First, huge apologies for the blogging hiatus. Constructions workers in a neighboring province were doing construction (duh) and somehow managed to slice through the cable providing internet to all of Khovd city/province (it wasn’t totally clear which). In typical Mongolia fashion, no one knew anything, so in typical Mongolia fashion, we shrugged out shoulders and resigned ourselves to being surprised when the internet came back. It did, after almost a week, but since it’s been back it’s been even crappier than normal, so uploading pictures and video from Khovd University’s birthday bash had to wait a few days.
Anyway, back to the story.
Khovd University turned 35! Slash was celebrating 25 years since Khovd students were instrumental in the democratic movement in Mongolia (or something), so there was a weekend of festivities to be had.
The main event of the Khovd bash was a university concert at the theater put on by the students and teachers. The foreign teachers had been asked to come up with something, so myself and my also-ukulele-playing cohort the Elf (English Language Fellow) had put together a song for the concert on Saturday. Except on Friday night we discovered two things: 1) the concert was now Sunday, reasons unknown, and 2) we needed to haul our butts down to the university half an hour ago to do our song for the concert organizers so they could make sure we didn’t suck/play Insane Clown Posse. So we played a song, it wasn’t Insane Clown Posse, the organizer dude was happy, and we were done.
JUST KIDDING there are cameras and you have say something on them because you’re white and we need white people so the university looks good on national TV, kay? Wait, no, sing a song and THEN say something.
Rolling with things is a skill I am artfully cultivating, and this time we got rolled in front of a Christmas tree made out of VHS tapes, where we played our song, said our schtick and went home to ponder the general strangeness of our lives.
I was walking down the stairs on Saturday morning when I ran into one of my coworkers who was like “Spontaneous dress rehearsal at the theater RIGHT NOW, but you can come in an hour.” So I called up my Elf friend, and we headed over, where we sat around for a very enjoyable two hours watching the other students/teachers perform before we peaced out to do work and told them to call us when they needed us on stage.
A few hours later we got the call, so we ran back over and were immediately ushered onto the stage for the dress rehearsal…which we weren’t actually dressed for. We were supposed to be wearing “traditional clothes,” but I don’t own petticoats and the Elf had left his Pilgrim buckle hat at home. It took some doing, but we finally convinced the concert organizers that we would not dress like hooligans.
Festivities day! I went to the opening ceremonies at 8 am (Mongol Time: 9.15), which probably would have been interesting if I had understood anything. As it was, the most interesting part for me was my calculated sneaking past the girl in the door who was holding out a bowl of milk for everyone to drink from as they went in, mostly because I had no idea a) if was was actually milk (i.e., not fermented), b) what she was doing, and c) what the protocol was for clueless foreigners.
Good news, apparently it’s a) actually milk, and b) a luck thing.
Also, there was morin khuur, aka Monglian horsehead fiddle, which I have discovered I am more or less a morin-whore for. I will sit through anything, no matter how long-winded and boring, and not consider it a waste as long as you can promise me some morin khuur because that instrument is amazing.
A few hours later, we headed over the theater to watch the last-minute rehearsals. This in itself was really entertaining, as we were watching the concert-opening dance. Students in traditional costumes stood in front of the stage and did a dance before welcoming other students all carrying props representing their majors (personal favorite: the girl with the taxidermied duck because, you know, biology), who then also did a dance.
We watched them rehearse this dance twice before they decided they were good to go. Then, and only then, were we told that we the foreign teachers were supposed to be doing this dance with them, but it’s cool, we watched it right, so we can follow?
Sure. Totally. And that’s how we did a dance that mostly consisted of swaying/clapping with some air-punching to a Michael Jackson/Mongolian song mash-up.
THEN it was speech time, and if there’s anything I have learned about Mongolia, it’s Don’t Ask Questions, but after that, it’s Mongols Love Speeches. Which are fun for a little while as I test my Mongolian against them, but fifteen minutes later after I’ve thoroughly disheartened myself by realizing I only understand numbers, pronouns, and the occasional verb, they are distinctly less fun, especially because being concise is not an Olympic event the Mongols will be winning anytime soon AND there was no redeeming morin khuur. So my Elf friend and I commandeered a staircase backstage and had a ukulele jam session for an hour and a half, which was pretty fabulous.
Except at this point it had been about seven hours since I’d eaten anything, and the speeches had been going on for two hours, so I figured I had more than enough time to run home and shove some bread in my face, especially because I live less than a minute from the theater. Except of course the second I got home I got a CONCERT ACTUALLY STARTING NOW text from Other English Teacher, so I had to promptly turn around and fly back to the theater like I was being chased by all the demons in Hades. And I did it in heels.
The concert itself was pretty spectacular. Mongolian traditional music and dance are some of my favorite things about living here, and there was plenty of both to be had. One dude went on stage and busted out some pretty insane overtone singing, which was amazing. And then it was our turn:
We stuck around for the rest of the concert and then headed off to the reception, where this time I did not sneak past the girl with the milk, I drank it. Then we had to sit through some more speeches that I tried to pay attention to but was slightly distracted by the enthusiastic drunk man next to me leering at my left ear. But then there was a morin khuur, so leer away. There was also lots of delicious food, including a sheep head with brain attached that I might have found delicious if I hadn’t made the decision to stick to the delicious rice.
And thus concludes the Khovd University anniversary festivities.