Thursday, April 12, 2007

What It Means to be a Mongolian Abroad

There are 2 types of travellers. Those who adapt and mingle when in Rome, and those who would rather stick with their own group of people. I think Mongolians in many cases fall somewhere in between. There are some, like myself, who don't have a group of his own people, simply coz I have always travelled alone. Being a travelling Mongolian means a few things:
a. People's fascination with my country of origin, for those who know where it is. This is always welcome. If the person has been to Mongolia or knows something specific about Mongolia, it always makes for an interesting conversation.
b. Dealing with people's confusion as to whether I am Chinese, with lengthy explanations from me as to why we are not Chinese and why I do not speak any Chinese languages.
c. Dealing with downright ignorance as to where I am from.
d. Explaining that Mongolia is not next to Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan.

I have also observed that Asians more than Westerners are ignorant about Mongolia. I have met many Australians, Americans etc, who have heard of Mongolia and have been there. I suppose being born an Asian entitles a person to remain apathetic to the goings-on around the Asian region. It's the same situation when you live in a particular city. You will find that tourists and short / medium-term stayers in that city are more up-to-date on the city than those who were born there or have lived there for a long time.

In general, however, the frustrating times are over. While the Chinese from PR of China continue to remain completely ignorant of Mongolia's supreme status, the rest of the world is slowly starting to accept it. I remember one of the most insulting times were when I landed in the Beijing airport ten years ago on my way to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. When I showed the customs official my passport, he insisted that Mongolia is in China and I must go to the Domestic terminal for my connecting flight. This was 10 years ago, 70 years after our independence.