December 25, 2008

12/25/08 Merry Christmas

Not sure how I feel about the holidays this year. I always hate the commercialism back home in the States but right now, I think I miss my family the most. Every year, the Pabst clan (from grandmother on down) get together the Sunday before Christmas. It is usually a full house (sometimes we even rent a hall because it's too many people). Despite all my travels, I think this is the first gathering I've missed in 25 years. But here's a picture of the clan my uncle Bob sent me.

I count 43 descendants of Grandma Lorene

The center has a children's program, sort of like a Sunday school, where they are taught about Buddhism. The kids put on a play about Buddha's life for the parents and staff. They worked so hard on it.

Some of the children in their play

At the end of every semester, the students throw a party where the teachers give out the class certificates and awards (top students and attendance). I didn't really know what to expect but it was fun. The students brought fruit, juice and chocolate.

With some of my students

I gave a little speech thanking all of them for teaching me as this first semester has been a real learning experience for me. After I handed out everyone's certificate, the students surprised me by presenting gifts. Even though they don't celebrate Christmas, I made out like ol' Santa dropped a bundle down the chimney.

I was given a drawing written in traditional Mongolian script with my portrait. I was also give another print of 'Teacher Jim' written out in brush script. So cool.

'Compassion' prayer and 'Teacher Jim'

Other gifts included a wooden puzzle, Mongolia's answer to the Rubic's cube, some cash, a key holder, and a glass plaque with sand of the Gobi Dessert (you can tilt the frame and the sand moves). But the big surprise was I was presented with a beautifully carved morin khuur, a horse-head fiddle.

Horse-head fiddle, or morin khuur, is a distinctively Mongolian instrument and is seen as a symbol of the country. The instrument is two-stringed and is bowed like a cello. There is some controversy regarding the traditional carving of a horse on the upper end of the pegbox. Some scholars believe that this is proof that the instrument was originally a shamanistic instrument, as the staffs of shamans have a horse similarly carved on top; the horse is a much-revered animal in Mongolia. (music sample)

After the students party, I was picked up to head over to the Education TV Christmas/New Years party at the Brauhouse Restaurant. I was the special guest of Ariunbat who runs the station. It was a very swank affair with everyone dressed in their best suits and evening gowns. Unfortunately, I was severely under-dressed. It was a grand spread - the meal was five or six courses with waiters hovering constantly to make sure everyone was fed well and glasses never became empty. I sat at the head table between the beautiful Erdenechimeg, a financial manager, and Mongolia's Memory champion, a law student who is currently ranked 8th in the world. Many of Mongolia's singing stars performed with lots of dancing and many year-end gifts were presented to the crowd of about 200. Finally, the special surprise of the evening arrived and I was introduced as Santa Claus. I told them I was so busy I could only attend one party on Christmas Eve and I was glad I picked theirs. Everyone seemed to think it was funny. But I don't think 'show business' is for me. But they did tell me my TV show 'Where is Santa Claus?' should air on Saturday night. Can't wait!

That's me with Ariunbat doing a little Santa Claus stand-up

I finished the holiday with a long Skype video call to my brother's house in Kansas City where I could join them for Christmas Eve dinner with all the family. It was good to see mom and my brothers and everybody really. I miss them a lot. Then I gave my 94-year-old grandmother a surprise call on Christmas morning.

But that's not all, I also was the guest on the radio show "Let's Talk English" with host Ari and Shuree, who runs the Yeti Institute. Shuree invited me back, maybe in February during the Tsagaan Sar holiday.