Monday, April 2, 2012

Can I Have a Word?

Yesterday we took the two hour drive along the mountains from Hohhot to Baotou to visit Samuel's orphanage. The ride was long but picturesque, with beautiful views of the Blue Mountain range, some unusual trees, and fancy Chinese and Mongolian architecture along the way. The orphanage was well kept and we met many caring women who have dedicated their lives to the care of these children. Samuel wouldn't leave Susan to go to any of them, except one, obviously his previous primary caretaker. She was a delightful lady with a continuous smile on her face. He was clearly pleased to see her but eventually wanted his mama back. We got to see a good bit of the orphanage, including his bedroom and the canteen where he took his meals. He was glad to see several of his buddies and they shared some candy and exchanged stories (okay, they only shared candy). It was well worth the drive to be able to see his home town and the place where he has been living for the past year and a half. Baotou must be famous for sports because we past three large stadia on the way into town. Looks like a lot of non-American football is played there. Side by side with the scenic beauty of the mountains are the coal burning power plants along the roadside, billowing smoke into the air and causing us to laugh at the fact that our hotel had, just the night before, shut off the hotel lights for one hour (earth hour) as a show of concern for the environment. We drove home at dusk and saw a pretty nice sunset. We then had a nice dinner at the restaurant across from our hotel. We had Chinese food.

Today we went to a tourist spot on the other side of the mountains called the Xilamuren Grassland. Xilamuren means "yellow water" in Mongolian. So don't drink the water! We experienced a harrowing ride through the mountains, rejoicing that our lives were spared upon arriving on the other side. The grasslands are basically the prairie and it looks pretty much like any large pastureland in the U.S. but I suppose it must be unusual enough in China to be considered a tourist attraction. It is much colder and windier on the other side of the mountains and we didn't stay outside very long. The hillsides are studded with flocks and herdsmen. Mongolians eat mostly meat as the soil is only fertile enough to grow grass, oats, and potatoes. We saw countless potato trucks parked on the roadside awaiting larger trucks for shipment to the cities. There are also many Buddhist shrines atop the hills, places of prayer for the locals; we call them "high places" (let the reader understand). We were invited to spend some time with a real horseman and his family, to see how the locals really live. They offered us homemade butter, cookies, and Mongolian milk tea in their home, a ranch house surrounded by yurts and animals, with the requisite motorcycle for travel and the ubiquitous satellite dish. We really couldn't believe the didn't have cable!

This is the time of the Qingming Festival, when Chinese folk everywhere sweep the graves of their ancestors, bringing them flowers, food, and wine. They also burn paper made to look like money, to show they are rich. We passed many flower vendors near a large graveyard, with cars lined up down the highway waiting to enter the tombs. We were told they fly kites at night during the festival but our guide says that people in Hohhot mostly use the four day holiday as a time to stay home or visit friends or go shopping. one thing is certain, for the next few days no one will be processing the paperwork for Samuel's passport. So we hang here and wait for the graves to be swept and the money to be burned, while we search the city for fresh potatoes, because we know they are here...

Happy 21st Birthday, Lynsey! Somehow we managed to go on a trip for 20 days and miss three (almost four) family birthdays.

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