Friday, December 31, 2010

Шинэ Жил! {New Year!}

by Kara

Shin Jil -- pronounced "sheen" (like Charlie Sheen), "jeel" (rhymes with meal), but the "l" on the end of jil has a bit of an l-th sound. Get some saliva rolling around in your mouth and then say it. And the whole thing, шинэ жилийн баярын мэнд хүргае! Shin jillin bayariin mend hurgae! Happy New Year!

The new year celebration is one of the biggest reasons to party here in Mongolia. Every workplace has a party sometime around the new year. The work party usually doesn't include spouses, just the workers. My work didn't have a party last year because the country was freaking out about H1N1 and said we couldn't have parties. My workplace followed this directive, unlike most, but primarily because people were broke and couldn't afford a party. So, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect this year. Here's a bit about it.

I was told the party started at 6:00 so I left home, grabbed a taxi for the second time ever in my town due to the extremely cold weather, and played 20 questions with the driver. He was excited that I spoke Mongolian and during the few minutes in the car he asked me every question he could think of. What do you do here? Where are you from? Are you married? To a Mongolian or American? Do you have children? Which apartment building do you live in? How old are you? America is awesome. Mongolia hasn't developed enough. Do you agree? {Uhhhhh, some parts of America are cool, some are not. Mongolia is cool. Mongolia's development is alright.} Los Angeles. Cool. {Yes, cool.}

So I arrived at the restaurant at 6:20 and was the first one there. The party planning committee from my work arrived shortly after. All of the women finally strolled in around 7:20. I would've shown up late too but I can never tell what I'm supposed to be on time for, what it's okay to be about 15 min late for, and what it's okay to be really late for. But I'm used to it now and it didn't bother me.

Attire and Accessories
Shin jil attire is a big deal, especially for women. I spent one morning last week looking up pictures online of dresses for my coworker who was having a dress made. I used the search terms prom dress and bridesmaid dress. The more sparkles, the shinier, the better. I made sure to warn my coworkers beforehand that I don't have a cool dress and I don't have money to buy one {read: have no desire to buy one}. Fortunately for me, not all women dress up this much.

In addition to fancy clothes, a lot of women also get their hair done at a salon, get their nails done, wear fake eyelashes, apply glitter to their face and body, and adorn themselves with big, fake diamonds. 

Here are some pics of my coworkers:

"One of these things is not like the others, one of these things doesn't belong... "
Orkhoo, Oyunnaran, Naraa, and Dulmaa

Some men find something fancy to wear too.

Turuu sporting a sparkly bow tie.
Shiny suit!

All my male coworkers.

Food and Drinks
I wasn't looking forward to this portion. They pre-order food for the group so everybody gets the same thing, which I assumed would be something with mutton. However, they surprised me! We had potato salad, a chicken soup with tons of veggies, and baked chicken, rice, delicious potatoes with a bit of BACON, and a little cabbage salad served in three courses. It was delicious.

For drinks, they fill the table with beer, vodka, wine (and by wine I mean a really sweet drink that tastes like alcoholic cough syrup), and champagne. Though, my coworkers don't drink much and I really wasn't pressured to drink too much. We only had to take two shots of vodka over the course of the evening, until the very end when they wanted to finish up a bottle and made us all drink two more whole shots, right before leaving. The vodka is horrible. Horrible.

After being shaken profusely, the champagne went everywhere.
This was taken just as it was starting to explode.

This isn't a party where you just drink, eat, and dance. Oh no. There must be planned activities. Games, raffles, contests, etc. They also gave awards for the best workers of the year. Following that, they surprised ME with a medal! Medals are a BIG deal and it's a huge honor to receive one, a remnant of Soviet times. I think I got it for the work I've done over the past year, primarily helping get our summer camp off the ground and bringing in grant money for it. It was really special and really nice to know they appreciate what I do. 

My director pinning the medal onto my shirt.

I also contributed to the entertainment. (And not just with my bad dancing.) You know those Elf Yourself videos where you put a picture of somebody's face on the body of some goofy, dancing elf? I made these videos with all my coworkers faces as a surprise. I couldn't have predicted such a great response. They were practically rolling on the floor laughing! It's really hard for me to use humor with them because I can't think of witty things in Mongolian fast enough, (and I'm not good at slapstick, physical humor) so it felt good to make them laugh. The highlight was definitely the Chippendales video that had the heads of five of my male coworkers on shirtless Chippendale dancers.

Interspersed in between eating the various courses of food was a lot of dancing. With this group there was a lot of waltzing. I ended up having to dance with a really drunk old man with horrible breath a couple of times who kept speaking Russian to me. He was from the other group who was a construction company that we shared the restaurant with.

When we weren't waltzing we were dancing to weird techno music that sounds like it'd be playing in a dark, sketchy Russian dance club in the 90s. One thing I really appreciate though is that most Mongolians - of all ages - aren't afraid to dance. They're not necessarily good dancers, but it doesn't matter. I swear I've danced more in the last 18 months here than any other time in my life. The only thing I do NOT like about dancing with Mongolians is that they almost always dance in a big circle. I inevitably had to the be awkward one pushed out into the middle of the circle a few times. Fun. But I'm pretty used to looking and sounding like an idiot here most of the time, so it doesn't phase me as much anymore.

Overall, the party exceeded my expectations. I remember how little I understood of what was going on a year ago, and I appreciated that I can understand and speak more Mongolian now. I also enjoyed just relaxing and having fun with my coworkers - until 3:00am!

Oyunnaran and I. She's one of my faves.
Orkhoo, another fav. I swear, she doesn't hate me, she just doesn't smile in photos.


akmonki said...

oooh, hurrah for the frilly dresses, shiny suits, meat overloads, horrible vodka, and circle dancing! As much as I outwardly scorn such things, I actually love them secretly! I had fun recounting all of the drinking games from parties the years prior to my father & sister. They got a kick out of the pen in the bottle one & the animal mating rituals... Good fun!
Congrats on the medal and happy Shin Jil to you!

akmonki said...
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