Last Tuesday, I boarded a train to Inner Mongolia. On the CLS trip, we have one week long trip to a different city (or province) than the city we study in. I was really excited about going to Inner Mongolia. It’s somewhere I would never have expected to end up in.
We took the train to Hohhot (呼和浩特), which is the capital. Interesting fact: Hohhot means green city in Mongolian. Inner Mongolia is a Autonomous Region. As a result, everything is written in both Chinese characters and Inner Mongolia Mongolian. Yes, there is a difference between the script in Inner Mongolia and Outer Mongolia. Nothing is written in pinyin.
This is a picture of the train station in Hohhot. The Chinese says “exit.” My best guess is that the Mongolian also says “exit.”
The first day in Inner Mongolia, we drove out to a portion of the grasslands. The grasslands are a huge part of Inner Mongolian culture. I’m positive that all Mongolian folk music is about the grasslands. Originally the Mongols were nomads on the grasslands. Anyway, this particular grassland is called 希拉穆仁草原。 The first night, we stayed at a “resort.” When I say this, I am talking about a small gathering of yurts that are built specifically to cater to tourists. Each yurt has two twin size beds, and a bathroom. Real yurts do not have either of these amenities. While at this resort, we learned a few Mongolian folk dances. Mongolian folk dancing is very difficult. We also learned a folk song. The Mongols have an interesting traditional instrument, called 马头琴 (or horse head instrument). It looks like a two stringed guitar, but it is played with a bow. The top of the instrument has a carved horse head, hence the name.
After dinner, we went out to explore the grasslands. Every time I end up in the real Chinese countryside, I am blown away by the stars. Living in the city, it is easy to forget that the sun, the moon, and stars exist. In Beijing, I will go days without seeing any blue sky. In Inner Mongolia, I could see the Milky Way in all of its beauty. The next morning, I woke up early to watch the sunrise. I hear watching the sunrise on the grasslands is one of those things you need to do before you die. I would have to agree. It’s like standing in an ocean of grass, watching the sun ever so slowly make its way up to the sky.
The next day, we headed another area on the grasslands. This time, via horse. We rode for an hour across the grasslands. We showed up at our next day’s accommodations. These were slightly more realistic yurts, although they were still slightly changed to suit tourists’ fancy. On the other hand, there were no bathrooms. We all became fans of the so-called “nature bathrooms.”
On our arrival, we were invited to watch the slaughtering of our dinner. It was two sheep. I was only able to watch the first kill. As humane as it was, it’s still difficult to watch something die. On the other hand, this may just be a female sentiment. The guys of the group seemed pretty into the whole thing. The meat was delicious though. Each table was given half a sheep. Saying it was a lot of meat is a serious understatement. After dinner, we had a bonfire. We all sang songs, from Mongolian folk songs to Disney. Since the stars were so beautiful, we stayed out again to watch them. Because I’m possibly slightly crazy, I woke up again to watch the sunrise. This second area was much more isolated than the first place, and the sunrise was certainly more beautiful.
On day three, we headed to the desert. To get to the desert, we had to cross the Yellow River by cable car. This is the only cable car over the Yellow River. On one side, there is trees and lots of greenery. The other side is desert. Arguably, this part of the desert was a bit touristy. We rode camels and explored the sand dunes. Sadly, I have no pictures from this part of the trip.
We returned to Hohhot that night. It was a classmate’s birthday, so we celebrated with KTV (karaoke). Hohhot is a nice capital city. In certain aspects, it is like Beijing. It has all the characteristics of a big city. Perhaps because it is an Autonomous Region, there are some differences. We were in the section of Hohhot that is relatively Muslim. Near our hotel, there was a large Muslim area, where Muslim children went to school, and people prayed. Another interesting fact: since Muslims do not eat pork, the word for pork is not allowed to be spoken. In Chinese there are other words that are pronounced the exact same as the word for pig, such as my Chinese last name. In this area, people with the last name 朱 switch their last name to 黑 (black).
In addition to visiting the Muslim area, we also visited a couple Tibetan Buddhist lamasery, 大召and 席力图召. There are two kinds of Buddhism in China, one is Tibetan, and one is Han. Tibetan Buddhism also ended up in Inner Mongolia. All the temples had endless amounts of prayer flags and prayer wheels. 大召 has a very well preserved temple with intricate paper dragons and multiple huge Buddha statues.
In the evening, we headed back to Beijing. We got back the Beijing the next morning, and continued with our studying. Tomorrow, I’m presenting with my group about our experience in Inner Mongolia.
This coming weekend, I’m going to Qingdao. It’ll be good to relax for a bit.