Have you ever felt like time is go­ing slower in Mon­go­lia? Have you ever been late to an ap­point­ment only to find that you’re the first to ar­rive? If you have, you’re not the only one who ex­pe­ri­enced it. Even lo­cals feel frus­trated with the unique sense of time in Mon­go­lia.

I’ve been to many events or­ga­nized by Mon­go­lians within and out­side of the coun­try, and ev­ery event started at least 30 min­utes to as much as an hour late. Dur­ing the time I had to wait, all the ex­cite­ment would drain away and re­mind me that I should prob­a­bly not be on time next time.

Like the say­ing “time is gold”, each mil­lisec­ond is price­less and should not be wasted as it can­not be re­versed. There’s a rea­son why peo­ple com­pare time to gold and mea­sure it with money. Time runs con­tin­u­ously with­out stop­page. It never waits for any­one. Be­ing late and wast­ing other peo­ple’s time is an in­di­ca­tion of dis­re­spect, which ul­ti­mately leads to mis­trust.

With an or­di­nary life­style, you might not have re­al­ized the value of time or sim­ply not pay­ing much at­ten­tion to it. How­ever, peo­ple all over the world are con­stantly rac­ing against time as they un­der­stand its sig­nif­i­cance. Los­ing even a sec­ond could cost a life for doc­tors and po­lice of­fi­cers, an im­por­tant deal for busi­ness­men, a job for part-time work­ers, and a prod­uct sale for housewives.

In Mon­go­lia, peo­ple of­ten lie that they are leav­ing their home or nearly ar­rived at the promised venue when they’re ac­tu­ally still in­side their home. As you wait, you won­der what’s tak­ing them so long, worry if they’ve been in an accident, and even doubt whether you’re in the right place. In­stead of mak­ing your fam­ily, friend, or ac­quain­tance ex­pe­ri­ence such un­nec­es­sary thoughts and waste their time, the per­son at fault should have tried to be more punc­tual, or at least tell them hon­estly that they will be run­ning late. Ly­ing can se­verely dam­age the trust and cred­i­bil­ity a per­son has in you. After hav­ing to waste away their time wait­ing, most peo­ple au­to­mat­i­cally jot down in their mind not to trust the per­son who made them wait and come later to their next meet­ing as it’s highly likely that a per­son who’s late once will be late for the next oc­ca­sion, es­pe­cially if they didn’t have a valid rea­son. So, be hon­est and al­low the per­son wait­ing to spend their price­less time more pro­duc­tively than idly sit­ting around.

An ex­pat vol­un­teer from Sin­ga­pore liv­ing in Mon­go­lia for nearly seven years says that she has suf­fered count­less times be­cause of the unique con­cept of time in Mon­go­lia. She said the hard­est thing about it is hav­ing to resched­ule ap­point­ments.

“Gen­er­ally, more than 50 per­cent of Mon­go­lians do not have the con­cept of punc­tu­al­ity, not sure if it is due to the no­madic back­ground where plans are very linked to the weather. I am al­ways pleas­antly sur­prised if some­one is on time nowa­days. Time man­age­ment is very much linked to plan­ning. Un­for­tu­nately, even on the gov­ern­ment level, time man­age­ment doesn't seem to be ideal,” she said.

Al­cina Lee, a Hong Konger who has been vol­un­teer­ing in Mon­go­lia ev­ery sum­mer and win­ter for the past seven years, has ex­pe­ri­enced so many late­ness that it has rubbed off on her.

“I've al­ways found the Mon­go­lian sense of time very in­ter­est­ing. I prob­a­bly would see it as a prob­lem or chal­lenge in early years but not any­more. It was a prob­lem be­cause in Hong Kong, time is money, time is pre­cious. Whether in a restau­rant set­ting, post of­fice or at work, we want ev­ery­thing to be ef­fi­cient and on time, if not ear­lier. So it was a huge con­trast in the be­gin­ning. The rea­son I find it in­ter­est­ing is that Mon­go­lians find their 'flex­i­bil­ity in tim­ing' very nor­mal, to the point that I am also find­ing it nor­mal now.”

“If I had to wait for food to come in a restau­rant, for no par­tic­u­lar rea­son (and when all other peo­ple who came after me were al­ready eat­ing), I wouldn't bother to be ag­i­tated about it, any­more,” she said.

An Amer­i­can ex­pat who’s been liv­ing in Mon­go­lia for six years has a rather pos­i­tive view about Mon­go­lia's con­cept of time.

“I was once told that Mon­go­lian peo­ple value the present. So when they're with you, they're com­pletely fo­cused on what's hap­pen­ing at that given mo­ment. And for the most part, I find that to be true. It doesn't mat­ter who I am meet­ing with, they'll stay with me un­til our con­ver­sa­tion is fin­ished. So when Mon­go­lians are run­ning late, I re­mind my­self as to why.”

He stressed that it was a new cul­ture that he just had to get used to be­cause it was out of his con­trol, es­pe­cially in the coun­try­side and re­mote com­mu­ni­ties.

I con­ducted a small sur­vey among 50 ran­dom Mon­go­lians to see how nor­mal be­ing late is for them. More than half of them, ex­actly 51 per­cent, re­sponded that they aren’t punc­tual all the time - 42 per­cent said that they are late from time to time, five per­cent said that they are of­ten late, and four per­cent replied that they are al­ways late.

On av­er­age, these peo­ple go to ap­point­ments four min­utes and 30 sec­onds to 14 min­utes and 40 sec­onds later than promised. For both men and women, the time it takes for them to get ready and traf­fic are the main causes of their poor punc­tu­al­ity. One un­ex­pected find­ing was that out of the 50 re­spon­dents, 11 per­cent of men and 42 per­cent of women an­swered that they are late be­cause of other peo­ple, or be­cause they know that the other per­son will come late.

One sur­vey taker said, “I used to be very punc­tual, but now, I come late be­cause I know my friend or ac­quain­tance will not be on time. I waited nearly five hours once for a friend to come be­cause they had some­thing im­por­tant to tell me. While wait­ing, I called her sev­eral times and she told me that she was just get­ting out of the house dur­ing the first phone call. For the next few calls, she told me that she was stuck in traf­fic and al­most there but ar­rived five hours late. Later, she con­fessed that she’d ac­tu­ally got­ten out of the house 40 min­utes be­fore ar­riv­ing. Since then, I’ve been an­tic­i­pat­ing my part­ner’s time of ar­rival and go­ing to venues ac­cord­ingly. Most of the time, I’m the first to ar­rive.”

Some for­eign­ers as­sumed that Mon­go­lians are late be­cause it has some kind of con­nec­tion to the no­madic way of life. It’s par­tially true as Mon­go­lians used to tell the time by ob­serv­ing the weather and the sun. It’s said that Mon­go­lian no­mads mea­sured time with “be­fore noon” and “af­ter­noon” be­fore adopt­ing a new time sys­tem, which con­sid­ered two hours of the standard time as one. These 12 “hours” of the day were named after the 12 Zo­diac an­i­mals and it started from Rat hour, ap­prox­i­mately 11:40 p.m. to 1:40 a.m. ac­cord­ing to the standard time.

Even so, this is no ex­cuse to dis­re­gard oth­ers’ time and be late. Time is price­less and ir­re­versible. As a de­vel­op­ing coun­try, Mon­go­lia needs to ef­fi­ciently use ev­ery sec­ond it has to be able to catch up to de­vel­oped coun­tries. Punc­tu­al­ity plays a ma­jor role in first im­pres­sions and shows oth­ers your at­ti­tude to­wards your work and life. The rea­son Ger­mans and the Ja­panese are so suc­cess­ful is par­tially linked to their punc­tu­al­ity and time man­age­ment, as many en­trepreneurs and busi­ness­men be­lieve.

Chang­ing ev­ery­one’s sense of time and fix­ing their time man­age­ment prob­lems might be nearly im­pos­si­ble as there are too many other re­lat­ing fac­tors such as traf­fic, men­tal­ity, norm and weather. How­ever, with a bit of so­cial ef­fort, there’s hope that each in­di­vid­ual will re­con­sider their “flex­i­ble tim­ing” and try to be on time. Most of all, it’s about set­ting a new habit of be­ing punc­tual from now on. The value of time should be made clear to chil­dren and young peo­ple so that they can do bet­ter than pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions. The habit of be­ing late can be fixed if ev­ery­one tries to start their ac­tiv­i­ties at the des­ig­nated tim­ing with maybe 15 min­utes grace.

“From the young peo­ple I meet, I don't see them any dif­fer­ent from the rest of the world. With time man­age­ment to be spe­cific, I'd think ed­u­ca­tion is the answer. The more ed­u­ca­tion they re­ceive, the more they can dif­fer­en­ti­ate a bet­ter way of life, in­clud­ing how to man­age their time bet­ter,” Lee rec­om­mended.

Flex­i­bil­ity is es­sen­tial some­times, but not all the time. We just have to find the bal­ance of ev­ery­thing.

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