Forgive me if this post relies extensively on pictures and captions.
We woke up at 6:30 in order to get breakfast before our 7:30 bus ride to the grasslands. Breakfast at the hotel was excellent – a Western-style buffet! Although the buffet itself was relatively small and completely empty, I greatly enjoyed having unlimited amounts of bacon (in Chinese it’s “pei-gen”) as well as Coco Puffs, which I obviously went coocoo for. I think it was the second time I’ve used a fork and knife since coming to China. My skills with them have somewhat languished, but I subscribe to the “shoveling” method of eating and here in China its common to bring the bowl to your face when you’ve got the much.
We said our goodbyes to the Presidential Suite. The sadness was amplified by the fact that Willa told us during breakfast we’d be sleeping in Mongolian tents tonight. Going from a 5-star hotel (according to China’s rating agency) to a tent in the grasslands? All I could think was….
from the HBO program "The Wire"
We rolled up to the bus with a ton of Chinese snacks courtesy of Willa’s mother. The bus itself was smaller than a Greyhound-style bus, but somehow still manages to fit 30 people in it like sardines. Plus we were in the last row, an elevated row, with absolutely no space for our legs. I was pretty grateful to be small and scrawny as our German friend was 6’3″ and extremely displeased with the whole situation. We gave him the middle aisle spot and even then his knees poked out in front of the seat in front of him. Its also worth mentioning that we arrived about 5 minutes late, so when we White Devils stepped on the Chinese-only bus we got the “what are they doing here” stares. I made sure to say Ni Hao and smile to every one of them after announcing, “Waiguoren dao le” or “Foreigners have arrived.” A few of the Chinese people responded with the oh-so common, “Hello hello.” One day I’m going to break it to the Chinese that we say hello only once and that twice doesn’t make it any more polite.
Our destination was 4.5 hours northwest of the city of Baotou. As this was a Chinese tour group, Willa warned us that the guide would be talking the entire ride. Not only did she speak zero English, but the loudspeaker system had a significant echo for being in such a small bus. Her annoying, nasal voice prompted me to learn how to say “shut up” in Chinese. I didn’t say it because Willa taught (reminded) me on the condition I not say it very loud. I’ve only been here 3+ weeks, but she knows me well.
"I'm really annoying and stupid!"
The Chinese people clearly had the same sentiment, judging by how many of them kept trying to sleep over her monotonous history of Inner Mongolia, which I’m sure was absolutely thrilling. One girl even put her hands around here ears and fell asleep in that position.
The drive itself was beautiful albeit often bumpy. At one point we hit a bump at full speed and I hit my head on the ceiling thanks to our elevated seating position. Apparently it was very funny, but I wouldn’t know – I only laugh when other people get hurt.
Just outside of Baotou
A new mountaintop mining operation from afar
We must have seen 1000 trucks carrying mined material for processing
Over time the mountains turned into rolling grasslands and farms
Welcoming committee to the grasslands
We arrived to the place of our afternoon activity, a Mongolian tent-hotel with horseback riding and dirt bikes and picturesque views. We immediately bought matching cowboy hats for $2.30. I wanted to negotiate, but in all honestly I just felt bad that they were $2.30. Typically I’ll ask “how much” and automatically respond “too expensive” no matter what, but I held back. If you’re thinking, “Awww, he’s such a sweet kid” for paying full price then you’re going to be in for a shock in a few paragraphs.
Lunch was decent. We started off with the traditional small salty dishes, some of which aren’t salty at all but rather quite spicy. We moved on to veggie dishes, then meat dishes and rice. Sitting family-style with non-English speaking Chinese is always a joy – you repeat the same answers to the same questions each time, they compliment you on your Chinese, then conversation runs out of steam. It does seem like they eat significantly less than us foreigners, but I also think that’s because they’re skilled with chopsticks and grabbing food isn’t such a labor (of love). Our next meal, which would involve alcohol, would be far more amusing.
Right before we got on the horses I popped two Zyrtec to fight off allergies caused by the horse and the fresh air. It’s funny, the pollution in Beijing might be disgusting but as soon as I get into the countryside, I’m in snot city. Population: 1.
My horse had a legit mullet.
I’ve ridden a horse a couple of times, but I’m by no means proficient. I think horses are just smelly shit factories and riding them is uncomfortable. I prefer the rich corinthian leather and plush seats of a large, air-conditioned SUV. You can’t eat horses, either, although I’m sure I will at some point over the next year or so.
Anyways, our English travel buddies explained to me the difference between the English Saddle, Western saddle and what we were using. Here’s the grand takeaway: these are uncomfortable. I discovered that a full gallop is extremely tiring but a trot is when your ass really takes a beating. [Insert your own joke here.] My favorite part was when the horse was just walking – you still get a nice burn in your core. Gettin’ huge in Inner Mongolia!
At our first stop on the horse tour, we got to meet the flock of sheep and take pictures of us in traditional Mongolian garb. I was going to put it on the dress, but it smelled of horseshit and Chinese people who don’t wear deodorant.
Chinese people being tourists in their own country
Baby lamb = Mongolian dog
Really cute. No sarcastic comment here.
Kisses! I paid 10 RMB to hold the little lamb for these pictures.
I was singing Circle of Life from The Lion King as loud as I could while the rest of the group stared at me.
I tried to buy the baby lamb. She said she paid 300 RMB ($46) for it and said it would be worth 1000 RMB ($156). My initial offer was 305 RMB, but after much negotiation we were close to settling on 600 RMB. Then she asked why I wanted to buy it, and I thought I said I wanted to kill and eat it, but Willa explained that I used the verb for murder in a gruesome fashion. Whoops. No sale. Totally my bad.
Prayer pillar at the top of a hill
We then rode up and down a hill. Truly exciting. My horse took a massive dump at the top.
Our next stop was the “wetlands,” i.e. a small swamp/riverbed that was maybe 20 meters wide. It just so happened that there was a tourist shop there that served milk tea and sold naijiu. Naijiu translates to “milk liquor” is supposedly fermented milk, but it takes to me like a sweet version of baijiu (the white liquor that serves as China’s defacto national booze), which in turn tastes like pure gasoline. One time back in 2005 I saw a guy at the college of my study abroad program use baijiu to degrease his bicycle chain.
Naijiu, or milk liquor in a Genghis Khan bottle
I’m going to move past the horseback riding. When we got back to our bus, we were informed that we needed to board the bus immediately (4:00pm) even though the tour guide specifically told our German travel companion that the bus would leave at 6:00pm. Naturally, he was off exploring by foot. This caused a bit of friction between one Chinese passenger and our group of foreigners + Willa. He wanted to go, we wanted to wait for him. Turns out we were coming back to this place for dinner, but that was besides the point. He wanted to get to the Mongolian tent hotel and poop. We ended up leaving Willa and the English couple behind to wait for ze German, while I went on the bus to make sure somebody went back for them.
We got to our hotel and I sent a car to go pick them up. While waiting, I decided to go play with some cows. They really don’t like humans, I don’t understand how they let us milk them.
I chased this little guy for a solid 15 minutes while Chinese people took pictures.
The result of a dog mating with a prarie dog
Genghis Khan at our "hotel"
After a couple of hours of rest at the tents, we went back to the site of the horseback riding for a “show” and dinner. The show consisted of the Inner Mongolians riding really fast for approximately 30 seconds and a display of traditional Mongolian wrestling. They put on these back protectors, which also are the allowed handholds that a wrestler can grab to throw his opponent on the ground. Which just happened to be covered in horseshit. There were 3 wrestling demonstrations and then they asked for audience members to try. Our English chap gave it a whirl.
I prefer the WWE.
Putting on the shit-guard.
After the unimpressive display of masculinity, we were shuffled into large tents for dinner. The menu: 1 sheep. Awesome! I’m glad I didn’t have to buy that baby lamb and do the grunt work myself. During the dinner, we were treated to some entertainment, i.e. Mongolian songs, and some drinking culture.
"Singing really loud is a custom," I was told.
The King and Queen for the night had a drink-off
My uncle the orthopedic surgeon is much better at carving up a piece of meat. This was more like a Tijuana hack job courtesy of a Mexican drug cartel.
New friends enjoying the sheep! The skin was delicious.
Om nom nom nom
A few Inner Mongolian traditions worth noting. The first is the drinking. As a initiation ritual, they make you drink 3 cups of baijiu. That’s enough to get anyone drunk. Fortunately, they watered it down so everybody could do the ritual. During the second cup, you have to dip your finger in it three times, pointing once to the heavens, once to the earth, and one swipe across the forehead. After the third, you earn your scarf. I tried explaining in Chinese that we Jews have a similar tradition in the tallit. Their only response was that Jews are very clever, as they believe all across China. Somebody did a really good-job of being introducing Judaism into China, I must say.
During dinner, some serious drinking took place. In addition to the tradition, I mean. One table next to us brought 5 bottles of baijiu to dinner. Being 4 foreigners amongst 100 Chinese people (our tour group plus 2 others), everybody wanted to drink with us and talk to us. I’m proud to say my Chinese was the best, so I must have posed for 50 pictures and had 20 different toast and by the end of dinner I was thoroughly intoxicated.
This guy was a close talker.
Yup! We're drunk! Even the little girl knocked some booze back. LOOK AT HOW TALL I AM!
When things started settling down, we went outside for a bonfire. I promptly bought some fireworks and started lighting them while our hosts serenaded us some more. During this bonfire, we locked hands and danced around in a circle – naturally I started singing hava nagila. My favorite part, however, was the fact that it was the police officer that kept throwing gasoline on the fire while the Chinese people kept screaming jia you, or “add oil.” They also shout this at sporting events to get the hometown team riled up.
Best cop ever?
When it was time to get back on the bus, I made sure the German was the first on board. After everyone boarded, I started yelling in Chinese, “where is ze German?” to the annoyance of the one Chinese guy with bowel problems. Everybody laughed, and we went back to our hotel. I shared a room with Willa and the German, who said I talked in my sleep. Apparently I mentioned donuts, the American Civil War and wanting an Android phone.
To be continued in Part 3: Sunday