Wave of change in Ulaanbaatar
I have just recently come back from a month long vacation in the countryside, and the changes I see in our dear old capital, Ulaanbaatar, are astonishing. It seems like the city, as a whole, is getting a total makeover.
Colourful flowers growing on roadsides, small children everywhere, buildings being erected left and right and, of course, the road construction projects that are taking place simultaneously -which cause a great deal of frustration among drivers who have to go through every corner of the city to get to their destination.
If I had to name a place in Ulaanbaatar that is most affected by the rapidly growing economy, I would have to say it’s Zaisan. Climbing up to the top of Zaisan Hill used to be a much different experience.
I remember the first time I visited Zaisan with my grandmother and cousins, who were all kids back then. We hiked most of the way and crossed the Tuul River on foot, as there weren’t many transportation methods available. The climb was tiring and the place was very much deserted, but the end was rewarding. I was very young at the time and did not know that my tiny eyes could see the whole of Ulaanbaatar. I could see my home from the top of Zaisan, but now the skeleton structures of giant hotels, resorts and housing complexes block my vision.
The area around Zaisan Hill was considered sacred and protected by the state, as well as the river banks, which were deemed unfit for construction due to the risk of sinking and pollution. But now, the place is filled with the distant sound of clanking and beating from the buildings being erected in every direction.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Construction and Urban Development said that new buildings cannot be built in the capital as there isn’t enough infrastructure to sustain more buildings. But new buildings are being erected everywhere, and in a matter of weeks. Although new power projects have started, it will take several years before they are finished. Therefore, it makes me wonder how the capital city will manage the energy consumption of all those new buildings, since Ulaanbaatar has to suffer through regular power outages during the winter.
Buildings aside, I also saw reconstruction of perfectly good roads and removal of pedestrian walks that were built the year before, such as the one in front Wrestling Palace and the one in the 13th district crossing. Everyone in the capital knows this is an opportunity for corruption to take place. For instance, start a road project to get some money out of it (which will affect the quality of the road) and start a reconstruction project the next year, which will provide another opportunity to loot. Such examples are a dime a dozen, the public is aware of it, newspaper editorials complain about it, but nothing ever gets done.
Yesterday, a capital city management spokesperson said that over 300 million MNT was used for flower decoration around the city. While flowers are nice to look at, they have no long-term or practical value. Especially in Mongolia, where the climate is so irregular and extreme, those flowers -paid for which by tax payer money- will not last two months. Everyone knows this. The locals call them a “single serving flower.” They are planted every year and die off before October.
If that 300 million MNT was used for the betterment of a more lasting terrain, such as the education or health sector, in dire need of improvement, maybe Ulaanbaatar residents will see real improvement.
It pleases me to see all the development and change taking place in Ulaanbaatar, but I also see so much waste and careless stewardship of tax payer money.
The summers in Mongolia are very fleeting and precious. It’s the construction season, tourist season, vacation season, and a time to prepare for the bitter winter that is surely heading our way. So, to make the most of it, people dress in a flamboyant manner, children are outside playing, people are a bit less careful, and a bit more anxious to have fun. But let’s not forget to look beyond our momentary bliss, towards important things like the betterment of our city, nation and future.
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