By Julian Dierkes
It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to post about my first impressions back in Ulaanbaatar after an absence.
This time, my absence was not very long, i.e. from the presidential election in late June until mid-September.
First impressions have recently been a mix of exhaustion as transfer through Beijing are NEVER smooth [this time I ended up waiting for a hotel shuttle bus for 1 3/4 hrs missing a meeting], and elation at being back in Mongolia.
The flight from PEK was the emptiest flight I’ve ever been on into ULN, and that includes several trips in the winter. Only about 25 people on the plane I would guess. I am not sure whether that means anything, but it was especially surprising to see so few Mongolians travelling on the plane. I don’t think I’ve been to Mongolia in mid-September before, so perhaps it was just a matter of the time of year.
The only disappointment about the small crowd was that there was a reception committee from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for visitors who were coming for the World Economic Forum Strategic Dialogue on the Future of Mongolia – like myself. There offer of VIP (me, hah!) treatment through immigration was somewhat less useful given that it took longer to check my name on their list than for the other passengers to clear through immigration. Also, I had arranged a pick-up through ACMS, so didn’t need a ride.
One of the great joys of my arrival this time (in addition to that, ah, I’m back in Mongolia feeling) was that as of Sept 1 Germans no longer need a visa to travel to Mongolia. It was with great delight that I presented my visa-less passport, received a smallish stamp, and went on my way.
Were the five huge apartment blocks right next to the airport already under construction in June? I can’t recall.
The airport road close to the airport has disintegrated into a sandy mess. Fortunately, I didn’t care at all as the driver started singing along to radio folksongs which always makes me very happy.
The airport road has now disappeared and been replace by a temporary road that lies to the right (heading into town) which the real new airport highway is being constructed in place of the old road. Anyone who has arrived into Ulaanbaatar especially late at night will have a definite image in front of their eyes, of the bumpy road into town where drivers were especially fond of passing on the right, i.e. on the gravely shoulder of the road.
Just before you cross the Tuul, the “Hunnu Mall” is being constructed. It advertises 50,000sqm of retail space. Is that big for a mall? It certainly looks awful with some gaudy neo-classical elements.
Tragically, the police booth that oversaw the intersection just past power plant #3 on the other side of the Tuul seems to have fallen victim to the construction. For me, this police booth was always the clear marker that a) I was in a post-socialist country, and b) we were almost in town. Is this a metaphor signalling the end of the post-socialist period?