Mongolian connection

Immigrant Barsa Amarsanaa tells his story
Janet Nicol

A small group of people of Mongolian origin meet at the top of Grouse Mountain to celebrate their national holiday every summer, and Barsa Amarsanaa, a college student and hotel employee, is one of them.

He has been attending this annual festival since he immigrated to Vancouver with his mother two years ago. He says if you join the festivities, expect to see them participating in Mongolian “manly sports” — archery and wrestling.

In San Francisco, the city with the largest Mongolian community on the continent, Amarsanaa says they also perform a third sport — horse racing. “The parents race with a child on their back,” he explains with a twinkle in his eye.

Horse racing or not, Amarsanaa says Canadians are curious about his homeland, known as the land of the blue skies. “They think it’s exotic, and they’re right,” he says.

Many also believe Mongolians speak Chinese, so he quickly corrects them on that point. “Mongolians speak Mongolian,” he says proudly.

Amarsanaa comes from the capital city of Ulan Bator, which he says has many modern buildings, busy industry and fashionable people. Dark-haired and handsome himself, Amarsanaa wears a small diamond stud in his left ear.

The capital is a popular tourist destination, he adds, and coming to Canada interrupted his plans with three friends to write a travellers’ guidebook to the city.

Amarsanaa regrets the book never got to print, and it’s not the only thing he sacrificed for Canada. Amarsanaa says he left a lot back in Mongolia — including his girlfriend, grandparents and friends. And the cultural adjustment and language barrier weren’t easy either.
But “life is an exchange,” he says, explaining you lose one thing and gain another. His cell phone suddenly chimes and he takes a look at the call display and turns it off.

Since coming to Canada, Amarsanaa, who lives in Yaletown, has made new friends at school and work. And when Amarsanaa set up a website called Mongolians in Vancouver ( last year, he started to feel even more connected. The website includes lots of tips on how to adapt to Canadian life.

“My first impression of Canada was really good,” he says. Soon after arriving, he found himself taking a three month work-study course at Immigrant Services Society. “You can study and get paid at the same time,” he said, praising the program. “And then they help you look for full-time work.”

Amarsanaa has worked in a major downtown hotel for a year now. “We Mongolians will do many things,” he says. “I am the front desk clerk, bell hop, waiter and I even cook.”  

Now Amarsanaa, who originally wanted a career in software engineering, thinks he will pursue hotel management — something he had never planned.  

“I am living by the wind of life,” he says.

Reprinted from Canadian Immigrant magazine, November 2008

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