Aug 1, 2014: The Mistake of Mongolia

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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.

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21 COMMENTS

  1. It sounds as if you were dealing with some sleazebags in an environment where the rule of law was not well enforced. I’m glad you got out with sanity intact.

  2. I am on-the-ground in UB. Sorry to hear of your experiences. I came under contract as a teacher and got screwed for my wages, threatened with jail and/or deportation by my employers. The law here, as are most things, is ruled by bribes. Almost 100% of the Mongolian people are pathological liars, They are, for the most part, thieves and suffer a rate of alcoholism in both men and women that exceeds 1/3rd of the population.

    Foreigners are hated in Mongolia. Landlords and merchants charge foreigners double or more for food and rent. Many embassies have issued “Extreme Caution” warnings. Mongolia is #1 in the world of places NOT to visit as a tourist. It is #8 on the list of countries that may default on their loans.

    Ulaan Baatar is the most polluted city in the world and while the government is aware of this critical situation they have done nothing to end or correct it despite being introduced to the technologies . Quite the opposite they are subsidizing coal prices which only serves to increase the pollution levels. one example of this sick society – education is guaranteed here however, a bribe of 500 to 1000 must be paid to get a child into a school unless you are a foreigner and then the price is 5000. As an added note – the Anti-Corruption Police are corrupt and have been since their inception.

    Is it possible to save this nation? As we had the WEB and then WEB II I feel that the only hope for Mongolia and its future is a complete ground up restructuring from everything from the National Anthem to currency and legal system. Without this measure Mongolia is doomed and faces take over by the Chinese in the not too distant future, not by force but but shear economic might.

    • I don’t think they care to be organized functioning society and perhaps they shouldn’t be. Ironically, it was the foreigners in Mongolia that ended up being the real criminals in my experience.

      • They want all that the West has to offer but still think like nomads. Sadly with 1.5 million now living in UB they are rapidly loosing their culture. Just one generation of city living and they have lost a thousand years of nomadic knowledge. 71 Mongolia families have robbed this country blind and the rest will have to pay it back to the international lenders.

        Very sadly, the high level of corruption is stealing the future from the people and the future of this nation.

        Some foreigners, tagged as Canadians, but are really Americans hiding behind the Canadian flag, have done some serious environmental damage to Mongolia, followed closely by the Chinese and Russian mining companies.

        When I said that Mongolians are pathological liars they were the same during Timuujin’s lifetime. It may come from then but more than likely was reinforced by the butchery of Chiobalsan and the Soviet purges, then sadly passed father to son – Youtube – Soviet Communism purges in Mongolia

        As an FYI – the Contact form on Nomad Resolutions is not working and I think we must talk at length. I have been here 5 years.

    • What the fk are you talking about. Don’t talk pathetic stupid things. Every country have own deffirence, own mental issue. I know other fking countries killed each other also fking america supporting ISIS terrorist but Mongolian people never do terrorist active, we are piece country. We are proud of our Mongolia.

    • David, what fuck are you doing there, if you do not like the country? Get lost and go home. Bloody foreigners are robbing the country like they robbed Africa. Multinational companies are drooling over Mongolia’s resources, but they pay fellow foreigners ten times more than ordinary Mongolians. Then, how can say that Mongolians are the ones who charge 10 times more. Foreiners have brought colonialism with them. I hate how my manager, who is a foreigner paid 10 times more and lives lavish life. You should be thankful that Mongolia is making you rich.

  3. Everthing is your problem. Don’t push your fking mistake to Mongolia. Don’t talk like this our Mongolia. My Mongolia most beuatiful and old culture country and wild nature. Yeah of course some people have problem. But these days everything getting change. Mongolia is great country, we are also like foreign people. Don’t talk pathetic stupid things. Every country have own deffirence, own mind people. Mongolian people never do terrorist active, we are piece country. We are proud of our Mongolia.

    • These are not my problems but yours. If you like foreigners maybe it is because you steal money from them. There was nothing in my post that pathetic or stupid or that was untrue and all of what I said can easily be verified as true, If you can not deal with the truth then this is your problem. What is pathetic was your reply and the tone of that reply. From your words you sound like Ger District guy.

      Is Mongolia beautiful? ABSOLUTELY. BUT, it is full of garbage thrown away by the Mongolians. Timuujin said the land is sacred. Why do you destroy it with your garbage? People spit and pee on the streets all over UB. NO Khoroo is clean.

      You have to change your country. You have to start to report corruption on sites like Bribe Spot or start a Facebook page and publish photos and sound clips of the corrupt.. Bring shame to them and their families. Take back the money they steal with new laws to end corruption. You have to end bribery as a way to get things and as a way of life. You have to stop using the Soviet’s Cyrillic alphabet and use Classic Script and Latin (in use before 1939)

      Mongolia will NEVER develop as long as you let these politicals and the 71 families steal your future. YOU and your children have to pay back all this money to international banks or they will come and take Mongolia from you.

      Take back Southern Mongolia from Chinese. Take back Ulaan Uul from Russians.. It is yours. Put your country back again. Until then you have no future. Make this your life promise to your children – “I will make Mongolia whole again”.

  4. I used to live and work in Mongolia between 2010 and 2016 as an investor. I lost my entire investment due to crooked Mongolians.Suing Mongolians in Mongolia is useless since a foreigner will never win a court case in Mongolia. Now, my wife and son are being banned from leaving Mongolia.

    STAY AWAY FROM THIS HELLHOLE!!!

  5. As I Mongolian I would agree that UB is a “Shithole”, and the people (Mongolians) are the most xenophobic ignorant group of people I know.

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