My Chinese teacher, Willa, is from Baotou in Inner Mongolian. No, she’s not a Mongolian, her family is from Shanxi province and Tianjin. They’re Han Chinese but those that live there are proud of Mongolian culture. Anyways, she invited me and a few of her other students to go visit Inner Mongolia. I had no idea what we were going to do there, and this trip defied all expectations.
We all met at the airport. That’s when the massive picture-taking session began. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my most offensive picture yet. The only thing I’m sorry for is the bad quality.
Our Friday night flight to Baotou took roughly an hour. Chinese airline companies pride themselves on their flight attendants – it always helps when you’re able to discriminate based on age and level of attractiveness. In China, flight attendants are called in , “Air Brother/Sister,” which I think is kind of cute. They certainly treat you more like family than the crotchety old women you’ll find on Delta or American Airlines. They also still provide peanuts because China isn’t a nanny state where the solution to one person’s problems is forced upon everyone else.
Yes, those are seaweed-flavored peanuts. As my sister would say, “amazeballs!”
We got into Baotou rather late and Willa’s parents picked us up to bring us to our hotel a half an hour away from the airport. Baotou is St. Louis compared to Beijing’s New York. Having a car is an absolute necessity. Public transportation exists, but it’s extremely spread out due to the frequent earthquakes. They only have a few tall buildings, and our hotel is one of them.
Oh, I forgot to mention that the first thing I noticed when I got off the plane is that there’s fresh air! No pollution! I had no idea how much of it I was about to get.
So we arrived at our hotel, the Haide Hotel, a little after midnight and it turns out that Willa’s parents already took care of (i.e. paid for) our accommodations that night. As government officials and second generation Inner Mongolians, they pride themselves on hospitality – especially for foreigners. Baotou isn’t exactly a place that foreigners visit on their two-week vacation/tour of China. Sure enough, they got us the Presidential Suite, complete with 2 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a study, a full kitchen, a 8-person dining table and couches in front of a 72″ television. The bathrooms had steam showers and jacuzzi tubs, and the master bath even had a sauna. Straight baaaaaaaallin’!
You probably noticed that the pictures got significantly smaller. I’d rather include as many of them as possible than wait for my super slow Chinese internet to upload the larger ones, which takes about two minutes.
I got the study while the British couple got one bedroom and Willa and the German shared the master bedroom. I got to build a fort out of the chairs, pillows and 2 down comforters. I fucking love building pillow forts! It was without a doubt the softest bed I’ve slept in since coming China. We were a little shocked at how generous Willa’s parents were, but she assured us that they were getting the “government discount.” I’m still not sure what that means and I really didn’t want to ask.
After throwing our bags down, we went to get some grub. Willa took us to the local favorite Mongolian BBQ. Not a place for tourists, judging by the way the restaurants patrons were gaping at us. I forgot what it was like to be in parts of China where white people sightings aren’t common. As I’ve previously claimed, something happened in Beijing in the past 6 years that caused them to hate us. Maybe it was the Olympics, I don’t know. Here, they are excited to have you in their country, they are gracious and they love to stare at you.
Inner Mongolia has a ton of farmland and thus supports much of China’s Eastern seaboard with their quality meats. Not exactly on par with Argentian beef or Omaha steaks, but infinitely better than the mystery meat with tons of gristle that’s the norm in Beijing.
Boom! What you’re looking at is chuanr (pronounced “chwar”) i.e. meat on a stick. Chuanr translates to “string” according to my iPhone 4 dictionary app, but the character 串 looks like pieces of meat on a stick, am I right? We ate beef, lamb (an Inner Mongolian specialty), a garlic-y bread and these giant green-tea flavored chicken wings. Honestly, folks, I almost cried when we ate them because it was all so delicious. Chuanr is also quite common in Beijing and other major cities, although its used more of a late-night drunk food than a mealtime dish. This is probably due to the difference in meat quality. Anyways, we washed down this meat with some delicious local beer.
At this point its 1:30am. Willa tells us (for the first time) that we need to wake up at 6:45 to get breakfast and catch our 7:30 bus. Bus, you say? Oh yeah. We’re going to the Inner Mongolian grasslands which are a 4 hour bus ride north of Baotou. Then the next day we’ll be going south to the Inner Mongolian desert.
My internet is going crazy and I’m tired. I’m going to break up the trip summary into two more parts, one for Saturday and one for Sunday. Stay tuned.
(I’m very mad at myself for not taking a picture of my pillow fort.)