As part of a two-week school trip named the Hot Cities of the World Tour, I had the opportunity to visit a country I barely knew anything about and never imagined I would ever visit. Named “Hot Cities” not for the warm weather of the countries visited (although our year and the one before us are the only ones where cold destinations were chosen), but rather for the very high economic outputs of the country, this trip took us to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) and Seoul (South Korea) during reading week in 2014. This post will be about my time in Ulaanbaatar, whereas my next post will be about Seoul. As well, both of these posts will focus on the experiences and highlights, rather than the business-y aspects of the trip (it was, after all, a school trip where we met with a variety of Mongolian and Korean businesses).
So, Ulaanbaatar is the capital of Mongolia, a country located South of Russia and North of China; therefore, both countries have a great deal of influence on Mongolia. Most people have at least heard of Mongolia, or rather Mongolians, thanks to Genghis Khan. Since the trip, I’ve had the opportunity to read a few books about him and his descendants, which were very interesting and impressive. To the Western world, Genghis Khan is often portrayed as barbaric, uncivilized and inhumane. However, to the Mongols, he is a hero. Okay, that was my brief historic spiel about Mongolia.
So we actually started the trip off in Seoul for a day, to then fly to Ulaanbaatar (UB) for a few and then back to Seoul for the remainder of the trip. I figured I would just combine that lonesome day in Seoul with the rest of our time there and focus on UB for starters. UB was a very interesting and very cold city (yep, Canada wasn’t cold enough for us, we just had to go someplace colder). The downtown area is lined with many skyscrapers, some that are finished and in use and many more where construction has been halted; the city is littered with unfinished skyscrapers and giant cranes.
Some of the visits and meetings we made included: students from the American School of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s Coca Cola factory and the shakers/shapers (Mongolia’s educated youth that is helping to shape the nation).
One of the most memorable visits/experiences from this trip was the visit to the Veloo Foundation’s kindergarten class, which provides kindergarten education to children who would otherwise spend their day picking up trash with their parents in the nearby dumpster. We then proceeded to visit this dumpster, which was one of the most awkward and disturbing experiences I have had abroad. Our visit felt very much out of place and an intrusion of these people’s privacy. These people were out there in the cold, rummaging through scraps to try and find something that could still be used or sold in order to feed their families, while we were there, with our big tour bus, cameras and Canada Gooses, observing them as though they were animals in a zoo. It was also one of the rare times I have ever felt in real danger, as there was nothing stopping these people from taking advantage of our presence there (if you know what I mean). I felt a huge wave of relief as soon as the bus left the dumpster.
In terms of sightseeing and cultural visits, we went to: the Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue (the biggest equestrian statue in the world), the Chinggis Square (main city square), the Zaisan Memorial (which honors Soviet soldiers killed in WW2) and attended a traditional Mongolian throat singing performance.
We also had the opportunity to stay overnight in a traditional ger camp, out in the middle of nowhere (literally). We got to ride ponies in the snow covered valley, eat a traditional Mongolian meal (well, some of us did) and (freeze) overnight in a ger (Mongolian tent). This is definitely an experience I’ll remember my whole life, even though it wasn’t perfect (we were eventually fed the next morning, once they remembered our tent).
In terms of food, other than that traditional meal I didn’t get to eat, we enjoyed another traditional and very yummy meal: Mongolian hot pot. Hot pot consists of a pot of flavored broth, which is shared amongst the people around the table (in our case, we each had our own pot and hot plate) and you cook your ingredients in it (these can range anywhere from thin slices of meat, noodles, bok choys and many other vegetables). To accompany my meal, I had a nice cold Chinggis beer (and kept the mug! 😀 )
UP NEXT: my Seoul city break!
*All photos are my own (or taken by someone with my device, or of me)