Lets greet through video chat and stay at home

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Tsagaan Sar is a week away. President of Mongolia Kh.Battulga made a decision to cancel the Tsagaan Sar celebration this year to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus, but some Mongolians are preparing for a grand celebration, unfazed by the spreading epidemic.

Deputy Prime Minister U.Enkhtuvshin said that celebrating in a smaller family circle is advisable. In other words, people can greet (zolhokh) with only family members, eat buuz and perform traditional rituals at home. Officials advised not to go in public places and visit other families.

Minister of Health and Parliament member D.Sarangerel proposed to cancel Tsagaan Sar on February 8 and highlighted that the Chinese New Year celebration was deeply impacted by the spread of the coronavirus in China.

“The risk of infection is high,” she warned. But some said that canceling Tsagaan Sar is almost impossible since it is part of Mongolian tradition, while there are those who believe the order of the government to not celebrate Tsagaan Sar this year should be obeyed. For instance, gathering many people and greeting and kiss will increase the risk of spreading any contagious disease.

There are many organizations and people, including Oyu Tolgoi LLC and Mongol Bank, challenging the public to conduct the traditional Tsagaan Sar greeting with relatives online. Tradition is important, but staying healthy and preventing a deadly contagious disease from rampaging through the nation is more important. This is the second time in history the government of Mongolia made a decision to cancel Tsagaan Sar nationwide. Previously, it was ordered in 1952 following the death of Mongolian statesman Kh.Choibalsan.

Everyone has their own thoughts for this year’s Tsagaan Sar celebration. Most importantly, everyone has to consider the risk to human health that gatherings and celebrations present. The Unuudur newspaper interviewed Ulaanbaatar residents regarding their Tsagaan Sar plans. There are many people who don’t care about the government decision, which will increase the risk of the new virus spreading to Mongolia.

Mongolians believe that they have to welcome the new season and celebrate Tsagaan Sar with a positive and bright attitude, clean clothes and plentiful food. The Tsagaan Sar preparations involves and unites all family members, relatives, and neighbors. Mongolians spend a lot of money for preparations of food, new clothing, and gifts for guests.

Leading up to Tsagaan Sar, prices for consumer goods usually rises. One of the most visited places during the holiday is Narantuul market in Ulaanbaatar. But this year, the Narantuul market seems to have fewer consumers than previous years. Products typically designated as gifts for Tsagaan sar seem fewer due to the closure of the southern border. In recent days, a social media challenge to use Mongolia-made products and gifts have taken a foot to prevent billions of tugrug from leaving the country through purchases of cheap Chinese imported gifts. Therefore, shop stands with Mongolian-made socks, key chains, leather and leather products have increased more than previous years. Chinese-made gift items are being sold for 500 to 10,000 MNT, while Mongolian products range between 1,000 and 25,000 MNT in markets.

Most traders said that there are very few buyers this year due to the cancelation of Tsagaan Sar. Some buyers highlighted, “Not all prices have been inflated, but domestic goods are more expensive than last year.” For instance, a keychain, usually sold for 1,000 MNT to 1,500 MNT rose to 10,000 MNT to 5,000 MNT, and some wooden products rose to 10,000 MNT to 25,000 MNT in price.

Resident of 17th khoroo of Chingeltei District B.Bayasgalan said, “We will prepare a Tsagaan Sar feast. But our families will not visit other homes. We planned to give money to our guests instead of gifts. I planned to buy national products, but the price is too high. Wood crafts and phone covers are being sold for 10,000 MNT to 12,000 MNT. Last year, Az Khur bookstore sold the cheapest children’s gift sets for the price of 6,900 MNT and 4,900 MNT f. But this year, it has increased to 7,900 MNT and 6,900 MNT. But who will buy this?”

Resident of Khulunbuir soum of Dornod Province E.Enkhtur said, “I sell live sheep for 200,000 MNT to 250,000 MNT. And I sell sheep rump (uuts) for 160,000 MNT to 350,000 MNT. Even though the government made a decision to cancel Tsagaan Sar, the demand for meat hasn't decreased.”

A kilogram of beef is being sold for 12,000 MNT in Kharkhorin market and 13,500 MNT in Bumbugur and Bars markets.

Gandan Monastery is still selling per heviin boov for 2,000 MNT and a kilogram of aaruul for 12,000 MNT. The cheapest heviin boov is 2,100 MNT and the most expensive is 2,700 MNT at Bumbugur market. Prices of vegetables and potatoes also rose. Prices of cabbage is 2,500 MNT, potatoes 800 to 900 MNT, cucumbers and tomatoes 5,000 and 7,000 MNT, and a kilogram of flour is sold for 1,100 to 2,000 MNT.

Fruits and vegetable seller at Bars market E.Suren said, “Prices for almost all consumer goods have risen. It may be caused by the border closure. People think and we have just added prices. But we are banned from selling or ordering more vegetables and products due to the coronavirus. Therefore, prices for other goods produced in Mongolia have increased due to shortage of Chinese products. We order from companies and they deliver products to us. Those companies have added their prices.”

A vendor at Khuchit Shonkhor market explained that the cause of higher prices is the scrapping of all pension loans by the government.

In any case, the demand for goods is not low and some Mongolians are preparing for the Tsagaan Sar. But some Mongolians decided to stay at home and spend Tsagaan Sar as a normal day.

Resident of 26th khoroo of Songinokhairkhan District J.Batdorj said, “In previous year, my family used to celebrate Tsagaan Sar widely, visiting over 20 families and inviting all of them to my house. But we haven’t prepared big things for Tsagaan Sar this year due to government decision. We will greet my family members, eat delicious food and stay at home. It is also good to save our money.”

Resident of 4th khoroo of Bayangol District G.Bat-Orgil said, “I had a wedding last year. My wife and I are celebrating our first Tsagaan Sar after moving in together. We will go to Uvs Province since my parents are there. I think city residents won’t celebrate Tsagaan Sar widely, but residents in rural provinces take less attention to the government’s decision. We spend a lot of money on car fuel, gifts, and clothing because we visit 20 to 30 families.

A resident of 29th khoroo of Songinokhairkhan District N.Serchmaa said, “I have five children who all live in provinces. Many people, including my relatives and children, come to greet me during Tsagaan Sar. I already prepared all things for Tsagaan Sar. But I am old and there is no way not to celebrate Tsagaan Sar.”

The risk of the new virus spreading to Mongolia is very high since China is a neighbor and the biggest trade partner. There is no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Mongolia right now, but we must’ve let our guard down.

The healthcare and economic resources of Mongolia are not strong and we will have a difficult time containing the new virus if it enters the country. This is why it’s vital that we take all precautionary measures.

Tsagaan Sar is one of the biggest events and traditions, celebrated for centuries since the Khunnu Empire, and it gives the opportunity for families to reunite and share their stories. But now have to consider the very real risks of the new deadly virus. If the coronavirus enters Mongolian and spread because of Tsagaan sar celebrations, it will debilitate the country. As such, I challenge everyone to conducts this year’s Tsagaan Sar’s greetings online. 

Enkhnaranjav Tumurbaatar