General

Its Mongolia once more

My Dear Rotarians and friends, in particular my Action Presidents,

Edmond Chan (Channel Islands) looked at my Hong Kong Special Administrative Region People’s Republic of China Passport and said, “John, this is your special passport to Mongolia.”

Edmond Chan of course is District Secretary (Returns). He and Herbert Lau (Tolo Harbour) accompanied me to visit Mongolia over the weekend, he for the first time, and Herbert, the umpteenth. I took my passport in my hands, turned to the first of the visas pages and found six chops staring in my face, all from the Mongolian Immigration Department. The dates of the chops showed that I have made three trips to Mongolia within the last six months. There are no other chops. I looked up and smiled to Edmond, “Yes, you are correct.”

We went to Mongolia to play host to President-elect Richard D King and Cherie who were visiting Mongolia for the first time. They were accompanied by Rotary International General Secretary Edwin Futa and the Danish Ambassador to Mongolia Christopher Bramsen.

This visit was different in more than one way. First, it was rather cold. It was 25 degrees Celsius below zero. Secondly, our stay in Mongolia was reduced to just under 24 hours, including the hour we stayed on the Boeing 727 jet on the way back to Beijing for technical reasons. Indeed, the trip was characterized by delays. As a start, we were made to wait at the Beijing airport for more than a few hours before being advised that the flight was cancelled because the weather condition at Ulaanbaatar was not safe enough for landing. The welcome party which the Rotarians in Ulaanbaatar had planned turned out to be a birthday party for the wife of Barrie Evans. Thirdly, it was the first visit by an RI President-elect and the Secretary General together.

Ulaanbaatar took on a new colour. Everywhere was so uniformly white. The mountains and grassland that were so green and full of life in August were all covered with snow. From the sky, the scene was one of a giant serving of baked Alaska. On the ground, it was even more quiet and calm than before. The sky was ever so blue, the air so still and fresh when the wind was not blowing, and the sun so deceivingly shining and warm when one was indoor.

We were told that it would be like that for at least six months of the year. The weather was regarded as mild, although in parts of the country, it was already three quarters of a metre deep in snow. It went up to five or six feet last year. We visited Nicola. Readers may recall that she was the Rotarian who invited me to circle the ovoo in her backyard thrice, which I did, and prophesized that I would be back. And so I was. As I left, I asked her to take me to the ovoo again. She made sure I was fully wrapped up before walking me to it. As we got close, she looked at my shoes and decided that they were unsuitable. So, we took a picture instead. I was hoping that Edmond could share my ovoo experience. Well, the ovoo certainly looked very different in snow, but even as I stood there being photographed and brooding over not being equipped for the ritual, I felt the biting cold which Nicola described as merely mild. “Wait till it is 50 degrees below zero with winds blowing,” was her reassuring parting message.

I hosted a dinner within a Ger in honour of President-elect Rick and Cherie and of course to welcome General Secretary Ed and Ambassador Chris and his First Secretary Soren. The Education Minister was also a guest of honour. It was a great evening with speeches and toasts, culminating in the keynote speech by President-elect Rick who was as usual good value. I am positive he had put more Rotary into the Rotarians of the Club and had shown them how to be better Rotarians. Very importantly, he helped President Zorigt to induct three new members, all very much better looking than President Zorigt, by Rick’s standard.

During the day, we discussed the need and the mechanism to form a new club in Mongolia. Everyone was very positive and we are hopeful that we can see a second club in Mongolia before the end of the Rotary year.

That was a highlight of the past two weeks. There are of course many others, including the Rotary Institute held here ten days before and billed as one of the best attended and more successful Rotary Institutes in the region, the high level RI visit to Beijing, and of course what Time magazine billed as the unpresidented election. On a personal note, I was happy that “Spirit of Hong Kong” came second in the second leg of the BT Global Challenge 2000-2001. This is billed as the world’s toughest yacht race, going round the world against the prevailing seas and currents, first started single-handedly by British yachtsman Sir Chay Blyth. “Spirit of Hong Kong” is sponsored by Invest Hong Kong and I now work there. I may tell you more about the yacht race next time.

Talk to you soon.

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