lostnchina

…because not all of us have our Peking ducks in a row

Mongolian Barbequed: Four Days & Three Nights in Mongolia with a Chinese Tour Group

It was with near-hysterical fervor that my employees and I had signed up for a four-day guided tour of Inner Mongolia leaving on May 1 – China’s Labor Day – one of the busiest traveling days for a country of 1.3 billion people.  We paid money for the privilege of riding in a toilet-less tour bus with 21 other strangers, who had consumed too many liquids and stopped at every hole in the ground excuse for a toilet between Hohhot, Magical Yurt Resort, and Sandcastle Surprise – the biggest surprise being that I spent US$5.00 to get sand in my bra.  But more on that, later.

mogolia

I am here?

Inner Mongolia  is an autonomous northern region of China.  To its north is Outer Mongolia and its southern part is flanked by Gansu, Shaanxi and Zhili – all considered to be the nether regions of China. Inner Mongolia comprises a staggering 457,000 square miles, or 12% of China’s total land mass, but only has about 24,000,000 inhabitants, most of whom are Han Chinese (79% of the total population) and not Mongols (17% of the total population).  Inner Mongolia today is a wisp of what it used to be under the legendary Ghenghis Khan, who had unified all of the nomadic tribes in the region and wreaked havoc on citizens as far as Russia, Afghanistan and Azerbaijan.  Why do you think the Chinese built the Great Wall?  Because they liked their lovely views blocked by an ugly stone structure that goes on forever?  Back in the day, you might get sent to bed without supper if you talked back to your parents, but threaten the Chinese regime and you’d be banished to Mongolia – on the other side of the Great Wall – for perpetual hard labor.  Yes.  **This** is the Mongolia we were visiting.

Our tour began with a four-hour plane ride from Hong Kong to the Mongolian capitol of Hohhot with a tour guide who was a Chinese version of Justin Bieber.  Even when the weather in the Mongolian grasslands reached below freezing, Chinese Justin Bieber’s pant cuffs were rolled exactly three centimeters above his ankles. To compensate for his heat loss, he wore a too-small straw hat on his head – the kind an organ grinder monkey would wear.  In China, we were greeted by his counterpart – a middle-aged woman in sand-washed denim, a Chinese embroidered outfit and windbreaker, sporting a hand-held flag with the name of our tour group.  We were all given tour group buttons (in hot pink) and told to place them on our bodies, though my button perished somewhere between riding shedding camel number one and public toilet disaster number three.

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Real translation of flag wording: Idiots with Cash Congregate Here.

If you’ve ever traveled abroad to a place where there’s a direct, but toilet flushing downward spiral of a relationship between the cleanliness of the food you’re consuming and the sanitary condition of the commodes, you can understand why sitting for up to seven hours a day in a tour bus without toilets could cause panic attacks.  Our group had brought dozens of pounds of anti-diarrhea medication – enough to permanently cure a small African country of dysentery.  Thankfully, none of us became sick from the food, but like many others, the roasted lamb, lamb kebab, lamb’s milk, lamb curd, lamb’s ribs, lamb’s skin and lamb yogurt candies are still working slowly through my system – nearly one month later.

Besides possible medical mishaps I had several other questions about Mongolia which needed answers.  Questions, such as,

Where is the worst public toilet known to man?

Why are the windows so clean and the bathrooms so dirty?

Why was Mao Tse Tung made into a leather pen holder and sold for US$7.00?

What’s the most expensive item I would never buy on this trip? What’s it like to live in a luxury yurt?

Is it possible to ride a pony/camel without losing your sense of self-worth?

Where is the worst public toilet known to man?

Visit the Taipei City Zoo’s Asian elephant exhibit in the heat and humidity of an August summer and you’ll know why few people choose a career as an Elephant Whisperer.  Since my visit to the zoo, I’ve replaced every putrid, nasty smell I’ve encountered with an image of harmonious Asian elephants eating their weight in food and expelling almost as much.  It seemed more benign to associate fetid smells with a peaceful herd of big animals who have to eat a lot to survive and can’t help the consequences that follow.

On the way to Sandcastle Surprise, I again encountered my herd of Asian elephants in what is known to the locals as a public toilet.  Housed in a brick shack – the kind you’d use to slaughter pigs or time-out a child – the ten stalls were 4 x 4 foot cubicles separated by stacks of  bricks piled five bricks high.  The toilets were rectangular openings in the concrete, about 2-1/2 x 1 feet in size.  Take a wrong step into the hole and your leg could be dangling five feet above a massive heap of human waste as large as a baby elephant in a fetal position.  A few in our group opted for kidney infections and headed straight back to the tour bus to brave out the five-hour bus ride after catching a whiff of the elephants about thirty feet from this public toilet.

Ten toilet stalls + ten piles of human excrement measuring the size of a baby elephant = The worst public toilet known to man.

toilet

Here’s a picture of the nicest toilet known to man, in case you can’t get the image of the worst toilet out of your mind.

Why are the windows so clean and the bathrooms so dirty?

As is customary with Chinese tours, we were frequently dropped off at shopping emporiums that sold jewelry, things made out of endangered animal horns, local foods, souvenirs, clothing – at higher-than-average prices, so that our fashion misguided tour guide could make her commission on our purchases.

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Welcome, shoppers! Free on the contact office, but you have to pay for everything else!

During one tour, we were shown how lamb’s milk yogurt candy was packaged and given some to try.  This was followed by tepid lamb’s yogurt milk in infant-sized paper cups.  But the real attraction were the window-cleaning ladies, who risked their lives by continually cleaning the same window panes the entire time we were there, despite the fact that there was nothing interesting to see outside of the windows.

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Hey, you missed a spot…in the bathroom….

Number of women cleaning windows: Five.

Number of women cleaning the bathrooms: Zero.

Why was Mao Tse Tung made into a leather pen holder and sold for US$7.00?

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Before.

Answer: So I can have something to put my pens in.

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After.

What’s the most expensive item I would never buy on this trip?

Somewhere between I just bought this Mao pen holder for US$7.00 and this is in addition to the US$0.15 I shelled out the day before at public toilet number one- the one without toilet paper and had no flushing mechanism – there exists a lovely geological rendition of a skin disease I would never wish upon my worst enemy:

RMB312,999 or US$50,500.00

RMB315,999 or US$51,000.00.   Shipping not included.

What’s it like to live in a luxury yurt?

The Mongols traditionally lived in leather-skinned or felt-covered tents called “yurts”, which translates to “home” in Mongolian. In the past, these homes were movable, built with few materials, to accommodate the Mongolians’ nomadic lifestyles.  But modern, permanent yurts may sit on wood floors, or even fashioned out of mortar and bricks.  And four-star yurts offered at the Magical Yurt Resort even have indoor heating which quits when it is 1:30am and below freezing in the Mongolian desert.

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The opening to a traditional yurt.

The inside of a traditional yurt.

The inside of a traditional yurt.

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Magical Yurt Resort.

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My 4-star room at the Magical Yurt Resort. I was looking for bed bugs and the source of a Magical Water Leak.

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Restaurant yurts – each “yurt” is an individual  dining room.

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Our private dining yurt.

Is it possible to ride a pony or camel without losing your sense of self-worth?

The Mongolian climate is a harsh mixture of unrelenting wind, cold and heat over grasslands and sand dunes, with temperatures known to fluctuate between -27F to 102F.  Historically, men and women braved the weather as they traversed across the grasslands and sand dunes on horses and camels, their faces shrouded in scarves or masks.  To protect us from the elements, our tour guide issued each one of us elasticized masks in fashionable colors.

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Despite the fact that I look like an ISIS recruit, I come in peace. As the peace signs on my mask will attest.

Part of our tour involved a pony and camel ride led by an expert guide – a wrinkled old man whose face was as burnished and leathery as the saddles we were sitting on.  He looked similar to the other grinning, toothless men who might grace the cover of a National Geographic, except our toothless guide had a voice and used it often.

“What’s wrong with you fuckers, can’t even ride a fucking horse?” he yelled as we tried to find a comfortable position on our ponies.

“Hey, you!  Your ass is all fucked up. Yeah, I’m talking to you,  You’re sitting all sideways and crooked.  What’s wrong with you, Crooked Ass?”

And then, “Yo!  Crooked Ass, are you listening to me?  You’re not sitting straight in your saddle.  Sit the fuck straight in the saddle, if you want to live.  What the fuck is wrong with you?  Are you taking a nap or riding a fucking horse?  Goddamn mother fucker….”

Crooked Ass turned out to be Jenny, my Assistant General Manager.  She can answer over fifty emails a day, talk on the phone and fill out an order on the computer at the same time, but outstanding horsemanship is not part of her job requirement.  For some reason, Jenny was sitting way off-saddle, her behind precariously perched to the left, as if she was preparing to pass enormous wind in our guide’s direction.

“Hey, I’m serious…” the guide trotted up beside me, “Is that girl some kind of retard?  I mean…does she understand what I’m saying, or do I need to use sign language?”

horse

My sense of self worth destroyed by this picture taken by a “professional Mongolian photographer” whose specialty it is to add 20 pounds to every human subject in his pictures.

camel

I rode the camel the day after riding the pony. I remember this clearly, because it appears I’ve ingested the pony in this photograph. Blue “sandboots” to keep the sand from entering my shoes is the nail in the coffin that buried my self-esteem eight feet underground.

Our pony tour was not an aimless meandering through the grasslands of Inner Mongolia.  We stopped at several notable spots along the way:

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An ovoo – “a sacred cairn found in Mongolian shamanic religious traditions, usually made from rocks with wood or from wood”. (Source: Wikipedia.)

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Two kids who were giving me their best and loudest monster impressions.

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Three generations of vehicles: ponies, motorcycle, and car.

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A good ‘ol Mongolian horse race, with one guy’s horse in the shop.

Towards the end of our two-hour pony ride, half of which was listening to our guide alternatively harangue poor Jenny and then curse us Taiwanese for declaring independence from China, the motherland – the guide finally approached Jenny’s husband, Jeff, and put a consolatory hand on his shoulder.

“Hey, man…hey…I’m real sorry for yelling at your wife…you know.  I yell and all…I’ve just got this temper, you know.”  The guide looks down and shakes his head sadly, “…but…I’m just sorry…just really REALLY sorry that your wife is such…YOU KNOW…such a retard.”

sand surf

…and this is how I got sand in my bra….

16 comments on “Mongolian Barbequed: Four Days & Three Nights in Mongolia with a Chinese Tour Group

  1. 36views
    July 18, 2015

    Love this! A thoroughly engaging read. Not the best ad for Chinese tour groups, but it certainly captures a feeling – mild horror mixed with mild amusement.

    Like

    • lostnchina
      July 20, 2015

      Thank you for reading and for the compliment. Traveling with a Chinese tour group certainly is amusing – in a sort of way that I might accidentally hammer my own fingers while hammering a nail into a wall is amusing.

      Like

  2. Kat Jolliffe
    June 29, 2015

    Great storyteller! It was refreshing to read a well written travel blog with humour and structure. OMG wtf was that $51 000 sculpture actually meant to be of? ‘Syphilis on Jade’ or ‘Crouching Tiger, not so, Hidden Syphilis Dragon’ – Gaudy!

    http://www.madeinsydney.net

    Like

    • lostnchina
      June 30, 2015

      Kat, thank you for reading and for stopping by. Yes, I’m sure “Syphilis on Jade” would promote the piece to its fullest extent and justify the $51k price tag. I’ll stick with my $7 Mao pen holder, thank you very much!

      Like

  3. Jean
    June 14, 2015

    I enjoyed your crazy (plush) Mongolian adventure. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • lostnchina
      June 15, 2015

      Thanks, Jean. I was hoping to share lovely vistas of the lovely people and scenery of Inner Mongolia. For some reason, it didn’t turn out that way.

      Like

  4. CrazyChineseFamily
    May 30, 2015

    Oh this sounds like a nightmare! I hate lamb…for me it tastes like zoo and it takes ages to get through my system.
    I have experienced many ‘nature ‘ toilets and public toilets in the middle of forests in Scandinavia but nearly 99% of public toilets in China are like nightmare version of them. There were particular nasty ones inthe countryside I still get nightmare from…

    Like

    • lostnchina
      June 1, 2015

      Ohh… nature toilets! I’m with you on that. There was an unforgettable one hiking in the Pacific NW. Smack dab in the middle of nowhere but up on a hill, so everyone can see you for miles around – a wooden commode built from the ground up with a back rest (they were thoughtful) and a FLAG on the top of the back rest (that is not thoughtful), advertising the location of the commode and the user’s potential “public art performance”.

      Liked by 1 person

      • CrazyChineseFamily
        June 2, 2015

        Sounds like a lovely commode. I really wonder what some people are thinking when constructing those things…

        Like

  5. Emily Cannell
    May 30, 2015

    That tour guide cussing at Jenny is the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time. Next time you should take the National geographic tour of Mongolia. Nothing but spending the night in yurts and camel riding- for days. Probably not as entertaining.

    Like

    • lostnchina
      May 30, 2015

      I wanted to tip the tour guide after our excursion but he probably ran to the nearest yurt to fill up on more Mongolian rice wine. Inner Mongolia is beautiful, I heard but we apparently went at the “wrong time” when nothing had started to bloom. The tour was interesting, but next time I’ll steer clear of the Chines tour groups!

      Thanks for stopping by,

      Like

  6. becomingcliche
    May 30, 2015

    I think you look pretty adorable in your pictures, actually. The luxury yurts remind me of the teepee hotels out west.

    Like

    • lostnchina
      May 30, 2015

      Thanks, Heather, for being supportive. Not that I’m trying to brag, or anything, but I am actually a size 4/6, so for me to end up looking the way I do in those pictures takes great skill on the photographer’s part. That’s the only picture I have of myself riding a camel, and it shall forever serve as a reminder to me to a) exercise and keep fit; and, b) protect animals from unnecessary suffering and abuse.

      Like

  7. expatlingo
    May 30, 2015

    I fucking love your camel/horse guide. Can I hire him to come yell at people on my behalf?

    Like

    • lostnchina
      May 30, 2015

      Fuck yeah! All he needs is a carton of Snow Deer beer. His breath smelled like a combination of mothballs and the stuff you clean your paintbrushes with.

      Like

      • expatlingo
        June 1, 2015

        I channeled the vibe of that guy during my morning’s cycle through rush hour traffic: All you bike dawdlers, get the fuck out of my way or I’ll mow you down. (a Snow Deer beer would have helped)

        Like

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