There are tables covered with ranks of books near the entrance to the market in the industrial city of Darkhan, 120 km south of Russia in northern Mongolia. On one side, there are Russian novels with stained cloth covers and monochrome illustrations of dog sled adventures. Several anthologies of poetry celebrate the beauty of the Mongolian countryside or the glorious victory at Khalkh River, Mongolia’s brief foray into World War II.
On the other side, there are brightly-colored Learn English! guides and glossy textbooks for the recently-revived old Mongolian script. A bookseller pointed out a sharp-looking softcover with the Mongolian title “The World is Not Round.”
I found a phrasebook lying across the otherwise-sharp line between the socialist past and the varied present. It was missing the first 14 pages and a copyright date, but it still had the Mongolian, Russian, Chinese, German, Polish, and English translations of the phrases “We should like to talk to the workers” and “May I have a closer look at this lathe?” I had to have it. Marked inside the cover was the price ’40 togrog.’ I bought it for 1500, at the modest inflation rate of 375% over 30-some odd years.
The List of Commonly Used Words in the back of the phrasebook is a delight. It's helping establish the foundation of vocabulary I would need if I stopped teaching English and started preaching Class Struggle.
It is refreshing to see that there was time for romance between the liberation movement and carrier rockets. Socialism wrote much better and funnier poetry than I do.