|Second home: After 30 years living in Viet Nam, Mongolian Ambassador Dorj Enkhbat has become an expert on the country. — Photo courtey Mongolian Embassy
by Bach Lien
Mongolian Ambassador Dorj Enkhbat is one of the few foreign envoys who has lived for a long time in Viet Nam.
In fact, he has spent 20 years in an official capacity in the country and another 10 years in a private capacity. He is now considered an expert on the country.
The Ambassador said that he could never forget the first time he visited Viet Nam.
"It was in November 1978 and I was only 18 years old. It was also the first time I went abroad, so I kept mementos," he said.
In 1978, he was among two Mongolian students chosen to study at the Ha Noi University. He was excited to discover a country that he had only known through photos in magazines.
"I was curious to see how people lived. Previously I saw photos of women holding guns and taking part in the war. I saw the burned houses. I admired the courage of Vietnamese people."
From Ulan Bator, Mongolia's capital, he arrived in Ha Noi by train. It was at midnight when he arrived. There was no electricity. The whole city was sunk in darkness.
The hardship he witnessed in Ha Noi just three years after the war first discouraged the young man who had become used to a comfortable life in Ulan Bator.
"The power supply was interrupted three times a day, there was no electricity in the evenings after 9pm," he said.
"In the evening, when I was riding a bike, I only knew there was someone who was riding besides me when I heard them. There were no lights or horns."
Enkhbat also faced big difficulties in communicating with Vietnamese people, as he could not speak Vietnamese when he first arrived. During the first year at the university, he learned Vietnamese.
"They spoke Vietnamese, I spoke Russian, we couldn't understand each other, and had to communicate by hands, but it was still so hard."
"During the two first days, I cried a lot. I wanted to come back to Ulan Bator. But I didn't even know how to get to the train station in Ha Noi, because I couldn't communicate with Vietnamese people."
To overcome the loneliness, he wrote to his parents once a week, so that he could receive the letter of his parents every two months. At that time, it took one month for a letter sent from Ha Noi to get to Ulan Bator.
However, the loneliness soon went by when he could make friends with local residents.
'I was touched by the kindness of the people. In the evening, when the power was off, I got downstairs to talk with security guards and other students, so I could quickly improve my Vietnamese and make good friends."
Enkhbat still keeps memories of the State-subsidised economy. Besides a modest monthly allocation from Vietnamese government, every month, the Mongolian student was provided with an extra of 10kg of rice, one piece of soap and 1.5kg of meat that he gave to canteen staff at the university who cooked for students.
"If I was still hungry, I bought bread at the train station. I went to Sword Lake with friends, bought beer to drink so as I was not hungry any more," he said.
During the subsidy period, food, goods, and services were purchased with coupons or food stamps issued by the government.
"One time, I was invited to a Vietnamese friend's house. We were all hungry. My friend took three food ration stamps to Nguyen Du Street to exchange for two bowls of rice and one bowl of vegetable soup."
"I was touched to see that my Vietnamese friends shared with me many things, even though they had a difficult life. During those difficult days, I found many good Vietnamese friends".
"Those were difficult years, but the most beautiful years in my life," he said with emotion.
After four years of study in Ha Noi, Enkhbat went back to Ulan Bator to work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But he kept coming back to work in Viet Nam, always interested in its culture, its streets and its people.
In 1986, he returned to Ha Noi and worked as an interpreter at the Mongolian Embassy. In 1990, he went back to Mongolia, but one year later he returned and worked as Third Secretary at the embassy until 1996.
After studies in Britain, he was again in Viet Nam and worked from 2003 to 2006 as Counsellor at the embassy. And in 2012, he returned in the capital as his country's Ambassador until now.
"Every time I have to chose a country to work, the President of Mongolia suggests several different countries, but I only want to come back to Viet Nam," he said. "For me, Viet Nam is my second country and I have a very strong attachment to it."
The 55-year-old diplomat said he was proud to have spent half of his life living in Viet Nam and witness relations between the two countries develop.
He said that his wife and two sons also loved Viet Nam.
"My eldest son was born in Bach Mai Hospital in Ha Noi. He is studying now in the United States. He often tells me that he wants to come back to Viet Nam to enjoy Vietnamese food.
"I ask him why he wants to return to Viet Nam and not to Mongolia and he replies that it's because he was born in Viet Nam and feel he has become a Vietnamese," he said.
The Ambassador regrets that young people in Viet Nam and Mongolia know little about each other's culture. He said he would try hard to help the two peoples to know each other better.
In November, an exhibition of Mongolian culture and film screenings will be held in Ha Noi. — VNS