Happy New Year!
Tsagaan Sar [White Month] is THE Mongolian holiday celebration of the year. It is the Mongolian New Year. It lasts for 3 days (at least) over many servings of vodka. White is the featured color, signifying purity, good and cleanliness, I suppose, among other things. For example, the night before, neighbors exchange buuz (steamed dumplings) accompanied with aruul (a hard cheese). Even though the buuz is wrapped in "white" dough, I suppose it still ain't enough to counter the "black" meat so the "white" cheese is thrown in and wa-la: equilibrium is created!
Bituun [New Year's Eve, last day before full moon]
I set up my pastries, meat, candy, vodka and things according to tradition. Tasted buuz and (abominable) vodka with my neighbors. That was pretty much it.
Started off friendly. I visited a friend and then went to the countryside. You don't give gifts visiting someone else, they give you gifts when you visit their home. Gifts are usually given only to children or close friends/relatives. So we must have done about a dozen herder gers during the day (because my neighbor has literally a dozen siblings). It was fun. I received some things yes, exchanged traditional greetings and even exchanged snuff bottles (I got one too!). I ate buuz, huushur (fried dumplings), all sorts of cheese, meat and pickles in abundant quantities. I drank milk tea, camel milk tea, beer, homemade "fruit" beer, airag, vodka and homemade yogurt-distilled vodka. In abundant quantities. The dumbest decision of my life. However, MNG hospitality is such that they won't let you be without stuffing you silly with food and drink. I also think it a double-edged sword, not very hospitable either to force upon your guests. It's hard to say no. I learn everything the hard way.
So it's midnight, time to be heading back. I feel like I want to leave Mongolia and never come back, my intestines are about to explode. We finally head out and are a few clicks from home when the petrol runs out. This is a common moronic occurrence. So the two guys decide to walk the windy, frozen tundra for petrol. I stay with the wife and kids. The guys start and stop. What are they doing? Oh, the driver is puking. (Turns out, he actually couldn't go on, so he fell asleep on the ground for a few hours while the other came back with a friend on motorbike, picked him up, and brought us petrol.) Meanwhile, I'm freezing my ass off which wouldn't be so bad if I didn't feel like I was going to die. I proceed to litter the countryside with vomit. We spend basically the night waiting for them to come back. I hear a cow moo-ing and exclaim the fact to my neighbor. What the hell you talking about? Oh wait, it's just the kid snoring. I see a light, they're coming. The light disappears and reappears. They finally arrive hours later. UFO? I've been hallucinating. It's 07:00, I light a fire and go to bed...
...10:00, kids banging on my door. Another tradition, the school children visit you and you give them candy and some cash. Some school supplies if you like them. So I give unknown children candy and a 50 togrik note. Some up to 500 togriks and a fistful of candy if they've been good students. Some come two, three or four times. I give them one piece of candy. Bad mannered, greedy children! An old, retired music teacher visits me. I'm feeling better. I do some rounds with him and that's how the day is spent. I ate/drank less than the previous day, but still too much. It's past midnight, I head home, puke and go to bed...
...01:55, two men banging on my door. I let them in, turns out they're not drunks, they're two friends. Time is relative and the custom allows for visitation at all hours. So we talk for a while. My neighbor busts in, fearing the worst. They finally leave, I puke (again) and go to bed (again). I then lock my door for the rest of the day and do not put anything into my mouth.
I've survived, but I still wake up nauseous a week after the fact. I might have caught something. I think next year I may head to "the city" to avoid all this. Besides, there they have yummy Arabic and Mexican food among other things as well as delicious pizza!