|Our First Day in Mongolia,
We arrived in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city, late the evening of July 18. Our contacts with Happy Camel had been strictly by
e-mail, so we were relieved when we were met outside the terminal by the lovely Tuya holding a sign with my name on it. She
took us to the Zaluuchuud Hotel, one of the better hotels in Ulaanbaatar. We quickly discovered that air conditioning and
elevators are almost non-existent in Mongolia, so we climbed four flights of stairs to bed down for the night.
The next morning we got up to walk across the central city to Chez Bernard to meet Tuya to discuss our trip. We were
surprised by the bustle and affluence of central Ulaanbaatar. Particularly impressive is the central square and Government
House which is located on the square.
In the center of the square stood a statue of the hero of 1921
who helped lead the independence movement that finally
liberated Mongolia from two centuries of Chinese rule. Sadly,
within another decade, Mongolia would come under the harsh
rule of Stalinist Russia. The Soviet occupation would continue
until 1990. There was a statute of Genghis Khan in the
Government building (below right).
Soon we arrived at Chez
Bernard where we met
Tuya again (seated in
corner). Tuya went over
the agreed on 19 day trip
and then brought out our
driver and guide,
Soronzon and Maggi.
Soronzon had 30 years
experience driving, the
last three driving his own
Mitsubishi SUV for tourists
such us. Maggi just
graduated from the
university with a major in
English and will be
teaching English this fall
as a teaching assistant at
Ulaanbaatar is an interesting city.
Despite the spaciousness of the
country and the lowest population
density of any country in the world,
within a couple blocks of the central
square the city is composed of
massive Soviet era apartment
buildings which continues to the
fringes of the city. A few apartments
look fairly attractive, but from the
outside, most look dreary, and
residents must climb the stairwells to
reach their apartments. Often the
stairwells are not lit at night. The
quality of materials and
craftsmanship in Mongolia is
generally not very high, so buildings
tend to deteriorate rather quickly.
Ironically, the Gers are well made
and hold up very well over time.
On the fringes of the city are small houses and Ger tents. For the most part, the Gers do not have running or safe water and
have pit toilets. The unemployment rate is high. Even though Mongolia is a very safe and friendly country, tourists are
constantly warned to be very careful of pickpockets in the cities and larger towns which reflects the poverty of many residents.
In Ulaanbaatar, most people dress in western clothes. Most clothes are made in China, and many contain US slogans and
phrases. A significant portion of the plastic bags in Mongolia have the "I love NY" logo printed on them. Cell phones are
everywhere, and minutes are purchased as needed at telephone stores.
In Ulaanbaatar, traditional dress
was confined to older people.
Above a group of older people at
the temple pose for a picture.
Below, I looked with amusement at
the contrast between young and
old at the temple.