Back in Ulaanbaatar Town

Für Mongolei Nostalgiker…


After too long an absence, I’m back in Ulaanbaatar. Returning 1-3 times per year over the last eight years has given me time lapse glimpses of rapid developments in Ulaanbaatar.

At ULN, I was delighted to find a special lane in the immigration section dedicated to “Passengers with Children”. Everyone has separate lanes for their own nationals (something the U.S. started a long time ago, as far as I recall), but where do you see kids’ lanes?

This prompted me to start a hashtag: #ykyiMgl = you know you’re in Mongolia when…

I always find the drive in from Chinggis Khaan International Airport into town particularly poignant as lots of changes are observable along that route. This post just roughly follows the drive in from ULN as I was jotting down notes on the cell.

There is lots of new housing springing up right next to the airport now. That whole road has developed massively in the past eight years. My memory of first driving that road in 2005 was of pasture and darkness. Then gers started showing up, then khashaas were built. Now: sports palace, apartments, bus stops, etc. have been put in right up to the airport.

The road itself was going to be widened and construction started very suddenly last summer when I was here. Not much has happened since then, although there was some machinery seemingly at work on the road today.

Off the road I quickly saw the first polling station marked by the familiar red banners around the door announcing the date of the election as well as the number of the polling station. The Mongolian flag was fluttering on the rooftop.

You know that fenced-in long stretch of trees planted by the road? I think somewhere along the way it says that this is a Japanese-Mongolia development project. I swear the trees haven’t grown more than 25cm in the past eight years and they still look rather sad.

There is a giant addition to the British School of Ulaanbaatar going in along the road. Private school must be good business.

The American Center for Mongolian Studies had kindly arranged for me to be picked up. Soon enough, the driver turned on the radio to one of those moments when there is a long declamation set to a familiar Mongolian melody in the background. Ah, the sounds of Mongolia! Naturally, she was singing along to some songs later on.

Just before you cross the Tuul, there are some huge very colourful apartment blocks now. Interesting that most of the construction is going for colour on a brick-colour base, rather than the strange neo-classical styles or – even worse, I think – the strange giant buildings with pagoda-tops that you see in China. No ger-themed apartment designs yet, as far as I’ve seen.

Once past that bridge, traffic kicks in of course. What was meant to be a two-lane road when it was constructed in the state socialist period soon turns into a four-lane highway with much honking and swerving. Smiles all around.

BMWs seem to have arrived in some numbers, primarily X5. Lots of cars with many people piled in, including the preferred riding position for infants: on passenger lap riding shotgun. BUT also some child seats and fastened seat belts!

There are very few campaign posters on the drive into town; the election is much less visible than parliamentary election or even than what I remember from the presidential election four years ago.

The Bat-Erdene posters that I saw make no reference to the MPP while Elbegdorj posters include a stylized horse with the MPP flag. I have yet to see an Udval poster.

As we come into town, the traffic patterns have definitely changed around. Must be a consequence of the additional connections across the railroad and other new roads. For example, the building that houses my friends of the Mongolian National Olympic Committee used to sit somewhat majestically by that large traffic circule just across the railroad bridge from the centre of town (Peace Bridge, I think), but it is now increasingly surrounded by large apartment blocks and there is no more traffic circle, having been changed into a giant intersection. That in itself is also curious as more traffic circles are being set up in Vancouver, they’re disappearing in Ulaanbaatar. Are bike lanes next?

About Julian Dierkes

Julian Dierkes is a sociologist by training (PhD Princeton Univ) and a Mongolist by choice and passion since around 2005. He teaches in the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He toots and tweets @jdierkes
This entry was posted in Curios, Society and Culture, Tourism, Ulaanbaatar and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Back in Ulaanbaatar Town

  1. Marissa Smith says:

    Thanks Julian, I really enjoyed reading this! Hope I will be doing the aiport to center taxi ride again before too long myself… Enjoy your trip! Looking forward to reading more.

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