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A Belated Valentine…

February 16, 2011

…and a happy one at that, to all you readers out there. I’m sorry I didn’t get to this earlier, but Mondays and Tuesdays have become a trying deluge of class hours, so I was swamped.

Valentine’s Day isn’t marked with a whole lot around here. From what I can tell, younger folks in Ulaanbaatar have taken to the holiday with generational gusto, but I didn’t see too many devoted couples walking arm and arm to dates here in the Gobi. In fact the very notion of an open girlfriend who isn’t your wife is sort of strange here.

Some of my fellow teachers were up on the holiday though, wishing me a Happy Valentine’s Day, and then inquiring about my marital status–Them: “Do you have a wife?” Me: “No”. Them: “Why?” Ha! It’s shocking how immediate that follow-up question always is. I suppose I should take it as a compliment, maybe? Meaning, “you seem like a nice young man, I can’t think of a reason why a woman wouldn’t want you.” At least that’s what I’ve chosen to tell myself.

This conversation happens regularly, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that on a day set aside for love, it might come up. I generally soften the blow with, “but I have a girlfriend.” The Mongolian follow-up question to this is always, “Can she make a fire?” and “Is she a good cook?” (To which, if you’re curious, I always answer “yes”).

My biggest shock of the day came while I was at the bank. I walked up to the teller, to take out a portion of my Peace Corps monthly allowance, and just as I was putting the cash in my wallet, the woman haltingly wished me a “Happy Valentine’s Day.” I’ve never passed so much as a single word in English with this woman since I’ve been here, going in at least twice a month to take out a little money. Needless to say, I was shocked and impressed. I wished her one back, and walked out, all the time wondering how it is that people here manage to be so incredibly informed about Western Hallmark holidays when I’ve been so clueless about something as big as Tsaagan Sar until I actually moved here.

Happy Valentine’s Day everybody.

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