Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tsagaan Sar, Take Two

Believe it or not, I'm celebrating my second Tsagaan Sar in Mongolia. I wrote about my First Tsagaan Sar over a year ago, this year it came later. Hard to believe but March begins tomorrow. 

Last year I explained that the holiday is a blend of Thanksgiving with New Year's plus a little something extra. That yet remains true. However, as we visited yesterday (three homes between 1 and 9 pm)--the day is known as "Visiting Day"--it occurred to me just how much the day is a marathon of eating and drinking (for the visitors). It's a day of work--constant cooking and cleaning--for those that host. I can't lie, I'm relieved that we don't host and only visit. That's a selfish statement, I know, but it's honest. 

As for the "marathon," I think about just the variety of things I drank yesterday, visiting three homes, and it included, milk tea at each place (you MUST begin your visit with the drinking and eating of WHITE things), then in no particular order: vodka, seabuckthorn juice, airag (fermented mare's milk), black tea, red wine, and some Chinese sake. I declined on the beer and whiskey options. As soon as you drain your cup or mug or shot glass, someone is right there to refill it. 

We celebrated this year's Tsagaan Sar differently. As Enji lives primarily with us now, we celebrated Tsagaan Sar eve just the three of us--our nuclear family--which I really enjoyed. Zorig and I had shopped the day before and he began cooking in the afternoon for our evening meal. We spent time cleaning our apartment (think spring cleaning!) and preparing for this new year--the Year of the Fire Rooster. Zorig laid out our table with some of the traditional items (aaruul, dried fruits, biscuits, vodka). When the food was ready, we all changed our clothes into something more than sweats, and sat down to dine together at the table. Zorig toasted the New Year and wished us all happiness and health and love. We ate and drank and talked. It was lovely. 

Then on Visiting Day, yesterday, we relaxed in the morning--after getting up "early" as is tradition--and having some milk tea with dumplings in it. In the afternoon we visited three family member's homes, same ones as last year. We may have one more place to visit today as we ran out of time last night, arriving home after 9 pm. Because we went later in the day, there wasn't the huge crowd that we had last year at the first place. This made for more enjoyable visiting, in my opinion, though it lacked the big family photo op. The day was sunny and pleasant, reaching nearly 30 degrees fahrenheit. While I can't say I conversed more this year (I confess that I do not have a talent for learning languages and have temporarily suspended my Mongolian language sessions for the time being), I will say that I understood a lot more of what was being talked about. As I mentioned last year, some of that is interpreted through body language and gestures, but this year I did understand many more words being said. 

Each place you go, you stay for at least 45 minutes or so, as you must wait for a fresh plate of buuz (steamed meat dumplings--see pic on last year's post) to be set on the table. I confess that while I CANNOT eat buuz like a Mongolian--I really do not know where they put them!--I do try one at each place to make comparisons. I love how diverse and different they can be. Did the maker use minced meat or ground meat? Is it mutton or beef or horse? Did they use onions? What about the fat--sheep tail or something else? Spices used? Tightly packed,or loose? I can't nearly tell you all nuances between them, but they ARE different. I can tell you that I ate more than the customary one at one place yesterday! 

This year I'm more in awe of the pace of the day. People go from one place to the next, eating and drinking at each, for hours and hours. Hosts are concerned with keeping your cups and plates full, it's rude to not eat or drink. This year I was more confident, knowing that I'd always enjoy the aaruul (I've acquired the taste for it), try one of the buuz, and sample the vinegar based salads. I was even brave enough yesterday to sample the potato salads at a couple of places. It tasted better than I expected. :) Proving once again, it's good to be brave and try something new or different. 

Enji and I still have today and tomorrow to relax before going back to school on Thursday. But then it's a very short week!. Next week is broken up with International Women's Day on Wednesday--no school then either. Before we know it, Spring Break will be upon us.

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