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New Year - Shin Jil

I finally understood what all the palaver had been about, with teachers reportedly rehearsing routines until 11pm at night etc., when I attended the college New Years party, which featured speeches, several performances, four or five costume changes and elaborate evening dress.

Fortunately I wore a tie. Surprisingly for a college with some of the worst maintained toilet facilities I've seen, taped up dirty hand basins, and unevenly sized stair risers, there were generous cash prizes for the best teachers in the vocational courses and the professional courses, and a car for one of the general staff. The glittering party at a small restaurant called Khanbi Oergoe entailed many toasts, of champagne, the ever-present vodka, and wine and beer. There was food but the evening was dominated by speeches and presentations with performances of dancing santas and scantily clad female colleagues, of dancing and socialising. I hardly remember ever being so popular as when I brought photographs (www.flickr.com/ctc2008) of the evening to the college in the new year.

The glamorous evening made a wonderful contrast with the ensuing days spent at a remote Ger camp in Terelj national park to the east of the city. A few hours after leaving the city on Sunday morning we were walking around a monastery high on the south face of a beautiful mountain. Arriving at the Ger camp belonging to a certain Bold who had travelled with us from UB, we sat around the Ger stove and drank Mongolian milk tea. Reading (Tim Winton's Dirt Music) and knitting filled the time between feeding the stove and collecting water and firewood. We rode the herder's horse around and collected dry dead wood from the snow, then built a bonfire on the frozen Terelj River (assured it would not be affected by the fire heat) The New Year countdown (not usually marked in the countryside) was marked by a visit from the neighbouring herder Narantsteseg, with whom we danced and sang around the remains of the bonfire. Toileting in the snow on this -30 degree cold dark night was made well worth the effort by the incredible night starscape.

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