Sunday, July 20, 2008

Inner Mongolia

Inner Mongolia has been a refreshing trip.  It is so good to venture out of the city and into the rural area.  I cannot describe the beauty of the mountains, the grasslands, the agriculture, and the huge blue cloudy sky.  The people are beautiful as well.  We are celebrities here.  A lot of the people here have never seen someone from another country.  I love saying hi and waving to people who are staring.  The usually giggle a bit and wave back.

The houses that we’ve seen aren’t as shocking as I thought they would be. They are mostly built of red brick.  Some are made of stone and mud.  As you travel through the countryside little villages pop up with about a hundred homes.  Then every half hour to hour you pass through a small city.  I wonder if children have to come so far to go to school. It is clear that many in these villages live in poverty. It is just hard to comprehend as we drive through.

The agriculture areas are everywhere.  They seem to stick cops wherever they can.  The plots seem really small for each farmer.  All the fields look really well taken care of even though we seldom saw people in the field.  It was fun to drive though a town and see people outplaying cards and other games.

We still have not got close enough to the people to understand their lives. To see their poverty.  Every bathroom/ smoking break for the Chinese men has it’s own little story.  Once we went to a hospital clinic thinking the WC might be nice.  They took us through the clinic to the back where there was an outhouse literally right next to a pig house. Kinda gross but I’m getting used to the squatters.  Some of the girls refuse to use them, but I don’t think it’s such a big deal.

The capital city the train came into was pretty large. We stayed in a very nice hotel.  The train ride wasn’t too bad! It was nine hours.  Each section had six beds, piled three high.  We hung out, looked out the window and watched Mulan. The train ride home was through the middle of the night.  We played cards for a little while then slept for about six hours.

I don’t know the total amount of time we’ve spent on this bus…but I would guess at least fifteen.  We drive somewhere for about two hours, get out and see something then keep going.

Our first stop was at a cattle farm. They have 500 employees and 10,000 cattle.  That was our first interesting dining experience of the trip.  They had sheep mutton and then a lot of sheep organs…gross!!  These people in Inner Mongolia drink…A LOT! It’s a part of their culture to toast the host and guest with Biajiu.  It’s been really funny seeing our hosts get tipsy almost every meal!

After the meal we ventured out in our huge bus to see the cattle.  This bus has made some crazy scary maneuvers! The landscape was breathtaking.  I have never seen this China before. We hung out with cows and joked around with China Baba for a while then headed to our next hotel.

China Baba (Daddy) or Wheel man as we like to call him is crazy.  You have to love this guy! He is our driver back at CAAS…I don’t know what his role on this trip is other than entertainment. He speaks very little English, so we spend most of our time with him laughing at his charades.  Wow…I hope to get some video up of him…he’s so funny!

When we pulled into the hotel at a small city, a crowd of local people started to gather to watch the parade of foreigners. We went on a walk relatively unbothered until near the hotel end when one lady shook our hands, then everyone came over to greet us! The hotel was at a natural hot spring.  We were all pretty exciting picturing ourselves outside surrounded by mountains in a hot spring.  Instead of this picturesque scene, the ‘hot spring’ was our bathtub that we filled with the sulfur smelling spring water!

Every meal is crazy…biajiu and more biajiu!  A tradition of their culture is to have young women sing to you to encourage you to drink. They have these white scarves that they put around you after you take your three shots.  I took mine gracefully and thankfully wasn’t sung to, to drink more! Some of the people on my trip are really pressured by the locals. These pour guys never want to smell Biajiu again! All the while China Baba is there filling our cups, laughing and smoking.  He asked us to sing our Ohio song, and he tried to join us as we sang Carmen Ohio…He got the OH-IO! We joke that we’re going to pull all our money together and ship Wheelman to OSU. They students would surely get a kick out of him!

I enjoyed a long conversation with one of the guys on the trip.  I feel like we’ve all had very little reflection time.  These bus rides are more than sufficient think time.  We talked about the poverty and how he never wants to complain in America again.  I’ve had a few interesting conversations on the trip and learned a lot about our perception of China.

The view from the back of the hotel was beautiful so I decided to get up at 5 to try to catch the sunrise.  They don’t have daylight savings time here so I think the sun rises at 4! By the time I got out there the sun was pretty much up but still lighting the town beautifully.  I started wandering around watching all the old people doing their morning exercises.  I stopped at one point to take a picture and an old man started talking to me.  ‘Woe Bu Dong’ (I don’t understand) is one of the few phrases I know.  I started walking with him and playing the usual charades to communicate.  We went to a monument describing the hot springs and did a few stretching exercises.  When he ran into one of his friends I caught one word: Me Gue (America).  We walked a bit more and parted ways at the hotel.  He wanted a picture with me.  It was a special time. He’s my new Chinese grandpa!

The landscape drastically changed today.  In our hours looking out the bus windows, it shifted to a much sandier area.  We stopped at a forest where there is a unique type of tree that can grow in the sand.  It is the only forest left of this tree in the world.  Then to an Inner Mongolian tent area where we ate lunch.  We made it to China’s third largest lake.  It was pretty muddy but pretty.  They have a pretty impressive museum.  Between the locals, there is a lot of tourist areas.

This night that we stayed in another small town was my favorite. They Chinese administrators with us kept saying the real party is this night. We were all a little nervous considering how much they had pressured us to drink until this point!  It really was a party. After dinner there was a traditional Inner Mongolian performance of singing and dancing. While we were learning a dance in a circle loud firecrackers were set off behind us and then our own fireworks show.

All the drunken Chinese administrators wanted to do was sing and dance.  Well you know I’m the lady for that! Even though I was probably the most sober one there, I joined right in dancing with them.  At some point I pulled in a few of the local girls and used some of DJ skills to get them dancing.  At one point a bunch of the locals came so we had a huge dance party!

The following morning we got up and went horseback riding! What a treat. When we went around to some really scenic areas…check out the pictures. I kept joking with one of the guys that I couldn’t wait to frolic in a field. He found the song “born free, as free as the wind blows…as free as the grass grows…” on his i-pod and declared it my official frolic song.  I had it in my head for most of the trip. I had some quality frolic time in a few fields.  One field was like a photo shoot of Chinese people as I danced!

Overall, the trip was better than I could have imagined. I accomplished my three goals of exercising with an old man, dancing with local people and frolicking in a field. I really enjoyed my time on the bus to have some alone time.  We all basically listen to music and look out the window.  I’ve had some sweet times just sitting with Papa and for myself and all the people I’m missing back home.  I’m just amazed that He made all this and knows every hill, every bush.  It’s more breathtaking than anything man could create. 

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