The Inner Mongolian Grasslands!

The end of summer intensive is approaching! In two weeks EF will be back to normal schedule with 2 days off a week and less VIPs and classes. To celebrate the success of our intensive season, the school paid for an overnight trip to the Grasslands! The Grasslands are probably the biggest tourist destination in Inner Mongolia, and now that I’ve experienced it first hand I can see why. When I looked out from the campsite we were stationed at, the region spans as far as the eye can see and is dominated by a brilliant blue sky, and you can see cows, horses and other campsites scattered here and there throughout the scene. I had a great time and did a lot of cool things I probably will never get to do again, so I’ll give you an overview of my experience, as detailed as I can!

Yesterday morning we all met at school (the teachers, PA’s, marketing, CCs and management) at 8:45am and were given breakfast sandwiches and warm milk from KFC before boarding the bus. The bus left at 9:15am and travelled through the city and into the country and I had a chance to glimpse the housing and living conditions of people outside the city. Very rundown houses, shacks in many cases, were grouped together in types of communities and litter was everywhere, as well as locals selling various objects along the road, such as fruit, magazines and toilet paper. In China, not just the area I saw yesterday, there are always piles of brick, stone and wood scattered here and there as well as what looks to be the beginnings of construction to a house. They really are everywhere, like on the streets, in backyards or in the fields we were passing on the way to the Grasslands. It’s as if someone started building a hut but changed their mind and left the material for construction where it was. It’s very odd.

We reached the grasslands after about 2 hours and walked onto the camp grounds. There were a bunch of round, white sleeping huts that are called yurts in long lines surrounding the area with the grasslands expanding out around us, a few large round huts in the middle and far ends that contained areas to eat, shop and drink, as well as bathrooms. The women’s bathroom consisted of 2 rooms: the first was a room full of sinks with running water (thank god) and the second had 7 squatting stations…with no curtains or dividers. So basically if you had to pee, you did it in front of anyone in the bathroom at that time! And the morning following a night of drinking and eating leaves the bathrooms in an even more repulsive state…but enough about that. They allowed 4 people to a yurt, so Casey, Caitlin, Tamlyn and I picked up our key and entered what was to be our yurt for the night.

Our yurt was white and red on the outside, with a tiny door that you had to step over and through in order to enter (I think because it helps to keep the bugs out!). You can tell from the outside that the yurt is slightly raised from the ground. Inside, the floor was concrete and the walls had long wooden poles that held together tarps that connected from the concrete floor and all the way up to the roof, which was a high ceiling that would resemble the inside of a wigwam or tipi. There was only a small space of concrete between the door to the sleeping area, which was a platform covered in rugs and blankets that took up the majority of the yurt. On top of the blankets were 5 sets of blankets, pillows and sheeted mats that we could sleep with. I could see little holes near the bottom of the yurt where the tarps didn’t fully connect with the concrete floor. Because it was raining, the walls were slightly leaking and the rugs near the back of the sleeping area were drenched, so it smelt like mildew and wet dog inside. Pleasant!

The rain prevented us from wandering the area in fear of being thoroughly uncomfortable, so we stuck to our yurt for the majority of the morning, had a Chinese lunch in the eating area, and pretty much drank and played UNO until the afternoon. I had a nap around 2, and by the time I woke up around 3 the sun was shining, I had slept off my buzz and we got to venture outside at last!!

Over the afternoon and into the night we did a lot of things! A bunch of us played a friendly game of touch football, which was frustrating and amusing when you’re trying to teach it to a bunch of Chinese women (the PA’s and staff)! Caitlin, Tamlyn and I went for a walk out into the grasslands, where we dodged cow droppings (which were everywhere!), frolicked, got scared by a herd of cows when the male cow started mooing threateningly, and took pictures. We saw a horse show/wrestling match put on by the Mongolian staff at our camp, and Casey convinced the winner of the wrestling match to wrestle her! He won, but it was very entertaining to watch him protest to tackling a girl! We had a traditional Mongolian dinner where we ate homebred lamb, witnessed a fake-wedding ceremony (I think they do it for every meal with the tourists), and had to drink a shot of beijo each (Chinese equivalent to tequila) as a blessing to the spirits… I think!

I also went horseback riding, which was really fun but very scary at the same time! The riders don’t give you instructions on how to ride a horse, just help you up and away you go! My horse was beautiful, with black fur and long black hair, but I felt sad for it (as well as the others) because they are tied up to poles all day. I especially feel bad for the  donkeys, who are tied up to carraiges all day and forced to stand. But I suppose the animals in China are like the people in a way: programmed to accept the way things are. But putting aside my sadness, I hopped up on my horse, along with about 7 other people, and away we went! The horses follow the same path everyday so they went as they pleased, which includes everything from walking (my favourite), to trotting (alarming) and then to running (heart-stopping)! At one point I was convinced I was going to fall off and be trampled! I managed to hang on though and, to my relief, the ride ended after 20 minutes when we made it back to camp. I was relieved to get off but it was definitely an experience I’ll never forget! I wish I could have taken pictures, but no way was I releasing my firm grip on the saddle!

After dark, Scott and I arranged a game of capture the flag! It was a bit chaotic because our Chinese friends didn’t really understand and because the camp is so large, but it was super fun and I think everyone enjoyed themselves. Later that night, the camps entertainment for the night came out and we got to listen to some traditional Mongolian songs and music (really good singers and musicians with these string instruments that look like small cellos), and watch traditional dances. We even got to join in on some! Once the entertainment was over, a lot of us just hung out in our yurts, drank, played cards and relaxed before bed.

In the morning, we were woken up at 7:30am  to catch our bus home. We were originally supposed to stay until the afternoon but the school’s manager wanted to leave then. I was a bit disappointed (not to mention sleepy!) because this morning happened to be beautiful and sunny and I would have loved to walk out into the grasslands and take more photos on this cloud-less day. It’s too bad, but hopefully I’ll get to make one more trip up to see them again. If anyone ever plans to come visit me in Hohhot, I will definitely take you to the grasslands. It really is worth a trip, I had an amazing time!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lois Christianson
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 23:19:16

    Hi Steph
    Sounds like a great day was spent at theGrasslands.
    What a truly awesome experience your are having.
    That school sounds like they are very good to the staff.
    I was thinking you should bring a DVD of Supernanny to show Baby’s mother.
    Does she have a time out chair, you might have to spend 40 minutes putting her back into it until you win…
    Have a great day.
    Love Aunty


  2. My-Tien
    Sep 18, 2011 @ 12:22:28

    I know where you’re taking me when I come in February!


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