Interesting flight in. The route led just west of the coast of North Korea, over Korea Bay, North past Beijing and Inner Mongolia. The sky was clear so I could see the expanse of Mongolia's deserts below. We were probably east of the Gobi. Still, the vast expanse of nothing was impressive.
The change in countries from Korea to Mongolia is fairly significant, though the faces around me share a family resemblance, possibly due to a Mongol invasion of the Korean early in the 13th century.
Lots of shifts that go along with a change from the 13th economy in the world to the 140th. More noise, more traffic, more tourists, though still not many. The traffic is horrendous.
A German woman who owns an excellent cafe nearby tells me that when she arrived seventeen years ago there were camels and horses in the streets and traffic was sparse. Now the streets are packed. The cars are more modern than the drivers, many of them Toyota Prius, incongruous as that may sound. Some are right hand drive, some left; traffic signal obedience is optional; horn usage is not. They blare throughout the night. I much prefer Korea's silences, especially at 3 in the morning when most of the arguments outside my building seem to occur.
Litter is generally under control, though I encountered a pothole today worse than any that Albania (previous record holder in the pothole category) could match. You would die if you fell into this pothole. Unmarked, of course.
Enough complaining. There's a lot to enjoy here. No MERS for instance, though death by traffic is a much more likely prospect.
There are some excellent Buddhist sites to visit. Gandan Monastery is close by and I've spent two mornings there just people watching. In one building monks are chanting. In another people come to solicit prayers; another holds an enormous 26 meter tall Buddha. My favorites are the children who chase the pigeons in the courtyard. It must be an universal instinct. Mongolian Buddhism is similar to Tibetan. Several Dalai Lamas were born in Mongolia; and many heads of Mongolian temples are Tibetan.
Two other temple sites nearby were converted to museums during the purges of the 1930's. During this period the population of monks dropped from over 110,000 to less than 5000. Many were executed along with intellectuals while tens of thousands were sent to work in Siberia. Hundreds of monasteries were destroyed. The few that remained were used as showpieces. The Victims of Political Persecution Museum manages to convey what happened without much in the way of modern museum finery such as lights. Skulls with bullet holes in them convey the point quite effectively.
Then, there are the arts. About the time of the Renaissance, a Tibetan lama was producing some innovative art here. Zanabazar wasn't a name I was acquainted with. Ghenghis Khan seems to be the only Mongolian we westerners know about. Zanabazar became the first head lama of the Mongolian Buddhists; he invented the Mongolian alphabet; he pioneered casting bronze statues as a whole (previous technique involved welding separate pieces together.) The statues he created are among the nicest bronzes I've seen. The facial detail is unusually good.
Then there's the Mongolian Drama company. They put on a folklore show. I usually avoid these things but this was quite an enjoyable night. The quality of dancing, music, and production were first rate. If you've never heard throat singing then you should listen to this unique musical form.
That's it from a short Trip to Korea and Mongolia. I'll get on those photos when I get back to the states. I have one more day in Ulaanbaator. I'll spare you the gory details of a day and a half spent flying home.
One final quibble. Travelers here go to ridiculous lengths to avoid acknowledging other travelers. It is as though by avoiding looking at another traveler that somehow you become the only person here. I probably suffered from this condition in earlier decades but now I'm just fine with sharing.