Inner Mongolia

This past weekend, I went to Inner Mongolia with my friend David Gaucher and another friend, Antoine. Inner Mongolia is on the other side of the great wall and is the homeland of Gengis Khan, Mongolian Horses, Grasslands, and Yurts. We only had the weekend to travel since I had work on monday and both David and Antoine had school. We took an overnight train to a small (250 000 people) town north of Beijing, we opted to avoid any tourist agency and do the trip on our own to have a better experience and save some money. A quick note on the train: We originally bought hard seat tickets because that was all that is left. This means you are in a compartment on hard seats, with a lot of sweaty chinese people staring at you and you have about as much free space as a chicken in a tiger pen. With some swift negotiating and some intense running we managed to upgrade to hard sleepers, and by upgrade I mean that there is absolutly no comparison as hard sleepers are quite nice and you actually have room to breath.

Chinese tourists are truly mind boggling. They enjoy traveling in large groups and staying at inauthentic locations, never really venturing beyond the immediate surroundings of their base. We on the other hand, wanted to head out into the vast grasslands of Huitengxile on galloping mongolian horses, sleep in a small town, meet the locals and have an adventure.

After hiring a taxi for the 80 km ride from the town we arrived in to the departure point of the grasslands, which was a somewhat touristy area, but due to the proximity to beijing (800 km) we had little other choice. We negotiated with some locals to have an inclusive package of food, horses, guides, and lodging for 1500 RMB = 225 CND$ for the three of us for the weekend. We had to do this all in Chinese, which gave them the opportunity later on to say they did not understand us, which we know to be not true.

We ate a quick and rather poor brunch (the smoked salmon was of rather poor quality, and the croissants were under cooked) and we grabbed some horses and headed out. We felt very touristy for the first few hours, but eventually the guides took us beyond the touristy area and into the hills where there was absolutely no one in sight. The scenery was beautiful and the weather was perfect, on the cool side with a nice breeze. Although we had negotiated to stay in a hotel far away in the grasslands the guides took us back to our point of departure. We then had to argue with the manager to explain to him that we did not want to sleep there because of the garbage on the ground, the roaming pigs and the proximity to a windmill farm. He eventually ceded and escorted us my motorcycle to another location where we slept in a concrete block. And by concrete block, i mean, a conrete block with lots of insects, wooden beds and no heating. It gets pretty cold at night in Inner Mongolia.

After a lovely rest we ventured back out into the grasslands for another day of horse back riding. We were all a bit tired and rather sore, but we mustered our strength and mounted the horses. The guides took through a wind farm and out onto flatter, and less interesting grassland. When the guides decided to have lunch, they left us with the horses and told us to go do whatever we felt like. We had already dismounted from the horses and when the guides were gone we tried to get back on. However, my horse was not too keen on having a big white man get back on him, since mongolian horses are rather small and as I was to find out, somewhat tempermental. I made the mistake of touching his butt, whereupon he promptly swung around and kicked me in the knee. It hurt, but having the cat-like reflexes that I do, I avoided the brunt of the strike (though today, I do have a nice horseshoe bruise on my knee). After a little rest, I tried a few more times to get on him, but he was not having any of it. We walked around the grasslands until the guides got back and noticed that one of the horses was wandering towards home, we chased after him and regrouped. We then ventured farther out into the rolling hills and just spent some time under the sun. Being the clever, cautious person that I am, I was not wearing any sunscreen and by this time, despite the misleading wind, clouds and cool weather it was clear I was going to be nicely sunburned.

We eventually made out way back to the camp on our own. We had a mediocre dinner, but at least had some fresh lamb meat. Lamb constitutes about 90-95% of the mongolian diet, the other 5% is usually made up of wheat and potatoes. We actually had the privilege of watching the lamb get killed that morning during breakfeast. After dinner it was time to settle the price. Throughout the weekend, they were constantly trying to extricate more money out of us and to say the least, it was really grating on our nerves. They tried to charge us ridiculous prices for beer and extra food that was slightly more edible that what they originally gave us. After the boss guy (who did absolutely no work) started adding things to the original 1500 that should have been included, we told them that we had no intention of paying him what they were asking, let alone the 1500. We had already handsomely tipped our guides and given them nice LED headlamps, so we felt little need to pay this godfather of the village. We finally gave them a total of 1300, on which, I can assure you, they made a sizable profit. They did not want to let us leave and we had to tell the boss (who was the one that we, nor the guides, could not stand) that he was a capitalist pig and that he had better leave the three big white guys alone. After walking away, the car came out to get us and they surrounded the car and tried to prevent us from leaving. We were rather close to breaking out Wilbert Smith and Jack Johnson and treating them to the two gun show, but our driver eventually calmed him down and got us out of there without any injured or dead chinese people.

Besides the arguing with the boss, we had an amazing time and saw some beautiful landscape. It was a very nice change from the polluted centre of Beijing. We met many locals and everyone was very nice, save the head boss.

As this article is not long enough, a few more notes on Chinese people shall be provided. A few chinese people who are overly ambitious and concerned solely with money can be extremely greedy, deceitful and kniving. It is not that I am not prepared to overpay for things because I am white, I am. It’s when they are constantly trying to rip you off at every single chance they get despite the fact that we tell them we know the real price. They tried to charge us 10RMB for a can of beer which should cost 1RMB. Another thing of note is that chinese people seem to have no concern for sanitation or pollution.

The grasslands, which are a beautiful place are being polluted simply because they do not want to set up garbage cans around their campsites. They just throw bottles and wrappers on the ground and you can see plastic garbage for 300 m around any campsite. They fail to see that that they are killing the very thing that makes it worthwile to go there. I suppose they will learn, just like the west did, but if they cannot learn from our mistakes or if they make all the same ones we did, then we are all in a world of shit. From the outside (the west) China is viewed as the next superpower, that will soon overtake the United States. While many sectors of the country are developing extremely quickly, the underlying infrastructure and social patterns are so far behind, I fear the country may have to take a few steps back to move forwards in the long term. They do not put any emphasis on doing things that are not necessary for the immediate survival of the people. I will deveop more
on these ideas later as they deserve a great deal of attention, but for now I leave you in peace.

Published on July 18, 2005