One night during the winter of 2000, I met a fashion designer on a train from Beijing to Inner Mongolia. We talked all night long about our dreams and the tough lives we were living in Beijing. However, before she got off the train she told me something that ended up making me feel guilty for years to come. She said that even when life takes everything in the world that’s important to you, you should never ever give up your passion. She even swore she would become a fashion designer again if she could live one more time. Just as she said, I gave up guitar and turned into an editor, director and producer. Whenever I saw my dusty guitar, I would always heard her words, which made me feel sad. One day, I held up my guitar again, but I didn’t know what to play. I asked myself, why would I play it?
I went through some of my darkest days during those following years. Working for the film industry made me feel so exhausted. I lowered my living standards and still nothing impressed me. One day when I felt the total loss of everything important in my life, I held up my guitar and the vibration of my passion surged though me like a shock waking a dead body and bringing it back to life and it was then that I fully understood why that fashion designer said those words to me. Because we must become the embodiment of that passion, it is the beauty that exists within us and the meaning of life.
So many years have passed and yet I have still to find another soul who resonated so perfectly with my own and who’s words have been held more true.
04. Ticket to hometown
Nothing existing in my hometown is for me. Small to a flower, big to a tree. But I was born to my beloved motherland. Each street and avenue are carved in my heart, but I can never return.
Sometimes I couldn’t go back because of money; sometimes I couldn’t go back because of time.
I always miss my college days of the 1990s. Whenever a holiday cam, it would be so hard to get a ticket. I always had to wait long to get one, but the moment I got one, I would get so excited. Because soon I would be home.
03.Train to the west
01.Rock boots of midnight at the roadside
I remembered I recorded this song when I was half-drunk. One night in 2007, I went to a bar and happened to meet an old friend. He was few years older than me and was my favorite rock singer. That night, he was sitting on the stage and singing a pop song. He had cut off his long braids. I was the only one who listened and applauded for him in the entire bar. Later, we had few drinks together and he kept calling me the director. I drank a lot that night, took off my old rock boots on the roadside and walked barefoot all the way home. Then this song was created.
02.Train to Ulaanbaatar
In the past 40 years, I had been to many cities. But the most unforgettable place was Ulaanbaatar. I got my chance to go to Ulaanbaatar with a documentary team and stayed there for one week. This city made me feel like I was home. Because we all spoke one language, our mother tongue Mongolian. However, in Ulaanbaatar I was considered a foreigner. The border between countries was decided by war. But the border between us was decided by time. The day I left Ulaanbaatar, I stood on the train platform until the last second. I wanted to hold this city for as long as I could. The train left the city and I drank all the way back to Inner Mongolia. It was so beautiful when the train was shuttling on the Mongolia steppe. But I felt deeply heartbroken.
I am a Mongolian in China, but a foreigner in Ulaanbaatar.
See you again, Ulaanbaatar. I will always love you.
05.Liquor of my hometown
It is joke amongst my people that we only drink once a year, but it takes the whole year. Whenever I got back to my hometown, I drink a lot. It is either for honor or sadness. Drinking has became our only method of communication. Only when we are drunk do we tend to be able to travel back to the days of our glorious pasts.
06.The fate of blue wolf
My grandfather used to tell me countless stories of the sacred wolves of the blue mountain and even though he has passed from this world, the deep reverence for the wolf that has grown within my heart has never faded. As my ancestors before me, I tell those stories to my children, but for them they are never touched by their magic and mystery. Perhaps I lack the ability a great story teller needs or perhaps it’s because I have never been able to witness the splendor of the wolf roaming the Mongolian steppe myself.
The the first time I saw a wolf it was kept in a zoo. Back when I was born, the communist party lead a campaign to exterminate all the wolves on the steppe that lasted years . The often killed anything that they thought could one day threaten them.
I used to get really depressed, but the wolf my grandfather spoke of, has always come to me in my dreams during my darkest times to guide me back to the light.
There used to be many beautiful lakes in my hometown, but now they are all drieup .
Although as we choose to ignore their loss as if they never existed, the birds that have migrated there for countless generations, still return to their primordial birthplace only to be gunned down by poachers as they circle in search of the water that was.
08.Photo studio on the Love street
Time flies, sometimes I feel it would be a pity if nobody remembered our the brilliance of our youth. We used to be so restless and wild but as you mature with the passing of time, so does your restlessness transform into a calmess.
In the 1990s, I was still in college. There was a block called love street between my campus and the other school. At nightfall. the couples would walk hand in hand under the street lights as the girls’s hair would flutter in the breeze. You could see their innocent smiles everywhere on love street. The old photo studio was filled up with the most beautiful and innocent smiles. Back then when you didn’t have a camera, the most romantic thing for a couple to do was to go and have a photo taken so you could capture the sweetness for ever. More than 20 years have passed, I went back there to look for that studio, but it is gone. Love street is now made up of designer clothing stores, there is no need for that studio in the age of the smartphone. So many years have passed but I have not lost that sense of longing for that lovely studio and all the joyful moments of those lovely people captured upon it’s walls.
09.Dream of blue mountain
I was grew up in a small town in Western part of Mongolia. The best memory of my childhood was standing alone on the rooftop of my house and gazing into the distance at the Blue Mountain. I was deeply drawn to it and would daydream about soaring above it. I often pondered how far it was from my home and what the world on the other side could be like. Not even the call of my mom’s voice had the power to break my trance until the sun had set and vanished into the darkness.
The day I finally got the chance to go on a day trip to get food at foot of the mountain, it was a total shock to see that the color wasn’t blue at all, just grey stones and sand.
It was the first time I was disappointed by the truth of reality versus the dream world.
To this day, I still haven’t figured out why the mountain shines with such a beautiful sky blue from my home.
Years later, when I was standing on the same rooftop, and the only thing I could see was rows of buildings and tons of trash. I couldn’t see the blue mountain. Had it been flattened or was the air so polluted it was lost with in it? That wondrous breeze from my childhood can no longer be felt anymore. Perhaps it’s because we no longer have that sense of vastness that you can only have when there is distance between us.
After years of living through the fickle and crazy nature of life, I finally got my own house in Beijing, but it didn’t feel like home. Sometimes I would think that of putting a painting of that blue mountain in my living room, but I never found one as beautiful as the one in my memory. After leaving my hometown for so many years, I started feeling a longing for that vastness calling to me.
10.Sun of UTC+8
I in memory of her arrival in 2010, I bought a very expensive handmade guitar and made this song for my first daughter who was born with a singer’s soul. I named the guitar Sun of UTC+8 (timezone 8), I hope that one day in the future when she is holding this guitar, she can hear the whispers of those long ago days and remember all the beauty from that time.
My name is Ulziimurun. I came from a small town which is located far away in Inner Mongolia. In 1992 when he was leaving to do a job far from home, my brother gave me his beloved guitar. I had been waiting so long for that moment, and once I had it in my hands I would hold and sleep with it every night. Every night our family would sleeping together on a big bed made of heatable bricks. No matter what time it was, I would always be trying to play it, even at bed time I would try to practice quietly but my mother was not having any of it, she would say if I didn’t knock it off then she would take it out the yard smash the hell out of it. That meant I had to wait until they fell asleep. Being alone meant that I was free to be engulfed by the guitar’s dreamworld. Back then there was not tv or internet, so if I wanted to escape and be free it could only be in my day dreams. I never could have imagined that this fantasy would accompany me for 26 years. I am forever grateful to the guitar spirit for choosing to be my companion and voice during those lonely years.
The journey has been long, the jobs many and the places varied; but no matter where the grassland winds carry me there’s one thing that always remains the same, you will always find a guitar pick in my pocket because I can never forget the old days.
It’s taken me almost twelve years to finish this album. Back in 2005 I needed to change the direction my life was heading, the reason has to do with something that most people outside of the business know much about. You see, most of the time for musicians to make a living (unless you get lucky) they have to do fill in work for recording studios on whatever projects they have available. You basically become a part of some soulless music making machine that only exists to pump out one uninspired project after another while slowly killing your love of music, so I left my job at the recording studio in Beijing. Thankfully after that some of my friends persuaded me not to give up on my music and I started only making it for myself and I really enjoyed it a lot. The result is this album; which recorded each step and feeling of my life until I came to New York.
I had bought my first Russian electric guitar in 1995 and would get a new one every two years and each time I would up the quality till I only got master signature series guitars. When I was in the process of leaving Beijing, my friends told me that because America is the real home of guitar and you will find guitar masters everywhere on the streets so it would be ridiculous for me to go there to play guitar. After what they said, I left my best two guitars with my good friend and brought a few traditional Mongolian instruments with me to US because my friends said that those were at least something special and unique. In time however, I realized it would be challenging to play music that could showcase their so called uniqueness to people in a way they could understand it. I came to think that something that is easily understood can not be very unique.
Today, Mongolians have left the steppes our ancestors lived in for thousands of years and have moved to the urban environment of modern cities. How can we possibly understand ourselves and our instruments when we’ve lost the connection to our traditional culture and way of life that created it all. At times when I get so distracted by such pondering that I almost forget something important I need to do. I often wonder, is this strange city waiting and what for ? Does she want someone to help her to find her own uniqueness?
Just like me, this old city sometimes forgets the important things that should not be forgotten. My life in New York is simple. I have met so many guitarists and I’ve come to the realization that it doesn’t matter if other people play guitar well or not, it’s none of my business. At this point in my life I do not feel complete without a guitar. One time while I was on one of those all in one group vacation tours and we stopped for gas I spotted this old and dusty guitar hanging on the wall of a Deli that was next to the gas station. I don’t know why I saw it and said I will take that to, perhaps I sense it’s loneliness. So I gave the guy a 100 bucks and was on my way, it was even cheaper than the first Russian guitar I got. However, this old untuned guitar helped me finish this album. Maybe that might be my own type of uniqueness! Thanks, New York. You showed me how to hear the voices of so many beautiful things in my life, which might be one of the reasons that you are one of the greatest places in this country.