Km 6924 – Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
WEATHER & GENERAL STUFF
Mongolia! You might think of nomads, jurts or the endless open spaces. And yes, we are travelling through the least populated country on earth where the life of nomads still plays an essential role. At the same time, the trend of urbanisation exists as well. Almost half of the three million inhabitants live in the capital Ulaanbaatar already.
In many blogs Mongolia is referred to as remote and mystic. Though we did experience the partly surreal seeming nature, we also have to say that the basic services (including water) and the navigation were a lot easier than we had expected. Especially the West was cold. From Tsetserleg on it was a lot warmer.
BORDER RUSSIA/MONGOLIA – OLGII
After twenty kilometer of no man’s land and the end of the asphalt, we have to deal with corruption for the first time in our journey. Boldfaced a civilian employee asks for money at the border (she asks for foreign currencies) in order to pay for a supposed desinfection of our tires. Before we drove through a sink with dirty water as high as 10cm. We resist, look through her game, but are astonished by her brazeness: She takes the passports out of Janas hands and says harshly „No money? No passport!“ As she starts to leave, we realise we would be stuck in front of the border, so I take our last 36 Rubel (80 Euro Cents) and go to the woman. Unabashed she takes the coins, puts them in her purse (!) in front of our eyes and pullsout our passports from the same bag.
Our most important documents don’t stay with us for a long time. The next officer makes them disappear in his uniform without any comment and then takes them, despite our protests, outside of the border area for his lunch break. After one and half hours he comes back – we used that time to write down the emergency number of the German embassy and decided to stand firm. Without any facial expression, he returns us our passports. What kind of a game is that?
THOUGHTS ABOUT CORRUPTION AND POWER
In no second we got het up about the little amount of money. The situation was more about showing us our powerlessness vis-a-vis the public authorities. Total dependency, no possibility to apply pressure, no fair fight, no judge. Only their power and our powerlessness.
This reminds me an incident in Bishkek when I was alone at the Osh Bazar to buy some stuff. An officer wanted me to follow him, to write down my personal data. A registration is not necessary in Kyrgystan, but I tried to be cooperative and accompanied him to a red container. Two more officers were waiting and asked me inside. A short glance showed me a room with two stools, a table and nothing else. Several times I told them that they might write down my personal data, but I will not enter the container. Once inside, I thought, they have incredible pressure. Another man without uniform came by and asked me in Russian, if i carry any drugs and what I have in my pockets. He was talking more harshly and started to pull my trousers. When that happened I got out my mobile and told him I will call my embassy. Within two seconds he gave me my passport copy back. Holding the phone to my ear I walked away.
Later I realized that this situation was characteristic for a surveillance state. The harassment without any reference point leads to a complete loss of faith of authority. They steal time, good mood and often money or valuables (I was just lucky). They cause problems even though I did nothing wrong. Without any reason they interfere in my privacy and I loose control over the situation. The respectable citizen is at the mercy of a state which is able to do anything. It is so powerful that he can blackmail everybody (no matter if criminal or not). There is a clear relation to the recent surveillance scandals. Even in Europe and in the USA these scandals show a certain development: from a state with a clear mandate to protect its citizens towards an almighty one – loosing not only its task, but its legitimation.
As we pack our tent, smiling about a frozen water bottle, a herder on a horse approaches us. He is silent and just looks at us. Jana tries to break the ice and asks about his sheep and the way to the next city. But he only nodds. The silent observation is a kind of quiet friendliness, which we experience typical for Mongolians.
A similar situation: We load our bikes at the side of the road, a herder comes and holding his horse with one hand, he holds Jana’s bike with his second hand, so she can pack easier. He wears a traditional deel and has a kind, friendly and calm face. With his round glasses he lookes exactly like Dalai Lama.
On our way to Olgii we ride on unexpectedly much asphalt, manage a difficult pass and repair our first broken spoke. In the province capital we not only find a Turkish restaurant, but also warm camel socks and the best Gouda (cheese) since Greece.