I am back in DC now since a week and I am finally over my jet lag. It was quite bad this time. In addition to the 12 hour time difference between Washington and Ulaanbaatar, my trip back took over 30 hours because of the shooting on LAX last Friday. Although it was at another terminal, it happened around the time when I landed so we ended up being locked up in the customs area for over four hours, and after that the flights was really delayed. Which was nothing, of course, compared to the actual shooting – so terrible!! I don’t understand how anyone can do something like that? And it happens so often here… The flight between Seoul and Los Angeles was really nice though, because the sky was clear and I could watch the stars closely through the airplane window. And while I had breakfast, I watched the sunrise from up in the air. I often just sit through my flights like I am on a bus or a train, but when you think about it (and take the time to look) it is really quite amazing to be up there in the sky!
I still have my Mongolia trip in my thoughts. It was so different from anything I expected. As I wrote earlier, Ulaanbaatar felt a lot more globalized than I had pictured it and much more dynamic. Maybe in part because of all the construction that was going on, but also because of the people with their clothes and their gadgets, the busy streets and all the traffic. A family friend just commented here a few days ago that Ulaanbaatar used to be the most remote place anyone could ever think of, but it certainly didn’t feel like that now. Perhaps the most illustrative comment came from a Mongolian man in his 60s at a branch organization in the cashmere sector, who said that their best markets were in Europe, and although they should sell more cashmere to Russia, the U.S. was not a potential market “because Americans have no sense of fashion!” While nothing new, a month ago I would not have expected to hear this observation from a Mongolian, not the least because of how far away the U.S. is. But the world is getting smaller and countries are rapidly changing, as visible in Ulaanbaatar.
And then the contrasts between urban and rural Mongolia: the vast, stunning pastoral landscape and barely any sign of people for miles and miles and miles outside the cities. The transformation of the traditional lifestyle into something completely new with the herders who maintain their nomadic lifestyle but equipped with solar panels, satellite dishes, cell-phones and TVs. Some of their kids chose herding as a profession but some go university and get into high-educated professions. I met one herder who had four kids who had followed in his path and become herders, two who were in university, and one who worked as a doctor. A well-developed system of boarding schools for herders’ children makes the step from a nomadic childhood to university or medical school easier than it may seem.
A fascinating country – I recommend anyone to visit!
From Ulaanbaatar to the pastures//Mongolian Airline’s soft cashmere blankets (they fly in style!)//Front seat for the sunrise, though watching the stars from that altitude was even better!