The Inner Mongolian China Brog

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Love Yurts

Since you last heard from me, I have been treated to a truly authentic Inner Mongolian grasslands experience. Of course, by authentic, I mean capitalizing (if you'll forgive the word) in the most communist of ways on the vulnerable foreign tourist soul. Although if the experience hadn't been watered down somewhat, I might not be so much, how do you say...alive right now. But I digress from the delight that was my day in the grasslands on Sunday.

I should preface this story by relating to you the fact that we were recently visited by 3 Chinese-American high schoolers from Chicago - all cousins, one of whose fathers is friends with the president of the school here. So they were here on a brief exchange to check it all out and hang with the students here, tell them about American high school, etc. Grace (chill chick), Jonathan (stoner) and Shaun (can't hold his licquor). We all went out to dinner with Dean Zheng and Mr. Woo (not sure what his title is other than "important") the night before our day in the grasslands. Given their tender age of 17, they weren't quite prepared for the extent of alcoholic beverages at their disposal during a typical dinner here, and the 2 boys made the mistake of trying to keep up and then some...resulting in a brief altercation between a prematurely drunk Shaun and a not-amused-by-lame-high-schoolers Courtney. I won't go into detail because it wasn't in actuality a huge deal - just amplified by the booze, as booze is wont to do. Instead, I will allow you to pause for a brief moment of silent awkwardness now.

Ok go.


Oooh, that burns. Ok so the point of that piece of info is that there was some tension in the group for a while, but apologies were made and we're cool now. It just made for an interesting evening at the expense of the teenagers' dignity.

Needless to say, no one was at the top of their game the next morning at our 5:30 AM departure time, Dean Zheng and Mr. Woo not excepted. We enjoyed a sedate (read: hungover) 2 hour ride to the grasslands, 2 hours north of Tongliao. Myself feeling great and well-hydrated (seriously), I gazed out the window the whole time at the passing scenery, most of it unpopulated, save for a few roadside communities of gas stations, restaurants and little shops. I'm pretty sure that we drove the one and only road that traverses the area between...well, anywhere round these here parts. As a result, it was bone-rattlingly bumpy at times on the not-so-paved stretches, eliciting some grumbles from my fellow travellers. I, however, was content listening to my iPod and taking in the increasingly hilly countryside, sprinkled here and there with patches of (mutant) sunflowers, goats, cows, and/or ducks/chickens/miscellaneous fowl. Just as I found myself settling into the pure serenity of it all, convinced that I really was witnessing the simple life at its best, we drove by a dude walking down the street talking on his cell phone. Honestly, is nothing sacred??? ...This coming from the girl who continues to have residual twitching cell-phone-thumb...I do actually find myself occasionally reaching for that phantom phone...

After a stop for breakfast in what appeared, much to my chagrin, to be a small city of sorts, we drove a bit longer into the hills and arrived at an isolated cluster of yurts scattered in a small valley. A yurt, for those of you ignorant enough not to know, is like a circular tent, Mongolian style. Back in the day, they would have been made of yak skin, and from what I understand, they were more or less mobile to suit the nomadic lifestyle. We were introduced to the 2005 version, however, complete with concrete foundations, synthetic exteriors and karaoke systems. My favorite part was the ladies' and men's yurts, which had not only the universal bathroom symbols on the outside, but porcelain western-style plumbing on the inside. This amused me to no end, having spent far more time squatted over holes in the ground in Beijing than I ever would in the Inner Mongolian grasslands... Hey, they've clearly got their priorities in order, first and foremost being the waiguoren's excremental experience. I won't complain.

Our grasslands hosts humored us with plenty of time to take inordinate amounts of pictures before shoving us by the butt onto some of the sorriest looking horses I've ever seen. First of all, they are far smaller than their American counterparts, though likely just as strong - I saw a few of the locals galloping through the fields at top speed, an interesting sight when the rider is about as big as the steed. Though I gave my horse a few encouraging kicks to the haunches, the fact that I was being led on a leash by a local guide made top speed a white-knuckling...walk. I enjoyed it thoroughly, though. I fancied myself the absolute picture of idyllic pastoral life, if only for 20 minutes, trying to ignore the veritable groans of the horses under their riders of sasquatchal proportions, relatively speaking. The fleet included (but was not limited to) at least one asthmatic horse and one bleeding out of open wounds to its shoulders with scores of flies gorging themselves upon the raw flesh. I was seated atop this sad animal at one point, trying to sympathetically bat away the flies, which was a losing battle. Poor thing was a couple trots away from glue.

We were led about halfway up a pretty substantial hill through grass and wildflowers about shin height, at which point we dismounted and climbed the rest of the way up the [for the story's sake we'll say] mountain on foot. It got rockier the higher we went, full of brambles and thorns, man-eating spiders, grasshoppers flying thick as shrapnel, and the abominable snowman.


HAHA abominable snowman - what the hell is that??? Sorry, I just cracked myself up.


Atop the "mountain," we enjoyed some of the cleanest breaths of fresh, breezy air we'd had in quite some time. The view was immaculate, with the cluster of yurts below us on one side, and a deep valley on the other side of what we realized was actually a rim that we'd just climbed, which circled around the aforementioned valley. That was a horrible description, but stay with me.

Getting back down the mountain was actually much harder than the ascent, what with those pesky sudden bursts of gravity getting in the way. I escaped with only a cut to my left heel, fortunately, which is impressive when you consider the fact that I had an abominable snowman in hot pursuit.

We had lunch in the karaoke yurts once back at the bottom of the K2ImeansmallInnerMongolianhill. I can confidently say that the grasslands cuisine is not something I would readily repeat, as it consisted of a heaping plate of wiggly jiggly mutton pieces as its centerpiece, flanked by various other unidentifiable delicacies. Seeing as the ever-present pijiu and baijiu made themselves immediately apparent, a number of our party opted instead to cure their hangovers with a liquid lunch. Having sweated out most of the moisture in my body, however, I declined and picked at bits and pieces of potato and pepper and whatever didn't contain goat entrails. I can therefore recount with perfect lucidity the unequivocably SHITHOUSED state of aforementioned "important" Mr. Woo (dressed in fatigues and dress shoes), and how he dragged me to my feet by my armpits and insisted on twirling me around the yurt to canned karaoke music, eventually hugging me, squeezing my butt, planting a sloppy kiss on my cheek and announcing that he loved me. Charming.

Molestation by member of school faculty: check.

During our post-lunch horseback ride, Tina, one of the few Chinese English teachers along with us, proclaimed something to the effect of, "Diana, you are such a beautiful girl, but sometimes you look so tired." Sorry, Tina, but being Mr. Wooed tends to have that effect.

Though I was desperately trying to continue enjoying myself, my day was quickly descending into sunburned and sweaty exhaustion. After Mike bought the beautiful embroidered Mongolian vest right off the back of his horse guide, the day was concluded as a success, and we made our way back to the bus, only to find our bus driver drunk and passed out in the front seat. Not about to let him keep us from the air-conditioned comfort of our apartments back at the school, several amongst us immediately offered to drive, seeing as this guy was in no condition to do so and we were fearing for our lives. Luckily, we had a spare. Driver, that is. Mind at ease, I settled myself into a pool of my own sweat and dozed my way through the ride home. After a day like that, everybody yurts.


At 8:58 PM, Blogger AMRebelo said...

Beautiful scenery!

However, I did extrapolate the following equation from your incident with the salacious "Yurt Reynolds":

Woo = Purell

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