When Thunder Bay tours Hohhot + Steph’s first bout of homesickness.

Tamlyn, Derek and I bade Casey and Kyle goodbye at the train station and arrived at our apartment around 8:30am. I had mixed feelings about being back “home”: on the plus side, it’s always nice to come back from a trip and relax after a hectic vacation. However, I had to be back at work the next day. Luckily, I had known that Derek was coming back with us to Hohhot before we left so I had planned all my lessons for that week ahead of time. This way I’d have as much free time as possible, not knowing exactly how long Derek planned on staying for. Derek’s VISA was expiring within the next week though, so he had to go back to his brothers place in Shanghai the next day in order to sort out his affairs for his trip.

So now the big question: what was I going to do with him for 2 days in Hohhot, the capital city of dust and where people go to die? Ok, that’s an unfair exaggeration. But I really wasn’t sure where I’d bring him that was as exciting as Beijing had been, and I privately worried that Hohhot would end up being a waste of his money! He said he didn’t care what we did, so I opted to bring him to places in Hohhot that I had never been but wanted to see, so at least that way it was a new experience for both of us and still felt like we were on vacation. Classic Steph, pathetically holding on to the feeling of freedom as long as possible!

We spent the morning resting, cleaning, watching How to Train Your Dragon and washing our clothes. Tamlyn made us all pancakes with chocolate and banana’s on top (compliments of the foreign import store we had visited in Beijing) and after we greedily inhaled them, I dipped into my food savings and made Kraft Dinner, which was also awesome. We regretted mixing these meals later however, as we felt nauseous once we started getting ready to head out to our first activity of the day. I brought Derek to the school so that he could talk to the foreign teacher liaison Candy, who agreed to help Derek book his flight to Shanghai the following day. Once everything was booked up, we went out to the street to find a cab!

I decided to bring Derek to the Tombs (the famous Zhaojun Tombs located in the outskirts of Hohhot) because I hadn’t seen them yet but had heard good things from Casey and Tamlyn and it’s apparently the most famous tourist attraction in Hohhot. After a long cab ride out into the country, we arrived at the Tombs and ventured inside. It was beautiful! The Tombs are the final resting place of Wang Zhaojun, the famous concubine of one of the Emperors of the Western Han Dynasty. Zhaojun is the subject and inspiration for many poems and legends in China because she sacrificed her freedom for the unity of China by marrying Khan. She is widely regarded as a symbol of peace and friendly relations between the Han and Hun nationalities, which makes the Tombs a sacred and popular place to visit.

We went inside the various buildings found in the area, which included many rooms dedicated to Calligraphy and painting, as well as the exhibition hall that held many ancient artifacts from the dynasty that Zhaojun lived in, her life story, the history of the Han people, and many pieces of Chinese artwork. Outside, the grounds were impressively vast and there were large bronze statues and smooth stone statues depicting Zhaojun and her husband, ancient steles, as well as large monuments dedicated in her honour. There was a stone stairway at the end of the walkway that lead up a platform to a pavilion located at the top where you could overlook the valley below and the scenery that surrounded the tomb, as well as the mountains in the distance. On the other side of the platform was a lovely little forest-like area with copious trees, thick bushes, a handful of gazebo’s and winding leaf-strewn pathways. I found this area quite enjoyable and gratifying. I don’t see a lot of big trees in Hohhot, or grass for that matter, and I didn’t realize how much I missed nature. We wandered that area for a while before ending up at the actual tomb of Zhaojun. We went inside the narrow, candle-lit hallway to the shrine at the end, but sadly didn’t know the procedure to showing the proper respect for such a person, so we left quickly before we really insulted the people overlooking the sanctuary. After chasing a few of the cats that seemed to frequent the area, we headed outside the gates to find a cab that would take us home.

We found two different cab drivers that would take us back to my apartment, but then we had to wait because they were arguing with each other over who would get to take the foreigners. After 10 minutes of shouting, we just got into one of the cabs and told him to bring us home. The cab ride took forever because it was rush hour in Hohhot and the cab driver wasn’t 100% sure where I lived, though he didn’t mention this when we got in. We made it home at 6:30 and I was exhausted, but we had made dinner plans with Casey and Tamlyn to go to hot pot at 7:00pm so we left right away without a rest. Tamlyn, Derek and I met Casey at the Hot Pot restaurant that isn’t far from where we live. I’m so glad we ate there because the Hot Pot was amazing! We ordered a lot of food and it was pricey, but totally worth it because it’s such a good dining experience! After dinner we headed back to my apartment and watched Wedding Crashers before crashing for the night!

We woke up at 8:30am, Derek packed, we ate some yoghurt and then headed out around 9:00. Derek’s flight was at 1:00pm, so he needed to be at the airport for around 12:00, which was perfect because I needed to be at school for the teachers meeting at 1 anyway. I decided to bring him to the Hohhot park for the morning, a place that I had passed many times on my way to the DVD store but never actually ventured in to have a look.

After seeing it now I’m mad at myself and I can’t believe I never went in once during the summer. The Hohhot park is (to my great surprise) immense and incredibly beautiful. There were willowy trees that decorated the scenery of the park, a beautiful river with pathways weaving around the edges, and bridges that suspended across the river, connecting islands and creating a mesh of different pathways to choose from. There were rocky platforms where people were playing instruments or practicing tai chi, a huge fountain, jungle gyms where senior citizens were doing morning exercises, and hills that had benches or brightly painted gazebos at the top. Doves were everywhere (up close they really look like filthy white pigeons), there was an area that had carnival rides (though they were closed down for the fall) and we could rent golf carts or by the river there were paddle-boats to rent as well. I thought that the park was absolutely beautiful and I can’t believe that I hadn’t discovered it previously. Furthermore, it’s Autumn, my favourite season, so the reds, oranges, yellows and fading greens were enchanting to see, especially when combined with their reflection in the river. Gorgeous. True, there was a lot of garbage, particularly near the bushes or at the top of the hills we climbed, but that’s China.

We walked around the majority of the park, which took about an hour and a half. I took Derek to the DVD store which was just up the street. We both purchased a couple of dvds and then I took him to Hawkers, a decent western-like restaurant further down the street, for lunch. After lunch it was getting close to 12 so we got a cab and headed back to my apartment so Derek could get his bag and head to the airport. Once his bag was picked up, I walked him back out to the street, found him a cab and he was gone! And just like that, my vacation actually felt over.

I must admit, over the next week I felt very uninspired and sad, probably the closest to homesick I’ve ever felt since moving to China. It was good that I had finished all my planning already, which allowed me to spend less time at work, but I was missing home a lot. I think seeing and being with a friend from home caused me to actually (or finally) realize how far away from home I actually am. That, mixed with the amazing time I had in Beijing/Qingdao and the freedom I felt while there, made me realize that the real reason I came to China was to see it, not to teach. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying my experience teaching in Hohhot very much and I think I do a good job, and will continue to do so, but my main motivation for moving here was to see the country. Now that I’ve finally gotten the chance to see a bit of it, I’ve got the travelling bug and want to get out there and see more, everything, it all! But I can’t because I’m roped into my contract and the school. This hold-down greatly depressed me for a few days, and I confined myself to my room and had an awesome pity party. I felt chained, held back! Alas, what a world it is!

Not to worry though, I’m all better now! It was only for that first week back that I was feeling so down. I’ve already been here for 5 months, can you believe it?! That’s almost half a year! I’m going to go to Shanghai for Christmas, Hong Kong and maybe Vietnam in February, and once my contract ends at the beginning of summer I hope to travel this side of the world for the majority of summer, possibly hop over to Australia to visit my friend Caterina, before returning to Canada. But I have so many options, I’m finding it hard to decide! Lots of choices to come, stay tuned because I’ll definitely need some advice from you in and about the future!!! It’s daunting, but I’m so excited!



5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tricia Allan
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 07:45:25

    What fun to read about all your adventures. For the record, I missed you at Thanksgiving dinner. We did talk about you. Were your ears burning? It is hard to imagine that you’ve been in China for 5 months already. Tempus fugit!


  2. Gail Johnson
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 21:23:37

    I really enjoyed reading about your “vacation”. Sounds like it was great! Sorry to hear you were upset after Derek left but very glad you are feeling back up to everything again. Enjoy your teaching and keep busy. Before you know it will be Christmas. Love you and think of you all the time. Nan


  3. maryanne
    Oct 30, 2011 @ 05:31:36

    hi steph

    travel as much, as far and as long as you can while you have the bug, the means and the time. you may not get the chance to do so again depending what the future may bring. so don’t let the grass grow beneath your feet and may the wind be at your back….m


  4. Lois Christianson
    Oct 31, 2011 @ 00:47:10

    Hi Stephie
    I am once again up-to-date on your blogs. Sounds like you had a marvelous time with your friends on your week’s holiday. Its hard to believe you have been there 5 months already.
    Yes, you do make a great teacher and the money will help you see much more when your contract is up. I bet it was great to see Derek and even talk to his mom.
    Tomorrow is Halloween and I am going over to give out candy at Pam’s house while they take to boys out trick or treating. I haven’t seen their costumes yet, so it will be a surprise for Aunty. They are busy going to French Immersion pre-school 3x /week ( mornings and on Thursday I go over then they have swimming lessons at 6 pm. Gracie goes to gymnastics onTuesday am so went to her class one morning , she loves it. Reid goes to pre school 2x/week and has the same teacher his Dad had.
    I am glad you are over your post holiday blues and will be going somewhere else for Christmas.The leaves have all fallen here and the temp is about +4. Your blogs are absolutely terrific. Love you and keep on trucking Aunty


  5. Alanna
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 05:03:19

    STEPH! I am going to New Zealand for 2 months Jan-Feb. We are practically going to be in the same latitude. Come fly down for a visit ;).


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