UBiers: Michelle Borok


2015-02-04 11:00 GMT+8

We are delivering the next “Short Interview” featuring Expats in Mongolia, who are working and enjoying live in Mongolia and UB city. We aim to share their experiences of living in Mongolia. Our next guest is Michelle Borok, who works as English language editor at the UB Post and a freelance writer... Certainly, it starts with “Why Mongolia?"

Why Mongolia?

In 2010 I came as here as a tourist and fell in love with the country, and then in 2011 I fell in love with a Mongolian. I moved here in 2012 to take a chance on those loves and got lucky in both. Now it's hard to imagine any other place to call home. I've lived in Darkhan Uul since I moved here and absolutely love it, although we're in UB regularly for business, family, friends, and food.

How do you cope with the cold?

I barely do! I lived in Minnesota for a few years and vowed to never live in a place with snow outside of ski resorts after moving back to Los Angeles, but I here I am. Last year we bought a hashaa and built a new home. My one priority requirement was that it would be warm, and my husband came through on that like a champ. In the winter we do still venture out to the countryside outside of Darkhan to spend time with family. Somehow, you forget how cold it is outside when you're with family in the ger, gulping bowls of hot milk tea. And of course, it's never cold in a home filled with family for Tsagaan Sar.

Most favorite thing to see in UB?

When we come in to UB, it's to take advantage of the things we don't have in Darkhan. There are fantastic restaurants across the city and I always stock up on harder to find grocery items, but that's becoming less and less of a challenge over the years. My favorite thing about UB is also probably one of most problematic things: the centrality of it all. When people say that the real Mongolia is the countryside, I have to disagree. The real Mongolia is every corner of it. UB is a special place where all of that comes together. It's not the home to everything that's wonderful about this country, but it's where you can tap into all of those things in one place.

What would you suggest changing in UB?

My biggest frustration about UB is the disparity. Foreign journalists begin every Mongolia story about gers next to skyscrapers (forgetting to mention that's just where the construction crews hang out), and deel and Louis Vuitton off Chinggis Square. The contrast makes for great photos and anecdotes, but it's also a very real struggle for people. Aside from politics and economics, the love of traditional values and cultural heritage is one path to take out of a very treacherous and ever expanding wealth gap.

What were the greatest myths about Mongolia?

I think the greatest myth, one I believed when I first visited, is the notion of arriving here solo and being able to live a solitary life on the steppe. A solitary life here can be a curse. Mongolians are a warm and communal people. You can live well here with less, but it's nearly impossible to do it alone - perhaps that applies as much to the life of a herder as it does to city living. I haven't met a Mongolian yet who wants to live in isolation. Maybe that Western romantic ideal of being alone with nature says more about how far removed other cultures are from the importance of community and family, be it by blood or friendship. That lone herder you may spot from the roadside may truly appreciate the peace and quiet of solitude while he's out with his herd, but I guarantee you that he's eager to get home to a cozy ger full of family before the sun sets.

What would be your advise for the newcomer?

My advice would be to keep an open mind. Mongolian culture is unique among Asian cultures, and about 95% of whatever newcomers may believe about life in an Asian country does not apply here. There's a hunger for knowledge, understanding, and excellence that drives Mongolian society, and things are changing quickly, but I think it's also good to remember that a lot of major changes have happened within just a couple generations of the nation's political, cultural, and economic leaders. Be patient with Mongolia. While it works through the changes that are going to make it better place, savor the gifts it offers and try to spend less time worrying about expectations that aren't being met.

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