Intersections: Discovering a taste of Los Angeles in Mongolia

It was midnight when I landed in Mongolia. The ice cold breeze coming through the airport doors from the outside world were a welcome and soothing relief from the Los Angeles heat, but “soothing” wouldn't exactly be the way a Mongolian would describe it.
Ulaanbaatar, the city's capital, is the coldest in the world, a place where temperatures reach minus-40 degrees Fahrenheit and below in the winter, a cold so severe that I, an Angeleno through and through, couldn't begin to understand.
I had left L.A. behind to embark on a monthlong reporting fellowship to Mongolia to report on pollution and its impact on maternal health. In addition to having the coldest capital, Mongolia not only has the lowest population density in the world, but is also one of the most polluted.
As hundreds of thousands of nomads have moved to the capital looking for jobs, the city has been enveloped in a thick cloud of smoke during winter. The pollution comes from the coal-burning stoves they use in their yurts, or “gers” which surround the city. As more and more people move to the capital every year, the pollution increases and has an impact on the population, especially women who are pregnant, as well as their children.
All of this sounds very far away from life in the U.S., but as soon as I got to Ulaanbaatar, I couldn't help but notice how much L.A. was trailing me in one of the most remote places in the world.
For one thing, my taxi driver turned out to have lived in Santa Monica for months. He told me his favorite thing about the city was Chipotle. “So much meat!” he said leaning from the front seat, a nod to just how incredibly rich the Mongolian diet is with meat and more meat.
When we pulled up to the center of the city, a glowing sign in the darkness announced the location of “Los Angeles Restaurant,” complete with a cocktail lounge.
The next day, I walked into a cafe to get some lunch, and the owner, it turned out, had traveled all across Los Angeles, eventually staying in Long Beach for three months before heading back home to Mongolia. In the two words of Mongolian that I know, and the little English that she knew, we managed to establish how many cities in the L.A. area she had visited.
When I met with a woman for an interview soon after, she told me she had previously visited friends in La CaƱada Flintridge.
It was very strange, having come all the way to the other side of the world, only to be reminded of Los Angeles in peculiar ways. But really, it was just a reminder of what a truly global world we're living in now, that even in the most far away locales, we have reached a place where we are more connected than ever before.
Los Angeles, for its part, seems to be returning the favor. I just learned of a U.S. restaurant chain called “Mongolian Hot Pot,” which has opened locations in places like Pasadena and Torrance.
When I get back in a month from an experience I will likely end up treasuring for a lifetime, trying a bit of Mongolia in Los Angeles will be truly special.



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