Ulaanbaatar Friday 18 may

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.

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Ulanbaatar Day Three

This morning we spend some time on domestic chores; washing clothes in the bathroom basin and boiling water in the kettle as there is still no hot water. Two weeks until the city hot water is turned back on. This will be interesting as our exhibition is opening on the 28th of May and the city water will be back on 1 June. We may need to book a hotel in another city to have a proper shower before the show. It is interesting how everyone takes this in their stride whereas if this were to happen in Melbourne, no hot water for two weeks there would be strikes and screaming in the streets… Almost.

Togsoo’s picture framer came and measured up my canvases this morning. He will make up stretchers for the exhibition and we can re-stretch the paintings in a day or two when he makes the returns with the stretchers. There is a large difference in cost of stretchers in Mongolia compared to Australia. There is an enormous difference with most things and surprising to find what is more on parity. We have bought ourselves new pillows, pure cashmere wool pillows too good to leave behind costs very little in comparison to what we would expect to pay at home. When we visited the art supply shop I was also able to buy beautiful brushes at low cost.

The Internet has been a disappointment as the data I bought recently was used up almost immediately and now it seems I will need to try to work out of free Wifi locations over a coffee.

Our invitations and brochures arrived today from the printer. That is a fine service for Togsoo only ordered them less than 24 hours ago. The printer has made a good job of the brochures which strong colour and crisp print. We have Mongolian writing on one side and English the other. We have advertised Both exhibitions on the one card following the Desert Sharing theme from our first exhibition. If we do a show in Melbourne it will become Desert Sharing Four.

Ulaanbaatar is more familiar second time around. I am already used to the broken footpaths and needing to care for my life when crossing roads. There are visible changes around the town, but not so much in our district.

Togsoo had visitors to her studio today from Australian Soroptomist group. Togsoo is now the president of the local group and welcomes visitors when they arrive. As if to prove this is a small world the visiting women came from Melbourne and one of them Janette told me she had come to my exhibition of and Mongolian Paintings ‘From The Edge’ at Montsalvat in 2010; and that Kevin Brophy who opened the show is her brother.

In style Togsoo had tickets to the Theatre tonight to see a Mongolian production of Cats. It was again an extraordinary show with fine acting as it seems the Mongolians are only capable of producing. The voices had a Mongolian strength that gave them away from other western voices. The costumes were striking and the performance tight. At the end of the show there was nearly as much time with the ceremony and the mayoress of the city came on stage to announce the new theatre that would be built in the city.

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Ulaanbaatar, Day Two

Last night, our second sleep was a little more difficult as we are getting used to our space and the first exhaustion was wearing out. Have I mention the towns water supply heating has been turned off? In Ulaanbaatar the apartments and housing heating is controlled by the state; a left over from the socialist days. It is a good system in many ways, except when it is still cold and the state has decided to switch off the heating for everyone on a set day: May 15! That was yesterday. And sometimes, when the housing to the people is turned off, so is the hot water. This is the case for us. I had only been enjoying the exceptional hot water and my bath the day before. ‘surely, I thought the water would be back on in a day or two or three… There is a notice saying the hot water in this district 11 will not be turned on again until June 1. Hmm. No hot water for shower. And then the power went out. Togsoo has told us that the power goes out regularly. Fortunately that has come back on. And did I mention the toilet has been leaking, but that too has been fixed. A man was called and he rocked up about 11pm and took no more than three minutes to ‘fix’ the leaking tap. The tap is not leaking now, but the water still keeps on running into the toilet. This, for drought stricken Australians is a little distressing… To see all that water lost.

Last evening we met our landlord and paid our first months’s rent. This is a pretty good apartment and we think we are fortunate to be here; and on the ground floor. Two years ago we had an apartment on the 5th floor, no lift, no lights.

First trip this morning was to the Canon shop. Yesterday had no success in finding spare battery for my canon camera or extra memory cards. Found address for canon shop and left very happy with my extra cards and batteries. Last trip here I had my lap top with me and spent hours each evening downloading photographs to computer and then saving to disk and portable storage device. This time I wanted to take less technology and save time in the evenings for other things. More memory cards seem to be the simple solution, though not the cheapest perhaps.

Most importantly today we had our visas renewed for another 30 days, until July 15. This will cover our two exhibitions and trip to the Gobi.

There is some sorting out to renew visas. We knew we had to go to immigration to renew. We had picked up a leaflet at the airport also explaining where to go. There was a phone number but no address. The office used to be in town. Now the immigration office has moved out of town near the airport. Without a car this is not easy to get to. Unench drove us out in the morning. Without our Mongolian friends to speak for us I would hate to think how we could manage the communications needed to explain what and how long we needed an extension. From Australia it os only possible to have a 30 day visa which can be extended once only another 30 days.

There were many people seeking extensions and other needs. Many Chinese come to Mongolia on tourist visas; like us and then work and try to have a better life here. One can only imagine how it must be in china. We saw many small buses with Chinese men. There were many men lined up outside the gate; security guards watching over them. Chinese labour is cheaper here than Mongolian.

An Australian with dreadlocks heard our voices and wanted to speak to a fellow country person. He was off to the steppe to ‘ride a horse on a crusade and conquer the lands’ he went on to run down our governments and the multi nationals and say how frightened he was of what everyone was doing… Now what is the difference of his attitude to say he wants to crusade and conquer . I thought this land was already ‘owned and populated’… By Mongolians. I think there is no place on earth anymore that is not already claimed as home by man or beast. The concept of claiming land has to represent pushing something or person from it. Even the Antarctic and the oceans are home to a living entity.

… After some time of queue hopping, form filling and signing, money exchanged and papers stopped we finally had new stamps issued in our passports and were free to leave with another 30 days.

Togsoo and Unech next took us to the National Gallery to meet her artist friends and view a group exhibition of their work. We met about six of her friends. One of her friends was also a poet with several books.

It was lovely to meet the group; though none of us could really speak to each other but seemed to get our thoughts to each other with Togsoo and Unech translating. One of the men painted I thought in a similar style of landscape as I do. The subject matter too is similar when we looked at the desert works. There are truly parallels with Australia and Mongolia and I felt quite excited to see their work and show Mervyn and my works on the iPad. Togsoo said one of the men lived in the Gobi and another is the central parts of Mongolia. Very interesting. We then went to view an extraordinary exhibition of photographic work from 1913; early Mongolia with many traditional gets and people. Early movies were also shown of the journeys the photographer took over several years. The catalogue is all written in Mongolian and it was a father and daugher team. Нэгэн ЗууньI Тэртээх- Монгол Улс, франц ГОЭЛРО зурагчньI Дуранд.

Mervyn has just read officially now there are thirteen horses to one person in Mongolia.

And the day was not over. We came home afterward for a rest before heading out to the Opera in the evening with the Togsoo’s family. We were the only apparent foreigners. It was a stunning dance performance by the several groups which included a sort of military history. Superb choreography with stunning costumes and wild music. The dances were traditional and contemporary with a large quote of military marches and story telling. I was intrigued by the sensitive emotion portrayed by the women and the uniforms of the soldiers. Later we discovered many of the dancers are from the police and the military and from now I will think of the energetic and frenetic movements, wild back flips and rollovers, elegance and grace when I next see a man in uniform.

These dancers with such precision, passion, and earnestness play for only one day! This is staggering! I cannot believe with the intensity and dedication of training needed to put on such a performance that there is not at least a ‘season’. If this performance were to be at the opera house or in a Melbourne theatre it would command large money and a long play and rave reviews. I had the same thoughts two years ago when we were taken to the theatre to watch traditional dancers and musicians. These are more than world class performers.

Tomorrow we will be seeing another show, a Mongolian rendition of Andrew Lloyd Webers Cats. Again, I understand it will be only playing for one night! THis is not yet the tourist season and I guess the population of Ulaanbaatar does not support more performances. I will try to get around to posting a photograph of the beautiful pink ballet theatre where we were tonight. Reminiscent of the Moscow ballet building I remember from my visit back in 1979!

Now to bed with a note to say my apologies for long posts… This has now become my journal for now. It seems again I have run out of data for my iPad and the phone, well that’s a non event here this time.

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Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

After two nights at the Hyatt in Korea we were finally given A boarding pass to fly to Ulaanbaatar.
And then it was a slim chance… We had for two days in a row checked out of Hyatt and taken airport bus to airport and at least second time see our flight actually register on the flight arrival departure screen. When airport announcement said gates were open for boarding we lined up with the Mongolians in anticipation of a late afternoon flight.

We were even standing at the gate with boarding pass in hand when another announcement came across that the flight was again in doubt due to the tumultuous weather. There are floods in china now just to add to the Asian weather pattern. Then moments later the gates opened again and we boarded flight KE 867A for Mongolia.

We could see snow in surrounding hills as approached Ulaanbaatar. Togsoo was at airport with Unench to drive us to our new home for next few weeks; the ground floor in her apartment building in district 11.

Today was spent running around with Unench through the traffics to try to buy more bits for camera, stock up on food and buy sim card for phone. Trouble is the Mongolian Mobicom sim card does not work with iPhone from outside Mongolia. Seems my phone is locked to OPTUS… And to change it would require buying a little thing to blue tooth the phone and this would cost about $180 dollars. It was cheaper to buy cheap iPhone and use the Mobicom card I purchase from woman who did not seem to understand this. We had to go to head office to try to use sim card.

We also stopped at art supplies shop and bought some oil pastels, beautiful brushes and more paper. I will only do gouache paintings, watercolor and pastel this trip.

We made some changes to the exhibition brochure Togsoo has been preparing.

Mongolia Ulaanbaatar does not seem to be much different since our last trip two years ago.

Korea, Day Two

This gallery contains 8 photos.

We should be spending our second night in Mongolia now. instead we are still guests of Korean air,s Hyatt hotel. Fortunately it is a lovely hotel with all the trimmings expected of a modern Hyatt; restaurants, pool, massage and Its very casino! Apparently snow and wind is too severe for Korean air to fly into […]

ELTHAM to Korea

I wondered if we would ever manage to get away from Eltham, and finally we did. My last class was Friday morning, hours before being driven out to the airport Hotel at. Tullamarine Melbourne. We thought it best to start our journey to Mongolia with an overnight at the hotel because we had to be up and in the airport early. After a lovely dinner with friends we retired only to be abruptly woken at 4.00am by an early morning call in unison with the set alarm clock.

Although our flight did not depart until 7.45am this was not too early: by the time we had checked our luggage in and paours he excess baggage on our exhibition packages of paintings, had an airport coffee and bun we reached our departure lounge at final call in time to board the plane.

It was a pleasant enough albeit cramped flight of 11 hours to Seoul. We had according to our confirmed bookings a good two hours to make connecting flight to Ulanbaatar. Not to be… Near Inchin airport we noticed on the TV screen no mention of our Flight number leaving Korea for UB.

Our flight had been cancelled: due to excessive wind and snow in Mongolia. Here we are now in a large room at the Hyatt as guests of Korean Airlines. It may also be the case we will be here tomorrow too if the weather does not improve somewhat. We have had to contact Togsoo by phone Skype And email to change our pick up arrangements. We were supposed to be in UB tonight.

Instead we ate a lovely complementary meal and a chat with a gentlemanforking in the gold mines in the Gobi Desert. He too was pleased enough with the delay as he said he would not have to work tomorrow.

Preparations continue

There are not many days to go now to finalise and refine the ‘packing’ of equipment, paintings, gifts and daily necessities for Mongolia. With such limited weight restrictions I can see we are up for some excess baggage, again.

Springtime in Mongolia; as romantic as is sounds is I expect a somewhat wild weather time. Taking note on my iPhone of the past few weeks I have been watching the temperature ossilate from well into the negatives; -12, -21 and rise to a high of 27 today: with another low at the end of this week of -6!! We speak of Melbourne weather in terms of the joke if you don’t like the weather just wait a few hours or days…I think Ulanbaataar can take the award. This week, 27 today and on Saturday when we arrive we can expect -6.

All of this makes packing a challenge as we need to cater for extreme cold and lovely hot days each week. As well as packing our sleeping bags for the Gobi and some painting materials we are carrying in our luggage two packs of paintings for two exhibitions; which we need to frame and stretch the canvas on arrival. My suitcase has all of the smaller works on paper with just enough room to pack a few clothes and the most important coffee pot! Last time I was sure I could buy a coffee pot ‘anywhere’ but I was sadly wrong. This time I will not need to forgo my morning coffee.

Never take anything for granted.

Togsoo, our Mongolian artist friend has found us an apartment in the same apartment block she lives. We will have two rooms, one to use as a studio in preparation of our exhibitions. We are pleased about this because with our limited very limited Mongolian language to be close to our friends will be terrific. Accommodation is not so easy to find I think at the best of times but at this time of year it is more difficult as the tourist season has not really begun. During the tourist season it is relatively simple to rent an apartment as many Mongolians head out to the countryside and set up a ger to live in for the next few months and many will during this time  rent out their apartment.

Jenni Mitchell interview.

Jenni Mitchell Artist Profile.

Theme Media video for Exhibition FROM THE EDGE: IMAGES FROM WILD PLACES held at Montsalvat September 2010.

This interview was given in 2010 in preparation for my Montsalvat Exhibition ‘From the Edge: Images from Wild Places’.

In the interview I am speaking about the artist and the camera and the attitudes around me when I produced a camera. I was given my first SLR camera (Pentax) at the age of 18.

The camera is as important a medium for capturing the world that inspires me as is my paint brush. At times the brush is the most relevant tool while other subjects are best captured by the camera to portray the image I have in mind.