Success is where risk and execution meet resulting in a windfall of great fortune. Naively, I believed my success would come from an obscure emerging market in a place called Mongolia.
It’s been a year since I moved to Mongolia to take a job at an international law firm. It’s been a year. Had things gone the way they were supposed to I would still be living there. Things went exactly the opposite of how I thought they would go and exactly the way that on outside observer would guess they would when you say you’re moving to Mongolia to practice law.
So what happened exactly? I didn’t tell too many people of the truth of this ill-fated adventure out of shame. After all, I sold everything I owned including my BBQ and Cadillac to move to the ‘fastest growing economy’ with the largest copper and coal reserves in the world not to mention a budding legal system that needed motivated attorneys to guide it through its infancy. Where the risk averse would see red flags, I saw opportunity. I believed and still do believe that it is too hard to strike it rich in developed economies like the United States and the EU. And even if you do, where’s the fun in that?
What’s more fun than bargaining for groceries, frozen streets, intense smog, and deceptive business partners? Before I get there I will say that initially things were going smoothly and I had some fun. (see food + see awesome MI football random story). Then things went badly quickly. First, I didn’t get paid what I was promised. Then I was reprimanded for trusting that I would get paid that amount. This continued for three months between me, the director of HR (stationed in HK) and my superior, an American licensed attorney (stationed in the US), neither of whom I have one good thing to say.
Fast forward to October and a necessary visa run was required. (see the Trip Report the Visa Run Keeps Running to China, Hong Kong, and Japan here.) Before leaving, the office manager needed my passport to get me a new exit/entry work visa, emphasis on the word ‘work.’ As a foreign worker departing Mongolia, I had to show my work identification card to validate that I had permission to leave legally. Upon returning to Mongolia, I would come in using my work visa, not as a tourist, so I could work legally.
Days into the trip, everything was fantastic though a visa mishap in Beijing, lead me to Shanghai for one night then onto Hong Kong then back to Shanghai. While staying at the St. Regis Osaka, I received an email from the American attorney who said that my employment was going to be terminated because I left the country without asking for permission. Dumbfounded, I said that I was given a new exit/entry work visa and that the approval for paying for such a visa could only come directly from him.
Outraged, I made my way back to Mongolia uncertain of what was to come next. It got worse. I went through immigration using my work visa then immediately returned to the office. The office manager was surprised I had bothered to return to Mongolia (even though all my stuff was still in my apartment) and that the decision could not be contested. Worse, she said that my work visa had been cancelled by the American lawyer and that I was technically in the country illegally. Mind you, had I came in as a tourist instead of using the work visa, I could’ve stayed for 90 days legally.
Facing deportation, I booked a one way flight to Korea (yes, the same one that hasn’t returned my money) then hired a lawyer to handle my wrongful termination case. The lawyer suggested that he and I start our own practice together which would be a fitting, ethical way to combat the injustice that was done to me. As a result, I foolishly decided to stay in Mongolia, and changed my flight to a round trip. From Korea, I returned to Mongolia as a tourist and started the preliminary research on what it would take to open a business or a representative office in Mongolia. No sooner had I setup my website, nomadresolutions.com (a work in progress) did I hear that the American attorney was taking steps to have my Mongolian legal licensed revoked for the illegal practice of law.
Again feeling uneasy, I decided to go to Bangkok and wait for my representative office papers to be approved (see Trip Report: So Long Mongolia, Hello SE Asia). Like my previous visa run, the trip was full of fun as I bounced around Thailand to Myanmar to Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, I found out that my potential business partner couldn’t get the papers filed for the office and that I would need to come back to Mongolia as a tourist in order to push the process along. After being bludgeoned and beaten over the past few months, I had had enough and said no more. I made the executive decision to return to the US (on Cathay First Class of course).
A year later, I am comfortable admitting that I like much of the world was defeated by the once mighty Mongolian empire. The repercussions of moving there carry on to this day. Given all that I have written in my autobiography, I cannot say that moving there was the dumbest thing I’ve done. I will say that dealing with unscrupulous, shady characters had more to do with my demise in Mongolia than the crumbling economy, both realities that I could not have discovered without being on the ground.
Google ‘jobs Mongolia’ and you too will be sold a bag of goods about the potential of this economy and the limitless opportunities for bold entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of this nonsense is being written not by the Mongolian people but by predatory outsiders who have no interest in seeing Mongolia grow as a country. Their only interest is lining their own pockets at the unconscionable expense of others. Many have found themselves deservedly locked up abroad on charges of fraud as a result.
Capitalism is cutthroat. The strong survive. The weak deserve to die. I am competitive by nature and will press on to find that pot of coal that can be churned into gold. But despite my desire for success, I will not compromise my ethics to get where I want to go. A year later, that is what I take away from this mess.