Thursday, August 23, 2012

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Earlier this month, during the Japanese holiday of Obon I made my first trip to Ulaanbaatar (UB), the capital city of Mongolia.  To get to Mongolia I had to transit through Korea at Incheon airport before flying on to UB.
Above is a photo of the information desk near the luggage pickup area at the UB airport.  Typically when I travel to a country I try to exchange some money for the currency of the place I'm going to visit.  Mongolia is the first place I have visited that I was unable to get money for before landing, both in Japan and Korea.  So I walked up to the information desk above and asked where can I exchange some money for Mongolian dollars.  The person behind the desk pulled out a little tin-box and asked how much?  I'm used to passing money though quarter inch glass to get money.  More funny, after the exchange I had over a half million Mongolian dollars on my person... It would not all fit in my wallet, not really that much though.
UB is not a huge city but it's the largest city in Mongolia.  Above is Sukhbaatar Square, in the background is the Mongolian Government Palace... This square kind of reminds me of Tiananmen Square or Zocalo Square.

In the center of Sukhbaatar Square, these lions keep safe another statue of a solder on a horse.
Above is a closer view of Government Palace, that is a statue of Genghis Khan in the center of the palace.  All over UB is statues, below is Joseph Stalin  Lenin.  It turns out this in Lenin, and this was the last statue of Lenin in Ulaanbaatar. Since the time I visited Mongolia the mayor of UB has had this statue removed.
 Not far from Stalin is Marco Polo.  Back-in-the-day he traveled through Mongolia too.
Mongolian's like the Beatles too (and Rihanna).  Many cafe's were playing Beatles music.
Most of the year Mongolia is frozen and during the summer construction is everywhere.  And you really have to be careful when walking, many sidewalks are torn up and many manhole covers are removed with no fence around them.  No walking around looking at your smart phone!
Back in the 30's a communists government suppressed religious communities and destroyed many temples, but the temples that survived are beautiful. The main religion here is Buddhism but I talked a monk about this and he said Mongolia is very tolerant.
Below is the Migjed Janraisig Monastery, today a symbol of independence for Mongolian's.
This statue of buddha was built in 1996, it's inside the Migjed Monastery.  The original statue was destroyed by the communists in 1938.
As you walk away from the monastery you get an idea of how large it is.
Below is the Choijin Lama Temple, not far from Sukhbaatar Square.  For some reason, all the temples that have a lawn, the lawn is not well taken care of.
Below is the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan, the emperor of Mongolia use to live here.
Today it's a museum decided to the last emperor. 
UB also has many monuments that hail back to the USSR, below is the Zaisan Memorial, this honors Soviet solders killed in WWII.  
Inside the circle is a great tile mural showing great moments in Soviet history. 
You can see the old-school hammer and sickle on top of the monument.
But at the base of the communist monument is a statue of Buddha and next to Buddha is a commercial development.
The only American chain-style restaurant in Mongolia is BD's Mongolian BBQ (no Starbucks, McDonalds or anything else).  I did not eat here but did walk by it a few times.  One of the most funny things I saw was a line of Mongolian's outside of BD's Mongolian's BBQ waiting for it to open.  The bar under BD's is American Cafe Detroit.  Nightly, Detroit was empty which makes no sense, the logo is Shut Up, Just Drink!.
Ironically, Genghis Khan did propose one good solution to today's financial crisis, the note below that starts with: Whoever takes goods (on credit) and becomes....
Traffic and infrastructure in UB is bad.  It's difficult to describe but many roads are torn up and missing and where roads do exist, it's basically potholes everywhere.  People drive where ever necessary to get around the pot holes.
UB basically has two main road going in and out of the city.  Below is the tool gate for entering UB from the east.  The sign above the toll booth says Ulaanbaatar.

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