I'm Barry Petersen, and this Letter from Asia is coming from the outskirts of Ulan Baatar, Mongolia.
We've come here because we want to show you something extraordinary. That's right…a replica of the Statue of Liberty symbolizing the friendship between the U.S. and Mongolia. And to understand why it's here, we need to introduce you to the rather extraordinary man who built it.
His name is Gimbold…and for a long time he made his living high in the air…flying jet fighters for the Mongolian air force.
And like every one else in his country, he lived through an amazing transition…the end of almost a century of domination by the Soviet Union and the birth of a democracy.
Which brings us back to Lady Liberty and why he built this replica.
"America is the number one democracy in the world," he told us. "And the Statue of Liberty is the symbol of that democracy."
This Lady Liberty lives on the outskirts of Ulan Bataar…a city where the communist past still shows up.
But the current president believes the future is to be a lot like the U.S.
"It's very important for the u-s to have a democracy, an open society here, and a good example here," he explained.
Let's face it – in the last couple of years America's prestige overseas has been going downhill. So as an American, it's pretty refreshing to come to a country like Mongolia where they think the US is pretty terrific.
Which brings us back to our friend with the statue, whose beliefs…like his words…ring with the conviction of Thomas Jefferson.
"We've had a democracy for more than a decade," Gimbold told us. "But there's not been enough change. That's why my friend and I built this statue," he explained. "This is our way of showing we will fight for more democracy."
Sometimes it's important to see what America means through the eyes of others, people who know us only by our ideas and our ideals.
So that is the lesson of this Mongolian Lady Liberty – that many in the world want to be what we are. Gimbold will never take democracy for granted. Let's hope we Americans are as wise.
Copyright 2006 CBS. All rights reserved.