I found myself, at 23, in the land of Chinngis Khan, vodka, and milktea, completely unprepared to teach children. After living in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia for almost a year I concluded that anyone who came to Mongolia was running from something: an eight-year relationship, a gay father, law school, the pressure to get a real job. Why Mongolia? It represents just about the most distance you can put between yourself and anyone in the western hemisphere. It is located smack dab between two superpowers: Russia and China. Plane tickets here are costly: between $1,000 and $2,000 depending on whom you know. Ulaan Baatar is the coldest capital in the world. The country, governed by a disagreeable mix of former Communist leaders and a few who hoped for a smoother transition to democracy, runs on a system of corruption…. More…

At the close of the 20th century, I found myself wandering the streets of Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia in reluctant search of someone willing to talk about Chinggis Khan. It was an assignment for my study abroad program, and I didn’t want to do it. I had just barely skimmed the assigned excerpts of The Secret History of the Mongols, the story of the rise of the Mongol Empire, and for the two weeks since we were given the assignment, I hadn’t bothered to approach a single person.

A couple days before the write-up was due, I hung out in Sukhe Bator square and tried to work up the courage to talk to people, but everyone looked so respectably private. Many were walking to destinations in cashmere sweaters and suit jackets, jeans, riding boots, and felt caps; others walked away from me in traditional nomadic dress and boots. It was fall… More…