Hello from Ulaanbaatar! I arrived in the capital city of Mongolia at the end of October and have spent the last few weeks getting settled, starting to learn the language, and familiarizing myself with the music scene here.
For my first post, I’d like to give you a general overview of Ulaanbaatar and my initial impressions of the popular music scene.
From Genghis Khan to Louis Vuitton
Many Americans’ knowledge of Mongolia is limited to what they learned in their 9th grade world history course, which is to say most of Americans’ knowledge of Mongolia is almost exclusively Genghis Khan related. And it’s understandable. Ghengis Khan (here he’s known as Chinggis) was one of the world’s greatest conquerors. He united the warring tribes in the region of what is now Mongolia in the early 13th Century and then led them to create what became the largest contiguous empire in history. At its height, Mongol rule stretched from present-day Korea in the East to Poland and Iran in the West, Vietnam in the South and Siberia in the North.
Indeed, Chinggis Khan is more than a national hero here in Mongolia. His image is everywhere: he’s seated in Ulaanbaatar’s city center (Sukhbaatar Square), he’s mounted on a large metal horse about 50 km from the city, his face is depicted on the side of a mountain to the south, and you can’t escape a supermarket without seeing dozens of Chinggis products including vodka.
But despite his omnipresence, Mongolia is so much more than a distant memory of a once great conqueror. In fact, Mongolia, and especially Ulaanbaatar, is going through some interesting changes that are getting more and more attention from the rest of the world. Vice President Joe Biden spent a few days in Mongolia this past summer praising the country’s successful 20 year-old democracy. The rapidly growing mining industry (copper, coal, gold, and precious minerals) is bringing foreign investment to Mongolia at a pace previously unseen. Environmental challenges to the traditional nomadic lifestyle are forcing more people to move to the capital each year. This rapid overpopulation is one of the contributing factors to Ulaanbaatar’s place as one of the world’s most polluted cities.
In 2009, Louis Vuitton opened their first store in Mongolia. Located just west of Sukhbaatar Square (the city’s center), it seems to serve as both a beacon of hope for Mongolia’s rising economy, and a symbol of economic stratification that is only growing.