at the tea house and Independence Day

by sumpteretc

It’s been so long since I blogged that I hardly know what to write about. I think I’ll give a little snapshot of an experience I had earlier this week. I have language classes every morning from 9:00 to 12:15. One day this week, though, my 9:00 teacher asked if I could move my first morning lesson to 1:30. Rather than going home between my morning lesson and my afternoon lesson, I decided to dive into a local guanz for lunch. A guanz is roughly the equivalent of a “greasy spoon” restaurant in the US. It’s not fast food, exactly, but you can get Mongolian fare relatively quickly there.

I slid into a seat at an empty table, took a quick glance at the menu and hollered to the waitress/cashier/bartender/owner that I would like a plate of tsuivan and a cup of Lipton tea (to distinguish it from milk tea). She brought me a beer stein of hot water, a tea bag and two sugar cubes. While I waited for my meal and for my tea to brew, I had nothing to do but look at the other patrons. Directly in front of me were two men at a table. They were enjoying a liquid lunch, literally. They had their beer steins on their plates and kept refilling them from bottles on the table. One man was wearing dress clothes with sandals. The other man had his t-shirt pulled up above his belly and his pants unsnapped and completely unzipped. Eventually, he zipped his pants up, they finished off their beers and left the premises.

Then all I had to look at was the mirrored wall behind their table. In the mirror, I could see the owner behind me. She was sitting at a table with a handful of paper napkins and a pair of scissors. I didn’t have to look too closely to see what she was doing; I’ve seen it before at other restaurants. She was cutting single-fold, 1-ply napkins in half. The napkins are almost useless to begin with, but we must economize. I glanced back at my table and noticed the two cloth napkins lying there and wondered why on earth they were even using paper napkins. I looked back up at the mirror; the owner’s husband had joined her and was folding the paper napkins into triangles.

Finally, my meal was ready and the owner brought it out to me, along with two paper napkins. Yes, that’s right. They took a napkin, cut it in half, folded each half and then gave me both. Mystifying!

Anyway… a belated Independence Day to my American readers. We had an Independence Day celebration yesterday with the other American expats. It was, in fact, a strange gathering. I would guess that there were about 400 people present. Maybe 300 of them were Mormons. This gathering had a restriction that each person could bring one and only one non-American with them if they liked. I think all the American Mormons brought Mongolian Mormons with them. I don’t know why Mongolian Mormons would want to celebrate American Independence, but they seemed to be having a good time. The rest of the crowd was made up of diplomats, missionaries, tourists, mining company workers, etc. They served hamburgers, hot dogs, homemade bratwurst, roasted pigs, potato salad and baked beans. It was quite a feast.