National Geographic : 2011 Oct
buildings so clumsily situated and hidden from view that no taxi driver can nd them. Add to this a ood of nomads, many of them recent arrivals whose skill set doesn't include city driving, crossing a busy road, or the subtleties of social interaction in an urban environment, and you've got a heady mix. It's not unusual to be waiting in line at a kiosk and have some gnarled tree trunk of a man in herder clothes---steppe boots, felt hat, and the traditional wraparound del---stomp to the front of the line, shouldering customers out of the way like a hockey player, just to see what the place is selling. If there are other herders in line, he gets pushed back just as hard. ere are no ghts, no hard feelings. at's just the way it goes. " ese people are completely free," says Baa- bar, a prominent publisher and historian who writes o en about Mongolia's national charac- ter. "Even if they've been in UB for years, their mentality is still nomadic. ey do exactly what they want to do, when they want to do it. Watch people crossing the road. ey just lurch out into tra c without batting an eye. It doesn't occur to them to compromise, even with a speeding automobile. We're a nation of rugged individu- als, with no regard for rules." Early one Saturday morning Ochkhuu, Nor- voo, and their kids returned to the country for a weekend at Norvoo's parents' home to prepare their farm for winter. Ochkhuu helped Norvoo's father, Jaya, cut hay for eight hours, and by Sun- day night they had moved enough hay to the barn to keep his animals alive through the winter, even a dzud. Jaya too had lost huge numbers of animals during the last dzud---his herd had dropped from more than a thousand to 300 animals---but he was determined to make a comeback, banking on decades of experience as a herder both during and a er communism, which he rather misses. " ere were bad things, of course. I hated being told what to do by bureaucrats. But com- munism protected us from disasters like last winter," he said. "Even if you lost all your ani- mals, you wouldn't starve to death." Although they supported Ochkhuu and Norvoo's decision to move, Jaya and his wife, Chantsal, o en said how lonely they were with- out them next door. But moving to UB was out of the question. "I wouldn't last a week in that city," Jaya scowled. "Too much noise, too much jangling and banging. I'd get sick and die." Men like Jaya and Ochkhuu are authentic live- stock herders, unlike others who failed during the dzud, said historian Baabar. A er the collapse of communism, when many Soviet-era factories closed down, thousands of people le UB to re- claim their pastoral roots. But "they'd forgotten everything they knew about being nomads, how A sculpture of a mother and baby wearing gas masks is a comment on UB's chronic air pollution in artist Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav's "S.O.S." at the National Modern Art Gallery. Mongolian artists are gaining international popularity, including in China, for taking on edgy subjects.