First Person Account

You should take warning when thinking about travel to or living and working in Mongolia. I was one of the unlucky teachers who went to Mongolia in November 2006 at the invitation of Andrew Orgill, Orgilmaa Doloonjin's husband. The Ulaanbaatar stench is everywhere with no way to get away from it. Foreigners have to beware of cafès, restaurants and groceries due to health concerns and cleanliness. The Mongolian police are worse than the criminal element. As in most of Asia, the Mongolian truth is a matter of cultural relativity and it is subject to change or it can even disappear as a puff of smoke. Even though the country boasts a capitalists society, the old Russian trained Mongolian communists' corruption still runs the country.



Illegal Resident Amnesty

2007-03-28 Mongol Messenger

The Office of Immigration, Naturalization and Foreign Citizens announced an "amnesty month" for foreigners, who live illegally in Mongolia from February 5. A total of 132 citizens from nine countries applied for amnesty; 112 from China, six Russians, five Vietnamese, four Koreans, five Armenians, USA, Czech, Kazakhstan and Malaysians. 81 foreigners or 61.3 percent exceeded their term by one year; 23.5 percent 1-2 years; 9.1 percent 2- 3 years; 3.8 percent 3-4 years and 2.3 percent over 4 years. People, who exceeded the visa term for the longest term, were Russians (6 year and 7 months); then Chinese (6 years and 2 months) and Malaysian (4 years and 6 months). 90.1 percent of the foreigners exceeded the visa term, while 9.9 percent violated their residence regulations.

Senior investigator at the office, N. Bayanmonkh said, "Amnesty month was announced based on concrete requirement and conditions. It was announced through mass media and embassies in Mongolia. Following examples from other countries, Mongolia will announce an amnesty month once every three to four years to enable illegal foreigners to exit the country. For us, it was the first time, but successful."

It should be noted here that "Illegal Resident" is a Mongolian government acknowledgment of the problem, which is NOT in getting rid of illegal aliens, but releasing "illegally held workers and even tourists" to legally leave the country. Mongolian employers prefer to hire foreigners on tourist visas so the employer does not have to pay the foreign worker's tax. Many Mongolian employers hold a foreign worker's passport and find excuses not to return it to the worker. Mongolian authorities know employers detain foreign tourists and workers using their passports as hostage.


Ulaanbaatar Stench

In November 2006, I got off the plane in Ulaanbaatar and wished immediately that I could reboard the Korean Air flight back to South Korea. The smell nearly knocked me over; the Ulaanbaatar stench is something that never goes away. On the streets of the capital city, it is not uncommon to see Mongolians' relieving themselves of fecal or urine material wherever the need arises. At that time, I was told there were 30,000 ghers in the "gher section" of the city (see photo). The way Mongols' heat those small houses is with a small coal stove placed in the center of the house; the smoke is vented out of the hole in the center of the roof much like an old Native American tipi. Mongolian coal has a unique foul odor. There is no toilet inside these homes so traditionally the outdoors is used. The combination of carbon monoxide from an extraordinary population of poorly maintained cars, 30,000 ghers' pumping out plumes of coal smoke and the stench of fecal material combined with urine and vomit (common from too much to drink) with the desert cold air for retention make for a very ripe atmosphere.


Health Concerns and Cleanliness

Besides sanitation problems, many of Mongolia's traditional healthcare practices have not adapted to the changing circumstance of the modern city. Mongols are a nomadic people used to moving from one place to another in a pastoralist lifestyle. There are no observed health standards in Mongolia. You can observe breads, unwrapped and stacked on the bare wooden floor of a truck, being delivered to local groceries and restaurants. Meats and fish lay in the open exposed to the elements (human coughing & breath expelling airborne pathogens, also flies, roaches, etc.) inside groceries. In one of the largest markets in Ulaanbaatar used by the majority of citizens, I observed a meat counter person wipe his nose with the back of his hand prior to serving up an exposed handful of ground meat. Down an aisle, a patron spat on the floor amid the discarded cigarette butts while up the aisle, another customer used his thumb to blow his nose on the floor. In a very nice looking restaurant, the large white platters used to hold the plates were stained with grease and other unknown matter. Here, a patron coughed and spat the contents on the floor, which is apparently acceptable in a pastoralist life style.


Mongolian Police as Criminals

The Mongolian police are by far the worst criminal element in Mongolia since they are the most numerous in number. Pay scales can be cited as the problem; however, they are the "police" and are the most untrusted force in Ulaanbaatar. Leaving Santis one evening (my second week) after a long line of classes, I was followed by two of Ulaanbaatar's finest who finally stopped me. "Passport" one officer demanded! Then came a physical search including my briefcase. These gentlemen then relieved me of approximately $120 in Tugriks and told me to get out of Mongolia. I went to local police station to ask what my violation had been and was told they had no idea and ignored me.

On three different occasions in four weeks, local police entered the Mealody Restaurant and Jazz Club in Ulaanbaatar just before 10:00 PM. The first time they demanded the owner pay each of the three officers 50,000 Tugriks for operating after 10:00 PM. When they were told they would not get paid, they walked around trying to intimidate customers, especially foreigners in demanding money.

The next time, police officers arrived with movie cameras demanding payment or Mealody's patrons would be shown on public TV as lawbreakers and drunks. Again, this failed to bring forth payment. On the last occasion, all foreign teachers left promptly at 9:50 PM as the police, in a force of approximately 20 in number, showed up with dogs and parked on Mealody's porch while watching their timepieces. Whatever happened is unknown. The Mealody continued to remain open but at what cost is unknown.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I observed police officers on nearly every corner who stopped cars for no apparent reason and often collected money from drivers. I later learned there was a new law in effect that required "fines" to be paid at a government office location due to police corruption in pocketing money from drivers.

On another occasion, I observed police in a personal vehicle back over a woman on the sidewalk. She was hurt and trying to get up. The police officer on the passenger side got out and pulled her to her feet, shoving her down the street and saying something cruel sounding. She was crying, trying to walk on an injured leg and ankle in trying to get away. The officer behind the wheel shook his police baton at me—a Mongolian English teacher told me, "He's trying to warn you that he is police and you should ignore him."


Mongolian Truth and a Puff of Smoke

The Mongolian truth, when uttered, is a matter of cultural relativity that is subject to change; many times the truth simply disappears, like a puff of cigarette smoke, at the speaker's whim. In the words of George W. Bush,

"Problem? Where do you see a problem? I don't see a problem."

This can be especially dangerous in a country where the teacher has absolutely no protection, legally or morally. The U.S. Embassy can be powerless in Mongolia and there is very little Western type of morals in Ulaanbaatar.

Again, morality is relative to culture when looking at the numerous Mongolian street kids aged preschool to teenager. Take children like Dolgion, 14, who in 2005 lived in a sewage pit on the fringes of Mongolia's capital, Ulaanbaatar.

"People call us transheiny [sewage] kids and shun us. I've been living like this for the last four years" (2001-2005/age 10-14). "Before we lived in Yarmag District [an Ulaanbaatar suburb] in a gher [see photo right]. My mother worked as a nurse at hospital. Father had no job. As far as I can remember, he was always unemployed."

"Our gher burnt down when I was seven. Me and my classmate were playing after classes when fire started from an electric socket. The two of us tried to suppress it by throwing dirt on it. I had heard that water is no good for electricity. Firefighters arrived only after an hour when our home had already turned to smoking ashes."

"After Mother left us, Father returned home drunk almost every day. At the end, the family we stayed with told us to go away. We did not know where to go and just wandered the streets. Father befriended some bad men and drank with them. Often he would become too drunk to walk and collapse right on the street. I would hang around guarding him. Even if I wanted to carry him away I couldn't because I was too small then. I followed my father like this for more than a month. One day he collapsed again, and I told myself 'I cannot take it anymore' and ran away, leaving him behind alone."

Children like Dolgion have no future in a country that cares little for them.

"As winter approached, I moved to Narantuul Market [a large flea and food market]. In the beginning I picked leftovers from a canteen there. Narantuul market is a dangerous place. If you don't have friends there, children can easily beat you. They usually hang out in gangs. Children who work as market porters are usually older. The younger ones steal, rob other children."

"I had a friend there named Cola. Once Cola sold a pair of shoes and it turned out they belonged to his older brother. The brother got mad and beat the two of us harshly. Blood was coming out of my ears. I ran away from there and now stay here, in a bunker sitting on the city heating pipes. Already I've been here for two years" (2003-2005).

This Asian culture, whose stated values are in family and ancestors, makes absolutely no concessions for even little children who have lost their parents and family. It is likely that Dolgion, in 2010, is now deceased since these children's lifespan are short. If you do not believe this, just go to Ulaanbaatar on any day and watch. If you are not Mongolian in stature, you will attract the sewage kids with your apparent wealth since, they are currently living in the sewers where it is the only warm and safe sanctuary they have. A pocket full of pennies is like gold; it will buy a day's food for several hungry mouths. Think strongly about your value to the Mongolian culture and society; you work for a Mongolian to produce an income for that Mongolian. Past the point of your production, you have less value than the transheiny kids for whom Mongolians simply look the other way as if to say, "What kids? I don't see any kids. Do you see any kids?"

Nature of Capitalism and Mongolian Government's Communist Corruption

There are many Mongolian communist who make up the Members of the Mongolian Parliament. This follows the basic nature of communist corruption that permeates the Mongolian Government. In Asian cultures, family connections are very strong and more so in Mongolia. Many in the Mongolian government and various departments fear the political power and pull that some Mongolian employer's have through family connections. This is the capitalist side of Mongolia. The communist truth is that you can literally become trapped in Mongolia, working to survive (females beware), while you await "Amnesty Day" which may come every three to four years.

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Mongolian Truth and a Puff of Smoke