Teacher with a hangover

by sumpteretc

A few months ago, a new teacher came to our language school. He is different from the other teachers in a number of ways. He is currently the only male teacher in the school. He is 53 years old and has lived in the countryside most of his life. He is from a minority ethnic group, and he pronounces some words differently from Ulaanbaatar residents. It’s not usually a problem, but one day he kept saying “cool” and I kept saying “what?” Finally, he pointed at his foot and said “cool, cool,” and I finally realized that he was saying хөл (khool), “foot.”

Because he’s older and from the countryside, I thought he might be the ideal person to teach me Mongolian customs and traditions. It’s usually been pretty good, but today was almost more than I could handle. Apparently last night was a class reunion for the teachers’ college class of ’78. As soon as Batkhuu came in to the room, he told me that he had had quite a few beers at the party and that he wasn’t feeling too great. Soon, it became apparent that he was seriously hung over. While I was puzzling over some unknown words in a theme that we were reading, he got up and left for the bathroom. I could hear him emptying his stomach from down the hall. He was doing very little teaching today, just letting me mow my way through 3 times as much material as we usually cover. By the last half hour, I was just trying to keep him awake. He said that he went to bed at midnight last night, but he must not have slept very well. I was telling him about my time in the Navy. He would ask a question and immediately fall asleep. I would ramble on for a while, trying to fill as much time as possible. Eventually, I would trail off, his eyes would pop open, and he would ask me another surprisingly relevant question and fall back asleep.

Even without much instructional input, I think I still managed to learn a few things. The first essay I read was about the worship of the hearth, the second about the honored place of milk, and the third about important colors in Mongolia. The most interesting things were probably about milk and white foods. Milk is considered white, and water is considered black. So you can pour milk on top of water, but you can’t pour water on top of milk. If a mother wants to wish her family traveling safety, she sprinkles milk behind them. If a bad person wants to curse an enemy, he sprinkles water behind them.

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