Mongolia: Fab Four found in unlikeliest of places

It's strawberry fields forever, as Ian D Robinson finds Beatle-mania in Mongolia.
The Mongolians are great monument builders.

The guitar shaped wall represents the division young Mongolians felt from the West during rock 'n' roll's golden age. Photo / Ian D Robinson

Around the capital Ulaan Baatar there are colossal bronze khans, monstrous gilt Buddhas, a goliath Chinggis Khan astride his horse - 40m of towering steel - a few surviving Lenin busts and there might even be a Stalin somewhere.

Walking through the dusty park opposite the State Department Store in the centre of Ulaan Baatar I almost ignored the brick and bronze memorial in the middle as yet another tribute to an all but forgotten revolutionary hero.

But as I got closer I squinted in disbelief through the midday glare of Central Asian sunshine. "Is that the ..." incredulous at the sight of the fab four frozen in bronze "... Beatles?"

No, I wasn't hallucinating after consuming too much local vodka. John, Paul, George and Ringo really were strutting by fresh from their Sergeant Pepper days.

But how had they ended up here? Mongolia was about as far from Liverpool as you could get.

After a fair bit of asking round I tracked down the man behind the monolith. It turned out the seemingly misplaced memorial was a shrine to a generation of Mongolian youth.

"We finished that monument in October 2008," explained Dolgion Balchinjav, instantly recognisable to Mongolian rock music lovers by his trademark silk neck scarf.

Dolgion is producer and judge of Mongolia's answer to Idol, the republic's own version of Simon Cowell .. . and a Beatles fan from way back.

"It was all privately funded, nothing came from the state, but people here who love the Beatles were happy to help, some gave 10 tugriks, some gave 10 million."

Built by locally renown sculpture Den Barsboldt, the guitar-shaped brick wall represents the division Dolgion and his urban peers felt from the West during rock 'n' roll's golden age.

The side facing west, which supports the friezes of John and company always seems to be in the sun, while the other side towards the east is in perpetual shade. There a figure of a long haired young man sits alone playing his guitar, lonely and cut off from the rest of the world.

While Beatle-mania raged and most of the planet basked in the light of free love and peace during the 60s and 70s, Mongolia was isolated.

"All we heard at that time was communist ideology. Many people knew the Beatles and liked them, but we couldn't listen to them.

In those gloomy days Here Comes the Sun must have held a far greater meaning than it did for the rest of the world.

"We used to listen to LPs smuggled into Mongolia, mostly by the children of diplomats who had been living abroad wherever their parents had been posted.

"It was risky though, to be a fan of the Beatles in those days, we had to listen in hiding and turn the volume down in case the neighbours heard."

Even in the new millennium, which Mongolia has embraced like a long lost lover, the Beatles monument is controversial, there are still old socialists who disapprove and nomads from the steppe lands just don't get it, most feeling the money raised would have been better spent on another statue of Chinggis Khan or perhaps a memorial to the goat.

"By building this monument we wanted to show to the rest of the world that Mongolia is not just horses and Chinggis Khan," Dolgion explained. "We have a modern urban culture too, and that isn't just something we've found in the last few years; just like the West we go back to the 60s, we know and love the Beatles, Clapton and the Stones just as much as the rest of the world."

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies to Beijing and Air China and MIAT Mongolian Airlines have connecting flights to Ulaan Bataar.

Korean Air flies to Ulaan Baatar via Seoul.

Visa: A 30-day tourist visa can be obtained from the Honorary Mongolian Consulate in Wellington for $95.

Further information: See mongolianconsulate-nz.com.

Ian D Robinson paid his own way to Mongolia.

source:http://www.nzherald.co.nz
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