Monday, June 11, 2007

Internet Cafes and Temples

I am spending some time in Internet cafes and they are usually nearly full and buzzing with activity. The kinds of uses range from young men playing computer games (with great enthusiasm I might add) and young women using Skype and instant chat applications to communicate with people outside of Mongolia. Some older men and women come in to check their email and others are downloading music files. I have also seen young people working on their resumes and sending email. The point is that Internet cafes are used very actively in this city and they appear almost on every block in the main area of the city. This is occuring at the same time that Wimax (wireless internet access) is on the cusp of being developed here. I have an interview with a representative of a wireless web provider this afternoon, called Ulusnet. It will be interesting to see how the location-based commerce develops here since Mongolians do not use residential and businesses addresses in the same way as in Western countries nor do they have a grid system to their urban design.

This past weekend I tried to do some cultural activities and take a break from research. Yesterday I went to the largest Buddhist temple in Ulaanbaatar (one of the only ones that was not destroyed by the Soviets during the 1930s) and saw a golden Buddha statue that was 5 stories tall. It is one of the largest interior statues of Buddha in the world. We also visited a temple in honor of the Yadam god and saw beautiful ornamental sweets that the monks make from flour, sugar, water and dyes to feed the gods. I went to a nearby shop and bought some incense that many people here burn, which is made out of a kind of pine grown in Mongolia. It is supposed to chase evil spirits away and was even being burned throughout the office building of Telecom Mongolia that I visited the other day.

After that we went to Terelej area to visit Zaya's uncle, Ponjee, who used to run a communist operated ger camp. This camp was recently sold to another company and now Ponjee has his animals in the same area and is trying to develop his own tourist ger camp within the next year. He has 60 horses, 100 cattle and lots and lots of sheep as well. I saw a foal that was one day old! We rode some of his horses up into the valley for a few hours and the scenery was so beautiful--tall forested peaks, huge rock formations, and vast open steppes! The horses are called "honghor half moon" because they have white half-moon shapes on their faces. My horse galloped so fast I felt like I was flying! After riding, we sat in the ger and had some alcohol made from horse's milk and fry bread. We also had some milk tea and talked to the family for a while. Ponjee and I laughed when realizing we had the same Nokia cell phone. He held his up for a photo. He told me that in the summer he eats no meet and only has 3 cups of horse milk in the morning and before he goes to bed. He took me in the ger to show me an enormous sak made out of cow hide that is used to store the horse milk, which they refer to as "white food."

Just before sunset we dashed across the rough road to see an ENORMOUS Chinggis Khan monument being built in the middle of an open steppe about 80 km outside of UB, which will become a big tourist destination in the coming year. The plan is to build a 100 gers around the statue. There are alread ger camps sprouting up in the distance around this area, some with international investors.

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