Thursday, November 30, 2006

Cribs: Mongolian Edition

Since winter is approaching and it’s difficult to get in a wintry mood here in Kuala Lumpur, I’ve taken to looking for the most desolate and godforsaken frigid wastelands I can find on Google Earth, to get me in the holiday mood. I’ve been checking out fjords and icebergs and the Faroe Islands and so on.

I recommend the area around the Kamchatka Peninsula for a true scene of bitter, soul-crushing emptiness – I can’t really tell but I imagine most of what I see is fishing villages, oil outposts and Soviet military bases. So I assume everyone there probably looks a lot like Santa, except with fewer sleighbells, toys and jollity, and more vodka, knife fights and Russian Roulette.

So let’s take a little gander at a place I assume is pretty cold and desolate, Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia. I don’t remember the name having those extra “a”s when I was a kid. Maybe the city’s growing. I can only hope I live long enough to see them add a third and possibly even fourth “a” into the mix.

Here’s the city. Looks small and dusty, but presentable. There’s a big central square, a soccer field, and what looks like residential sprawl on the hills around it. Much less exotic than I was expecting. Maybe a closer look will show some local color.

Let’s zoom in on those hillside residences, shall we? Take a gander at how Ulaan Bataar’s middle class like to set up their cribs, just a few hundred yards from the bustling capital’s heart. Oh dear. Those aren’t... They can’t be...

They are. Tents.

Everyone apparently lays out a nice little yard with a big stone wall around it, and then sets up their yurt. Er, hello, Mongolians? Far be it from me to tell you how to live your lives but dudes if you’ve got the massive shipments of bricks and mortar for those sturdy fences you know what else you can do with them? BUILD A F&#KING HOUSE. Oh well. Sarcasm and cultural insensitivity aside, it’s pretty cool that they still live in those tents, even just outside the dead center of the capital city. ’Cause that’s how they roll. That’s probably what suburban Chicago would look like today, if we hadn’t kicked out all the Indians. Except with teepees, of course.

Here is a picture I just found of what those white circles in the Google Earth pictures must be. As I suspected, yurts, yurts and more yurts. Yurtles all the way down. Note that it clearly has a concrete foundation. Oh you wacky Mongolians.


becky said...

Hello Albtraum,
Apparently 60% of UB's 1 mill. population live in yurts, or gers as they call them. Thanks for sharing the satellite perspective, hadn't seen it before!

Re: your comment on building houses, yurts are actually much more efficient to heat (being round) and warmer (being covered in felted wool) than a brick and mortar "house" would be. The story is told of Russians trying to lure Mongolian herders into "stability" by building castles for the clan leaders. The Mongolians, not wanting the buildings to go to waste, moved their winter quarters close to the castles and used them to house their herd animals.

Personally, I think the Mongols have the right idea, staying with an ancient and proven form of shelter that makes use of readily available natural resources and engenders cultural continuity. Plus they can pick up and move their shelter at any time (can you do that?).

Nice blog, and wonderful writing...


becky kemery
Author of YURTS: Living in the Round

albtraum said...


Thanks for your informative comment. I hope as a yurt enthusiast you weren't offended by my joke that the Mongolians should build houses instead... that was more of a remark about my stereotypical response as a Westerner upon seeing those satellite pictures than a real suggestion. I am a big fan of traditional housing and architecture, in whatever form. I wouldn't trade my igloo for anything.

Jinna said...

I am just in awe of the internet right now. In awe.