I brought up Google Maps in a browser window, my task to choose a country. Where should I choose? Should it be an area I have no idea about, or one where I am some association with? My family connections certainly cover a good bit of the world. I whirl my pointer around the screen in a closewise manner, then I close my eyes whilst still moving my finger across the touchpad. Five or six laps later, after having lifted and replace my finger somewhere else on the pad, I stop and open my eyes. I click and zoom in on where the arrow is now. The nearest name is “Dormod Mongol”, it is a national park in south-east Mongolia on the border with China.

I know nothing about Mongolia. My only connection I can think of is that when my kids were born they had patches called “Mongolian Blue Spots” on them. Is this suggestive of some genetic link?

Mongolia, a nation bordered by China and Russia, is known for its vast, rugged expanses and its nomadic people. Its capital, Ulaanbaatar, centers around Chinggis Khaan (Genghis Khan) Square, named for the notorious founder of the 13th- and 14th-century Mongol Empire. Also in Ulaanbaatar are the National Museum, displaying historic and ethnographic artifacts, and the restored 1830 Gandantegchinlen Monastery.

I am surprised by Mongolia’s size of land mass, 600 000 square miles (UK is roughly 90 000 sq.mi.) and population of 3 million (UK’s is 60 million now). It makes the UK on average 133 times more densely populated. I am also surprised to find out that Mongolia is a democratic state because it is surrounded by communist leaning Russia and China. Actually I am not sure what you would call Russia nowadays. It turns out that Mongolia was ruled by China for a few centuries until Mongolia, backed by Russia declared independence. Russia then took it over until encouraged by the “Autumn Revolution” of communist states in the late twentieth century, Mongolia had its own peaceful democratic revolution in 1990 leading to a multi-party state and a market economy.

I want to find something of interest to me in Mongolia, that I can connect to. I wonder how much Mongolia has a say over it’s future? From a world economy point of view, its main value seems to be in minerals. Getting at these resources requires large investment which means bringing in large foreign owned multinationals companies. How well does the government control the returns from this cooperation? What investment in the future is the government making for the country as a whole? I wonder if short-termism pervades policy making there too. I also wonder if these foreign companies investing in Mongolia realise how unusual a place it is. Around 30% of the population is nomadic, putting in the Western World’s ideas of infrastructure just wont work. For example, internet into every home isn’t feasible using standard models but I would guess that mobile phones are not uncommon there. What do I know? Nomads have managed for centuries without calling ahead, is this technology useful to them? Will democracy drive dramatic change, and will that change mean the end of the nomadic lifestyle?

The bizarre thing is that I don’t think I can find out much about Mongolia and how it is doing today without the internet. It is more likely though that any information written on the internet is by people who have access to it, and therefore are not likely to be nomads. Any reporting therefore is likely to be biased. I hope my simplistic view isn’t true.

As for genetic connections, Mongolian Blue Spots are caused by pigment forming cells not reaching the top layer of the skin. It is likely they are hereditary but the mechanism is unknown according to medical websites. In other words, my kids may or may not be descended from Mongolian tribes. We just don’t know.

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