Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve in Mongolia

Fireworks above the Blue Sky
Two New Years in Mongolia. There are two new year celebrations in Mongolia. One celebration comes on the calendar new year and is celebrated by Santa bringing gifts, family and work celebrations and parties culminating in raised glasses toasting in the New Year.

It is a festive, joyous celebration full of good cheer and conviviality. Cakes are a must on this holiday. The stores are packed as people get ready to celebrate.

The second new year celebration is the lunar new year. In Mongolia it is called Tsaagan Sar or white month. This year it will be celebrated at the end of January.

The main purpose of this holiday is for family and friends to visit each other in their homes with the oldest family members being visited first. Families prepare elaborate meals and gifts for their guests as well as engaging in traditional hospitality rituals. 

It may take a week or more to complete all the visits. Besides Nadaam, Tsaagan Sar is the most important holiday of the year. In a month, you will learn a lot more about Tsaagan Sar.

Let the wild rumpas begin. Last year we missed New Year's Eve because of sickness. This year we were up to it.
View from our hotel room about 8:30 pm
The Gardners rented a hotel room on the 13th floor at the Blue Sky skyscraper on Sukhbaatar Square and invited all the senior couples to come and celebrate the New Year with them.
Sisters playing scrabble
Everyone brought food and treats and we had a great time visiting and playing games. 
Sisters Wood, Stewart and Nay
We practiced the Macarena for the New Year's ball the next night. 
Puje holding up a video of the Macarena on her smart phone while Sisters Farmer and Wood take it in

Elder Stewart and I went down to the square to take in the atmosphere and get to photographs.

New Year's crowd in front of Sukhbaatar and the New Year's tree
Chinggis Khan presides over the whole affair from his seat in front of the Parliament building

The night was the best night in a month - clean air and mild above zero temperatures.
There was an entertainment stage set up for live music, two ice skating rinks and several warming barrels with fire to provide comfort. 

Santa made a landing with his sleigh and two of his reindeer.

Celebrating with "Father Winter"
At midnight, the Mongolians brought with them cups and beverages and toasted in the New Year with their friends and family members.

We did too with our imitation bubbly with an unappetizing name
We went back to the Gardners' room and finished visiting -
Puje and Elder Stewart celebrating the New Year
then all of us except the Gardners and Puje went down to the square before midnight to join the celebration and to watch the fireworks from below.

The evening ended with a half hour fireworks show directly above our heads - up close and personal.

One of the embers of a spent fireworks landed within a yard of where we were standing.

It was a great display of fireworks.

We were glad to experience this time of year in Mongolia see and participate in their New Year celebration.  
State of the art video displayed on a bank building
                               Happy New Year everyone!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Concert, piano lessons, and a needed break from teaching English

Christmas concert. This week was highlighted by the annual Christmas Concert. Last year it was performed at the Circus – a rented public auditorium and advertised broadly to the community.
This year the decision was made to hold the concert at the Bayanzurgkh building and split it into two performances – one for the District and one for the Stake members. Members would invite friends to attend with them.
Our good friend, PuuJee, had a major contribution
Because of a mix up on times, we missed the first performance but were able to attend the second one on Sunday afternoon. We got there early to get good seats and to be able to take pictures of the event from a good location.

Love of music. Mongolians love and have special gifts for music. The choir had been in rehearsal since October. They prepared a full range of Christmas carols, pieces from Handel’s Messiah, and light-hearted Christmas music.
Curtain call with guests
Some of the performance was in English and some in Mongolian. The English was completely understandable as if performed by an American choir. It was an hour and a half of Christmas songs sung to perfection. The venue was an improvement from last year when the sound system and acoustics left something to be desired.
After the closing prayer, the choir performed the Hallelujah Chorus. A little Down’s Syndrome girl from the front row walked up and inserted herself between two choir members and proceeded to sing along with the choir. The moment was absolutely precious.

She fit right in
Concert afterglow. After the concert, we mingled and took pictures with the performers and filled special requests from members for special group pictures.
Unur Ward members in attendance
Unur Ward Bishop and family member
The atmosphere was joyous as friends got together and celebrated with choir members. Here are a few snapshots from that scene.

Ourselves and our daughter's converts - Ulziika, Naranchimeg, and PuuJee
Tuvshinbayar and his fiancé, Bolmaa
Piano Teaching. Though English teaching stopped for the Christmas and New Year’s break, Darlene’s piano teaching kept going.
Enkhjin, next to Darlene, was baptized three hours later
One of her students, Enkhjin, was baptized into the church the same day as her lesson.

Buyanzaya, a gifted student, was preparing to accompany eight Christmas numbers at church and needed some extra attention.
Buyanzaya had a two hour lesson that night
We also caught up on some shopping and personal errands during this break time. We had one dinner out with a few of the senior couples.
Darlene, the Stewarts, Gardners (backs to camera) and the Woods
Mongolian winter? The weather is around 20 degrees below zero or more on some days but is bearable because of layering up. The smoke in the atmosphere is definitely unpleasant and seems much worse than last winter. As far as Mongolian winter in concerned - so far, so good!  

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Two Christmas celebrations

On Christmas Eve, the Church Service Center invited their staff and the Senior couples to their annual Christmas party.
Church Service Center Party

A couple of employees on maternity leave, Puje and Tuul, came with their newborns. Pictured are the father of the twins, Elder Nay, and Tuul with her baby 

Some grandmotherly types (Darlene) couldn't resist holding the babies
They had a short spiritual presentation, a dinner and then had games and a drawing. Here are a few pictures of the event. By the way, our hosts believe in having fun and eating good food.
The Benson table with Batbold

Damdin and Sister Gardner with the drinks (non-alcoholic of course)

The object of the game was to unwrap the present using mittens. If someone in the group rolled a six on a die, he or she would then dress in the winter outfit and continue to unwrap the gift. Inside each box were smaller and smaller gift boxes. The winner at the end would keep the gifts. There were several gifts uncovered in the process. Here is Dr. Stewart along with John and Tommy as onlookers.   

Mission Christmas celebration. The next day, Christmas day, the Mission sponsored a Christmas dinner and program at the Central building.
Our second Christmas in Mongolia
All the UB missionaries and mission staff were invited. The program was Skyped live to some missionaries in the countryside.

Elder Munkhchuuder positioning the Skype camera on the computer
Senior sisters and Sister Benson
The Benson family singing a Christmas carol
The program consisted of three talks, two choir numbers, a nativity program, a vocal solo, and Christmas carols. It was a wonderfully festive occasion that brought us all together to remember the holiday.
Here are a few pictures taken of the event. 
Elder Tulga leading the Elders' choir
Sisters' choir
Elder Munkhchuuder singing

Elder Gardner reading a Christmas story - Elder Ocorjamaa interpreting
Joseph and Mary
The stern Innkeeper
The onlookers looking at the nativity reenactment
All of the UB missionaries - Christmas 2013