Column #400 Darts in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Darts in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
When I got to thinking about checking out the darts scene in Mongolia I e-mailed some friends hoping somebody might join me for the adventure. The responses were classic but none more so than that from Karl Hartman in Korea…
Where in the HECK is Ulan Bator? Now I’ve got to go mess around with Google Earth again! Ah… Mongolia! Mongolia in the first few weeks of December! Ha! I hope you are bringing your curling equipment. If you throw a dart at a frozen dartboard in Mongolia do you have to fan the air in front of the dart with a broom to keep it from freezing in flight?
I want to be the travel agent who sold you a vacation package to Mongolia in winter. I hear it all now. “My name is Dartoid and I want to go some place really special to throw darts so I can tell the world about it in my online darts magazine.”
“I have just the place for you,” says the travel agent: “Mars!”
“Mars!” exclaims Dartoid. “That sounds interesting.”
“Yes! You could be the first person from Earth to visit the Cydonian Face, the pyramids, and giant tubes. You could attach a board to one of the Martian trees and video feed the whole trip back to your website live!”
“That sounds great!” shouts Dartoid. “Sign me up!”
“Okay, the cost of the trip is $76 billion. Do you want to pay in cash or gold!”
“Oh! Damn! I just realized that I loaned my last $76 billion to my neighbor for a new breast job. I got sick of seeing her strut around her back yard while sun bathing with her titties sagging. I mean, if I am going to have to look at those things, they may as well be worth looking at. You got any place that is like Cydonia on Mars but for a couple of thousand bucks?”
“Hmmm? Well there is always Mongolia in December!”
And so here I am in Mongolia’s capital city of Ulaanbaatar. I must admit, Hartman had a point. Ulaanbaatar has the lowest average temperature of any national capital on Earth with December averaging negative 14 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bordered by Russia to the north and China to the south, east and west, the country – sized almost double that of all of Eastern Europe – is massive – “a vast emptiness that links land and sky and one of the last places on the planet where nomadic life is still a living tradition.” Thirty percent of the population still lead nomadic or semi-nomadic lives with their sheep, goats, cattle, horses and camels. Country-wide there are approximately 1.7 people per square kilometer (New York City has about 27,500 per square mile.). A fifth of the population lives on a mere dollar a day.
Some may remember from some long ago history course that in Biblical times it was a confederation of nomads called the Xiongnu (the Huns), led by Modu Shanyu, whose constant raids led the Qin Dynasty to construct the first walls that were then joined to become the Great Wall of China. A thousand years later Genghis Khan formed the Great Mongol Empire – the largest in history – which eventually commanded nearly a quarter of the world’s land area. More may be familiar with what is now Mongolia from the Travels of Marco Polo which gave Europeans their first peek into the inner workings of the Far East. It is written that Marco Polo’s book inspired Christopher Columbus.
Much has transpired since these early days – independence in 1921, United Nations membership in 1961, diplomatic relations with the United States in 1987, democratic elections in 1990 and the first visit by a sitting United States President – George “The Mineral” Bush in 2005. The Mongolians aren’t dummies. After a day they sent him back. Then he ruined our economy.
Although it is unclear precisely when darts gained a foothold in Mongolia (where the three “manly sports” – wrestling, horse racing and archery – rule), one fact is clear: two British entrepreneurs, Dr. Eddie and Pete Norman, the former owners of the House of Darts in Bristol, deserve credit for helping to inspire what exists in the country today, and it’s surprisingly substantial. In the early 1990’s the Normans worked alongside a man from Ulaanbaatar named Danzan Boldbaatar to help organize the original Mongolian Darts Federation. In due course, Mongolia joined the World Darts Federation and fielded its first player in the Winmau World Masters in 1996. Sadly, Boldbaatar passed away in 1998 – but he left behind quite a legacy. So did the Normans (who retired in 2003).
Early on, the Normans translated The House of Darts product brochure into Khalkha Mongol. They distributed it at the first Mongolian Open, which Boldbaatar organized, along with a special run of flights imprinted with the Mongolian flag. The rest is history. Business flourished back in Bristol and so did darts fever in Mongolia.
As the years passed and following the death of Boldbaatar development of the sport slowed a bit. Then in 2009 a new organization was founded by Odbileg Khayankhyarvaa. Called the Mongolian Darts Amateur’s Federation, this is the official governing body of the sport in Mongolia today. They have an extensive website which seems to work intermittently but I haven’t a clue what it says. Try clicking here and you (might) see what I mean: Darts Mongolia. Or it may connect you to some place in Minnesota. Odbileg and I were kindly introduced by the World Darts Federation’s (WDF) webmaster, John Armstrong.
Now here is some LATE-BREAKING NEWS – the type of inside information that can only be found at Dartoid’s World. It’s the kind of information that like a bug light on a sticky summer evening innocently coaxes you in and then zaps your darts-loving arse:
Armstrong is American!
Yes, it’s true. Click here if you doubt me: Armstrong the American.
Once a successful jazz musician from New Orleans, rumors of whose death were greatly exaggerated, like Mark Twain’s, Armstrong emigrated to England in 1965, changed his name, and for many years led a quiet hermitic life with eight cats and a budgie named Satchmo. He was happy but bored – but an “arrers nut” from way back who once had a crush on Annette Funicello – so in recent years he began posting at darts forums under the alias “Avalon.” It was at one of these forums where Armstrong and I became acquainted. I greatly appreciate his help.
NOTE: In the interest of journalistic accuracy (something that is very important to me) I must make it perfectly clear that contrary to the opinion of some (well, one – and only Armstrong knows who this idiot is) Armstrong has never posed as Tony Martin. However, it is true that The Old Dart Coach, Howie Reed, has exotic dreams about Martin’s wife.
Now, back to Mongolia…
Since Odbileg and some of the guys were in Shanghai for the International Darts Federation’s World Cup soft-tip tournament, he was kind enough to arrange for one of his board members, Binderiya Batbileg, to show me around.
I had a few weeks notice so I practiced up, did some reading and bought a ski jacket – something we Floridians don’t own – so I’d be ready to face the icy weather as well as some of the boys on the board. My reading prepared me to politely decline any offering of the national drink, airag, which is fermented mare’s milk. There was no way was yak going to find its way onto my plate. And the popularity of boodog, which is marmot (groundhog) barbeque, sealed my resolve to refuse any food whatsoever for my three days and nights in country. I also learned that hepatitis and tuberculosis are common and that gangs of neo-Nazi Mongolian “ultra nationals” roam about and sometimes assault foreigners, particularly those who interact with their women.
Dartoid was in trouble!
Hell, I damn near didn’t make the trip. Of course, in the end I did – I just played it safe by not eating, breathing or opening my eyes when women were present. Instead of water I drank Fusion beer for 72 hours straight. It was a matter of survival. At 1,800 turgit (about $1.50) a pint it wasn’t that difficult to get by.
After two hours of flying over snow covered terrain I skidded onto the tarmac at Chinggis Khaan International Airport, checked into the Kempinski Khan Palace Hotel and ventured out. While the taxi ride into town cuts through desolate landscape the city itself is bustling with traffic. It took me more than an hour to get a few miles from the hotel to the Axis Grill Pub – which became my home away from home. Located off Bagatoiruu Street across from the Central Palace of Sport and near the Government Palace and Shukhbaatar Square, Axis is the main darts bar in Ulaanbaatar and was host to the Borgio Cup earlier this year.
Axis is a very nice joint. I’ll give it that. It’s relatively large and sports a soccer motif with lights shaped like soccer balls dangling over a couple of dozen shiny wooden tables. The menu is diverse and the beer is affordable. The darts set up is fine too and could be great – but from the five Unicorn Striker boards to the scoreboards to the mats on the floor everything has seen finer days. Unicorn sells product here so Richard and Edward Lowy need to get on a plane NOW and help this joint out!
The boards are hard and pulverized and the sisal bulges in many places, indicating that the boards have been turned repeatedly. The mats are tattered and scoot about under foot. The scoreboards long ago lost their ability to be properly erased. But no matter. I threw and threw (from varying distances I guess), chased numerous bounce outs (and beers) and, since the scoreboards are shite and no one will ever know the truth, pounded the triple twenty at will and threw sixteen maximums in the first hour. Even more amazing, since the employee bringing me beer was female I did all of this with my eyes shut.
Somehow Binderiya and I got our wires crossed (it turned out he was in Shanghai with Odbileg) and were unable to meet up until my final night in town. So from others I learned more about the state of the sport in Mongolia. Nestled in the rolling foothills of the Bogd mountain range, on the banks of the Tuul river, Ulaanbaatar (historically known as Urga) is the heart of darts – the heart of everything in Mongolia – and the gateway to distant locations. The famous Trans-Siberian railway crosses the country from north to south, stopping in Ulaanbaatar, connecting Moscow and Beijing.
Building on the early success of Boldbaatar and inspired by the performance of Khayankhyarvaa Batbayar at the 1996 Asia Cup in Singapore – where he still today holds the record finish of 12 darts – the Mongolian Darts Amateur’s Federation has gone from strength to strength. They are established as a non-profit organization and aim, through darts, to introduce Mongolia to the world. They reach out to youth to bring them into the sport – encouraging them to spend their free time in a meaningful way and to some day, hopefully, represent their country on the world stage.
As of this writing there are a dozen or more organized darts clubs in Ulaanbaatar which, like the Axis Grill Pub, provide facilities for the league’s couple of hundred regular players and more than 2,000 occasional members and supporters.
They have a sort of poem here in the darts community. Perhaps John Armstrong might put it to music. In part it goes:
Father, mother and children are
All equally aligning
Darts – fair
Darts – test of resolve
Darts is always a festive arena, yes!
I, you, all
Becoming friends with each other
Those who are sagacious and quick-minded
Those who practice
Darts – fair
Darts – test of resolve
Family and team
Who is outstanding, precise
Darts – fair
Darts – test of resolve
Always a festive arena, yes!
The sport of darts is alive and growing in the land of Genghis Khan.
The Norman brothers should be proud of the spirit they kindled.
Danzan Boldbaatar would be proud to see the development of the organization he founded.
And Odbileg Khayankhyarvaa should be proud to take mantle of the organization he inherited and recast and to, someday, see one of the young sportsmen he is developing hoist the Mongolian flag on the world stage.
Now, I must return home and sneak a peek over my neighbor’s fence.
From the (frozen) Field,
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