Ulaanbaatar Friday 18 May 2012
We met the Director of the history museum this morning to discuss preparations for our exhibition at the end of the month. The museum has frames we can use and glass showcases for the silk works I am exhibiting. We watched a small political protest outside his window at the gates of parliament house; parliamentary elections will be held soon.The newspapers tell of a recent president being arrested for corruption.
There is a lot of movement in Ulaanbaatar, some districts are showing marked improvements with roads and infrastructure. Indeed as I write one of the roads and car parks besides Togsoo’s apartment block that we are renting has new tarmac is being laid by brand new looking machinery. I hope they make it around the corner to the side we enter from each day and where Unech’s car Is garaged.
Crossing roads is still dangerous but this time it is not so frightening as I become familiar with the process and of direction the traffics hails from. The traffic still comes from all directions and road rules are maintained as little as possible. Many streets have police to direct traffic but they seem to be decoration as much as anything as they don’t notice cars proceeding through the red lights or if traffic is entering the wrong way into streets. Sometimes it is totally chaotic and mini grid locks occur frequently. No one seems overly troubled, it is just the way traffic moves. This city was not planned for the extreme traffic that is entering at 1,400 cars per week.
The English papers also say that in ten years the energy demands will double as the country begins to embark on more manufacturing. I read yesterday the country supplies 100% meat, wool, wheat and over half the vegetables needed are grown in Mongolian soils. The paper went on to say how much better the country will do by providing more manufacturing of their own raw
materials and it seems they are set to become another China in the next few years as they begin to use their raw materials with cheap labour into goods to export to the west.
The mining companies are digging up the raw material; coal, gold, silver and whatever else can be found. Some of the wealth is being distributed at a cost of the old nomadic peoples way of life. Land is soon to become free for nationals to purchase. Each Mongolian national has had the option to take shares in the country’s mining fees or take 21’000 tg per month. More than half the people take the money over shares because it is immediate. Poverty is still in the streets, people are not so much begging as offering services such as the old lady squatting I saw with an old set of scales who would allow passers bye to weigh themselves for 100 tg. At the other extreme are the many new department stores offering most products for sale as can be found in any large global department store.
Shelves of local supermarkets are stocked with rows of Russian goods and two full isles of local vodka which can be purchased for as little as $4 Australian dollars per bottle. Sweets also occupy much shelf space similar to our rows of soft drinks in the supermarket. Alcohol is a problem and no wonder as it is so accessible and cheap. I have not seen any sign I can understand to limit sales to an age group.
Today after the museum Togsoo took us schooling along the streets and we ended up at the famous Amsterdam restaurant which has good Dutch food as well as free Wifi which is going to be useful for us. It seems the data I have been buying for the iPad and the phone has been leaking like a flooded river. Each day I have bought data and each morning it is gone.
Below the Amsterdam cafe is a shop that sells fair trade Kazak people embroideries and artworks. They make stunning wall hangings that are traditionally used to line ger walls. Sadly the people are selling off their old hangings and exchanging them for money and polyester clothes. The people are wanting to swop tradition for modern fabrics. The hangings are becoming more rare now as they are sold intact or cut into pieces to make handbags, purses, mobile phone pockets and even passport bags. We purchased a very old hanging completely embroidered and for the price of the time put into the work it seems so unfair in many respects. The price has risen since we we here two years ago and I hope the extra money is going back to the people who have given up the beautiful work. There are many modern copies on offer to tourists now made from polyester thread. The one we bought was old and made from cotton.