Sunday, October 23, 2011

Claire de Lune

The Gobi Desert

The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place

Explosions in the Sky

I’ve never been in a desert before, at least not without some ruins or other feature that was the focus of my attention at the time. It was far more impressive than I expected, and I’d expected impressive sights. There was also more life than I’d thought there would be. Besides the camels that some of our group rode out on the second day…

…there were also little lizards, beetles leaving veined tracks in the sand, and plenty of shrubs and grass.

We spent the night camping in the desert, which was the best decision we made the entire trip. Not only did we see the sunset…

…and sunrise…

…but the stars as well. You really can’t see the stars at all in Shanghai, so this was especially wonderful. The title of this blog post is particularly appropriate because the moon was unbelievably bright. Flashlights were unnecessary, since you could easily find your way under the moonlight. I didn't think to take a picture at night, but you can see the moon even in this early morning shot:

We could often see efforts to combat desertification:

My strongest memory is of the enormous beauty of the desert. It is easily my favorite place to have traveled in China.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


希拉穆仁草原 Xilamuren Grasslands

First stop was the grasslands. We just took a day trip here. In the area we saw, the grasslands were very dry, with winds that swept the dirt and dust into the air.

On our way we saw the mountains from our bus window, and I snapped a quick picture while at a rest stop.

Once in the grasslands, we had the opportunity to ride horses if we liked, but we declined in favor of walking around. (I asked the woman in charge if we could ride fast. Her immediate response was, “No.”)

The people in the area obviously raise cattle, so as we meandered we passed cows and horses kept within loose wire fences.

The grasslands were beautiful, if in a rather brittle way. The wide open blue sky - a feature of all of Inner Mongolia, so far as we could tell – was absolutely dazzling though. I already miss it.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Inner Mongolia

Happy National Holiday, everyone! This past week two friends and I went to Inner Mongolia for our October break. Inner Mongolia is a province of China, just south of the independent country of Mongolia.

An arid province, Inner Mongolia is usually known for its horse-riding, yurt-living nomadic peoples roaming the beautiful grasslands. We were lucky enough to see horses, yurts, the grasslands, and much more.

Inner Mongolia has had Han immigration for centuries, so the population is actually about 80% Han Chinese, and about 20% ethnic Mongolian. Since most of the population is Han Chinese, we didn’t have any trouble getting around with our Mandarin. Many people also spoke to each other in Mongolian though, and Mongolian script was everyone. It’s really beautiful, as you can see below:

(In Mongolia, because of Russian influence, they use Cyrillic to write Mongolian.)

Under Genghis Khan and then his grandson Kublai Khan, the Mongolian empire (Yuan dynasty) was established. Though we tend to remember Genghis Khan for his cruel wartime tactics, Mongolians tend to remember him as a unifier. Pictures of a benevolent-looking Genghis Khan are everywhere:

Mongolia has also been heavily influenced by Tibetan Buddhism, which we could see in the Buddhist temples and Tibetan prayer flags everywhere.

And, in case you're curious, Mongolian food is heavy on potatoes, mutton, and dairy products, all of which we ate in abundance. It’s cold there!, and high-calorie food was just the ticket.

On our trip, we saw the grasslands:


And Hohhot, provincial capital:

Details to come.