Posts Tagged With: inner mongolia

Fall Break: Last Day of the Trip–Dalai Lake

From the small town that we stayed at that night, we set off to see Dalai Lake. When we approached it, it was large enough that it looked like the sea…but it doesn’t compare to Lake Superior, of course! We were going to pay a fee to enter a “park zone,” but its entrance ticket was pretty expensive for just looking at the lake. So, our driver decided he would go off the beaten track and drive further down the lake to an abandoned pier. We bounced all around the car while Mr. Zhang avoided holes and revved up steep, rocky hills. We stopped at a natural overlook, that is situated on a hill. My classmates and I climbed down the hill and explored.

Mongolian Yurt Looking Out at the Lake

After walking around the Mongolian yurt, I ran over to join my classmates as they trekked across a long, rickety bridge that led to a decaying pier. It was exhilarating and terrifying to slowly maneuver over the bending planks of wood and holding onto the rusty side rail. I finally made it to the pier, which was in even worse shape. Four thick, steel rods held the entire square pavilion up, besides that, decaying planks of wood crisscrossed the floor. Though the condition of the pier was debatable, the view of the lake was worth it.

Decaying Bridge on Frozen Shore

  Sun Shines on Freezing Lake

We decided to head back because the wind was getting stronger by the minute. While walking back, I lost a wool mitten–our one casualty from the trip. We got to the shore, played on the ice of the lake shore, and then headed back to the car.

Frozen Shore of Dalai Lake

We spent the rest of the day driving along the Russian/Mongolian/China border to Manzhouli, our final destination of the trip. We stopped by one more Russian border gate before heading into town and eating Russian cuisine for lunch. We had fried cheese, cheesy eggplant, chicken wings, pork covered with fried potato, and other dishes that I cannot remember. I just remember devouring the cheese.

We strolled around Manzhouli for a couple hours waiting for the bus. It felt like I had entered Russia. All the signs were in Russian with small Chinese print to the side. The architecture also did not look Chinese. During our trip and even my entire stay in the North, I have witnessed a completely different China from the South. Here, different cultures influenced northern culture, and its effect are noticeable by its cuisine and architecture.

Waiting for the Train in Manzhouli

Trains of Coal

We took “hard seats” back to Harbin. We played Mafia on the train and conversed for hours until we attempted to fall asleep. Everyone has a hard time falling asleep on a stiff chair, especially me. I finally found a nice equilibrium with my sweater and small dividing table and finally drifted into sleep.

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Fall Break: Driving Across Northern Inner Mongolia


Today we road tripped for hours along bumpy, dirt roads through Inner Mongolian pastures. We stopped so the boys could pee into Russia. I went the other direction and listened to the whistling weeds and observed the dry dirt. I turned around and saw a massive difference between our small, insignificant car and the expansive Russian landscape. Dare added a nice touch to this photo.

During this drive, we played games and told riddles. Though we were in a car the entirety of the day, somehow we did not realize it. We were having a lot of fun just talking to one another.

We arrived in a small city and spent the night. We went to a tuan(r) (food on a stick) restaurant where I ate pig penis. It was pretty good.

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Fall Break: Russian Border Towns, Grassfields, and Enhe Village

Our “Bread” Car: Setting off on our Third Day of Travel

We woke up early and set off to the Russian border towns that line northern Inner Mongolia. The hours of travel often consisted of us sleeping on each other in the morning. Then in the afternoon we would have lively conversation filled with stories, games, and riddles. Our conversations were in half Chinese, half English. I always seemed to be laughing endlessly from our conversations. I am really glad I road-tripped with my classmates!

Before hitting the border towns, we stopped in a small town and ate the most delicious 馅饼 (meat-filled pancakes) and then dropped by a forest. The branches were frozen with thin slices of ice that looked like small, white butterflies. That with the contrast of the freezing river and bright sun was a beautiful site.

Frozen River and Ice Butterflies on the Branches

After hours of telling stories and watching the tall of snowy hills gradually transform into plains of yellow grass, we finally hit the Russian border. We stopped by the river that divides the two countries and looked onto Russia. I imagined the map of the world and Russia’s gigantic mark on it. I always imagined the East part of Russia as a desolate, snowy place. As I looked at Russia from Inner Mongolia, I realized both sides are about the same: small villages, snowy winters, and pretty landscapes. However, I never thought about the mixing of cultures at the borderlands. While we visited the border towns, the people didn’t look Chinese or Russian, rather in between the two.

Looking into Eastern Russia

We stopped in a village outside of Shiwei district and walked around the area. Dare, Xuezi, and I took a long walk along the river. It was soothing to be in a tranquil place. The sound of the rushing river, the frozen top crunching against the icy shore…the wind brushing against the last remaining leaves…cows mooing…birds singing. We got back into the van and started our drive to that day’s final destination, Enhe, another China border town. While driving there, I looked out the window and took a picture of the scenery:

Horses Grazing on the Yellow Grass, Russia in the Background

The land changed dramatically from our previous days. Now it became flat fields of grass and dirt with cows, sheep, and horses grazing them. I wonder what it looks like in the summer? I will definitely have to come back during the summer season. After a couple of hours, we made it to Enhe. We found a quirky married couple who owned a small inn. The husband was a talker and the wife was a kind women that said: “You pay whatever you can afford.” The husband did not entirely like what his wife said, but reluctantly agreed. We really appreciated the thought.

While the husband stoked the oven that would heat our rooms that night, we walked around the Russian town, talked with locals, and watched the sun set over the village.

Sunset over Enhe Village

After watching the sunset, we walked back to the inn and prepared for dinner. The wife set up a hot pot night for us. We all fit in the spacious living room/dining room and ate Chongqing-style spicy hot pot, as well as conversed with them. At the end of the dinner, I sat next to Sun Aiyi (Aiyi means “aunt,” a polite address to a women much older than you) and talked about her family and life in Enhe. Her grandma was from Russia, traveled to China, and then lived in Enhe. Sun Aiyi’s family has lived in the same place since then. Her daughters are all married and moved across the country with their husbands (Sichuan, Guangdong, and another city). That night, I drew a card for her and made everyone sign it. She loved it.

Dinner with New Family

After dinner, we prepared to go to sleep. While the guys were sleeping, Dare and I stood outside in the brisk air and stared at the stars again. The Milk Way was especially bright, as well as the thousands of stars around it. We chatted and stared at the night sky for a long time. For me, the Milky Way is special. I rarely see it…so when I do, I can’t take my eyes off it. It’s similar to my relationship with the ocean. I don’t want to leave it…

That night I could not sleep. Dare and I were sharing a bed in the room with the oven, so it was a bit hot. I got up, wrote in my journal, and then walked to the outhouse in the back of the yard. At 4am, the stars were even more exceptional. I had never looked at the stars that late. The Little Dipper had moved to the middle of the sky, circling around the north star. Orion was halfway through his cart-wheel and Cassiopeia’s crown was balancing on its side. I wish I had seen such beautiful night-scapes when I was younger…but I guess it has led me to appreciate them more now.

I finally fell asleep at 4:45am.

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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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Fall Break: Traveling Around Northern Inner Mongolia

After midterms finished on Friday afternoon, I packed up my things and that night met with five other classmates–Dare, James, Lucas, Ryan, and Xuezi–to go to the Harbin train station. We were taking the overnight train to Haila’er, a city in northwestern Inner Mongolia to begin our 5-day backpacking trip to the wintery tundra of Manchuria! We took a “hard sleeper” and shared a “room” of six beds together. We stayed up late talking with Chinese passengers and ourselves. The next morning, I groggily woke up and pushed the curtains aside to see plains of white snow and yellow grass. Was I in Kansas?

I was told by many, many people that late October was not a good time to visit Inner Mongolia. We should go to the south (Guangdong Province, Fujian Province, Hainan Island), they said. But, I decided to go to Inner Mongolia because 1) it was the cheaper option, 2) a group of my classmates were going, and 3) I’ve always wanted to go. So, seeing the listless plains of snow and finally getting off the train to feel the icy-cold wind…I was a bit worried that I had chosen the wrong vacation spot.

Map of Inner Mongolia–Our Travel Destination: Hulun Buir 

We haggled with drivers outside of the train station until we found a 65 year-old Chinese man with a small “bread” car who said he would drive us wherever we wanted to go–¥100 ($16 a day)–for the duration of our trip. He was the only person that didn’t swindle us (a group of foreigners) out of our money. He was a good man. We crammed into the tiny van with our bags and set off to explore the area around Haila’er. We first visited a field of tanks (real and fake), where Japanese soldiers left remnants of World War II (Wikipedia says):

“Haila’er was occupied and fortified by the Japanese during their expansion into Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, and China proper during the 1930s until the end of the Second World War in August 1945, and perhaps the oldest building in Hailar that stands today was left by the occupying forces. When the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, Hailar was the scene of a bitter struggle in the wider campaign to push Japanese forces out of Manchuria and northeast China and Korea.” This prompted the Soviet Invasion of Manchuria in 1945.

Left Over Japanese Tanks from WWII

We then drove to a Tibetan Buddhist Temple, but did not enter because of the expensive door price (¥40). It was so cold, like middle of January in Minnesota cold. The icy wind cut through winter clothes and made your hands numb and nose run–that cold. At least it didn’t make my boogers freeze! That’s when you know you shouldn’t be outside. I was still uncertain about my vacation choice.

Tibetan Buddhist Monastery and Haila’er in the Distance

We made one more stop around Haila’er at a Mongolian Yurt tourist area. There were yurts (but no people were living in them since it was too cold), Tibetan Buddhist flags and red sashes waving in the winter cold. The people in the camp consisted of only us, five foreigners, and one Mongolian Chinese walking about. We then got back into the car and drove. For most of the trip, I had no idea where we were going, which was actually pretty nice. I would sit in the car and talk with my classmates.

For our last stop of the day, Zhang Qicai (our driver)–we called him Master Zhang (Zhang Shifu) out of politeness–dropped us off at a wetland. We scaled the hill by climbing well-crafted stairs and watched the sun set over the green, red, yellow marsh land. A thin river curved through the brush and long grass, making the scenery exceptionally beautiful. When seeing this marsh, I realized that this was where I wanted to be for vacation…and it was only the first day!

Ryan, Dare, and I with the Wetland Behind Us

Sunset over the Marsh

After sunset (around 5:30pm), we drove down to the neighboring small city and spent the night in a small family inn. We ate dumplings and sang Karaoke. Before heading to bed, I looked up at the stars, and saw many more than there were in Harbin. If the stars are like this in this small city, what will they be like when we live in villages? I couldn’t wait.

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