Our group officially began our first long excursion outside of Ulaanbaatar to a small city called Erdenet. It’s the third largest city in Mongolia, and is located northwest of the capital. We mainly traveled here to study the copper mines, local factories, and the ecological issues facing the city.
Traveling to Erdenet was an adventure in itself. We took an overnight train from Ulaanbaatar to Erdenet, and I got to experience a sleeping cabin in a train for the first time. It was crazy that we were able to fit 4 people in that tiny cabin! I’d estimate that it was around 5-6 feet across. There were 4 cots and a top shelf for our backpacks. I slept on one of the top bunks, and I was terrified that I would roll off during a sharp turn. Thankfully, this didn’t happen.
We left Ulaanbaatar around 8pm, and arrived in Erdenet at 6:30am. After breakfast at the hotel, our program activities immediately started. It was difficult to not doze off with only a couple of solid hours of sleep, but somehow we managed. It was awesome to wake up in a whole new city. I noticed that there was a lot less pollution in Erdenet. Like Ulaanbaatar, I was struck by the dramatic contrast between the beautiful landscape and the rapid industrialization. Erdenet has a very interesting history because its existence is directly connected to the opening of its copper mine. Without the mine, there would be no Erdenet.
After a few lectures from local officials about the issues that Erdenet faces, we set off to the copper mine in the outskirts of the city. This mine is roughly the 10th largest producer of copper in the world, and has supported Erdenet’s (and even Mongolia’s) economy for decades. It was difficult to see the beautiful landscape destroyed, but in some ways the locals consider it a necessary evil. The existence of this mine supports the city’s economy, and gives many jobs to Mongolians. It’s a concept that I think I’ll grapple with for the entire semester. It’s even harder to have a solid opinion on it because many Mongolians we’ve met are also conflicted about the mining.
Although learning about the copper mine was interesting, it was nice to have some other activities to get to know the city. Everyone talked about the mine, but the city had so much more to offer us! We hiked, visited a cashmere factory, and even met with local university students. We had our “drop-off” in Erdenet city, and were placed in the hands of the university students. My group had to research the theme of “transportation” for two hours, so we headed to the local train, bus, and taxi stations. It was awesome to explore the city with a few of its inhabitants! I can honestly say that Erdenet was both an interesting learning experience and a great opportunity to explore a different city.