The second weekend here I was invited to a birthday party hosted as a North Korean Party gathering of the comrades. Tracey had just returned from a weeklong tourist trip to the DPRK and the theme of the evening was to honor their "dear leader" She and Graham had tailor made DPRK outfits and mucho slides and pictures to share. These trips are from Beijing and although not cheap are a real adventure even though tourists are not free to roam and talk to anyone other than those approved by the government. Found out that they will even accept American tourists now.
As I was heading back to my apartment after the party I walked past an open manhole and glimpsed light from beneath the ground. Further up the block I saw what appeared to be a half of a teenage girl. When I got closer I realized she was climbing down into a manhole. I had heard stories of the street children who lived underground next to the hot water pipes that kept them from freezing during the frigid Mongolian winters but this is the first time I had actually seen any up close. I would have expected a dirty and threadbare child but her clothes look clean and neat (as far as I could see from a respectful distance). There are orphanages and missions here trying to give these kids a home and an education. I am told that some of them are not really orphans but that their families do not earn enough to support a complete family.
In contrast I was invited to a conference about the effort to create a new "Silicon Valley" high technology area in Ulaanbaatar. A noble idea but the edcuational and technical infrastructure needed to support it is not there yet. Their hope is to attract Mongolians who have been educated and lived overseas to come back and provide the small business community with the skills and attitiudes needed to create new businesses. The big story here is the massive mining wealth just starting to emerge. Whether is turns out to be a blessing or a curse is a big unknown. The mining companies can afford to pay well so are attracting much of the best talent locally available. To be fair the mining companies are often trying to be good corporate citizens but the money they put up for community development often does not filter down to the people it was intended to benefit. Seems Monglolia still has a corruption index of 2.7 and has not improved since last year. This is one of the few places in the world with this kind of upside potential, but will it really happen that way?
One night I was walking home across Sukhbaatar square and found it filled with horses and gers. An interesting contrast where city and countryside overlap. The picture snapped by Jim on his way to work the next morning juxtaposes the Modern facade of the Parliament building (today/tomorrow) with statues of Chinggis Khan and General Sukhbaatar (history) with the herders/horsemen of the countryside (past/present/future)