Sunday, January 13th, 2008
So I haven’t been posting much here lately, and don’t really know when/if I’ll be doing serious writing here again. More likely is the occasional post when I have writing that’s polished enough, or find interesting links etc… (like below). Otherwise, I encourage you to head over to my writing blog, where you can also subscribe to updates and read some of the crazy stuff I’ve been writing. Though that blog is a bit more high-volume than this (at least during the month of January I’ll be posting daily).
Oh, and I guess I have to finish uploading the photos too…
I leave you with some amazing music videos (after the jump):
Sunday, January 6th, 2008
So I’ve posted more photos over at flickr, I’ll keep posting updates as they’re uploaded: http://flickr.com/photos/yule
In other news, I’m now back at Middlebury, taking a class in Creative Nonfiction (we have a class blog) and so am starting a new blog for those writings. I’ll probably still post the more polished pieces over here if they’re relevant, but if anyone’s interested in following my writings more closely, head over to the new blog, Reflections on a Ridiculous Place.
Here’s a little preview to whet your appetite!
Thursday, December 20th, 2007
SO, all you anxiously awaiting photos, here is a quick update… I deleted most of the photos I’d posted on flickr because I’d lost track of which I’d changed offline and had to re-upload, etc… So I’m systematically going through them all and adding tags and descriptions and editing a bunch of them. Then I’ll reupload them. So far I’ve gotten through 2 of the few dozen folders… so I have a ways to go, but they should all be up by XMas at the latest. I’ll also probably be posting a copy of the slideshow I eventually make up, as well as a smaller gallery of choice shots to post directly on this site for easy viewing, since flickr can be kind of overwhelming. But, for now you should be able to see them there.
Thursday, December 20th, 2007
So, I took a short break from preparing a mega-slideshow to show some family friends this weekend to put some of the panoramas up with an interactive full-screen viewer that actually does them justice. Be warned, the images are large (up to 5mb), and loading them takes a while even on a cable connection, but its worth it. Click an image to load the viewer, then click and drag to navigate (pan the ‘camera’), or zoom in/out with shift/control. When you’re sufficiently impressed, pres ESC to exit. There will still be a small viewer at the bottom of the page, which might be a bit smoother if the full screen is too intense for your computer. Then click on the panorama you want to see next to load it full-screen!
So far there are 4 or so up, but I have several more waiting to be uploaded… so check here for updates.
Here’s the link: http://mongolia.yulebomb.net/pano
Thursday, December 20th, 2007
Alright, so I guess treat this as a draft, even though I’ve handed it in already for credit, it’s not really complete. But there’s still some good stuff in there. Here is a link to a pdf version which preserves all my sexilicious typographic manipulations, I’ll post one in HTML as well for online viewing, with some typography preserved.
Here’s the PDF: [US Letter] or [A4]
Changers are traders who emerged during the traumatic early 90’s as an organic answer to Mongolia’s problems of economic disconnectedness, revealed by the collapse of the regional socialist framework. Today, despite more than fifteen
years of transition, they remain a vital piece of the Mongolian economy. Connecting herders to factories and to Chinese merchants, they allow for goods to navigate Mongolia’s notoriously sparse landscape economically.
Focusing on one sub-group: those who trade the livestock by-products skins, hides, wool and cashmere, this paper aims to understand them as a phenomenon: how and why did they emerge? What is their role in today’s Mongolia? How has changing evolved, and will its evolution continue? Is there a place for changing in post-transition Mongolia?
Despite evidence of changing’s transitional “ad-hoc” nature, the institution seems to evolving in step with the economy as a whole. The further up the supply chain one looks, and the more volume a changer processes, the more formal their operations. For now, the vast majority still operates firmly in the informal realm, with little official contracts or business agreements, but the future is far from clear. Changers seem to appreciate the benefits of evolving along with the economy; without such evolution the place for these traders in the future is uncertain.
The paper closes with a look to the future: as factories begin to search for formal contractual arrangements to ensure predictable supply, changing becomes a target for formalization and incorporation. What does this mean for the future of these notoriously individualistic and unorganized traders? Will they cease to be changers?
Monday, December 10th, 2007
So. I’m done. I’m now home (actually, at Middlebury) and dealing with re-entry… but I haven’t really written or posted since the beginning of ISP period. Things went pretty well, though my actual final product (the paper) was less than impressive, since my rather absurdly bad time management/organizational skills (or, rather, lack thereof) conspired to thwart my best efforts at creating a polished piece. So, the paper is less than amazing. And my presentation was pretty good, but I was running on not-much-sleep, and according to my host father, it showed (though he said I shouldn’t listen to him since he’s a pastor, and his standards are pretty high).
Anyways, he filmed a bit of the ISP presentations, which took place on December 1st, from 9am-1pm Mongoliatime at the Ulaanbaatar Hotel; notable guests included several of our lecturers including my advisor, Sukhee, as well as Ambassador Mark Minton and one of his staffers, a former SIT student-turned-fullbrighty who is studying NGO ethics for a thesis in Philosophy, my host family from UB, my host mother from my stay in Arvaikheer (the aimag center of Övörkhangai aimag (province)), who has since been promoted and moved to UB (she’s a judge).
So that’s a quick overview, just enough so I can post some documents for your perusal, before I post the ISP itself (i’ll make it more web friendly first), here is a sexy diagram I spent far too much time on, which illustrates the network of changers and the products they trade:
Friday, November 9th, 2007
With perestroika and the decline of Soviet power in the late 1980’s, Mongolia entered the first period of its post-communist development. This romantic period was a time of hope; Mongolia was to become the next Asian Tiger. Yet with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the halting of related aid money, newly democratic Mongolia was faced with an economic crisis of epic proportions. The fruits of democracy were enjoyed as well; newspapers sprang up, their variety reflecting the budding of Mongolia’s new multi-party democracy. Churches tripped over each other to send missionaries to cultivate her fertile sands, and Buddhism re-entered the public sphere. However, the lack of visible progress led many Mongolians’ to enter into state of now-familiar disillusionment.
Elections brought the young Democrats into power, who hastily implemented an intensely neo-liberal plan to shock the Mongolian economy into complete liberalization. Despite optimistic forecasts from policymakers, the life of the average Mongolian took a serious turn for the worse. Problems that had been forgotten during the times of Stalinist ‘utopia’ ravaged the country. Unemployment, massive inflation (as much as 350%), shortages of essential goods, and an almost complete collapse of the Mongolian economy were among them. Social ills soon followed, with Mongolian males and their fragile egos faring worse that the women; alcoholism and violence, especially, spread amongst the growing population of unemployed young men. Such chaos swept the MPRP back into power, beginning another dark era of de-democratization, though with some economic recovery.
PART II. AWAKENING THE TIGER
Big Brother is watching, don’t say the
Wrong thing, look the Wrong way.
Traditional systems dis-
Integrate. Morals, ethics, freedoms and structures of life on the steppe.
Yet what happens when Big Brother falls?
The veil is lifted, euphoria blossoms;
The image of the Tiger mesmerizes,
Nurtured by romancing Western winds.
Yet change proves illusory, as do the goods
That once lined the oppressive shelves of state-owned stores.
A dissatisfied electorate speaks with their vote;
Old are replaced by new: the heroic Democrats
The electric paddles they hold still drip saliva,
Fresh from the drooling mouths of the waiting West.
With the suavity of a toddler’s first step, they apply the shock;
Sparks fly, illuminating their fresh faces frozen in naïveté and terror.
With the ferocity of a dead fish the Mongolian economy coughs,
Collapsing into torpor.
PART III. THE PERILS OF FREEDOM
With the fall of the soviet-installed communist system, freedom was thrust onto the Mongolian people in every capacity. Suddenly, Mongolians were free to think, worship, vote, move, and work (if they could find a job) as they pleased. Yet with this freedom came an immense individual responsibility, to make it in this new system without the help of the state, a drastic change to say the least. Also, these freedoms came without any tradition—after 70 years of socialism, only a faint memory remains of what came before. Some consequences have been rapid urbanization, pastureland degradation, over-hunting and over-harvesting, and generally unsustainable patterns of development. Where a cohesive state plan once was, is now blind free market, “me first” capitalism.
According to various religious leaders, the economic crisis was, and continues to be accompanied by a moral crisis. Alcoholism, crime, and violence all became endemic, though whether this was due to the abysmal economic conditions and lack of law and order, or the supposed demolition of Mongolian morals by the Soviets is not clear. That the moral structure was destroyed by soviet policies and oppressive moral policing makes sense only if people were truly too scared to think independently (like East Germany with the STAZI). Nonetheless, Mongolians clearly have a dark history behind them, one that must be confronted if they are to move forward, “Here in Mongolia… I think only with dealing with the reality, also admitting what went wrong, they can really find out again what they are, and what they want to be.”
In greatest danger of degeneration by the toxic societal climate are the nation’s young men. Faced with a crisis of national identity, these young men and their already fragile egos must come to terms with the anarchy unfolding around them. The easiest way is to find a scapegoat: the Chinese (and Koreans). Thus groups of young men have formed together under the financial and moral manipulation of powerful politicians, to carry out a campaign of terrorism against foreign-owned businesses and their employees. Powerful messages of militarism from abroad catalyze this transformation. Yet they are just that, pawns of people with money and an agenda.
It is not only the young men who face the new deluge of media imagery from abroad. Where they were once shielded by an overprotective government, Mongolians are now left completely exposed to a barrage of alien culture, “Its not just the lifting of the pressure, it’s the moving of a completely different world, with all the television, with all the Western, European, American values and which come in a completely unrealistic way.”
PART IV. IDENTITY
The Christians say, “Of course! This Beast is Lost,
Searching for the Something more.”
The Mormons wait with their sharp suits and
Clean-cut lines. What happened to that
Which once filled this place? A Buddhism since
Gutted by the years of not-so-subtle stifling;
Banished to a realm of irrelevance. Yet does Christ,
And those who use His name, truly fill this void?
Do the 50% under 25 really know
That to which they subscribe?
Or that over which they passed
To accept this foreign faith?
PART V. POINT OF NO RETURN
“The free market is blind, following it blindly leads to collapse.” –Ganbaatar, CEO Confederation of Mongolian Trade Union
A look around Ulaanbaatar is all one needs to sense anarchic levels of freedom. Buildings sprout from a cement sea like the grass that once grew beneath. Chinese workers scurry about, erecting monuments to the new Lords of the Land: the ?ugrik, the ?on and the ¥uan. Law and order resonates nowhere; the MP’s poaching marmots send a clear message to the rest of their people. The insanity that is traffic in UB reflects this; why obey traffic laws when those who write them show such blatant disregard? Walking the streets, one sees street children begging for food from well-dressed businessmen and politicians as they descend from shiny land-cruisers. The emerging Mongolian middle class makes UB feel like the capital of a much more prosperous country than it is. One need only travel in any direction outside the city center to witness the kilometers and kilometers of families trying to eek out a living in this new system, despite the odds against them.
After 15 years of transition from authoritarian communism to the current ‘democratic’ free-market system, Mongolia is approaching a precipice, a point of no return. Corruption in the highest levels of government breeds corruption in the lower levels. A growing shadow economy, and widespread bribery indicate the financial interests that are developing and becoming entrenched. Perhaps the most frightening development has been the worsening of Mongolia’s elections. Once famous for its quick transition to internationally approved elections, suspicious events during the 2004 elections call such innocence into serious question. Such corruption only worsens existing problems of poverty, unemployment, insufficient infrastructure, growing crime and violence, and especially a pervasive air of lawlessness. While some manage to be optimistic about the future of governance, cynicism seems to be far more pervasive.
In order to secure their future, Mongolians must work through their disillusionment, come to terms with their past take ownership over the present and future of their country. They must take their democratic rights in hand, no matter how tenuous they may feel, and use them to catch the rapidly closing doors of political legitimacy. Only by building a viable civil society movement, with support from the public to keep a stern watchful eye on all aspects of government, does Mongolia stand a chance for a truly sustainable future. Without such a movement, politicians will continue to work for their own interests, and corruption will continue to flourish. The growing symbiotic relationship between government and business will become one of permanence.
PART VI. SURREALITY
The Mongolian cat still bares her humble teeth,
If only in campaign ads.
From her mouth peer politicians: slick suited,
Pockets fleeced with Copper and Gold.
They will reform, herald a new era;
Or so they say. Until then
The youth wander the streets, crackling
With insecurity and xenophobia.
Coal fills the winter air;
Lines form to overpay at ger district water pumps;
Drunks stumble across sidewalks, their bloodshot glassy eyes half-open;
Street children recede to the sewers, watching the world above pass them by.