At UCLA, Mongolia's First Lady Seeks Ties with 'Third Neighbor'

At UCLA, Mongolia

The first lady outside the UCLA Faculty Center with Nicholas Entrikin, acting vice provost of international studies (Photo by Kevin Matthews)

Tsolmon Onon Enkhbayar addresses UCLA scholars and members of L.A.'s Mongolian community.

On hand: Mongolian students, a sumo wrestler, and a doctoral student working on tent (ger) districts near the Mongolian capital.

[See additional coverage of this event in The Daily Bruin.]
AS PART OF a U.S. tour that has also taken Mongolia's president and first lady to Washington, New York, and Fairbanks, Alaska, Mrs. Tsolmon Onon Enkhbayar spoke to a group of students and scholars at a luncheon at the UCLA Faculty Center on Oct. 29, 2007. In various venues she and President Nambaryn Enkhbayar are carrying a message of friendship with what Mongolia's leadership now refers to as the country's "third neighbor," that is, the United States and other countries that support multiparty democracy there. On the previous Monday, President Bush and his counterpart had signed a Millennium Challenge grant worth $285 million over five years for railways, vocational education, and health care in the developing country.
Neighbors One and Two for Mongolia are both "giants," the first lady pointed out in remarks at UCLA. Between Russia and China, her country maintains its sovereignty with special pride, she said.
"In order to achieve development," she said through an interpreter, "Mongolia needs to learn from all of the experiences that democratic countries such as the United States have gone through."
Traveling with the first lady were Sanjbegziin Tumur-Ochir, Mongolian vice minister of education, and Mijiddorj Oyuun, wife of the Mongolian ambassador to the United States. Nicholas Entrikin, acting vice provost of international studies at UCLA, introduced the first lady and presented gifts to members of the party. In his opening remarks, Entrikin noted that Los Angeles is home to about 2,000 Mongolians—nearly all of whom have arrived since the Soviet era—out of perhaps 20,000 in the United States.
Some of the guests at the luncheon were community leaders and UC students of Mongolian heritage. Solongo Batjargal, a chemistry major at UC Irvine, said she was glad to learn more about the leaders of her ancestral home—"how they're thinking of our future and … achieving relationships with other countries." Byambajav Ulambayar, a Mongolian-born sumo wrestler, was one of several UCLA Extension students attending the event.
Aside from the international visitors, the person at the event most dedicated to the study of Mongolia was Rick Miller, a UCLA doctoral student in cultural geography. Miller is studying ger (tent) districts adjoining Ulaanbaatar, the capital. Harsh weather in recent years, a post-Soviet economy, and the degradation of pastoral lands have forced many thousands of Mongolian nomads to pitch gers more or less permanently on the urban margins, Miller explained in an interview. The population of Ulaanbaatar has apparently doubled to about one million in recent years, though estimates are far from exact, he said.

The makeshift ger districts have seen "high rates of unemployment and all the social ills that go along with that," including alcoholism and disease, Miller said. There are also environmental problems associated with increased use of coal in ger stoves, instead of dung or another fuel, he said.

Miller praised the visit by Mrs. Enkhbayar as a good means of raising awareness of Mongolia at UCLA. In a given year, he said, at most one UCLA undergraduate course will focus on the country.

"There needs to be a lot more dialogue," he said.

Published: Tuesday, October 30, 2007