Days 1 & 2
It had been almost two months since our wedding and we had returned from our family time in America to our home in China. We had spent the last month eating all of the best of bad food that the States have to offer and spending some much needed one-on-one time with our families. I was so happy to see everyone, and I was also happy to be home. And to finally be going on our honeymoon.
We have spend many hours lazing away by the beaches in Hawaii, India and South East Asia. It was time for something different, completely. So, in true B & L style we opted for the adventure packed, grassland dancing, yurt sleeping, camel riding glory that is Inner Mongolia.
We traveled around China somewhat for the first two years we lived here, but not enough. This place is astonishingly huge, with so much diversity in the landscapes of nature and people, we had to see more of it. I was glancing over the travel ads in That’s Shanghaiand saw something for the Nadaam Festival in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. One look at the itinerary, which included being able to watch the horse races, wrestling matches, and archery competitions and B was hooked. So, it was like most things in our relationship; not…well, normal.
We packed our backpacks and cameras and set out for Hohhot, the main city in Inner Mongolia where we were met by our fabulous guide, a young bubbly woman named Chelsea, and Chun Shifu, our stalwart driver.
In the city we saw an important military office from days long gone, the newly refurbished Temple, and the forgotten Five Pagoda Temple. We ate a truly tasty lunch of a delicate soup with mushrooms and flowers with homemade potato noodles and Bryan munched on mutton, the specialty of the area.
As we walked through the city and the vibrantly colored temples, I felt waves of excitement and spirituality. The people wore smiles on their faces as they listened to stories of a great man who unified the fighting groups with the peaceful practices of Buddhism while others nodded solemly while soaking in the stories from the turbulent reign of the last emperor and his tiger of a mother. There is a feeling you get when in these places that is unlike any other. It creeps into the base of your spine and prickles your neck, making hairs stand on end. The energy is electric.
Early the next morning we headed out into the grasslands, rolling hills and wild flowers waved as we sped past, and soon the automobile narcalepsy took over and I woke up near our home for the night. We were greeted by brightly and traditionally clothed young men and women who wore blue scarves draped over their arms as they offered us baijiu. We were instructed to dip our ring finger into the liquid, as Genghis Khan once had done to test for poison. Then, we flicked some to the heavens, some to the Earth, and swiped some on our foreheads. Then it was time to drink. I had spent a record two years avoiding baijiu in China, but I did not want to offend tradition, so down my hatch it went. It was not at all the fiery, unpleasant gag reflex inducing concotion I was expecting, it was actually a bit pleasant.
There was an afternoon of eating, wresting and mushroom picking in the abundant fields and then a horseback ride. I should have learned by now that I should not go near horses, let alone ride them, but I never learn. After a short ride around the area, my nose was a faucet and my lungs were wheezing. I nearly stepped on a toad while going into our yurt and fended off a healthy looking spider after that. As I swallowed one more Benedryl I asked myself what the heck I was thinking coming here like this, for my honeymoon no less!
I returned to the dining yurt and watched as the big group across from us and became more and more red and hysterical as the clear liquid escaped from the biuju bottled and into ther laughing bellies. The music began, I wasn’t asthmatic anymore, things were looking up.
About a half an hour later we were ushered to a stage area that was lit up with disco lights and surrounded by high wattage speakers echoing with the exuberance of traditional Mongolian music. The guests laughed and yelled and warmed themselves by the fire. We found some soldiers among us, having a much needed night off, and also learned that the rambunctious group was from one of the country’s leading oil companies. And there we were, two foreigners in the midst of it all. It was pretty amazing.
Things only got better as the music resumed. The baijiu was in full effect and Bryan and I were roped in to many a photo and dance. Soldiers gyrated to the beat and encouraged B to take his shirt off as one of the oil group guys incessantly tried to parade me around the concrete technicolored flashing dance floor, moving his arms this way and that in a zig zag fashion while I tried not to trip over him. At one point we were dancing around the fire in hora fashion. Hands clasped together, feet moving frantically sideways as the music’s beat sped up to meet that of our racing hearts, and in the center of it all was my funky dance partner standing in front of the fire, praying. I took a picture of that moment with my mind and hoped it would last forever.
After a bit more dancing, fireworks, and singing, we watched the last of the sky lanterns sparkling and full of wishes fade into the sky. We said goodbye to our new friends, and headed to the dimly lit yurt. After escorting a few unwanted creatures outside, we put some toilet paper in our ears to avoid them from trying to find new homes in our nice, warm heads, and kissed goodnight. Romantic? Not for most people, but for us it was absolutely perfect.