The following is an interview with Mongolia’s most popular engineer, N.Natsagnyam, about his career and his time as an engineering electrician. N.Natsagnyam created a new generator for Mongolia’s thermal power stations last year, for which he was honored by the president, and in this interview he briefly talks about the generator and his views of Mongolian society.
-Once again, congratulations on being named “Person of the Year” by Unuudur newspaper. What’s on your mind currently?
-It’s rather difficult to say that I felt excited. Truthfully, the impact to the economy is vague. The impact of my designs will only benefit Mongolia if it they are mass produced. Receiving this award and becoming famous is troubling and I’m not joyous or very satisfied. It’s uncertain whether it will succeed or not, now that the main work is in its final stage. It’s a very stressful to continue state policies that were carried out incorrectly for 20 years.
-Nevertheless, the fortunate thing is that the government understands and realizes the importance of technological achievements, which gives many great hope for the future.
-Indeed, it does have such advantages. It would have been buried if we didn’t have a president who doesn’t have an engineering background to understand these factors. This is advancement, right? If Minister L.Gantumur hadn’t studied IT for ten years in Japan, he also wouldn’t have understood it. Having two ministers able to understand was very lucky for me. The downside is that we don’t know the secrets of western capitalist society. There are rules and steps for everything. We need to take the right steps. It’s very frustrating to see the government run incorrectly for 20 years and not being able to fix it.
-Overall, appreciation for science and technology is poor and there are plenty of examples of people who spend their whole life on one discovery. This becomes a reason to detest the government. What do scientists and inventors need to do to make others understand their discoveries?
-Our way of thinking is slightly different. In capitalist society, the government never participates in business or provides support to them. We seek support after we’ve accomplished something. Our ministries and agencies are doing projects that should be done by private companies. In spite of the fact that socialist mechanisms are still in effect, the government will never appreciate the work of the public or tell them to do something and give up markets.
Ministries that have sprung up over the last 20 years by supporting imports will only develop lobbying. We cannot dispute this law without changing the system and our president is able to comprehend this. Changing the characteristics of the social system is a social phenomenon. We will naturally develop if we can transform from a stupid government to an intelligent government and separate business from government. Companies will lead sectors and we’ll become independent from the government, which means that we don’t have to beg for support from the government.
-Did you believe this when you established your own company?
-Naming my company in my own name, Namkhain Natsagnyam, is a way of protecting intellectual property, similar to Honda, Mercedes and Toyota, since government leaders have ways of stealing things from people in the free market.
Equipment made by Mongolians are utilizing generators for experiments. This is how practicality is checked, not by governments. After seeing the conclusions, the government decides which sectors should be given to which company. There’s no record of such acts in capitalist society, but many in communist society, from which we transformed and developed as lobbying. The only one fighting against the 76 MPs and making initiatives is our president. If possible, I’d like to cheer for the president and build a smarter government for future generations. We’ll never develop if we don’t have a smart government.
The president told me that Mongolia will have a smart government only if we appreciate technological achievements as he handed me the prize. Everything will become organized by the laws of nature if the system is changed.
-How many others are there who have new ideas for import replacement projects? Do you stay in touch with them?
-There are many who are making a variety of things but none who has done things in accordance to western standards. Western technologies are complex and students don’t have time to make things after graduating. Only a lucky person can make it. While studying and working in America, I changed the inputs and outputs to create a new product.
English and American teachers do not have the intellectual ability to do things. Secret recipes are known by only those who make them.
-Then how much did you work to overcome hardships and complete your project?
-I wouldn’t have been able to do so if I had stayed in America as a PhD. If I had stayed, I would have just taught theory to students and make them write 200 page-long essays. Because I was able to learn from experienced people in factories, I was able to come up with an idea. I was very stressed and spent long hours researching technologies in the summer. I’m currently receiving medical treatment as stress caused damage to my stomach, intestines, heart, and affected tissues in my brain.
-When did you come up with your idea for the generator?
-I worked at three companies in America. At the first company, I work in the current stimulation system. There are many problematic things in Mongolia. I first came up with the idea at a time when there were controversies around having reactive powers in our energy systems, and when there were risks of freezing to death due to low stabilizers. To work on the idea, I used to get off of work at 5 p.m. like the rest of the workers. I ate meals at home, then came back to work and even worked during weekends.
-When working so hard, did you ever worry that Mongolians wouldn’t understand or approve of your work?
-I did. Just when I was thinking it would fail, the head of the laboratory at Thermal Power Station No.2, N.Ganbold, requested to have the project tested at their thermal power station. I was in England and later we signed contracts. He mustn’t have thought of much, as it was cheap (15 million MNT) and took all the political responsibility. Mongolia’s energy sector must’ve been frightened as western-standard technologies had never been made by a Mongolian engineer. Director N.Tumurkhuyag protected me for four years after signing the contract. This was pure luck.
-The day when you were to start using your invention must have been different from normal working days?
-I wasn’t that anxious, as April 18, 2013 was the best day for people born in the Year of the Mouse. Everyone was frightened and stood back when I twisted the handle to start. They were scared that it would explode and create quite a scene. I was the only one brave enough to stay and decrease the voltage of the old generator to increase the power in my generator. It started to work normally.
The ministry didn’t put any restrictions on it whatsoever because the ministry and the Head of Thermal Power Station No.3, Tovuudorj, who knew me and my knowledge of technologies, were working together. If he didn’t know me, they would have never let me do it.
Later, I got a patent named NaNyam because the company name Namkhai Natsagnyam was too long.
-How do you see the future of Mongolia? For instance, what will it be like in 20 years?
-If 76 MPs support the people’s initiative and succeed, forget twenty years, we’ll become an Asian Tiger in just five to six years. On the other hand, if the MPs continue to protect imports, there will be a war. If inflation carries on increasing, increasing poverty and salaries, we’ll have to buy bread for one million MNT. If we transform into a smart government, the state will stop stealing and doing business. This is a huge project. We can’t demand results for something that hasn’t been carried out for a long time. The whole process of changing the way one thinks is a very time consuming thing.
-You are an engineer. You left a world-leading technological country to come to Mongolia. Why?
-Why not. (laughs) I’m Mongolian. If we don’t save Mongolia, then are we going to save England? That’s pointless.
-When did you realize that our political and social system was not quite right?
-When I went to England in 1998 and saw real democracy and free market competition, I thought it was a wonderful thing. I started to doubt when my acquaintances told me that our society was better because it doesn’t have any mafia or drugs. That’s when I realized that Mongolia was going on the wrong path. Drugs are made by big officials and sponsor elections. It’s being imported in Mongolia and will continue to be.
-Finally, what did you do with the cash prize of 100 million MNT?
-As someone who has worked for four years with no salary, I obviously had to pay my debts. I’ve spent four years borrowing from relatives and friends, I couldn’’t simply default. I also spent it on my children’s tuition. I recently gave two projects for implementation to the president. My assistants wanted to give back the money I returned to them and told me to work for another four years without wages. (laughs) Frankly, I am thinking of working for another four years without pay. It’s a rather good idea. If it works, smog will disappear and we’ll be able to enter the market. I’m thinking of putting everything else aside to complete this project.
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