Mongolia 1998. Mongolia is a country still in transition. My companion Kate, and I, were fortunate to visit just before the western influence became widespread. During our stay we observed dozens if not hundreds of apartments being converted into mini retail outlets. In one basement apartment we found four, almost identical retail 'stores', for office supplies and a few miscellaneous items (the only thing that differentiated them). Restaurants that resembled those typical of Europe and North America began to appear in rapid succession. One could suddenly find a Pizza restaurant that served a good Pizza. 'Electronics' shops shifted from back alleys onto Main Street, and now resembled wannabe Future Shops or Best Buy stores. Some of the following pictures capture the Mongolia of yesteryear, or the hinterland, where life almost continues on as it has done for thousands of years. If you want to get a sense of this past, ignore the odd motorcycle and Nike bag that you might see in the photographs.
Contrary to hearsay, this is not how managed to sustain myself during my stay in Mongolia.
I must admit that I did a little bit of "horse trading." These two Mongolian businessmen are admiring the quality of leather used in my custom made (Canadian) day planners. However, my greatest achievement was selling a pair of Canadian made horse stirrups to a very wealthy Mongolian in the "Black Market" for the equivalent of two months (Mongolian) wages. If you think that this is unconscionable, I would add that numerous Mongolians tried to sell me Ghenkis Khan's stirrups, the ones that he used on his battle horses. Footnote: a U.S.A. electronics magazine that I threw into the garbage at the apartment complex showed up weeks later for sale at the "Black Market."
On the way to the "Black Market" with who knows what? Every morning we would see compact cars coming from the countryside, packed with dead sheep, on their way to various locales in the city or the marketplaces. The principal diet of Mongolians is fresh meat and dairy products. They also drink liters of Airag (fermented mare's milk) every day and all day. It contains about 2% alcohol. This drink is also offered as a welcome to visiting guests to a home or gathering. Refusal to drinks offends and needs to be supported by medical reasons.
In contrast to the city, the resort area of Terelj. Trees are rare in Mongolia and this area, about an hours drive from UlaanBaator is noted for its relatively lush surroundings.
In contrast to the rare lushness, a scene from, "Fred of the Gobi." Feel at liberty to send me a caption for this picture.
Cheap transportation in the Gobi. Just fill with water and you're good for a hundred kilometers.
A typical Gobi residence. The bike is not typical and is an indication of a wealthy family - wealth meaning that they have a large herd of camels and goats. The goat hair is sold to cashmere companies in Ulaan Baator, the capital. The camel hair is also sold and used for making clothing. We were fortunate to visit these remote Gers.
Another wonderfully hospitable family in the Gobi. When visiting one is always invited to share their food, drink, the cooking utensils and use a cot if needed. We arrived in the middle of the night at one Ger and were still extended the same comforts.
Although relatively small inside, the Ger home has both the familiar and the unusual. To the left of the doorway entrance is a dried cows stomach in which fresh mare's milk is poured. The milk ferments to 2% alcohol and is the drunk as a staple in the diet. The roof of the Ger may have a variety of cheeses drying on it. The odor of milk products is pervasive in all the Gers. The custom of being invited to drink the fermented milk (Airag) is traditional.
This picture taken in the Gobi provides a contrast of the old and the new. A few gers have televisions powered by small windmills.
A happy shopper. I am not sure what is in the bags but the items were probably purchased in Dalenzadbag the closest small town. Air travel from small outposts to the capital for shopping are not uncommon.
More of the old ways. Hewing water from the well in the Ghobi.
This young person is a monk in training and the Ger is probably a monastery or temple.
Another type of settlement, a GER suburb, Chingeltei. It is about an hours bus ride from the capital. A mixture of gers, wooden huts, which are used in the summer, and a few western style buildings.
Friendly and fun would be one way of describing most of the Mongolians that we met.