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


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


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


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


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: