More positive news from Mongolia. As this report from the BBC indicates, it's been a hard winter for the country, with intense cold and protests on the streets, but perhaps now, to coin a phrase, things can only get better.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Monday, April 5, 2010
There's not been a lot of good news coming out of Mongolia over recent months, but I thought I'd draw your attention to a typically intriguing story from the always-reliable UB Post. These are people who will literally bend over backwards to entertain you.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Excellent coverage from today's Sunday Telegraph on the devastating impact of Mongolia's harsh winter. Perhaps surprisingly for the Sunday Telegraph, the article suggests that the impact of the natural disaster has perhaps been exacerbated by the country's move away from its former 'Soviet-inspired co-operative agriculture system' towards market-driven reforms.
I was particularly struck by the description of one herder:
'Baavankhon worships the land that sustains him, making offerings to a sacred mountain but in recent years, he says, people have been cutting firewood from the holy places; just one example of how the ancient compact with nature has been broken in modern Mongolia.'
Monday, March 15, 2010
Another account of this year's devastating winter in Mongolia. As the article says, this is the country's second successive dzud - a harsh winter after a dry summer - and the impact on livestock and herders has been incalculable.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
In the UK, we have to contend with the private lives of footballers John Terry and Ashley Cole. In Mongolia, they have the champion Sumo, Asashoryu. I've written about Asashoryu and his (substantially) larger than life antics before, but the latest news is that Asashoryu has dramatically quit Sumo.
Some have claimed that his decision to quit the sport followed a 'drunken brawl' in which Asashoryu allegedly broke another man's nose. Asashoryu himself has now denied this, and claims darkly that he was the victim of a conspiracy which forced him out before he could break the record for the number of Emperor's Cup victories.
Whatever the truth, the key question is what the ever-entertaining Asashoryu will do next. This highly entertaining article suggests some possibilities, but this piece from Bloomberg suggests a rather duller future in, um, investment banking.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
I've discussed previously the very harsh winter that Mongolia has endured this year, and its devastating impact on people and lifestock. Here's a piece from the Economist blog about the immediate and longer term impact on the nomadic herdsmen who still comprise a substantial proportion of Mongolia's population.
Monday, January 25, 2010
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
A few days of snow recently brought the UK to a predictable halt, and in this neck of the woods we had temperatures of -17 degrees C, which seemed more than cold enough for me. Spare several thoughts, then, for Mongolia which is currently experiencing a particularly ferocious winter, even by its own extreme standards. The UB Post reports that:
"The average temperature in northern Mongolia has dropped to -35 degrees Celsius, with temperatures in the rest of country ranging between-17 to -22 degrees Celsius. So far, the coldest temperature of -47 degrees was recorded in Uvs Province. ... According to estimates by the Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), a total of 786,639 heads of livestock have perished. ...The total loss of livestock is approximately 17 per cent of the estimated 43.6 million heads of livestock in the country. Some five people died during a recent snowstorm."
Pretty dreadful. The Mongolian Government has initiated a large-scale relief campaign, estimating that around 120000 are affected by the conditions. By contrast, our few blocked roads seem very small beer.
Friday, January 15, 2010
So far, most of my Mongolian murderers have managed to evade criminal justice, one way or another. However, I'm delighted to see that President Tsakhia Elbegdorj has announced a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in Mongolia.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Technology is a wonderful thing. It means, for example, that I can update this blog from pretty much wherever I am. Unfortunately, it also means that where I currently am is sitting on a stationary train somewhere outside London because of a snow-inspired power failure.
Still, that's given me the opportunity to scan the news from Mongolia so that you don't have to. I'm not sure that I've ever fully understood the concept of 'brand' (and, no, I wouldn't like you to explain, thanks all the same). But I'm sure you'll be pleased to know that two Mongolian beer brands, Fusion and Borgio, have taken the gold and silver awards at the 2009-2010 World's Largest Beverage Competition. I presume that means it's the world's largest competition in this particular field, rather than a cometition for the world's largest beverage, attractive as that idea might sound as I sit here on a motionless train. The two Mongolian beers were apparently beaten only by the splendidly named US wheat beer, Son of a Peach. I note also that China took the gold award for water (yes, I know) for a product called L'Ice, which possibly sounds better in Chinese. At a more chauvinistic level, I was delighted to see that England took the platinum award for tea (what else?) with Stress Test Earl Grey Blend,. narrowly beating China's Organic Panda Orange. No, I still don't understand the concept of 'brand', I'm afraid.
Mind you, the highlighted comments of the award judges are a source of delight. They range from the hyperbolic - 'madness is an understatement to this flavor explosion!' - to the possibly backhanded 'a very pleasant surprise awaits you with this vintage', with a particular fondness for puns that don't quite work. For instance, Greenall's Bloom gin is described as offering: 'A BLOOM of flavor; certain to catch the eye of Gin lovers everywhere!'. Come again?
Saturday, January 2, 2010
A slightly belated but heart-felt happy new year. Here are some splendid images of Mongolians preparing to celebrate the first sunrise of the year.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Interesting article from the Wall Street Journal about the uneasy relationship between Mongolia and China (one of the themes of The Outcast, as it happens), highlighting the growing influence of the latter over the former. Alongside that, though, here's a piece from the Moscow Times suggesting that Mongolia might become the world's fastest growing economy over the next few years. It's unlikely that Mongolia's relationship with its two nearest neighbours is going to become any more comfortable...
Friday, December 11, 2009
Mongolian food doesn't usually get the best press, but here's a report from the UB Post on the rather wonderful buuz, which are, in the words of the article, 'delicious steamed dumplings... made with mutton or beef and onion mince'. I'm feeling hungry just reading it.
And, by the way, in advance of the mass market US edition of The Shadow Walker (out in Spring 2010), it's nice to get a passing mention in Alex Remington's Huffington post blog.
Friday, November 13, 2009
The ghost of the Communist era lurks behind all the Nergui books, most notably in The Outcast. In this week of events recalling the fall of the Berlin Wall, it's perhaps chastening to remember just what a strange world it sometimes was. Here's an intriguing piece by Australian ABC News's Mark Colvin which, as well as recalling the unique flavour of Soviet humour, also mentions his own experiences of visiting his father, a former British Ambassador to Mongolia (not, I should add, the entirely fictional one who is featured in The Shadow Walker).
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Apologies - I've been a little quieter than planned on here lately, just because various other commitments have been taking up my time. I'll try to make up for it over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, here are a couple of stories relating to Mongolia. The first is an interesting overview of the Mongolian media scene from the South African Independent On-Line. The second story isn't really about Mongolia at all, but I draw it to your attention only because the journalist for the Times, the paper of record, appears to think that Mongolia is part of China.
Oh, and you may recall that a few weeks ago I mentioned a proposed expedition in search of the legendary Mongolian death-worm. You've no doubt all been on the edge of your seats wondering how that turned out. I'm pleased to report that the intrepid explorers came back safely, but the evidence for the creature's existence still seems rather inconclusive...
Monday, July 27, 2009
I've long been intrigued by the notion of the Mongolian death worm, if only because it sounds more the stuff of horror movies than, say, Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. Now two New Zealanders have embarked on a quest to try to track down the fabled creature which supposedly haunts the Gobi Desert. According to this splendidly straight-faced report of their expedition (though I note that the story is categorised under 'entertainment'), the worm 'jumps out of the sand and kills people by spitting concentrated acid or shooting lightning from its rectum over long distances'. Which, you must admit, is quite a trick.
I wish them well. As it happens, I'm up to Loch Ness in a couple of weeks so perhaps we'll be able to exchange photographs on my return...
Friday, July 24, 2009
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Adrian Bridge in The Daily Telegraph has been in Mongolia, doing largely the standard tourist things, but provides an entertaining account nonetheless. Mind you, I think he was misled if he thinks that airag contains 'dry wine' (here's a more accurate description). And that headline pun is wince-inducing even by my standards.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
The always entertaining Mike Ripley has recently caused a minor stir by referring, perhaps a mite disparagingly, to the 'love affair between Nordic crime and the chattering classes'. Whether or not the very talented Mr Ripley has a point (and I think he's right that the focus on Scandinavian crime fiction has caused some other excellent translated fiction to be overlooked), it occurred to me that, if I were so inclined, this story might give me the chance to jump on the bandwagon.
In brief, a Mongolian silver crown stolen in 1984 from a Stockholm museum has been found in the police headquarters in the city, after some twenty years in what's described as 'accidental storage'. The museum chief Anders Björklund is quoted as saying: "We would like to thank the national police service for housing the silver Mongolian crown for such a long time." I can't help thinking that there might have a been a touch of irony in his tone.
Monday, June 29, 2009
...But possibly not quite the space you might expect.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
An interesting and optimistic account from the Huffington Post of the inauguration of Mongolia's newly elected president, Elbegdorj. The author, Ming Holden, concludes that 'those who are watching Mongolia at this point in its history [are left] enthusiastic, impressed, and hopeful'.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
I've written before about the impact of the economic downturn on Mongolia. Here's a piece from Reuters, which paints a fairly gloomy picture of the damage inflicted by the recession on the country and its people. On the other hand, here's some more positive economic news for the country, and even the IMF seems moderately optimistic.
Friday, May 29, 2009
After George Bush, newly-elected Mongolian President Ts.Elbegdorj becomes another victim of shoe throwing. The perpetrator, one E.Delgermurun, explained (and I use the word very loosely): “I was drunk and at one point I had to throw my shoes. I did not have any intentions. Just wanted to throw. When President George W.Bush visited Iraq, he was thrown a shoe as well.” It sounds as if he might have intended the shoes as a gift. In any case, he presumably found that his escape was rather hindered...
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Given the problematic state of the UK's finances, here's an initiative that Gordon Brown might consider adopting...
I'm afraid that it was news to me that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (or PETA, as we all know them) run a 'world's sexiest vegetarian' competition. But, given that they do, I'm pleased to see that Mongolian singer Nominjin is in the running for the Asian title. And, if you think I've posted this story only so I could use the headline above, well, you could be right.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
I've so far managed to avoid eating in a Subway sandwich bar, but I understand that its competitive pricing is going down well in the recession. Certainly, they seem to be intent on occupying every spare inch of retail space across the world. It doesn't look as if they've quite reached Ulaan Bataar yet, but some enterprising souls have got there first.
Friday, April 3, 2009
This article, from the Wall Street Journal, tells you pretty much everything you want to know about the life of a Western business traveller in Ulaan Bataar. Doesn't sound too bad to me.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Apologies for the radio silence on here for the last week or so. My excuse is that I'm working hard on finishing a new (non-Nergui) novel. The good news, for me at least, is that I've got the first draft almost finished so I'll soon be able to start thinking about other things again.
In the meantime, I was intrigued by the news that Mongolia is looking at passing a Freedom of Information Act. I've written quite a lot in the novels about the impact of the country's secretive Communist past on its democratic present and, as the UB Post article points out, a move towards full disclosure would be a significant cultural step. The article concludes that progress towards introducing greater freedom of information 'will depend on how badly the nation’s politicians...want information in Mongolia to be freely accessible'. And, I guess, on how much they have to hide.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
I've written a lot in the novels about fictional corruption of various kinds in Mongolia. In reality, the country has been taken some very active steps to combat corruption in recent years, and I was interested to see this piece about international advisers providing support to the authorities within Mongolia. Come to think of it, Marcelo and Kwok makes a pretty good name for a crime-busting duo...
Thursday, March 5, 2009
I'm sure some enterprising PhD student has already done it, but it's always seemed to me that the prevailing nationality and characteristics of villains in Hollywood movies would make an interesting socio-political study. For a while they were predominantly (if ill-definedly) European, which provided solid work for the likes of Alan Rickman and Stephen Berkoff. More recently, and probably unsurprisingly, they've tended to be more of a Russian or Middle-Eastern persuasion (though still, in many cases, played by the cream of British character actors).
Now, though, Mongolia-Web claims to have identified a new trend - the Mongolian villain. Although, as they rightly point out, the chap in the picture looks rather less Mongolian even than Stephen Seagal.
Oh, and I should just mention that if any enterprising Hollywood producer wants to jump on this bandwagon and is looking for books stacked full of Mongolian villains, well, I can think of just the series...
Monday, February 16, 2009
I've written here before (as well as in the novels) about Mongolia's strong, if sometimes problematic, sense of national identity. I was interested to see, therefore, that money has recently been allocated to establish a new History Museum of the Mongolian State.
A more worrying depiction of one particular strand of Mongolian nationism is provided by Kirril Shields's recent discussion of right-wing and neo-Nazi groups in Ulaan Bataar. Their goals and ideology sound confused and half-baked, but the trend is a worrying one, particularly as, like the rest of the world, Mongolia is facing harder economic times.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
It wasn't a deliberate reference on my part, but one or two reviewers have noted some similarities in personality between Nergui and Tony Hillerman's Navajo policeman, Joe Leaphorn. I'm flattered by the comparison, of course. But this UB Post article on Mongolia's alcohol problems suggests that the similarities may not be entirely coincidental. In the course of a discussion about whether alcoholism is determined more strongly by ethnicity than by demographics, Loring Brace, an Anthropology professor at the University of Michigan, is quoted as stating that Mongolian’s closest genetic link is to the Navajo Tribe. I don't know whether that's true, though I'm aware of theories suggesting that Native Americans may be descended from Asian peoples who migrated across the Bering Strait land bridge during the Ice Age. But it's nice to think that there might be a link between these two rather enigmatic detectives.
Elsewhere, the UB Post provides a fascinating account of Mongolia's forthcoming national holiday, Tsagaan Sar or the white month, which celebrates the beginning of spring. Tsagaan Sar is a festival of white foods such as dairy products and rice (as the picture above demonstrates), and involves a range of intriguing rituals. I was particularly taken with the ceremony of 'Muruu gargakh' or 'Starting your footprints'. This is based on the principle that starting your life in the right direction will bring luck for the year to come - and we could all do with a bit of that in these dark times.
Monday, February 2, 2009
I sit here writing in the midst of winter weather that seems positively Mongolian, though rather milder and damper (Ulaan Bataar is currently sunny, I believe, but overnight temperatures drop below -20). This is apparently the UK's worst snowfall for 20 years and inevitably much of the country has ground to a halt.
It's a little while since I provided any Mongolian snippets, I should draw your attention to a piece that appeared on the BBC website over the weekend, exploring the growth of Christianity in the country. Meanwhile, true to form, the UB Post provides a story that you just couldn't make up.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
I don't know anything about Kirril Shields except that over the past year he (?) has been writing various articles for the UB Post. During that time, he's contributed a series of idiosyncratic restaurant reviews which have become one of my favourite on-line reads. The reviews have been terrific - mainly because of Shields' witty enthusiasm in the face of even the most unpromising cuisine.
Shields is now back off to his native Australia, apparently, but as a parting gift he leaves us with one final column, highlighting what he believes to be the best eating and drinking available in Ulaan Bataar. Blessed is the Italian cheesemakerParavicini, for example, alongside the German brewer who oversees the Chinggis Brewery (which gets a passing mention in The Outcast, incidentally), the North Korean restaurant, Los Banditos, and Sacher's and Anandas cafes. Perhaps not a great haul compared with many cities, but, as Nergui notes in The Shadow Walker, the Mongolians are a nation of warriors, not chefs.
Still, Shields has made the best of it and I'll miss his contributions. One of the attractions of his writing is that it's often not easy to spot where the serious reviewing stops and the jokes creep in. What do we make, for example, of a cheesemaker appearing in The Mousetrap?
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Every now and then, the ever-fascinating UB Post takes me through the looking glass. In this case, it's a looking glass held to the back of my head, as the Post introduces us, in a quite extraordinary interview, to J.Dovchinsuren, Head of the Association of Mongolian Hairdressers and Beauticians. I didn't even know there was such a word as 'cosmetologist', but now I know better.
Mr Dovchinsuren has some interesting, possibly even unique, opinions - for example that hairdressing is 'as responsible a job as a doctor, because hairdressers are in constant contact with people’s heads'. He also provides a remarkable insight into what was really going on behind the Iron Curtain:
"During the Socialist period, I designed many hairstyles which I took patents for. At that time, there was a special ministry for giving patents. My design named “Zolboo” has its own patent. But now the ministry doesn’t exist anymore, and people are no longer seeking patents for individual hairstyles."
If, like me, you've had a few travel problems this week as a result of the UK's tendency to grind to a screeching halt in the face of half a centimetre of snow, spare a thought for the plight of Poland's President Lech Kaczynski
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Just to prove that, when it comes to crime fiction in Ulaan Bataar, Nergui isn't quite the only game in town...
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
The UB Post publishes another of those stories that make my head spin slightly. This one concerns Luigi Kapaj, a computer programmer based in New York, who has founded the Silver Horde, a historical reenactment group that focuses exclusively on the Mongol Empire. He has named himself Gulugjab Tangghudai, or Grand Khaan, in homage to Mongolia’s favorite son. As the article rightly points out, "few history buffs have realized Chinggis Khaan’s entertainment value". Not until now, at any rate.
The Silver Horde is part of the wonderfully-named Society for Creative Anachronism, which is apparently "a global organization that advocates the study and recreation of medieval and Renaissance European cultures and histories". Kapaj's goal, he says, to "promote knowledge and understanding of the Mongol culture and dispel misapprehensions of Mongolian warriors as barbarians". Which sounds like a nobel objective for a fascinating enterprise.
I've been rather quiet for the last week or so, ffor a variety of dull reasons, so I hope you'll also forgive my taking this opportunity just to give you a gentle reminder that The Outcast is now out in the UK, available from all half-decent bookstores. Rather pleasingly, it was J Kingston Pierce's pick of last week in January magazine.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Friday, October 3, 2008
The always-entertaining Harry Pearson writes in The Guardian about the current domination of Sumo by non-Japanese, including the Mongolian champion, Asashoryu (who appears, by and large, to live up to Peter Rozovsky's interpretation of his name). Pearson thinks that the state of Sumo is eerily reminiscent of the English Premier League (soccer, that would be, for the non-Brits). I think you'd be staring at Asashoryu for a long time before you thought of Didier Drogba or Robinho.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Friday, September 19, 2008
I've written before, both on here and in the books, about the expansion of Christianity into Mongolia, and here's an interesting article from the San Francisco Chronicle on the subject. Opinions seem to be divided, perhaps predictably, about whether the apparent expansion of Christianity is the result of evangelical indoctrination or practical good works. Nevertheless the trend is undeniable, and is further evidenced by this artlcle from the Indian Catholic about the first Mongolian to join a seminary.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Monday, September 8, 2008
I've written in both The Shadow Walker and The Adversary (and indeed in the forthcoming The Outcast) about the problems of alcoholism in Mongolia. Here's a very interesting and well-balanced article from UB Post about the issue - dealing with its history, the impact of the Soviet Union and some more positive signs for the future.
The historical material is fascinating. I was particularly struck by the 13th century Ikh Zasag Law of the Great Mongol Empire: "In case a person arrives drunk at a workplace, first time impose a fine of a weapon he’s carrying with himself, second time impose the fine of a horse he’s riding, third time cut off an extremity of the body. If a fourth time, expel him out of the territory." I was also impressed by the account of Chinggis Khaan’s son, Uguude who responded to a strict observance of only three cups of alcohol per day by the simple expedient of creating a giant cup. According to the Secret History of the Mongols, he subsequently died of an alcohol related disease. A lesson for emperors everywhere.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
A while ago, I was contacted by Peter Weinig, who is one of the founders of a company called Blue Bandana which runs activity expeditions and holidays in Mongolia. Peter also distributes and sells Mongolia-related merchandise, and was keen to obtain some copies of the books for distribution in Mongolia itself.
I'm pleased to say that, despite the inevitable costs and difficulties of transporting goods into Mongolia, he's succeeded in selling some copies out there and now has plans to import some more. Blue Bandana is a very interesting company, not only for its commercial activities but also for its community work within Mongolia. I'd recommend a visit to their highly informative website. They even have an expedition guide called Nergui, though I should emphasise that any similarities to my character are entirely coincidental!
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Yet another entry in the 'stranger than fiction' file. I recall that, during a visit to Mongolia in the early 1990s, a member of our tour party, an amateur geologist, rather naively packed a small sample of Gobi sand in a plastic envelope as a souvenir. The envelope was discovered and confiscated at the airport. Initially, we wondered whether the officials had suspected the white powder to be something other than sand - but then we realised that their true concerns related to mineral data being taken out of the country without authority.
Clearly, given Mongolia's vast mineral potential, this remains a major worry. This recent UB Post story describes recent instances of smuggling - gold, mineral data and - most bizarrely - petrified wood.
Monday, August 18, 2008
One of the challenges of writing crime fiction is that, all too quickly, the real world tends to overtake you. As reported in the UB Post, the latest developments following Mongolia's recent elections certainly sound disturbingly like the opening scenes of a crime novel. It remains to be seen whether a real-life Nergui will emerge to take on the case.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Friday, July 11, 2008
Most of the news coming out of Mongolia at the moment seems to be concerned with political tensions and civil unrest (here's a very comprehensive and apparently balanced account from Mongolia Web).
But, by contrast, here's a more positive story from the New York Times about a young jockey. Though I'm not sure whether to be pleased or depressed that the influence of Manchester United stretches even to Mongolian 13 year olds.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
In the Publishers Weekly interview (see last posting), I mentioned that some incidents and themes that I thought I'd fictionalised or exaggerated in The Shadow Walker had subsequently been reflected in real iife events in Mongolia. Having just finished editing The Outcast, which deals in part with political activism and potential civil unrest, I was disturbed to see that, following its recent general election, Mongolia has responded to violence on the streets by declaring its first ever state of emergency. The problems have been described as the 'teething troubles of a young democracy'. Let's hope so.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
You'll probably be aware by now of the three Mongolian manly sports of archery, horse-riding and wrestling. But you've possibly never heard of the sport of ankle-bone shooting. If not, this article from the ever-enlightening UB Post will tell you everything you need to know.
Meanwhile, elsewhere on the sports front, there seems to be nothing to stop the global expansion of football (that would be soccer to any US readers). As over here we wend our way into the latter stages of the European Championships, out east the Mongolian Premier League has just kicked off.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
We Brits seem to have exported our perhaps not entirely enviable reputation for pre-nuptial drinking and carousing to most of the known world, but Mongolia had largely escaped. Until now.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
In her entertaining book, Wild West - Travels in the New Mongolia, Jill Lawless comments that 'In contrast to the season's symbolism is most countries, spring in Mongolia is the season of death, a time for herders to watch the sky and worry'.
If one doubted her words, the reports of this week's devastating snow storms in the east of the country provide ample demonstration of Mongolia's uniquely arduous climate.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
The relationship between Mongolia, its immediate neighbours and the West was one theme of The Shadow Walker, and it's a subject I've returned to, in a different guise, in the forthcoming third Nergui book, The Outcast.
But those relationships continue to change and develop, bringing new tensions and new opportunities. Here and here are a couple of interesting perspectives - the latter particularly interesting for its discussion of Genghis Khan's largely-unheralded role as the father of democracy...
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Mongolia was never a good place to be a vegetarian, as our friend, the children's author Anne Rooney, will attest. During her visit, I think she subsisted mainly on slightly green tomatoes. But things are obviously changing, as this review of a new vegetarian restaurant demonstrates.
Monday, May 12, 2008
Ulaan Bataar is apparently a 'sister city' to Denver, Colorado. I'm just wondering whether this creates opportunities for a Mongolian version of South Park.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
I do occasionally worry that Western popular culture is slowly corrupting the world...
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
I wrote in The Shadow Walker about the growing numbers in Mongolia abandoning the nomadic lifestyle for life in the city. Here's an interesting piece from Transitions Online, a Czech journal covering developments in the post-communist countries. It reports that 'hundreds of thousands of Mongolians...have been forced to abandon their nomadic herding life for an urban existence in recent years, crowding into Ulaanbaatar, which has doubled its population in less than 20 years.'
The author adds that 'half of Mongolia's nearly 3 million people now live in the country's capital and other provincial centers', and links the changes to global warming as well as to social, economic and political developments in the country. And the dzud, in case you were wondering, are the 'fierce winter blizzards that sometimes cripple the country'. The report recounts the story of Namdag, a herder, who 'once owned more than 100 horses, sheep, cows and camels. He lost 90 percent of his animals in the devastating dzud of 1999 and is now jobless. "Only the camels survived," he says.'
And yet some are keen to continue the nomadic life. One herder Baasanjav is quoted as saying: "I'm not giving up this life...It makes me happy to be out here", adding that: "It's important that our children continue this tradition."
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
There's been a growing controversy in recent months about the Mongolian government's handling of the country's mineral assets. As always, of course, much depends on your perspective. Within Mongolia, some would argue that, if anything, the government should be doing much more to protect the country's interests (a topic I'll be touching on, incidentally, in the next Nergui book, The Outcast).
Elsewhere, particularly in the US and Canada, some see the government's recent actions as worrying signs of a drift away from the kinds of 'Western' values that Mongolia has espoused since the collapse of the Soviet Union. This view has been succinctly expressed in a full page advertisement in the Wall Street Journal by the The Center for Individual Freedom - apparently a 'Constitutional and free-market advocacy organization with more than 250,000 supporters and activists' across the US - calling on George Bush and Condoleezza Rice to 'Send a Clear Message to Mongolia: Eliminate Corruption and Protect Private Property - Or Risk Losing U.S. Foreign Aid.'
As always, the full truth appears to be more complex than these partisan views might suggest - a not unfamiliar mix of principle, self/national interest and realpolitik. Here's a fascinating account from Mongolia Web which summarises the original controversy, and then includes a highly detailed refutation (and I think it's detailed enough to count as a genuine refutation) by one Mendbayar Nyambuu. Judge for yourselves.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Mongolia isn't traditionally known for its fine dining. But it is now increasingly possible to find decent food, as this review from the UB Post indicates (although, as the writer admits, 'for foreigners the idea of lamb's head is less appealing').
Monday, April 21, 2008
...And here's a review of 'The Wonder of Mongolian Contortion' which I think speaks for itself. Or, at least, I can't think of anything I'd want to add.
As I've mentioned once or twice before, writers like Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson and John Connolly have opportunities to indulge their musical taste through recondite musical references in their books. I have little chance to do this because Mongolian taste in popular music tends to be - well, idiosyncratic. Here's another example, a review from the UB Post of the band Nuans. I've not heard Nuans, but, on the strength of this review, I want to.
'Have you ever anticipated what a bunch of sappy pop hits would sound like if given the opera treatment in Mongolia by a trio of gentlemen?' asks the reviewer. Well, no, since you ask. But it's difficult to resist the idea of a band whose repertoire ranges from Ave Maria to Abba, or from the opera Carmen to Eric Carmen.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
From the Daily Telegraph, a review by Simon Sebag Montefiore of James Palmer's The Bloody White Baron, a biography of the extraordinary Baron Ungern-Sternberg - rightly described by Sebag Montefiore as a 'meteoric nutter'. Ungern-Sternberg's story is concisely summarised in the book's synopsis:
'Roman Ungern von Sternberg was a Baltic aristocrat, a violent, headstrong youth posted to the wilds of Siberia and Mongolia before the First World War. After the Bolshevik Revolution, the Baron - now in command of a lethally effective rabble of cavalrymen - conquered Mongolia, the last time in history a country was seized by an army mounted on horses. He was a Kurtz-like figure, slaughtering everyone he suspected of irreligion or of being a Jew.' Unsurprisingly, his reign was short-lived.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Thursday, April 10, 2008
And on an even more surreal note, I had to check that this story wasn't published on 1 April. It wasn't, so one has to presume that it's true. And it leaves me wondering whether Democratic Party member E.Bat-Uul, referenced in the article, became an enthusiast for the Fab Four because of his name, or whether he changed his name to reflect his enthusiasm.
Sunday, April 6, 2008
Sorry - been a little quiet on here over the last couple of weeks, partly because I've been away for a week enjoying the rural splendors of Herefordshire. A perfect opportunity to catch up on the latest Merrily Watkins book, The Fabric of Sin, by my Quercus stablemate, the excellent Phil Rickman. I've been saving up this one since it's also partly about another enthusiasm of mine, M R James, and it seemed right to read it while staying in Ms Watkins's home territory. And quite superb it is, possibly the best in the series to date, which is saying something. Last Friday, because I had to catch an early train to London, I ended up walking through the fog-bound streets of historic Ledbury at 6.30am - which would have been an atmospheric enough experience even without the book fresh in my mind.
Meanwhile, the political world trundles on with consequences great and small. Here's one of the smaller ones. The last sentence perhaps gives a clue as to why Mongolia should share some fellow-feeling with Monaco.
Friday, March 21, 2008
The governments of Mongolia, India and the Philippines have been ordered to pay $57.6million in property taxes to New York City. The New York Senator, Charles Schumer, has proposed withholding the outstanding payments from any aid given by the US Government to these countries. He is quoted as saying: "When these deadbeat diplomats refuse to pay millions in taxes, we continue to send them aid. It doesn't make sense."
Public responses to the issue have been predictably mixed. I won't add my opinion, except to say that I suspect London's mayor, Ken Livingstone - whose language can be as colourful as Schumer's - may be watching with some interest...
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Thursday, March 13, 2008
We really do seem to be living in an increasingly global society. We've grown accustomed to the growing number of Eastern Europeans in the UK, and it appears that in turn the Czech Republic is now becoming home to an increasing number of Mongolians. Sadly, accordingly to the Czech newspaper Pravo, a growing number of these visitors are falling victim to fraud. The newspaper suggests that 'it is relatively easy to cheat Mongolians, because many of them are dewy-eyed.' Which, in this case, appears to be a synonym for 'honest'.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Some time ago, the Daily Express, taking a momentary break from its more usual coverage of the late Princess Diana, reported on Brits buying second homes in Mongolia. I was a little sceptical at the time, but I should have known better than to doubt the Express. Belatedly, the Financial Times is now following up the story.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
I'm sure you've just been waiting to read about the first Mongolian human beatbox, one B.Narandelger, helpfully known simply as Ray. Ray's previous achievements include combining traditional throat singing with the harmonica, which is perhaps not something the world really needed, though apparently people in South Korea admired it very much.
The article also contains an intriguing, if slightly unconvincing, history of human beatboxing. Apparently, the tradition is thought to have originated in India several thousand years ago but - in case you were wondering - this had 'little relation with hip hop'. Rather more startlingly, the article then suggests that 'one could conclude that beatboxing was invented by...Syd Barrett'. The late Mr Barrett was doubtless a remarkable talent, but I suspect that this might have been news even to him. In fact, the article concludes,'his style of beatboxing was dissimilar from what one today would compare beatboxing with'. Well, quite.
But never fear. The future of beatboxing is safe, because Ray has already founded the Union of Mongolian Beatboxing Artists. I look forward to attending their inaugural meeting. Just don't ask me to take the minutes.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Here's a splendidly atmospheric account of a hunt for dinosaurs in the Gobi. Sadly, Daniel Wood found none, but he stumbled across plenty of other riches...
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Very interesting account from the UB Post of the recent Mongolian celebration of Tsagaan Sar or White Moon, the lunar new year holiday. The report describes President Enkhbayar's visit to Megjid Janraisag Temple at the Gandan Monastery, the center of Mongolian Buddhism, to pray for the well-being of the nation in the upcoming year - the Year of Earth Rat. The President commented, perhaps slightly opaquely: “Destined man saw the Year of the Rat, as the Mongols say from the ancient times. The Year of Rat is the one that heads the 12-year cycle of the lunar calendar. I strongly believe that the new year will bring happiness to all of us.” Speaking as someone born in a previous Year of the Rat, I hope he's right.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Friday, February 8, 2008
Here's an interview with Yondon Otgonbayar, The General Secretary of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, offering a fascinating perspective on the current state of play in Mongolia in respect of, well, anything you might care to name. Including mobile phones.
Monday, February 4, 2008
I'm no doubt you've all been asking yourselves quite how the current economic jitters are likely to affect Mongolia. Well, here's the answer.
And sorry it's been a bit quiet on here lately. I've been dutifully working away on the latest draft of The Outcast, and the good news (for me, at least) is that I've just delivered the manuscript to Peter, my agent, and to Nic at Quercus. So I can now take a short breather until the revisions start...
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Taken from the US Overseas Security Advisory Council, this splendid report tells you pretty much everything you need to know (and quite possibly some things you don't) about how to avoid crime in Mongolia. If you follow this wise advice, you won't need to seek the assistance of Nergui or his colleagues.
I was particularly struck by the statement that 'most drivers tend to ignore traffic laws and prefer to drive wherever there is an opening in traffic'. Unlike drivers in, say, London or New York...
Monday, January 28, 2008
I imagine you're all desperate to know how Mongolian Sumo champion Asashoryu actually did in the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo. Well, it came down to a final between Asashoryu and a fellow Mongolian Grand Champion, Hakuho, with Hakuho emerging as victor. Asashoryu is the sport's bad guy - 'brash and unrefined' - whereas Hakuho is seen as 'calm and prudent'. I know which I prefer.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
In case you were wondering, you're not yet too late to attend this year's annual Morin Khuur festival in Ulaan Bataar (the 21st such festival, for those who are counting). The Morin Khuur is the famous horse-head fiddle - the most highly regarded of Mongolian traditional instruments. The title of this posting, incidentally, is taken from Paul Muldoon's splendid poem, 'Medley for Morin Khur', which I've quoted before when the mood's taken me.
I was particularly charmed by the fact that the Union of Mongolian Composers 'felt that the audience last year showed signs of restlessness when composers in 14 categories performed during the gala concert'. That suggests a sensitivity rare among the organisers of such events. Perhaps the organisers of the Academy Awards ceremony might take note.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
I just thought I'd draw your attention to this highly entertaining account from New Zealand of nomadic life in Mongolia, with a heavy emphasis on the culinary aspects...
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
We've talked about the Mongolian Sumo champion, Asashoryu, before (and I won't repeat Peter Rozovsky's intriguing, if scurrilous, suggestions about that name), so thought you might like an update on his progress in the New Year Sumo championships. I know - we talk of little else in the pubs and bars of Greater Manchester...
Anyway, Asashoryu had a poor start, losing to an apparent 'rank and filer' but has now, um, bounced back to defeat his arch rival, Ozeki Kotomitsuki, who had vowed to stop him and so end a 27 bout losing streak. Sadly, that presumably now becomes a 28 bout losing streak.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Thursday, December 27, 2007
I've covered the debate about Mongolia's global future on a number of occasions here. The UB Post, Mongolia's always interesting English language journal, offers another perspective.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Sunday, December 9, 2007
There are moments (quite a few of them, actually) when news from Mongolia takes a vaguely surreal turn. Here are two recent stories from UB Post, the weekly English-language newspaper in Mongolia. The first is in the Business News section and defies further comment. The second is classed as Entertainment. Which is fair enough, given that 'the highlight of the event was when one of Mongolia’s best hairdressers, Tserenkhand, gave a haircut while three morin khuur players performed.' Who wouldn't be entertained by that?
Friday, December 7, 2007
Interesting piece from The Times about the summer festivals in Mongolia. Potentially something of a taster for The Outcast, the forthcoming third Nergui book, which is set in the high days of a hot Mongolian summer...
Saturday, December 1, 2007
Sorry - I really just wanted to use that headline, which I've borrowed from ABC Australia's coverage of the Sumo champion, Asashoryu, and his travails. As this report in today's Guardian newspaper indicates, one of Asashoryu's potential difficulties is that he's not Japanese but Mongolian (his real name being Dolgorsuren Dagvadorj) which doesn't necessarily go down well with the traditionalists.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
The Mongolian President, Nambaryn Enkhbayar, sounds an interesting man. He's quoted in this article as saying that:
"...the very important point that Buddhism makes is that you can find the way to make life better by peaceful means, not swords and arms, but good thoughts and good deeds."
This is also a man who's translated Tolstoy and Dickens into Mongolian and was, he says, inspired to enter politics through reading Tolstoy's Resurrection and Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. Possibly not your standard political animal, then. I imagine any discussions with his US counterpart would have made intriguing listening.
H'm...if it really is a dilemma, perhaps Mongolia is right at least to think twice about which way to jump. On the other hand - call me an old cynic - but I find it difficult to imagine that the mining companies will ultimately walk away from this untapped potential even if that awkward creature democracy does hinder their progress for a while.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
The world's media today is announcing the not entirely unexpected resignation of the Mongolian Prime Minister, Miyeegombiin Enkhbold. I was particularly struck by one sentence in the Reuters report:
Mongolia's lively democracy has caused valuable mining deals to get bogged down in political discussion.
That's one perspective Another perspective is presented in this very interesting (and, I think, nicely balanced) piece from the Columbia Spectator.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
A fascinating story, though possibly not a case that will require Nergui's attention...
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
A recent Wall Street Journal article reported on the Asian Indoor Games (new to me, but what do I know?). As well as the stuff you might expect the games also include 'e-sports', which I think you and I would know as computer games:
New to this year's event is the e-sports category, in which contestants will duke it out in popular sports-related videogames such as the soccer title FIFA 07...But "athletes in (these) sports have to apply a lot of techniques and mental abilities to win," says Eric Chau, director for cultural events and communication...The titles selected all promote Olympic ideals because, argues the committee, they're all related to real-world sports (soccer, basketball and motorsport)...The Mongolian team, which came away empty-handed from the first Indoor Games in Thailand two years ago, expects to win some medals in this category. Tsogt Sharavrentsen, a manager with Mongolia's national e-sports program, points to his star athlete, 19-year-old Lkhagvasuren Byambasuren, who forged his FIFA 07 skills in the Internet cafes of Ulaanbaatar.'
I'm sure my son would concur with the term 'star athlete' for someone whose exertion is presumably largely confined to his thumbs. But if you link it to this story, you can begin to see the scale of the Mongolians' ambition. Clearly, they're out to conquer the virtual world...
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Excellent piece in yesterday's Guardian newspaper about the impact of gold fever in Mongolia. Those who've read The Shadow Walker might have thought that its descriptions of the effects of the mining industry in Mongolia were exaggerated. This article suggests that, if anything, they were perhaps a little understated.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Excellent account of the Mongolian nomadic lifestyle from the Malaysian Star newspaper. Although perhaps slightly too much information about the writer's intestinal problems...
Thursday, September 27, 2007
I think this is what they mean by fusion...
Thursday, September 20, 2007
...And, if you want to taste some of the fruits of that economic growth, this is the place to look. Everything from books and CDs to - well, a toy felt camel and a dolls' ger. What more could you ask?
It's not quite up there with China yet, but it's not difficult to see why Mongolia is facing some challenges...
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
It's the Political Party Conference season here in the UK, which is not necessarily a prospect to lighten the spirits and set the heart aflame. Nevertheless, here's an interesting account of a presentation at the Green Party Conference based around a film made by Purevsuren Shah, the International Chair of the Mongolian Green Party. Important issues, which we've touched on here before.
Friday, September 14, 2007
I've drawn your attention to one or two interesting pieces on traditional Mongolian music recently. But of course that's not the only music that Mongolians listen to, as this account of the Coke n' Beat (no, really) live music festival shows...
Saturday, September 1, 2007
Peter, from the excellent Detectives Beyond Borders blog, quite reasonably responded to my post below by enquiring what a Mongolian short-song would be. There's quite a useful description here (though like all attempts to describe music in words it probably raises more questions than it answers).
Mongolian traditional music is rather wonderful and strange. Throat singing, of course, has to be heard to be believed (and even then your credulity is stretched). Here's a decent short introduction.
Friday, August 31, 2007
Friday, July 27, 2007
No particular reason for linking to this story except to give myself an excuse for the most contrived pun of the year...
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Another good piece on Mongolia, this one from The (London) Times, summarising the dizzying mix of opportunities and threats facing the country. Some of the topics addressed here with be very familiar to those who've read 'The Shadow Walker', though I haven't yet got around to mentioning Genghis Khan Scottish Whisky, which one day might turn out to be Nergui's favoured tipple. Or maybe not.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Intriguing piece from the Wall Street Journal about the state of democracy in Mongolia. The article deftly summarises the challenges and opportunities facing the country as it continues its transition from Communist past to democratic future. It also highlights the growing impact of 'street politics' as part of the democratic process - a topic which (to leave you on a teasing note) will form one of the themes in the third Nergui book...
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Some of you may have been following the case of the murdered Mongolian model, Altantuya Shaariibuu. I haven't referenced it here before, because (I suppose) of a degree of unease at the risk of trivialising a genuine and tragic death. But, as the trial in Malaysia proceeds, the more extraordinary the story appears. I'll refrain from further comment, but the Asia Sentinel provides an up-to-date summary of the case here (though I do wish they'd dignify the victim with a description other than 'Mongolian beauty').
Sunday, June 3, 2007
I do hope that I'm not responsible for this...
Meant to post this link before now, but I'm only just catching up with myself. For anyone who might be interested, here's a link to an interview I did with the excellent Paul Blezard for his 'Between the Lines' show on OneWord radio. There's a small charge to download it, I'm afraid, but if it's any consolation I don't get a penny...
One of the problems of writing about Mongolia is that it's sometimes a challenge to keep up with the reality. Here's something that could easily form the plotline for a future book. And the picture could form the basis of a caption competition, I suspect.
And here's an excellent interview with the heroic environmental activitst Tsetsge Munkhbayar, referred to in my posting on 23 April.
Marvellous to see that action is now being taken to address some of the environmental issues referenced in 'The Shadow Walker'. The story of Tsetsegee Munkhbayar is extraordinary, and he's clearly a highly deserving recipient of the Goldman Environment Prize.
One of the problems of writing fiction is that it's often hard to keep up with real life. I don't think I could ever have come up with a character like this. And just how does a 'post bout soak' turn ugly?
One of my aims on this site is to raise awareness of Mongolia - its history, its culture and its current state - by linking to relevant news stories and articles. There's some serious and important stuff out there, but this isn't either. I was just pleased to see that The Sopranos' Uncle Junior is doing his bit to help keep me in material for future books...