I had an opportunity to speak to my teachers about how Mongolia was back during the transition from a socialist system to a free-market one, as well as their change into Democracy, all of which happened back in 1991. Only one teacher was not around for the switch. Here is what they told me.
Everyone noted it was a time of hardships. The stores usually only had salt on the shelves, as the rest of the food was rationed. Everyone had a ration card, and lines were particularly long for meat, bread, flour, and dairy products, the staples of the Mongolian diet [link] (I also remember a volunteer from the second group to come to Mongolia from the embassy saying he had to stand in ration lines to get his food during his service).
Mongolia was closed to the world during the socialist period, but now the doors were open. Without the Russians and their planned economy, Mongolians turned to China to start their economy over again. The currency, the Tugruk, fell sharply and lost value so quickly it caused a whole slue of social ills: unemployment, bankruptcy, higher costs of living, and alcoholism.
One story I enjoyed was from one of the first teachers I met here. She was 21 and had just graduated from medical college. She was working in a hospital as an assistant doctor, making 400 tugruk per month (nowadays, 400 tugruk can’t even buy you a single buuz/dumpling). She was in UB, and told me about all the meetings for the new democracy that happened in Sukhbaatar Square [link]. She loved being involved with the new democratic process, and there were many concerts. One group, Bell, was a pro-democracy band that sang songs about a hopeful future for the Mongolian Democracy. She still remembers most of their songs, and was able to sing me her favorite without hesistation.
There are so many stories from that fascinating time, and it’s hard to condense it into a single post. Needless to say, everyone from that time has a story of how their lives changed.