughs during the meal and they invited me over to their house in the future for Kimchi Jiggae (my favorite Korean dish) and a few rounds of Nintendo with their daughters.
After the meal with Nanda's family we were invited to Haja's humble abode for a celebration. It was an honor to be invited to her house, as she isn't allowed to entertain when her brother is home. Haja came from the countryside where she had been an accountant to the capital city to go to school. She is currently unemployed, but she was a supremely gracious host. We were allowed to watch her cook as she steamed the byy3 over the heating stove and we enjoyed lively conversation.
Holli, Helen, and Haja
We have large meals planned for today and tomorrow. Also, I hope to make it to the wrestling palace to watch some of this weeks wrestling events. At Od's house we watched hours of Mongolian wrestling and Od and her cousin Meega explained the rules. It's like Sumo wrestling, but without the rules and with more singing.
This is a video clip of Mongolian wrestling from Naadam festival. The internet is too slow and I haven't watched it ... so no guarantee that this particular match is exciting ... but you can get the general idea.