Fall Break: 百花森林 (Birch Forest) and Homestay in a Village

We woke up early the next morning, bought a bag of buns, and set off for our second day of traveling. I slept in the car for the majority of the morning, but we suddenly stopped. I opened my eyes and found myself (in a small van with 7 people and) in a forest of white bark–it was either a birch or poplar forest. The ground was covered with a thick 4-inch layer of snow. We got out and threw snowballs at each other. We then hiked up the steep hill to the top to see a splendid view of Inner Mongolian scenery.

Snowy Grasslands

My Fellow Travelers (James, Ryan, Dare, and Xuezi–missing Lucas) at the Peak

My travelers included:

Dare: A sophomore from a college in Kentucky. Her and I are roommates in the same suite. So we were already really close before the trip. She is really sweet and has become one of my closest friends in this program. We can talk for hours about anything.

James: A Fulbrighter who will be joining me to Kunming after this program ends. In short, he is hilarious. His mind always seems to be thinking about many things at once. He jokes around and makes funny faces. His experiences in China are really interesting: studying monkeys in Guizhou province and living in Kunming for a year. His life sounds like an adventure!

Xuezi: Is James’ Chinese roommate. He loves to eat new foods and also likes to joke around. He’s really flexible and helped us travel around Inner Mongolia.

Ryan: At first, he seemed quiet, but when I got to know him…he became one of the funniest people I know. He is really good at impressions (especially Minnesotan). He goes to Carleton College in MN. He loves to hike and look at rocks (Geology major).

Lucas: Lucas was the only person I did not know before traveling to Inner Mongolia. He always seemed to make our conversations go down a dirty route. Every group needs their 黄 (dirty) person. He’s a Californian from the Oakland Area. So he’s pretty laid back and enjoys a cold beer after a long day of traveling.

Zhang Qicai (our driver): A 65 year old man who grew up during the Mao Zedong era. During the Cultural Revolution, he joined the army and helped build the border wall between Russia and China. A picture of Mao dangles from the rear-view mirror. He is a kind, quiet man that turned into our father figure. He enjoyed driving a group of rambunctious  foreign youth across Inner Mongolia

We hiked back down and continued on our way to a local village. We stopped by a frozen river before driving into our final destination of the day–a small village off the Russian/Chinese border.

Village Side Street from the Family Inn we Stayed in

We took a night stroll around the small town and then got dinner at a country-style hot pot place. The table had a gigantic bowl of stew where the owners through in cut-up chicken, two fish, locally grown mushrooms, cabbage, and other ingredients. It stewed for about 10-15 minutes and then we devoured it. It was delicious.

Eating the Stew (Ryan and Lucas in the background)

We walked back to the family inn and then observed the stars. There were countless amount of stars and the Milky Way was shimmering in the middle of the sky. Dare and I looked up at the sky for a long, long time until we were coerced to go back inside so that boss could close up shop. It was a good day.

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