Read it in French: Oalan Bator – Capitale Mongolie
Ulaanbaatar is a confusing city. There are no cultural references in Europe, or at least French. The city of today is barely 70 years old, a legacy of a Soviet era that is hardly known, since communism in our country is known only from afar.
On arriving here we find a gargantuan town, with very extensive suburbs, unfinished air (few constructions, many constructions in progress, many yurts), with its factories in the heart of the urbanism of the city and its tentacles of yurt quarters. So disconcerting. As soon as you come in winter, the smoke everywhere in the north and center gives Oulan Bator an air of Mexico.
On arriving in the city itself, it is at first the countenance of the city which surprises; Russian neoclassical architecture is contrary to the sense of European aesthetics, more refined, more sober, more delicate. And Ulan Bator is such a motley city! Central square and Russian architecture, modern Chinese buildings, Soviet HLM, quarters of yurts, Buddhist monasteries …
Then it is the turn of the atmosphere: dense traffic – many cars, even more horns, unable to cross quietly; street entertainment, with kiosks and open-air stalls, scales and “live” phone booths, wide avenues in the American style.
Unlike here, it is here that the functional premium on aesthetics; there is therefore firstly the impression of being in the suburbs, before discovering the inner surfaces of these neglected. And then, surprise! When one enters somewhere, we are surprised by the contrast interior / exterior; the offices of the agencies are modern and “like home”, the museums are didactic and well thought out, the hotels / guesthouses clean and well kept (for the majority of them, at least), intimate and warm Mongolian apartments. And the young Mongols themselves seem very fashionable!
The most confusing too, is the fact of feeling in a foreign land; one can not understand the Mongolian language or read Cyrillic, and one has the impression of being the only foreigner among an Asian population. With this strong feeling of being a center of constant attention and curiosity.
The city alone accounts for almost half of the country’s population, so its identity and lifestyle.