First day in Inner Mongolia
Trip Start Jul 28, 2009
51Trip End Jul 27, 2010
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Our group from down South were the first to arrive in Hohhot, so i was free to explore the area around the train station for 30 minutes or so before the vast majority of people who got the Beijing train arrived. After being trapped in the same cabin for 40 hours you can imagine I was eager to get on my feet and explore the area a little bit. Fulfilling my new found love for street food, I bought a baked sweet potato from a man who cooked them in an old oil drum, while the others were looking for a Mcdonalds. Using the only Chinese I knew, I haggled him down a whole 10p!!
“Zhe ge, duo shao qian?” (这个，多少钱？） How much is this?
The crusty old man replied “San quai” (三块） (which is 3 RMB, 30p)
“Tai gui la” I shouted!! (its too expensive) just because I wanted to see if I could get it even cheaper.
“Yi ge quai” i said and he agreed. I managed to get him down from 3元 to 2元.
I walked away with a distinct feeling of happiness that i had driven the price down of a potato, a proud achievement.
After my potato bargaining experience, the Beijing train had arrived with the majority of the other people from the teach and travel program and were congregating outside the train station. A spectacular sight for many local Chinese, who had probably not seen so many foreigners in a single area! I was particularly happy to see my good friends Elphary and James who were people that i got to know best in Beijing. I was disappointed that my other friends Johan and Phil (from Manchester, sounds like Devo), as they were all the way down south in Hong Kong for golden week.
Our first stop was breakfast at a charming restaurant. Actually, I tell a fib when i say charming, because the restaurant reminded me more of a building site, as the first 2 floors were being renovated. My greatest concern was dust travelling from the bottom to the top floor where we were eating, giving it a nice crunchy texture. Of course, like all Teach and Travel China arranged meals there was absolutely nothing for vegetarians to eat, but at least i didn't have to worry about dust in my food. I managed to eat 1 bread roll (was starting to get sick of bread at this point!) and was thankful that i had got that sweet potato from earlier.
One quite funny experience in the restaurant was the toilet. Sounds strange to say, and don’t worry it’s nothing overly grotesque. I’ll skip on the details! I’m not quite used to using squatters yet, so doing your business is quite a challenge (used to hate using french service station toilets!). I tried flushing, but unfortunately It wasn’t going. Listening outside I couldn’t hear anyone, so I thought I was safe to leave without anyone judging me.. or so I thought! I opened the door, and there was standing an employee ready to clean the toilet that I had just used!! She greeted me with such an enormous smile, I still can’t forget it to this day. I rushed as quick as I could out of the toilet. I bet when she saw what I had left her, she wasn’t smiling quite so much! Ahh, the guilt of it all! Hilarious, now that I think about it.
After breakfast we went straight to the Mongolian grasslands to visit a mongolian minority village. In a way i wanted to go back to the hotel at that point because i hadn’t had a wash for the last 2 days, but at least we were making good use of our time we had in Mongolia as we were going to spend 80 hours on the train (in total) and only 100 hours in Mongolia. We arrived at the grasslands a few hours later, via coach. The grasslands weren't terribly exciting. As we drove along a dusty unpaved road, the place began to look vaguely familiar. After being puzzled for a few minutes it suddenly dawned on me that the grasslands looked a hell of a lot like Dartmoor. Brown grass, featureless backdrop, sparsely populated and a camel.. in fact maybe a little more boring than Dartmoor. At least in Dartmoor you get yokels with their sheep!
For some reason the first thing we did when we arrived at the grasslands was eat, again. I felt terribly western at this point consuming everything where ever we went. This time a vegetarian table was organised, but meat dishes were still put on the table, things cant be perfect, but at least we had some greasy vegetables to choose from. After a few dishes came out, i watched a (whole) boiled sheep being pulled apart by someone whilst listening to electronic/native music. It was all very strange.
After the meal i discovered how expensive the trip was going to be. TTC had carelessly forgot to mention that the ¥1500 that i had paid for the trip only covered the travel, accommodation and the meals. None of the activities, which was the impression that i was under and half the reason why i had decided to go to Mongolia. I wasn’t in a good mood when i was the told that if i wanted to go on the horse ride i would have to pay ¥200. Although this is only about £20 when converted to English money, which is rather reasonable, in China this is a total outrage. I could happily live for weeks off ¥200. Infact, the hotel in Guangzhou cost less, and we had booked on the day of the busiest day of the year, i decided it just wasn’t worth it. Besides, i could probably buy a horse for ¥200..
As a silent protest i decided to explore the grasslands with some others that had been outraged by the sheer cost. We didn’t get too far when we were intercepted by a local on a motorbike. We couldn’t work out what she was saying, and after coming to the conclusion that she either wanted us to go on horses or get off her land we decided to head back to the village.
When the others got back from the horse ride i was glad that i had not gone. Judging on the way that people were walking back from the horses, it looked remarkably like someone had put something up their bottoms without the consent. I was silently happy that i hadn’t splashed out on uncontrollable, saddleless horses whilst suffering a groin injury!
We then witnessed a local horse race which was quite exciting, although short lived. Soon after we watched a local wrestling tournament. The crowd were laughing hard at the fact that there was horse shit all over the ground. The crowd of us were shouting “IN THE SHIT” when someone was about to be wrestled to the ground. I rather enjoyed the wrestling though, as it was quite authentic. The locals all demonstrated at first, then TTC and other spectators were allowed to join in. Elphary, a 23 year old box from London stepped up to the challenge. The local who had won the tournament and was looking proud of himself insisted on fighting El. After a long fight El won, not bad considering that he had never played the sport before.
It was 6 o'clock and we had to go back to the hotel. At the hotel i was glad to get in the shower as it must have been approaching 50 hours since i washed, It was much needed.
After getting ready for a meal, i was gutted to find out that the place that we were going to was the same restaurant as the place we had first gone to (the one that was being renovated). Turned out that the buffet that they provided us was actually Ok, plus the free beer over ruled the downside that the only vegetarian food was from the cold section.
Was tempted to go out, but had too many free bers and decided that an early(ish) night was the best thing for me, tomorrow was going to be an exciting day in the Gobi desert.