Sunday, 14 October 2007

Ola Wong on Mongolian men in Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet

Ola Wong is a Chinese-Romanian guy born in Borås, Sweden, who works as a journalist and has also written a really interesting book about his grandparents ("No, I'm from Borås"). Today an article by him about Mongolian men was published in Swedish daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

Wong describes how the role of the Mongolian man is in a downward spiral. The case of Oynaa's family is one example of many. "The worst thing about Mongolian men is that they drink, are lazy and unfaithful. Then they bring sexually transmitted diseases back home. And he blamed the disease on me, even though I was toiling like crazy to take care of the child, our home and work at the same time", complains Oynaa, a divorced mother whom Wong interviewed in Ulan Bator. After the divorce, Oynaa's husband left her their child and kept their apartment for himself. But Oynaa went on to make a career and is now the manager of a fitness club, while her ex-husband lives off his parents.

"Oynaa blames the problems in Mongolia on the fact that the men are still mentally in the ger - the Mongolian felt tent [in SvD entertainingly enough misspelled as "sour milk tent"], where the warmest half is reserved for the men and the altar. The Mongolian ideal man is a carefree and indolent wrestler type who never takes initiatives or is in any hurry. He should sit there with his legs apart and with his hands on his knees. A woman, on the other hand, should be intelligent, hardworking, good at cooking and cleaning, beautiful, modest, quiet and submissive - all at the same time!"

Wong writes about how 70 % of university students are women. He cites a common explanation for this - that people tend to think that "boys will be all right anyway", while girls are married off to another family, and their parents consider them to need an education to be able to stand on their own legs.
In spite of this, women's influence in the higher levels of society has diminished considerably since "democracy" came along in 1990 - only 7 % of the Mongolian members of parliament are women today.

While this article could have been interesting as a more personal insight into the life of Oynaa's family and many more like them in Mongolia today, Wong goes on to draw simplified conclusions about Mongolian culture and history. "Macho ideals and hard men made it possible for the Mongolians to conquer a world empire under Genghis Khan. But it became a recipe for failure after the fall of the Soviet Union. The men gave up, got wasted and took out their frustration with their fists."
(So, nothing else really happened between Genghis Khan and 1990?)

Instead of drawing slightly orientalist conclusions about Genghis Khan, it should be easy to see the same pattern here as in Russia and many other post-Communist countries, where the transition has hit men harder - many of them drink and get violent in frustration, while a handful go on to rule the country. Women, on the other hand, keep on coping somehow, as they always have.

Certainly, there are exceptions to this bleak picture. And Wong writes about how in order to support men, the Mongolian Men's Association was founded. Since one year it has been obligatory for engaged couples to take at the very least a two-hour class at the Mongolian Men's Association before they are allowed to marry.

So, by and by, I guess maybe even Mongolian men will be able to show a "softer" side. They could start with changing the design of their saddles. The traditional Mongolian saddles are said to be made as uncomfortable as possible, so that the riders "stay hard", like "real men". My arse still hurts when I think about them.

(Photo by me, Ulan Bator, June 2006 - the guy on the photo obviously has nothing to do with the article, except that he is a specimen of The Mongolian Man.)


bubu said...

Ehkä näille MIEHILLE vois suositella Doris Lessingin kertomusta: The Marriages between Zones Three, Four and Five, joka käsittelee mm. kuningas Ben Atan elämänarvojen muuttumista.

ainur said...

Maybe Wong was served these Genghis Khan stories by the Mongolians themselves? I sometimes get the impression that he is the great reference point for many modern Mongolians, maybe because they assume that foreigners don't know about any other personality in Mongolian history (much like Finns talk about Kalevala heroes as archetypal Finnish men, although the whole "epic" is a 19th century compilation of East Karelian poems that didn't play any role whatsoever in Western Finnish tradition for hundreds of years before Lönnrot...). It's a bit disappointing that Wong should stoop so low, I liked his articles in Ordfront.

Tinet said...

Yes, he was probably influenced by Oynaa, who in her quotes is obviously extremely generalizing, projecting her husband's specific problems on *all* Mongolian men (true as they may be for quite many others), and perhaps also other people.
But as an "outsider" it shouldn't be too hard to keep a healthy distance to that kind of cultural clichés ...

Tuguldur said...

I am a Mongol man, and would admit that this is a hard truth. My father was a drunkard, and my mom raised me and my brother alone.

Still today many young men live their lives with alcohol,,, a female led family is a common image today in Mongolia.

Anonymous said...

you cant change shiiit, but you travel to poor countries and think you are better than them, get a life get a real rich life and stay at home, half chinese half somethin,
there are problems with alcohol, but mongolians are very friendly people.
They also probably treated you as a friend, I hate when some cheap ass traveler writes some shit about my home

Tinet said...

Tuguldur: I'm sorry to hear that. And it's certainly a problem that exists in other countries and social groups, too ... For example, our mum comes from a Finnish working class background, and as she grew up, she pretty much knew only one man who was not a drunkard (her step-grandpa). On her side, families led by a single female are very common.

Anonymous: Yeah, Ola Wong wrote a bad article, but he has also written some quite interesting and well-researched articles about Mongolia and other parts of the world. I think this one is a mistake, because usually he doesn't write such crap. He should have known better than to hand in something like this. He should be ashamed, as a journalist ...
Anyway, don't bash him for being "half chinese half somethin", that's a bit silly. Me and Ainur are "one quarter Tatar, one eighth Gypsy, five eighths Finn" - isn't that pretty bad, too? :o)

Anonymous said...

This journalist must not describe all of Mongolian men by one woman's complain towards her husband. Drug and alcoholism is everywhere in the world, not only in Mongolia. Journalists should write articles based on true statitistics and they should interview at least 10-15 people. Also, Ola Wong should mention where and how he found his interviewees. He wrote about one of historical and Independent countries, not just any city or something. Journalist should know what he is writing about. This story is really dissapointing, specially the person who wrote it (Ola Wong). Is his interviewee even real??? Probably Ola Wong wrote his own opinion using one of Mongolian most common names. Why does he have that much anger towards this great country????

Tinet said...

Anonymous, I agree. As I said, he should be ashamed for calling himself a journalist and handing in an article like this.

Still, I don't think he just made up "Oynaa". It's always possible to find an interviewee who suits the kind of article you want to write. *sigh*

Jameel said...

Anonymous has a good point, men all over the world act just like the "bad Mongolian men" Wong describes. I live in Pennsylvania in the US, and the description of drunkards who leave their wives and kids to go screw off sounds like a lot of guys I know here. Also, I grew up in the Philippines and saw similar behavior by men there. This plague seems to afflict men in any society where alcohol is consumed, which is to say pretty much all over Earth.

Completely off-topic, I am a half-Punjabi quarter-Celt quarter-Cherokee, brown and hairy, and you ladies definitely got my attention with the "loving hairy men" theme. I must commend you on your excellent taste in men :)

Tinet said...

Yes, I agree completely about that issue with both you and Anonymous. This article by Ola Wong was very badly made.
A Mongolian blogger even found it (actually through us) and posted a summary of this and another negative article by Wong about Mongolian ultranationalists, along with Wong's email address and phone number (!), provoking hundreds of hateful comments. Maybe also hate mail and hate phone calls to Wong? :o/

"Half-Punjabi quarter-Celt quarter-Cherokee"? Sounds interesting. :o)

Anonymous said...

I am just searching for many pictures, as you can't wonder how I love watching Mongolian men!
Thanks for having displayed some excellent ones.