Zahava Hanan, Canadian Writer and Poet
From the glittering new cities of Dubai and Doha to the rugged outpost of Ulaanbaatar. From words cluttered with consonants to words filled with vowels. From stifling heat to frigid cold (40 degrees below 0 in the winter). From diamond bright skyscrapers to felt gers (yurts) and squat concrete buildings. From a benevolent monarchy to a young democracy. The transition from the Arabian Gulf to Mongolia was dizzying.
There is only one narrow road, filled with potholes, from the airport into the capital city of Ulaanbaatar as opposed to the eight-lane super highway into Dubai- clogged with an assortment of disorderly vehicles, some having steering wheels on the left and some on the right. Along the way are scattered humble hovels and simple houses beside the ubiquitous tent homes called gers. (More on them in a later post.)
Present day Mongolia is like the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in 1970, when they were simple unknown fishing villages. The discovery of oil catapulted them into a frenzied spiral of growth and a presence on the global stage. The recent discovery of copper, coal and gold is having the same effect on Mongolia. So these countries share the mixed blessing of natural resources. Mongolia, however, is just beginning to face the challenges inherent in this dynamic.
As we settled into this intriguing place, we had to reorient ourselves, to shift from fast forward to rewind.
Mongolia is part California Gold Rush/ Wild Wild West, part Cold War 1950’s Soviet Union Sinister Blandness, and Part Buddhist, Pastoral Landscape, with flashes of wealth, sophistication and modernity.
I have developed the same level of respect for the proud Mongolians as I feel for the Emiratis and Qataris. They possess the same eagerness and determination. They aim to preserve their culture while adapting to the Third Millennium and the rest of the world’s sudden interest in them… I hope they can.
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