Monday, July 5, 2010

Day 4: Sleeper Train to Huhhot, Inner Mongolia Museum

(Retroposted from blog written but not posten in Huhhot)

Pictures and video of today are at:

I awoke this morning on a “hard sleeper” train to Huhhot. The train ride is 13 hours long from Beijing to Huhhot; there are 4 classes, consisting of first class sleeper, second class sleeper, soft seat, and hard seat, in order of price. The hard sleepers have a firm mattress with a thin layer of padding on top, as well as soft blankets and barley pillows. There are about 8 compartments to each train car, with each compartment consisting of 6 bunks; 3 up each side, with a small table in the middle. I took the top bunk, and went to sleep soon after getting in. It was quite comfortable, surprisingly, as the train did not jostle around as I had expected.

I awoke at 7 but went back to sleep until about 9:30; Tom and Josh were already awake. We sat beside the window and took pictures; Tom and I observed that we were the only foreigners on the train. At about noon, the train pulled into the station in Huhhot, Mongolia, and Josh found us a hotel.

We took a cab over to the hotel; on the way over, there were many vendors selling fruit. Some of these vendors also had donkeys tied to the cart to help with hauling. We dropped our luggage off at the hotel and promptly took a cab over to the Inner Mongolia Museum.

The Museum was a massive structure, consisting of a first floor of science exhibits, and a second floor of history. When we went in, some Chinese children greeted us in English and followed us around. Later I would realize that these children, about 9-10 years old, were actually pint-sized museum tour guides. They also had very beautiful woman in traditional Mongolian dress guiding people around.

We hit up the exhibits on the first floor, which consisted of dinosaur fossils, native animals (all stuffed), a space exploration exhibit, and a room with the different gems and minerals of Inner Mongolia. Josh told us that the museum was a gift from the Chinese government, and he followed around the older tour guides, listening to the explanations. When we hit the animal room, I realized that a little girl who I had assumed was a child of someone in one of the groups was actually explaining everything and guiding people around. Everyone seemed very enamored by it, and asked continually to take pictures with her. I got some video of it, and pointed it out to Tom.

We then went upstairs, where they had relics of the warriors of Mongolia, as well as replicas of awesome things like catapults and trebuchets. It was pretty win, and they had some very cool weapons- even old morningstars! They also had a room on farming artifacts that wasn’t as interesting, and a room on the Communist History of the company. I couldn’t read most of what was in that room, but again, there were some neat guns, so I took a few pictures of those and some pictures of pictures of Communist people. Even though we were already surrounded by Communists, but that’s beyond the point.

It’s also worth noting that I saw the only American I would see in Mongolian here, and he didn’t say a word to me, but nor did I. I don’t really feel an urgency to talk to the other foreigners I see, although I did wonder at the fact that he appeared to be alone. But my desire to speak English to someone is sated by conversations with Tom and Josh, in addition to the bits and pieces the locals speak.

We left the museum and looked for a fishing pole for Tom, but struck out. Then Josh decided to get his hair cut. There was a trendy shop in Huhhot that he wanted to go to, so we went there. I was not going to get my hair cut, but the price was very good-less than $3- so I asked Josh to have them trim off the dead ends. Mercifully, they did not only that, but also thinned out my hair, making it easier to bear in this climate. I was very happy with my haircut, and Josh’s looked great as well!

I went outside, and a girl invited me to sit down on a magazine on the curb with her. As we sat, she admired my tattoo, touching it and pointing it out to other young adults who worked at the shop. They came, and also wanted to touch it- and finally, one boy took off his shirt to show me his own! He introduced himself in English as Batu, and said it was nice to meet me- I said the same and told him my name. I think the girls were teasing him about it, but he was very sweet. I joked about how the only Chinese I know is “Ni hao” (hello), “Shia Shia” (thank you), and Coca-Cola and Pepsi. They were very nice, and when I left, Batu asked me to come back soon. It just reinforced how much friendlier the Mongolians seem to be than those we’ve encountered in Beijing.

We walked back from the hair salon to the hotel, and settled it. I can’t get my VPN working, so this will probably be posted a day or two after writing. It’s been an exciting day, I can’t wait to go to the Mausoleum of Ghengis Khan tomorrow!

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