Mongol Voices : The Transition and Foreign Cassettes

Here is another piece to my series of interviews with Mongolians to further understand Mongolian culture and history. A couple weeks ago I sat down with an incredible person, Uugii has always been incredibly helpful to me with projects and navigating Mongolian culture. I often helped her with her 6th grade class, and it was obvious that her students loved her. She sat down with me to answer some questions…

How long have you worked at school 3?

I have been working for 13 years as an English teacher.

How long have you lived in Uliastai ?

I have lived here since I was born.

What has changed about Uliastai? What was different when you were a child?

Not really changed in Uliastai. I think paved roads are new, and more shops and markets. And also restaurants and pubs . The Private sector has grown.

It was difficult when I was a teenager, cause the ‘transition’ happened when I was 15. Many shops were empty. We would rush home very quickly so we could get to the bread shop and get a loaf of bread for our families. You could only get one loaf per family , and was only given to the first 50 people. So people found that children could be handled up front to get a loaf more easily then adults could. We also had ration cards, coupons for food. Many families went hungry during that time. My father was a driver and we would wait for him a lot. He drove to many different aimags, with many different types of cargo, including chips, My dad said that he exchanged 5 liter bins of gas / petrol for a 50 kilos of chips. By the time we got the chips they were hard, so we would put them in milk tea till they got soft. There were e6 people in my family, so it was good for them , especially the boys cause they can eat a lot. My dad would also buy a large thing of aural [traditional Mongolian dried curd, often eaten as a snack] , and we would share that classmates.

The meat was the same, but I never had to order meat. It was very difficult. And my mom and would order, cause they actually had to choose. I would hear of people fighting and hurting each other to get meat. Clothing was also difficult. I would wear my moms hand-me-downs, and things would get adjusted. My boots never fit. It was difficult.

Money was no problem , but getting foodstuff was difficult. Now there are many things but now money is difficult.

When you were a teenager, what did you do for fun?

Read books and collecting greeting cards. When I was a child , there were only cassettes, so people bought those and traded them.

What type of music ?

Foreign music… N*Sync, and Backstreet Boys, and Spice Girls.

Really ??? No way!

It was very rare to find. We usually asked people who went to UB to get more foreign music, then we would exchange with each other.

Of course, some Mongolian music too, Camerton, Khurd, Kharanga, Emotion are some names of groups.

Sometimes we would watch Indian movies, cause they were cheap. 100-200 tugriks.

How did you decide what you wanted to study?

My parents worked in construction. My mom worked in the construction area, took care of security, and managed the construction time. During socialism construction was steady, but then during transition most construction stopped (factories) . During this time, I looked at my teachers and they were being paid really well, and looked fancy so I decided to become a foreign language teacher. Including Russian. I went to Orkhon University ( which was in Uliastai) . It was very difficult to get into a state university, I placed 5th in the placement exam but they only had room for the first 3 places. Now it is much easier. 1,000 students last year went to state schools. 100 choose private schools.

How did you meet your spouse? How did you meet him ?

I met him in 2000. He studied with my university friend in secondary school, School number 2. We were introduced that way. After I graduated college we started dating.

When did you get married? How old were you? Where did you get married? What was your wedding like?

I was 24, we got married in 2004. We got married in a ger, in a traditional Mongolian wedding. During this time a nice car was a russian jeep or lorry. I remember that during my wedding, one russian jeep and one truck, could me and my husband, as well as my bridesmaids to get to the ger. Now its very different. Now weddings are different using big jeeps.

How many children do you have? When were they born? How did you decide what to name each?

I have two, a son born in 2003 and a daughter born in 2008. We asked a lama what we should name them. It is a family tradition.

Do you have any hobbies or special interests? Do you enjoy any particular sports?

I like to sew but I’m not very good. And reading books and magazines. Not really interested in sports, but I like dancing. Ever since I was young.

“What is your favorite part of Mongolia?”

My favorite holiday is Tsagaan Sar, because we can meet our relatives and that’s very important. I also like summertime in Mongolia. Its very nice and comfortable. I like to go camping and picnicking with my family. Put up a tent near the forest or river. Especially in August. I also like to pick berries in the summer.

What are some things you would want Americans to know about Mongolia?

I would like Americans to know about Mongolian family traditions. I think guesting and hosting are very important and might be different for foreigners. Especially Tsagaan Sar. Visits are very long, and they must wait after greeting, and exchanging snuff bottles. You can’t just leave, you need to sit and appreciate the time. Especially because Mongolian families must go to visit older family members first. So sometimes others much wait a long time to visit. But we must visit many families to greet each other for the new year.

What’s one thing that’s difficult for Mongolians right now?

In my opinion, one thing I don’t understand is that among politicians, a few are very very rich. Owning houses in Europe and America. They don’t spend their money in Mongolia. They do not help Mongolian people. But among the public its changing, the young people are joining social networks, and uniting to help people. For example raising money to send people abroad for medical care, and also helping get poor children warm clothes and helping homeless people to get gers. I like these young peoples activities. Its very good.

This periods politicians suffered like me. The transition was very difficult, and it just seems like many politicians just want to collect money.

My country has very big land, many minerals and will help make things better.

Also the Mongolian tugrik against the dollar is weak… there are many current problems. I wish peoples salaries would be enough for them. And would allow more people to travel.

Hope you enjoyed this interview and maybe even learned something! Again, I tried to write down her speech while still keeping her tone of voice. Next week I will be in Ulaan Baatar for an International Social Work Conference, so stay tuned for an up date then! Till next time – V.



  1. Albert T. Chandler · · Reply

    Nice post.

  2. Reblogged this on Currently Somewhere and commented:
    Cool interview with a Mongolian by a fellow Peace Corps volunteer.

  3. 1jacquezero · · Reply

    Thank you, once again for your gift to us who will not have the opportunity you are taking part in. Very interesting.

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