Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A summer morning's walk through central UB

Morning is the ideal time for sight-seeing and wandering around Ulaanbaatar.  Yesterday morning was the first bright sunrise after several rainy days, promising a hazy, hot afternoon under the blazing Mongolian sun.  In the course of taking care of various bureaucratic and logistical matters, I snapped the following photos starting with a view of the financial district from Sukhbaatar Square:

Sukhbaatar Square is the city's central plaza abutting the government palace and displaying the statue of Damdin Sukhbaatar (Дамдины Сүхбаатар), a leader ini the 1921 Mongolian revolution, where Mongolia fought to assert its sovereignty against invasions and occupation by the Chinese and the Russians.  Although Sukhbaatar is one of the nation's great heros, there is currently a bill or proposition in the Mongolian parliament (the Ih Hural or Их Хурал) to change the name of Sukhbaatar Square to Chinggis Square.  While I've heard that such a measure is unlikely to pass, it signals an interesting shift in how modern Mongolia desires to represent and connect to its deep and complex history.  Sukhbaatar's statue is toward the south end of the square and he can just be made out in this picture as the figure on horseback atop a large rock:

Behind him and across the street is Blue Sky Tower (the tallest building in the center of the photo), a relatively new building that was only recently opened for business.  For severals years after construction was almost completed, I'd heard that the building was in danger of collapsing.  It turns out that, once they'd finished, they realized the builidng was 17cm too short on one side!  Luckily they were eventually able to hire an engineering firm to fix the problem and the building now hosts some of the fanciest establishments in the city, including an amazing (and expensive!) rooftop bar on the 7th floor (pictures of that later!).

On the north side of Sukhbaatar Square sits the government palace.  The southern face of the government place is adorned with five magnificent statues of prominent leaders in the Mongol Empire.  The central figure is, unsurprisingly, Chinggis Khan (Genghis Khan):

Of the five statures, three are seated and two are on horseback.  The seated figures are of three of the Great Khans (only Chinggis is visible in this picture).  Chinggis (Чингис хаан) needs no explanation.  To one side is seated Ogedei (Өгэдэй хаан), Chinggis's immediate successor, and Kubilai (Хубилай хаан), one of Chinggis Khan's grandsons and perhaps familiar to some from the Coleridge poem:

          "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree"

By far the largest of the statues, Chinggis is also flanked by two of his great generals.  Precisely which generals I have not yet been able to ascertain.  My inclination is that one of these Mongol equestrian knights is Subedei (Сүбээдэй баатар, meaning "the hero Subedei") and the other may be Jelme (Зэлмэ), another of Chinggis's loyal and celebrated commanders.  Subedei would be an obvious choice as one of the most brilliant strategists and successful generals not only of the Mongol Empire and medieval world but in recorded history.  However, I'm not familiar enough with the artistic conventions of Mongolian portraiture to identify either by just a statue.  One of my Mongolian friends, Tungaa, informed me that one of the great generals of the Mongol Empire is usually depicted on a horse with one foreleg raised:

When I figure out which general, I will update this post accordingly. 

Just northwest of the government palace is the central location of the National University of Mongolia (NUM or its Mongolian acronym, МУЙС). NUM is my host institution and the largest, most prestigious university in Mongolia:

In a close-up of the façade you can see the name of the university in both Cyrillic and the Classical Mongolian script:

This morning trip ended in a visit to the Foreign Affairs office at the National University of Mongolia in order to get help with my long-term residency permit.  In order to stay and research in Mongolia, I will need to secure this document before the end of August.  Luckily the Foreign Affairs officer I'm working with is a supremely helpful and knowledgeable woman in whose capable hands I have entrusted my fate.

But how to finish off a productive morning and keep one's energy up?  By imbibing some Artichoke Healthy Drink, of course!

The labeling indicates this health beverage is organic and locally produced in Mongolia from artichoke, blueberries, mint, lemon juice, and 'other flavors'.  It was much better than I expected, a blend of bubblegum and Pepto-Bismol that tasted distinctly less healthy than I thought artichoke juice would.  Of the Mongolian health beverages I've had, I'd give it three out of five stars.


  1. Quickfix:

    1) The proposal (already passed) to change the name of Sükhbaatar Square was municipal, not in the Ikh Khural.

    2) The classical script appearing over the National State University is actually not its name! It is different from what's written in Cyrillic.

  2. Always interesting to get unsolicited 'quickfixes' from a total stranger! Now, if you know which Mongol imperial general is which outside of the Ih Hural, please feel free to share.