Mobicom Roaming Charges Expensive

I spent nearly two years living full-time in Mongolia and one of the things I learned very quickly was that Mobicom was an expensive Mobile Phone provider. Unfortunately, as far as GSM went, it really was the only game in town until Unitel arrived.

By far the most expensive (and still extremely expensive even on an international basis) was the roaming charges Mobicom levied for people with mobile phones roaming in Mongolia. Whilst the EU has imposed roaming charge maximums on member states, the pre-capped charges in Europe were nothing compared to what Mobicom manage in Mongolia.

For example, when roaming into Mongolia with a Telstra phone account (from Australia), the following charges apply:

To call Australia is $6.26 (Aussie Dollars) per minute. An SMS message is $0.47. To call anyone inside Mongolia is $1.18 a minute. What was incredible was the charge for dialing a Canadian phone from an Australian phone in Mongolia. That cost around $13.00 for about 1 minute and 25 seconds talking. Of course most of that goes to Mobicom.

By way of comparison, to make a national call in Afghanistan is $.099 per minute, to call Australia $3.63 per minute although SMS is more expensive at $0.82. As a further comparison, calls to Australia cost (per minute) $5.89 from Albania, $6.10 from Azerbaijan, $3.76 from Burkina Faso, $1.56 from Congo and $6.46 from Zimbabwe.

Mobicom is one of the most expensive mobile phone service providers I have come across in the world. Their local practices are similarly expensive. More on those later.

Microsoft Encourages Mongolian Piracy

No Genuine Advantage for MongoliaIt seems that the Microsoft Genuine advantage applies to everywhere in the world … except Mongolia. If you are a resident of Andorra, or Turks and Caicos Islands, or Svalbard and Jan Mayan (that would have to be 2,000 slightly frozen Norwegians and a similar number of Polar Bears) you can take advantage of Microsoft’s Genuine Advantage.

However, if you are resident in Mongolia, too bad. No such option exists on the Microsoft website. I guess Microsoft have never heard of Chinggis Khaan, even though there are more licensed Microsoft Products in use in Mongolia than the other mentioned locations combined.

Microsoft executives obviously never read the Biggles stories when they were young – even Biggles flew across Ulaanbaatar 🙂

From China to Panama, a Trail of Poisoned Medicine

The New York Times noted in an article called From China to Panama, a Trail of Poisoned Medicine by Walt Bogdanich and Jake Hooker and published on 6 May 2007:

A poisonous solvent sold by counterfeiters and mixed into drugs has figured in mass poisonings around the world that killed thousands.

This is something that has concerned us in particular in Mongolia where Chinese counterfeit items turn up everywhere and where there is no real control over them. Medications in particular are a problem. We have purchased medicines only to find out later that the use by date on the medication was two years in the past.

The Times further noted about Panama where the latest wave of deaths appears to have occurred:

Panama’s death toll leads directly to Chinese companies that made and exported the poison [diethylene glycol] as 99.5 percent pure glycerin.

Beyond Panama and China, toxic syrup has caused mass poisonings in Haiti, Bangladesh, Argentina, Nigeria and twice in India.

Remember too the pet deaths in the US recently? The Times noted about these:

China is already being accused by United States authorities of exporting wheat gluten containing an industrial chemical, melamine, that ended up in pet food and livestock feed. The F.D.A. recently banned imports of Chinese-made wheat gluten after it was linked to pet deaths in the United States.

This is something to be concerned about in Mongolia, where much medicine must, for economic reasons only, be sourced from cheaper suppliers. China is one of those suppliers and the toxic syrup is used in cough and cold medications amongst other things.

In addition, on a more personal basis, friends of mine have taken locally sourced diabetes (this is referred to as “sugar disease” in Mongolia) medicine but their sugar levels have been all over the place. Their sugar levels have not been controlled. Replacing the locally sourced medications with the “same” drugs but purchased overseas has resulted in his sugar levels coming under control.

The medications taken were supposed to have been from German or Indonesian manufacturers but given the amount of counterfeit material that ends up in Mongolia, who can tell. Significantly, when the medications were sourced from suppliers that were known to provide reliable medicines, the sugar levels came under control – there was no change in the type of medicine taken, just the supplier.

This is the worst type of counterfeiting and one that governments should pursue vigorously, and the Chinese government in particular.

MobiCrap … er … sorry … MobiCom Strikes Again

It seems that MobiCrap have done it again. Apart from massively overcharging their customers, and especially the international roaming ones (I’ll post comparative costs on that later), MobiCrap have allegedly been caught out providing wiretaps on their customers for the shadowy departments in the Mongolian government and legal system.

The UB Post reports on Wiretapping Charges Rock Mongolia that:

Legal enforcement agencies have been accused of listening in on telephone conversations, a totally unacceptable encroachment on the privacy of individuals guaranteed by Mongolian laws and democratic norms

Now, were there no substance to this, the story would have disappeared fairly quickly under the usual conspiracy theories. However judging from the comments from Mongolian friends it seems this is quite the talking point in Ulaanbaatar at the moment and there is widespread belief that this may well have some substance in fact.

The article in the Post goes on to list a number of companies and government departments that have been listened to. This would, of course, explain some of the weird things that used to happen when I was there (although not explain the exorbitant charges and poor service provided by MobiCom). Interestingly, Khan Bank is not mentioned amongst those listened to.

Whilst MobiCom have demanded that the allegations be withdrawn and have threatened legal action against the original publication reporting this – that would be the Niigmiin Toli (“Social Mirror”) – the list seems to still be standing.

The uproar seems to be based around the infringement of personal privacy and freedom, especially as Mongolia is a democracy. Of course, being a new democracy, Mongolia has not learned that this is normal for developed democracies – just not spoken about very often. See the article about Bush wants immunity for telcos that assisted in illegal searches.

Hmm, what was that clicking I just heard on my line?

Myth Debunking and the Truth

Recently there was a piece that did the rounds about Japanese buying sheep whilst thinking they were poodles. As is right, this was found to be an “urban myth” picked up by the news services (including CNN – not sure about BBC as the cable was playing up in my hotel room).

This was even picked up by a couple of my favourite Korean based Blogs. There is a blog in Japan called Cerebral Soup which is written by an Aussie and which was one of the debunkers of this myth. MJ on her blog goes on to note that:

Oh yes we published a story that was complete crap and xenophobic – but hey it’s ok because gosh we could then make silly puns and have a jolly laugh!

I must agree with her. Having spent a period of time in Mongolia, I have spent a fair bit of time debunking myths about Australia there (and at the same time having to shamefacedly admit some truths as well). I also spent time correcting myths about Mongolia from some foreigners.

I have even seen some of the racism working and it really piddles me off as well. Some of the worst though has been between the Asian nations. Korean attitudes to the Japanese. Japanese men’s attitudes to Korean women (I have not met many Japanese women so have no experience from that quarter). Chinese attitudes to the Mongolians (and that was made doubly worse as it was happening in front of my eyes).

So MJ, feel free to wear your citizen journalist boots. In the meantime, I am getting Pancho to saddle up the mule as there is a windmill turning just over there.

Australian Visa Rules Abuse

The Chosun Ilbo of Korea notes in an article about Prostitutes, Traffickers Abusing Australian Visa Rules that many Korean women are lured to Australia by unscrupulous Koreans on working holiday visas and that these women end up working in Korean Salons and in brothels in Australia for a year or two. Some women know the eventual destination of their travel, others are duped.

Apart from the appalling issue of the human trafficking that this involves, what really annoys me is that these practices make it so much more difficult to get visa approvals for genuine travel, especially for residents of other countries, especially those that are considered high-risk.

I also get annoyed with what can only be seen as some discrimination within the Australian Immigration Department. For example, somewhere between 40 and 60% of all visa applications for Mongolians to travel to Australia are rejected by the Australian Embassy in Beijing. Around 20% of the applications from the Chinese are rejected. It should be noted that both Mongolians and Chinese are the same risk group as far as Immigration Officials of Australia are concerned.

So, why the statistical anomaly? Are we in Australia really so frightened of 2,500,000 Mongolians? Chinggis Khaan did, after all, die about 800 years ago, surely we do not need to fear them any more?

Happy New Year to My Kazakh Friends

I forgot – over a week ago it was New Year for the Kazakh folks that live in the west of Mongolia (and, I guess, in Uigur A.R. in China and in Kazakhstan). The New Year holiday in the west of Mongolia is known as Nauriz Kozhe (I think) and it occurs in March each year. It is, according to some, an Islamic Holiday (how come I missed it sitting here in Saudi Arabia?) and it marks the changing of the year. Nauriz is, however, the Persian word for New Year so maybe that is why I have not run across it in the Middle East.

So, Happy New Year guys … and the next one coming up is the Thai New Year, Songkran, which occurs around 14 to 17 April in Thailand. More about that later.

Now, if Asel or Ascar is reading this, please, drop me a line and let me know what happens in Kazakhstan around this time. I was in Kazakhstan in March 2005 but I do not recall this holiday. Maybe I left just before it happens.

Kazakhstan has apparently been celebrating Nauryz Holiday falling on 22 March since gaining its independence. The holiday is a celebration of the return of Spring.

Now I wonder if anyone managed to lift the Ox this year?

Eset AntiVirus Purchasing Problems

Last year in Hong Kong I bought two copies of Eset’s NOD 32 Anti-virus software. It is good software, really. When it is running it is almost totally transparent, automatically updating and really only talking to me when it absolutely has to find something out. I liked it.

As readers of this blog will know, I spend a lot of time in Mongolia. In fact, pretty much all of 2005 and 2006 was spent in Mongolia. That is where I have my address.

I came back to the Middle East in January. In mid February my NOD32 license ran out. I have not been able to renew it until tonight. Whenever I go to the Eset website, I get redirected to the Middle East office. Then when I attempt to purchase a couple of licenses, I get a message that tells me that Eset is restricting sales to some markets. OK, the problem I have is that my residential address is Mongolia. My current location is the Middle East and the billing address for my credit card is Australia (I could have used the English one but that would have been too confusing for poor old Eset I guess).

The result of this is that I do not know where the restricted market is … probably Mongolia I guess as there is no online shopping site there.

Hel-looooo Eset. It is a global world now! 🙄

So, tonight I succeeded in getting a new license. I am annoyed because it has been over a month since the last license expired and therefore I cannot get a renewal, I have to get a new license. Again, not my fault if Eset’s poxy systems can’t handle a global world.

So how did I get the license sorted out tonight (well, I am thinking I sorted it out – I’ll let you know if an email turns up with the license during Australian business hours … er … hel-loooo again – Aussie Business Hours. Palease – automate the bloody process)? I lied, and used an address in Australia on the Australian website to order this from.

Love the software but the sales effort of the company sucks. In any case their website is at http://www.eset.com/ and the software is called NOD32. Really, the software is good, best I have used.

Korea Suffers Worst Yellow Dust Storm

A citizen wearing a mask rides a bicycle in Hangang Park, Seoul, Sunday. Earlier, the Korean Meteorological Administration posted a yellow dust warning for the city (of Seoul)Over the weekend just gone, Seoul and parts of Korea were blanketed in one of their worst Yellow Dust Storms. This is an annual event starting around the end of March and carrying through to May. Often the dust is suspended high in the atmosphere, not coming down until out in the Pacific Ocean somewhere, perhaps even making it all the way to the US and Canada. We used to joke when I was living and working in Jeon Ju that is was the Chinese giving themselves away to the USA. The Korea Times noted about the dust storms that:

The whole nation on Sunday was under a cloud of yellow dust blown from a Chinese desert some 5,000 km from here. The worstever (sic) yellow dust cloud forced people, who often picnic or hike in the mountains on the first Sunday of April, to stay home. The number of holiday-goers was about one third of those of a normal day. The density of dust was up to 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter, 10 to 20 times worse than usual.

There were a couple of other articles about it and the photo above was presented showing the intensity of the dust in Seoul.

Yellow Dust on the edge of the Gobi in Mongolia

It has been noted that the problem is the Gobi Desert in China, where various poor environmental practices over the years has led to a dust bowl which blows away each each year. Well, the Gobi extends into Mongolia as well and around this time last year I was travelling by train to Beijing from Ulaanbaatar. On the way, we passed the cause of the dust storms – shown in the other photo.

Seoul Food in Ulaanbaatar

“James Brown Park” in the UB Post in an article titled Seoul Food talks about Korean Food in Ulaanbaatar. He notes

I like Korean food. Yes, it is more limited than Chinese as shown to me not long ago when I was shepherding some Korean businessmen around town who had brought kimchee, canned sesame leaves, and hot sauce with them from Korea to accompany buuz and khuushur.

He then goes on to discuss a Korean restaurant on the northern side of town that he quite likes, I guess because of the proximity to his apartment.

Being an Australian and having lived in Korea for many years as well as in Ulaanbaatar for two years, I must admit to having somewhat of a strong opinion of Asian cuisine. The first thing that should be noted about restaurants in Ulaanbaatar is that mercifully there seems to be more Korean Restaurants than there are Chinese Restaurants. Certainly this is the case in the central part of town.

This is merciful as the Chinese food in Mongolia really is pretty ordinary – indeed, in many cases, awful. The best Chinese Restaurant I have found is 30 kilometres out of town at the Hotel Mongolia. A nice location, especially in the summer with the beach and near the river, but a long trip in winter.

As for the Korean restaurants, the one Park speaks of near Los Bandidos is really pretty ordinary. The food there is not so good and even though Park is using a family name that is typically Korean, he cannot be as no Korean I know would hesitate to ask ajuma for more lettuce at a barbecue.

As far as Korean food goes, the Seoul Restaurant probably offers the best barbecues in Ulaanbaatar, including the fusion dish of Barbecue Mutton. Their Chinese food is also excellent. Then just down from ikh delguur (State Department Store) are three Korean restaurants, one of which you would swear you were in a restaurant in the residential areas of Seoul. These restaurants all offer the traditional soup and noodle dishes as well as the Korean “Chinese” dishes.

There are another 4 or 5 Korean Restaurants along Seoul street all serving fine food.

And the restaurants all have English Language menus as well. The most frustrating thing about the menus is that they are in Mongolian, Korean and English. In Mongolian and Korean a dish will be described as Daenjung-chiggae [not sure of English spelling]. In English it will be called “soy bean paste soup”.

Fortunately I read enough Korean to be able to recognise what I want off the Korean menu. My Mongolia friends are always impressed as well when I order dinner in Korean – even the Mongolian girls working in the restaurants speak restaurant Korean.

As for a favourite meal for Mongolian guests, barbecue is good so I usually order them samgapsal or taegi-kalbi or taegi-bulgogi, usually one portion more than the number of us eating (4 people order 5 portions). I also order daenjung-chiggae and bab (and beer or tea). Usually we end up asking for more soup and the soup is an introduction to them to other Korean soups and dishes. All have enjoyed these mixes of food.

All my friends now insist on my ordering dinner at a Korean restaurant. We don’t eat Chinese there any more.