Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Migration Brings Ambiguity to UB, Mongolia

Taken from:

Gorkhi-Terelj Nationa Park, view from Temple.
   By Dashiell Young-Saver
   Harvard College
   The black sedan struggled. Sudden dips in the dirt made the ride    slow, sore. Dust kept the air thick. The headlights of the sparse,    oncoming traffic were blinding. They could barely see the brave    cattle.
   Late on a Saturday night, a family from Zaisan rode the road to      Ulaanbaatar, a 63-kilometer journey from the site of their day-trip    in the Mongolian countryside.
  Bat-Erdene, his younger sister Enkhee, his wife Misheel, and         their two sons, Tomech (age 4) and Debii (age 2), visited Turtle     Rock and the Buddhist Princess Temple at Gorkhi-Terelj National     Park. All day, there was plenty of trekking by foot, especially up     to the temple, which overlooks a vast valley of rock formations,    horses, gers and mountains slowly turning green for the summer.   They took in the view, along with the fresh air, making sure to talk about it every now and then. And afterwards, as the sun descended, they danced to a traditional folk song at a local restaurant constructed in the shape of a ger. Bat-Erdene did the dance of his youth. Misheel did not.
As the family walked back down from the mountains, a few features of the landscape became clearer. Bottles, papers, pens, and trash mingled with rocks on the valley floor—blown in from Ulaanbaatar, courtesy of the Mongolian winds. Graffiti, mostly with English phrases, could be seen at Turtle Rock’s base. And wooden signs loomed over ger camps, advertising the price of a stay.
They went home. The bumps in the road lulled the kids to sleep. The adults listened to the radio. And the father practiced his English, “Pronowncia…pronouuncia…pronunciation…”
On Route
Bat-Erdene and Enkhee were born in the Mongolian countryside, about 400 kilometers from Ulaanbaatar. Growing up, they helped their parents and six other siblings with the daily work, which consisted of maintaining a livestock herd of 500 animals, including goats, sheep and horses. When Bat-Erdene turned 14, his parents allowed him to move to Ulaanbaatar. He moved there on a promise from his older sister, who was living there at the time, that the school system was better than what was offered in the countryside. After graduating from the Mongolian Institute of Commerce and Business, he worked as a doorman for a pub, and started his career in finance as a bank teller. Now, at age 31, Bat-Erdene is the manager of multiple bank branches in the central district of Ulaanbaatar. He rose through six banking positions to get there.
“I worked very hard at each position and had good results. So, my bosses recommended me for higher positions,” explained Bat-Erdene, squinting at headlights from the driver’s seat. He attributes his success to his determination and the city’s, along with his company’s, economic boom.
Because of new mining operations within its borders, Mongolia has seen one of the fastest growing GDP’s of any country in the past few years. Last year, according to the World Bank, the economy grew by about 12 percent. That double-digit number is lower than 2011’s, when the economy grew by about 17 percent.
Thanks to modernization accompanying the influx of foreign investors, natural disasters like gan (intense drought) and dzud (extremely snowy winter) devastating livestock herds, and a new abundance of social programs, safer working conditions, and quality education, Mongolia has experienced a great migration from the rural areas, for which it is famous, to its cities. Around 67 percent of the total population lived in urban areas in 2011, compared to just 44 percent in 1969. The shift can be seen most dramatically in Ulaanbaatar. More than 45 percent of Mongolia’s total population now lives in the capital city. It contained 26.8 percent of that total in 2000. In addition, the average family’s income increased by 31.8 percent in 2011, when compared to 2010 numbers, and two years ago, about 42.2 percent of the total sector production of Mongolia was from companies based in Ulaanbaatar.
“People in Ulaanbaatar have changed,” reflected Misheel, an Ulaanbaatar native. She held the sleeping two year old in her arms and stared ahead at the road. “They are more open to travelling to many countries. So, their knowledge has changed and continues to grow. People have modern homes and cell phones. It wasn’t like that 10 years ago.”
Misheel comes from a family of 11 brothers and sisters, who were a part of the Ulaanbaatar middle class when the USSR controlled the country. She met Bat-Erdene when they both worked as tellers for the same bank. After her children were born, the couple bought a five-room apartment in Zaisan, and Misheel now manages the kindergarten her children attend. She continued to describe the city’s growth during her lifetime:
“Construction is increasing. The economy is increasing. Democracy and our freedoms are increasing.” In the new Mongolia, everything is increasing.
Setting Off
Of Bat-Erdene’s seven grown siblings from the countryside, five now live in cities. His younger sister, Enkhee, lives in Ulaanbaatar with her older brother. Enkhee moved to the city six years ago at age 18. She studied at the Institute of Commerce and Business, and now works as a broker in Mongolia’s relatively young, and rapidly expanding, stock market, which was ranked the second best performing market in the world in 2011. She is only 23 years old and began her job just eight months ago.
Like Enkhee, most Mongolians are just entering working age. In 2011, the majority of Ulaanbaatar’s population ranged from ages 20-35 and 0-4 (mostly the childen of those aged 20-35). Only 6.2 percent were at retirement age, 60 or over.
Enkhee’s parents did not want her to leave the countryside, fearing the effects of the noise and pollution of the city. She was the youngest sibling in the family, but because of her older siblings’ successes, she decided to go.
“Sometimes I miss the country, especially during the summer,” commented Enkhee from the back seat, as the car began climbing out of the valley, jolting forward as it shifted into a lower gear. “But I think small towns are boring, and my friends are all in Ulaanbaatar. The market is growing so fast, so my career is growing.”
The Bumps
“Sometimes I miss the country,” agreed Bat-Erdene, as the vehicle approached the city lights. “You can’t see the mountains with all the tall buildings.” He visits his old home twice a year, once during the winter and once during the summer. There, he can breathe the old air his parents valued.
As college-aged and primary school students make up a sizeable portion of Ulaanbaatar’s population, the dangers of bad traffic, polluted air, and noisiness seem devastating to many, like Bat-Erdene’s parents. However, their son does not think the problem is enough to turn one away from the opportunities the city holds.
“It’s ok—the crowdedness and air quality. I think in the next years our pollution will get better than it is now. And I think it’s still a good city for children to grow up in.”
In addition to the schooling, growing up and learning in the country’s hub has its benefits.
“It’s the center of Mongolia,” said Misheel. “There are always many experiences going on in such a time.”
But besides migrating into bad air and traffic, many residents of Ulaanbaatar worry about the number of poor coming from the surroundings. According to the World Bank, the 2012 poverty rate in Ulaanbaatar was 19.8 percent, which is a great decrease from 25.7 percent the year before, and 31 percent in 2010. However, because of the rising migration of people from the countryside, the gers that surround the skyscrapers have steadily increased in number over the past decade. In 2011, around 60 percent of the population lived in gers. According to the city’s Department of Statistics, families are less likely now than before to be able to pay for a home or apartment within a year of their move to the city.
“Before, when people came to Ulaanbaatar, it was good and healthy for the city’s growth,” said Misheel.“But now, already very many people live in Ulaanbaatar. Everywhere there are gers and poor people.”
The Road Ahead
While bright at the moment, for many migrants, the prospects of Ulaanbaatar remain uncertain. The slowing of China’s economy, the upcoming election and the sensitive negotiations between the government and private mining companies all create ambiguity for Mongolia’s center.
But for the family in the black sedan, rocking towards home their modern home, high hopes remain. Their businesses are expanding. Their children are growing. And, if the father studies English well enough, higher positions in the bank are within his reach.
“Right now, that’s what I am focusing on. Others come later,” he said. The car stood low to the ground, below the high-rises, and moved to park.
A few days before their Saturday in the country, Bat-Erdene sat in his office, staring out the window at his city. The room has white-washed walls, a conference table and a large desk. Paintings of horses hang from the walls, amid certificates from the company and Buddhist imagery. Some dirt on the conference table had come in through the window—another day, dry and windy.
Bat-Erdene let out a sigh and got a cup of coffee. With his right hand he made soft swiping motions on the table. Clean lines of leather appeared beneath his fingertips. He practiced, “Dust, dust, dust…”
Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=4410

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