The Idiot in Booming Mongolia

I was reading an interesting article in this week’s economist and it reminded me of one of my favourite Stan Rogers’ songs, “The Idiot”. The article describes the recent boom in Mongolia (or Minegolia as they quip so wryly) due to mining profits (copper, gold etc.) From the article:

One such herder, given the name Igor by Russians he knew in his youth, describes a common life path. A few years ago, herding in Central province, he lost many of his sheep to a dzud, one of the periodic climatic disasters that hit Mongolia-a summer drought that results in too little pasture and too little hay for the winter, followed by heavy winter snow and colder-than-usual temperature. Igor sold the rest of his livestock to pay for his children’s schooling, bought a pickup truck and moved to UB (Ulaanbaatar), where he makes a living hiring it out. He finds UB going from bad to worse, as more people come to town and scramble to earn money. All there is to look forward to is the summer pilgrimage home, to drink airag (fermented mare’s milk) with his friends in a ger.

From the song:

I often take these night shift walks when the foreman’s not around.
I turn my back on the cooling stacks and make for open ground.
Far out beyond the tank farm fence where the gas flare makes no sound,
I forget the stink and I always think back to that Eastern town.

I remember back six years ago, this Western life I chose.
And every day, the news would say some factory’s going to close.
Well, I could have stayed to take the dole, but I’m not one of those.
I take nothing free, and that makes me, an idiot, I suppose.

So I bid farewell to the Eastern town I never more will see;
But work I must so I eat this dust and breathe refinery.
Oh I miss the green and the woods and streams and I don’t like cowboy clothes;
But I like being free and that makes me an idiot, I suppose.

So come all you fine young fellows who’ve been beaten to the ground.
This western life’s no paradise, but it’s better than lying down.
Oh the streets aren’t clean, and there’s nothing green, and the hills are dirty brown,
But the government dole will rot your soul back there in your home town.

So bid farewell to the Eastern town you never more will see.
There’s self-respect and a steady cheque in this refinery.
You will miss the green and the woods and streams and the dust will fill your nose.
But you’ll be free, and just like me, an idiot, I suppose.

So basically, this is a song (and an article) about moving to get work and finding yourself desperately homesick. Somehow… I sympathize… and miss life on the Gulf Islands.


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