I was shocked tonight to discover how much development has been happening around the Zaysan Memorial at the edge of town. This memorial is a very important historical political monument t the Red Army and holdthat and that drove right across the land to Russia. We have been told about the political situation whereas certain development is banned from some locations for environment reasons or because it is land and parklands that are for the people. Yet, even though development is banned there are numerous multi story high rise apartments and buildings constructions underway. In fact if you drive around the edges of Ulanbaatar it is more event. It is amazing to think the city can support such rampant development. Modern development after development has changed the skyline with a filigree of gently moving cranes waltzing between floors of concrete slabs.
OK, the worst aspect was driving up to the historic monument that used to stand high above the city with a long steep stairway to the concrete statue and mosaic work. From the top of the stairway and monument you were able to look down on the large gold Buddah overlooking the city. Unbelievably, today there was the beginning of a new multistory building under construction. And to obscure the view another one stands between the car park and the view of the city. At the base of the steps bulldozers were mining the hill to excavate a site for yet another building. They are growing like a bacteria. We were taken for a drive up into the hills. Even more shocking was the development went further up the mountain with developments of walled communities set close together in shadows of each other. Some of the walled fences had razor wire protecting those in or perhaps keeping the residents in. Apparently, I am told these new apartments are mostly owned by politicians and mining company executives. In amongst the new fenced properties of apartments and large multi story houses are enclaves of ger camps. These are probably lived n by the workers on the building sites. There is also a tourist ger camp at the base of the next range.
The contrast of the apartment we are living in at the moment in this old part of town and these new gated communities is very wide. There is definitely a visible rift between the new and old here. There is a family of three living under the stairs in our apartment. A mother and two children who had apparently come from the country to UB after loosing all of their animals in the countryside. They are basically homeless, though they have found a shelter. This city is experiencing a growing number of homeless people at the same rate it’s growing a more wealthy society. Now all residents are given money by th government as part of the mining deals. It’s extremely complex politically. There is allegedly a lot of corruption and when you look at the buildings being built on ‘sacred soil’ and the state of the roads around the city in the poorer areas and then look at the brand new roads to nowhere, or at least to the flash gated communities questions should be asked. The city also likes to turn on the glitz which is designed to pacify people. Lots of pretty blue lights decorate street lights. It would surely be better to get the infrastructure improved.
Photo: Apartment blocks overlooking the American Embassy. The wire fence is around a hotel.
This morning we walked to the Chingiss Khan hotel to change some American dollars before heading to the Naran Tuul Market, or as it is known, The Black Market. And not because it’s an illegal market, it is I understand the largest under cover market in Asia. I remember from our last visit to Ullanbaatar how interesting it is. The first being traffic getting to the market. Tugsoo had suggested we not arrive until after 12.00 or 1.00pm because any time prior we would be just dodging carts of stalls setting up. Hmm. It took a good hour to get through the crush of traffic into the grounds and to find a car park. There are people who jostle in front of the car to help you find a car park and get indignant when you drive past them. Unench had a plan; there was a paid car park he was heading too. 1,000tg, approximately 77c Australian secured a paid spot with a little more security. The Black Market is known for its pick pocket thieves and bag slashes and car break ins. The guide books always suggest not taking anything with you that cannot be lived without. And it is quite obvious there are men with eyes on the crowd as their days work. Several times I followed a gaze to the zipper on my shoulder bag. I was only interested in the fabric stalls and headed straight for them and was not disappointed. They were as good as my memory served and at least two thirds cheaper than silk road shops in the centre of Ulaanbaatar. The same fabrics selling for much less and looking just as stunning roll after roll after stall upon stall. And as before ladies with silver beads on trays to set off the deel presumed you would make from the bolts of silk.
There is much to see and the market needs a lot more time than we had today… Plan to visit again next week. A day away from from the museum and exhibition.
Today is Children’s Day in Mongolia. After our time at the Black market we came home to collect boxes of chocolates and toys prepared by the International Soroptomist women of which Tugsoo is currently president. We drove out to a Ger manufacturing factory to distribute the bags of goodies to the children of Ulanbaatars blind. There were about 125 bags of lollies to be given out directly to the children or to their parents. Many of the blind are able to work in the factory on the ger manufacturing or in the same factory where light switches are made. It was very interesting seeing inside the Russian built concrete buildings. I don’t know how the bond get around, the must be one of the worst cities to be disabled as far as infrastructure. The streets are broken. Some streets have raised concrete patterns runnings up the centre, but they will end in a dead end or lead a blind person to an unsafe place. Buildings are more often than not just staircases and no lifts, or stairs into buildings.
Mongolia is undergoing many changes and this is a very interesting time to be here. Our last and first visit was in 2010. There was a sense of chaos then in regard to traffic and I note most people who comment on Mongolia usually write about the traffic; the seemingly distrust and disregard to road rules. Red lights then and now are taken as being non existent and pedestrian crossings as places to attempt to cross the road. India comes to mind. However, I suspect there is change on the way too with the traffic chaos. Even Unench was booked yesterday for illegal parking. If there is any sniff of alcohol on the breadth there is suspension of license. Rules are in place and now it looks as if they are being enforced. We are noting more cars pulled over by police with notebooks. There are a few more red lights installed, but even then they often do not make sense… Particularly on intersections where you would expect lights to help you make a right turn.
There are also visible concerns about the western influence on the Mongolian ways. It is illegal for advertising signs to be written in English; all signs are supposed to be written in Mongolian Cyrillic.there are many signs appearing throughout Ulaanbaatar in written in English. Mostly the say Internet Cafe or something to do with fashion or cafe or restaurant. No idea how this is policed or what the fines are. Now only the elderly seem to walk streets in traditional deep clothing. Young people are wearing western clothing and they appear to dress only in traditional clothing when we see the, performing in a concert.