Inner Mongolia, China
To the people with steppe and Chinggis Khan fervor: don’t even think about Inner Mongolia.
The Mongolia you are looking for lies outside of China. Big, wide landscape with miles and miles of nothing except white felt gers dotting the land, and herds of cows, goats, sheep, yaks, and horses grazing on the grass.
We kind’a guessed it but China’s Inner Mongolia capital Hohhot still surprised us. It was a big, modern city with 2.5 million people(this city alone, compared to the 3 million people of the whole Mongolia.) It was very hard to say how many of these city dwellers were ethnic Mongolian.
One couple with a young kid we met in the train K692 told us,
“We live in Hohhot and we are Han Chinese. However, on the paperwork we are Mongolian.”
“How?” we were intrigued.
“Because the officials needed to boost the number of ethnic Mongolian and we were politically correct to become Mongolian, so we did.”,
“Besides, being registered as ethnic Mongolians, you pay less tax and your kid gets to pass the college exam with free marks given.”
In Hohhot, the roads were wide, buildings tall, European and Japanese luxury cars everywhere and people busy shopping in the malls and eating in the restaurants. We spent a day touring the lama monastery Da Zhao and another day browsing through the Inner Mongolia Museum.
Both of them were massive.
Sadly the lamas chanting inside the monastery were having too strong a tourist tone tailoring to either tourists or people willing to pay for the prayer. The Mongolian adopted Tibetan Buddhism in the 14th century. The unique culture, however, was wiped out by the Han Chinese immigration and their money culture, at least in Inner Mongolia that is. My take was that it wouldn’t take long for Tibet to be like this.
The museum was bigger and better built than any of the museums we toured in China except maybe a handful such as National Museum in Beijing. It was obviously a way for the local autonomous government to extract money from Beijing, or for Beijing to claim that the central government had done something for Mongolian culture/people in China.
That said we watched a video from Tourism Inner Mongolia and it was done pretty well. The museum also displayed the Chinese missile and space center in Inner Mongolia. Lots of “how great and proud we Chinese are” mentality there.
It was amusing.
Both the monastery and the museum bored Julia out. She looked forward to going back to our temporary home in Hohhot to play with Sylvia.
Sylvia, 71, born in Spain, grew up in France and lived most of her adult life in Australia until she decided to walk the Chinese Gobi desert in two long stretches for a total of 3,500 kilometers when she was 67.
You would think this type of person being so hardened and tough but she was the opposite. Warm, funny and a grammy type of person, she soon became Anita and Julia’s best new friend. They played together endlessly making paper crowns and flight chess.
One morning Sylvia cooked us pancake and both kids helped(played) with her. It was delicious albeit the Chinese flour was really for dumplings and buuz. We had great conversations over the breakfast.
Sylvia also gave us her contacts in Mongolia and tips for traveling in Ulaanbaatar and Mongolia in general. Because of the visa situation in China, she visits Ulaanbaatar quite often, both in summer and winter. We saw a photo that she rode on a horse in the dead of the winter and asked her how cold it was. It was forty under, the temperature that your eyelashes would freeze. She is unbelievably tough to enjoy the winter there.