The People’s Republic of Mongolia Current population of 2.8 million people 92.9% Khalk Mongolian 5% Kazakh 4.8 million ethnic Mongolians estimated in the People’s Republic of China province of Inner Mongolia Size of the country: Just a little over 600,000 square milesOne fifth the size of the contiguous United States Slightly smaller than Alaska Border of about 3,000 miles with China Border of about 2,200 miles with Russia (mostly with Siberia and Tuva) Arable Land: 0.77% Most of the population’s economy is based on herding and skin trading (sheep, camel)Mining deposits of copper, coal and molybdenum. Uranium is rumored in the northwest
Mongolia 21 districts or aimags Five national parks One railroad line Zero paved roads east-west One semi-paved road north-southLower one-third of the country is the Gobi Desert 98% literacy rateMongolian language, Cyrillic alphabetMinority languages : Kazakh, Russian (about half of all Mongolians are fluent in Russian) Religion: 50% are Buddhist 40% are none 5% are Shamanist or Christian 5% are Muslim
Mongolian History Chinggis Khan and later Kubla Khan controlled the world’s largest land empire ever in the 13th Century. The country came under control of China from the 16th Century until 1921.Officially Mongolia became a republic in1924, and that same year declared itself communist. Mongolia was the second declared communist country in the world, after Soviet Russia. The great liberator of Mongolia was named Sukhbaatar. His statue pictured here in SukhbaatarSquare in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar.
МОНГОЛ УЛСЫНThe traditional Mongolian script was centuries old, but was banned during the Soviet era infavor of Cyrillic and now is used only in very formal or traditional settings.
Mongolian HistoryDuring the 1930’s, the country became Stalinist and repressive under Choibalsan, among other things destroying all but two of its Buddhist monasteries and killing an estimated 17,000 monks.Up until 1990, almost one-third of GDPwas direct aid from the Soviet Union.This aid disappeared virtually overnight, and the country now has poverty in ways that it never experienced during the years between 1924 and 1990.
Erdene-Zuu monastery, Xharhorin, site of Karakorum. The monastery was built in1586 using the materials of the old city of Karakourm, Chinggis Khan’s capital.
Erdene-Zuu was one of two monasteries to survive the Soviet purges of the 1930’s.
Gandan Hiid was the other surviving monastery, in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar.The building on the left houses a 60-foot gold-plated statue of Buddha, built in 1995.
Russians call them “yurts,” Mongolians call them “gers.” About half of all Mongolians,including those living in urban areas, live in gers. Stove fuel is usually dried sheep dungand not coal or wood, since forests are few and far between and coal costs money.
The four basic food groups of Mongoliaare mutton, mutton, mutton and mutton.Buuz – mutton dumplingsHoshuur – mutton piesTsoivan – noodles with muttonThe part most loved by Mongolians is thefat of the hindquarters.Food is fuel in Mongolia, and the mostcommon chef’s technique is to boil themutton, throw some salt on it and dinner isserved.Next time you see a Mongolian restaurant,be aware that you’re having Chinese foodby another name.
Naadam – the national holiday of Mongolia in July (sort of like July 4th in the U.S.) One of the three “manly” sports of Naadam is Mongolian wrestling.
Men and women both competein the second “manly” sport ofNaadam, which is archery, butthey compete separately.
By far the most important of the three “manly” sports is horse racing.
All horse racing competitors in the “manly” sport of horse racing are under twelveyears old, and both boys and girls can compete.
My first Peace Corps site was in the city of Sukhbaatar, in the aimag (district, state) ofSelenge, two miles from the border with Russia and the last train stop in Mongolia beforeentering Siberia.
Ovos are atop any sizable hill in Mongolia. The tradition is to walk around them three timesclockwise and make an offering (money, vodka bottle, cow head, whatever is handy).
Almost all agriculture in Mongoliatakes place in the Selenge RiverValley, near where the Selenge andOrkhon Rivers meet. These tworivers flow north into Lake Baikal inSiberia, the world’s largestfreshwater lake.
My second site as a Peace CorpsVolunteer was in a city called Muren,located in the aimag of Huvsgul
Muren is heavily forested, so most stoves usewood instead of coal and dung, which is morecommon in the rest of Mongolia. There is alsocommercial logging in this area, mostly by U.S.-based companies.
I lived in a ger next door to this retired couple picture above.My first Peace Corps assignment was teacher training,which meant language teaching to adult teachers as well ascourses in teaching methodology.My counterpart and best friend was Naraa, the woman inyellow. This is a Tsgaan Sar (Asian new year) party that wehad with an 8th grade class that Naraa and I co-taught.
By horse into eastern Huvsgul for a cave mapping expedition…
Mongolia is 94% ethnic Mongolian in populationHowever, Bayan-Olgii aimag is almost 90% Kazakh (about 5% of the country’s overall population) The first language of mostpeople here is Kazakh, although there are also Uighars and Tuvans in the region Almost all of the Kazakh- Mongolians are Muslim
If you’d like to read more on thisregion, I was the one that got myfriend Louisa the teaching job inthe farthest western village of theentire country, a place calledTsengel, which led to the writingof this book. I make a couple ofcameo appearances. Her book won the inaugural Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize in 2004.
My new Peace Corps job was in the Altai Tavanbogd National Park
Me in my Mongolian riding jacket, with my Mongolian horseThe pack mule ofwestern Mongolia