Gold! Mongolia has it in spades – underneath the surface of this remarkable country lies wealth in the form of untapped mineral deposits including gold mined by companies such as Rio Tinto. It has also has gold in the shape of two gold medals from the Beijing Olympics.
2008. It was an interesting year. Results from the June 29 election caused riots of protest throughout the city centre of Ulaan Baatar. The Parliament Building in Sukhbaatar Square was the focus point – demonstrators using violence against Mongolia’s police force and interior troops leading to the death of five and to President Enkbayar declaring a state of emergency. Closely followed, of course by the Beijing Olympics and the first ever gold medal victories for Mongolia leading to instantaneous celebration.
|Proud to be Mongolian
The first scenario saw us at Khustain Nurru National Park on the last night of a three-week itinerary, trying to get a phone signal to see if the police were permitting movement of vehicles into the city. Once back in UB, it was a subdued last night – no alcohol and everyone off the streets by 10pm. A few dates later and there we were, same location but a different set of circumstances. Trying to get phone reception for the results of the boxing match. Listening in to the phone call, all I could hear were a cacophony of car horns -Mongolia had just won their second gold medal.
In August 2008 we were travelling across the landscapes on a research trip. Turuu stopped at every local habitation – whether a single solitary ger, a mining enclave or a small-town community. Traditional greetings follow a time-honoured order – this time around traditional greetings were brisk from our end – I certainly didn’t hear the pattern of how are you, how is the weather, how are your animals, how is the pasture. Just the quick use of brakes, a loud hold your dogs above the engine and ‘do you have news?’
To an affirmative answer, in we crowded to get an update. Where required the generator was started up, the television connected to the battery and frequently someone outside with the aerial in a series of contortionist shapes. Black and white, fuzzy and distorted sound, it really didn’t matter as the Mongolians surrounding me knew exactly the minute Mongolia had won its first ever Olympic gold.
From rioting crowds of protesters to celebrating crowds of all age groups. On the occasion of both wins, Mongolians took to the streets of UB in instantaneous celebration – those clever entrepreneurial kids who always know exactly what to sell when were out selling the Mongolian flag. The city erupted in a flood of vodka toasts, the national anthem, blaring car horns and an explosion of fireworks – the nation’s flag flying from hands, vehicles and the tallest buildings.
Main street junctions came to a complete standstill – who needed to get anywhere – stay and celebrate instead.
(Image from www.lightstalkers.org)
And hear we go again for 2012. A new round of parliamentary elections due in June in this vigorous democracy followed by the London Olympics starting in July with Mongolia sending a team of roughly 30 athletes to the London games – mainly representative of the sports of judo, wrestling, boxing, shooting and archery.
Not into the Olympics? Experience it in Mongolia and you soon will be. A vast country, a small population and a whole heap of pride. Oh, you had better start practising the national anthem as well – for speak to a Mongolian and there will be a definite need to sing it come this summer!