Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Inner Mongolia- Part II of II

After a day in the grasslands, the Koreans, Judy and I piled back into the bus, and headed for the caoyuan—grasslands. We arrived at a small ‘”village” late in the evening, in time for a dinner of roast lamb—Inner Mongolia’s famous dish. The village was a bizarre place. I hesitate to call it fake, but it was something along those lines, existing solely for the consumption of tourists. Like our experience in the desert, it was a bit on the touristy side, but just being in the environment and seeing the landscape was reward in itself. Plus we got to sleep in yurts (pictured).

We were also treated to traditional Inner Mongolian songs and dances, and had shots of niujiu (milk wine, another specialty) foisted upon us. I’m still unsure as to the composition of milk wine—the name has rather inauspicious connotations—but it turned out not to be half bad.

Plus, it helped with the evening’s weather, which was a tad on the freezing side. I huddled in my yurt wearing two pairs of pants and three shirts, thankful for the heavy blanket left for my by the Mongols. By morning it was much, much colder, and the local creatures were evidently feeling it, too: I awoke to find a small, dirty, sort of ugly cat snuggling with me. Gnarly. The hardy among us—me and the cat included—were up and out of the yurts in time for the Mongolian Sunrise, which was magnificent (see right).

It got warmer, and the morning was spent in grand fashion, riding horses across the gently rolling hills of the caoyuan. On the way out, I was riding a white steed that I think was on the verge of death. He and I were both disappointed with the match. A bit overly domesticated, the horses tend not to respond to any urging by their riders, just following the lines in which they have spent their whole lives.

We stopped halfway at a little Mongolian house on the prairie, more to rest the horses than anything else. I had the pleasure of watching a sheep slaughtered and skinned, which was morbidly fascinating in a way nothing I’ve ever seen is. The guy doing the work was a pro, making it look easy as he pulled away the skin, and snapped off the sheep’s feet.

On the way back, I was blessed with a more stable stallion, and one of the leaders of the pack. I even managed to persuade it into a gallop once or twice, which was a very cool feeling. Judy did pretty well for herself—on the way out, she used her unique Chinese-speaking abilities to make friends with one of the guides, who, on the way back, let her ride his own horse. While the rest of us were trotting along in a pack, Judy and her pal shot off at top speed, and weren’t seen for hours. Since that afternoon, she’s been a little bit crackers, and most of what she’s said has had something to do with riding horses.

We all boarded the bus again, Judy and I delighted not to be stuck in there for 8 hours with the rest of the squad. We had talked to our guides, who were happy to drop us off in Hohhot, and, lo and behold, a couple hours into the ride, the bus screeched to a halt, and we were hustled off the bus and on to the side of the highway. The busses pulled away, and we began our solo adventure.

Hohhot wasn’t actually much to speak of—a mid-sized city with little to boast of other than signs in both Chinese and Mongol. Our days were spent mostly wandering the streets, and hanging about in parks studying Chinese characters—both those in books, and those that walked by.

One highlight was meeting the sketchiest guy in all Hohhot, who slowly sidled up to my picnic table while I was studying. He complimented me on my writing in Chinese, which he said was very beautiful. I discovered a few minutes later that he is completely illiterate. He sat himself at my table, and we talked intermittently for nearly an hour. A recurring theme was girlfriends—specifically, he wanted an American one, and could I help him out with that? He claimed to be a night watchman, and that he hadn’t returned home in three days. His older brother was college-educated and living in Tianjin, married to an American woman, he: illiterate, stuck in Hohhot and apparently facing the prospect of an arranged marriage. The pieces didn’t really fit, but I didn’t really press.

Three relaxing days in Hohhot, and then it was back to Beijing, where classes are now in full swing once again. I promised you the tale of the bus ride from hell, but that account will soon appear in the pages of the Tufts Daily, so I’ll let you know.


Blogger amcanannie said...

hey Sam,
I love reading your postings, because it's so easy to picture the way that you interact with the Chinese (or rather the way that they gravitate towards you and don't let you leave since you do interact). With me, they'd be interested a couple of minutes, but then after a few (wo shi meguoren y jinadaren) phrases were exchanged I was back to smiling and nodding. Anyway, it makes me laugh. And your pictures are great!

15/10/06 9:59 PM  

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