Friday, October 29, 2010

Last thoughts from the road

It’s 9:00 am here in Ulaanbaatar and I’m sitting here in the hotel restaurant, quietly reflecting on the past few weeks. Outside the sun is shining and the city is going about its business. Like most mornings, traffic is absolute chaos by our standards – but seems to work. At least I haven’t seen any accidents and the pedestrians weaving their way through moving traffic all seem to make it.
My own personal nick-name for pedestrians braving a road crossing is the Mongolian death run. Think of Quail running in front of your car, their little stick legs moving for all they’re worth and you absolutely screaming inside Fly! Fly dammit, don’t run, you’re a bird! But they seem to make it too, so it must be true, as the SAS would say, Who Dares, Wins.

As I type this VERY well dressed Mongolian women are striding briskly on a cold crisp morning as they make their way to where ever they have to be. Shop keepers are opening their stores and Ulaanbaatar once more moves forward, both literally and figuratively.

I’ve been here over two weeks now and I’ll admit, at first I wasn’t the biggest fan. It’s a tough place to like at first. The air can be dirty, especially on a cold day when all the Ger’s in the vast Ger districts surrounding the city proper all fire up their small coal heaters at once, the traffic can be imposing and the older buildings left over from the Soviet era, all seem to be crumbling and decaying at once. But....... after a few days you see through this: the sun seems to shine brighter, you realize crumbling facades hide beautiful interiors and the people, who seem stoic and a little severe at first, reveal themselves as caring and engaging. Mongolia is like an onion. You need to peel through the layers to get to what’s inside – and the more you peel through the layers the more the country and the people reveal their true beauty. And I’ll admit, I’m now hooked. I absolutely love it here. The people are some of the most caring and appreciative you’ll ever meet and the country is vast and beautiful – just waiting to be explored by camel, horseback or cross country by Landcruiser.

Last night was our wind up dinner. We were entertained in a small banquet room in the Ulaanbaatar Hotel – a large opulent hotel from a bygone era. We were treated to a huge Mongolian dinner complete with enough Vodka to float a large boat. At this point I’m afraid to shave because if I cut myself I may just bleed out. I’m sure at this point my blood is running clear because of all the vodka I’ve consumed. Between Mongolian Karaoke, Mongolian Disco’s and one brave attempt at my classic dance move which went over really well with my Mongolian hosts, I’m sooooo ready to get back home.

But for all this I’m still more than a little humbled. I’ve met incredible people from government, and cooperative apex organizations and I was able to offer my advice and recommendations that may help shape the credit union movement going forward. To be asked by the Commissioner of the Financial Regulatory Commission, and the Director of the Micro Finance Department to meet with government to offer my input into draft legislation currently before parliament was the highlight of the trip – and something I’ll always treasure.

That’s it for now, I leave on a 24 hour trip back to Toronto in another few hours and by Sunday night it’ll all be behind me.

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