Most meetings between dignitaries take place in great halls of state. Is there a grand portrait behind them of some historical figure, if not the president of the country? Check. Prominently placed flag of the nation? Check. Dual podiums? Check.
But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s meeting with Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia was not the usual. Instead, the secretary greeted the President in his yurt, a portable, wood-frame dwelling — basically a tent.
Yurts aren’t your run of the mill tents; they are grand structures, part of the central Asian country’s rich traditional nomadic history. It is believed yurts have been in existence for at least three thousand years, going back to the days of the most famous Mongolian in history, the emperor and warrior Genghis Khan.
Today it’s estimated that more than half of Mongolians continue to live in yurts. The dwellings can even be seen in the country’s unabashedly urban capital city. Beyond the yurt’s historical significance, the structures are also designed for practical living regardless of the harsh weather conditions of Central Asia. There is an opening at the top of the roof, or crown, for ventilation when the weather is hot, and a portable wood-burning stove in the middle of the dwelling to provide heat when the weather is cold. When a family decides to travel, the yurt can easily be dismantled and the contents packed up onto trucks, or, in more rural areas, camels, to move to the next destination.
Of course some yurts are now used more for decoration than actual living. President Tsakhia’s was set up inside the Mongolian Government House when Clinton visited. The wood ceiling of this ceremonial yurt was elaborately carved, and Secretary Clinton and President Tsakhia sat on intricately designed hand-made wooden chairs under a chandelier. The room was colorful, with ancient Mongolian artifacts and artwork throughout. The yurt, which very much reflected Mongolian culture, looked nothing like the usual rooms where Secretary Clinton often greets world leaders. Except of course, for that prominently placed national flag.