I HAD BEEN IN THE MONGOLIAN CAPITAL of Ulan Bator less than 24 hours before I saw my first racially motivated fight. You could scarcely call it a fight: three Chinese men knocked to the floor by a drunken Mongolian. He’d been angered by them talking to Mongolian women in a bar, and followed the trio outside to teach them the error of their ways.
Standing beside me as it happened, a young hip-hop singer in a green wife-beater undershirt and Yankees baseball cap looked on and shrugged his shoulders as if to say it happens every night and said, “It is stupid”—a sentiment he spoilt by laughing afterwards.
I had met Nele, who like many Mongolians has just one name, the night before on the train to the capital. During the long journey, he told my photographer and I about the explosion of hip-hop among the youth of Mongolia, let us listen to a handful of his band SS’s songs, and explained some of the problems in the country, of which there are many (alcoholism and a hatred of their southern neighbours being major ones). This was made all the more impressive by the fact that he spoke perhaps 200 words of English, many of which were curse words he’d learnt listening to foreign hip-hop records.