Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Inner Mongolia

Last Thursday was our Back to School night here at ISB. I was a little nervous as I hadn’t met any of my students’ parents yet. Parents followed their students’ schedules and had 10 minutes with each teacher so that the teacher can introduce him/herself and tell some about the class. I had so many staff members in my presentations – that made me a little nervous. But overall the night went well, no questions I couldn’t answer – nice parents! Well, for now!!!

On Friday I packed and went with a group of 15 to Inner Mongolia. We went to the west side of Beijing to catch an overnight train. This was an experience in itself. First - if you can’t imagine using a squatter – a squatter on a train is even more difficult. There were no seats – just rows and rows of beds. All was spoken in Chinese so we were surprised when at 11 pm the lights went out and we were scrambling in the night to find our places. I didn’t find the blankets until the next morning and realized I had been sleeping under the mattress pad!

At 5 am we were in Mongolia and took a two hour bus ride to our yurts. A yurt is a Mongolian tent made of leather which has a bed made of wood. I have plenty of pictures. All of the people live this way with one bathroom for an entire village! Most have no running water except at public fountains which are used for cooking, bathing and washing. We were in the grasslands and that was pretty much all you could see in every direction except for the main meeting house where people go for meals. So at 7 am we sat down to a breakfast of pickled turnips, spicy cabbage, greens, something like cornbread, hardened condensed milk cubes and mare’s milk. Mmmm….

Afterwards we got on our bikes and went for what I originally thought was going to be a one hour ride. Three hours later we made it to another village of yurts. Three hours on a bike in the rolling hills. I was exhausted. It was neat to see the villages and we were near the mountains so it was pretty and the air was clean – but I don’t think any of us were really in shape for that! There were a few men skinning lamb which we later found was lunch. We had a great meal and then they came into the yurt, pushed the tables back and we slept for an hour. Our entire group was split between two yurts. After that a hike in the mountains and then a short cut home – only 1.5 hours on the bike. I couldn’t even hardly sit on the seat at this point because my toosh was already so sore! But I made it back. We all sat out in the fields for a long while snacking and someone had found beers. Then the horse races began so we made our way out to the grasslands to watch the races. This was followed by wrestling and some brave teachers even took a try. After dinner there was a Chinese techno – you can imagine. But the people were funny. Walking up to me saying – you American – teach me dance! The sky was gorgeous – definitely the most stars I’ve seen in ages.

Early to bed and the next morning after breakfast we went horse back riding. Pretty cool to ride a horse in the grasslands of Mongolia! We found a small store (apples and beers in the back of a pickup truck) so we stopped for a snack before we made it back to the village. Lunch, short nap and back on the bus. We went to Ho Hut – a major city – had foot massages along with another feast of lamb and unknown wegetables as they call them. To the airport and we flew back and arrived in Beijing by about 11:30 Sunday night.

The week passed quickly and before I knew it the weekend had come again. I went at 7:30 am this Saturday morning to the dirt market and the trip to town once again was an experience. There were so many bikes on the road that there is only enough space in the middle for all of the cars to play chicken. I love the dirt market – so many things to see and buy and I enjoy bargaining as well. The sellers all have a great sense of humor – they laugh at you if you start too low and feign anger sometimes. Later that night I went back into the city for Mediterranean food – not my favorite – and then to a teachers place to play games. On Sunday I went to church and was happy to see that my second time there I already have a nametag. Afterwards I went into the city with Bebe for Thai food and more shopping at the silk market where you can bargain for name brand clothes, purses, belts, shoes, etc. They are all yelling at you – hey lady come buy shirt – come try pants – I have size for big lady!

School is great – I have finally relaxed and some of that new job anxiety is gone. I’m enjoying getting to know my kids as they share their feelings of homesickness and missing family and friends. I can relate! I’m missing all of you – keep in touch!


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