Final Verdict: 'UB Cold' or 'Winter-Schminter'?

In January I examined whether winter temperatures to that point were above or below average (see here). I compared this winter's temperatures to the historical averages, as well as the first winter I spent in Mongolia in 2002-03.1 The verdict at that time was this winter was above average and hardly representative of what one might call "Ulaanbaatar cold." Enduring that kind of cold allows one to claim a level of badassery usually reserved for mountain men or Arctic explorers. It's a pride thing, so knowing where a winter fits into the historical record is extremely important. Now that winter is finally over, I have gone back to the data to see if this winter was able to turn things around in the miserably cold department.

Read more...

This Year's Winter Isn't 'Ulaanbaatar Cold'

This is my eighth winter in Mongolia and fourth in Ulaanbaatar. When it comes to cold weather, Ulaanbaatar is one of the coldest places in Mongolia. It is also by far the coldest capital in the world (see here). But, this year it has felt relatively warm in comparison to previous winters. Don't get me wrong. It's still colder than most of humanity could or would want to endure, but it doesn't feel "Ulaanbaatar cold" this year. As usual, instead of just expressing my feelings, I decided to investigate the numbers.

Read more...

Editorial: In Defense of Hero Diversity

Recently the Ulaanbaatar city council voted to rename Sukhbaatar Square to Chinggis Square. This came as a surprise for many in the city because there was no formal public debate about the proposed change leading up to the vote. The decision may have been quiet and swift, but it sparked a raucous public debate nevertheless.

Read more...

Population, Rounding Errors, and Context

The National Statistics Office (NSO) recently estimated that Mongolia's population will reach 2.9 million by the middle of July.1 This is an increase of approximately 245,000 people since the 2010 national census. At the time of the census the population count was exactly 2,754,685 people, including 107,140 Mongolians living abroad and 16,428 non-Mongolians residing in the country.2 The NSO's news caught my eye because it reminded how often I see articles that round up Mongolia's population to 3 million. Have you ever noticed that?

Read more...

Ulaanbaatar: A City Built for 400,000?

This morning I was reading an article which contained the following statement, "The Soviets engineered Ulaanbaatar for a population of 400,000. Now the city holds three times that number."1 I have seen variants of this statement in other articles over the last few months, and there is something about it that seems dubious. It has the feel of something that was first expressed informally as way of conceptualizing the extraordinary population growth and poor city management in Ulaanbaatar over the last few years, and then morphed into a "fact" in its subsequent retelling. Employing an apocryphal story of my own, I imagine there once was a group of professionals at Millie's Cafe discussing the deteriorating infrastructure and over-population of the city and someone chimed in with, "Just think, when the city was originally built it would have been for a population of 400,000 or so." To which everyone at the table nodded their heads knowingly, because that made perfect sense as an explanation for the world they perceived just outside the cafe's doors. Not too long after that one of the professionals at the table relayed this "fact" to a journalist doing a story on Mongolia. Yet, does comparing the city today with some alleged Soviet plan in the past make sense? I don't think so, and here's why.

Read more...