Saturday, January 3, 2009

I have to admit that I am mostly glad the NY celebrations are finally over. No more waking up at 8am with a hangover from the office / this'n'that NY party, dragging myself to work and spending the day half-asleep behind the computer unproductively and genuinely unwell.

The tradition here is to celebrate the countdown with your family at home, and if you are still up to it, you go out and get sloshed. I remember the very last time I celebrated the new year in Mongolia. It was Y2K. I was walking with my then gf, unable to get a taxi, trying to decide whether to go to the Sukhbaatar square or just go home and do the countdown with our families, when the year 2000 arrived. It was very anticlimatic. No plane crashes, no computers exploding. Not even the street lights were affected. On the other hand, it did make me smile, thinking of those who'd built bomb shelters and hoarded 20 years worth of canned goo.

What I hope to see in 2009 is perhaps a final decision on the minerals law so we don't have to keep reading daily news updates about how there's no progress. I hope the Boroo Gold example does not repeat. Where did all the gold go? This should have been in the list of ten 2008 events published by Montsame agency, I reckon.

A new president for 2009 would be great. Unfortunately, S.Oyun, former Foreign Minister and my personal favourite for a future Mongolian president, has announced that she will not be running. Another 4 years of President Enkhbayar? Wouldn't rule it out at all. Perhaps we'll see another 4 years of him lobbying for a switch to a presidential democracy.

Back to the celebrations, here's what happened on NYE in UB city. Lots and lots of fireworks going off at random everywhere. You could buy them for T 5,000 - 10,000 a pop from in front of the State Dept. Store. The next day on the radio, a lady spoke of how great this year's NYE~NYD transition was: there were far fewer people dragged to the "sobering" cells of police stations for an overnight's stay (not for free, mind you, they still need to pay the police department for the lodging, as naked and uncomfortable as the stay may have been) and perhaps far fewer people setting themselves on fire due to mishandled fireworks compared to last year.  "Sobering" cells (literally translated) were introduced during the communist era, where drunk-off-their-faces folks with no one around to take care of them were arrested and thrown into a cell without their clothes on in hopes of sobering them up faster. No idea how effective this method is, but according to a friend of mine who'd once worked at a police station, the hosts provide tea with sugar to their inebriated and reluctant guests.

On a more positive note, the skies lit up on NYE at Sukhbaatar Square (from what I could see on TV, the fireworks were impressive, aided by the T5,000 fireworks of those gathered at the Square). The city was eerily quiet on NYE and the weekend that followed, most people having celebrated the coming NY in the weeks leading up to it. Found this video by youtube user webandrew of the NYE fireworks at the square. (The video starts with a Mongolian version of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing", first time I'm hearing it).
According to, a musical statue that plays the national anthem 3 times a day (at 6am, 12pm and 6pm) was recently erected inside the park south of the Sukhbaatar square. The lyrics are also written on the statue, so if anyone feels the patriotic urge to sing the national anthem correctly at 6am in the morning, that's where it's all happening.