By Julian Dierkes
This is Post #500 for our Blog!
What a milestone, we’ll have to commemorate our achievement soon.
For some years, I have now taken notes about visible changes in Ulaanbaatar on my periodic visits.
This year, I’ve started a similar list for countryside changes. The first note appeared in June 2017. Additions/deletions/edits to that list are marked in italics below.
Visible Manifestations of Social Change in the Countryside
What has Arrived?
- Guardrails in some curves on major cross-country roads
- While it used to be that street signs (speed limits, warnings of curves, etc.) were a curious rarity (“when there hasn’t been a sign for 100km, why this one?”) they now seem to appear in clusters.
- The state is reasserting its authority in some places. Roadside safety inspections of vehicles have returned. On a drive between Baruun-Ort and Chinggis (<3 hrs) we were stopped by police three times: marmot inspection (we weren’t carrying), tire disinfection, seatbelt check. The latter was really a bit of a local police extortion attempt.
- Fences around large parcels of lands. As far as I can tell these are hayed for winter fodder as nothing seems to be planted there. Fences keep out animals in this case to let grass grow.
- I’ve long heard discussion that many of the projects carried out with the Local Development Fund were public toilets. I have now seen some of these!
- Not all fences around xashaa (property lots) are wood anymore. There are some prefab concrete slabs, corrugated metals, etc.
- Ger district conversions in towns. We saw this in Baruun-Urt for example.
- Virtually all aimag districts now seem to have at least one tall building (8+ stories).
- New, modern houses are appearing in sum centres. Only buildings in towns that don’t have a big wooden fence around them.
- “No littering” signs.
- Motorcycle helmets.
- Bike infrastructure in towns.
What has Disappeared, or at least, Nearly Disappeared?
- The clever move to simply drive cross-country around toll booths on major roads.
- Satellite phones. Still necessary for country-side connectivity around 2010, now I haven’t seen one in some time.
What will Appear in the Future?
- Much more directional street markers.
- Cross-country biking, hiking, and riding routes away from major roads.
What will Disappear in the Future?
- Roughly in the 2000s, I would guess, more cars were beginning to show up in the countryside, but road-construction was not revving up yet. That meant that on big cross-country routes, entire valleys were scarred by multiple parallel tracks. Along the paved sections of major roads, these scars are slowly disappearing in the landscape.
- At construction sites, the paved roads are often simply blocked with large dirt heaps across the lanes. Effective, but scary at night.
- Greeting of official visitors at city gates.
- Fancy streetlight design must be a state socialist heritage somehow along with other forms of public art. There are vaguely futuristic designs throughout Mongolia, but they are even more surprising in provincial towns than in Ulaanbaatar. Somehow, I don’t think that they will continue to be built. Two examples below from Dornod aimag.
What won’t Disappear in the Medium Term?
- Composite electricity poles. In the countryside these consist of a concrete base to which a wooden pole is tied with wire/brackets which ends in a triangle that has space for three attached cables. Metal poles have appeared, but I know similar composite poles from the Yukon and Alaska, so they must be well-adapted to extreme temperatures and will thus last.
- Litter. Growth in domestic tourism will make the countryside more littered, but awareness of littering will ultimately build. Such a blight on Mongolia!
- Buried tires to mark property lines. It seems that there are so many practical reasons (cheap, indestructible, visible to off-roading drivers) that this practice will continue.