Tuesday, March 4, 2014

10 Facts people should know about Mongolia

I have just come across an article written by an American named Grace Jacobson who spent some time in Mongolia with his family when she was  a kid. I assume that person is a grown-up now but the memories of her childhood in Mongolia are still fresh and you can be easily convinced of that when you read the article below.  I liked the way she put everything honestly and straight out without any intention just to be nice or to seek  sympathy from the natives (Mongols).

I thought, why not re-post  her article in my blog since  I see it as a "voluntary contribution"   to our purpose  of being  understood correctly and fairly by the other people of the world. Yes, Grace   Jacobson made a big contribution on her part, and I wish  there  are many others who are gotten familiar with Mongolia and Mongols in some way,do the same by sharing their  experiences and spreading their word after they returned home.  I mean the telling the truth and nothing but the truth, i.e. both the good and bad.

I just want to mention  though that some of her  information seem to be  outdated because  it's been  a long time since Grace Jacobson left Mongolia, and/or little bit incorrect. But not many. Like, Mongolia's population is not 3.2  million  as Grace wrote;  we are not even 3 million, yet. Or in terms of the roads, things are getting better  since the new Government is in charge after 2012 election. All  the provinces are going to get connected with the capital city - UB - by asphalted  roads in the coming year or two; I think 4 or 5 provinces, or more,  are already "hooked up" with UB. The new Government has built more roads in 1.5 years than the ex-Government (run by our ex-Communists) has built in its 4-year-office-time combined. So, one an imagine that lots of infrastructure-building-projects are in process. But of course, not every village is going to get connected soon with a decent road, and people still would have to be "challenged" while traveling on the  countryside dirt roads for some time in the future. Lot of investment would be needed to build a criss-cross-type of road net which covers the entire country- 1.5 million square kilometer in size. Just saying that  those who visit Mongolia on later date should expect more improved road conditions and availability outside the capital city and other major cities.

In regards to "Inner" and "Outer" Mongolia question, about which Grace had no idea, I would like to refer you to my earlier post:  http://mayaguais.blogspot.com/2013/05/inner-and-outer-mongolia.html

Grace's article is worth of re-posting because the people of the world are confused, done intentionally by certain subjects or due to the lack of education, and the peace among the people could be never achieved when there is a misunderstanding or confusion. Having a wrong idea about each other leads to complications and hostility. Who would want that?

One more word about calling us Mongols as "barbaric" and brutal. Well, we are talking about 13th century events. Since the human beings started dividing into certain groups (races) and claiming  some territories they call as own, the killings and wars were unavoidable. Long before "barbaric" Mongols appeared on world stage and made some names, in other places people would kill each other merciless. Just think about the famous Christian Crusades (1095-1291).

Let me just quote an extract from historian Raymond of Agiles' description of the capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders: "Some of our men cut off the heads of their enemies; others shot them with arrows, so that they fell from the towers; others tortured them longer by casting them into the flames. Piles of heads, hands and feet were to be seen in the streets of the city. It was necessary to pick one's way  over the bodies of men and horses. But these were small matters compared to what happened at the temple of Solomon , a place where religious services were ordinarily chanted. What happened there? If I tell the truth, it will exceed your powers of belief. So let it suffice to say this much at least, that in the temple and portico of Solomon, men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins."  So, I don't think that anybody would call these crusaders "humane" and not "barbaric". But by "picking on" the Mongols and calling them as murderers and barbaric, some do think that everybody else was "civilized" and "humane". Unfortunately this kind of understanding still exists today. Even in later centuries human beings were "not tired"  of  destroying each other. Think about the millions of lives lost during the world wars. Were they "humanly" killed? Come on now.

 Lastly, I want to thank Grace Jacobson for her article!


by Grace Jacobson

When I was nine years old, my family moved to Ulaanbaatar Mongolia. We lived there 4 years before moving  back to the United States. I know that doesn't sound like a very long time, but it was my home.  And I loved it.  Since I moved away, I have often had  to explain the  mysterious Mongolia. It seems that although the famous Mongols once possessed   of the great portion of the known-world , they have since crept back into the shadows.
In light of that I thought I would  share with you  10 Facts People Should Know About Mongolia.

1. It is in Asia (not Africa) 

Sometimes, people ask me where home is. I look at them for a moment and then  say slowly,  "I am not really sure. I lived in Mongolia for four years though." That usually changes the subject (thank goodness) to, "Oh! Mongolia!  That's interesting. It's hot there, right?"
I hesitate. Could Mongolia be described as hot? Well, I used to think the summers were hot. They could get up in the 90s. But, no, of course not. Mongolia would never be described as hot. It has basically  9 months of winter.
- "Are you thinking of Angola?"
- "Oh! That's right. I am. Where is Mongolia again?"
- "Sandwiched between Russia and China", I respond.
- "Ha! That's funny. I forgot there was even a country there."
You are not alone, my friend. You are  not alone.

2. They speak Mongolian (not Chinese)

- "You lived in Mongolia! How interesting! Do you speak Chinese then?"
- "..No. No, I don't speak Chinese because they don't speak Chinese in Mongolia. They speak Mongolian."
A common misconception about Mongolia is that they are some sort of territory or province of China.
As much as China might like that, this is not the case. I know this is confusing with the province in China  actually called "Inner Mongolia".  Let me explain. Inner Mongolia is outside of Mongolia - in China.  Outer Mongolia is actual Mongolia. Don't ask me why this happened, I have no idea.
Due to the fact that Mongolia is not a part of China, it speaks a language  not even remotely like Chinese.  Strangely enough, it is more similar to Arabic than anything else. It is not tonal, it doesn't use characters, and, to be honest, t doesn't sound very pretty. But I love it because it's theirs.

3. They eat Mutton (Not "BD's Mongolian Grill")

- "You are so lucky you got to live in Mongolia! I LOVE Mongolian food!"
Few things in life make me want to cuss. However, hearing these words makes this girl want to scream some foul language. I did not eat 500 mutton dumplings or drink a 1000 bowls of milk tea  to be told I was lucky to eat it.  I ate it to be polite. I am sure there are some people in the world who really appreciate a hearty Mongol meal. If you like mutton and fermented mare's milk, you really are in for a treat. Wait, are you surprised that this doesn't sound like BD's Mongolian Grill?  That's because that  restaurant is one  big fat lie.
BD's serves seafood, NY strip steak, and every kind of beautiful fresh vegetable you can imagine. It has workers, with swords, flinging your food around on a grill while they sing a happy "Mongol" song. Just...what the heck.

Mongolia is a  landlocked country - it's a rare day when they get seafood. NY strip steak? Are you kidding me?  I'd saw off my right leg for one of those in Beijing alone. Mongolia is a land of permafrost - getting a lot of different kind of veggies is a miracle.  I just can't tell you how much BD's goes against every memory of my Mongolian childhood. I do understand that it is a delicious restaurant, but I am not really sure why they picked Mongolia. Maybe the idea that no one would ever know they were crazy?  On a positive note , I do hope it's helping  Mongolian tourism. What a bummer for the tourists though, when they realize there is no delicious seafood on the menu.

4. Roads are privilege (Not a right)

I have noticed that complaining about poor road conditions is just something humans like to do. When I first visited Leif's home in downeast Maine , I learned that America still has a final frontier in regards to roads. They twist, and they dip, and they bump. I feel nauseated every time we fly down the street to his old home.
However, nothing compares to the "roads" of Mongolia. Almost as soon as you leave the capital, Ulaanbaatar, you find the end of the pavement. You cross over into the nomadic steppe that is the Mongolian countryside. The roads become dirt paths  that have so many potholes and rocks you often better off just driving on the grass. 

My dad would often weave our jeep in and out of power lines, saying, "We know power leads to something!"  Of course, that meant getting stuck in a bog for six hours until a Russian truck tow us out.  The time dad stayed faithful to the dirt "road", the jeep rolled three times and he almost died out in the Mongolian steppe. 

I would just like to take this moment to thank the American  government for their beautiful  highways.
Thanks, America. 

5. It's pronounced OO-LAN-BAH-TER (Not OO-LAN-BAY-TAR)

Ulaanbaatar is a fascinating  city that I hope everyone has the privilege of visiting. It is nestled in a valley, surrounded by rolling hills with ancient Mongolian script painted upon them. A developing city , it is under almost constant construction as it seeks to better itself  for the world stage. And, currently, Mongolia is actually considered one of the world's fastest growing economies. 
Surrounding modern Ulaanbaatar is the ger district.  The ger district is where more than half of Mongolians live. It often, if not entirely, lacks access to basic amenities like water, sewage systems, and central heating. 
Gers (Yurts) are  the felt tents you may have seen in pictures when talking about northern Asia. The ger district is mostly made up of these gers, wooden fences and poorly constructed houses. 
Now that you know little more  about Ulaanbaatar, just remember to pronounce it correctly. Or you could always just call it "UB" for short. 

6. There are people there (Not just animals)

In university, I took an  international relations class that required each student to religiously read the BBC news every week.  Each week, I waited and waited for there to be an article about Mongolia. I thought about how wonderful it would be to finally be able to share  my favorite country with my class... No article ever came.
I can understand why people aren't sure anyone lives in the country. I mean, we never hear about them in the media. My dad. being the wise father he is, did a lot of research on Mongolia before we moved there. One of the few things he uncovered during his research was that Mongolia has more horses than people. So...it is an empty land running free with horses?
Well, yes and no. There are, indeed,  a lot of horses. And sheep. And goats. And yaks. And reindeer. And hawks. And vultures. However, I am here to tell you today, there are also 3.2 million people in Mongolia.
3 million people with a unique culture  and fascinating traditions. Just because you never hear about them, doesn't mean they don't exist.

7. Chinggis Khaan is their hero (Not a villain)  

When we were feeling particularly optimistic about life, my family and I traveled around the countryside of Mongolia. Usually we decided to venture out for a camping trip or some other kind of vacation. Every time we got in the car, my brother, Jonan, and I would sit by our windows and stare intently out at the steppe.
Our parents had told us that Chinggis Khaan was buried out there somewhere and, gosh darn it, we were gonna be the ones to find him.
Chinggis Khaan (Genghis Khan), as you may  remember from history class, was the founder and the Great Khan of the Mongol empire.  He was able to unite the nomadic tribes and conquer most of Euroasia. He was a fearless leader, willing to do whatever necessary to further his people's iron grasp of the world. Their conquest was brutal.
Despite the brutality Chinggis Khaan used, he is never a villain in the eyes of the Mongols. He is their founding father. Their hero. Statues of him are found all over Mongolia  and,  honestly, can you blame them?
Chinggis Khaan, although  horrendously vicious, got the job done. A tip of the hat to the brilliant warrior.
As rumors have it, Chinggis Khaan had a very serious burial plan in the event of his death. He was to be buried at an undisclosed location and anyone who was involved in the burial process was later to be killed.
As you might imagine, Jonan and I never found his grave. Bummer.

8. It is frigid (Not just cold)    

Our first winter in Mongolia, our radiators in our apartment froze. It was -40 Celsius and our heaters froze. We could put hot soup on the counter and it would freeze in 5 minutes or less. I have decided that I didn't know cold until I didn't know what warmth felt like any more. You know it's cold when your snot  freezes to your nose hairs. You know it's cold when your eyelashes get so many ice crystals you can't see anymore. And you know it's cold when you are wearing seven layers and you are still cold.
Strangely enough, thanks to the polar vortex this year, a lot of you may actually know how this feels. It is freaking miserable. Not just miserable. Freaking miserable.
However, when it gets warm enough to snow again, suddenly your are running around in shorts and a T-shirt. Mongolia and the cold give you  tough skin.

9. It is an undiscovered beauty (Not a desolate wasteland) 

Yes, Mongolia doesn't have a lot of people. And, yes, Mongolia isn't well known. Yet, Mongolia  still has so much to offer.  My memories of Mongolia are absolutely beautiful. There is a sea of rolling steppe where you can watch the shadows of clouds roll over the land for miles. In the north, there is beautiful Lake Khovsgol, where mountains, forests, and plains collide. In the west, towering, snow-capped mountains. And, in the south, there is the Gobi desert with towering sand dunes and springing tumbleweeds.
Part of me loves that Mongolia is so little known. Part of me hopes it'll stay that way forever, because it is charming in its endless emptiness of beauty.

10.  It is always an adventure (Not ever boring)

All of my best stories have come from  Mongolia. My family and I were trapped in a blizzard in the Gobi Desert. Nine stories of sewage backed up into my family's toilet and tub. I stepped on a mouse that died in my boot. I could tell you story after story, but all of  it to say, Mongolia is the best kind of adventure.
It's the kind of adventure where you don't know how it is going to turn out. You never know what the next day will bring. You never know how it's going to change you. I am incredibly grateful my parents moved me to the unknown nation of Mongolia. It taught me the  life-long lesson:  There should always be adventure.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your experience! My thoughts exactly.