Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

For the last few years in London, I have been volunteering at my local section of Crisis Open Christmas, that great institution which shelters and entertains thousands of homeless people every year, I was wondering what to do now that I am a full time volunteer in Mongolia, and with so many homeless people in Ulaanbaatar.

On Friday we had a very enjoyable little birthday party at UB Deli for Zuhura, a Tanzanian-born English volunteer with some Mongolians and international friends, including our newly arrived Kenyan volunteer Nickson, and lively conversations in English, Mongolian, Contact signing, and American and Mongolian sign languages.

Returning after the party slightly merrier from a few glasses of red wine, we noticed at our neighbouring apartment block on Bariilgachni Gudamch (Builders Avenue) a chap on his back on the cold gravel, inadequately dressed in t-shirt and open cardigan for the -20 degree night. A merry Mongolian trio walking just ahead of us shouted back to him, presumably along the lines of "what the devil are you doing, fool? - get up, you will freeze to death there, where do you live?"

I was hesitant after the experience I recounted on 22 November in another day closes .. but I watched on as the two women, despite their male companion's reluctance, came closer and shouted again, without a satisfactory response. Another Mongolian woman, well dressed in furs, then came walking up to the group. Through some sort of non-verbal communication, she and I then took an arm each and dragged the staggering man to entrance ten of block 23, where we live at entrance five. After some negotiations by the group with the guard at the entrance, the guard seemed to agree to his need to recover in the warmer stairwell. I hope he survived the night, to remember that he was somebody's father, brother, son or friend.

Meanwhile we will have a peaceful and quiet Christmas at home, thankful that our family, friends and colleagues are warm and happy.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Connecting


"I forgot" was the response when I asked my colleague what happened about a meeting we had arranged the previous evening. I can hardly believe someone can forget a meeting within a few hours. It was the same reason given by the college director immediately after avoiding a pre-arranged staff English language CPD session. One is tempted to feel offended, but there is a cultural issue here. The last couple of weeks have been difficult. Today I asked three students why they did not attend a meeting on the 12th, as confirmed in writing on the 10th. Being too busy, another appointment, etc were given as vague reasons.

Fourth year students are busy finishing studio projects today, (prematurely) inking their final plans for design projects. The lecture discussion last week - including my Wagga Wagga Civic Centre case study - about diagram analysis seem to have been in vain. Clearly, these students can produce drawings of buildings, but the design process is seen as entirely linear, and the sketches and site analysis (if any exist) seem to have been abandoned when 'drawing up'. Nothing new in Western schools. The opportunities to think laterally at a design stage about energy efficiency, accessibility, habitability, and design innovation have all been missed.

Meanwhile, a colour vinyl banner of about three by five metres (possibly 30000T or STG15 worth) has suddenly appeared in the college stairwell, promoting a competition to design a commemorative fountain for Mongolia. The site, judges and prizes are unspecified, but the A2 drawings are due on Monday. There will be a Christmas holiday on Tuesday and the following week for new year.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Participation and Access

Today a student came in at about 7pm, asking in Mongolian, "Багшаа" (please teacher..) and showed me a scribbled list of Mongolian words. I have no idea what she wanted. She said "Баярлалаа" (thank you) and left.

An ongoing aim of the work here is to fight disadvantage and to increase accessibility of existing resources. I believe making buildings more physically accessible is therefore instrumental. The most recent meeting of the accessible buildings group was hosted again at VSO headquarters. Although the three CTC students who had promised to present their work on accessible buidings in Western UB failed to attend, the core of the group, including Chuluundolgor (Wheelchair Users Group), Alison (VSO Director) Mr Oyunbaatar (MNFDPO President) held to the agenda of preparation for a new VSO / MNFDPO volunteer, promoting the 3 December Disability Day activities, and advocacy for accessible buildings in Mongolia.

A new pattern school for Mongolia, developed with GTZ, was discussed, being apparently accessible and in accord with the Mongolian Wheelchair Accessibility Norm. It was decided to suggest this as a model for the new CTC college buildings currently on the drawing board, also as an educational tool for CTC students.

Chuluundolgor and I reported on the Tour of UB 3 December Wheelchair 'march' and I showed a rough diagram of the barriers experienced at the seven locations. We all discussed arrangements for a new volunteer with a hearing disability and expertise in accessibility work. Chuluundolgor and I hope to do some work on Design for Independent Living soon. And to look at the accessibility of the Microdistrict Centre and School Designs with CTC students at a meeting in late February.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Ger district architecture

Ulaanbaatar is increasingly comprised of and surrounded by ger districts (Mongolian tent dwelling districts), the informal architecture of encampments claimed by Mongolians under their traditional right to nomadically and temporarily settle on their land, in this case close to the capital. Now more than a colonial symbol, the capital is an increasingly environmentally repulsive complex, albeit of great financial and cultural attraction for Mongolian citizens.

Dirty yet progressive, ill-equipped yet full of potential for poor migrants, the chimera of gleaming towers at the city centre attract citizens of Mongolia from the farthest corners of the vast and relatively sparsely populated Republic.

In the process, the city's solitary East-West artery, symbolic of distant connections to Russian and Chinese neighbours, is completely clogged with private and 'SUV' vehicles and ailing microbuses, buses and trolleybuses, all heaving with passengers. The 4x4 vehicles in this predominantly rural country make for a perpetual Naadam festival, parading along Peace Avenue, demonstrating 'progress' and creating havoc for pedestrian and public transport. The latter are regarded the upwardly mobile as more symbolic of the bad old solicalist times, where the streets were deserted and people queued sliently for five identical grocery items at any one of the identical grocery stores throughout the city. Now the 4x4 owners, returning from their summer camps in the countryside, complain that the smog and haze is the product of the ger district residents burning coal for heating in the informally planned peri-urban areas.

From my window in the gridded high rise apartment subdivision, I look out over the informal district to see a horse and cart loaded with belongings bound for an unsealed track to the north. One of many vapour trails from the north west leading to the south east reminds me of the extremely high technology of international jet engines, while coal smoke puffs from chimeys in the unsewered and waterless ger district.

The informal urbanism of the ger area is horizontal and rhizomic, constantly changing and metamorphosing. My north facing window in building 23 represents the threshold of the vertical gridded, arboric city system 'core'. Women and children collect water and coal while men attend to ger covers, smoking cigarettes and jockeying cars.

Besides gers there are myriad fences and gates along a labyrinth of dusty vehicle paths and footways, stretching organically over the landscape, under power lines and around drain culverts. Tiny shops appear in shacks or recycled railway carriages or shipping containers. Small hourly rate hotels, a community centre and garages are interspersed without apparent planning logic. Empty space becomes a meeting point for 'taxi' drivers to gather or for another stall. The informal architecture here is woven or knitted together, temporarily, without a concern for the future.

Construction teacher training

Encouragingly, I discovered some staff had been researching teaching materials using techniques from the first CPD seminar. A text about Robert Venturi's Vanna Venturi House was being analysed with students. A further success: about seventeen staff attended the second staff development seminar last Friday evening, and despite many threats of participants being 'too busy', we began about half an hour late, with the vice director Khashaa in attendance, after a last minute venue change and furniture reorganisation.

Our newest and youngest English teacher, Enkzaya, welcomed colleagues to the session from a script, and everyone introduced themselves by name, (often footnoting meanings of names in English translation), with their teaching roles, and in a few cases, the purposes of English at the Construction College. The last part was rather difficult for many to express, but a bright first year student called Lhagva spoke to the group about the English-speaking walk she had attended with me, representing our college with a group from the University of Humanities.

Each teacher took a turn at translating part of Lhagva's story about the walk from Chinggis Khan Airport to Chinggis Khuree camp, and the subsequent litter collecting stop, on a cold sunny November day. Most staff were reluctant to commit to further training, but the session had been satisfyingly interactive and positive.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Wheelchair-users City Tour / Rollstuhlfahrerstadtrundfahrt


I wrote this bilingually for my college Director D. Gankhuyag, (not to be confused as I once did with Z. Gankhuyag) who studied in Russian and German before '92, and who like other colleagues, finds little time to read or learn English.

Yesterday was International Disability Day. I took part in a well planned campaign of the Mongolian Whellechair Users Association. (I wore my CTC branded jacket, Boss!) The Wheelchair association chair Chuluundolgor, (with whom I am working, via VSO, on architecture accessibility norms and 'independent living'), organised a 'Tour of Our City, UB' with help of one Tsevelmaa. Fourteen wheelchair users visited (by prior arrangement) seven publicly accessible buildings in the city on the tour. After opening speeches at the 'Open Society Forum' the group, including busness leaders, researchers, fitness teachers and computer workers, wheeled through heavy UB traffic on the cold and sunny morning to the bus parking. Volunteers lifted eight at most into each of two rented City Buses. The Brewery visit, with lab capes, was crowded, and very noisy in the bottle filling hall, but apart from the entry steps, was straightforward.

The next stop, Bayar's Construction, was actually held at 'Diana' school, and despite the founding principles of the funder (to fight exclusion of poor and disabled children) all participants had to climb five entry steps, then over a stage blocking the doorway. The programme, entertainment from pupils, and food and drink were great. Interviewed about my impressions as a foreign expert and architect on my departure, however, I had to say the physical barriers were a major problem for the visit. At the Mongolian Youth Federation, everyone had to go up two flights of stairs, with other building users shoving their way past, to a first storey meeting room and a comprehensive powerpoint presentation. A the next visit, Mongolia's biggest mobile phone company, there were good ramps, floors andcloakroom, and telephone credits were given out.

At the City Governors, temporary wooden ramps had been emplaced on the six stairs in the entry lobby, and down a few more into the public meeting room. As with the building firm, the hosts seemed not to recognise the 2002 building norm (31-101-04) for wheelchair users. Nice books about the City of Ulaanbaatar were presented, but little hope was instilled for improving the state of accessibility of UB streets and buildings. He apologised that the officially counted 18032 disabled people represented a minority in the Market Economy, while an actvist beside me suggested 35-70 thousand would be a more accurate national figure.

Finally, to Tengis Cinema, founded 2002, where I had previously overlooked so many steps. We carried the fourteen wheelchair users down from the busses, through the busy parking
area, 8 steps to the entrance, then two long flights of stairs to ticketing and cinema entrance. I admired everyone's patience as I saw one wheelchair user manhandled to the inaccessible toilet. The Cinema Manager was responsive and friendly, and after a glas of champagne, everyone sat in the front of the cinema and enjoyed a new Mongolian Film.

(German version)
Den Direktor unserer Schule, D. Gankhuyag moechte ich ermoeglichen, dieses Blog zu lesen; deshalb ist es nun bisprachig hergestellt. Gankhuyag hatte vor '92 in Russland und Deutschland studiert, hat aber, wie meine restlichen kollegen hier, findet wenig zeit, Englisch weder zu lesen, noch zu lernen.

Gestern war Internazionale Tag der Behinderten Menschen. Ich nahm an eine sehr gutgeplanten Aktion des 'Mongolischen Vereins der Rollstuhlfahrer' teil. (in meine gebrandeten Jacke, Chef) Vereinsvorstand Chuluundolgor, (mit der ich bereits an architekturnormen und 'accessible living' durch VSO zusammenarbeite), hat mit hilfe der Tsevelmaa, eine 'Rundfahrt unsere Stadt, UB', georganisiert. Vierzehn rollstuhlfahrer-innen schliessten seiben oeffentlichen gebaueden an diesen Tag in ihrem rundfahrt ein. Nach dem eroeffnungstreffen im 'Open Society Forum' fuhren die gruppe- geschaeftsleiter, forscher, fitness lehrer, EDV arbeiter- durch der dicht verkehrten strassen an den kalten sonnigen morgen zum Busparkplatz. Dann hiebten die freiwilligen jeweils hoechstens acht rollstuhlfahrer-innen in zwei vermiteten Linienautobuessen hoch. Der Brauereibesuch ging, mit weissen kleiden angezogen, sehr dicht beieinander, sehr laut im flaschenfuellungshalle, aber ausser der eingangstreppe, relativ einfach.

Naechster haltestelle 'Bayars Construction' fand eigentlich in der 'Prinzessin Diana' Mittelschule statt, und trotz des grundprinzip des Diana Funds (gegen ausschliessung der behinderten in armen laendern), muessten alle teilnehmer fuenf treppen, dann eine der Tur blockierenden Buehne, ueberklettern. Das programm, unterhalten der schueler, und das essen und waren sehr gut. Beim abschied aber, auf anfrage meines gesamteindrucks als fremden 'Experte' leider beantworten, dass die physikalische barriere den besuch sehr schwierig machten. Bei den Mongolischen Jugendverein muste allen sogar zwei treppenlauefen im ersten stock hochgehoben werden, waehrend vielen vereinsangehoerigen vorbei drangten, um einen powerpoint-praesentation in einem schoenen saal zu erleben. Beim naechsten besuch, an der Mongolei's grossten Handy-firma Mobicom, gab es gute rampen, boden und Garderobe, und telefonkredite wurden geschenkt.

Zur Stadtgouverneur; kuerzweiligen holzrampen gingen ueber sechs treppen hoch dann wieder drei runter, alle kamen dicht zur hauptbesprechungssaal hinein. Wie beim Baufirma, erkannten die Gastgeber die baunormen fuer rollstuehle (31-101-04) scheinbar nicht. Sie bieteten schoene bueche uber den Hauptstadt an, weniger hoffnung teilten Sie aber, fuer die verbesserung der strassen- und gebaueden-begehbarkeit des Hauptstadts. Der Stadtgouverneur entschuldigt sich dass 20 tausend der zahlbaren Mongolischen behinderten sei im Markt-Oekonomie eine minderheitssache, wahren einen aktivisten-kollege schaetzt 35-70 tausend wohnen hier.

Schiesslich zum Tengis Kino, im 2002 gegruendet, wo ich frueher gar nicht gemerkt habe, dass so viele treppen stehen. Hier hiebten wir die vierzehn kollegen aus der buessen nieder, durch parkplatzverkehr, 8 treppen zur eingangs portal hoch, dann zwei lange treppenlaufe zur Kasse und Kinoeingang auf. Ich bewunderte alle, wie ich ein rollstuhlfahrer sah, der im WC koerperlich zur toilette behandelt werden musste. Der Kinomanager war sympatisch, und nach ein glas sekt, sassen alle im vorigen reihe des Kinos und geniessten ein Mongolischer Film.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Visiting MUST


A visit to the Mongolian University of Science and Technology has been on my agenda since my departure, and yesterday I met with Purev-Erdene Ershuu, architect and lecturer at the Centre for Architectural Research and Design at this university. The meeting had taken several weeks to organise, with much help from Munkhzhul Choiljiljav, former London Metropolitan University architecture student and AA school applicant. With both Munkhzhul and my CTC interpreter Ariunaa in my entourage, Purev outlined the Mongolian architectural education scene in fluent English. The largest of four construction education institutions in Ulaanbaatar, MUST's architecture school has a population of about four hundred students, having increased threefold since 1995. There are two graduating cohorts each year, about twenty in total, and an intake of about one hundred. Purev says a high attrition rate is necessary to maintain a high standard.

With the currently buoyant construction industry producing high demand, almost all graduates apparently find work in Mongolia. The curriculum is understandably influenced by the history of collaboration with Russian universities. Russian language is still a compulsory subject, and the language of many textbooks. However Purev claims the curriculum structure is largely based on the German system, because of the strong links there. The studio master system has been replaced, however, by team teaching, in order to cope with the staff student ratio for 14 full time staff like Purev. Russian 'didactic' teaching methods are criticised but still present, and the university sees design workshops as seminars rather than as a separate delivery method western universities call 'studio'. There is interest in English-language architecture and culture. International links include Korean (KOICA) and Japanese (JAICA) volunteers and exchanges in the school, a Romanian exchange project, and a link with Vienna University of Technology. I was aware of the latter through my contact with Prof Erich Lehner, at the Department of 'Extra-European architecture' (Ausser-europaeischer Baukunst), who, with Viennese students, has been partner in an ongoing project in a ger district.

A member of the eleven-strong steering committee of the Mongolian Association of Architects (Mong. Arkh. Kholboo), Purev expressed frustration that as there is no protection or promotion of title here, and that the association is 'symbolic' and 'dormant'. Similarly, architecture-allied careers like drafter, technologist, historian and built environment educator are not professionalised. It was a very useful meeting and my collegue Ariunaa claimed that finding a kindred spirit had made me happier than she had ever seen me. My hopes for learning more about the advisory role of the Mongolian Association of Architects or MUST in continuing professional development and curriculum development are, for the moment, however, dashed...

Resourceful

As I noticed the stray dog's tongue probing the eye socket of a discarded sheeps skull in the street, I wondered at the tenacity of his search for nourishment. Sheep's head being a local delicacy, the skull had probably been well picked by humans days before. Walking on through the ger district towards my work, I passed three men heaving a reluctant sedan into motion, a four wheel drive towing a belching lorry, and a well dressed woman with a bright red hat and immaculate make-up, walking in high heels on the dusty lane toward the city. Approaching the community centre on a hilltop, there was a gathering of people with water carrying equipment and bright sun illuminated the cold scene. A boy approached me, speechless, with an extended hand..

Thursday, November 22, 2007

another day closes

I alighted at my local bus stop (Khar Khorin Market) from a crowded microbus returning from work, and was bid good-bye by a particularly friendly conductor. I saw at the edge of the cold and crowded pavement a fellow, younger than I, but roughly dressed, spreadeagled on his back. Rough sleepers usually choose a warmer pose and some sunlight, given the sub-zero air temperature. I wondered if the man had been injured or had been the victim of a traffic accident, and looked on to see if he was breathing, as bus conductors and passers-by gestured not to look at him. One other young male bystander in the crowd seemed to share my concern and indicated he was phoning for 'a doctor' - he agreed to help me turn the casualty into what I understand from my basic first aid as a 'recovery position'. I felt for some faint warm breath at his nose, but there was no pulse and he was becoming colder. The traffic policeman attended but showed no interest in touching or moving the body. My collaborator gestured resolutely that we should say prayers.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hospitals and Air-Con

At the top-level architecture studio lesson on Monday, I used the available teaching technology (paper on blackboard) to explain the principles of hospital planning, including workflow diagramming and functional relationship diagramming. The masonite blackboard surface has no tooth and the cheap chalk at the college crumbles at the touch, so that staff have to bring their own. I had prepared a schedule of about 14 functions and spaces from 'triage' to 'ward' to 'morgue' in Mongolian translation, and with my cartoons, students arranged and discussed the architectural requirements for each. I drew on EU examples from the UK 'architects for health' valuable website and showed some of the materials published there. However, the case study material I had translated from Bern's Small Animal Clinic (recently featured here on French cable TV) proved too complex for this lesson.

A construction sequence was discussed, with emphasis on the design brief development, facility management for uninterrupted service, and installation and commission of specialised equipment, and with a particular student interest in Crematoria and emissions. The students were most interested in the concept of air conditioning and mechanical ventilation which they had not experienced in Mongolia, and they were surprised to learn that these occupied extensive courses in many foreign architecture schools.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

How shall we teach?


After two postponements due to intervening staff meetings and off site meetings, I finally held the training session entitled "How to find construction teaching materials on the internet" on Friday afternoon. The session began (after another impromptu staff meeting) at 4.30pm, 'only' an hour and a half after the planned 3.00pm start. I began by moving the array of desks into a more conducive 'board room' style arrangement, and made a general introduction to my role at the college. One young English and Russian languages teacher had joined the college on her first ever day of employment, the very same day, after I had been asked spontaneously to interview her, the previous day.

We began by brainstorming and discussing the teachers' favourite websites. We debated the uses of Mongolian, Russian, English and German languages for research in the web, and touched on a comparison of search websites, academic websites, and wikipedia, among others. There was some debate among the staff about the superiority of Russian language materials on the web over English language materials.

For analysis, I had selected as an illustrative example, a simple architecture lesson plan for children from about.architecture.com, and we looked at planning objectives, material needs, assessment, reference materials, adaptations and extensions. The teachers protested they were familiar with these aspects of lesson planning, although admitted to using predominantly 'chalk and talk' delivery methods. They wanted tailored materials for each of their specialisms - physics, mathematics, chemistry, language and literature, computing. It became clear to everyone that the process of sourcing lesson plan models from the thousands of websites available would be difficult to follow without very careful use of the English language. It also became clear that there were no universally applicable teaching support materials and that language would be a key to developing more active teaching techniques, given the 'resource-poor' environment here.

It was the culmination of my most 'interesting' week here to date, Wednesday being the first time I have ever arrived at work to find my desk severed in two. We had already been scheduled to move office, following the absence of any heating or lighting for the last few weeks, so the collapsed desk (resulting from the absence of a ladder for changing a light bulb) was removed in the process of relocating, and stripping and reinstalling the valued electrical and internet cabling. The new room is a great improvement, and hopefully will provide an opportunity for repairing the collapsing drawer unit and office chairs.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Laments


I have had some interesting meetings this past week. On Friday I was at the Ministry of Construction, for two meetings about developing construction education. The morning was a gathering of construction industry representatives, lamenting the underpreparedness of construction graduates. One person at the meeting called for better pay for graduates, while others suggested the government do more research, claiming that the present consultation was too brief. In the afternoon meeting, the various construction colleges represented suggested that they should be working more closely with professional associations to assess skill shortages and demand for graduate qualities. They suggested the government do more research for them.

On Thursday I had helped to convene a new working group on Building Access in Mongolia. The meeting, hosted by the VSO director at the NGO headquarters, was also attended by the Wheelchair Users association, three architecture students, two teachers, and two translators including Bishrel, VSOs new champion for mainstreaming disability. Chuuluundolgor, the first mentioned representative, was carried up the stairs to the top floor meeting room. We agreed to work with the designers of the future VSO office accommodation, and to disseminate and further develop information about access standards already developed by the Wheelchair Users association. Existing accommodation standards were elusive and unenforceable, but the architecture students agreed to make a small presentation on incorporating accessibility in their designs. We also discussed an approaching action whereby fourteen wheelchair users would visit five public venues on international disability day, the 3rd of December.

Hungry

The rather dusty and slightly drowsy looking fellow sitting next to me turned, extended his hand, and said in clear english "I am hungry". He had seen me get on the trolley bus and take a 1000 tugrik note (42p) and hand it to the conductor. She removed my 100 tugrik fare in notes from a prepared 1000 wad of change and gave me 900 in hundreds and fifties. It occurred to me that 900 would buy at least four khuushuur, the ubiqitous fried pasties people eat here, and my mind went back to last Sunday afternoon. We had been to a centrally located fast food place for tea and a snack, and had been detained at the door by a group of urchins - small boys known locally as 'hundreds' because of their habit of selling 100 tugrik items such as tissues, tv programmes, matches etc. They were saying they were hungry and asking for money.

As we sat down and ordered, a few men left the restaurant and also left behind large plates of uneaten food. The boys swarmed to the table, to be beaten back by the young female waiters dressed in american-style uniforms. I ordered some takeaway khuushuur for the boys to eat outside, but by the time we left they wanted more. Hunger seemed a symbol of living here. I thought of the stray pup I had seen curled up by the bridge on my walk to work through the ger district. On Monday I pitied it shivering and convulsing, and on Wednesday it was a hundred metres away from the bridge, just a dusty lump.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Cool

The weather is certainly cooler, about -6C outside, although the office is like an ice box after the sun passes by the window in the afternoon. This morning at ten, walking to work through the ger district in the warm sunlight was quite pleasurable. There was a congregation of drivers gathering by a small bridge while somebody swept the roadway. I tightrope walked across a steel beam of another small bridge which has lost its timber boards, probably for someone's fire. I passed small groups going towards the town centre and some school children, although no one was queued at the community water tank today. Two men sat on a south facing bank sharing a glass of vodka and I passed silently.

Approaching the roadside of the larger sealed road, I noticed a dog in my peripheral vision. I then realised its outstretched legs were frozen solid and that the corpse had probably been removed from the highway. Turning the corner, a family of five sharing the benchseat of a lorry moved their household surmounted by folded ger and window dome, as a woman beside the driver read a mobile phone message.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Plumbing and Projects


When we first moved to Ulaanbaatar, we had trouble getting used to the process of getting plumbing serviced at home; even more difficult than getting parking for a plumber in central London. However now the man who came the first time (Toomooroo, of Oonoor Xotxon XXC) has adjusted something and it works fine. Getting the electrician to return with her tools is another matter. Meanwhile I have lost count of the number of people who have been into the office to feel how cold our radiator is.

Meanwhile, we had an enjoyably active architecture session yesterday, I had prepared stages of architectural services as keywords in Mongolian, and had two case study buildings. The architectural service project stages were arranged by students on the board, from Komiss (commission) via Toecoebloelt (development) to Khuleentsej (occupancy). We then discussed the design and procurement stages of Australian Parliament House (MGT 1988) from competition to completion and Vauxhall Bus Station (Arup 2005). The latter place name provides amusement, being used as 'Boksal' for 'station' in Russian, having been adopted from the English in the 19C during the development of the Russian Railways.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Lets Speak English

On Thursday, I acted as a judge for a competition at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. The competition "Lets Speak English" was to encourage Ministry staff to practise their English skills for internationalising their work. In a series of five events, four different departmental teams of researchers and experts from the ministry demonstrated their English language prowess, from team introductions to detailed translation of texts to Karaoke-singing. I was slightly concerned that the audience seemed to be enjoying Russian-language songs more than English-language ones, but in the end, the team 'Crown' were deserving winners. The breakdown of the results was displayed in a giant powerpoint display beside the Karaoke screen. The ministerial staff, and supportive friends and family in the audience all seemed impressed with the results.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Monday, October 22, 2007

more planning

We had a VSO conference during the last couple of days of last week. After reviewing the Programme Area Plan for the Secure Livelihoods Programme Area, we discussed specifics of our placements and some of the details of working as VSO volunteers in Mongolia. The Secure Livelihoods area in VSO Mongolia seems to be moving strategically towards rural poverty, which will mean that peri-urban projects like mine will not fit well with the Secure Livelihoods objectives in future. Are rural people who have resettled in peri-urban informal settlements now urban or will they later return to rural areas?

In my work I will see what can be achieved meanwhile in the college between now and August next year, and continue to wonder whether my placement is to create/enhance jobs through professional development, or to provide improved education.

On Thursday, meeting in the conference space at the Open Democracy Forum, I found it useful to re-discover 'SMART' objective setting, in Mongolian. Often used as jargon, it made me think again;

S__pecific - Togorxai
M__easurable - Xaishish Doloxgui
A__chievable - Xyrj Doloxgui
R__ealistic - Bodit
T__ime Bound - Todorxoi Xygaazaand

Objectives, activities and outcomes are never the most exciting topic but a colleague suggested the objectives for my placement as architect teacher trainer might be around students getting good jobs. I thought the teaching programme and the staff would be my main focus, but perhaps the overall sustainability of the school should be the main aim. It will be difficult to facilitate change within a year, although my VSO colleague Rob has made a good start in the past year at CTC. For my part I will start by exploring the present (outline) curriculum and from the four-prong strategy of developing teacher training, graduate development, curriculum development and Mongolian architectural association linkages, I will start preparing programmes and emplace something for succession when I finish.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Labyrinth

Walking in a western Ulaanbaatar ger district at night defies photography and for me epitomises the experience of navigating a labyrinth. I start by walking along the road from the college and walk off the rocky verge onto the petrol station tarmac, where I notice fuel is at 965 tugrik (965 MNT = 0.40GBP) per litre. As I leave the main road, shadowy figures come towards me and follow me, in pairs, threes and singly, sometimes two men or women, sometimes with children. Some are carrying things, or pushing trolleys or barrows laden with firewood, coal or water. It is as I imagine the fogs of previous centuries in London, with coal fires and pollution in the cold air. There are few lights, but those of factories a few hundred metres away provide an ambience. I walk towards 'Kombinat', a factory area, via a familiar pipe bridge across a dry waterway. The spotlights of the factories cast long shadows along the disused rail siding along which I am walking. The ger areas spread before me have no street lighting but the array of gers, each with its window alight appears like a sea of lanterns stretching up the hillside into the fog. There are occasional rubbish fires and fires in drums adding to the dim light and the smog.
The sounds of countless camp dogs barking from each compound blends together and is more discernable than the crunching footsteps and occasional tooting traffic in the distance. The ground is uneven as I avoid the remains of earlier rubbish fires, but fortunately few dogs stray beyond their camps at the moment. I do not dare pause to consider being injured or mugged here. My daytime forays enable me to remember a route through an empty drain culvert, around a hillock and across a gappy bridge, back to the reassuringly gridded surroundings of the soviet apartment blocks. People are alighting from tightly packed minibuses for the evening and walking toward the ger district, one carrying a large roll of linoleum, presumably for his ger.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Nomiin San - Library

The library in this two-year old college is relatively newly established, but part of the problem is the lack of available literature. Of about thirty books on the shelf dedicated to architecture, only three small A5 titles are in Mongolian. These are basic technical drawing textbooks, published about 1995. Very few of the books seem to be dated after independence in 1992. About twenty of the substantial bound volumes about architecture are in Russian, and there are quite a lot of old professional journals also in Russian. There are several books and magazines in Japanese and Chinese, and none in English or German.

There is a specialist book on English for builders and architects translated in 2006 by Nomuundari, Bolor and Enebish, from the Russian by Bezruchko. There are no books on Mongolian architecture and the one Russian title on Mongolian Architecture I have seen (in a shop at the Choijin Lama Temple) is not in the school collection.

The director talks of a list of new books due in the near future, but the list of titles is not available to see. There is no catalogue of the books and the librarian's computer is not attached to a network or printer. She writes the names and numbers of books loaned on the borrower's card.

One of the most potentially practical titles on the shelf is the two-part handbook "Stroitelbnoe Projektirobanie" which is the Russian 1965 translation of the Neufert's Architects Handbook (like an AJ Metric handbook). No contemporary equivalent is said to be available, but I will be interested to see what practitioners in architects offices are using for architects data.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Cold

As the weather changes, I am wearing lots of layers. I get the impression a hat makes me slightly less conspicuous as a foreigner, although I still attracted the attention of a drunken bystander at the bus stop the other evening. He was standing too close and I am still nervous about pickpockets. He teased me and playfully began to taunt / fight. However I managed such an amicable conversation with a ('taxi') driver called Daksha recently that he undercharged me, below the 300 togrogs per kilometre most drivers charge.

Many people are not wearing discernibly warmer clothing, and there are still people sleeping rough in the main street when the sun comes out. For the first time I noticed a car accident and a dead animal on the road. I was feeling more modest about money, and careful about bringing a large banknote which I will be unable to change.

I enjoyed joining an English lesson at the College for conversation practice; "You are sitting, he is standing, yesterday I ate."

Friday, October 05, 2007

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Outlook

Last Thursday, we had a useful introductory meeting, setting what I believe to be collective goals for architecture staff in the school.

1. Improve the architecture teaching, developing architect teachers' careers.
2. Improve the education for students, especially for those graduating with the diploma in 2008.
3. Develop the architecture course curriculum.
4. Assist in developing the Mongolian Association of Architects.

Much like in the UK and Australia, architecture staff in this country are torn between architectural practice work and educational work, and the latter is less profitable than the former. Staff are therefore in great demand and have little time for formal professional development as educators. Senior staff are difficult to attract with the small teaching funding available, recent graduates have a lot of work available to them in the construction industry or may wish to go abroad. Many Mongolians have family working in Korea.

We have begun to identify areas for curriculum development, such as professional collaboration, routes to qualification, architects working on the construction site, professional development for qualified architects and architectural design.

Gradually we will investigate these areas further with teaching staff. Meanwhile, a first floor window behind me was recently broken by a rock. As it was double glazed and only the outer layer broke, the computers were not burgled. The window is being replaced with a pre-ordered element made locally. This is being done by the director's driver. Fortunately, it is a warm sunny and still day today in UB, with only a few small clouds over the mountains in the distance.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Reflections

Some interview questions and answers for the Adelaide University Lumen magazine;

Why take up the position as Architecture Teacher Trainer with VSO?
I had reached a point in my career in architectural education where I had become very specialised, and I was looking for an opportunity to share my skills in development. VSO aims through partnerships in developing countries to share skills to fight poverty and global disadvantage. The new architecture school posting seems to be addressing these aims.

As mentioned I have now commenced my work proper, after completing five weeks of in- country orientation training and Mongolian language basics. During the first two weeks at the college, I have been on a team building weekend with staff, visited various lessons and begun to develop a working rapport, setting some staff development and teaching aims with colleagues.

What do you hope to achieve by your time in Mongolia?
This small Mongolian college hopes to improve the livelihoods of staff and students by developing their careers professionally. Designed together with VSO, the placement intends for Mongolians to develop a greater stake in construction design, and in the coming years of development, to do this more sustainably. I will assist Mongolians by sharing my foreign experience.

What interests me most about the field of architecture?
Architecture is a cultural enterprise as well as a business enterprise which at best helps people to feel a sense of belonging in a place. Mongolia has had a nomadic architecture tradition for centuries and is experiencing fundamental changes with globalisation.

What do I consider as my greatest accomplishment to date?
Apart from my dissertation which still attracts an amazing variety of interest over the internet, and the related conference to which I was invited in Banff in 2004, I am most proud of the achievements of my former students and colleagues.

What motivates you to engage in this cultural exchange? What do enjoy most about traveling?
I enjoy the human connection gained with my global neighbours through exploring places, cultures and languages.

Cross cultural education is one of your areas of expertise. Why is this important to you?
I find the ability to compare cultures and ways of working reminds me of some of our shared human values which bridge the wealthy minority and the developing majority world. It reminds me of our the shared responsibility for the world's diverse places and cultures.

Architecture students (feat. Tumen-Od and Uyanga) doing Spanish dancing:
video

Monday, September 24, 2007

Monday-it-is


The final day of the Mongolian Language course last Friday was celebrated with horse riding, eating delicious xor-hok and drinking sou-tei tsai in gers with local students at a camp in Madriin Tokhoi, and it was with aching legs that I presented myself for work at Bariilgiin Tekhnologiin Kolleg today. I had a meeting with the English teachers, where we discussed the structure of the school and developed a plan to devise a 600 word English glossary for local construction students. I was toured around the various staff and departments, making notes and diagrams of names, roles, and teaching areas; and was promised a curriculum document to study.

I was able to gain an overview of
1. Foundation Studies course - up to two years
2. Bachelor Studies, including specialist course
3. Vocational Studies

Some courses are in segments of two months at a time, and many involve lengthy training periods on building sites for over two years. My first week here will be occupuied with orientations in various areas, getting to know the curriculum, and working with an interpreter in order to begin some sort of needs analysis with the architecture staff in a meeting on Thursday.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Touching Down


As the previously ample-sounding five weeks' Mongolian language classes drew to an end, I was appreciating how slowly things progress. The previous weekend's exercise of making Khuushur from a whole sheep by cutting the meat gradually down into 1mm pieces while sharpening the knife on the base of a bowl (and attepting to converse) reminded me of the importance of ritual.

Waiting for a plumber to arrive on Wednesday, I had to remember this. After the morning passed without an appearance (I missed my lesson as I was ill) I then took the laundry to the city but in the as always densely crowded bus I later discovered with incredulity that my pouch/pockets had been relieved of telephone and camera. The loss of the now phone made the exercise of recontacting the plumber in the evening difficult, but I returned by the appointed time at 7pm and he rang at the apartment door at 8.30; then restoring the hot water magically within twenty minutes. Soberingly I was reminded by our friend, who came to interpret, that most of our neighbours in the suburbs opposite have to walk to the well for water.

To conclude our language course we travelled to Maidriin Tokhoi and joined other students to ride horses and talk Mongolian and English. The brilliant landscape and weather added to the experience of fulfilling a long held ambition for me in Mongolia, and I will be feeling the effects in various ways, muscular and spiritual, for some time yet. I must interrupt my first proper work day on Monday with a visit to the police international relations officer, who previously briefed us on security and pickpocketing, and who will no doubt chastise me...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Team building in Bayanchandmani


All the Baringiin Technologiin Kolleg staff participating in the excursion, about thirty in total, were presented on departure from the college with branded Northface jackets, and we travelled by bus about 70km north to a summer mountain camp, in time to slaughter a sheep for dinner. When one of the teams had taken their turn to prepare the first dinner we sat at tables in a mess building and there was more drinking of airag (kumiss), vodka and beer in readiness for the meal and many courses, all mutton based, followed by speeches, dancing and song singing.

When requested after dinner I was able to convey via the College Director (a German speaker) that I had found the shared meal and games an excellent way to get to know everyone teaching at the College. I continued during Saturday and Sunday to participate in eating, drinking, wrestling, football, walking and singing, which despite bruising, was really a good way to learn something about each staff member, from young Mongolian language teachers to elderly professors.

On Sunday my own team started at breakfast time preparing xyshuur (the local pasty-like specialty) from first principles, cutting meat into tiny pieces from every bone and using every organ of the sheep (and practicing my rudimentary Mongolian).

Towards leaving, after an altercation with the camp owner about the rubbish pile created, combustible waste was removed and the bottles were left in a pile for a recycler to collect. The departing bus waited as someone ran back to fetch the fleeces to sell for a few pounds each.

I felt I had been properly introduced to Mongolian colleagues' lives and interests and that despite many language and cultural differences, I had found some rapport with each one. I begin officially on the 24th after my fifth week of Mongolian language education.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

CTC opens



I excused myself from the eleventh day of my Mongolian language course to attend the opening day ceremony at Baringin Technologin Kolleg (Construction Technology College), the college where I will be working, in the western 'peri-urban' Songino Khairkhain district of Ulaanbaatar. The austere rooms of this socialist-era school building were brimming with new students, the morning groups comprising recruits in various vocational courses in construction, ranging from plumbing (no females), welding and bricklaying to decorating (one male) and architecture. The more balanced gender distribution in construction career choices has apparently turned full circle since the socialist times.

The opening day proceedings in the dusty square in front of the school door, draped overhead with a welcome banner, included speeches by immaculately dressed staff and college director, interspersed with songs by famous Opera tenorist 'Bold' and a pop singer. With two other foreign staff, I was then given a tour of each of the classrooms and introduced in Mongolian with German translation by the director, for the Dutchman and myself. The students responded to the director's greeting 'Sain Bain-uu' in enthusiastic unison with SAIN!

A newly prepared computer room was presented, and arrangements were made to see the living accommodation, where I later met two German speaking Mongolian staff colleagues, one a building materials expert educated in Dresden.

Being the first day of school in all of Ulaanbaatar and Mongolia, the return journey was marked by particularly insane traffic, but I returned intact to VSO courses on Heath, management processes in Mongolia, and an excellent presentation introducing a Mongolian Gender Equality NGO.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Mongol Khel


We have been in UB two weeks this morning and have had ten intense days of language lessons at Bridge College. It has been difficult but satisfying, and this morning I had a short conversation in Mongolian with a Canadian reforestation volunteer (www.treetour.org) at a branch of our Guest House, with our host Saxhna, which was very encouraging.

The VSO training has been intense but useful and we are beginning to find out more detail about our programmes and placement details. Some accommodation has been arranged near where I will be working in Songinohairhan, and we may be sharing a flat with a Mongolian language specialist, which would be good for the language skills.

We have a few more weeks of language lessons and I hope this week to meet some of the people at Construction Technnology College where I will be working. At the end of the week we are to spend a few days separately living with local families, which will also be a good challenge for the language skills.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Restricted Access

Ulaanbaatar has rather chaotic traffic and infrastructure. It is known for open manhole covers, which fortunately, are visible in the strong sunlight in summer, but turn nasty when covered with a sheet of cardboard and a thin layer of snow in winter. Apparently in the past a VSO stepped right into one from a parked car and broke her leg. It is understandable then that injury, espacially among the poor, is a common cause of disability.

We attended a briefing at the Umbrella organisation for disabled people's groups which was enlightening. The medical model of disability popularly understood here, implying proscribed 'treatment'- is in contrast with the social model of disability I have begun to understand - as a form of exclusion or denial of access from public and private space. The Umbrella organisation of disability groups had several wheelchair users and crutch users (the latter visibly more prevalent here in Mongolia) from the twently-odd advocacy groups working in the building, and after years, had had a ramp installed in the last week, allowing users to enter the premises without being manhandled through the door.

I spoke to the chair of the disabled businesspersons association while there. In future, I hope it might be possible to arrange a meeting between their representative and some construction teachers, to discuss the background to livelihoods and building accessibility in Mongolia for physically disabled users.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Ulaanbaatar dawn


From beautiful lake Baikal we returned to Irkutsk and I wandered along the banks of the Angara before boarding the evening train for the Trans-Mongolian, the final section of train journey. Ulan Ude and the southern shore of Lake Baikal passed in the night and I awoke to see another lake in Buryatia.

The Russian border officials turned the train inside out, and we waited interminably in Sukhbaatar also. The latter was distinctly friendlier, however, and I began to warm to the steppe landscape and sounds outside. It was another night before we arrived in Ulaanbaatar, a dusky light covered the city and the ger suburbs stretching out for miles. Pulling into the station, I savoured the arrival. Our friend Sarah was waiting on the platform and we went to a car and traversed a surreal other-worldly city to arrive at the VSO building and vols room before 7am.

As colleagues gradually appeared, we washed and hungrily ate lunch in welcoming surroundings, before venturing on a bus to a ger district where the Womens farming Coop hosted a party for departing volunteer Maija. The snarling ger-camp dog contrasted with the idyllic grassy picnic spot next to crops and chickens and gers. But the mountains all around are a powerful backdrop there as well as here in the city centre.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Siberia


We are in Irkutsk, having just returned from the tiny village of Huzir on the Island of Olkhon on Lake Baikal. My friend here tells me the Island was previously Buryati land, increasingly inhabited by Russian settlers. It now seems to be a popular (eco)tourism destination. We stayed in the guest house, made an excursion to the northern tip of the island, ate local food and took a banya (sauna).

Although I thought we had left the 'West', the border condition is very topical here, with Irkutsk district to the west of Lake Baikal and the Buryati republic to the east. This friend Irina is studying languages at the specialist institute of the University here in Irkutsk, where there is apparently a strong interest in reviving Buryati language and culture, and better resources than in the Buryati capital city of Ulan Ude.

When we pass through the city of Ulan Ude tomorrow (Friday) on the train, we will be still closer to the Buryati country which is the land of the descendants of Genghis Khan. We expect to tarry at the Mongolian border for several hours before continuing to our final destination on Saturday.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Yekaterinburg


After dropping our bags we ventured into the night, still daylight. Podval, a music club recomended to us in the south of the city, was difficult to locate, even with the full address, but after a partial journey by no. 5 tram, then walking along highways and talking to strangers chatting on railway tracks, we got to the door, were bounced, and then admitted after appealing to reception at the hotel next door. We had some limited conversations and exchanges of Vodka with other guests before finding our way back to the hotel by Taxi.

The promised tour of city attractions (aka Достопримеуатепьности) incorporated visits to the Church of the Blood, Town Square and the opportunity to tie a ribbon to a tree at Ekaterina's tomb, to increase the likelihood of returning. At a public square next to the dammed river is a statue of the city founders, known to our guides as 'Beavis + Butthead' and the square was being put to good use by skateboarders. Nearby was the monument (apparently unique in the world) of the computer keyboard. In light of our impending departure from Europe, I thought I would try stepping on the 'undo' command.

Wednesday evening, in holiday mode, we visited a Latin club 'Gavana' with Dasha, Katja and friends. After some Russian beer and latin dancing, people in the club began to be noticeably more exotic and oriental looking. The next day, wet, was passed looking at the Mineralogical Museum before killing time in the internet cafe to await the 2345 Trans-Sib connection.

москва and the Урап; train no.16


Moscow seems like London, but with signs in cyrillic. The Metro system is incredible, and much larger than LU. The station halls are like ballrooms, with chandeliers and sculptures, sparse signage, but no unnecessary frills like advertising - or arrival time signs. For me, these halls made a great impression about the city.

The Schushev Architecture Museum had a reasonable exhibition dedicated to a recently deceased 40-ish architect, but the students we met there were a find. Саща and Ариана gave us a brilliant city tour, from Arbatskaya Metro to a Constructivist Fuel Station and ArtPlay interior showrooms, after which we had a meal at very cool Keks.

The souvenir market in the northern suburbs was a strange Disneyesque theme park for bus tourists but had a poetic quality. I am glad we took time to get an overview of the city and river from the lookout point near from the University, where there was a movie shoot going on.

We arrived at the Ural train just in time, and it was beautifully decorated and very efficiently staffed. The train climbed slowly east and into the mountains and we got to know our co-passengers, Ekaterinburgers, a journalist and coach, the latter of whom introduced his daughters. Dasha and Katya had been competing abroad in athletics (including an event wearing stiletto heels) were later to show us around Ekaterinburg, including the night life. The Ural train was very comfortable, with a kitsch overpriced restaurant car, but the arrival in Ekaterinburg welcome. The crumbling Hotel Sverdlovsk opposite the station provided adequate accommodation and convenient services.

Monday, August 06, 2007

to Berlin and Warschawa


The overnight train from Vienna Westbahnhof arrived in time for breakfast at the very impressive Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Peregrinations followed and led to the Fernsehturm, but the sojourn to KMA 36 (Karl Marx Allee) gave a taste of Ost Berlin, especially Kafe Moscow and the adjacent bar. The interior of our chosen accomodation at Pension Funk was definitely in keeping with ths 'Ostalgic' theme, albeit close to the ritzy Ku'damm.

Aptly named Ost-West, the Berlin - Warsaw train led to Warshawa Centralny, where our delightful co-passenger Agnieschka, (who at the border had kindly but unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate against the eviction of our Egyptian co-passenger without a visa) took us through the labyrinth of shops to take us to Polish breakfast.

At Warschawa Wschodia station I felt we were truly entering eastern Europe. The onward Warsaw to Moscow journey incorporated an impressive bogey change at Brest (Belorus). With passengers necks craning from the windows, the carriages were deftly distributed between sets of hoists in the shed-workshop and a small army of mechanics slid the first set of bogeys out and filed the new set in, manually halting each in the correct position before lowering the wagons again.

I did not awaken for the stop at Minsk in the middle of the night but enjoyed the country villages from the window after breakfast. As we reached Moscow, there was a tangle of stations and highways and we drew to a halt in the chaos of Belorusskaja station.

Now the challenge of finding the way with signs in cyrillic like this.. Настройки сообщения

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Vienna


Reaching Vienna, where I lived several years ago and where the Ottomans besieged the city in both 1529 and 1683, feels like crossing some sort of threshold.

I revisited the Ring and Naschmarkt food market, which is still on a par with the Borough, and met with friends and their growing families. In the Prückl cafe this morning I was able to take time to catch up on news in Die Presse and to briefly contemplate the language I will use and the edge of Europe we will soon traverse.

Traditional Mongolian script originated from Sogdian letters of Aramaic origin, used until 1941 in Mongolia when an adapted cyrillic alphabet was adopted; still under the MPR (Mongolian People's Republic was formed 1924)and which is still used after the democratic revolution of 1990.

Tonight we board a train for Berlin and the East will grow closer still than in the Naschmarkt.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Training



We have begun the train journey towards Ulaanbaatar by Eurostar from London to Paris, then by sleeper to Rome, to Naples, Sorrento and now Florence. Drawing statues and buildings in Piazza delle Signorie today I was thinking about Western European history, having sat in the same spot 20 years ago, and how much I have still to learn about Mongolia. I have a copy of "Modern Mongolia a Concise History" with me (Tsetsendambyn Batbayar UB 2002) and have been discovering facts like ..

. Mongolia is similar in land size to Alaska
. It has 257 cloudless days per annum on average
. 1% of the land is arable
. 8 to 10% is forested
. the rest is pasture including semi'desert

Batbayar also points out that the Mongol people have nothing in common with the Chinese in their way of life or language. 90% of the population of Mongolia is made up of subgroups of the Mongol nationality, the largest being Khalka.

This will be quite a change for me from my home London, which I enjoy for being cosmopolitan and multicultural. However the isolation of Ulaanbaatar and its time zone should be points of some familiarity in relation to Perth. The summer in Italy, surrounded by travelling Italian, German, Australian and English folk etc with good coffee, summer berries and pizza will become stranger as we move east.

Later this week, en route from Venice to Berlin, we will stay in Vienna, minding some friends' cats, Gina and Kisses.

Itinerary

Tuesday 17 July London to Paris

Wednesday 18 July Paris to Rome (overnight)

Saturday 21 July Rome to Naples

Sunday 22 July Naples to Florence

Wednesday 25 July Florence to Venice

Wednesday 25 July Venice to Vienna (overnight)

Sunday 29 July Vienna to Berlin (overnight)

Tuesday 31 July Berlin to Warsaw (overnight)

Wednesday 1 Aug Warsaw to Moscow (overnight)

Saturday 4 Aug Moscow to Yekaterinburg (overnight)

Wednesday 8 Aug Yekaterinburg to Novosibirsk (overnight)

Friday 10 Aug Novosibirsk to Irkutsk (overnight)

Thursday 16 Aug Irkutsk to Ulaanbaatar (overnight)

Saturday 18 Aug Ulaanbaatar

Friday, July 13, 2007

Ulaanbaatar preparations

I travel to the Mongolian Capital, Ulaanbaatar in August, to work as Architecture Teacher Trainer at the independent Construction Technology College, БАРИЛГЫН ТЕХНОЛОГИЙН КОЛЛЕЖ (www.ctc.edu.mn).

Mongolia is a developing country, and I have been reading in the VSO notes that forty percent of the country’s population of 2.7 million people currently live below the poverty line. 34 percent of the population depend directly on livestock for their livelihoods, and a further 26 percent is indirectly dependent upon livestock. With 33 million domestic animals, Mongolia is known as a 'land of livestock'; most of the population are traditional nomadic herders. I found it interesting that huge sections of the population today continue to live in the Ger, the traditional felt circular dwelling of choice in Mongolia for more than 1,000 years.

The country is rich in minerals such as oil, coal and gas, and while mining is hugely important to the economy, it is becoming apparent that recent development in industry has created significant environmental damage. The environmental movement in Mongolia appeared in the world media in April 2007. I suddenly noticed in a London newspaper an award of what is reputedly the world’s biggest environmental prize to Tsetsegee Munkhbayar, who inspired the formation of the Mongolia Nature Protection Coalition. The Goldman Environmental Prize is apparently the world’s biggest accolade for grassroots environmental activists. I can imagine rural communities in Mongolia are undergoing massive change in the country’s transition from a centralized command economy to a market economy. Many state-owned factories have closed, with losses of jobs and the poor moving back to the land, further stretching the already depleted resources of the countryside. The work of Tstsegee Munkhbayar has increased the profile of a popular movement to restore the vitally important Onggi river. (www.goldmanprize.org)

Itinerary

Itinerary

Tuesday 17 July London to Paris

Wednesday 18 July Paris to Rome (overnight)

Saturday 21 July Rome to Naples

Sunday 22 July Naples to Florence

Wednesday 25 July Florence to Venice

Wednesday 25 July Venice to Vienna (overnight)

Sunday 29 July Vienna to Berlin (overnight)

Tuesday 31 July Berlin to Warsaw (overnight)

Wednesday 1 Aug Warsaw to Moscow (overnight)

Saturday 4 Aug Moscow to Yekaterinburg (overnight)

Wednesday 8 Aug Yekaterinburg to Novosibirsk (overnight)

Friday 10 Aug Novosibirsk to Irkutsk (overnight)

Thursday 16 Aug Irkutsk to Ulaanbaatar (overnight)

Saturday 18 Aug Ulaanbaatar