Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mongolia, I love you

As I can maybe say that China was my worse country, Mongolia is on the way of becoming my best country though maybe it is just by contrast after being through China.
We ride through the desert at a fast and confortable speed.
"They just finished to build the road, all the way between Erenhot and Ulaanbataar is paved since end of October 2013."
Am I not lucky...
So no ride through the desert, no overheating jeeps either and no jam-packed cars. We are riding a minibus with only 4 people in it: The company director, and a man and his wife. The company director and the man are in the front seats, the wife has the whole three seats which serve as bed and I have another three seats where I can sleep in peace.

Zamyd-Uyd->Ulaanbataar, most comfortable ride from the whole trip. That's ironic. Not a glass of vodka either, those people don't drink.
I am discovering that mongolia, despite being a touristic country is kind and welcoming. The people I ride with want to know where I am going to sleep.
"You know this guy over the internet?" they ask when I tell them about couchsurfing.
They call some contacts, get me a place to stay at the french embassy, just in case and nobody even mentions a hotel.
pollution in ulaanbataar at night

They also call Begz, my couchsurfing host, ask him is he can really host me and wheather everything is allright. They don't take any chances of letting me loose in the cold.
As we enter Ulaanbataar I make another life discovery: I have never seen pollution before. Ulaanbataar is a polluted city, really polluted. Not only because the chemical anaysis say so but because you can see and smell the pollution. We ride into a cloud of smoke. There is an atmospheric border of Ulaanbataar. Before, the air is clear, after, it is like lighting a campfire inside a closed room. You breathe smoke. You don't see very far because of the smoke. And you really smell it. Every single house or yurt (actually there are many people living in a yurt in the capital) is heated by coal and it will soon be -30 so yes, people heat a lot.
We arrive at the boss' house and meet more shiny happy people. We get dinner there and internet and whatnot.
boss nd family in UB center

After a while, they say it is too late and I am to come home. We have a second and third dinner, I meet the extended family members and get a first choice place on the couch. They live in a luxurious house in the American neighbourhood of Ulaanbataar. They used to live more traditionally, in yurts but the man had a dream, to get out of the pollution and reach a relative comfort... the eurostandart as the Kyrgyz would call it; and he achieved his dream. Today, he lives in a nice house with his family, he doesn't have to go outside at -35 to go to the toilet or boil the water everytime he wants to wash his hair. He doesn't have to breath the polluted air of Ulaanbataar. The pollution is actually very local, you enter the smog like you would go through a gate and you exit it just as easily: a few kilometers north of Ulanbataar the air is fresh and clear as in the wild of mountains.

"You can't go out in these clothes," says the man. He gives me his warm coat and some isolation to put into shoes so my feet don't freeze. But the coat, that's a precious thing. It is one expensive thing that I couldn't buy and one of foremost importance too.
"We sleep until late," says the wife, "but feel free to help yourself to the fridge as much as you like. Sorry, I am not such a good housekeeper."
Help yourself to the fridge, that's about the optimal thing you can say to me if you know me; I don't need anything else for happiness.
I am surprised by the impression the mongolians make: I expected a poor, underdevelopped nation with conservative principles and middle-aged ways, a bit like Kyrgyzstan but it is quite the contrary. Mongolians are modern, educated, open-minded, I would almost say they are european in a number of ways but they are very hospitalable which makes a big difference. The place of the woman is much different from the one in Kyrgyzstan. She is closer to equal with the man and both voices count in the decision-making process. Divorce is not a taboo thing, religion is free and atheism is widely tolerated.
Mongolian girls have reached the peak of female perfection in every way: they are asian, as beautiful as the kyrgyz but untied by religion and as liberated as the russians. Moreover, Mongolia is the only country so far where english is not completly a coded language.
I meeta relative of theirs who's about 20, she studied in the states and knows perfect english. She designs clothes, says interesting stuff and I just think that I love Mongolia.
I ask them their opinion of the Chinese, do you think the Chinese are evil?
"They are not evil... they are just a little slow."
"Yeah, a bit dumb, it takes them a while to figure out the obvious"

I remember the many times where the good chinese people tried to find a housing solution for me, standing right in front of their house before leaving me in the cold, genuinly concerned for my well-being but not seeing any alternative on how to save me.
So I think the mongolians couldn't put it more right: "the chinese are a little slow".

I wonder how it's possible that bright people such as Mongolians have constructed such a mess of a country and a dumb people such as the Chinese have built such a superpower. But then again, individual ants don't have to be smart to build great things. Of course, that classification does not apply to all the people I met, I have met some great chinese people which you can read about in detail in the blog; yet it is more of a general impression.

The next day, they drive me to the bus station nearby which lives my couchsurfing host. They insist on taking me all the way to his yurt which turns out to be impossible because the road has frozen and is slippery beyond measure.
Begz lives in a traditional Yurt in the Ger district of Ulaanbataar. In Mongolia, living in Yurts is still common and it is so imprinted into the culture that they have many yurts even in the capital.
Small yurts, big yurts, yurts with or without electricity, running water, internet.
Begz lives in a yurt with electricity and internet. Actually, he has two yurts. One for the children and one for us. Near the Yurt is a small wooden house with cattle, eleven cows. Everything is in a nice traditional mongolian lifestyle. Everything besides the main Yurt's decoration which is a giant commercial for the American company Herbalife. The contrast is really interresting. Traditional mongolian lifestyle and american corporation two in one.
Children in Gebz yurt

Let me explain a little bit. Gebz is a happy mongolian guy who likes to try new things. He likes and respects his traditional lifestyle but as many mongolians are, he is open to new horizons and that is a quality which makes mongolia unique. Today the new horizon is an american company. It has worked for him, he believes in it so why not. Every morning we wake up with propagation material made by herbalife, herbalife videos, herbalife music. The family drinks herbalife, eats herbalife, washes with herbalife and basically lives herbalife. The chairs are herbalife, the decoration of the yurt is herbalife and there is a big picture of Mark Huges, the CEO of herbalife on the wall. Every morning, I have a cup of herbalife tea.
Appearently, the family lives a happy herbalife life and they are happier and better than before and Gebz feels the need to share the healthy lifestyle with the world. Anyhow, everybody has a choice and I am not forced into anything. Gebz is a true democrat.

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