Saturday, September 6, 2014

G.Oyuntungalag: I waited for fellow Mongolians to visit French museums for two years

The following is an interview with G.Oyuntungalag, the first Mongolian to acquire the status of a museum docent approved to serve as a guide and educator for all monuments in France, such as the Louvre Museum and the Palace of Versailles.

She studied psychology and children’s education at the Leningrad School in Russia, studied European arts and culture at the Louvre School of Arts (Ecole du Louvre), and majored in French history at the famous University of Paris, commonly known as Sorbonne or la Sorbonne.

She speaks fluently in Russian, English and French, and added Mongolian language as the 35th language for providing explanations and guide at the Louvre Museum. Unfortunately, not many Mongolians come for her tours often.

Your actual profession is psychology. Why did you become a museum docent?

Life just led me to become a museum docent. I came in first place at an examination in 1989 and was accepted for the children’s education and psychology class of Leningrad School. After getting my master’s degree, I went to study in France. It was difficult to constantly ask my parents for money so students at the time needed to find jobs. Foreign students in France can only work for 20 hours a week. My Russian friend asked me to work as a guide for some tourists and since then, I worked while studying.

While guiding tourists, I visited many museums and whenever I saw museum docents explaining everything, I admired them for being very knowledgeable. As I decided to advance my studies, I become a museum docent. I found out that there wasn’t anyone who gave explanations in Mongolian. Then I made an irreversible decision [to give Mongolian guides and explanations].

I was very interested in art works. I acquired a diploma that allowed me to serve as an educator and guide for all museums, churches, and historical monuments in France in October 2011. Since Mongolians don’t come often, I serve Russian tourists. The official tour companies have data about museum docents and people can access that information and choose whomever they want to be guided by. Work of museum docent is like the next level of translation work. Two years after becoming a translator, I attended a vocational school, gave exams and gained my license.

During your career, approximately how many people, particularly how many Mongolians, did you give tours to?

I love my work but I’m upset that Mongolians don’t come frequently. I’m only working for tourists from Uzbekistan, Buryat, Kazakhstan, Tuva, and Russia. Mongolian tourists don’t come because they don’t have any information about me. Throughout my career, I’ve served two Mongolian tour groups. I waited for two years for Mongolians to come. I contacted Mongolian tour companies in France and left my name cards at the Mongolian Embassy but nobody has contacted me. On my recent visit to Mongolia, I uploaded my information on a Facebook page and decided to give free tours to Mongolians until the end of 2015. Just recently, Mongolians studying and working in Europe started to place orders for my guide at tour companies.

Out of France’s many unique monuments, artworks, historical sites and galleries, what do you like most?

In my opinion, the Palace of Versailles is the best. It’s the palace that Louis XIV of France built in the second half of the 17th century. European kings used to admire its beauty and were inspired by the palace. Many tourists visit the Palace of Versailles but since the corridors are narrow, it takes time even if you go alone. A six member group can freely access the Louvre Museum but if there are more people, they have to give a notice in advance. Mongolians only take pictures from the outside because they’re not aware of this fact. If you need tours, just contact me and I’ll give you a free tour.

Are there any Mongolian exhibits at the Louvre Museum?

This is a highly complex issue. The museum has two to three Mongolian exhibits. But our institution has a regulation to provide guides and education for unique and complex exhibits in the first come first served principle. Museum docents cannot give false information or do as we please so if you want to visit other smaller exhibits, you have to inform us first.

In your opinion, how should Mongolian museums and monuments attract tourists?

I search on the internet for feedback and impressions of French tourists, who traveled around Mongolia. There are people who praise Mongolia’s beautiful land and write about all of the places they’ve visited. On the other hand, there are people who mention that the driver or guide got lost and finally reached their destination after a fruitless 300 km drive, or ended up on a dirty place. They state that they would never come again and discourage other people from visiting Mongolia. If one person is discontent, it’ll affect many. Reading all of these mean comments deeply upsets me.

France is ranked first for its annual tourist index from all countries around the world. Other countries try to learn and emulate from France. I went to spend my holiday in Mongolia for three consecutive years. Compared to when I was young, young children now are more educated and respectful to elders. Unfortunately, tourism hasn’t developed. I think the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Tourism should train Mongolian tour guides even if it has to provide the expenses by itself.

I’ve been working as a guide since 2006. I made many Russians like France so much that they frequently come and spend most of their money on museums. If I’m provided with a classroom, I don’t mind sharing some of my knowledge. I’m not sure if I’m capable of doing so or if Mongolians wants to train guides. From my perspective, the Mongolian economy is in our hands. There are few rules for attracting and making tourists love our country.

For starters, if Mongolia has developed roads and transportation, comfortable hotels, high quality and delicious food, interesting exhibits, capable guides and drivers, and decent places to visit at night, it will be more than enough to draw tourists. Everything will be fine if there is a feedback box for tourists to write about their impressions and if the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Tourism pay attention and manage those comments.

How many visits will it take to explore the Louvre Museum thoroughly?

It’ll take a week if you just visit the Louvre without any explanation. Some teachers and I co-organized a master class course. We gather museum docents every Monday and sort of train and advance their knowledge. You don’t become a museum docent by just studying for four years and studying at a university. Our 82-year-old mentor says that we’ll never completely finish learning and studying the 450,000 art works.

Google Maps project came to Mongolia and took photographs of Ulaanbaatar streets, monuments and museums to input into the google map. Some people disliked this idea since exhibits could be imitated from high-resolution photographs taken with the equipment. Do famous museums of the world permit this?

Now, people can’t travel to anywhere without information. I traveled to many places and visited their museums. Paintings are darkened when it’s hit by light so taking photos with flashlight is prohibited. More advertising and attractions will bring more people and spike their interests. When I came to Mongolia, I noticed many new statues and monuments. Although it wasn’t produced by world renowned sculptors, it must’ve been made by highly skilled Mongolian sculptors. I was curious about who sculpted them, why it was placed at their location, how much money it cost, and what kind of a history it has.

You must’ve visited Mongolian museums. Can you share your thoughts?

I felt unfortunate that there weren’t any tourists inside or outside the museums. People who came to sight-see should be allowed in. Mongolia must train guides so that tourists can get adequate information. Museum docents and experts should prepare materials on specific information that have to be told. The guides should be permitted after giving exams within the network of the prepared materials.

In Mongolia, we count exhibits in museums every four years. Is it the same in France?

I’m not sure about the counting. The museum has plenty of security cameras and alarms will go off if someone touches them. The Louvre has thousands of people protecting, fixing, and safekeeping the works.

What is your dream?

I wish to establish at least a small museum that displays European antiques and artifacts for Mongolians. I started to collect exhibits little by little. I can’t find any from the medieval times and most of them are sold for incredibly high prices so I’m collecting works produced in the 20th century. Its prices will rise in a few years.


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