Woody Packard

Words + Pictures


Moonrise Over Children's Park
From above, Ulaanbaatar sprawls east and west, up and down the Tuul River valley between dry grass-covered hills to the north and south. It presents itself as a nearly solid expanse of buildings, broken only occasionally by an open space—a park, vacant lots, or a pending construction site. At street level, you get an entirely different impression. Even without your sense of sight, the sound of construction is everywhere. Jackhammers, drills, grinders, saws, and earthmoving equipment fill the air with their combined roar. A walk around any block with your eyes open will confirm what your ears are telling you. Construction is everywhere, with cranes that loom over the hundreds of partially completed buildings.

Because of the slowdown of Rio Tinto at its Oyu Tolgoi mine, Mongolia is in an economic slowdown right now, changing for many the bright outlook for jobs a year ago. (Adding to their difficulties, this week the government has had another upheaval. The prime minister is being replaced, brought down by corruption charges.) Although there are many construction sites that seem to be stopped, there are many more that continue on, full-steam ahead. This time of year workers are scrambling to finish what can be completed and closed up before the building season ends, for in a few more weeks the practicalities of a Mongolian winter will make many kinds of outside work impossible.
Central Ulaanbaatar from the south. Gers and small houses spread across the north side, shown at the top.

As fascinating as the large-scale projects are, there is a constant feast of small projects to take in. I find myself watching in amazement at the versatility of welders who are constantly inventing new ways to use angle iron, for both structure and decoration. (Wood is more precious here than steel or brick.)

And then there are the other small mysteries. Why was a freshly painted lamp pole on fire for two days in a row, as workers looked on from a ladder? Beneath the brand new Beijing Street Bridge that crosses the Selve River a power pole has been down for a week, broken off at the base and lying across the new sidewalk. Its wires—live? dead?—are tangled in piles on the stairs that get you from bridge level to the underpass below, where they continue across the street and over the edge to the river. I imagine this is a temporary situation, but like many things here, I will just have to wait and see.

Close Story—Back to Pictures


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Construction, Selve River

Pipes and Clamps

Second Floor

Unfinished Tower

Finished but Empty

Nearly Finished

Still Working

Installing Glass

Olympic and UNESCO

Interior Pending

Sidewalk Work, Peace Avenue

Block and Brick

Housing, Near Naadam Stadium

Mosque, Peace Avenue

Moving Earth

Night Welding


Power Pole

Peace Avenue Bridge

Peace Avenue Bridge