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Links to many online dictionaries for many professions.


Many English lessons and English-Mongolian side-by-side PDF books


Learning English and Buddhism in Mongolia


Learning Medical English for doctors, nurses and dentists in Mongolia

Monday, December 31, 2012

NEWS: Documenting Mongolia's At-Risk Nomadic Herders

Originally posted on AsiaSociety.org Dec 11, 2012
by Tahiat Mahboob Tweet
A herder gathers his sheep and goats in the middle of an early spring snowstorm. (Taylor Weidman)
As climate change, harsh winters, overgrazing and desertification take their toll on Mongolia, the nation's nomadic pastoral herders find their way of life at risk. New York-based photographer Taylor Weidman, who has long been following their story, spent some time in Mongolia photographing this community earlier this year.

Weidman, who formerly worked for the Christian Science Monitor and spent time photographing in Nepal, co-founded the Vanishing Cultures Project. His organization works with indigenous people globally to preserve and protect their cultural values and practices. Through photography and open digital archives, VCP educates people about global diversity and funds indigenous cultural initiatives.

Mongolia's Nomads: Life on the Steppe is Weidman's latest project, the book version of which launches in New York City next Monday, December 17. We reached out to him through email to find out how he went about photographing the fascinating lifestyles of these herders.

How did you come across these pastoral herders?
I've been following this story for a long time. Over the past 15 years, Mongolia has had a number of dzud — abnormally harsh winters where large numbers of animals die from freezing and starvation. Due to climate change, Mongolia's average annual temperature is changing at nearly twice the speed of the rest of the world. Added to that, a lack of regulation has led to widespread overgrazing. The result is an increased number of abnormally harsh winters affecting animals that haven't been able to fatten up properly throughout the summer. These changes are forcing many herders off the steppe and to the cities in search of work in the booming resource-based economy. However, life in the city is often worse. The ger (yurt) camps that ring the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, house a permanent population of displaced nomads with no access to running water or sanitation.

It's a complex story that can't be covered quickly. I wanted to go to Mongolia for a long period of time to explore all of the aspects of this narrative.

Was it difficult getting access? How long did it take for your subjects to open up to you — and how did you put them at ease? Were there any geographical challenges?
Access was never a problem. Because of Mongolia's long history as a nomadic society, there is actually a built-in system of hospitality. Because there weren't settled towns in Mongolia for a long period of time, when herders would have to travel, they would simply stay with other nomads if they had a multi-day journey or got caught out at night or in a storm. It was considered rude to turn a person away, and most herders entertain guests and neighbors very regularly. When we were there, we would usually approach a family, explain what we were doing, and begin interviewing and shooting within 15 minutes or so. As much as we could, we preferred to stay with herding families for the night, and it was always a very welcoming and entertaining experience. A few herders explained that there wasn't much to do on the steppe after the work was finished, and we were considered good entertainment.

Geography was definitely an issue. Mongolia is a huge place with very few roads. Usually, we would spend two to three weeks on the steppe with a driver and translator in a Russian four-wheel-drive van. We wanted to see how life was different throughout Mongolia (taiga, desert, steppes, mountains, etc.) so we would often spend four to eight hours driving each day on dirt tracks.

You say that "their traditional way of life is at risk on multiple fronts." How are these pastoral herders dealing with this issue and, moving forward, what can be done to prevent this?
This is a tough question, and there's no easy answer. Herders are being pushed off of the steppes due to climate change, desertification, worsening winters, and poor herd and pasture management. At the same time, Mongolia has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, largely due to its vast natural resources (mostly in metals). Herders are seeing this worsening situation on the steppe and are making the economic choice to move to Ulaanbaatar, the capital, or to the mining towns.

However, some of the issues the herders are facing are man-made. Overgrazing, a serious problem, for example, can be solved through better herd and pasture management. The problem is that the incentives aren't there. Herders do not own the land where they graze their animals, so their incentive is not to protect the land, which they can simply move off of, but rather to grow their herd to the largest size possible. This results in a disastrous loss of grassland and increases the effects of desertification.

One solution I recently read about is co-management where "the community members agreed to change their practices in the following ways: to collectively prepare hay and fodder; to reduce the number of animals, while improving their quality (for example, professional animal breeders have assisted with improving goat herds); to move earlier in the year to new camps to allow the badly degraded pastures more time to recuperate; to build better, more numerous shelters; to diversify income sources; and to grow potatoes and vegetables."

What were some of your most memorable moments during your time with them?
Generally speaking, my favorite moments were after dinner, when the work was largely finished, and everyone was together around the stove of the ger. This was usually the point when the ladies would start to quiz Nina Wegner (writer and co-founder of the Vanishing Cultures Project) about her life in America, and the men would grab me to play some cards. Almost invariably, we would show up out of the blue, and be shown hospitality and generosity in a way you simply don't find in many places in the world. Barriers would break down quickly, and you soon found yourself feeling like a part of the family.

The funniest interview subjects we had were a charming older couple in an area that was going through a devastating winter. Due to the elements, and a lifetime of smoking, the patriarch barely had any voice left at all. His wife, though, had become hard of hearing in her advanced age. It was incredibly charming to see him trying to communicate with hand gestures, hoarse shouting, and a good deal of good-natured exasperation.

Do you have an ideal audience for this series? People who might be inspired to take action, for instance?
One of the main goals of our organization is to raise awareness and to educate people about the importance of cultural diversity. I remember reading a study a few years ago that said that six out of ten Americans between the age of 18-24 couldn't find Iraq on a map — while we were in the midst of the war. It's important to learn and care about cultures other than our own. Anthropologists estimate that every two weeks, the last speaker of an indigenous language dies, taking with him/her a wealth of knowledge with applications towards some of humanity’s most pressing issues, from medical research to biodiversity to sustainable living.

Word List:
  • desertification: the process of becoming or making something a desert
  • indigenous: belonging to a particular place rather than coming to it from somewhere else
  • diversity: a range of many people or things that are very different from each other
  • abnormally: different from what is usual or expected, especially in a way that is worrying, harmful or not wanted
  • displaced: to force people to move away from their home to another place
  • incentives: something that encourages you to do something
  • disastrous: very bad, harmful or unsuccessful
  • fodder: food for horses and farm animals
  • hoarse: sounding rough and unpleasant, especially because of a sore throat
  • exasperation: to annoy or irritate somebody very much
 = desertification
 = indigenous
 = diversity
 = abnormally
 = displace
 = incentive
 = disastrous
 = fodder
 = hoarse
 = exasperation

Thursday, December 27, 2012

NEWS: Florida fossils dealer admits dinosaur smuggling

Originally posted on the BBC on Dec 27, 2012
The Tyrannosaurus Bataar was discovered seven years ago in the Gobi desert
A Florida fossils dealer has admitted smuggling dinosaur bones into the US, including those of a 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus bataar from Mongolia.

A court in New York heard that Eric Prokopi sold the skeleton at auction in May for more than $1m (£600,000).

In June, US officials seized the bones after Mongolia said they were stolen.

In a plea bargain, Prokopi gave up any claim to the skeleton as well as to others seized by authorities which included remains from China.

He also admitted illegally importing a Chinese flying dinosaur, two oviraptors and a duckbilled creature known as a Saurolophus.

The court heard that Prokopi, 38, was arrested in October as a lorry arrived at his home loaded with fossils.

He faces a maximum of 17 years imprisonment when he is sentenced in April.

Shopping list

US Attorney Preet Bharara said authorities would now begin the process of returning the fossils to their countries of origin.

"Fossils and ancient skeletal remains are part of the fabric of a country's natural history and cultural heritage, and black marketers like Prokopi who illegally export and sell these wonders, steal a slice of that history," he said.

Mongolia has been seeking the return of the Tyrannosaurus skeleton - which it says was stolen from the Gobi desert - through the US courts.

In court on Thursday, Assistant US Attorney Martin Bell read out a list of the dinosaurs that he said Prokopi had illegally imported.

"It's among the larger dinosaur shopping lists you'll see today," he told Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis.

He said a second, almost complete, Tyrannosaurus skeleton had been found at Prokopi's home in Gainsville, Florida.

Mr Bell said one oviraptor skeleton was found at Prokopi's home and the other at another residential dwelling in Florida.

One of the Saurolophus skeletons was sold at an auction in California for $75,000 but later confiscated by authorities.

Prokopi admitted illegally importing skeletons from Mongolia and China.

Heritage Auctions in New York, which sold the Tyrannosaurus skeleton in May, said Prokopi had spent a year restoring and remounting what had been a loose collection of bones.

Prokopi was described as a commercial palaeontologist who sold coral, fossils and other items over the internet.

Word List:
  • plea bargain: an arrangement in court by which a person admits to being guilty of a smaller crime in the hope of receiving less severe punishment for a more serious crime
  • seized: to take illegal or stolen goods away from somebody
  • lorry [UK]: [USA=truck] a large vehicle for carrying heavy loads by road
  • imprisonment: to put somebody in a prison
  • dwelling: a house, flat/apartment, etc. where a person lives
  • confiscated: to officially take something away from somebody, especially as a punishment
  • palaeontologist: someone who studies the history of the Earth using fossils (=ancient plants, bones, shells etc. preserved in rocks)
 = tyrannosaurus
 = plea bargin:
 = seize
 = lorry
 = oviraptor
 = imprisonment:
 = dwelling
 = confiscate
 = palaeontologist

Monday, December 24, 2012

NEWS: Mongolia in the News - Dec 24

  • The Wall Street Journal (USA) Dec 24
    Bus Lanes Catch On Across Asia — Could They Work Elsewhere?

    Derided by some as a waste of money and space, Jakarta’s dedicated bus lanes have proved a popular poor man’s metro, helping to ease some of the traffic mess in this metropolis of 20 million as the government fails to deliver on more ambitious rail projects. The Transjakarta Busway network of empty strips of pavement carved out of the city’s ever-worsening car congestion is the world’s longest of its kind and has become a model for other cities in Asia struggling to ease traffic jams with limited resources. (continued)
    Bus lanes in Seoul

  • Mother Jones (USA) Dec 18
    World Bank Says Poor People Need Coal

    Last week, I reported on environmental groups calling foul on the World Bank for even considering a proposal to finance a new coal-fired power plant in Mongolia. Funding the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine project, which also includes a 750 megawatt coal plant, was out of line with the Bank's stated concern that the world is heading to devastating and irreversible climate consequences. Rio Tinto has asked the World Bank Group's private funding arm, International Finance Corporation, for part of the money needed to start construction on the project. IFC was not able to comment at press time, but did send a lengthy email response on Tuesday. Basically they argue that poor nations need energy, that the World Bank is increasingly shifting its focus toward renewables, and that renewable energy can't meet all of Mongolia's needs. (continued)

  • National The Australian - National Affairs (Australia) Dec 24
    Freed Aussie lawyer Sarah Armstrong leaves Mongolia

    AN Australian lawyer who had been barred from leaving Mongolia has been cleared of involvement in a corruption case and had left the country tonight. Sarah Armstrong's mother Yvonne confirmed to The Australian that her daughter had been released and was due to arrive in Australia tomorrow night. "She's on the plane now, that has been my biggest worry," Mrs Armstrong said. "It was the plan that she was to arrive tomorrow night, but I still need conformation of that." It is understood Ms Armstrong will fly from Ulan Bator to Bejing then on to Hong Kong. She is due to arrive in Sydney tomorrow morning before heading to her parents' home in Launceston. Foreign minister Bob Carr tonight applauded the decision of the Mongolian authorities to release Ms Armstrong. "This is great news for Sarah and her family," Senator Carr said. (continued)

  • Radio Australia (Australia) Dec 24
    Christmas in Mongolia

    Harsh and bitter winters are not a new weather phenomenon in Mongolia and this Christmas is no different. The night temperature could plummet to minus-forty degreess celcius. Amy Hunter is one of about 100 volunteers the Australian Red Cross has sent to developing countries across the world. She has spent the past nine months in Ulaan Bator as a youth development officer and is spending her first Christmas in chilly Mongolia. AUDIO (continued)

Friday, December 21, 2012

NEWS: The Hunt for Genghis Khan’s Tomb

Originally posted on TheDailyBeast.com on Dec 3, 2012

For centuries historians and treasure seekers have searched for the burial site of history's most famous conqueror. New findings offer compelling evidence that it's been found.

In the eight hundred years since his death, people have sought in vain for the grave of Genhis Khan, the 13th-century conqueror and imperial ruler who, at the time of his death, occupied the largest contiguous empire, stretching from the Caspian Sea to the Pacific. In capturing most of central Asia and China, his armies killed and pillaged but also forged new links between East and West. One of history’s most brilliant and ruthless leaders, Khan remade the world.

A 250-ton stainless-steel statue of Genghis Khan
outside the capital of Mongolia.
(Daniel Traub for Newsweek)
But while the life of the conqueror is the stuff of legend, his death is shrouded in the mist of myths. Some historians believe he died from wounds sustained in battle; others that he fell off his horse or died from illness. And his final burial place has never been found. At the time great steps were taken to hide the grave to protect it from potential grave robbers. Tomb hunters have little to go on, given the dearth of primary historical sources. Legend has it that Khan’s funeral escort killed anyone who crossed their path to conceal where the conqueror was buried. Those who constructed the funeral tomb were also killed—as were the soldiers who killed them. One historical source holds that 10,000 horsemen “trampled the ground so as to make it even”; another that a forest was planted over the site, a river diverted.

Scholars still debate the balance between fact and fiction, as accounts were forged and distorted. But many historians believe that Khan wasn’t buried alone: his successors are thought to have been entombed with him in a vast necropolis, possibly containing treasures and loot from his extensive conquests.

Germans, Japanese, Americans, Russians, and Brits all have led expeditions in search of his grave, spending millions of dollars. All have failed. The location of the tomb has been one of archeology’s most enduring mysteries.

Until now.

A multidisciplinary research project uniting scientists in America with Mongolian scholars and archeologists has the first compelling evidence of the location of Khan’s burial site and the necropolis of the Mongol imperial family on a mountain range in a remote area in northwestern Mongolia.

Among the discoveries by the team are the foundations of what appears to be a large structure from the 13th or 14th century, in an area that has historically been associated with this grave. Scientists have also found a wide range of artifacts that include arrowheads, porcelain, and a variety of building material.

“Everything lines up in a very compelling way,” says Albert Lin, National Geographic explorer and principal investigator of the project, in an exclusive interview with Newsweek.

For 800 years the Khentii mountain range, where the site is located, has been off-limits, decreed thus by Genghis Khan himself before his death. If the findings bear out, this will be one of the most significant archeological discoveries in years. Using drones and surface-penetrating radar, and enlisting the help of thousands of people to sift through satellite data and photographs, the team has searched the mountain range, systematically photographing 4,000 square miles of landscape.

In a laboratory at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology at University of California, San Diego, Lin and his team combed through the massive volumes of ultrahigh-resolution satellite imagery and built 3-D reconstructions from radar scans in their search for clues to where Genghis Khan may be buried. As part of an unprecedented open-source project, thousands of online volunteers sifted through 85,000 high-resolution satellite images to identify any hidden structures or odd-seeming formations.

“It is undeniable that Genghis Khan changed the course of history. Yet I cannot think of another historical figure of comparable impact that we know so little about,” says Lin, who is still tight-lipped about the full extent of the team’s results as they await peer review. But excitement shines through his academic caution. “Any archeological results related to the subject may shed light on a vital piece of our shared cultural heritage that has gone missing.”

To reach the Khentii mountains, you drive east from the capital, Ulan Bator, passing a shimmering statue of Genghis before reaching the mining town of Baganuur. The crumbling town has all the charm of a post-Soviet Dickensian nightmare: a 10-mile-long slag heap signals the presence of the largest state-run open-pit coal mine in Mongolia. Exiting north out of town, the remains of a Soviet military base bring to mind the set of a post-apocalyptic horror movie. But once free of the city, the Kerulen River Valley, homeland of the Mongols, unfolds in all its panoramic beauty. Located on one of the main east-west routes across Central Asia, the steppe continues west to the Caspian Sea, east to Japan and northern China, circumventing the Gobi Desert that inspired nightmares for Marco Polo and other travelers.

This geography, and the forgiving climate, has made the steppe an attractive place for the nomads to live. Unlike the rest of the country, where temperatures can plummet below minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit and peak above 100 during the summer, the climate in these valleys is unusually mild. Ritual monuments and burial sites are scattered throughout the landscape. Archeologists have found tombs on top of tombs, where different tribes from different eras have used the same ritual space.

Mongolian families still live in yurts or gers, as the traditional tents are known locally, maintaining their nomadic lifestyle. The blue sky merges with the horizon, and white yurts dot the sweeping landscape like sailboats floating on a sea of green.

From afar, the pastoral herding scene appears to have evolved very little since the Khans ruled. But in fact times are changing for the nomads. A decade of devastatingly harsh winters followed by very dry summers has crippled the livelihoods of livestock-dependent herders, who make up a third of the country’s population. Tens of thousands have migrated into city slums, while thousands of others have turned to illegal gold mining in their fight for survival. Carrying on their backs big green panning bowls for finding gold, they’re known as the ninjas because of their resemblance to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. At the same time, Mongolia is rapidly developing—in large part due to its mineral riches. By some estimates, Mongolia’s economy is the fastest growing in the world, as the nation seeks to tap its wealth of coal, copper, and gold, projected to be worth $1.3 trillion.

Up close it is clear that even this remote valley is not untouched. A satellite dish and a Chinese-made truck and motorbike sit outside one yurt, where we stop to ask for directions.

Altan Khuyag, a 53-year-old herder and forest ranger, offers us a cup of warm milky tea, insisting that we stay the night, in a typical display of Mongol friendliness. Among the nomads, reciprocal hospitality is a vital part of life on the steppe. When I ask about Genghis, he dips his ring finger into a bowl of vodka, flicking a drop to the sky, towards Tengri, the god of the blue heaven. Two more dips, two more flicks, two more ritual offerings. In Mongolia, superstition still surrounds Genghis Khan, and the hunt for his tomb often stirs heated debate. Even his name is a touchy subject. In Mongolia, Genghis Khan is known as Chinggis Khaan and is considered by many almost a god.

“He watches over us. He is why we have our good lives today,” says Khuyag, hunching his shoulders as if feeling the presence from above. He, like many locals, thinks Genghis Khan is buried on a mountain in the Khentii range—a belief shared by both ancient and contemporary historians but unsupported by science or physical evidence until the discoveries made by Lin and his Mongolian partners.

Khuyag has scaled the range twice, but he believes the conqueror’s grave should be left in peace. “I don’t think people should search for his tomb, because if it is opened, the world will end.”

At the very least, it might create geopolitical tensions as many Chinese believe Genghis Khan was Chinese, and China claims him as their own. Indeed, a huge mausoleum has been constructed in China to hold a replica of Khan’s empty coffin, and the monument is popular with the Chinese, some of whom worship him as a semidivine ancestor.

“If Genghis Khan’s tomb is discovered in Mongolia, it will have enormous geopolitical repercussions,” says John Man, the author of Genghis Khan: Life, Death, and Resurrection. “Many people in China believe Mongolia, like Tibet, should be part of China, as it was under Kublai Khan. If China succeeds in establishing mining rights in Mongolia and a dominance over that industry, then Genghis’s tomb might become a focal point for political ambitions, the like of which we have never seen.”

Born into tribal nobility, Genghis—or Temujin, as he was then known—lived an epic life. As a child, he became an outcast after his father was murdered and his family ostracized. But Genghis survived and grew up to become a brilliant warrior and tactician who managed to unite warring tribes and conquer most of the then-known world. At the same time he changed society and introduced an alphabet and a central currency, making him one of the most influential people of the last millennium.

During their campaigns of conquest, soldiers raped and pillaged—and the Khans had many offspring, though only legitimate sons were counted. His son Tushi reportedly had 40 sons, while his grandson Kublai Khan had 22. When a genetic study in 2003 showed that 16 million men carry an identical Y chromosome that originates from one man who lived about 1,000 years ago, many drew the conclusion that it must have been Genghis Khan’s DNA, though there is, of course, no actual evidence of that, since his body has never been found.

Mongolians revere the conqueror as a near god.
In the capital, he sits in front of Parliament.
(Daniel Traub for Newsweek)
Even so, the impact of Genghis Khan was without parallel. In less than 20 years, he conquered lands stretching thousands of miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Caspian Sea and carried the bounty of his conquests back to Mongolia. As incentive and in payment, spoils were divided among his soldiers. After their deaths, the nobility are thought to have had the objects buried with them because they believed they would need them in the afterlife. But little of these riches have ever been found. It’s as if they came into Mongolia and vanished.

“People imagine that [Genghis Khan’s] tomb would be filled with gold and silver, the treasure, wealth, loot from his 
great conquests,” says Prof. Ulambayar Erdenebat, when I meet him at his office at the National University in Ulan Bator, where he heads the archeology department. A transparent crystal belt sits on the table between us, and Erdenebat gently arranges each piece on a bed of black felt.

“This is unique. There is not another like this in the world. We discovered it in a tomb belonging to a 13th-century nobleman believed to be part of Gen­ghis Khan’s tribe,” Erdenebat explains. He opens another small jewelry box and delicately lays down a gold ornament, intricately carved with pieces as thin as thread and inlaid with ruby and turquoise. He slowly unpacks his cupboard, revealing more treasures: a pure silver cup, gold rings, buttons, and earrings, all dating from the time of Genghis Khan.

For decades archeological expeditions to the region were thwarted by the inaccessibility of the country. After the fall of the Ching dynasty, Mongolia declared independence in 1911, though China still considered Mongolia part of its own territory. Mongolia, though, became closely aligned with the Soviet Union and in 1924 once more declared its independence with the backing of Moscow. The alignment with Moscow, however, stymied archeological efforts as Soviet authorities persecuted and punished scholars for studying the history of Genghis Khan, fearing he could become a symbol for the opposition seeking greater independence from Moscow.

In the early 1960s, an East German–Mongol expedition found pottery shards, nails, tiles, brick, and what they thought were the foundations of a temple at a holy mountain in the area. At the summit they found hundreds of cairns, and at the highest point, iron armor, arrow points, and other offerings, but little sign of the grave.

After the demise of the Soviet empire, a Japanese-led expedition funded by the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper flew by helicopter to the top of that mountain in a much-hyped but ultimately fruitless expedition. In 2001 an expedition led by Maury Kravitz, a retired commodities trader from Chicago, searched the area, but was forbidden by authorities from accessing the mountain itself. At a site called the Almsgiver’s Wall, a soldier’s tomb at a 10th-century military outpost was discovered, but the expedition was called off after a string of accidents that prompted one newspaper to write about the “curse” of the Genghis Khan tomb “striking again.”

Some archeologists suggested that the hundreds of cairns discovered in the 1960s were actually tombs. But Lin and his Mongolian partners conducted geophysical surveys to reveal there was no scientific merit in these theories.

Using innovative and advanced technologies that weren’t available to explorers in the past, the team set out to separate fact from fiction. It had the makings of a Hollywood epic, mixing the high-tech world of Jason Bourne with the Technicolor exploits of Indiana Jones.

Lin, whose fascination with Gen­ghis Khan was sparked in 2005 during a personal trip to Mongolia to research his own heritage, felt fortunate to be the tech­ie scientist in this action adventure. “I was lucky. I’m a scientist and engineer who stumbled across this extraordinary 800-year-old mystery,” he says. “I felt that perhaps the rapid advancement of technologies might [open] up a new scientific chapter in a lost piece of world history.”

Lin partnered with the International Association for Mongol Studies and the Mongolian Academy of Sciences. Three years ago the expedition, supported by the University of California, San Diego, as well as the National Geographic Society, was granted permission to explore the mountain range, and the Valley 
of the Khans Project was born. Their 
approach, Lin is keen to emphasize, 
maintains the integrity of the ancestral burial grounds by using noninvasive tools.

“Hopefully this opens a new chapter in the continued process of paying homage to our past through the pursuit of knowledge,” says Prof. Tsogt-Ochiryn Ishdorj, a principal investigator on the project.

Looking for signs of human-made 
objects or material in the remote area, their excitement mounted as radar picked up the outlines of a foundation for a large structure. Small teams of field scientists and archeologists were then sent into the area to have a closer look with high-tech tools such as radar, magnetometers, and drones.

They were rewarded with the thrilling discovery of arrowheads, ceramics, roof tiles, and bricks, suggesting human activity in the remote, uninhabited area. “When we extended the search area and looked more closely, we identified hundreds of artifacts scattered on the surface. We knew there must be something significant there,” says Fred Hiebert, archeology fellow with National Geographic and one of the other principal investigators on the project.

When they carbon-dated their finds, the results were exciting and full of promise, seeming to fit around the time of Genghis’s life and death. “Material dating of some samples indicates 13th- and 14th-century origins, though the full analysis of data is still underway,” says Hiebert.

If these initial but intriguing research results are confirmed, it would be the first scientific evidence in 800 years of speculation surrounding the whereabouts of the tomb of Genghis Khan, one of history’s most enduring mysteries.

“We must use science to fill the gaps in the historical record—it is critical towards the understanding of our past and the preservation of the future,” says Prof. Shagdaryn Bira, a world-renowned expert on the subject and an investigator with the project.

“The fact that we found something that seems to corroborate those legends is extraordinary,” adds Lin.

Just don’t count the gold coins quite yet. The next steps are not that simple. The area is highly restricted and under close government control, and the team is working closely with the authorities regarding any finds.

“We do not want to excavate the site,” says Lin. “We believe it should be protected as an UNESCO World Heritage site to ensure that the temple and the area are not looted or destroyed.” It is a sentiment echoed by the other project scientists as well as by Mongolian officials.

“In everybody’s heart, we have already registered the site as the most important heritage site in Mongolia,” says Oyungerel Tsedevdamba, the Mongolian minister of culture.

Officials are right to be concerned, as grave robbing in Mongolia is a growing problem, with middlemen driving around the countryside and paying locals to dig up burial sites. The looted artifacts are then smuggled out of the country and sold at markets in Hong Kong and China, says Erdenebat, the professor at the National University in Ulan Bator.

Turning to a cupboard, Erdenebat pulls out a collapsing cardboard box from which a bone precariously protrudes. “This is all that’s left from one burial site that was recently raided in Bayankhongor province. They took anything they assumed had value and left the bones, boots, and clothes,” he says, as he lays down a crumbling 13th-century leather boot along with the owner’s shinbone.

“It’s impossible to know how many graves are being looted, but it must be in the thousands. All we do know is that it’s getting worse,” says Erdenebat. “Take Bayangol province. They’ve been having some harsh winters and no rain in the summers for years, and their herds are dying. With nothing left, the herders are starting to dig up their graves searching for gold. It’s survival.”

On the streets of Ulan Bator, it is clear that Mongolia is still in the throes of the Genghis mania that began after the fall of the Soviet Union as Mongolians sought to reestablish their own identity; many Mongolians see Genghis Khan as the father of modern Mongolia and, crucially, as a symbol of their independence. The capital’s airport is named Genghis Khan International Airport, and there is a Genghis Khan Hotel. A university and a line of popular energy drinks, as well as dozens of brands of vodka, also bear the conqueror’s name.

A visit to a few local antique shops confirms that officials are right to be worried about looting, with shopkeepers only too willing to sell off ill-gotten relics. At one shop tucked away on aptly named Tourist Street in downtown Ulan Bator, the owner offers a gold piece even finer than that in Erdenebat’s collection. With a price tag of $35,000, he claims it’s been dug up from a grave in Khentii province. Other items include an elegant stirrup engraved with dragons and possibly used by one of Genghis’s generals. It is priced at $10,000. A water jug in bronze and dating from the same era is marked at $30,000. The most expensive item, though, is a $180,000 three-inch gold carved horse from the Hunnu period “excavated” in the Kerulen Valley, the homeland of the Mongols.

“Our main buyers are Chinese,” the store owner explains. “They send Mongolians from Inner Mongolia to buy for their new museums. Last week someone offered $80,000 for the Hunnu horse, but I didn’t accept it.” He then offers a bit of unsolicited smuggling advice: “If you want to buy this horse, then just wear it as a necklace when you go through customs, and no one will stop you.”

In the heart of the capital, Genghis Khan sits, like Abraham Lincoln, near the seat of government. Outside the capital, a stainless-steel statue weighing in at 250 tons depicts him atop his steed, poised to ride across the steppe once more. Tourists can take an elevator up through the statue and exit at the crotch to gaze out over his domain. “Every nation has a symbol of their heroes, and he is a symbol of our nation,” says Battulga Khaltmaa, a former judo world champion and now the Mongolian minister of industry and agriculture, who erected the shimmering monument. “I built the statue to celebrate 800 years of the Mongol state and to bring the history of Genghis Khan ... to the younger generation and make them proud of their past.”

Word List:
  • compelling: that makes you think it is true
  • vain: that does not produce the result you want
  • pillaged: to steal things from a place or region, especially in a war, using violence
  • ruthless: hard and cruel; determined to get what you want and not caring if you hurt other people
  • shrouded: a thing that covers, surrounds or hides something
  • entombed: to bury or completely cover somebody/something so that they cannot be seen
  • necropolis: especially large place where dead people are buried in an ancient city
  • systematically: done according to a system or plan, in a thorough, efficient or determined way
  • unprecedented: that has never happened, been done or been known before
  • tight-lipped: [slang] not talking
  • slag heap: a large pile of slag (waste that remains after metal has been removed) from a mine
  • plummet: to fall suddenly and quickly from a high level or position
  • devastatingly: causing a lot of damage and destruction
  • hunching: to bend the top part of your body forward and raise your shoulders and back
  • mausoleum: a special building made to hold the dead body of an important person or the dead bodies of a family
  • semidivine: almost like a god
  • repercussions: an indirect and usually bad result of an action or event that may happen some time afterwards
  • ostracized: to refuse to let somebody be a member of a social group; to refuse to meet or talk to somebody
  • tactician: a person who is very clever at planning the best way to achieve something
  • inaccessibility: difficult or impossible to reach or to get
  • stymied: to prevent somebody from doing something that they have planned or want to do; to prevent something from happening
  • demise: the end or failure of an institution, an idea, a company, etc.
  • noninvasive: not involving cutting into something
  • homage: something that is said or done to show respect for somebody
  • corroborate: to provide evidence or information that supports a statement, theory, etc.
  • sentiment: a feeling or an opinion, especially one based on emotions
  • mania: an extremely strong desire or enthusiasm for something, often shared by a lot of people at the same time
  • unsolicited: not asked for and sometimes not wanted
  • steed: a horse to ride on
= compelling
= vain
= pillage
= ruthless
= shroud
= entomb
= necropolis
= systematically
= unprecedented
= tight-lipped
= plummet
= devastate
= hunch
= mausoleum
= repercussion
= ostracize
= tactician
= inaccessibility
= stymy
= demise
= noninvasive
= homage
= corroborate
= sentiment
= mania
= unsolicited
= steed

Monday, December 17, 2012

NEWS: Mongolian in the News - Dec 17

  • Tampa Bay Times (USA) - Dec 17
    Beef 'O' Brady's to open a restaurant in Mongolia

    When investors wanted to bring an American restaurant to Mongolia, a place so cold and dry it can't grow crops, they looked for a menu that reflects the country's appetite for meat. One immediately stood out: Beef 'O' Brady's. The Tampa-based sports bar and neighborhood pub has signed a deal to open multiple locations in Mongolia, starting in Ulaanbaatar, a capital city most Americans can't locate on a map. (continued)

  • Eurasia Review (Sri Lanka) - Dec 16
    Mongolia: Ulaanbaatar’s Last Green Spaces Up For Grabs

    Many Mongolians were surprised when, one day in 2004, a corrugated-steel fence suddenly went up around Ulaanbaatar’s 35-acre Children’s Park. They were horrified six years later when only a tiny four-acre fraction of the park reopened to the public, and plans emerged for the construction of a luxury hotel and other private developments on the rest of the area. (continued)

  • The New York Times (USA) - Dec 10
    Boom in Mongolia Deflates After Deal That Started It Is Threatened

    The concept of a “blue sky country” has become almost a cliché in presentations about Mongolia, the world’s fastest-growing economy last year. The phrase, which evokes the Montana-like landscape of the steppe, paints a picture of sunny investment horizons in this frontier democracy rich in coal, copper and gold. But visitors to this city, the capital of Mongolia, seldom find a blue sky today. It is smoggy, and soot rains down from the hills, as the poorest residents burn cheap brown coal to stay alive through the winter. The investment prospects of Mongolia, a darling of the emerging markets, are similarly shifting. (continued)

    A rainstorm approaches Mongolia's Oyu Tolgoi mine

Friday, December 14, 2012

NEWS: Ubuntu on the Mongol Steppe

Originally posted on OMG! Ubuntu! on Nov 1, 2012
By Joey-Elijah Sneddon

While the Western world flounders in its debt crises and stagnating growth, much of the developing world is telling a different story.

Far, out-of-the-way locales hosting bustling emerging economies present some of today’s best opportunities to establish strong consumer bases.

Chief among these is a country that can easily be overlooked for its small population and cultural obscurity, yet experienced the fastest economic growth last year (and is well on the way to do it again in 2012).

That country is Mongolia, a country I’ve called home for three years.

Mongolia, a cold and remote land that has served generations of nomads, is experiencing growth that Western countries cannot even dream of matching today. Driven by a tremendous mining boom, the country and its people have been thrown into the modern era with few existing attachments to the outside world.

Remote locals

I arrived in Mongolia in 2009 as a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching English at Uyanga Soum, a rural community with a population of less than 3,500 and hugged by surrounding snow-capped mountains. It lacked a lot basic infrastructure but had electricity and mobile phone coverage.

Very little in the area of IT capabilities was available. Most computers ran pirated versions of Windows XP. I started installing Ubuntu 10.04 on just a few machines and invited co-workers to use my laptop, which always ran the latest version, to see if there was interest.

The school staff’s interest was eventually piqued by this new system that utilised Mongolian language in its task bars and had eye-catching aesthetics. Before long, the software ran on over half the computers of teachers, who were being trained on their use.

On the far south end of the country in a town called Zamyn-Uud Soum, fellow volunteer Cameron Jones was implementing a similar project. Zamyn-Uud is a chief border point between China and Mongolia for travelers traveling the Trans-Siberian railway.

The real advantage there was the township became a target for MobiCom, the country’s largest cell phone service provider, to test Ubuntu’s appeal. With a strong local partner providing training and demonstrations in fluent Mongolian, Jones was in a much strong position than me in Uyange. Eventually, 20 teachers were trained while the school completely phased out its use of proprietary software.

Ihab Eltayeb, a volunteer with Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO), was using Ubuntu for a different application and reaching even more communities. Eltayeb was working to update the facilities of health centres throughout an entire province at the Uvurkhangai Aimag Health Department and its Regional Diagnostic Centre. Viruses were compromising systems, resulting in the loss of patient records and medical logs. Using Ubuntu as an alternative to buggy, pirated software, enabled them to keep their software secure, up to date and legal.

Eltayeb’s project brought Ubuntu to hospitals in 10 of the 18 communities he visited.

Picking Up Where the Rest of the World Left Off

Emerging and developing markets have much to benefit from open-source desktop software. It frees NGOs and start-ups from copyright concerns while easily adapting to fringe markets.

Language support was a real asterisk for many—this cannot be stressed enough. I never found a way to integrate Mongolian language into the UI and applications such as LibreOffice as I could with Ubuntu. Maybe it’s possible, but it’s certainly not as easy.

Ubuntu brought added security and support as well. It’s a lesson that everyone in the developing world learns pretty quickly that booting up a friend’s USB nearly always infects your computer. Linux-based software provides an easy fix. The Ubuntu Software Center is an unsung hero in this regard, too. It was a safe haven for computer novices to download applications without fear of malicious add-ons.

Hardware was rarely a challenge. Ubuntu’s vast driver support for hardware was particularly useful with Internet as a limited resource.

To further engage markets such as Mongolia’s, Ubuntu should continue doing what it does best: providing open-source software with long-term support and is easily installed.

Reaching out to where Ubuntu is penetrating can achieve even more. For this market, and surely many others, Linux is not dead for the desktop. A newcomer could easily sweep the market by more directly engaging the audience.

Paying countries such as Mongolia mind is an investment into a country’s development as well as a future market.

Ubuntu.com - download

Word List:
  • to flounder: to have a lot of problems and to be in danger of failing completely
  • to stagnate: to stop developing or making progress
  • obscurity: somebody/something is not well known or has been forgotten
  • to implement: to make something that has been officially decided start to happen or be used
  • proprietary: made and sold by a particular company and protected by a registered trademark
  • novice: a person who is new and has little experience in a skill, job or situation
= flounder
= stagnate
= obscurity
= proprietary
= novice

Monday, December 10, 2012

NEWS: Mongolia in the News - Dec 10

  • The Telegraph (UK) Dec 4
    Readers' great railway journeys: crossing Mongolia

    I’m sure Charles Bukowski wasn’t travelling the Trans-Mongolian Express when he named his book of poems "The Days Roll Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills", but no other words more accurately describe what it is to travel across the vast expanse of Mongolia. Like China, it goes on for ever. The country feels so incredibly otherworldly that it’s easy to convince yourself that you’re no longer on earth. Indeed, the Gobi Desert, the backdrop for most of our journey through Mongolia, looks like the set of Star Wars IV when Luke Skywalker returns home to find his village destroyed. (cont)

  • Jakarta Globe (Indonesia) Dec 9
    Heavily Polluted Mongolian Capital Turns to Buses to Alleviate Congestion
    On the streets of Ulan Bator a people renowned for their horse riding skills have to contend every day with ever more Hummers, Land Cruisers and Range Rovers. Mongolia’s vast open steppes and deserts stretch for hundreds upon hundreds of kilometers (miles), and it has the lowest population density of any country in the world. (cont)

  • The Wall Street Journal (USA) Dec 9
    Mongolia's Ex-Leader Speaks From Jail

    ULAN BATOR, Mongolia—Confined to a well-appointed suite in a dreary Soviet-era hospital, the disgraced, yet influential ex-president of this resource-rich nation is still roiling politics despite his isolation. In his first in-person interview with international media since a court convicted him of corruption in August, former Mongolian president Enkhbayar Nambar said charges that he enriched himself with real-estate and other business dealings were false and declared his innocence. (cont)

  • Fraser Coast Chronicle (Australia) Dec 10
    Mongolia learning from Australia how to make most of mining boom

    AS IT prepares to face the corporate hordes keen for its minerals, Mongolian government officials have headed for Australia to learn how to make the most of it. The developing Asian nation, on the doorstep of a resource-hungry China, has an exploding industry funded in part by billions of dollars from multi-national mining firm Rio Tinto. When the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold project reaches peak production in 2018, it will supply one-third of the country's gross domestic product. With this in mind, Mongolia must carefully choose its path because other developing nations have squandered opportunities of this scale, finding themselves poorer, not richer, once these minerals are exhausted. (cont)

Friday, December 7, 2012

NEWS: Vegetarians in Mongolia

Originally posted on The Economist Dec 1, 2012

Veggieburgers are catching on in the world’s least vegan country

A glance at Mongolia’s agricultural-output tables provides a vivid sense of what a difficult place it can be for vegetarians. Three kinds of meat top the chart—mutton, beef and goat. Potatoes make a decent showing, above camel meat but below horse meat. Carrots, cabbage and onions all feature, but only as statistical afterthoughts. The title of a discussion thread on one internet forum summed it up aptly: “Mongolia: the least vegan place in the world?”

But change is afoot. Though the capital, Ulaanbaatar, does not yet rival hipster cities in Europe or America as a vegetarian mecca, a meatless movement is beginning to stir. On his first visit, in 2005, your (vegetarian) correspondent could find a decent feed only at a mediocre Indian curry house. Today there are dozens of vegetarian restaurants to choose from.

Though Mongolia is predominantly Buddhist, its brand of the creed—like Tibet’s—does not proscribe meat. The country’s population of about 3 million is outnumbered by livestock by roughly 12 to one. Nomadic herding has long been at the core of Mongolia’s culture and economy, with meat and dairy products the mainstay of the national diet. Most of the vegetables consumed in Mongolia are imported from China.

In restaurants a request for meatless fare still generally causes quizzical bemusement. But not at Loving Hut, a worldwide vegan chain with several outlets in Ulaanbaatar. The patrons are mostly local, young and English-speaking, though not all are vegetarians.

The nascent trend for eschewing meat is part of Mongolia’s broader shift towards a more urbanised, international society. Last month the UB Post, a Mongolian newspaper, estimated there were 2,500 vegans in the country. Vegetarians may number above 30,000, according to other reports. Professor Oyuntsetseg of the Mongolian University of Science and Technology told the UB Post that strokes and cancers of the stomach and liver are leading causes of death among Mongolians, and that a vegetarian diet would help reduce the risk.

Nevertheless, the brave diners at Loving Hut are bucking strong cultural currents with their choice of food. It may be some time before tofu and alfalfa sprouts rival mutton and beef on those agricultural-output tables.

Word List:
  • glance: to look quickly at something/somebody
  • vivid: able to form pictures of ideas, situations, etc. easily in the mind
  • decent: of a good enough standard or quality
  • afoot: being planned; happening
  • hipster: people who are trendy, adopt things before everyone else
  • mecca: a place that many people like to visit, especially for a particular reason
  • mediocre: not very good; of only average standard
  • creed: a set of principles or religious beliefs
  • to proscribe: to say officially that something is banned
  • fare: food that is offered as a meal
  • quizzical: showing that you are slightly surprised or amused
  • bemusement: showing that you are confused and unable to think clearly
  • nascent: beginning to exist; not yet fully developed
  • to eschew: to deliberately avoid or keep away from something
  • to buck: to resist or oppose something
  • alfalfa sprouts: alfalfa seeds that are just beginning to grow, often eaten raw

= glance
= vivid
= decent
= afoot
= hipster
= creed
= proscribe
= fare
= quizzical
= bemusement
= nascent
= eschew
= buck
= alfalfa sprout

Monday, December 3, 2012

NEWS: Mongolia in the News - Dec 3