My interpreter, a heavy metal singer named Uugii,

Mongolia’s economy is soaring

(Lauren Knapp)He was everywhere in Mongolia: On the metal light poles in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, amid the chockablock traffic, there were little tourist friendly posters bearing the radiant, smiling image of Mongolia’s premier folk crooner. You’d stroll past the Lego store, then past Hugo Boss, right into the chic, moneyed core of a nation that is now mining gold, copper and coal for Chinese consumption, and there he was again. Javhlan is 33. On the posters, his cheeks are ruddy, his eyes aglow with health. He seems well fed, and serene and bearish and strong somehow, and his costume carries a stately (if affected) grandeur. He is dressed 13th century style, in a long flowing robe and a pointy helmetlike cap, as though he were just about to hop on a horse and join the old warlord Genghis Khan in battle out on the steppes.

Javhlan’s music matches his getup. It is plaintive and patriotic, and his deep baritone voice resonates, manly and sodden with pathos, over tinkling electronic background beats. In one song, “Promise,” he apologizes to his ancestors for how Mongolia has sold out to the Chinese and ensures the desecration will stop. “The land was given to us in one piece,” he declares, “so we will protect it. Even if God asks for a piece of it, we won’t give any away.”

In Mongolia, I scarcely ever stepped into a taxi bereft of Javhlan tunes. When I tried to cheap louis vuitton bags from china uk bond with one driver by asking if the singer Designer Louis Vuitton Replica Handbags on the radio was in fact Javhlan, he grew wistful and glassy eyed, telling me that, like Javhlan, he hailed from the western province of Uvs. “Tiim,” he affirmed, “Javhlan.”

When I was in Mongolia, Javhlan was running for a seat in the Mongolian Parliament as a dark horse third party candidate. Though he would eventually lose, he campaigned with celebrity flourish, by giving away 100 tons of hay to the good herders of Uvs. He was earnest with reporters, stressing that it was mining and its savage effects on the earth that spurred him into politics. “Foreigners are digging up our land,” he said recently, “and ruining our wintering grazing spots. I had no choice but to run.” He added that he was old school about child rearing. “My wife and I plan to have 15 kids,” he pronounced. “We are real Mongolians.”

On two separate occasions, I arranged a meeting with Javhlan. But then each time he canceled, last minute. “Javhlan had to rush to the countryside,” I was told, through his handlers. “It was an emergency.”

It didn’t matter, though, for I already knew that Javhlan was central to a vast social experiment. Mongolia replica louis vuitton bags was for centuries made up largely of nomadic herders. Its economy was almost static; in 2011, it achieved a 17.3 percent growth in gross national product. The World Bank has predicted that Mongolia will have one of the planet’s fastest growing economy over 2013, 2014 and 2015. The nation’s largest mine, Oyu Tolgoi, which just began production in June, is believed to contain 81 billion pounds of copper and 46 million ounces of gold. Nearly all of it will go to China, and on some Chinese maps now, Mongolia is simply rendered as an Alaska size Chinese province.

Meanwhile, rural Mongolians, enticed by the promise of a richer Ulaanbaatar, are now moving to the capital city, population 1.2 million, at the rate of 50,000 per year, and planting their round herders’ yerts, called gers in Mongolia, willy nilly on the city’s fringes. The number of cars in UB, as it’s known in Mongolia, has tripled in the past decade. And still a nomad vibe prevails: The city does not have street addresses. Locals navigate somewhat as herders do in the desert, studying the slant of the sun as they search for tall buildings. There aren’t even any crosswalks residents are obliged to dodge the oncoming cars, even if they just forked out 2.8 million tugriks, about $1,700, for a handbag at Louis Vuitton.

Amid all the newness and chaos, Mongolia is clinging hard to its past. Genghis Khan is resurgent here, and universally beloved. There is a new 131 foot tall statue of him just outside UB, and the memory of his “Nine White Banners” flag, consisting of nine white horsetail plumes, is newly keen. Nine is a lucky number in Mongolia now.

Even the most avant garde Mongolians are embracing old traditions. My interpreter, a heavy metal singer named Uugii, was letting his tiny son’s black locks grow long, in anticipation of a lavish hair cutting ceremony on the boy’s third birthday. And everywhere a question looms: What does Mongolia need now, as it endeavors to step into the global fray, without losing its integrity and its soul?

All I really did, wandering about Mongolia, was ask that one question. I came home with a picture of a charming and fractious country, in the form of eight answers scrawled into my notebooks.

Shirendev on the streets of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. (Bill Donahue.)

“Coal,” says Shirendev. “Coal is our only option.” Shirendev is 39 and sitting in a fashionable UB cafe. “I thought about it, and I decided, ‘If we want aaa replica designer handbags to develop our country, we need to mine. I decided, ‘I will get into this while I’m still young. Then when I’m old I can be proud. I can say, ‘I was fake designer bags there when it started.'”

Shirendev (nearly all Mongolians go by a single name) is the community relations manager of a large Mongolian coal extractor, Energy Resources. He is also a Buddhist who, at age 20, went to India for six years to study the roots of his religion. “I wanted to find out the reason of life,” he says. “All I knew is we are here and one day we die. I wondered, ‘Why? For what?’ ” He came back versed in Sanskrit and ancient Tibetan, and these days, on his time off, he leads 10 day meditation classes in Ulaanbaatar. He has the soft lambent skin and the patient eyes of someone enlightened.

I tell him what I saw visiting his company’s mine in the Gobi Desert 350 miles south of UB: a humongous open pit, a mile long and a mile wide; 240 ton coal trucks sputtering about like toys on the moonscape; murky gray dust everywhere; the workers’ once white gers as black as a smoker’s tobacco scarred lungs. The mining industry is now replica designer handbags carving millions of Fake Louis Vuitton Replica Bags tons of rock out of Mongolian soil each year, and using Mongolia’s sparse water supplies to process replica louis vuitton the minerals. In many places throughout Mongolia, the water table is dropping, making it difficult to sustain livestock.

Shirendev acknowledges all this, but still he sees coal as justifiable. “In Buddhism dolabuy ,” he says, “it is wrong to kill an animal for no reason, but if you are killing the animal to survive, that’s another thing. We are helping Mongolia to survive.”

But isn’t Mongolia choking on coal? Locals heat with coal, and in winter, according to the World Health Organization, UB is the second most polluted city in the world.

“There are minerals in the ground here,” Shirendev says. “They’re going to be mined.” For him, the most critical question is who does it.

Foreign prospectors have proved heartless. In 2005, after Robert Friedland, the chief executive of Canada’s Ivanhoe Mines, arrived in Mongolia to develop Oyu Tolgoi, he seemed gleefully wanton. Speaking to a conference for investors, he said: “The nice thing about this, there’s no people around. There’s no NGOs.” He called Oyu Tolgoi a “cash machine” and explained the profit margin thus, “You’re making T shirts for five bucks and selling them for $100.” Friedland proceeded, in 2009, to strike a deal that saw the Mongolian government ceding Ivanhoe mineral rights in exchange for 34 percent of all profits.

“Mongolians will be working for the Chinese,” says Shirendev in disgust. “It’s like we’re Algeria, like we’re a colony. And it doesn’t have to be this way. Mongolia is an educated country.”

Shirendev joined fake louis bag Energy Resources 18 months ago because, he says cheap louis vuitton bags from china uk , “it’s almost 100 percent Mongolian owned. It’s a good idea it’s a company that can help Mongolians believe, ‘We can build this country ourselves.’ ”

Tserenbazar visiting a friend’s ger. (Robert Mork Galloway)

“Nothing,” says Tserenbazar. “Nothing can save the real Mongolia. I feel like I want to die.” Tserenbazar, 60, is a herder whose family has for 200 years lived on the patch of Gobi striped by a road that Energy Resources built to connect its plant to China, 150 miles away. He says that the road isn’t working. “The coal trucks are supposed to drive on it,” he says, “but Energy Resources charges the other mining companies a toll. So their drivers travel beside the road, right over the soil. There is dust. The animals cannot breathe. The grass is dirty. If the animals eat it, they get sick cut open their innards, and they are black. And I am sick, too.”

Tserenbazar is sitting cross legged on the floor of a friend’s ger. He has a long gray and white beard, and his skin is weathered and red, and so chapped it’s almost a hide. “My lungs,” he says. “The doctor told me I should not smoke.”

Tserenbazar grins now, devilishly, for he is savoring a long loose cigarette rolled in old newsprint. “I should just die,” he says. “I should die now.” He is still smiling even as he says this, and five of his neighbors sit by him in the tent, laughing. Tserenbazar is their mordant old salt comedian. He taps the ash off the tip of his cigarette, slowly, milking dramatic tension out of the pause. “I am already dead now,” he cracks.

Global climate change has dried up the desert. The coal trucks have come rumbling high quality replica handbags china along over the loose soil, and now there are more cars, too, driven by newly moneyed Mongolian coal miners. The South Gobi is suddenly a world of swirling dust.

In January 2012 high quality designer replica handbags , Tserenbazar, along with 30 other herders, tried to cheap louis vuitton bags from china uk put the brakes on the change. For eight hours, they stood, arms locked, carrying sticks, in a chill 30 degrees below zero Celsius by the side of the road, blocking about 300 coal trucks from traveling over the dirt. The herders wanted local officials to force all truck drivers to stay on the asphalt and by day’s end the politicians promised that everything would soon be fixed.

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