Sunday, August 14, 2011
Donna arrives in Ulaanbaatar
After many many hours on airplanes and in airports -- I left from Halifax on Saturday morning at 6:30 a.m. and arrived in UB at around 10:30 on Sunday night Mongolia time -- I am finally here!
We were picked up at the airport by Myagaa, the executive director of the Mogolian Cooperative Training and Information Center (MCTIC), CCA’s partner organization in Mongolia, and Amara, a MCTIC program officer. In true Mongolian fashion, “Myagaa” and “Amara” are short forms of their real first names, and that’s what everyone calls them. Although Mongolians do have last names, they are rarely used, and many Mongolian business cards include only a first name and the first initial of the last name. (For example, Amara is listed on our itinerary as Amarajargal B. and Myagaa is Myagmar-Ochir T.) So different from Japan, where I spent two weeks being referred to as Barukan-san (a Japanese pronunciation of “Balkan” with the suffix “san”, used in names as a sign of respect). I am very happy that I will be called “Donna” throughout this trip!
The airport is about half an hour away from downtown UB; because it was dark, I didn’t get to see much, but it is clear from all the bright lights that UB is a large, modern and very cosmopolitan city. The advertising billboards along the road from the airport were a mixture of Mongolian with a surprising smattering of English. As in Seoul, where I spent about 5 hours in the airport waiting for my flight to UB, it is clear that English is used a lot in business, even though not everyone speaks it.
Our hotel is the Puma Imperial, right downtown just off Sükhbaatar Square, an important focal point for navigating the city. The square commemorates Mongolia`s “hero of the revolution”, Damdin Sükhbaatar, who declared Mongolia’s independence from China in 1921. At the centre of the square, there is a large bronze statue of another Mongolian hero: Chinggis Khaan (normally referred to in English as Genghis Khan). Eight centuries after he led the Mongols to become the greatest known empire of that time, Chinggis Khaan is still very much revered in this country.
It was good to get to the hotel. Although my room is small (when was the last time I saw a single bed?), it is clean and comfortable. And most importantly for me, the internet access is excellent. I called my husband Jim on Skype when I got in and he sounded like he was just around the corner. Then I went to sleep for the first time in about 24 hours. The single bed notwithstanding, it was fantastic!!!
Today we will be visiting several credit unions, having lunch with the board of MCTIC and visiting the Mongolian parliament. Today’s Mongolia is one of the most democratic countries in Asia, and I get the impression that Mongolians are quite proud of that fact, having emerged from first Chinese, and then Russian domination. The adventure begins!
-- Donna Balkan