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+ Joanne Ooi

Joanne Ooi, CEO of Clean Air Network, an independent group working to improve Hong Kong’s serious air pollution, tells PAUL EHRLICH about a place that takes her breath away

Published on Sep 30, 2010

My great escape is to Mongolia, and the seasonal tented polo camp of Christopher and Enkhe Giercke, about eight hours’ drive south of Ulan Bator. The camp is situated on a small flat hill, with unbroken views of stark, rolling plains all around, overlooking a stream, where I bathe and swim every day.

Considering the utter simplicity of the camp—10 sparely furnished ger (tents) built to withstand ferocious winds, and the lack of running water and electricity—camp life is very basic. But the days on horseback are spent either practicing Mongolian polo or riding around the plains with our guide.

Towards the end of the day, we convene around the dining area to watch the sunset, then enjoy a long dinner together. The main course is thoroughly rustic and typically centered around yak. It is not unusual for dinners to last three or four hours, fueled by vodka, which helps keep you warm. Even in the summer, temperatures fall dramatically at night.

Despite the simplicity, or maybe because of it, I love coming here. There is a disconnection from all forms of technology and the hectic pace of my life in Hong Kong. The barrenness and extremity of the physical environment reminds me of how trivial and inconsequential many of my day-to-day concerns are. My customary compunctions and neuroses go into remission after just a few days of unbroken solitude and quiet. I love how untamed and unspoilt the natural environment is.

Coming from the commotion and noise of a big, frantic city, I appreciate Mongolia as a place, which has entirely sidestepped the environmental degradations of modern civilization. The lack of pollution of any sort restores peace of mind—and, even more importantly, puts me back into my rightful place in the universe, an infinitesimal presence in the ecosystem of Mother Earth. If only there were a few more such oases in our shrinking world.

All too often, this has brought with it an ethos of Western-style consumption, putting unprecedented drains on our natural resources. The vast hinterlands of Mongolia present one of the world’s rare holdouts against the encroachments of consumerism. To me, Mongolia will always be the most miraculous of places, emptying the mind and body of all the toxins and hang-ups of modern life.

The Clean Air Network can be reached online at


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