In early October, I traveled to the quiet village of Kulun Yinshawan, located in northeastern China. Although the name is deceiving, Inner Mongolia is actually in China. It’s the region which includes most of the length of China’s border with Mongolia. To be honest, if someone had told me Inner Mongolia was its own country, I would’ve believed it. The culture, the language, the geography, and the economy resemble nothing of its Eastern Chinese counterpart. Compared to urbanized, ultra-crowded Dalian, the native Inner Mongolians live primitively. Limited WiFi. Limited electricity. It’s evident that farming takes precedence over everything. Their livelihood depends on the land.
It’s nothing like the rest of Eastern China.
This trip to the Taminchagan Desert showed me that, once again, working abroad is all about learning from the destination and making new friends. The sand dunes, the camels, the exotic food, the tolerance of the uncertain are all worthwhile, but the people I met are what amplified my experience. Something I learned early on in my expat life is that the people you meet and hangout with define your experience. Without these people, I can say with certainty that my expat experience would not have been what it was.
This trip was organized by Mika, a wonderful, spunky native Chinese. She manages this outdoor adventure group based in Dalian. It’s called Local Ren. Only foreigners who work, study, or otherwise, are allowed to join these trips. Even though that meant that fifty people would be crammed on a bus for six hours, I didn’t fly across the world to stay in my comfort zone; but also, I brought a book to read on the ride–as a buffer–just in case.
Some of the highlights of my trip include seeing two-humped camels, dune bashing, exploring an Asian desert, trying Mongolian BBQ, dancing to the music of various cultures around the world, viewing spectacular stars at night, and sleeping in a ger–otherwise known as a yurt. The culture here, though not grassland, still felt rich. Desert backdrops never disappoint.
Two-humped camels are called bactrian. While standing beside them, I quickly realized how much smaller they are in comparison to their cousins in the Middle East. Not only do they have woollier coats and beards, but I could almost see over their backs.
Although our Chinese tour guide called it a “yurt,” the traditional Mongolian name is “ger.” Again, Inner Mongolia has its own language. A ger is built out of wooden lattice and are made to resist extreme cold, which is good, because on our first day, it got down to 34 degrees Fahrenheit!
When we were served dinner, there were no vegetables or spices–all meat and only salt to flavor. All types of meat, but especially chicken and lamb, were carefully added to wooden skewers and laid it across a rusty grill. I didn’t realize it until I bit into one, but the fat and gristle was kept on. Ohhhh, hmm. Not for me. But once I saw that no one else in our group seemed bothered to eat it, I just kept chewing. After all, I appreciated the opportunity to get a traditional meal.
To anyone working or studying abroad in China, I definitely recommend visiting Inner Mongolia.
For those who enjoy traveling, let me know what some of your favorite destinations are! Whether it’s deserts, cityscapes, or otherwise, let me know in the comment section below!