Hohhot, Inner Mongolia
It's really just Hohhot. But it sounded jolly to say "Ho Ho Ho! Hot." ha. So we are in the capital city of Inner Mongolia. My favorite random thing so far this trip is coming out of the train station in Hohhot and seeing a monkey petting a dog. How cute/random/hilarious is that?
So we have now twice experienced the mayhem of riding in hard seats on the train. Let me stress "mayhem." We didn't really know at first why everyone was literally running, nay sprinting, down the platform as soon as they were let through the ticket gate. It's difficult, it turns out, to find any space for one's luggage (or body), so you need to be first out of the gate! We lagged a bit behind the first time, so we ended up cramming my backpack underneath a seat. When it came time to leave, Erik yanked it out very forcefully (trying not to disturb the guy sleeping in the seat above it) and ripped open the fabric of the two pockets on top. Within seconds, one guy who'd been standing beside us the whole time whipped out a little sewing kit (nice gesture but utterly ineffective), and a woman who'd been sitting across from us just happened to have in her purse two large sticky patches especially for fabric. So random. They work great!
We had a conversation with a guy in the seat across from us and he was very excited that Erik used Delphi to program with (computer software). Over and over, "Delphi!" he exclaimed. We showed each other our laptop computers and exchanged emails and all kinds of stuff. The best, though, was shortly after we had first sat down next to an old, weathered peasant man, Erik and I bought beers from the roaming concession cart, which suddenly inspired the other guy to buy one. He couldn’t figure out how to open his, so Erik opened it for him, as we had learned about the bottle openers on the underside of the tables on our first train ride. That was the first ice-breaker. Then a little later, we had a package of cookies in our daypack and offered him one as we ate ours. After some protestation, he took it and ate it. A short while later, he got up and disappeared for awhile, came back with a small-sized chicken and tore off a leg, then pushed it toward Erik insisting he eat it. A tiny cookie for a leg of chicken. My guess is he would never have bought that chicken for himself, only to return the favor - a bit excessively. The computer guy translated a conversation between us the peasant man, and eventually I took a picture of him with Erik.
So then on our second train ride, when we didn't even have a reserved seat, we knew the routine for racing out of the gate. We very diligently got to the waiting room early, procured seats right next to the entry gate and hustled down the stairs onto the platform right away, got into a line with just a few people ahead of us, but by the time we actually made it onto the train in the midst of a somewhat crazed crowd of people, we were rather far behind in the queue. It's interesting seeing how people with unreserved-seat tickets find a way to sleep. One guy was sitting on top of a sink, one family was sleeping on newspapers on the floor with their legs crammed in beneath the seats (where my backpack had been last time). Erik almost got hit by a lady whose son he had to step over because he was in the aisle in the middle of the stampede to get onto the train. Lots of people sleep on newspapers; the area between the train cars is full of people trying to sleep. Erik and I managed a little sleep at the expense of our necks – we forced them into some pretty contortionist positions. The hard seats do not recline in any way, shape or form. They are, in fact, hard (wooden). Another man we met on the train on the way to Hohhot let us share his cab to our hotel, as ours was on the way to his house, and he wouldn't let us pay any of the fare.
In Hohhot we went to another Buddhist temple called Da Zhao. It has a crew of practicing monks, so the main temple building is actually in use. We waited and waited for all of the noisy tour groups to pass through and finally got a few moments of absolute peace inside. Even though we were the only people in there (except for the monk eating his lunch, slurping his noodles), we felt compelled to whisper. The altar was full of little gold oil candles flickering silently. 'Twas nice.
We also went to a little museum about Inner Mongolia (Hohhot is the capital of Inner Mongolia) and learned a bit about some of the minority groups that live here. There are a lot of cultures other than Han Chinese that inhabit these parts. I think most people are probably unaware of that. Went to another place called the Five Pagodas. Everything but the 5 pagodas (one structure with 5 peaks) is long gone, but now they are rebuilding a bunch of temple buildings around it.
Check out the Mongolian script carved into this section of the 5 Pagoda building. It's the bottom portion with the long squiggly lines that look completely incomprehensible as a representation of words and sentences. Rather than left to right or right to left, the lines read vertically, top to bottom. We saw this script on various signs throughout Hohhot, like store names or billboards.
And a couple scenes from around Hohhot. Random shot of gas can on a beheaded statue, and a variety of things for sale in this neat road full of shops. Sitting outside are bird cages ... birds are extremely popular pets in China. As are crickets.
We were looking for a way to kill time the night before our train left Hohhot at 10:30pm. It just so happened that our hotel had a bowling alley in the basement! So we bowled a couple of games. We were the only people there besides the people working (three of them to take care of virtually nobody – such a common theme in China). It was a really random activity to be doing in China, but we had a swell time. Erik started out strong and impressed the pants out of the erstwhile bored employees. But then he lost his mojo and the audience dispersed back to whatever had been killing their time previously. Then it was off for another train adventure to Yinchuan.
Hope you run across something fun this week like a monkey petting a dog.