Archive for November, 2010

Hohhot (Inner Mongolia)

November 27, 2010

Sept 17th – 19th

The final leg of our journey together, Dan and I went to Hohhot in Inner Mongolia. We went on a tour to see the grasslands and slept in a yurt (as they are called in Turkey) or a gir (as they are called in China) or a gurt (a combination of the previous two words and as it is called by no one but me). On the grasslands tour, we saw sheep, camels, bulls jostling each other in the sun and horses running about freely (there wasn’t a single fence anywhere). At night we sang songs and learned traditional Mongolia games played with sheep’s elbows (pretty disgusting). Dan tamed the sheep herder’s “ferocious” dog, which I think he was immensely proud of because he kept telling us that only he was able to touch it and that it would be dangerous for anyone else to approach it. The next morning we went horse riding (which even though it is non vegan is pretty fun just the same.) We tried to master it like the Mongolians but we just ended up with a bruised ass. Dan’s horse we named Obama because of its colour and its willingness to lead, while mine we called Fabio, who at first we named Lady Gaga but then because we thought it was a boy the name had to be changed (but I guess there is some debate about her gender as well.)

But my favourite thing about Inner Mongolia was the friendliness of the people. One morning, on the day before our grassland tour, Dan and I walked around the city to get a feel for the place. We went to a park and in one park we saw senior citizens doing taichi, singing in a choir and playing music, playing with strange yo-yo like toys and some even dancing around. It was amazing how kind people were too. When we walked up to the yo-yo guys they showed us how to use them and the toys make a strange whizzing sound when you whip them around. When we joined the dancers on the other side of the park, they started to dance with us enthusiastically and show us some Mongolian dance moves. In Wuhan, if a foreigner started to dance, people would get shy and you would quickly become the spectacle. But in Mongolia the people danced with us and everyone was laughing with us and not at us. It was a great feeling.

But perhaps most surprisingly in that same park we asked a woman to take a photo of us and she invited us back to her house with her to meet her daughter and have lunch. When we got to her house, we discovered that her neighbour’s son was getting married and she invited us to go watch the procession. We went outside and saw the groom carrying the bride in a wheelbarrow. Everyone was laughing uproariously because he was wearing ladies underwear outside his suit, they were nice too, red and silky. We thought it was going to end there but then somehow we were ushered inside the house where we got to see more of the behind the scenes action. I watched the couple share a bowl of noodles and the photographer nearly took as many photos of me as he did the bride, while Dan kept getting candy shoved at him from the family members.

When we went back to our hosts’ house, the lady of the house, who I just called Ayi or auntie, had lunch ready. She was startled to find we didn’t eat meat but did her best. She even offered us baijiu, which I refused (I hate the stuff.) But Dan and she then began what seemed like a drinking contest with her continually egging Dan on to drink more and her ending up bright eyed and red faced. It was pretty hilarious.

So that was Mongolia, surprises at every turn but each one fully enjoyable.

Beijing

November 27, 2010

Beijing (Sept 11-16th)

There’s a loud screaming baby at the table beside me in a busy café in Hankou. I’m waiting for my next class to start. The new semester is in full swing. I have started my second semester of Chinese classes with no noticeable improvement from last semester. I think part of the problem is improvements come so gradually and with such great effort that they slip by unnoticed with nothing in sight but the next hurdle. But I’m now pleasingly busy. I have Chinese class in the morning, English classes to teach in the evenings and weekends, and homework to fill the void.

I have also recently begun a new phase of self examining, which really was initiated when Dan and I went to Beijing. We took a flight from Wuhan on September 11th, without either of us noticing the date. We tried to find a couch surfing host, but ended up with no success. Couch surfing is just beginning in China. In Wuhan I have had three couch surfers stay at my place in one year (three German girls and a couple from France). The community here is also really small. So I looked forward to going to Beijing to attend a big couch surfing party. The occasion one guy was celebrating rather ironically his divorce with a big party. Some people thought it was crass, but for me it made total sense. After breaking up with my first boyfriend I expressed my grief in the same way, so for me I understood.

The party had a dress code, but neither Dan nor I remembered to follow it. I wore a great dress that I bought in the art district that day, and Dan wore a ridiculous bird mask that we “borrowed” from the hostel. (But since it was lost at the party, and we didn’t exactly ask for permission to use it, I guess we can’t really legitimately call it borrowing.) The party was great fun! Dan and I danced around ninja style, drank too much and met surfers from all over the city. And I got to remember what it was like for a second to talk to men I actually found attractive.

Living in Wuhan there is a real lack of viable boyfriend options. Many of the foreigners are very strange to begin with – I mean what kind of a person chooses to live in a city like Wuhan. You can’t blame the Chinese, many of them were born there, but the foreigners are suspicious. Then those that are tolerable aren’t interested because they came to China to get away from western women, so why would they want to talk to us here (or that’s at least how I feel). Mom suggests that I date a Chinese boy and I am not against the idea, but they seem to be lol. 😀 So with a lack of better options, I have used my time to focus on myself and what I want to do. I have read Eckhart Tolle and started to try and meditate. (One night Dan and I went with a group camping on the Great Wall. This is when I got to try out my meditation skills in a place that truly felt holy, and it was great! I could really feel Gaia up there 🙂 And I have even started writing a novel, hence why the blog has been on the back burner for a while. But all this to say, Beijing was a nice break from the solitude.

Though now that I have written this I think, in Beijing we met our share of characters as well. At the party I met a guy who I thought was great. We started discussing meditation and were really hitting it off. But then he took that conversation thread and went on a long and painfully awkward rant about tantric massage, yuck! Poor men, sometimes their pick-up attempts are just a little too obvious.

Dan and I also had the pleasure to meet Stefano. Stefano is a very meticulous Italian man that was staying in the same hostel as us. Dan and I would laugh that all conversations with Stefano revolved around two main bases. The first was his essential oils his favourite being eucalyptus, but he also liked to talk at us at great lengths about aloe and tiger balm. He would explain in a thick Italian accent “you take the oil and put it on the skin and it’s good.” Whenever there was a lull in conversation Dan or I would just have to say this sentence to get the other one laughing, oh Stefano. He also delighted in talking about his thumb. Usually this would revolve back to the essential oil conversations because he would detail how he is treating the injury. Stefano hurt his thumb while opening a beer bottle. The story goes that Dan and Stefano wanted to save money, so when they went out, they brought beer with them and hid them just outside the bar. Every time they wanted to get a drink they just went outside, rustled around the bushes and took out one of their beers. They didn’t have an opener; so after several beers, the careful task of lightly tapping the caps against the raised sidewalk to separate it from the glass became more and more difficult. Stefano grew impatient and slammed his fist against the cement smashing the bottle and slicing his thumb. This is how the hurt thumb became the next favourite topic of conversation. Stefano would detail to us his bandaging routine, whether or not he needed to rest his thumb more, and of course the essential oils how and when they should be applied to the thumb.

Dan also learned his numbers. We rented bicycles and biked around the tourist district of Wuhan, with Dan drilling the numbers into his head by yelling them as we biked along. (Yi, er, san, si, wu, liu, qi, ba, jiu, shi.) After that we bargained for presents for people and that gave Dan a chance to test his new found knowledge.

So that was Beijing, some things like the Forbidden City were BORING are really not cool but much of the city and the time we spent there was just great; the Great Wall (the name doesn’t let you down), meeting locals, and laughing a lot with Dan.