Katelin, Mongolia: Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Welcome to day 4 of this series, A Week Around the World. I asked and a whole bunch of lovely bloggers agreed to post throughout the week about love, travel, or any combination of the two. They’re kindly doing this as I’m hanging out with my parents and probably running around like a headless chicken trying to tie up any loose ends for the wedding. Today’s post is by Katelin at Everywhere But Home. She spent the last year living in Erdent, Mongolia as a Fulbrighter! Her blog is an amazing insight into Mongolia and her guest post below is a hilarious commentary on a phenomenon that’s apparently not only popular in Russia, but Mongolia too…
a week around the world
It took me about ten seconds to realize that admitting to my new coworkers that I didn’t have a boyfriend had been a bad idea.

It was the first day of school, which at our institution was a party disguised as a workday. We’d had an opening ceremony with the students at 8 am, after which they’d disappeared and we’d retired to the teacher’s room to celebrate. It was barely ten in the morning, and already the vodka was making the rounds. Toasts were made and songs sung by the higher-ups – and then, abruptly, all eyes were on me.

No pictures of the first-day festivities, but this was taken at another teacher party a few weeks later. Note the three kinds of alcohol on the table – the bowls contain airag.

No pictures of the first-day festivities, but this was taken at another teacher party a few weeks later. Note the three kinds of alcohol on the table – the bowls contain airag.

Did they want me to make a toast, or sing a song? Well, yes, but first they wanted information. My name they knew already, and so they moved on to the next most important queries: my age and relationship status.

I’d known the question would arise eventually, but I hadn’t expected it so soon, and I wasn’t prepared. I hadn’t yet bothered to invent details on a fake boyfriend, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to come up with them on the spot. By the time I’d processed my dismay, I’d hesitated too long to lie convincingly, anyway, and so I told the truth. No, I did not have a boyfriend.

Cue the giggles, curiosity, and less-than-subtle glances between my new coworkers. If I didn’t have a boyfriend, obviously I must be looking for one, and my fellow teachers were quick to proffer their candidates from the school dating pool. D. and B. were both single, they told me (we’ll call them David and Barry here, to spare you the difficulties of Mongolian names). David grinned at me, but Barry turned scarlet and averted his eyes when the youngest of the English teachers informed me, with a lascivious wink, that Barry was a wrestler. Wrestling holds a lot of prestige in Mongolian culture, so this made Barry a particularly eligible bachelor.

I’d gone about as squirmy as Barry by this point. How do you say, “Sorry, I don’t date people I can’t talk to” in Mongolian? I didn’t know, and even the English teachers probably wouldn’t have understood me if I’d said it in English. I laughed, unsure what else to do, and happily the others joined in. One teacher began a song, the rest joined in, and the awkward moment passed.

Or so I thought until the wedding a few weeks later. Not mine, of course; one of the other male teachers got married mid-September, and we were all invited to the party. The teachers arrived en masse, and we filed into the reception room to sit along the tables lining the periphery in no particular order. More toasts and songs and vodka and airag ensued.

And then, in the middle of the drinking and carrying on, after we’d already had soup and sausage-and-cucumber salat, the teachers around me all got up and changed seating positions. “Katya, you are sit here,” said my main co-teacher, and I obeyed – and found myself sitting between David and Barry.

Real smooth, guys.

Now, I’ll admit that David was pretty cute, so I had no objections on that score. But since these two guys had about fifteen words of English between them, and my Mongolian skills were similarly pitiful, the change in seating ended all possibility of conversation. I spent the rest of the wedding admiring bride and groom’s matching wedding deels and the enormous pile of boov (sounds like the verb “bow”) and generally trying not to look bored.

Боов, or boov: a stack of dense fried cakes, covered with sugar cubes, candy, and aaruul. A must for all Mongolian special occasions.

Боов, or boov: a stack of dense fried cakes, covered with sugar cubes, candy, and aaruul. A must for all Mongolian special occasions.

I’d hoped my utter lack of amusement, combined with complete inability to converse, would get the point across, but evidently it had not. I arrived at school the following week to find that the desks in the teacher’s room had been rearranged; instead of four-desk rectangles, we now had clusters of three. And instead of logically grouping me with the other two English teachers, they had seated me with the math teacher and the physics teacher – Barry and David.

I’d never been the object of this kind of set-up effort in America, but clearly being a blonde American in Asia was an entirely different ballgame. The you-should-date-David-or-Barry saga, to my great chagrin, had only just begun.

Not dating your coworkers: clearly not a thing here.

Faculty and staff from the two vocational schools in Erdenet, including yours truly!

Faculty and staff from the two vocational schools in Erdenet, including yours truly!

9 Comments

  1. So, where are Barry and David in the photos? The left-most dude of the front row red-white-and-blue line-up is really cute!
    I have to say, I am very curious about how the saga develops!

    Reply

    1. Funnily enough, that’s Barry! David’s not in the picture; for reasons not explained to me, he was no longer teaching at the school by the time the picture was taken in February.

      Reply

      1. And you didnt think he was cute? Fine, I’ll take him off your hands – love triangle solved! :)

        Reply

        1. Polly

          Haha. Anna — always being so selfless!

          Reply

  2. Did you ever end up dating either of them? That desert looks fantastic. Does it taste good too?

    Reply

    1. The Mongolians would say it does. Most others would beg to differ. The structure itself is basically fried dough, but that’s not what you eat. The stuff atop it is a mixture of sugar cubes, aруул, шар тос, and maybe some өрөм – explanation here: http://everywherebuthome.wordpress.com/2013/11/13/and-i-thought-wisconsin-was-obsessed-with-dairy/

      Reply

  3. Aw, I cringed all the way through that… but couldn’t stop reading, regardless ;-)

    Reply

    1. Well-meaning, my coworkers were – but cringeworthy nonetheless!

      Reply

  4. LOLLLLL Hilarious story.

    Just curious, by being blonde in Mongolia, did you get alot of looks/attention anywhere that you went? Or was the specific area you went to used to seeing blondes/foreigners?

    Reply

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