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TOPIC: mongolia

In The News

Tracking Massive Russian Exodus, From Finland To Mongolia

Russia’s neighbors — from Finland in the west to Mongolia 3,100 miles (5,076 km) to the east — are being flooded with the arrival of men fleeing the national draft announced last week as Moscow's invasion of Ukraine falters. Some 2,000 miles to the south of Helsinki, at the border with Georgia, there are reports of long lines of cars and bicycles trying to leave and Russian crackdowns on men trying to flee.

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In the first two days after Vladimir Putin announced the mobilization, 261,000 men of conscription age have left the country. Observers believe that has likely doubled since. The most popular destinations are the neighboring countries where one can enter without a visa or even without an international passport, such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia.

But Finland too has reported a major uptick, with nearly 19,000 arriving, compared to 9,000 crossing in the opposite direction. "The arrival rate is about double what it was a week ago," Mert Sasioglu of the Finnish border guard told AFP.

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As More Land Turns to Desert, Fights Over Water Erupt In Mongolia

There are too many animals for the available water supply in the Gobi desert region. The situation worsens each year.

DALANZADGAD — The scorching sun glares at them from directly above, and everything under their feet is parched, dusty and barren. The sheep and goats squeal and squeak, their nostrils sunken, their eyes glazed. Batbaatar Tsedevsuren, a herder with more than two decades of experience, knows this is how his animals behave when extremely thirsty.

He has walked with his 700 animals for several days in Mongolia’s Gobi desert in search of water and green pastures, when suddenly Batbaatar sees a well, and a fellow herder sitting on its edge. He comes closer with a smile, he later recalls, but the herder doesn’t reciprocate. “There is no water in the well,” the other herder quickly says. Batbaatar knows that isn’t true, and that the herder is just acting stingy. But he can’t afford a fight.

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Mongolia, How The "Switch To Austerity” Sparked A National Uprising

The Asian country is experiencing record inflation and soaring food costs as imports dry up due to the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

ULAANBAATAR — In the shadows of an immense statue of Chinggis Khaan, the founder of the Mongol empire, thousands gather. They stand outside the Government Palace to demand officials remedy the ever-increasing cost of living.

A young demonstrator holds up a mirror, asking if Mongolian government officials can bear to look themselves in the face, while others chant “Do your job” during the two-day dissent in April. The protest signals a breaking point for citizens who struggle to keep up with rising costs. They accuse the government of neglecting its duty to remedy the situation and forcing people to consider fleeing the country.

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Mongolian Herbal Medicine, A COVID Revival Takes Root

Traditional medicines, once banned, have regained favor. Government and health officials are endorsing them alongside COVID-19 vaccinations.

ERDENET, ORKHON PROVINCE, MONGOLIA — The water steams, then bubbles to a boil. Bayarjargal Togmid takes the pot off the stove and stirs in a bright yellow grass, known as manjingarav.

“This plant is excellent against coughing,” she says. “I drink it now and mix it with water so that my children often gargle their throats and mouths with it. It is far more effective than regular medicines.”

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Green
Dolgormaa Sandagdorj

Global Warming Could Sink Mongolia's "Permafrost Highway"

Mongolia built an extensive road network on a permafrost foundation. Now, the permafrost is melting.

ALAG-ERDENE, KHUVSGUL PROVINCE, MONGOLIA — Munkhbaatar Tumur mounts a scope on a metal tripod and peers through it. He assesses the elevation of a road that stretches across the steppe and into the mountains.

He is a general engineer at Khuvsgul-AZZA, a state-owned corporation responsible for maintaining the roads in this northernmost province, on the border with Russia. Today, he and his team are repairing bulging and sunken asphalt along the road, which stretches more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) up to Khuvsgul Lake.

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Green Or Gone
Anna Geroeva

Microplastics In Lake Baikal, World’s Largest Freshwater Lake At Risk

Fishing nets, industry and other human-caused dumping are poisoning Russia's Lake Baikal, the world's largest, deepest (and oldest) lake. Bigger than all the North American Great Lakes combined, it's at risk after 25 million years of life.

MOSCOW — The vast and ancient Lake Baikal in Russia has a rich history, providing a home for thousands of plants and animal species and sustaining the nearby Buryat tribes going back millennia. It's the world's deepest and oldest lake, and has survived for some 25-30 million years. But its depths bury a dark secret: a growing layer of microplastic pollution that threatens the health of Lake Baikal.

A new study looking at microplastics was conducted in the southeastern coast of the lake and the Small Sea in Southern Siberia. These places are not the most populated on the Baikal shore; no more than several hundred people live there permanently. But the water sampling areas were chosen not by chance: all of them are touristic areas, so they are considered to have a significant human impact.

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food / travel
Martin de Bourmont*

The Limits Of Modern Privacy, Lessons From Mongolia

Each night I return home to one of the greatest luxuries available to human beings: an empty room. There is no one to speak to if I do not wish to make conversation, and no one to make demands of me as I sit idly in front of my window.

I only became conscious of this privilege when I moved to Mongolia two years ago. Most of my friends there, including those living in apartments and houses, shared one room with the rest of their immediate family. To be alone, they had to leave home.

In a typical Mongolian household, washing, changing, cooking and relaxation all take place in the company of others. There is literally no room for private thoughts.

Perhaps the flipside of this lack of privacy is an apparent fear of solitude. Seeing someone walking alone will strike most as bizarre, or at least not something one would freely choose.

This understanding of solitude as a form of suffering extends even to the most marginalized members of the population. In Khovd, the rural Mongolian town where I lived, there was a mentally disabled man who would spend most of his time at the local airport. He'd approach travelers with a smile, extending his hand, and they'd greet him in return as they would any acquaintance. He'd get paid to carry suitcases and the security guards would shake his hand and give him a friendly on the back every morning. When not at the airport, the man could be seen wandering around the town market. The restaurants let him eat for free and at night a generous relative offers him shelter.

While part of the reason for this munificence stems from sympathy for the man's condition, it is also a symptom of that fear of loneliness. To see a man wandering the streets alone is to bear witness to the worst kind of destitution. Forget cash or real estate: True wealth in rural Mongolia is social.

Historical factors can help explain this state of affairs. In times of great crisis, Mongolians have seen entire societies implode. Before the Soviet Union collapsed, both urban and rural Mongolians depended on the country's status as a Soviet satellite state for bureaucratic employment. These jobs vanished with the end of the Cold War. Deprived of employment prospects, many urban Mongolians flocked back to the countryside in hopes of returning to the nomadic herding lifestyle of their parents and grandparents; and yet many quickly discovered that the collectivist systems that once supported generations of nomadic herders had ceased to exist.

More recently, Mongolian herders have found themselves struggling with an exceptionally harsh and fickle climate. In 2002 and 2010, severe winters known as zud killed millions of livestock.

Unable to survive as herders, those afflicted by the zud and intensifying desertification have begun migrating to the capital Ulaanbaatar in search of employment. The city the former herders discover is expensive, polluted, and — by Mongolian standards — cramped. Finding their footing in such an alien place requires new arrivals to request the assistance of family members and friends already present in the city.

Periods of crisis aside, Mongolian life is inherently collaborative. Those who live in gers, the Mongolian term for yurts, spend a substantial portion of each day maintaining their homes. One must feed the stove coal, wood or dung to keep warm, fetch water to wash and cook with, and regularly sweep the floors in order to keep dust and dirt at bay. Since those who live in gers have work that keeps them away from home for hours at a time — whether as herders, builders, or even university professors — it is important that someone stays at home or at least returns periodically to complete the tasks necessary to keep the ger clean and livable.

Though living in central Ulaanbaatar may now resemble life in Seoul or Beijing, many urban Mongolians living in provincial cities or on the capital's urban periphery continue to live a profoundly communal life. It is not uncommon for Mongolian families to live in one-room apartments composed of a kitchen and a living room. Grandparents living in close proximity will stop by to take care of the family's children during the day and large meals will be taken with friends and family throughout the week.

All this is likely the product of centuries spent living in gers, where one had no choice but to live and work with others every hour of every day merely to survive. Combating subzero temperatures for months, raising large herds, and securing food and water for one's family are not tasks that can be accomplished alone.

In developed Western countries, on the other hand, cooperation and constant devotion to a collective no longer holds much appeal. Instead we see ourselves as unique individuals, whose personal ambitions and experiences merit as much consideration as the aspirations and needs of our communities.

While I, like many of my contemporaries, often deplore what we perceive as the rampant selfishness and narcissism apparent in 21st century Western life, I remain a product of my time and place. I resent being told to think or act in certain ways, even — and sometimes especially — if these injunctions are intended for my benefit.

Like most of my liberal-minded American and European friends, I assign great value to my privacy. Protecting one's privacy and finding space for solitude, we believe, are indispensable components of a life worth living.

Mongolian "gers' in Khovd — Photo: Bernd Thaller

It is, of course, up for debate how much we truly value solitude, privacy, and independent thought. Each day, we silently acquiesce to government and corporate surveillance as we navigate the Internet. We spend most of our days online not only because we appreciate the vast quantities of human knowledge it stores but because we cannot bear to be disconnected from friends, family, acquaintances, potential romantic partners, the consolations of pornography, and the panoply of corporations that satisfy our endless consumer desires.

We may also wonder if solitude and independence, once achieved, do us much good. In affluent, developed countries, loneliness has become so common that some have begun labeling our time as an "age of loneliness."

Loneliness can damage more than just one's mental health. According to a March 2015 paper published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, "substantial evidence now indicates that individuals lacking social connections (both objective and subjective social isolation) are at risk for premature mortality." The risks to human health associated with social isolation, the study claims, are comparable to those posed by obesity.

Combating loneliness requires not more social interactions, but better social interactions, or what we sometimes refer to as intimacy. Knowing we can depend on others for company, conversation, and aid in times of crisis makes us feel less alienated. We become part of a community, an island of solidarity and affection in a great ocean of human activity.

Mongolians may not have much privacy, but that doesn't mean they lack intimacy. It may well be that the Mongolian understanding of intimacy and affection are best placed in the context of constant, intense social interactions with a wide array of family members, friends, and acquaintances.

An American or European may envy the sense of community shared by Mongolians even as it challenges our modern thirst for privacy. Still, this encounter can be instructive. It can teach us what we actually desire in human interactions: building strong emotional bonds with a group of people while retaining opportunities for solitary contemplation.

Our empty rooms and solitary hours are dubious gifts. While they afford us the time and space to think, the question remains: think about what? When we are shut off from others with whom to share our experiences, our thoughts and impressions may wind up being little more than the reflections of our own eyes.

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blog
Harold Thibault

This Asian City Is Killing Its Locals With Coal

As winter descends on Mongolia's cold and polluted capital of Ulaanbaatar, toxic coal heating is turning on everywhere. An estimated one resident in 10 dies from the effects of pollution.

ULAANBAATAR — Winter is already falling on Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, and the sight of the greyish smoke rising from yurts in the suburbs of the coldest capital city on Earth is enough to worry 29-year-old Bolormaa Oyunbileg.

“As soon as the hard season begins, things become terrible,” she complains. “Often, we can’t even see the cars at the end of the street anymore.”

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Germany
Titus Arnu

In Germany, Home Is Where The Yurt Is

ÜBERLINGEN AM BODENSEE — Nadja Schotthöfer and David Schuster decided against the German Dream — a semi-detached house with garden, flat-screen TV, living room suite, fitted kitchen. They live in a yurt, where their child was born.

Outside, a warm wind caresses the tall grasses, and it smells like hay drying in the sun. The cherry tree leaves are rustling, and starlings and crows are feeding on the nearly ripe fruit. Crickets make chirping sounds. The noises in this orchard in Überlingen am Bodensee, a German town on the northern shore of Lake Constance, create the orchestra of summer.

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Mongolia
Song Fulee

When Nomads Settle The City: The Urbanization Of Mongolia

ULAN BATOR – Over the last decade, Mongols have rapidly begun to concentrate here in its capital, as well as other cities.

This trend is accelerating and making Ulan Bator an unbearably crowded place, though still relatively small in comparison with most of China’s major cities. Nevertheless, the impact may be more drastic on a nation historically made of nomadic people.

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