Mongolia: Land of contrast

March 21, 2018 | Daria, Masters in Economics, Uniterra Mongolia - Mongolian Chamber of Commerce, Business Development Officer

My time in Mongolia is quickly coming to an end, so sadly a three-month journey is wrapping up. Few things have changed since my last blog. The Beatles ice sculpture in the main square was taken down after somebody knocked Ringo’s head off. The days have gotten a lot warmer, most days the temperature is in the positives, and even warmer than Ottawa! Since my last blog, I went to the Chinese border town of Erenhot (just for one day), went to the eagle festival in the south of Ulaanbaatar, and have ridden a camel! The upcoming weekend will be my last, and to end my time in Mongolia on the highest note I can, I am going to Hustai National Park, home to the famous Przewalski’s horses.

Recently I was in a cafe, and saw a copy of the UB Post lying on the table next to me. It is one of the two English newspapers in Mongolia. The headline was “Mongolia is more than Genghis Khan and Gers”. I chuckled and showed it my friend, but in the end I cannot agree with this statement more! Mongolia finds itself in an interesting position of “known but only a little”. Survey knowledge of the Asian country includes the vast Mongolian Empire, the nomadic way of life, and the wild horses. As Russia and China grew over the centuries, the empire that spanned two continents gradually shranked, broke apart, and eventually became the small, sparsely populated country squished in between two gigantic and overshadowing neighbours (ironically two of the many countries they had conquered earlier the in their history). The article went on to mostly talk about the natural beauty of the Mongolian steppes, which are undeniable gorgeous, even when the winter wind is blowing your camera out of your hands. But I think the articles missed a few important details. The first being the Mongolian people’s yearning to be unique. Traditional dress is still a daily sight in the city, and in fact it is the local version of the “Sunday best”. Modern music is still sung in Mongolian, and international poetry is translated too. The effort to keep the culture alive is truly wonderful. Mongolians will never forget their roots, and especially difficult task in this globalizing world. And the second is the amount of cultural gems that are hidden in Mongolia. Things like throat singing, traditional ways of herding, the horse head fiddle, and a language that is classified as its own linguistic family.

Mongolia is a land of contrast: Genghis Khan’s conquests across Central Asia and peaceful Buddhism; the coldest capital on Earth being just a few hours drive away from a desert; the permanent settlements of the city and the herders who still travel across the countryside with everything they own on their backs. I am sad to leave this beautiful country, and I am very grateful to the University of Ottawa for giving me the opportunity for such an amazing and educational experience.

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