Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of WorldTeach and its affiliates.
Hello, everyone! I have returned! It’s been almost two months (!) since I got back to Hunan Province from Inner Mongolia, and I’ve had a lot to think about for what I want to write about my time there. I’ll probably write about what we did and where we stayed in another post, but I want to write about what I learned out in the grasslands, because quite honestly, I’ve put off posting this article for far too long. I know I hoped to have more articles after my last article, but the Universe had other ideas; we were without WiFi in our apartments for pretty much all of November. We are, however, now back online, and I’m hoping to make up for lost time and make good on my promise to bring y’all more articles! So here are the four things I learned in Inner Mongolia:
1. I want to learn beyond the surface. It’s easy to just visit the tourist spots and say I’ve been to an area, but for me that almost feels like cheating, and it feels like I can’t say I’ve been to a certain place (e.g., I’ve been to the tourist attractions in Paris, but I can’t say I’ve seen France). When I was at Dazhao Lamasery in Hohhot and out in the grasslands, I could tell that the places we visited were old—very old—and I was curious to know about the history and the culture of the place. When we were out in the grasslands, I wished I knew Mongol so I could sit with our host families and ask about their story. There was one instance when I was sitting in the family’s kitchen, and I would have loved to be able to sit with who I assumed was our host’s wife, and talk with her about what she was cooking or how life was out there. The fact that I know Chinese is rather convenient for Inner Mongolia, but if I’m to travel to other countries like Thailand, Cambodia, or Nepal, or any other country where my language proficiency is less than ideal, an interpreter would be invaluable for this.
2. I realized my privilege in America. I know that Pinterest and other social media platforms can make off-grid living sound really comfortable with the right tools and planning (when my parents learned we were living in a yurt, they asked if it was like “glamping”), but out in Inner Mongolia, we got a taste of no-frills off-grid living (AirBnB). When we were out in the grasslands, we had no running water, no paved roads, no power grid, no central heating, and no public infrastructure like police or medical centers. We depended on potable water, solar and wind power, a wood-burning stove in our yurt for heating, cars made for off-roading, outhouses, and a lot of hoping and praying that no one got hurt or sick. While it was easier than we expected, we were also staying there for only a few days. I imagine that there’s a lot of planning that goes into living out there, but they at least seemed to make it work. It just made me realize how much privilege I have living in America, not only to have that security of public infrastructure, but also having the opportunity to travel and have these experiences.
3. I realized how much stuff I actually need. When I was preparing to leave for a year in China, I realized how much stuff I had accumulated, even after only a year in my apartment at the time. I’m starting to begin my journey to minimalism as a result, especially if I want to travel somewhere else after my time with WorldTeach is over. In Inner Mongolia, I knew we’d be on the move a lot of the time, so I knew I had to pack light for the week we were traveling. I traveled with a small suitcase (my backpack wasn’t big enough) with all my warm clothes, which were only a few items like sweaters, a light coat, a leather jacket, and leggings I layered under my jeans (we were totally unprepared for the cold). Aside from that, I’ve realized how much I need certain things like my journal and my tablet, and how much I don’t need other things, and it’s been liberating to travel without lugging around a giant suitcase.
4. I’ve questioned some of my views on traveling. Before I went on this trip, a lot of anecdotes I had read about traveling almost belittled the idea of youth hostels, claiming that they weren’t safe or they weren’t up to par with hotels in terms of cleanliness or service. That was not my experience when I stayed at a youth hostel in Hohhot near the East Railway Station (AirBnB). The woman was very helpful, she spoke enough English to have a basic conversation, the rooms were clean and comfortable, and I never felt that I or my belongings were not safe. Also, when I booked a standing (!) train ticket from Hohhot to Sanggendalai, strangers were kind enough to let me share seat space with them. I realized how lucky I was to have a place to sit down on a train, which was amusing to some of the train staff when they realized a waiguoren (foreigner) had to buy a standing train ticket. I never thought I’d do those things when I first came to China; I would be open to doing a standing train ticket again (but for a shorter journey), and I’ve stayed at another youth hostel in Zhangjiajie City since then.
I’m glad to be able to have this experience growing as a person, as well as being able to go out and see the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. If you want to know more about where we stayed and what we did, please leave suggestions and requests in the comments below!
A few life updates: I was able to win NaNoWriMo (*cue celebratory fanfare*) so it’s been good to work with my novel and hopefully get it published before the end of the academic year. Plans for the Christmas holiday are still up in the air; I get Christmas Day off (effectively giving me a four-day weekend, since I don’t teach on Fridays), so I will likely go and travel another part of southern China. I hope to get back into the routine of posting updates to the blog regularly after having no WiFi in the apartment for a month. See you then! Zai jian!