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10 Facts People Should Know About Mongolia

When I was nine years old, my family moved to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. We lived there four years before moving back to the United States. I know that doesn’t sound like a very long time, but it was my home. And I loved it. Since I moved away, I have often had to explain the mysterious Mongolia. It seems that although the famous Mongols once possessed a great portion of the known-world, they have since crept back into the shadows.

In light of that, I thought I would share with you 10 Facts People Should Know About Mongolia.

1. IT’S IN ASIA (NOT AFRICA)

Sometimes, people ask me where home is. I look at them for a moment and then say slowly, “I’m not really sure. I lived in Mongolia for four years though.” That usually changes the subject (thank goodness) to, “Oh! Mongolia! That’s interesting. It’s hot there right?”

I hesitate. Could Mongolia be described as hot? Well, I used to think the summers were hot. They could get up in the 90s. But, no, of course not. Mongolia would never be described as hot. It has basically nine months of winter.

“Are you thinking of Angola?”

“Oh! That’s right, I am. Where’s Mongolia again?”

“Sandwiched between Russia and China,” I respond.

“Ha! That’s funny. I forgot there was even a country there.”

You’re not alone, my friend. You’re not alone.

2. THEY SPEAK MONGOLIAN (NOT CHINESE)

“You lived in Mongolia! How interesting! Do you speak Chinese then?”

…No. No, I don’t speak Chinese because they don’t speak Chinese in Mongolia. They speak Mongolian.

A common misconception about Mongolia is that they are some sort of territory or province of China. As much as China might like that, this is not the case. I know this is confusing with the province in China actually called “Inner Mongolia.” Let me explain. Inner Mongolia is outside of Mongolia – in China. Outer Mongolia is actual Mongolia. Don’t ask me why this happened, I have no idea.

Due to the fact that Mongolia is not a part of China, it speaks a language not even remotely like Chinese. Strangely enough, it is more similar to Arabic than any thing else. It is not tonal, it doesn’t use characters, and, to be honest, it doesn’t sound very pretty. But I love it because it’s theirs.

3. THEY EAT MUTTON (NOT “BD’S MONGOLIAN GRILL”)

“You are so lucky you got to live in Mongolia! I LOVE Mongolian food!”

Few things in life make me want to cuss. However, hearing these words makes this girl want to scream some foul language. I did not eat five hundred mutton dumplings or drink a thousand bowls of milk tea to be told I was lucky to eat it. I ate it to be polite.

I am sure there are some people in the world who really appreciate a hearty Mongol meal. If you like mutton and fermented mare’s milk, you really are in for a treat. Wait, are you surprised that this doesn’t sound like BD’s Mongolian Grill? That’s because that restaurant is one big fat lie.

BD’s serves seafood, NY strip steak, and every kind of beautiful fresh vegetable you can imagine. It has workers, with swords, flinging your food around on a grill while they sing a happy “Mongol” song. Just…what the heck.

Mongolia is a landlocked country – it’s a rare day when they get seafood. NY strip steak? Are you kidding me? I’d saw off my right leg for one of those in BEIJING alone. Mongolia is a land of permafrost – getting a lot of different kind of veggies is a miracle.

I just can’t tell you how much BD’s goes against every memory of my Mongolian childhood. I do understand that it is a delicious restaurant, but I’m not really sure why they picked Mongolia. Maybe the idea that no one would ever know they were crazy?

On a positive note, I do hope it’s helping Mongolian tourism. What a bummer for the tourists though, when they realize there’s no delicious seafood on the menu.

4. ROADS ARE A PRIVILEGE (NOT A RIGHT)

I have noticed that complaining about poor road conditions is just something humans like to do. When I first visited Leif’s home in downeast Maine, I learned that America still has a final frontier in regards to roads. They twist, and they dip, and they bump. I feel nauseated every time we fly down the street to his old home.

However, nothing compares to the “roads” of Mongolia. Almost as soon as you leave the capital, Ulaanbaatar, you find the end of the pavement. You cross over into the nomadic steppe that is the Mongolian countryside. The roads become dirt paths that have so many potholes and rocks you’re often better off just driving on the grass.

My dad would often weave our jeep in and out of power lines, saying, “We know power leads to something!” Of course, that meant getting stuck in a bog for six hours until a Russian truck could tow us out. The time my dad stayed faithful to the dirt “road,” the jeep rolled three times and he almost died out in the Mongolian steppe.

I would just like to take this moment to thank the American government for their beautiful highways. Thanks, America.

5. IT’S PRONOUNCED OO-LAN-BAH-TER (NOT OO-LAN-BAY-TAR)

Ulaanbaatar is a fascinating city that I hope everyone has the privilege of visiting. It is nestled in a valley, surrounded by rolling hills with ancient Mongolian script painted upon them. A developing city, it is under almost constant construction as it seeks to better itself for the world stage. And, currently, Mongolia is actually considered one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

Surrounding modern Ulaanbaatar is the ger district. The ger district is where more than half of Mongolians live. It often, if not entirely, lacks access to basic amenities like water, sewage systems, and central heating. Gers (yurts) are the felt tents you may have seen in pictures when talking about northern Asia. The ger district is mostly made up of these gers, wooden fences, and poorly constructed houses.

Now that you know a little more about Ulaanbaatar, just remember to pronounce it correctly. Or, you could always just call it “UB” for short.

6. THERE ARE PEOPLE THERE (NOT JUST ANIMALS)

In university, I took an international relations class that required each student to religiously read the BBC News every week. Each week, I waited and waited for there to be an article about Mongolia. I thought about how wonderful it would be to finally be able to share my favorite country with my class. …No article ever came.

I can understand why people aren’t sure anyone lives in the country. I mean, we never hear about them in the media. My dad, being the wise father he is, did a lot of research on Mongolia before we moved there. One of the few things he uncovered during his research was that Mongolia has more horses than people. So…it’s an empty land running free with horses?

Well, yes and no. There are, indeed, a lot of horses. And sheep. And goats. And yaks. And reindeer. And hawks. And vultures. However, I am here to tell you today, there are also 3.2 million people in Mongolia. 3 million people with a unique culture and fascinating traditions. Just because you never hear about them, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

7. CHINNGGIS KHAAN IS THEIR HERO (NOT A VILLAIN)

When we were feeling particularly optimistic about life, my family and I traveled around the countryside of Mongolia. Usually we decided to venture out for a camping trip or some other kind of vacation. Every time we got in the car, my brother, Jonan, and I would sit by our windows and stare intently out at the steppe. Our parents had told us that Chinnggis Khaan was buried out there somewhere and, gosh darn it, we were gonna be the ones to find him.

Chinnggis Khan (Genghis Khan), as you may remember from history class, was the founder and Great Khan of the Mongol empire. He was able to unite the nomadic tribes and conquer most of Eurasia. He was a fearless leader, willing to do whatever necessary to further his people’s iron grasp of the world. Their conquest was brutal.

Despite the brutality Chinnggis Khaan used, he is never a villain in the eyes of the Mongols. He is their founding father. Their hero. Statues of him are found all over Mongolia and, honestly, can you blame them? Chinnggis Khaan, although horrendously vicious, got the job done. A tip of the hat to the brilliant warrior.

As rumors have it, Chinnggis Khaan had a very serious burial plan in the event of his death. He was to be buried at an undisclosed location and anyone who was involved in the burial process was later to be killed.

As you might imagine, Jonan and I never found his grave. Bummer.

8. IT IS FRIGID (NOT JUST COLD)

Our first winter in Mongolia, our radiators in our apartment froze. It was -40 Celsius and our heaters froze. We could put hot soup on the counter and it would freeze in five minutes or less. I have decided that I didn’t know cold until I didn’t know what warmth felt like any more. You know it’s cold when your snot freezes to your nose hairs. You know it’s cold when your eyelashes get so many ice crystals you can’t see anymore. And you know it’s cold when you’re wearing seven layers and you’re still cold.

Strangely enough, thanks to the polar vortex this year, a lot of you may actually know how this feels. It is freaking miserable. Not just miserable. Freaking miserable.

However, when it gets warm enough to snow again, suddenly you’re running around in shorts and a t-shirt.

Mongolia and the cold give you tough skin.

9. IT IS AN UNDISCOVERED BEAUTY (NOT A DESOLATE WASTELAND)

Yes, Mongolia doesn’t have a lot of people. And, yes, Mongolia isn’t well known.

Yet, Mongolia still has so much to offer. My memories of Mongolia are absolutely beautiful. There is a sea of rolling steppe where you can watch the shadows of clouds roll over the land for miles. In the north, there is beautiful Lake Khovsgol, where mountains, forests, and plains collide. In the west, towering, snow-capped mountains. And, in the south, there is the Gobi Desert with towering sand dunes and springing tumbleweeds.

Part of me loves that Mongolia is so little known. Part of me hopes it’ll stay that way forever, because it is charming in its endless emptiness of beauty.

10. IT IS ALWAYS AN ADVENTURE (NOT EVER BORING)

All of my best stories have come from Mongolia.

My family and I were trapped in a blizzard in the Gobi Desert. Nine stories of sewage backed up into my family’s toilet and tub. I stepped on a mouse that died in my boot. I could tell you story after story, but all of it to say, Mongolia is the best kind of adventure.

It’s the kind of adventure where you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. You never know what the next day will bring. You never know how it’s going to change you. I am incredibly grateful my parents moved me to the unknown nation of Mongolia. It taught me the life-long lesson:

There should always be adventure.

***

Are there other facts people should know about Mongolia? Leave a comment below.

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154 Comments

  1. Baaska

    i’m so happy read this article, i live in Austria and miss my country so much…. when i said ‘i come from Mongolia’, they ask me ‘Ah can u speak Chinese’,,,, it always makes me discontent and then i smile and tell them ‘ of course i can’t, Mongolia isn’t part of Chinese and we speak Mongolian’…so tnx for telling the truth, some part of people know about our country

  2. byambaa

    Thank you dear Grace!! It was so awesome to read for me. Pls visit again to my Mongolia and you always welcome 😉

    • it is weird.People ask me where from i proudly says Mongolia.People i met Americans knows my country.American IQ is better LOL

  3. Bulgan Hanjargalant

    This is so perfect, everything you wrote about was everything I too wished people knew! Thank you for this beautifully written blog you make us mongolians proud.

    • Ron McFarland

      Excellent post. I have been to Mongolia four times and have adopted the country as my own. The people their rich culture and history is one of the most if not the most interesting. The Mongols are intelligent proud people who have a sincere and strong love of their country. Mongolia will always be great.

  4. Rob

    What a great article, Grace! If I was going to write an article on Mongolia, this is exactly how I would hope it turned out. The misconceptions and misunderstandings about, but I am reminded what a blessing it has been to experience this culture on a somewhat regular basis. I love Mongolia and more importantly, the people of Mongolia. I once had a Mongolian man (not always known for public displays of affection), stop me on the street, high-five me, and give me a big hug! Hahaha. Mind you, I’m about 6’1″ 195, and he was…well, much larger than me. It was such a demonstration of, “welcome to my country” I will never forget it.

    Thanks again for articulating this amazing people and culture…even if it does make me laugh.

  5. Pingback: 10 Facts that People Don’t Know About Mongolia | Natso's Not So Personal Blog

  6. Nice story Grace. I appreciate your thoughts about Mongolia and everything is true in this story. I am a Mongolian lived in United States for 10 years and back in my home land since 2009. I know all those different feelings and also agree with it is endless adventure just been in Mongolia. There is no time to get bored here.
    Cheers

  7. Thanks for the info! Being an American, I would’ve guessed Mongolia was just west of Arizona. I was way off. 🙂 Its so interesting to hear about other lands and cultures around the world. You stated that Mongolia is considered to have one of the fasted growing economies so I am curious now if they have a free market there or if it is highly regulated? I would guess less regulated but I am curious. I too ate a lot of mutton. I was born on the sharp edge of Indian reservation lands in the states. I didn’t care for that kind of mutton but I ate it anyway. Thanks for sharing this. Very cool stuff. 🙂

  8. Great blog post! We lived in Mongolia from 2003-2006 and we absolutely loved it. My girls still talk about it and want to go back. Not only is it just chock full of natural beauty (Tsagaan Nuur and the volcano with it’s crazy lava field – the mountains of western Mongolia, the plains of the eastern provinces, etc) it’s full of such great and largely unexplained archeological sites. It’s just amazing. Oh and thank you for saying Chingiss. It’s a major pet peeve of my girls when people refer to him as Genghis, lol.

    • Tsagaan nuur volcana close to my dad birth place .My great great great greatgrand parent and used to nomad there

  9. Nick

    Sainuu Grace! yu bna daa? All the best girl! this is just perfect for who doesn’t know about my country, this blog wrote without any salt and pepper! its just the way it is. ” Part of me loves that Mongolia is so little known. Part of me hopes it’ll stay that way forever, because it is charming in its endless emptiness of beauty.” love my country!!!!

  10. Bayarbilegt

    So sweet, good to read about all. By the way, Tell everybody Mongolia is independent country. Not dependent country from China and Russia. And don’t forget about our customs. I hope you get some knowledge about our custom during 4 years live in Mongolia. Finally, Thanks about telling true about my Mongolia.

  11. Lily

    Hello Grace. I have never read such a wonderful description of our Mongolia. Thank you for sharing this with other people. Hope you will spread this wonderful feeling for looooooooooong time 🙂

  12. Erdem

    Great article! Thank you for correcting common misconceptions about my country. Next time when someone asks me ignorant questions about Mongolia, I will quickly refer them to this article. Also, come visit Mongolia soon. I am sure that it will always remain in your heart as your second home.

  13. joice

    I would actually call Mongolia as my home. I lived there for over 10 years. I was chuckling here and there cuz I would TOTALLY agree with you. I am soooo happy to find someone who could actually understand how I feel about that indescribable country. Thank you for this post!

  14. al

    Thanks for sharing – you pretty much summed it up! It truly is hard to describe to someone who’s never been.

  15. culture2009

    Whaa, you are just a great poster. Already missed my Mongolia here in Korea. Thank you for sharing all the true facts about Mongolia.

  16. Emily

    man I just completely stumbled across this post on Google looking up mongolian baby names so happy I did. My boyfriend is mongolian and when I tell people this always their first reaction is where the heck is that? lol we are expecting our first baby soon and I know that questions about mongolia will come up alot now and I’m going to suggest this article to people. Thanks for writing this I loved it.

  17. EnkhOd

    An awesome and interesting article! It is really thrilling to read about your adventure in Mongolia. I am mongolian and I think you do know more than i do about my own country! Shame on me 🙂 New generations like myself pay particular attention to western cultures and tend to disregard culture of their own. I started to feel really bad when Canadians asked me about Mongolia and its cultural differences as I didn’t know much about nomadic lifestyle! When i was a teenager my friends used to look down on nomadic people from countryside and discriminated them ( dont’t deny this my fellow friends from UB). Yes this is true. Now i realize nomadic lifestyle was the only Mongolian identity that world knows.

  18. James Markham

    I enjoyed your story and may decide to visit someday. All I know about Mongolia is it’s conversion to Tibetan Buddhism which I have read about. (I am a Buddhist). I live near a Tibetan Buddhist temple in Howell Twp. (Freewood Acres) where many Kalamuks live who are Mongolians. I was present when the Dalai Lama made his first venture to the USA in 1978 or 79 and visited three of the Temples here. He was yet to be famous in this country so there were not too many people there. I got to pass by him and receive a khata (white scarf) and red string from him. Thanks for expanding my knowlege of this Asian region. (BTW, my last name is spelled the same as a district in the southeast of Tibet).

  19. I’m headed out to Mongolia in August! Actually when I tell people they just look at me blankly but I’ve loved reading your post about it! So excited to finally get there and experience it for myself!

  20. Pingback: Destination: Mongolia – feather + fir

  21. trevino

    Thank you for sharing this information on Mongolia. My wife is Mongolian and our child was born and raised there. But just as I fell in love with my wife, I also fell in love with Mongolia, its culture and its people. We spend all of our summers in Mongolia and planning to relocate there once again. I can definitely relate to all of your ten facts and a big part of me greatly hopes for Mongolia to remain as is forever as well. It’s mysterious to many, interesting to all yet a home to the few of us who actually lived and experienced the land we now call “Our Mongolia”.

  22. BG

    this is all true and I think it’s right to say that I’m Mongolian .Can I ask u one thing? Did u go to Mongolia since ur childhood? very thank u !wish u all the best and success!!!

  23. Barb

    I’m enchanted with Mongolia! I was trying to learn more about it because what I do is find host families for exchange students for Youth For Understanding. For the first time this year, we will have a teenager from Mongolia coming in August for the 2016-2017 school year, and I am looking for an American family who would like to become her second family while she’s here. She’s a joyful 16 year old, very family oriented. She hopes to join sports and clubs at her American high school. She will have her own spending money and health insurance. It’s a wonderful opportunity for an interested family to make a special connection with Mongolia. Interested? Message me. Or go to http://www.yfu-usa.org

  24. Cynthia C Hill

    Any suggestions for a 62 year old female who wants to move to Mongolia to teach English?

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