Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Monthly Montage: Ulaanbaatar

Literally translated as Red Hero, Ulaanabaatar stands for so many things. It is the bright, modern future of Mongolia that is also strewn with the urban squalor that visionaries of this country never wanted. It contains half of the country's population in a handful of square miles, saying a lot for the most sparsely populated nation on earth. For anyone from the countryside, Peace Corps Volunteers not withstanding, it is a strange experience to foray into this city of opposites. We are somehow used to fewer showers and luxuries but at the same time less poverty and theft. UB magnifies both the ritzy and the under-developed. As I have noted earlier, the population here is small; so much so that it takes less than a 20-minute walk to go from desperate slums where dirty toddlers climb over drunks to swanky, expensive lounges populated by pop stars and basketballers. I spent quite a bit of time in Mongolia's only city in recently so I thought it might be nice for you to have a visual.
If this piques your curiosity, this is an interesting and informative article about UB's ger districts.
Old meets new above the city at the Zasain Monument.
Zaisan, one of UB's most popular  tourist destinations, is a monument to the glory of Mongolian-Soviet cooperation.

The view of the city from Zasain's edge. You can really get a feel of the sprawl.
UB provides a rare occasion to hang out with far-flung friends.

One of my favorite shops in the whole city, a Chinese spice store. Even after 2 years in Asia, the ingredients never fail to amaze and baffle.
On the outskirts of the city our  taxi driver ran out of gas. We were trying to go to the new ski slope in UB. We arrived to discover  that Wednesdays were 'rest days', unbeknownst to anyone except  the resting workers.
The State Department Store. Really the only large-scale store in Mongolia, new department stores are springing up around UB but garner little traffic as of yet.
A New Years display in the State Department Store window. A rather Christmassy show for a country of Buddhists and Muslims.

At one of the Korean bakeries that have move in recently. Traditional Mongolian food does not feature baked goods and hazelnut lattes so our girlie Sex-in-the-City-type chats are a delight in many ways.
An old man pays his respects to his ancestors on the side of Zasain's hill.
In front of the State Department Store, the sun rises on watchers of the World Cup final.
New apartments are rising out of the city, but irrigation still lags behind.
The national Nadam stadium. Most Mongolians prefer to take in the Festival of Three Manly Sports in the countryside, leaving this huge venue for the tourists.
Sukhbaatar Square, sort of like the Times Square of Mongolia where Chinggus protects the Parliament.

Herders are now protesting their growing marginalization in the face of desertification and mining in Sukhbataar Square in front of the Parliament.
Rush hour is as good a time to film a commercial in the middle of the street as any, I guess.
The city at sunset. This is the view from the swanky apartment my friends and I spent Christmas in last year. That apartment was nothing like my Soviet relic flat in Hovd.
Traffic in UB is a growing problem, but you can still tell that this is the Land of the Blue Sky even in a city.
Going to UB affords PCV's who don't normally hang out the chance to bond and party together.
The famous Mongolian pop group, the Lemons are a house band at Grand Khan Irish Pub. Because there isn't enough market for local musicians, they must make ends meet by playing weekly for small crowds.
The biggest monastery in Mongolia; it's both beautiful and peaceful.
My host sister with a pigeon. In insisted they were dirty but she was convinced of the opposite.

The new-this-year basketball league in Mongolia. We cheer for the Avatar team; it boasts three Americans!
UB at night. The large building at left is officially called the Blue Sky Tower, though we favor the name Sail Fail. It was supposed to be a symbol of Mongolian progression and business, however it is structurally unstable and unable to function.
Crains reach above the head of UB's Lenin statue in the middle of downtown.
The sprawling ger districts from a low-flying plane.
Inside a monastery. This was the one my friend and I stumbled upon and I wrote a post about.

1 comment:

E in Atlanta said...

Amazing, just amazing. What a great experience to live in a country that is really changing.